Frankie Boyle is right: Ricky Gervais clearly doesn't respect trans people
While I’m personally not a fan of Frankie Boyle, I can’t help but admit that I was pleased to see him call out Ricky Gervais for his ‘lazy’ jokes about trans people.
Boyle went on Louis Theroux’s podcast, where he said: ‘I would like [Gervais] to have the same respect for trans people as he seems to have for animals. I don’t think that’s a lot to ask.’
I’m inclined to agree.
In the past, Gervais has been known to poke fun at people’s right to identify as a certain gender with lines like, ‘From now on, you call me Bobo. I’ll legally be a chimp… I’ll be able to use chimp toilets’.
On another occasion, he seemed obsessed with making fun of Caitlyn Jenner, calling her by her dead-name 15 times and referring to her by male pronouns.
These jibes are cruel, but nothing new. It’s the same material many other comedians have used for decades. It’s always the same old, tired ‘jokes’.
It was something I was aware of growing up. Whether it was on film, in a TV series or in books, people like me constantly seemed to be the punchline.
People made fun of our appearance, our gender identity and our bodies — all in an attempt to evoke a feeling of hilarity or even disgust. We were seen as freaks. Sadly we are still seen that way by some.
Back in the day, there weren’t any people sticking up for us. We were fair game for anyone, without a chance to defend ourselves. It’s only been in the past few years that we’ve received enough visibility and enough of a voice to be able to say: ‘that’s not right’.
But because of the deep-seatedness of anti-trans rhetoric, trans people often struggle to get the people around them to respect who they are, and to use the right names and pronouns.
It took some people around me years to get used to it, and some people still maliciously use my dead-name and old pronouns. While it doesn’t affect me anymore, it did tremendously for the first few years after coming out.
And I put a lot of that behaviour down to what people saw or heard on TV; that seeing it broadcast somehow made it acceptable.
Trans people struggle to do every day things without harassment, and get discriminated against when seeking services, at their place of work, and in most avenues in their daily lives.
Mundane things like going clothes shopping or using a public toilet becomes a tumultuous ordeal, filled with anxiety and fear of whether they will be harassed and humiliated.
Gervais’ comments might seem funny to those who don’t have that experience, but for people like me it’s a stark reminder that people don’t care about what we go through. It’s sad to see that lack of compassion and empathy for others.
It goes to show he holds little respect for Caitlyn Jenner personally, and to trans people in general. The very least you can do is respect people’s name and pronouns, even in comedy.
We know the damage these kinds of jokes do, and just want to be listened to when we say it’s not funny
While I can certainly appreciate good humour, this type is ridiculously unoriginal and not funny at all.
It’s incredibly disrespectful to the hardships that trans people go through in their everyday life, who get harassed and discriminated against simply for being themselves.
It’s naive to think these ‘jokes’ exist in a vacuum and that won’t have an effect on the lives of real people. People who don’t know any trans people will go away from listening to people laugh along to comments like that thinking it’s OK not to take trans people and their gender identity seriously.
Gervais appears to have responded to Boyle’s comments by tweeting that he ‘looks down on everyone equally’. If that’s the case, I look forward to hearing his jokes about white male comedians who think it’s funny to take a jab at marginalised people in his next set.
But like comedian Kumail Nanjiani pointed out, making jokes about marginalised communities normalises those types of attitudes, whether or not the one making the joke believes it or not. It confirms people’s bias and breeds prejudice in those who already hold it.
There is power in humour. Power to criticise and reveal the ridiculousness of our lives, our politics or even just our everyday situations or interactions. But it also has the power to perpetuate harmful attitudes about groups of people.
Thankfully, as Boyle showed, people are starting to wake up to this and second guess the nature of these jokes. I like to think Boyle will be reflecting on some of the unacceptable jokes he’s made in the past, too.
The thing is, whenever criticism of this sort arises, you can bet those calling out the behaviour in the first place will be called ‘woke snowflakes, or ‘sensitive’ – as if those are bad terms that are eroding the fundamental values of free speech and expression.
But to me it seems more like a dog-whistle for people to try and justify their continued inappropriate and offensive humour without being called out for it.
It’s not just dark humour to say jokes that negatively affect marginalised people — that’s just being an asshole. Dark humour is sarcastic, self-deprecating, challenging, and bleak. It has nothing to do with perpetuating ignorance and toxic attitudes.
In my experience, the people defending this unoriginal and lazy humour usually seem to think everything is fair game — whether it be racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist or transphobic.
It seems to me that the white, straight, cisgender men who make these ‘jokes’ – and it is usually they who are responsible – have had the luxury of never being the butt of the joke, while many of us have been their punchlines for decades.
We know the damage these kinds of jokes do, and just want to be listened to when we say it’s not funny.
If being ‘woke’ or ‘politically correct’ is being a decent human being that takes responsibility for what they say, and being aware of how their words might affect other people — as opposed to being insensitive, making cheap and lazy jokes that harms others — I know what I’d pick.
Because being ‘woke’ or ‘politically correct’ isn’t about curtailing free speech or ruining comedy.
It’s about standing up to attitudes that have been pervasive for far too long and help perpetuate inequality and stigma towards people, so that ‘jokes’ don’t ruin the lives of others.
That’s something that Ricky Gervais needs to learn.
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