Natalie Revelations About Transgender Culture Post #1: Will and Grace

Disclaimer: Please know that I am very aware I probably offended a lot of people in this post with both my ignorance, lack of research on this topic and overall inability to filter myself. If you have constructive criticism or somewhere I can find some reading on this topic, please point me in the right direction. I’m happy to consider a different perspective so long as it’s a constructive one. As my “About” of this blog says: these thoughts and typos are mine and I’m learning. Patience with my journey is appreciated.

There are many things I think about in a different way now that I am married to someone who is transitioning. One of these things is the dialogue around transitioning and transgender people among my friends and peers as well as in popular culture. These moments have inspired this series of posts. My first matter of discussion? Will and Grace, the beloved sitcom that aired from 1998 to 2006 and was part of a revolution in the American popular culture that changed (in accidental conjunction with celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres and Rosie O’Donnell) the dialogue for gay and lesbian rights. I’ve been watching the series in its entirety (by watching I mean often laughing at one episode and then falling asleep on the couch as the second one airs) since it’s now being revived on NBC. I cannot watch the new episodes, which I’m told are quite good, until I have the backstory. Yes, I’m one of THOSE people.

That said, there are several episodes where Jack makes off-color comments comparing himself or whichever character he is discussing to being better than a “tranny”. One example, and this is definitely not the only one, is in Season 6, Episode 5. Jack is competing in a Gay spelling bee and terrified of losing. The episode is hilarious and I highly recommend it. That said, at one point while freaking out the following dialogue occurs:

Karen: So, I’ll write 30 words on my left boob and 32 on my right. (pause) What? It’s a little bigger. And that’s normal.

Jack: No, Karen! You can’t write the answers on your boobs!

Karen: Why not? It’s the only place in a gay bar that nobody’s gonna look.

Jack: No! That would be cheating. It would besmirch the reputation of gay spelling bees organized by drag queens in filthy tranny bars everywhere.

Now, I know in context to the conversation they are having, there are worse ways to describe a “tranny” bar.  I also know, provided the time this episode aired, this is a perfect example of where our culture was on the issue. We barely acknowledge transgender people as it is now and I would like to hope such commentary wouldn’t be included on a sitcom today. Even further, there are several issues about how the gay and lesbian community is discussed in this show that suggest we have come a very, VERY long way as a society when discussing the LGBTQ community upon reflection. Still, the fact that there is little done to provide a voice to the “T” in our lovely LGBTQ community on Will and Grace and what little perspective is provided on the show is coupled by comparisons that often include a negative term like “filthy”  really bothers me. I know, I know! I can imagine what you are thinking. “This show was filmed so long ago, Natalie!” “We’ve come a long way!” “Accept the show for the nostalgia of the time period.” Trust me, I do acknowledge these things! The show is really funny still, but that doesn’t excuse a need for a dialogue.

The point of this post is that I am uncomfortable with the word “tranny” now that the community is personalized to me through the experience of watching my spouse transition. As mentioned, the quote provided is one of several throughout the series. Each time Katie and I watch the show and the word “tranny” is used, I feel a need to apologize to her. I know I don’t need to take on the responsibility of the writers for a show written almost 20 years ago, but that’s the level of discomfort I feel about it. The term itself seems to connote a derogatory impression. I’m much more aware of how people discuss the transgender community in general. Every time Katie comes home from work to tell me about the conversations had in her workplace essentially making fun of “he/she’s” or other non-informed terms, it breaks my heart and makes me so angry. It’s amazing how much people just don’t know about this world. It’s amazing how much I don’t know.

Again, our society had come a long way. BUT WE STILL HAVE SO FAR TO GO. I really just hope one day we can live in a world where my wife is never called a “tranny” or put in a category of”other” in the negative way people do when they are afraid of the unknown. Ultimately, we”other” and demonize what we don’t know or understand. It’s easier than opening our hearts to be compassionate. This sounds so lofty, but I hope I get to raise kids in a world where gender isn’t an announcement, it’s just part of who we are. In this future-world, transgender people are not an anomaly on TV, they are just part of our daily lives, as visible and accepted as a dog is for a pet, coffee is with breakfast, or the letter T in the word Transgender.

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