Chappelle's previous Netflix specials received criticism due to transphobic humor.
Marilyn Drew Necci | January 2, 2018
Dave Chappelle is at it again. The comedian, who ended his years out of the limelight last year with two Netflix stand-up specials, The Age Of Spin and Deep In The Heart of Texas, has just released two more to start off 2018 — The Bird Revelation and Equanimity. And sadly, the two new specials are just as full of anti-LGBTQ humor as the first two were.
While four Chappelle specials in a single year might have been welcome news for comedy fans at one time, expectations for these new specials were greatly diminished by the significant time Chappelle spent on anti-LGBTQ jokes in the first two. Jokes about flannel-shirted “dykes” and prison rape within the first three minutes of Deep In The Heart Of Texas were just the beginning; Chappelle proceeded to spend several minutes on a story about a trans woman — or, as he called her, “definitely a man in a dress” — passing out at a party. The main point of the bit is that Chappelle finds it unreasonable for trans people to expect him to use the correct pronouns for them. Awesome. Then in The Age Of Spin, Chappelle rolls out the age-old stereotype of the “deceptive” trans woman, who “tricks” straight men into having “gay sex” with her. This little detour functions as part of a bit that mainly just expresses horror at the idea that trans women exist.
After these specials were released, Chappelle defended himself in an interview with the Washington Blade. “Do I discriminate against somebody because they’re trans? I would like to think absolutely not, Chappelle told the Blade, then continued, “I’m not an obstructionist of anybody’s lifestyle, as long as it doesn’t hurt me or people I love, and I don’t believe that lifestyle does.” Transgender activist of color Monica Roberts responded to this comment of Chappelle’s by pointing out that “being transgender is not a ‘lifestyle. It’s the essence of who we are as people.”
But never mind Chappelle’s problematic use of the term “lifestyle” for now. Let’s talk about the ways in which his new specials put the lie to the idea that he doesn’t have a problem with trans people. In Equanimity, he talks about the responses that greeted his previous Netflix specials. “You know who hates me the most? The transgender community,” he says by way of introducing the topic. “I didn’t realize how bad it was. These motherfuckers are really mad about that last Netflix special.”
He continues, “I don’t know what to do about it, because I like them. I always have. Never had a problem with them.” But he immediately follows that statement by saying, “As a group of people they have to admit… it’s kind of fucking hilarious, man.” By this, he goes on to explain, he means that being transgender is funny if it isn’t happening to you. Ugh.
Then he trots out the infuriating trope of comparing trans people to so-called “transracial” people, like the infamous Rachel Dolezal, who portray themselves as a different race. Chappelle then says he believes trans people, though, because — quoting directly — “them n***as cut they dicks off.”*
“I believe trans people, them niggas cut they dicks off…
That’s all the proof I need.” – @DaveChappelle on Netflix special
— washed (@MaisonTisci) December 31, 2017
Unlike Chappelle’s first two Netflix specials, in which all of his anti-LGBTQ jokes were directed specifically at trans people, The Bird Revelation features a bit in which Chappelle throws out some more broadly homophobic commentary during a discussion of the Kevin Spacey sexual assault scandal. Speaking about Anthony Rapp, the actor who accused Spacey of assaulting him when he was only 14, Chappelle says the incident wasn’t actually a big deal, because Rapp “grew up to be gay anyway.”
He then goes on to blame Rapp for his victimization at Spacey’s hands, even beginning the statement with the classic cringeworthy introduction, “Not to victim-blame, but…” Chappelle continues, “It seems like the kind of situation a gay 14-year-old kid would get himself into.”
For Chappelle, it seems the worst part of the whole situation was that Kevin Spacey was fired from House Of Cards due to the allegations. “[Rapp] was 14 years old and forced to carry a grown man’s secret for 30 years,” Chappelle says. “The saddest part is, if he had been able to carry that secret for another six months, I would get to know how House of Cards ends.”
If this is the kind of humor Dave Chappelle has decided to make his main stock in trade, we very well may be finding out right now how his career ends.
[*--Not that I even want to dignify this argument with a response, but to be clear, there is plenty of information out there pointing out biological facts that give credence to the idea that being transgender is not a decision but an innate reality for trans people. As trans writer and activist Julia Serrano pointed out in a 2017 essay, there are some regions of the brain that display sexual dimorphism, and "in these regions, trans women’s brains appear more female-typical than male-typical." What's more, a study on twins found that, when one member of an identical twin pair was transgender, the other member of the twin pair was more likely to be trans than in similar cases involving fraternal twins.]