Awkward Black Girl’s No-pology to Transgender Fans and Allies

By Andrea (AJ) Plaid

If you’ve seen the latest episode of The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl (ABG), you probably caught J’s best friend Cece refer to White Jay’s ex as a “tr***y bitch in heels.” Or J’s co-worker Patty ask her if she’s “gay” because J cut her hair to a tweeny-weeny afro (TWA). Or J’s nemesis, Nina, asking her when did she “catch cancer” due to the new ‘do.

Some fans responded to the overt transphobic insult with an open letter on Crunk Feminist Collective Tumblr:

Dear Awkward Black Girl,

We love the show! We also love your continuous engagement with fans and your commitment to staying on the Web to maintain your vision. What we don’t love is the transmisogyny and misogyny in episode 11.

In episode 11, CeCe calls White Jay’s ex a “tra**y bitch in heels.” The word tra**y perpetuates violence and divisiveness amongst women by relying on the idea that trans women are not “real” women; it suggests that White Jay’s ex is somehow less than the main character J.

The word “tra**y” has a very real history of violence and discrimination, often targeting trans women. It has been used as a slur, as a way to objectify women, and as a way of denying the personhood of trans women on the basis of appearance.

We have seen your responsiveness to the fans of ABG and we hope that by raising this concern you will respond accordingly by not using such language in future episodes. There are so many awkward queer, trans, and disabled folks who love the show and it hurts to see and hear our lives used as punchlines. For those of us, the awkward black, queer folks who have lived at the intersections of our awkwardness, our blackness, and our transness, words like “tra**y” erase our lives, and our humanity. Phrases like “No lesbo” and the use of affected speech to imitate hard of hearing people detract from the vision of creating representations for the rest of us who are all too often maligned in mainstream media.

We look forward to many more episodes of The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl that are hilarious without the use of marginalized groups as a punchline. We have confidence that you have the creativity to continue to push comedic boundaries in new ways and educate your audience in the process.

With fierce love,
alicia sanchez gill
Claire Nemorin
Moya Bailey
Kimberley Shults
Anonymous Awkward Others

Another tumblrer reblogged a tweet regarding the creators’ response to the Open Letter.

The initial Tumbl’d responses to this:

“This does not look promising.”

“hoping the response letter does not cause more pain.”

“well, shit. so much for finding a non-problematic show to love.”

Here’s the reply from ABG‘s co-creators Issa Rae and Tracy Oliver, found at Clutch Magazine:

Some of our viewers may have been offended by some of the language in our recent episode. We take this matter especially to heart, considering the CFC and members of the LGBT community were among the first to embrace ‘The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl.’

Since our first episode debuted in February this year, ‘Awkward Black Girl’ has received an incredible outpouring of support from hundreds of thousands of fans. We love and appreciate each and every one of our fans! In return, we strive to provide a show that uses irreverent comedy and humor to address the oftentimes uncomfortable situations that many people have experienced at some point or another in their lives.

In creating a series of this nature, we are willing to accept the praise when the jokes work and the feedback when they may not.

Sincerely,

Issa & Tracy

Whereas a few Clutch Magazine commenters thought Rae’s and Oliver’s letter was”respectful” and “very well said,” quite a few commenters applauded Rae for “not apologizing” because that “would change the nature of the show.” Even Crunk Feminist Collective’s Brittney Cooper agreed  that it’s an “excellent” response. And the post and the comments at Very Smart Brothers applaud the response, some of the commenters going so far as telling trans people (and the gay, lesbian, and bisexual people who are cisgender–oh yeah, and a few of us cis, trans, and gender non-conforming folks who love bell hooks) to “get over themselves” and “stop being so sensitive” because ABG “offends everyone,” especially with the liberal use of “bitch” and “n***a.” In fact, one commenter states that ABG using the “tr***y bitch in heels” line as a sign of acceptability for trans folks.

Dare I say it? Yes…

What the hell kind of no-pology is this?!?

Racialicious guest contributor Erika Nicole Kendall tweeted exactly why I felt this qualifies as a no-pology:

See, here’s my thing: if you’re saying that folks in LBGT communities are some of the first fans of your show, wouldn’t you go out of your way to not turn off that fan base  by simply saying something like, “I/We deeply apologize for saying the word “tr***y” on the ep. I could’ve used another word to talk about J’s discomfort instead of making trans people–and, by extension, our transgender fans–the butt of a joke,” instead of essentially stating you stand by a transphobic slur that is used in conjunction to do much more damage than just create “oftentimes uncomfortable situations that many people have experienced at some point or another in their lives?”

Because the word “tr***y” isn’t bantered about just to make trans people “uncomfortable.” As @graceishuman pointed out on Twitter:

 It’s only hilarious if you accept that trans women are by definition a joke. There’s no inherent humor to it beyond that.

The history of the word is that a lot of trans people, especially trans women of color, have had it used against them in the context of violence, sometimes as they were being murdered.

This post at the Tumblr a bell and a pomegranate further explains why the fans who wrote the letter–and the rest of us–found the  ”joke” unamusing:

Well, and naturally, what “may have offended” some people is language—as though that’s the important thing, that a nasty word (a word, to be fair, I cringe at) was used.  But of course it wasn’t—the meaningful portion of the trouble is that the use of “tranny” as an insult to cis women is about participating in the cultural notion that trans women are fake/grotesque/doing womanhood wrong/unworthy of respect and that it is shameful/disgusting for a cis woman to be similar to one.  It’s about functioning as a placeholder for certain policing discourses about the comportment and appearance of women in general by deploying the extreme danger of trans oppression as a veiled threat while subtly shoring up that oppression.(*)  That’s why people are troubled by the word in the first place, and why the first critiques of it were brought up—not because it is an inherently evil word, but because it participates in negative, damaging stereotypes about trans women.  It could have been any word.  The problem is that “tranny” is deployed as a shorthand for that cultural idea.  If they’d substituted in a nicer, less-charged word as shorthand to suggest that a given woman was like a trans woman and therefore fake/grotesque/doing womanhood wrong/unworthy of respect, it would still be transphobic.

When we focus over-much on contaminated words, we sometimes miss—and allow the people who use them to sidestep—the larger problem of what those words represent and why they’re hurtful in the first place.

(*) You know, in the same way that young straight men calling each other “faggot” don’t literally mean “I think you are attracted to other men,” but “you are not behaving as I think a man should and if you don’t get in line I am suggesting you be treated as is appropriate for the disgusting people indicated by this word, who also don’t get in line and who you know are visibly punished for it.”  In the same way that “whore” and “bitch” are deployed—they suggest that there is a category of people who you are culturally aware have fewer rights/more vulnerabilities to violence/etc. and that if you do not behave as expected you might be relegated to that category and treated accordingly.  Capitalism does it by threatening people who have money with the constant specter of poverty and homelessness—and then uses that to enforce cultural norms of behavior.  Sexism does it by threatening that men might be treated like “bitches” and “pussies.”  And cissexism/transmisogyny does it by threatening cis women with worlds like “tranny” and “shemale.

As for ABG‘s use of the words “bitch” and “n***a” as a reason why it should be OK for the creators to, therefore, use the words “tr***y,” I’ll say here what I said on a radio interview about those white feminists who defended the sign “Woman Is the N****r of the World” at SlutWalk NYC’s march: unless Rae and/or other people on ABG‘s creative team is a trans person, the word isn’t for them to use because they are outside of those communities. And, even at that, if there is a trans person on the crew, that person’s presence still doesn’t give permission or license for ABG‘s cisgender cast and crew to use it because the other trans folks didn’t vote on that person to give that imprimatur to use the slur.

Even Patti’s comment about J being “gay” because of J’s short cut pivots on both homophobia and transphobia, namely that Black lesbians are stereotyped as “looking” a certain way that is “outside” of the hetero male gaze (and, by extension, hetero male sexual/romantic consideration), namely having a short afro, which is construed as “trying to be manly,” thus policing J’s femininity. Of course, Nina’s comment comment about “catching cancer” is simply ableist.

But I also feel like this is the part in the post where I need to repeat what we say quite a few times around the R: just because a person belongs to one or more marginalized group(s) doesn’t mean that person has an innate empathy for people in other marginalized groups. And “doing it for the art”–or to not be “politically correct”–adds insult to injury. Again, to quote Erika, in response to another tweeter:

…the non-responsive response they wrote, the onslaught of people defending them and saying “you didn’t do anything wrong” as if Black people forgot what it feels like to have you[r] very existence turned into something undesirable and slur-worthy…let’s just say it’s DUMB disturbing.

So, as much as I love J’s misadventures, I can’t quite walk down this transphobic, homophobic, and ableist path with her and her crew in this ep.

Image credit: Get on the Sofa

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  • Samia

    They made a freaking AIDS joke in the second ep.  Not surprised they’re transphobic too.

  • Samia

    They made a freaking AIDS joke in the second ep.  Not surprised they’re transphobic too.

  • Samia

    They made a freaking AIDS joke in the second ep.  Not surprised they’re transphobic too.

  • http://twitter.com/calisham alisha with a C

    I thought the reaction to J cutting her hair was to highlight the response that many black women feel when they decide to cut their hair or go natural. I’ve had plenty of people assume I was a lesbian or was even just a male/trans. I’m not sure I buy that that scene was the same as the comments Cece made.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve read Clutch and in terms of the attitudes and perspectives of the articles and the commenters, I would agree.  

    So the opinions there tend to be very “traditional” and rooted in a certain way of thinking, and the population seems to love to load onto ideas that the problems that black women face have to do with how they act, how they keep themselves up (or don’t), etc.  

    So don’t read the comments on the articles there, it will bring you WAY down.  

  • AndreaPlaid

    Thanks everyone for your responses to this thread! I’m seeing that quite a few people may be having a hard time with my critique and their liking ABG.  Another longtime Racialicious reader, RVCBard, noticed the same thing. She wanted to direct your attention to this post:  ”How to Be a Fan of Problematic Things.” 

    The highlights, directly quoted from the post: –Firstly, acknowledge that the thing you like is problematic and do not attempt to make excuses for it.
    But when you say that sexism and racism and heterosexism and cissexism have to be in the narrative or the story won’t be realistic, what you are saying is that we humans literally cannot recognise ourselves without systemic prejudice, nor can we connect to characters who are not unrepentant bigots. Um, yikes. YIKES, you guys.
    –Secondly, do not gloss over the issues or derail conversations about the problematic elements.
    Shutting people down, ignoring or giving minimal treatment to their concerns, and refusing to fully engage with their issues is a form of oppression. Implicitly, you’re giving the message that this person’s feelings are less important than your own. In fact, in this case you’re saying that their pain is less important than your enjoyment of a book, movie or tv show.
    –Thirdly you must acknowledge other, even less favourable, interpretations of the media you like.
    [A]s a fan of problematic media, you need to respect the fact that others may be so upset or angered by media you love that they don’t want to engage with it at all. In fact, one of my best friends won’t watch HBO’s Game of Thrones because of the racism and misogyny. That’s a completely legitimate and valid response to that tv show, and me trying to convince her to give it another shot would be disrespectful and hurtful. If you badger others to see what you see in something when they are telling you it’s not enjoyable for them, you’re being an entitled jerk. You’re showing yourself to be willing to hurt a real person over a television show. That really is a sign you’re taking things too seriously.

    I think it’s an on-point read.  

  • AndreaPlaid

    Actually, I would say that J is–and the ABG’s creators Rae and Oliver are–part of the groups at whom the n-word and the b-word have been used to assault our very existences. Now, even though I’m leery of both words as part of my everyday vocabulary, I can get to their usage by folks in those groups as “in-group” words–rightly or wrongly–and for them to debate/converse about the usage of those words in blogs, in books, and webisodes for tragedy, drama, and humor. I may not necessarily agree with it all–however, in full disclosure, I did write for a publication that reclaimed the b-word as feminist–but I can grasp the reasons for it. 

    It’s precisely that reason that I also felt strongly that tr***y had no place in the show: not only is the word offensive for the reasons stated by graceishuman and in the excerpt from a bell and a pomegranate  but the idea offered up that it’s cool to use because ABG uses the other words is effed up because the ABG team are more than likely cis folks, and thus outside the trans communities that may use that slur internally and have internal debates about that word. It’s not ABG‘s word to use, let alone throw carelessly about in the form of a throwaway comment.

    At what point do we say that, First Amendment notwithstanding, everything is not for us who are outside of communities to say because of its hurtful result and impact? And when do we say that, just because we are part of one or more marginalized groups, doesn’t mean we got license to say/do things that are hateful to other marginalized folks who are part of our group(s)?  

  • AndreaPlaid

    I like @bigscreenkids response and how Latoya  discussed “villiany” and racism when it comes to Sons of Anarchy, namely how we characterized people as almost unforgivably reprobate because they freely express their racism, which is coded as coming from ignorance. (As Latoya points out in the post, the main group of characters is coded as “white trash,” a stereotype that keeps some sense of “identifying” with them as “heroes” or “protagonists” at arm’s length. This of course, allows those who consider themselves more “enlightened” (and this comes with a huge helping of educational privilege, namely only The Educated–and even this means possessing a bachelor’s degree and beyond)–are “free” from racial prejudice. Also, Sons of Anarchy is a drama and is constructed so whatever humor is there is  few and far between. You may get some comic relief–Tyggs sometimes serves that purpose on the show–but the show isn’t about laughter.

    ABG, on the other hand, is a comedy and J, in her awkwardness, is supposed to considered a likeable–if not relatable–protagonist. This “likeability” is seen as being “good.” And comedy’s point is to go for the laugh, be it laughing at/with the character(s) and the situations she and those her universe. However, US society has also constructed certain identities to be butts of and shorthand for jokes, like trans people and people with disabilities. So, comedy that reaches for these identities for jokes…well, people will start essentially screaming, “Do better, dammit!” So, I think you bring up an interesting question: can you have a “good”character–meaning one who’s likeable and relatable”  protagonist–that’s full of -isms and -phobias that doesn’t grow out of them or at least receives a comeuppance due to their views? (Before people say, “Archie Bunker!” “George Jefferson!,” I counter that Bunker and Jefferson both grew as results of growing due to their comeuppance. Seinfeld? I’ve read some critics who say that because the characters refused to grow they became extremely irritating at the end. Ed Bundy from Married with Children? He’s was constructed to be laughed at, not with.) 

  • AndreaPlaid

    I like @bigscreenkids response and how Latoya  discussed “villiany” and racism when it comes to Sons of Anarchy, namely how we characterized people as almost unforgivably reprobate because they freely express their racism, which is coded as coming from ignorance. (As Latoya points out in the post, the main group of characters is coded as “white trash,” a stereotype that keeps some sense of “identifying” with them as “heroes” or “protagonists” at arm’s length. This of course, allows those who consider themselves more “enlightened” (and this comes with a huge helping of educational privilege, namely only The Educated–and even this means possessing a bachelor’s degree and beyond)–are “free” from racial prejudice. Also, Sons of Anarchy is a drama and is constructed so whatever humor is there is  few and far between. You may get some comic relief–Tyggs sometimes serves that purpose on the show–but the show isn’t about laughter.

    ABG, on the other hand, is a comedy and J, in her awkwardness, is supposed to considered a likeable–if not relatable–protagonist. This “likeability” is seen as being “good.” And comedy’s point is to go for the laugh, be it laughing at/with the character(s) and the situations she and those her universe. However, US society has also constructed certain identities to be butts of and shorthand for jokes, like trans people and people with disabilities. So, comedy that reaches for these identities for jokes…well, people will start essentially screaming, “Do better, dammit!” So, I think you bring up an interesting question: can you have a “good”character–meaning one who’s likeable and relatable”  protagonist–that’s full of -isms and -phobias that doesn’t grow out of them or at least receives a comeuppance due to their views? (Before people say, “Archie Bunker!” “George Jefferson!,” I counter that Bunker and Jefferson both grew as results of growing due to their comeuppance. Seinfeld? I’ve read some critics who say that because the characters refused to grow they became extremely irritating at the end. Ed Bundy from Married with Children? He’s was constructed to be laughed at, not with.) 

  • bigscreenkid

    I think in general it’s been accepted that “villain” are given some leeway, especially if their villainy is rooted in ignorance.  I’m not clear about the “good” characters though. Racialicious posted an article praising Sons of Anarchy’s treatment of racism and hypocrisy, but that’s obviously a very different show. And they have more time to handle the “characters you like/root for may sometimes do/say shitty things” with more finesse.

  • bigscreenkid

    I agree that the “are you gay?” and “did you get cancer?” lines weren’t as out of bounds, so to speak, as the “tra**y line for multiple reasons. For one, those are actual responses that women receive when they cut their hair (I’ve gone bald and then short, natural and fielded a ton of insensitive remarks from people of all educational backgrounds), and those lines underscore the ignorance of characters that have already been set up as being small-minded and unlikable. Unlike the use of “tra**y,” I thought it was pretty clear that those lines weren’t making fun of those marginalized groups. In fact, they actually made fun of the people who are ignorant about their speech and assumptions about those groups. I’m also probably one of the few people who aren’t upset by the no-pology, but then again I’m cis gendered… my thinking is would an insincere apology be worth it? I like that they responded instead of simply ignoring it. THAT would’ve ticked me off. At least this acknowledgment, as small as it is, makes me hope that the show’s writers may educate themselves about transgendered hate-speech and issues for future reference, and perhaps once they do, their future actions will be the best apology. I’m feeling optimistic today.

  • Anonymous

    Julie–This is how I look at this episode. And I’m going to bring in a white actor who I seriously crushed on to (hopefully) demonstrate my point. 

    Much in the way I had the serious hots for Michael Fassbender (he of X-Men: First Class and Shame fame), I loooooooooved Awkward Black Girl and declared my lurve for it back in May.

    And, like Michael Fassbender’s amazing acting ability and hottie-tude, I talked up ABG eye-widening humor to friends of mine. As I went so far as to say that, like Feminist Ryan Gosling, someone should jump on it and start an anti-racist Michael Fassbender Tumblr. And, being the fan I am, I joined ABG’s Facebook page.

    Then reality kicked in. 

    An online pal mentioned that Fassbender shouldn’t get an anti-racist Tumblr because his ex-girlfriend (allegedly) had to get a restraining order on him (which she reportedly since dropped). And Latoya’s warning about ABG came to fruition–a warning I ignored because I really, really wanted to believe in the series and give it a chance:

    Readers who watch the whole may notice that MABG has a lot of problematic jokes and language, particularly around queer identity and colorism. Feel free to bring these up in the comments section here. It’s an ongoing tension where we want to highlight works by creators of color, but all creators don’t share our anti-oppression values. (A good reference point would be almost all of our conversations around the depiction of women in the Harold and Kumar series.) We are still working out, internally, how we want to engage with this type of work. – LDP

    So, I feel the same way about both Fassbender and ABG: I give them both some serious side-eye. 

    But that’s me. I simply stated in this post not only how I felt about the slurs, but also the creators’ response to fan outcry to the slurs. You can engage or not engage the show how you see fit.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=506395064 Angelica Moreno

    I was standing in a bar about 2 years ago, going on about 2 months of recovery from surgery for stomach cancer, my hair had barely started growing back from the chemotherapy. A man came up to me and started a conversation and asked me if I had any friends he could “hook up” with because you know people like me had lots of gay friends. I looked at him kindly and asked if he thought I was a lesbian. “yes, of course” was his answer. Again, I looked at him very kindly and stated back to him that I had cancer. He had the most distraught face when I said this and said “I’m so sorry, pray with me.”

    So, when all is said and done….I cracked up with that exchange in episode 11. Because I was there and it happened to me and it brought to light once again the ignorance that people have and the need to label what they do not know.

  • Anonymous

    I’m also a cis woman and, as you can read, I chose to speak out on ABG’s transmisogyny. I’m also able-bodied, yet I chose to speak out on the show’s ableism. And, as you can see by my avatar (also if you scroll down to my profile under “Who We Are,” you’ll also see) that I’m a baldie. So, yes, I’ve also had someone comment on my being bald due to cancer, too. And it was from a rather kindly white woman. Yet and still, I didn’t care for the comment.

    With that said–and having worked in the media–I acknowledge the limitations of what I call “First Amendment Logic”: just because you may have the right to freely say something doesn’t mean you should say it. So, yeah, we can “celebrate” Rae and her team’s right to say “tr***y bitch in heels” or to make ableist and femininity-policing comments (which is an everyday form of transphobia)  about people’s hair–be the person/character ignorant or malicious (if not both)…

    But.

    This is where I stop shaking my poms-poms and put down my noisemakers in trying to celebrate the First Amendment. From ShamanofHedon in this comment section:

    Some people are sadly all too content to bully others with bigotry and dismissiveness EVEN if they experience it themselves. Us silly oversensitive trannies are still less than human by law, so we’re still peachy to shit on. And their “Well we say nigga” defense shows that they genuinely don’t see that the bullying they inflict on us is every bit as deplorable as that they themselvesendure. But they always find a way to justify it rather than accept that they’re just passing the hatred down the chain. 

    At some point, being a person trying to respect other folks’ existences trumps ye olde First Amendment rights. Shit.

  • Anonymous

    I’m also a cis woman and, as you can read, I chose to speak out on ABG’s transmisogyny. I’m also able-bodied, yet I chose to speak out on the show’s ableism. And, as you can see by my avatar (also if you scroll down to my profile under “Who We Are,” you’ll also see) that I’m a baldie. So, yes, I’ve also had someone comment on my being bald due to cancer, too. And it was from a rather kindly white woman. Yet and still, I didn’t care for the comment.

    With that said–and having worked in the media–I acknowledge the limitations of what I call “First Amendment Logic”: just because you may have the right to freely say something doesn’t mean you should say it. So, yeah, we can “celebrate” Rae and her team’s right to say “tr***y bitch in heels” or to make ableist and femininity-policing comments (which is an everyday form of transphobia)  about people’s hair–be the person/character ignorant or malicious (if not both)…

    But.

    This is where I stop shaking my poms-poms and put down my noisemakers in trying to celebrate the First Amendment. From ShamanofHedon in this comment section:

    Some people are sadly all too content to bully others with bigotry and dismissiveness EVEN if they experience it themselves. Us silly oversensitive trannies are still less than human by law, so we’re still peachy to shit on. And their “Well we say nigga” defense shows that they genuinely don’t see that the bullying they inflict on us is every bit as deplorable as that they themselvesendure. But they always find a way to justify it rather than accept that they’re just passing the hatred down the chain. 

    At some point, being a person trying to respect other folks’ existences trumps ye olde First Amendment rights. Shit.

    • Mae

      Like I said before, I don’t feel that I can comment on the use of the t-word. I am being educated on the hurt it invokes, and I am thankful for the education on the issue. I can’t pretend like I have thought about it much before, but I am now.
       
      Its also great that you, as a bald black woman, have a different view than me on the language used concerning Jay’s haircut. Diverse viewpoints are just fine by me. There is no “one way” for black women to think or feel about these subjects.
       
      As for the rest, luckily, we (as Americans, at least) don’t live in a county that governs our behavior by what we should and should not do, but by our rights and privileges. I’m not interested in being a citizen of a country or member of a society where my freedom of speech is allowed as long as I don’t disrespect anyone else. That’s too slippery a slope; I mean, what is deemed disrespectful by “the powers that be” (progressives, conservatives, Christians, Atheists, etc.) would most certainly change depending on who is in power. 
       
      Second of all, I just don’t need everyone to think like me and feel the way I do about issues. My way is not necessarily the right way, and neither is yours. I respect, to use your words, people’s rights to think, and speak, to a certain degree, as they wish. In an ideally socially just world, must everyone think or say the same things? I don’t see that as ever being reality, nor am I sure that I want that (it seems like some type of mind control/suppression would have to be in place).
       
      As a person who trained/worked in the library and information science field, I am fervently against suppression of free speech. As a person who has trained/worked in the social justice education field, I am fervently against hate speech and hateful, suppressive educational policies and practices. I don’t think I have to either be for respect of all humanity OR respect for our First Amendment rights. Sometimes the lines are blurred, but that is life. Full of gray.

      • Anonymous

        Go back and read my response, Mae. Nowhere in my statements–from my original post to my comments to you–that I said you had to agree with my opinion. In fact, my initial direct comment to you is to disagree with your idea that a cis person couldn’t speak up about transmisogyny ableism.

        And I’ve also been trained in library and information science as well as journalism and creative writing–so, yes, I’m quite familiar with the arguments for First Amendment and art and reporting and so on. And though I completely understand the gray areas around freedom of speech and life, I also know I can draw lines even in those gray areas. In this case, I don’t think transmisogyny and ableism fit even in this episode. 

        With all this said, you and I have to agree to disagree. Thanks for your response!

  • Anonymous

    I’m also a cis woman and, as you can read, I chose to speak out on ABG’s transmisogyny. I’m also able-bodied, yet I chose to speak out on the show’s ableism. And, as you can see by my avatar (also if you scroll down to my profile under “Who We Are,” you’ll also see) that I’m a baldie. So, yes, I’ve also had someone comment on my being bald due to cancer, too. And it was from a rather kindly white woman. Yet and still, I didn’t care for the comment.

    With that said–and having worked in the media–I acknowledge the limitations of what I call “First Amendment Logic”: just because you may have the right to freely say something doesn’t mean you should say it. So, yeah, we can “celebrate” Rae and her team’s right to say “tr***y bitch in heels” or to make ableist and femininity-policing comments (which is an everyday form of transphobia)  about people’s hair–be the person/character ignorant or malicious (if not both)…

    But.

    This is where I stop shaking my poms-poms and put down my noisemakers in trying to celebrate the First Amendment. From ShamanofHedon in this comment section:

    Some people are sadly all too content to bully others with bigotry and dismissiveness EVEN if they experience it themselves. Us silly oversensitive trannies are still less than human by law, so we’re still peachy to shit on. And their “Well we say nigga” defense shows that they genuinely don’t see that the bullying they inflict on us is every bit as deplorable as that they themselvesendure. But they always find a way to justify it rather than accept that they’re just passing the hatred down the chain. 

    At some point, being a person trying to respect other folks’ existences trumps ye olde First Amendment rights. Shit.

  • Anonymous

    I’m not going to “teach” anything. I need you to re-read what I wrote, particularly this passage: 

    As for ABG‘s use of the words “bitch” and “n***a” as a reason why it should be OK for the creators to, therefore, use the words “tr***y,” I’ll say here what I said on a radio interview about those white feminists who defended the sign “Woman Is the N****r of the World” at SlutWalk NYC’s march: unless Rae and/or other people on ABG‘s creative team is a trans person, the word isn’t for them to use because they are outside of those communities. And, even at that, if there is a trans person on the crew, that person’s presence still doesn’t give permission or license for ABG‘s cisgender cast and crew to use it because the other trans folks didn’t vote on that person to give that imprimatur to use the slur.

  • Anonymous

    We wouldn’t accept a response like “comedy can be mean” when it comes to racism. So why accept that now?

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  • Bx

    Re:
    “Even Patti’s comment about J being “gay” because of J’s short cut pivots
    on both homophobia and transphobia, namely that Black lesbians are
    stereotyped as “looking” a certain way that is “outside” of the hetero
    male gaze (and, by extension, hetero male sexual/romantic
    consideration), namely having a short afro, which is construed as
    “trying to be manly,” thus policing J’s femininity. Of course, Nina’s
    comment comment about “catching cancer” is simply ableist.”

    So are you saying that the office bully character should have been more attentive to the harm in the things that she was saying? And that people who were putting down a co-worker should have been saying things that considered the social ramifications of what they’re saying? Because I think that’d make Nina less of an asshole and Patti less ignorant, which would kill the point of that particular exchange. You can’t write ignorant characters as non-ignorant people. That’s what that exchange is satirizing. Come on, give the viewers of ABG credit in discerning that. Good grief.

    I’m with you on the use of tranny though. Not at all necessary or appropriate. It wasn’t at all satirizing anything and other language could have been substituted without changing the character of the exchange.

    • AndreaPlaid

      Actually Bx, you can. If Nina is such a big asshole as you pointed out, then I believe Nina could have landed the same blow by simply stroking her hair while pointedly looking at J’s TWA and purring, “Nice hair, J.” And Patty could have looked at J and said, “A ‘fro? Really, gurl?” and kept sniffling and sneezing. 

      Now, both of those comments 1) still display Nina’s and Patti’s ignorance and 2) do it without resorting to ableism, homophobia, or transmisogyny. Those comment could also get into discussions about colorism, hair, and femininity. In fact, the comments would bring to mind this post on the R a while back by Diamond Stylz, a trans woman who described the reactions from men when she wore a natural and when she wore a wig of straight hair.

      • Bx

        That isn’t funny at all. The thing about the exchange is that it humorously critiqued the ignorance of Patti and Nina.

        You’re assuming that the people viewing ABG would miss the point of the initial exchange and accept the ableist, colorist, and homophobia of the initial comment. But somehow, you’re assuming that saying, “nice hair” would lead them to get to the same point. That’s even less obvious. Also, as I said before not funny. Also, “an afro? Really, gurl.” Is a comment on the beauty standards of black females toward each other, which brings up a completely different point.

        Where was the transphobia in that paragraph?

        I agreed with you that the used of “tranny” comment added nothing to the satire and was just hurtful and ignorant.

        But the other point, the paragraph I quoted misses the point completely. And, I’m sorry but as a straight black woman who has cut her hair off and had similar comments legitimately said to me AND who is a comedy writer AND based on comments of people in the thread elsewhere, I’m at a loss over this paragraph.

        I guess my question is this: Could you provide me with some examples of racial satire that you do find appropriate, because I’m having a hard time figuring out what your standards for racial satire are.

        I know the comment “Truth in comedy” argument doesn’t mean anything. I’ve explained to other comics why this is not a justification but I feel to need to say IT IS SATIRE. It is speaking to a niche audience full of people who have had the same experiences. That’s why it’s absolutely hilarious. A lot of us have been there.

        • Anonymous

          Then, Bx, you and I agree to disagree because, honestly, even your saying that it’s satire is, in my estimation, is a variation of justifying the ableism and transphobia under the guise of “truth in comedy” that I have addressed not only in my original post but throughout the comment section. 

          Thanks for your response!

  • bigscreenkid

    A friend of mine recently recommended this show to me. There are many things that I find funny and can relate to as a fellow “awkward black girl,” but the use of “tranny” stood out in a show filled with politically incorrect humor. It didn’t make me stop watching, which is an understandable reaction that quite a few people had, but I winced. As a fan of ABG, I’ve winced at several lines and words in the episode. Thing is… with the mentions of Childish Gambino and various other things in previous episodes, I’m not sure how/when/why people thought this show or its makers were allies for the LBGT community.

  • Alexandra

    It hurts me to hear words like this. When I hear homophobic slurs I feel ill. It’s not hard for me to fathom how transphobic slurs are just as hurtful. Transgendered people… are people just like the rest of us. Yes, it can seem funny and casual to heteroseuxals born the same gender- a joke, but when you’re the target of actual hatred it’s no longer funny. I obviously can’t support N***** or B**** either. It annoys me how often I am bombarded by language meant to demean people like me.

  • S.

    I agree with everything with the exception of this paragraph…

    “Even Patti’s comment about J being “gay” because of J’s short cut pivots
    on both homophobia and transphobia, namely that Black lesbians are
    stereotyped as “looking” a certain way that is “outside” of the hetero
    male gaze (and, by extension, hetero male sexual/romantic
    consideration), namely having a short afro, which is construed as
    “trying to be manly,” thus policing J’s femininity. Of course, Nina’s
    comment comment about “catching cancer” is simply ableist.”

    You missed the mark on these ones. With those two comments, the characters making them were the butt of the joke and the scene was set up to make the viewers laugh at their ignorance. Where as “tranny b*tch in heels” the “tranny” is the joke. There’s nothing else to the joke and clearly the joke was made by the main character and set up in such a way to make the viewer laugh *with* Jay. But I didn’t laugh… actually that joke flew right by me and I had to replay it after reading the letter written by the pro-Trans ABG fans.

    However, reading it in plan text it was clearly wrong. Like I said under the original Clutch article, she should have apologize and moved on. Now, deliberate and unwavering disrespect is the problem. I wish it was different because I love this show so much but honestly this isn’t my first problem with it…

    Not to move the attention away from the main issue but in the ‘ White date’ episode when Jay goes on a date with White Jay for the first time her bff, Cece, casually mentions how she ‘skipped yellow and brown and went straight UP to White’ as if some racial hierarchy actually exists. Had Cece said this in a joking manner like she delivers many of her crazy one-liners, I wouldn’t be writing this right now. The tone of that conversation was too ‘real’ for me to take it as a joke

    But back to the main issue here… I am disappointed in Issa. I had high hopes for her. Hopefully she’s digesting more of these responses and reconsiders that “no-pology”

    • AndreaPlaid

      Even if the scene was used to set up Nina and Patti as ignorant and for us to laugh with J, I’d argue that they could’ve been set up without the transmisogyny and the ableism, full stop. Even if  trans people and people with disabilities weren’t the joke unto themselves, I’d also argue that using them as the cultural “funnel” of a joke is just as problematic.

      You and I will have to agree to disagree on this. Thanks for your response!

  • http://alagarconniere.wordpress.com julia

    you really spell the issue out totally clearly and consisely. great article on a very disappointing “nonpology”