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
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.
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