Last spring, the Fox Network’s television show GLEE took a hit from some trans activists, as well as some lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community activists, for use of the pejorative “shemale” in one of their episodes. In that April 13th, 2010 episode, Coach Sylvester, (played by openly lesbian actress Jane Lynch) used the term “shemale” to refer to an androgynous appearing male student when she literally clipped off the student’s pony tail.
The National Youth Advocacy Coalition had this to say about that April episode in their April 14th press statement, entitled National LGBT Youth Organization Concerned Over Transphobia Exhibited in GLEE:
PRESS STATEMENT, Gregory Varnum, Executive Director, National Youth Advocacy Coalition
“GLEE’s potential impact on improving people’s understanding and acceptance of youth regardless of their creed, race or sexual orientation is undeniable. The program has set an ambitious goal of showing youth that being different is okay. As an engaged audience, it is our responsibility to help the show’s writers meet that worthy goal. The show’s April 13th episode presents us with an opportunity to help a well-intentioned program see that even with those good intentions, their words can hurt some and offend others.
“For far too long the gender non-conforming members of our society have served as an easy source of humor. This bully-style humor just isn’t as funny as the writers may think it is. I appreciate that using words like ‘shemale’ helps portray Coach Sylvester’s character as antagonistic. However, the reality is that many watching the show will not appreciate the subtle messaging that since Coach Sylvester uttered the offensive term, it must be wrong to use. The reality is up to 99% of LGBT youth in public schools experience some form of bullying or harassment. Intentionally or not, GLEE’s writers are perpetuating that situation by showcasing a school authority figure who mimics bullying behavior.
“The writing team for GLEE have proven that they have incredible talent and potential. I applaud their valiant goal and hope very much that they succeed. I would like them to use their talents to come up with a way to portray Coach Sylvester’s character that does not revolve around her use of racist, homophobic and transphobic commentary. That strategy has been recycled many times already and frankly, it’s getting old. If this show is truly hoping to improve how people who are different get treated, they will need to do better. We must hold them accountable. I know we can do better, and for the program’s young audience, we must do better.”
In that episode, Glee offended by what I’ll label as commission of transphobia by a character; the most recent episode, entitled Rocky Horror Glee Show (video here), they offended a number of trans people by omission — it’s been the talk of my trans twitter friends.
Specifically, the term transsexual was scrubbed from the fictional glee club’s performance of the Rocky Horror Picture Show; as one example, the phrase “transsexual Transylvania” in the song Sweet Transvestite becomes “sensational Transylvania.”
Apparently, the new word for people like me is “sensational.”
The episode didn’t touch on what transsexual means, what transgender means, and didn’t discuss that there are brick-and-mortar world transyouth. For some reason, the Fox network censors let “transvestite” through the filtering — a term that wasn’t considered an pejorative in the seventies when the film Rocky Horror Picture Show was released, but is considered a pejorative by many transgender people now — but didn’t let the non-pejorative term “transsexual” through their filtering.
This is from same network that gave us a GLEE photo that was recently identified by the feminist coalition SPARK (Sexualization protest: action, resistance, knowledge) as sexualizing teenage girls, and whose network censors let the use pejorative “shemale” pass through on a previous GLEE episode, erased the term “transsexual” from the Rocky Horror Picture Show. This is also from the same network that gave us Family Guy and The Cleveland Show episodes that showed characters barfing at the idea of having sexual relations with trans women (one for sex with a full time crossdresser and one sex with a transsexual).
I know a lot of readers of Pam’s House Blend like the show GLEE, especially because GLEE shows the acceptance of school outcasts — one outcast in the show’s glee club being a gay character. Just know that one can have a gay-friendly television show that is also transphobic; that also literally erases the existence of trans people.
Frankly, GLEE seems a friendly show for gay and lesbian people, but the show doesn’t seem to acknowledge that bisexual or queer-identified people exist, and in one case has shown a character as being hostile to trans people without any balance of acceptance of trans people by other characters, and in another case erased the existence of transsexual people. To me, GLEE seems a mixed bag for LGBTQ community — friendly on one level, unfriendly on another.
In the meantime, I guess you can just call me “sensational.”
* Time Magazine Glee Watch: They’ve Created a Monster
* OutQNews Madonna Likes Glee Episode, Trans Do Not
* Bilerico‘s Is GLEE Really A Friend of the LGBT Community? (by Jillian Todd Weiss)
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