Following the release of Dave Chapelle’s latest Netflix special “The Closer,” trans-related discourse became a greater topic of debate due to the comedian’s attempt to juxtapose the levels of oppression faced between the Black and transgender communities.
Chapelle makes a series of transphobic comments, including proudly proclaiming he, like J.K. Rowling, is “Team TERF” meaning he identifies as a trans-exclusionary, radical feminist. Trans-exclusionary, radical feminists typically endorse a biological definition of womanhood, often excluding trans women from their definition of women.
While abhorrent, Chapelle’s special is a microcosm of Hollywood’s long standing treatment of trans and gender-nonconforming people. And trans individuals have had enough; on Oct. 20, numerous trans and non-binary employees walked out of Netflix, demanding that the company create a better working environment for trans employees. They called for changes that center around content creation, harm reduction and resources for trans and nonbinary employees. Broadcasting and streaming services like Netflix need to financially invest more in trans creators by producing more series and specials with trans people at the forefront.
Netflix has 209 million subscribers globally, yet it continues to promote atrocious language about trans people while absolving itself of responsibility. For instance, while defending Netflix’s publication of “The Closer,” CEO Ted Sarandos claimed that the company does not produce titles which “incite hate or violence.” Yet, Chapelle’s endorsement of TERFs also endorses the harmful rhetoric they use to deny the existence of trans people. The trans community does not have to defend their existence to anyone, and more needs to be done to humanize and support trans and non-binary people, especially on television. Humanizing comes in simple forms: diverse storylines, realistic characterization and simply repeated characterization of trans people that show the audience the reality of being a trans person. Netflix needs to work on their humanization efforts for trans and non-binary employees, in order to rectify the harm they have done.
Currently, few trans characters are represented in television across broadcasting and streaming services. Every year for the past 24 years, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) releases a report about the presence of LGBTQ characters on television. In last year’s report, only 38 regular and recurring characters on television were trans. The majority of this representation is concentrated within two shows: “Pose” and “The L Word: Generation Q,” which accounts for 29% of all trans characters on television. Other than those shows, trans representation is scattered across services, with few diverse expressions of gender non-conformity.
Television aids in exposing and destigmatizing the experiences of trans people, especially beyond the typical transition-focused narrative. Shows like “Pose” and “The L Word: Generation Q” employ numerous trans creators in their writing rooms, as producers, directors and in all aspects of the production crew. Combining on-screen representation with trans workers creates safer work environments for trans creatives and aids in the humanization of trans people by diversifying the narratives about them on television. Additionally, creators can actively work against harmful rhetoric like Chapelle’s. Instead of advocating for tolerance for trans people, creators can offer an understanding into how trans experiences differ from cis experiences which leads to humanization.
Netflix, and all television services, need to support trans and non-binary people through direct action. Large streaming and broadcast companies need to invest in their content, apologize for previous transphobic rhetoric and work toward creating a healthy working environment for trans people by fulfilling the demands of Netflix employees and increasing the number of trans workers in content creation. There are no excuses. Without that, media services will continue to be complicit in the violence against the trans community.
Rachel Broun (23C) is from Carrboro, North Carolina.