Colbert misses the mark: The Transgender Threat to Old People

Sometimes satire fails.  Even if you are Stephen Colbert, satire can fail.  

Satire is a genre of literature, and sometimes graphic and performing arts, in which vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, corporations, government or society itself, into improvement.

When Colbert decided to use his inimitable charm to take on the subject of transgender seniors gaining the possibility of Medicare coverage of gender confirmation surgery, he neglected the fact that the majority of his audience are opposed to that coverage.

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The assumption that all liberals would support transgender-inclusive healthcare ignores reality.  Prachi Gupta at Salon addresses the issue.

Even more disturbing than the idea of Nana and Pee-Pop playing Mr. Potatohead downtown is that it violates the tacit agreement we have reached with the transgender community,  I agree to be totally cool with it – which I clearly am [footage of his interview with trans activist Janet Mock], which Time Magazine clearly is, and which all the people lobbying for this transgendered woman [Carmen Carrera] to be a Victoria’s Secret model clearly are – as long as you are hot.  But now you want me to accept unattractive transgender people?  Where does it end?  Will I have to accept unattractive non-transgender people?  What am I made of?  Humanity?

–Stephen Colbert

I addressed that in my most successful diary ever:  Not a Pretty Girl on January 16, 2009.

Here’s a relevant snippet:

A man in a dress making a lot of people around him feel uncomfrotable[sic]–just because HE thinks he’s woman–is not going to win rights for anyone.  And, quite frankly, while I know many transgendered people who merely corrected a wrong nature inflicted on them have gone on to live relatively normal lives, big, hulking TRANNIES who don’t look like women and never will, are trying to latch themselves into the gay and lesbian fight for recognition and dragging us down, but because we believe in rights for everyone, we take your burden…but sometimes your battles are nonsense, and your [sic] not gender confused, but just fucking crazy and that won’t help anyone, including those who are truly biologically disposed to being the opposite sex and shame on you for that!  There isn’t much that can be said to that.  At least there is nothing that will be understood by the person who said it.

Looksism can be a very hideous monster.  It is especially so when it comes up in reference to transwomen.  What words are ever going to penetrate the walls built by someone whose total valuation of people…make that women…comes down to how good they look.

For transwomen this can be an especially dangerous game, since if we look too good, pass as being “real women” too well, we are accused of trying to fool people about who we are…and at that stage, if our histories are ever discovered, we often becomes targets of retribution, often violent retribution.

Colbert may get it, Time may get it, some people on the Internet get it.  But Time also declared the issue “America’s next civil rights frontier,” implying that there is still a significant struggle ahead for trans people to gain mainstream acceptance.  Most media outlets and personalities are still getting the framing of basic trans issues wrong (even within “Colbert”-the preferred term within the trans community is “sex reassignment,” (ed. or better yet, gender confirmation) not “sex-change” surgery), while companies are issuing transphobic ads like this, without understanding why they’re offensive.  We’re talking about a community who faces significantly higher rates of bullying, violence and suicide than the general public.  So it’s not safe to assume, yet, that even Colbert’s liberal-leaning audience really, truly “gets it.”


So describing sex reassignment surgery as “grandma’s human centipede surgery” or as “playing Mr. Potatohead downtown” or comparing such important surgery to dressing an androgynous old man in a muumuu is extremely harmful.

The problem with evoking these stereotypes is that there is still a problem of basic education in the public.  You can’t expect people to discern what is satire and what are facts when only around 10 percent of people know someone who is Transgender.

–Julie Rei, trans activist

Why does it matter?

Transgender woman killed in NE Baltimore

On Wednesday afternoon Baltimore police announced that a homicide victim found in a field in Northeast Baltimore and initially identified as a man named Ricky Carlos Hall, 40, was instead a transgender woman known as Kandy.  Investigators are trying to determine whether Kandy was a victim of a hate crime.

(They were) like regular neighbors, you know.  They just sit on the steps and mind their business.  They cut their grass.  They would sit around and talk.

–Malachi Williams, a neighbor who says that Kandy lived with a man

There is no word yet on the cause of death, although detectives said their were signs of trauma on the body.

1 comment

    • Robyn on June 7, 2014 at 12:01 am

    …on the same evening as the segment is purely coincidental.  

    But you can’t tell me that the majority of Stephen’s audience was not laughing at us.  Stephen has made somewhat of a habit of using transwomen as a target of his humor.

    I know some people will arrive to defend him, just like people defended Stephanie Miller when she was doing the transgender crap.

    Here’s the deal:  Give us equal rights and then you can laugh at us all you want.

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