SNL’s Transphobic Punchline

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?

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About Adam Polaski

Adam Polaski is a rising senior journalism major at Ithaca College, where he enjoys writing, reading, and procrastinating entrance into the big, bad, post-academia world. He also writes for The Bilerico Project and The New Gay. Email him at apolaski7[at]gmail[dot]com.

Comments

  1. GLAAD has a petition to sign:

    http://www.glaad.org/tellsnl

    Jokes are supposed to be “the emperor has no clothes.” Making fun of people who are already victimized by society isn’t being subversive. It is just reinforcing the same old power dynamic—it isn’t comedy, it is bullying.

  2. Frogwart Bevenshire III says:

    I’m MtF and I was prepared to be offended but I actually found myself laughing.
    The only thing I would bother to point out is the “nature got in your way” line.
    It’s not really nature, it’s the taboos of an ignorant society.
    Many cultures throughout history, and in many non-western cultures still today, more than two genders are recognized. This allows people to express themselves as they are, and in any fashion they wish, without being labeled sexual deviants or seen as repugnant. For some reason in western cultures females can express themselves in any way they want without having their sexuality come into question. And while a particular butch female might be presumed to be a lesbian, she won’t be presumed to be a child molester. However, males cannot so much as wear an unbifurcated garment.. a skirt.. originally worn by men in the first place.. without getting sent home from work or called names or worse. The desire to express oneself and to wear clothes that one likes or finds comfortable is human, not exclusively female. However in western culture gender roles are militantly dictated. Freedom of self expression and emotional sensitivity are mandated to be only in the domain of those with vaginas, so humans who just happened to have been born with a penis are forced into feeling they must become a women just to keep from having to hide who they are as a person. The ignorance of western culture in denying the most basic realities of natural human behavior and need is astounding to me.

  3. Randy Rodolfa IX says:

    Frogwart Bevenshire III: Darling, no. Whether you realize it or not, you just made a highly generalized assumption about the motives of every MtF. And the skit’s offensiveness comes primarily from showing people defying Western gender as s-i-l-l-y, “oh look at the funny man trying to be what he’s not!” Not human beings.

  4. Jemma Howitzer says:

    Frogwart Bevenshire III,

    1) stop using the term MtF. You do realize that stands for -> (MALE TO) <- Female. You hurt every single trans woman when you encourage that inaccurate line of thinking.
    2) I can't believe you laughed. WHY? Was it the laugh track? Even my cissexual friends didn't laugh at that stupid skit. Would you laugh at a trans woman walking down the street? I don't see how this is any different.

    3) "females can express themselves in any way they want without having their sexuality come into question". First of all, STOP SPEAKING FOR ALL WOMEN EVERYWHERE.. Second of all, try being a lesbian and telling men to stop hitting on you because you're a lesbian. They will not stop. Try telling your dad you are a lesbian. He will question your sexuality.

    4) "humans who just happened to have been born with a penis are forced into feeling they must become a women just to keep from having to hide who they are as a person." I don't even know what this trainwreck of a sentence means, but quite a lot of trans women get bottom surgery because they hate their bodies. Quite a lot of trans women transition because they want social recognition. It just stands to reason, duh! And even if they have a lot of emotional sensitivity, and they jump rope, they will still hate their penis.

    5) FORCED INTO FEELING?!!?! Oh my god, that is SO STUPID. Honestly, trans women get beaten up, raped, victimized, bullied SO SO SO MUCH, and you honestly think society somehow brainwashes trans women into becoming trans?! HOW?!

    6) Stop speaking for groups you do not belong to.. What is wrong with you?!! God, go read http://tranarchism.com/2010/11/26/not-your-moms-trans-101/ before you keep posting about the trans community.

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