This week’s episode of Saturday Night Live was proving to be a pretty standard demonstration of the kind of entertainment that has become typical on the sketch-comedy series: Kristin Wiig parodies the Crazy Woman of the Week (Michele Bachmann) in a mildly amusing cold open; a relevant guest host (Jesse Eisenberg) grabs the platform for a few minutes with an enjoyable, if underwhelming, monologue; and the guest artist (Nicki Minaj) takes part in a less-than-inspired “digital short” music video.
But then the writers had to go ahead and mess up the formula by airing this two-minute commercial parody for “Estro-maxx,” a once-daily estrogen supplement for pre-operation male-to-female transgender people.
The sketch features four different men trying to use Estro-maxx to publicly pass as women during their gender-transitioning process. It’s hard for them to pass, however, because they have huge amounts of facial hair, deep voices, and are big, masculine men in women’s clothing. You get it? The joke is on the men who want to change their sex and become women. Defying the American gender binary? Hysterical.
Comedy generally has no mercy. The genre is an equal-opportunity offender, poking fun at rich, white people; crazy, famous black people; overtly feminine gay men; and overly hormonal women. But the purpose of the Estro-maxx sketch is not to poke fun at some of the more comical aspects of trans life, as Transamerica did so perfectly in 2006. No, the punchline of this sketch is simply the existence of transwomen.
In a statement released on Monday, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) elaborated on why the mock commercial is offensive:
The attempted comedy of the skit hinges solely on degrading the live and experiences of transgender women. Holding people up for ridicule simply on the basis of their identity fuels a 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.
This last point is the main problem with SNL’s skit. Yes, many people have argued that it’s offensive, but a lot of “comedy” can be deemed offensive. What’s more important is to recognize is that this skit is offensive against a group of people who are nearly always portrayed as freaks or deviants. Their plight is difficult for many people to understand because it is so rarely represented in a high-profile way. You’d think that given the opportunity, SNL would at least clear up some aspects of hormone-replacement therapy for male-to-female transgender people.
For example, the script of the sketch details the premise of the fictional Estro-maxx product:
You deserve to be in the body you want. But most hormone replacement therapies require you to take five estrogen supplements a day. Five! Who has time for that? But now there’s hope: once-daily Estro-maxx. A single daily pill that gives you all the sex-changing hormones you need.
I don’t know where the writers got the information about transwomen needing five pills each day—most supplements are already daily pills. They enlarge the breasts, shrink the testicles, and redistribute body fat. And estrogen alone typically isn’t enough: many transwomen take antiandrogens, which block male sex hormones. The combination allows people to change their body in order to match their outward secondary sex characteristics to their true psychological gender identity. And the beards? How many trans women have you seen walking around with facial hair? Since their goal is to “pass” as women, who in American society are degraded for having facial hair, there’s a good chance your answer is zero.
But it’s all just silly fun, right?
The transgender community is already next to unrepresented in mainstream media. So when they finally chose to talk about them on SNL, did the writers really have to misrepresent them so offensively?