Column: Tell a joke, Dave Chapelle


Photo credit: Tracy Tragos

Netflix workers and members of the entertainment industry gather to protest Netflix’s protection of Dave Chappelle. The media giant has chosen to side with the comedian following backlash about anti-transgender comments he makes in his special.

By Charlotte Tragos, Columnist

My younger brother came out as transgender in 2020. Only 40% of people in the world know a transgender person individually. This means, 60% of people may have misconceptions about transgender people based on the media they consume and the environment they live in.

Last month, Dave Chapelle’s comedy special “The Closer” came out on Netflix. Chappelle chose to replace his beloved dry humor with strange, unfunny comments about the transgender community. His comments come only a year after a record number of transgender people, mostly transgender people of color were killed, and on the anniversary of transgender people being banned from military service. This comes in the middle of political turmoil surrounding the right of transgender people to a bathroom and other protections.

Chapelle says, “Gender is a fact,” declares he supports the “TERF” (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) movement and likens trans women’s genitalia to plant-based meat substitutes, stating: “every human being in this room, every human being on Earth, had to pass through the legs of a woman to be on Earth.”

This action actively aids the anti-transgender movement. He provides cause for public figures to disparage hurtful comments as “jokes.” He gives language for children to repeat, cementing anti-trans thoughts in the next generations. He fails to recognize the power of his words.

My little brother Sam came out as transgender last year. Sam has struggled to find a safe and inclusive community outside of his home that supports and uplifts them, rendering my 13-year old brother incredibly vulnerable to bullying, isolation and loneliness. I talked to Sam about his response to Chapelle’s words. Sam heard through an online group for LGBTQ+ kids about the comedian.

“It made me feel really bad about myself and it felt like he was just invalidating my experience,” Sam said.

Maybe I care so much about this issue because I care so much about Sam. Maybe it is clear to me the impact of his words because I can see their impact on my brother. Maybe, not everyone can understand the impact of aggressions unless they or someone they love experiences them. I hope that people can imagine that Sam is not alone. 

Last year, the largest survey of transgender and nonbinary youth collected data that indicated more than half seriously considered suicide, with 94% of LGBTQ youth reporting that recent politics negatively impacted his mental health. The survey had some positive results. It indicated that when pronouns were respected by all of the people trans and nonbinary kids lived with, they reported a reduction of 50% in attempted suicide.

This means your direct actions to transgender youth have such important consequences, so we all have a role to play. For me, the role is supporting my brother when Sam is unable to use the bathroom of his choice or comes home crying because another kid misgendered them. Supporting transgender youth is using his pronouns but also actively showing allyship. 

Transforming family has compiled resources for support and information on transgender youth, and FLAG’s Straight for Equality site has created a guide to being a trans ally.

We all need to play a role to take away the microphone from harmful figures like Chappelle and give transgender youth a safe platform to share their experience. For Sam, when he was transitioning, he “began to feel sad about [himself] and [his] body,” but “love and support changed everything.”