By Damon Romine

Entertainment Media Director

Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)

For 20 years, GLAAD has closely monitored LGBT
media images. The entertainment industry, by and
large, has churned out images of gays and
lesbians, and GLAAD has made great strides to
ensure these groups are represented fairly and
accurately. Transgender images are not as common
and represent a community that's still
misunderstood and ridiculed on screen and off.
Even within the gay, lesbian and bisexual
community, transgender people continue to be
disenfranchised. We all need to demand the same
respect for transgender people as we demand for
gays and lesbians. As GLAAD's new entertainment
media director, I've noticed something that could
be the beginning of a disturbing trend: In a span
of two weeks, the popular animated shows "The
Simpsons" and "South Park" featured transgender
representations that were considered offensive to
the trans community. We should all be offended.

But based on feedback from message boards and
blogs, the gay community really didn't raise a
collective eyebrow about the transgender
punchlines. Why? As a gay man, I'm left to assume
that we've grown immune to such attacks, having
repeatedly been victimized, ridiculed and
stereotyped ourselves in television and film. Or
maybe we simply wrote the characterizations off
as satire. Maybe both. Even I had to re-watch the
episodes to fully grasp why transgender people
would be upset. Now I understand-and I hope after
reading this you will too.

On "The Simpsons"' much-heralded-and very
funny-gay wedding episode, which aired Feb. 20th,
Marge's sister Patty came out of the closet and
announced she was marrying her pro-golfer lover
Veronica. In the middle of an intense national
conversation about our families and our freedom
to marry, to have "The Simpsons" come down on the
side of marriage equality was a big win.

But in a final-act twist to keep Patty single,
Marge discovers that Veronica is really a man
(named Leslie Robin Swisher-doh!) who is posing
as a lesbian only to play women's golf. Members
of the transgender community saw two reasons to
be upset: Male-to-female pro-golfer Mianne Bagger
has been kept from pursuing her career in the
U.S. because both the LPGA and the USGA have
added a "female at birth" clause. Second, the
"reveal" of Veronica reinforces a dangerous myth
that transgender people are trying to deceive or
trick us. When Marge dramatically ripped away
Veronica's choker to reveal a bulging Adam's
apple, it seemed funny; but in real life, such
revelations are often followed by terrible
violence. It's no joke.

The trans community also took note of "South
Park"'s season premiere on March 9th. Mr.
Garrison, long depicted as a deeply closeted gay
man, wants to be made "well" and undergoes an
extremely graphic (even for "South Park")
"vaginoplasty" to make him a woman. The new Mrs.
Garrison, still has the trademark bald head and
glasses, but now flamboyantly minces around in
Capri pants, anxiously awaiting her first period.

Mr. Garrison's transformation opens the
floodgates for Kyle to have surgery to become a
tall African American so he can play basketball,
and Kyle's father surgically becomes the dolphin
he's always wanted to be. Seriously. By the end
of the episode, each is made to look foolish for
their decisions. Mrs. Garrison even confronts her
surgeon with the line, "You made me into a
freak?and I want you to change me back!" The
doctor says later, "I should have told you that
the surgery was cosmetic only."

Underneath the humor is a facetious parallel
comparing gender identity with nonsensical issues
of "trans-racial" and "trans-species". And then
there's the reinforced misconception that
sex-reassignment surgery doesn't actually change
one's gender. Topping it off, Mr. Garrison's
out-of-the-blue sex change promotes the
stereotype that all gay men really want to be
women. After all, Mrs. Garrison's final words at
the end of the episode are, "Even though I'm not
truly a woman?I'd rather be a woman who can't
have periods than a fag." Ouch! It's just not
funny. To use TV lingo, perhaps "South Park" has
jumped the shark -er, dolphin.

There will be people who say that I don't get the
joke and that GLAAD is humorless. There's really
no way that I can convince you otherwise, but in
the spirit of full disclosure, let me admit that
I AM a fan of both shows (SHHHH, I own their DVD
collections, too), and certainly appreciate
irreverent, off-color humor. But sometimes things
just aren't funny.

Both offenders are well known and respected for
their biting satire. But satire works best when
it's David attacking Goliath. When it's Goliath
beating up David, or in this case a community
that's already alienated by society, well that's
plain mean. It's the bully on the schoolyard
beating up the kid who is already beaten up.

To be clear, I'm not suggesting comedy writers
avoid transgender humor. The CBS sitcom Two and a
Half Men tackled the subject last year by finding
comedy in trans-PHOBIA, not by making fun of
Chris O'Donnell's female-to-male character. Until
the time comes when there are well-rounded,
recurring trans characters on television to
provide fairness and balance, making a
transgender individual the butt of the joke is
just wrong. This only gives viewers the
validation to laugh at a group of people who are
already accustomed to verbal harassment and
physical violence.

Navigating the minefield of comedy and humor is a
difficult and complex challenge; no one -
especially GLAAD - can afford to pretend
otherwise. By dismissing these issues as merely
a by-product of comedy, the LGB community gives a
free pass to the mockery of the trans community,
perhaps with a sigh of relief and the thought,
"As long as we're not picked on." GLAAD, though,
is passionately committed to raising as much
awareness of trans images as we do of gay ones.

The talented folks at "The Simpsons" and "South
Park" are friends and allies to the gay
community. But as we've seen, gay friendly
doesn't necessarily equal trans friendly. In the
end, I do believe they were aiming for satire but
fell short. GLAAD looks forward to our continuing
dialogue with the entertainment industry to make
it more aware of transgender issues. We in the
LGB community, meanwhile, need to have these
conversations as well. We must realize that humor
at the expense of some of us is damaging to all
of us.

Damon Romine is the Entertainment Media Director
for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation
(GLAAD). For more information, please visit