Updated: Oct 13, 2021
“He wished at that moment that his whole life had not been a secret, that lots of people were like him, instead of his being alone in a world where everyone was secure in their place as either woman or man. His aloneness was what made him feel ashamed, and he did not know why it had to be so.” -Annabel, Kathleen Winter
Dave Chappelle’s new comedy special The Closer came out the other day. Before I watched it, I read this article (‘Dear White People’ Showrunner on Netflix Boycott Over Dave Chappelle – The Hollywood Reporter) where Chappelle was decried by showrunner Jaclyn Moore. I respected what Moore said in the article, because she wasn’t “whiny,” like some people say transgender people are. She wasn’t “offended.” She wasn’t trying to cancel Chappelle. She wasn’t even trying to tell Chappelle what jokes he should or should not make. It wasn’t about that.
In Moore’s words :
“If I’m to grant the premise that Dave is not transphobic, then at the very least he is naive to think that these jokes — and I hesitate to call them jokes — don’t lead to actual violence. They do. They give voice to the idea that trans women aren’t women and it’s laughable for them to consider that they are. If those are the parameters of a debate, it’s going to get a lot of people killed.”
I watched the comedy special. I wanted to hear the jokes and then somehow come to the conclusion that it wasn’t as bad as Moore said. Because I love Dave Chappelle. He is my favourite stand-up comedian. The way he tells a story is like no one else - brilliant and masterful and funny as shit. There is no one better than him at what he does. You can hate me for saying that, but it’s true. So I really, really wanted to like it. I wanted to be one of the cool people, one of the not-offended people, one of the “But that’s just what comedians DO!” people.
And while that is just what comedians do, and while some people are always going to be offended by the jokes comedians make that point out uncomfortable truths, this was not….that. This was not “just what comedians do.” I kind of got the feeling that Dave was trying to put trans people in their place. He also took a few swings at women and feminists. And like, for sure I’ve got some skin in that game, so maybe I’m “unfairly biased.” But while I love and appreciate and respect his takes on racism – and do in fact agree with him that sometimes transgender people want to align with the black community “until they need to be white again,” – the fact that he is purporting to not understand why the LGBTQ community might have a problem with how he speaks about them strikes me as wildly disingenuous. Dave Chapelle is part of a discriminated group. He knows what that's like. He knows how language works. He knows what he’s doing. This whole “but I’m just a lovable rascal who is pointing out things we’re all secretly thinking!” charade is misleading and, as Alexis Rose would say, not a good look for him. STOP IT, DAVE. Just cut the crap so that I can love you again.
But while all of that was disturbing enough, what was more disturbing to me was the how the audience seemed to love it. They loved it. I had several thoughts of “but why are you guys doing this, please don’t encourage him” at several moments. And then I thought of all the Christians I know and are friends with, and how while they might find a standard, run-of-the-mill Dave Chappelle stand-up comedy special tawdry and gauche, they would delight in this particular stand-up comedy special. Simply because of their confusion and dislike of everything transgender, and the belief that being transgender is a sin.
Christians really have an issue with transgenderism. Even more so than homosexuality. It seems like Christians are genuinely enraged and drawing a hard line in the sand. (Which is also confusing, because….really? This is the thing that we're going to be vehement about? Why can’t it be something funner, like opposing the evils of capitalism?)
So I have a few thoughts on this.
First of all, let me just say that I get it. As a gender-conforming whatever-person-lady-swamp-witch, it is also odd to me how pronouns make sentences appear grammatically incorrect. (I have never not used anyone’s preferred pronouns, but I hear the grammatical oddness.) I also am confused about how anyone can feel like they are not their assigned-at-birth gender. I have no frame of reference. I don’t get it. I just think, well, maybe gender is on a spectrum, and that we’ve pre-emptively defined masculinity/femininity in a very arbitrary way. Maybe if the parameters weren’t so strictly defined, people wouldn’t feel that they needed to switch genders completely.
On the other hand, I also get feeling like you’re not a part of your gender group. I am a female who has some (or many?) traits that are not considered traditionally feminine. I know what it’s like to be out with a group of girls and be like, “Oh, this isn’t it. These are not my people.”
I also know what it’s like to be out with a group of boys and be like, “Oh, this isn’t it. These are not my people.”
I’ve asked lots of people if I have a masculine or feminine energy, because a lot of the time I am genuinely bemused by what my vibe is. A bunch of people have said masculine, and a bunch of people have said “Neither, you just have Megan energy” (Big Megan Energy, am I right ladies). But one time my friend Amanda from Florida told me she had always thought of me as very feminine.
Once I got over the initial shock of that statement, my subsequent reaction surprised me. I did not have any feelings of dislike or skepticism towards her opinion. Instead, I had a feeling of really being seen. And gratitude for being seen. And relief that someone knew me. I was known by someone. Because while I do have a deeper voice, more aggressive tendencies, and a complete lack of interest in anything that might be considered “female pursuits,” the way that I interact with the world is feminine. Arbitrary definitions of femininity and gender aside, that is something that I just know about myself. When Sojourner Truth said, “Ain’t I a woman?” I felt that. (TO BE CLEAR : I am NOT equating my experience with the experiences of black women. I am speaking expressly of emotionally recognizing or connecting with something a black woman said. I think I’m allowed to do that, but if I’m not, just tell me and I’ll readjust my behaviour. I don’t know everything there is to know about racism, and that’s okay.)
Just from that experience alone, I understand why people get upset or perplexed about the school of thought that gender is a thing society made up and it’s not real. I understand why Dave Chappelle said “Gender is a fact,” even if I don’t agree with why he said it or how he said it. I see how he got there. I may not like how he got there, but I understand his reasoning. This whole thing is confusing. I’m confused too, you guys. It’s okay. We’re allowed to be confused.
But just because we’re confused doesn’t give us the right to call it unnatural or fake. The transgender community is not trying to take away gender or gender differences. They are not trying to transform the world into an unrecognizable place devoid of what we see as our objective reality. They’re not trying to make us all amorphous eunuchs. They're not trying to correct God. Come on. Nobody’s trying to do that. That’s exhausting and weird. They’re just trying to live. They’re just trying to go to the fucking bathroom. They’re just trying to not be the subject of Dave Chappelle’s disapproval. (And I mean, hard same.)
What I want to posit to the Christian community is that maybe transgender people are having an experience that we have not had. Maybe this isn't what you think. Maybe who they are is outside of the realm of what we’ve experienced. And because we don’t understand it, we’re going to be confused, and uncertain, and maybe not comprehend it all it once. But who says we have to? Who says that in order for a human experience to be valid, we have to understand it? Just because we don’t understand something doesn’t give us the right to condemn it. The bible sure doesn’t.
And besides, while we might not feel like we relate to needing to get hormone therapy or gender reassignment surgery, the general population does relate to the transgender community. Everyone does. Who hasn’t felt the heavy weight of not being like everyone else? Who hasn’t felt imposter syndrome? Who hasn’t been uncomfortable in their body or not liked what they seen when they look in the mirror? If you say you haven’t, you’re lying. And lying makes the baby Jesus cry.
The whole story is not that we don’t understand the experience of transgenderism. It’s that we’ve come up with a false dichotomy that we think is God-ordained. And I don’t know whose fault that is – I guess if I had to blame anyone, it’d be Jordan Peterson – but the fact is transgenderism is not antithetical to Christianity.
Many people object by saying that it appears like we think we know better than God because we are trying to “change his creation.” That we’re trying to play God. This is the line of thought that seems to be most popular. And it sort of holds water, until you come to : dyeing your hair, losing weight, plastic surgery, and makeup. Those are all things that change what you were born with, and nobody has a problem with that.
Maybe it IS God’s idea for a girl to be born into a male body. We don’t know. He never said it wasn’t. And I, for one, am not going to presume that I know the mind of the Almighty. In conclusion : Thank u, next.
What I really think this has to do with is misogyny.
I know, I know. “Stop making everything about feminism!” the people cry, but my answer to that is a) I will NEVER stop making everything about feminism, and b) I didn’t make anything about feminism, it just was about feminism, and then I noticed it and had to report back to the public. I am simply a humble servant of truth. Don’t shoot the messenger, for the messenger is tired, and a hideous creature of unimaginable power.
Think about it. Women acting more like men is slightly uncomfortable for the Christians, but it can be more easily tolerated. Lots of times women express masculine qualities and the attitude is like : “Weird flex, but ok.” Or, “She must have a really good relationship with her dad.”
But the church is really not okay with a man acting like a woman. It is thought of as a disservice to the person and a disservice to women. Dishonourable. Shameful. People absolutely lose their shit when a dude expresses anything that is considered remotely feminine. Men who like art and flowers and dancing and nurturing and beauty and cry easily. Even reading that sentence probably resulted in a disparaging snort for many of us. And we have to ask ourselves why that is. We have to ask ourselves why we are having that reaction. But I think we already know why.
It is because it is shameful to be a woman. Especially in the church.
When a man transitions to woman, it makes people angry. They aren’t just uncomfortable, now they’re actively repulsed. Because when a man acts “girly,” he is bringing shame on himself, he is degrading himself. We may feel that but not be able to articulate it. Some may feel icky or grossed out when they see a man acting like a woman, and we think this must be because of its immorality. But it is not that. It’s because we cannot stand to see men being vulnerable. We cannot stand to see the gentleness and the softness of our men. And this is where the Patriarchy also does men a great disservice. Because those characteristics – gentleness, vulnerability, sensitivity, etc. are equated with femininity. Therefore, they are shameful, and so men cannot have them. They cannot ever show weakness. They cannot ever be fully human. Because the second they do, they will be hated for it.
The bottom line is this. (And I heard this on Glennon Doyle’s podcast the other day, so don’t attribute wisdom of any kind to me – it was all Abby Wambach, bless her.) The transgender community is regarded with fear and suspicion because in the church – and possibly within the greater culture at large – we take so much identity in our gender that when the boundaries of that gender are threatened, we are threatened. This, plus a heavy dose of disguised misogyny, is why church people simply cannot get on board.
But as for God – a being of infinite kindness who sees everything before it happens – I really, really don’t think that God is threatened or upset or disapproving. Why would he be? If he sent his son to die for us, it seems implausible that he would then turn around and say, “But I will not use your preferred pronouns, because I don’t understand it and I think it’s weird.”
My last point before I sail off into that bright blue horizon is this. We are supposed to take our identity in Christ, not in our gender. It literally says in the bible that there is no male or female before Christ. So while I do think that male and female is a legitimate concept, and both males and females can and should express male and female traits, I also think that we’re counter-productively trying to build a home there when we have no business to be doing that. Let’s do better.