Alex Blaze

Trans Scenes from The Simpsons: What Do You Think?

Filed By Alex Blaze | January 18, 2011 1:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: Simpsons, smithers, transgender, transsexual

A reader emailed in about this Sunday's episode of The Simpsons, where transsexual-simpsons.pngSmithers convinces Moe to set up a gay bar, Mo's. I watched it and was surprised that The Simpsons got funny again (there were a few bad seasons there so I had stopped watching). I liked the episode, as it was the usual commentary on American life, poking fun at looks-fascism among gay men, with a whole lot of heart that keeps the ridiculousness from collapsing on its own weight.

The reader who emailed was concerned about the transsexual scenes. I'm trying to discern what they're supposed to mean, other than "Whoever wrote this episode doesn't know the difference between 'transsexual' and 'drag queen.'" There seems to be an implication that they're trying to fool people, that they're not really women, or something vaguely off.

Watch the trans scenes and feel free to school me in the comments, after the jump.


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Seems like they just relied on good old reliable trans stereotypes. So not terrible but not exactly good.

Highly paid young white guys making transsexual jokes on Rupert Murdoch's Fox Network (AKA American-style satire).

I thought they were crossdressers! I must have been distracted when they cut to the next scene.

The episode wasn't great and some material made me uncomfortable. The Simpsons haven't had a really great episode in awhile.

Yeah, the characters almost look based off of the Kinsey Sicks, at least the one in the middle looks a lot like Winnie. They're talking about wigs, they make a half-hearted attempt to change their voices, and immediately return to a "male" voice upon being startled -- everything about them is drag -- except for the punchline about the doctor turning her inside out and the banner of transsexuals for change. Sigh. I wouldn't go start a protest over it, but I'd have preferred no representation rather than this representation.

I found things to like about the episode, but it did bother me that the writers clearly have never knowingly met a trans person and spoke to them for more than 5 min. But the bigger thing that caught me by surprise is the complete unwillingness to say the word "gay." Was it a running joke or something? In previous episodes they said "gay" and even "queer" (in a framing I found quite funny). But this time they only would say I need to tell you something *whisper whisper whisper*. Or "But I'm not... like them." In fact "... like them" seemed to be the latest euphemism for gay.

I think that's because Smithers isn't technically out on the show. Feel free to tell me if I'm wrong, but I thought that was the joke.

Ah, that could be. It just really confused me and I didn't understand it. I mean, Moe was the one saying it most of the time, not Smithers.

I liked how this episode more or less outed some people... the music teacher, Bee man, Marge's sister, etc. Springfield's queer community coming together!

Marge's sister Patty's been out for awhile. (She is the twin with the triangle earring -- Selma's straight and her earrings are circles.) There was an episode several years ago where she was going to marry a woman. Then the woman turned out to be a straight man dressing in drag in order to get on the LPGA tour and the wedding was called off.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/There's_Something_About_Marrying

That episode and this one are part of the bizarre trend of shows and movies where a straight character pretends to be LGBTQ for personal gain. (In this week's episode, Moe pretends to be gay in order to get business to his bar, and starts to run for office as a gay man too.)

I figure that though it is a horrific representation, it is still a stereotyped exploitative mess. I'm just really tired of non-trans media making a mockery of us, making us the cultural clowns. I didn't appreciate any of the stereotypical plays they were making on queers and was kind of insulted at the alignments made to Harvey Milk. I don't see these renditions as complimentary, I see them as exploitative. If the Simpsons, or media in general, wanted to support us they would get their facts right. I ranted all about this here:
http://midwestgenderqueer.com/index.php/archives/1990

Nice. I've been bartending at the real-world Mo's in San Diego for 14 years. I wonder if they're aware of us at Fox? Would love to have a visit from any of the Simpsons team at our bar.

I don't get too worked up over representation of trans ppl in these kinds of shows.

First of all, when it comes to trans characters/storylines, I don't expect much in general of the media, and esp of the 'hip, edgy' writers of the cartoons, who I figure are prolly mostly like the comic book guy in the Simpsons, that is, geeky but pretty clueless of things like actual human beings and interpersonal relations and such.

More importantly, though, these guys make fun of *everybody* through outrageous exaggeration. It's to be expected they are going to take stereotypes and jump the shark with them. To me, it's mostly just humor, and I don't much care; actually, I love 'Mrs.' Garrison on Southpark, she is too funny!

The only one I've run across that I found really bad, because it seemed to be trying to describe how trans ppl 'are' in real life was that one with the black family (I can picture the characters but don't remember the show, looked horrid in general), and I only saw that because it was on Bilerico.

FWIW,

Carol :)

Well it can be taken 2 ways... Misinformed or it can be people at different levels of change. Probably they would have done better to say transgendered rather than transsexuals. I person can be transgendered without going through any surgical changes or being able to pull off a convincing look. Most likely it's misinformed and stereotyping because I don't really feel confident that most people are going to think that deeply about it.

I thought it was a great episode. And I'm not at all sure what is intended by "There seems to be an implication that they're trying to fool people, that they're not really women, or something vaguely off."

No, drag queens are not really women, and that knowledge is central to what makes drag queens culturally interesting and significant. As to wanting_The Simpson's_ or anyone to draw a line between a drag queen and a transsexual, I would suggest that it is exactly the imprecision and variety (and inclusiveness) of the label 'transsexual' that undermines any attempt to draw that line. I didn't get the impression that the 'queens' in the show were anything more than sassy and gender ambigious-- I don't need to decide if whether they are a tranny or a drag-queen-- I don't need to put them into a category-- to appreciate them as individuals. If they perfectly represented our every stereotypical expectation of how a woman should appear and behave, that message would have been lost. The performance needs to expose the gender ambiguity in some way to even let us know they are not simply women.

What moved me a bit was the opening of Moe's political speech, obviously inspired by the movie _Milk_ and Harvey Milk's "and I want to recruit you" openings. Maybe too soon for me, but all and all a great episode.

ShipofFools | January 18, 2011 5:36 PM

To me this looks as if the show mixed up the terms "Transsexual" and "Transgender" (like ditchhook did in his/her comment). I know many drag queens who identify as transgender, but not as transsexual.

Wow, I can't wait to see the responses to this!

It *is* good that you see ppl as individuals, not as categories. And that you accept that many ppl want to be gender-ambiguous.

Otherwise, though, massive fail as far as I am concerned. (I am happy to explain why if you are interested! *smiles in a friendly--not sarcastic--way*)

ooops, was reply to ditchhook's comment...

shucks, just came in out of the pouring rain. i'm afraid my wig's gonna get all mildewy. somebody should write in and send them straight on TRANSGENDER-SPECIFIC TERMINOLOGY:

Transsexual (also Transexual)
An older term which originated in the medical and psychological communities. Many transgender people prefer the term "transgender" to "transsexual." Some transsexual people still prefer to use the term to describe themselves. However, unlike transgender, transsexual is not an umbrella term, and many transgender people do not identify as transsexual. It is best to ask which term an individual prefers.

http://www.glaad.org/page.aspx?pid=376

Love the Kinsey Sicks! Missed them last time we were in Provincetown.

Dahling, I'm not "a transexual". I'm Edith. Try some.

I'm just not sure if I'm being ripped off by my auto insurer.

I am not surprised at all. It is always easy to take a cheap shot at Transgendered. So why should be shocked to see a show on FOX doing it?

I dunno, I rather liked the episode. And, I think it is a bit sad to admit, but I've seen many conversations in the TG world that pretty much mirror the ones in the show. If anything, they seemed less hostile in the show than has been my experience. The people were harshest and cruelest to me in my transition were all transgender people, and it always felt like a 'pass it down' rite of hazing.

Well, I only saw this one clip and not the rest of the episode, so I don't know if that changes my perspective. With that being said, I have a completely different take on the scene.

I think it's a commentary about the silliness of passing: that non-trans women don't "pass" as "real" women; so how legitimate is it to question anyone's authenticity?

Even before I played the clip, I thought to myself that Marge is such a ridiculous figure that someone is going to think she doesn't pass.

It's great that some of you are able to appropriate the scene in a positive way, but it is important to first read it in context.

The Simpsons is not some radical queer creation and I'm going to take a leap here and claim that a majority of its viewers (male, age 12-30) don't have a good grasp on the ideas of sex, gender, gender performance, or gender identity. This scene will be read by The Simpsons' main demographic as "men in women's clothing" not as "persons with varying gender presentations," especially, I think, since they themselves are judging Marge's gender presentation.

This was sort of an eye-roll mixed with a bit of disappointment. Obviously, the writers have no concept of some of the different aspects of trans.

The one that really p!$$ed me off was the one about Patty's coming out and near-marriage to a transsexual who was portrayed as deceiving her. That they seemed closer to "getting it" and then undermined it all intentionally was an issue for me.

And in other news, GLAAD is preparing to give the episode an award for its protrayal of Smithers.

re media and the GLBT:
i notice Dire Straits are getting some shit in Canada on the use of the other F word.....

(& carol:
you asked about Trans forums before.
here are links(if i can thread jack this dead thread for a 'mo):
http://www.thespectrumcafe.com/?page_id=2369
our forum.
and another:
http://www.topix.com/forum/news/transgendered

Thanks, javier, I will take a look! :)

badluckshadow13 | January 22, 2011 11:00 PM

Whoo, furry representation! Wait, that's not what we're talking about?

Being serious for a second though, I think the Simpsons writers are generally well meaning, they just really don't know better sometimes. I mean, Smithers isn't always so bad, Patty's actually a decent person, and a long time ago, they even gave us that incredibly sweet episode with that secretary who fell in love with Homer (though that could've been an entirely different writing staff, I dunno).
More than anything, I think the longer the series goes, the more easy and possibly offensive jokes they're going to *have* to go with, hell can you think of something the Simpsons *haven't* done yet?

http://thespectrumcafeforum.forumotion.com/f1-your-first-forum

(ps i started another one just for you carol,lol!
i think you can post new topics , if not you know where to reach me....)
thespectrumcafe@hotmail.com

Tamsin White | January 23, 2011 9:04 AM

Call me devil's advocate here but I honestly don't have any issue with this scene. From my personal experience out in the trans community this is pretty accurate and realistic. I found it humorous. I suppose the criticism I DO have is that they made it mostly from an ignorant stand point and got their terminology mixed up but they also featured furries and other groups.
Generally in these kinds of comedic shows I appreciate the "Nothing is sacred" motto.

Tamsin White | January 23, 2011 9:04 AM

Call me devil's advocate here but I honestly don't have any issue with this scene. From my personal experience out in the trans community this is pretty accurate and realistic. I found it humorous. I suppose the criticism I DO have is that they made it mostly from an ignorant stand point and got their terminology mixed up but they also featured furries and other groups.
Generally in these kinds of comedic shows I appreciate the "Nothing is sacred" motto.

Tamsin White | January 23, 2011 9:21 AM

(Oops, sorry for double post. dunno how that happened)

Well, I think Rory called it right.
Likewise, I only saw this clip and not the show, but what I see here, is a callout of "passing".

The trio assuming Marge was TG, that her ridiculous hair was a wig, and that her voice sounded atypical and therefore not "believable" (enter Patty with her gravely one and aggression) - illustrating simply that women come in a lot of varieties, so poked pointed fun at stereotypes, not the people.

The trans* characters are there, in my eyes, to safely (for the straight, heteronormative 'family' audience, and because they come from TG characters themselves, not to be seen as vilifying) make those comments based on what the viewer knows is an incorrect assumption.

And, I know it's a cartoon, but to those going crook about representation, drag queens and transpeople: just in that clip, we see three characters together and one makes a surgery reference, outing herself - however one doesn't say a word but seems to be CD, and we assume the other is TG by the voice, height and comment - but who said they were all the same, or intended to be portrayed as such?

I think this is also part of the point of this clip. It seems that reminding us of diversity is exactly what is achieved here. All kinds of people may go to a gay bar, and hang out together, and be friends - remember?

So well done Simpsons.

After Simpsons does a pro-trans main-plot episode that respects both Bi-Gender people and transitioning binary gender people then something like this would be ok.

The show has been brave in both challenging 'sacred cows' and in a few episodes doing positive stories of a few minorities but when positive trans stories are so few and so far between there's nothing brave or virtuous of making jokes about Trans people when the option exists to do a pro-trans anti-bigotry episode. It's the cowards way out.

And thats what tv is full of, cowards. There's some rare exceptions but in the main what we have is a large chunk of the population not represented.

Large? 1 in 500 people is Transsexual (Lynn Conway) but thats the rarest part of sex and gender diversity.

4% of all live births are Intersex. (Peter Koopman)

3% of Australian school students recently surveyed refused to put down a sex/gender and were classed as Gender Questioning (Writing Themselves In 3, Lynn Hillier)

Lower estimates say 2%-3% of males are crossdressers (the APA's website), compare to the rate of self-identified Gays and Lesbians of.. 2%-3%!

The Principal of the Thai school that set aside a bathroom just for Transgender students said 10%-20% of male students each year were Transgender! Which may seem excessive but thats the same rate as Same Sex Attraction in the Australian population.

These numbers need repeating and repeating and repeating. They are social and political and economic power. They are an untapped market. An unrepresented group.

After they have a positive trans-focus anti-transphobia story with a trans guest star then they can do some good-natured humour. Till then they are cowards missing powerful and lucrative opportunities.

Mixed bag... I must admit the "doctor already did" comment was hilarious, but I was offended by how they portrayed trans as men playing dress up (IE the illfitting wig, sudden reversal to a masculine voice) instead of actually living, everyday women. This promotes the idea that trans women are faking their identity instead of obviously just being their natural selves.(note they didn't even bother including a trans man)

However, I liked the play on gender perception with marge and the idea that we all have to live up to some vague inmmutable standard of male or female