Roseanne's reputation as an LGBTQ ally was formed decades ago. These days, it's completely inaccurate.
Marilyn Drew Necci | April 2, 2018
There’s been a lot of talk over the past few months about the Roseanne reboot. As someone who loved the show in the late 80s and early 90s, you might think I’d be stoked to see it return. However, I’ve been paying attention to Roseanne’s public profile in the years since her show went off the air, and what I’ve seen over the past decade or so has completely turned me off.
I’m apparently not alone, if the articles I’ve seen online are any indication. However, those articles almost universally focus on the fact that both the revived character of Roseanne and her real-life creator are open supporters of Donald Trump. Artistically, I can almost support the choice where the character is concerned — after all, I’m sure I’m not the only LGBTQ person with at least one parent who vocally supports Trump despite what a horror-show his policies have been for our community. The possibilities presented by having this tension reflected in one of America’s favorite fictional families are intriguing, at least to me.
And of course, there’s the fact that everyone brings up when discussing this — that the original incarnation of Roseanne was a progressive show, featuring gay weddings and the first onscreen kiss between two women on network television. Roseanne herself was even named The Advocate’s Person of the Year in 1994 as a result of her LGBTQ advocacy.
However, as a trans woman, I don’t even need to know that real-life Roseanne is a Trump supporter to be very wary of anything she’s involved with. Indeed, my apprehension towards Roseanne dates back to the days when Obama was still in office. Remember when she ran for president as an independent candidate in 2012? (Oh yeah, that happened.) At one point during that whole campaign, she attacked Green Party candidate Jill Stein for supporting trans access to correct bathrooms.
While attacking Stein on twitter for refusing to debate her, Roseanne responded to a fan that tweeted, “Jill is also in favor of letting men into spaces where young girls get changed,” tweeting, “If she has a penis, she is not allowed in.” She went on to write, “Transgender folks should have their own safe bathrooms – they should not be FORCED into bathrooms with young girls who hate them there,” and, “Women do not want your penises forced in their faces or in our private bathrooms. Respect that FACT.”
Roseanne’s twitter was the source of other anti-trans comments as well. In 2014, she argued with Martha Plimpton after the actress tweeted, “If you’re a feminist & don’t support trans equality, you’re not a “terf,” you’re a bigot. & you’re certainly not a feminist. End of story.” Roseanne fired back, “Calling lesbian separatists who want no dicks around them-bigotsnow?? #rightwingbullshit” Two months later, in a similar theme, she tweeted, “Another sign of the apocalypse: GAY & LESBIAN orgs support calling Lesbians bigots for not liking DICK.”
Of course, you won’t find any of this stuff on Roseanne’s current twitter account — her previous account was deactivated years ago, and her entire history was scrubbed when she restored her twitter to promote her new TV show. But you can see some of the aforementioned tweets screencapped here and here.
And then there’s the fact that, in January, Upworthy writer Parker Molloy discovered some hateful passages in Roseanne’s 2001 book, Roseannearchy: Dispatches From The Nut Farm. On twitter, Molloy highlighted a passage discussing Roseanne’s pre-fame experience working in a feminist bookstore, which read in part, “Then the Transgendered versus the Butch Dyke wars started – to see two of those folks fighting about being female was quite an eye-opener for me. You haven’t lived until you have seen a huge guy with boobs talking about female hormones and deciding to keep his penis, and how that was a feminist issue.”
Hopefully all of this will explain why I was apprehensive to hear that the rebooted show would feature a “gender-creative” child in the character of Darlene’s son Mark, played by 10 year old Ames McNamara. Mark was at first reported to be a transgender or non-binary character, but Sara Gilbert, an executive producer of the revived show, was quick to walk that impression back. “He’s too young to be gay and he doesn’t identify as transgender,” she told Entertainment Weekly. “He just likes wearing that kind of clothing and that’s where he is at this point in his life.”
This felt to me like a show trying to have it both ways — to depict the increasing acceptance of non-binary gender identities and identification on the trans spectrum that exists today, especially among youth, while not REALLY accepting the character’s identity on the trans/non-binary spectrum. As if it’s a phase, as if “he’ll grow out of it.”
I’m sorry, but no. I’m not going along on this ride. The last thing I want to see is a stereotypical depiction of the experience people like myself go through, as if it’s not something that deserves to be treated as valid. It may be a standard step in the process of achieving valid representation, to go from invisible to being portrayed as a stereotypical joke magnet. After all, we saw the same thing happen with the character of Jack on Will & Grace in the 90s. Maybe this kind of thing is even necessary in order to achieve valid representation in the media. But I don’t have to watch it happen. And I’m not going to.