Last week I posted a difficult-to-parse series of jokes about transsexual women in The Simpsons, and today a reader emailed in this sketch from SNL. It's hard to figure out what the joke is here other than "Look at these dudes in dresses! Haw haw!"
I'm thinking the text is misleading if you're looking for the actual joke - straight boys seem to have a need to see men dressing in women's clothes at some point in their lives (gay boys, by contrast, add some glamor and call it drag). I'm not thinking that the problem with this sketch is the fact that male actors are wearing dresses, at least not by itself.
The text is what makes this more troubling, since instead of making a joke that shows men wearing dresses, playing roles of women for comedic effect, they tried to make the sketch about transsexual women concretely. Is the joke that transsexual women don't pass well? Or that it's unexpected to think of a powerful exec or the dude-next-door as someone who may be trans? Or that a TSA agent is attracted to trans women? I get where they're coming from with the women-are-from-venus TLC joke, but that's not the main idea.
Male comedians wearing women's clothing has a long history in comedy and isn't going away, so it's one of those things we'd do best to analyze instead of oppose. What is it about a man putting on women's clothes that people find so funny? And what does that say about us?
And while it's a reliable joke that shows like SNL will go to for a cheap laugh, making the entire sketch about transsexual women as a class and then portraying some fairly common and mean-spirited stereotypes about them changes it from mere absurdity to an attack on a group of people. There are ways to put male comedians in dresses that don't try to say anything about transsexual women, and SNL has done that before.
This Saturday, on an airing of Saturday Night Live, NBC (a subsidiary of Comcast) broadcast a dangerous and blatantly transphobic segment which they called 'Estro-Maxxx' - the punchline of which was the lives of countless transgender people across the country.
The piece was a mock commercial for estrogen replacement therapy and featured men with facial hair wearing dresses, meant to represent transgender women. This segment cannot be defended as "just a joke" because there was no "joke" to speak of. The attempted comedy of the skit hinges solely on degrading the lives and experiences of transgender women. Holding people up for ridicule simply on the basis of their identity fuels a dangerous and hurtful climate and puts people in danger, especially given how infrequently the media shines a fair and accurate light on the lives of transgender people.
The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation calls upon Comcast and NBC to apologize and remove the segment from Hulu and all future airings of the show.
And the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, via my inbox:
New York, New York - On Saturday, January 29, NBC's Saturday Night Lived aired a cruel and transphobic skit. It revolved around "Estro-Maxx" and it amounted to nothing more than an attack on transgender people.
The piece purported to represent transgender women during gender transition on "Estro-Maxx" hormone therapy, and mocked them with representations of men with facial hair wearing dresses. It was an attack on transgender women, plain and simple.
"Degrading, dehumanizing and ridiculing transgender people isn't comedy," said Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF) executive director Michael Silverman. "Saturday Night Live's skit contributes to the toxic brew of intolerance that leads to real-life discrimination, harassment and violence for transgender people."
TLDEF demands that NBC and its owner Comcast apologize and take steps to ensure that similar segments do not air again in the future.