A petition, which has already received more than 5,000 signatures, is asking the liberal news commentators to stop making cheap jokes at the expense of the transgender community, citing such humor as contributing to the perpetuation of exclusion, harassment, and violence against transgender people.
Blogs dedicated to tracking transphobia in the media have been reporting on offensive transphobia jokes made by both hosts over the last decade of their being on the air; the frequent use of the derogatory term “she-male” and the implication that transgender people are “lying” about their gender frequent the shows’ punchlines.
In the most recent example of transphobic remarks on “The Colbert Report,” Your Moment Of Hate, a blog which tracks prejudiced remarks in the media, posted commentary from October 2013.
“It’s just like when someone lies to you. Technically, they’re telling you the truth as long as you never find out it was a lie,” Stephen Colbert said, during the segment “The Word” on his show.
The text on screen read “Or Notice Her Adam’s Apple,” a reference to male to female transgendered persons.
The implication is that a transgendered person is lying about their gender, and their Adam’s apple is given as evidence of their lie. The evident Adam’s apple also becomes a source of shame, the butt end of a joke about a transgendered person’s body.
Making jokes at the expense of a marginalized community is a low blow, and many comments on the petition point out that the “liberal” politics the show espouses are incongruent with cheap jokes made at someone else’s expense.
“I’m a veteran, a liberal, and a transsexual woman. It bothers me that Mr. Stewart and Mr. Colbert are so willing to respect me for my term of military service while simultaneously thoughtless enough to disrespect me and other trans people on a regular basis. I don’t believe they do this out of malice, but I think this kind of humor is beneath them and inconsistent with their politics,” said R. Feral on the petition’s website.
As popular cultural figures in contemporary news media who represent the “liberal” and “left” leaning politics in television, the use of transphobic comments as a source of humor is inappropriate, especially given the mounting hate already faced by the transgender community from groups who feel threatened by the rise of transgender rights.
Instead of making jokes about transgender bodies, these political commentary shows could be tearing apart the weak arguments made by groups such as Privacy for All Students, which seeks to repeal the transgender inclusion legislation passed in California, and is supported by the same groups that are behind some of the opposition to marriage equality.
The message the massively influential shows send out to their viewers is vitally important, and can change the relationship between the transgender community and the general public. Instead of perpetuating hate and mistrust, the petition calls on the commentators to take a higher road.
“It is not too late to use the immense power and popularity of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report for good,” reads a letter which is intended to be sent with the petition.
“Please stop making transphobic jokes, and please make a commitment to reject transphobia and respect gender identity!”
The petition, which is asking for 5,000 more signatures, can be seen here.