Chappelle’s Last Netflix Special

"The Closer" delivers more of what people love and hate about the GOAT.

My wife and I watched the latest and possibly the last of Dave Chappelle’s Netflix specials, “The Closer,” last night. It was, as with most of his recent shows, a masterful blend of stand-up comedy and serious philosophizing about the state of humanity in the United States of America. One presumes intentionally, the line between the two is blurry.

As with most of the Netflix drops, this one has been quite controversial because of the funny-not-funny commentary on social issues, particularly his comparisons between the transgender and Black experiences. The Rotten Tomatoes reviews show something interesting, indeed:

Granting that a comparison of n’s of 500+ and 3 is hardly scientific, the show is landing quite differently with fans, who seem to absolutely love it, and critics, who universally pan it.

Reading Stern‘s piece, in which he disdainfully applies a [sic] to Chappelle’s use of “LBGTQ” in a one-hour-plus monologue and appends (his word) to “annoying as fuck” (as though the reader doesn’t know what quotation marks mean) it’s clear why: he’s treating a stand-up comedy special like a scholarly treatise. A representative example:

Chappelle then tries to convince the audience—in the crowd and at home—that he’s never made any explicitly anti-transgender jokes, requesting that the audience “go back” and revisit his specials. (He most certainly has, and you can read the great trans writer Samantha Allen on it here.) He defends J.K. Rowling against being “canceled” over her transphobic remarks (which he deeply misrepresents), before saying, “I’m team TERF!”—the term for trans-exclusionary radical feminist, or feminists who are transphobic and do not believe trans women are women.

“Gender is a fact,” he reasons. “Every human being in this room, every human being on earth, had to pass through the legs of a woman to be on earth. That is a fact. Now, I am not saying that to say trans women aren’t women, I am just saying that those pussies that they got… you know what I mean? I’m not saying it’s not pussy, but it’s Beyond Pussy or Impossible Pussy. It tastes like pussy, but that’s not quite what it is, is it? That’s not blood. That’s beet juice.” (Chappelle’s anti-trans jokes have often boiled down to human anatomy, which shows how unnuanced his views are on the subject.)

Does Stern really think Chappelle believes transwomen bleed beet juice? I don’t think it’s a particularly funny line but it’s clearly a joke. As to the anatomical reductionism, that’s the setup, not the punchline, of a really long, winding bit.

Chappelle’s defense of himself and Rowling is delivered humorously but comes across as sincere: transwomen are human beings worthy of respect and deserving of empathy and yet anatomically different from ciswomen in meaningful ways. And he seems to imply, using the example of his friendship with the late Daphne Dorman as both a shield and exemplar, that transwomen agree with him and that it’s progressive whites who are insisting on ideological purity and linguistic conformity.

The other threat that, again, both humorously and not, weaves through the set is the undeniable fact that equality for gay and transgender whites came much faster than for Blacks. His best line about this was, “Ever ask yourself why it was easier for Bruce Jenner to change his gender than it was for Cassius Clay to change his fucking name?”

NPR’s Eric Deggans (“For Dave Chappelle, punchlines are dares. His new special, ‘The Closer,’ goes too far“) is also not amused.

That much is obvious, early in the special, where he talks about an idea for a film centered on an ancient civilization that discovered space travel, left the planet and then came back, determined to claim the Earth for their own. His punchline is the title for the film: Space Jews.

Even the adoring audience in Detroit took a breath on that one. “It’s gonna get worse than that,” Chappelle retorts, laughing. But I’m not sure it did. Because that was pretty awful.

Coming from Chappelle, a joke like that felt like a dare. He knows, in the moment, that such a punchline will briefly break the spell he has on the audience, make them rethink their allegiance to him, at least for a second. And he’ll have to work a little to get them back on his team again — which he does.

(He also knows reviewers like me will quote the joke and criticize him for it, which I am. I don’t really care what point he’s trying to make; a joke that sounds like antisemitism gets a hard pass from me.)

But the point is obvious: a persecuted people settled in their ancestral homeland long after having been driven out, only to become persecutors themselves. It’s an ironic commentary on the human condition, not a slur against the Jews.

And the message Chappelle has for those who have criticized him about transphobic, homophobic or any other phobic jokes seems to be: Race trumps all.

This idea surfaces when he talks about rapper DaBaby, who was pilloried publicly for making homophobic comments during a concert in July. Chappelle jokes that DaBaby “punched the LGBTQ community right in the AIDS” before recalling a 2018 incident in which the rapper was involved in a fight inside a North Carolina Walmart where another person was shot and killed.

“In our country, you can shoot and kill a n*****,” Chappelle says. “But you better not hurt a gay person’s feelings.”

What Chappelle doesn’t say is that DaBaby claims he was defending himself against two men who tried to rob him and his family in the store. Eventually, he was found guilty of a misdemeanor charge — carrying a concealed weapon — though the family of the 19-year-old who died insists that DaBaby started the fight.

Now, I must confess, I had no idea who DaBaby was before last night and, frankly, don’t care. I’m sure Chapelle, who is almost a decade younger and considerably Blacker than me, is aware of the backstory. But he’s not testifying in a court of law; he’s telling a joke. And one that makes a point that’s true even if the example isn’t. Which Deggans acknowledges but dismisses:

Too often in The Closer, it just sounds like Chappelle is using white privilege to excuse his own homophobia and transphobia.

Because Chappelle is brilliant, his words about DaBaby make an important point; it is sad that more people know about DaBaby’s homophobic comments than his involvement in this deadly encounter. But there is more to the story outside his simplistic framing, which seems designed to excuse some pretty hurtful words.

Whether it’s Chappelle, Jon Stewart, or the late Rush Limbaugh, the role of comic commentator is problematic. To varying degrees, they’re simultaneously entertainers and trying to persuade their audience to their point of view. And, yes, “it was just a joke” can be a cheap cop-out. But, because the line is blurry, we have to judge their work as a body, not line by line.

Having followed Chappelle’s work since his days as a teenager on Def Comedy Jam, I believe him to be constantly evolving, seeking to better understand the human experience. I find him genuinely empathetic but acknowledge that he’s a master at working an audience and that his act is just an act.

Regardless, I find this criticism bizarre:

Chappelle may craft his monologues to make the audience think. But that doesn’t mean he necessarily wants much of a dialogue, especially with people who don’t like his ideas.

He’s Dave Fucking Chappelle. Networks pay him tens of millions of dollars to bring his talents to an audience. He owes us—and delivers—his best performance, not a dialogue. There’s a reason they call it a monologue.

Vulture’s Craig Jenkins (“Dave Chappelle’s Endless Feedback Loop“) delivers a more nuanced critique.

Chappelle is a master of pressure-point work, of transgressing toward profundity. He isolates absurdities we take for granted. He shakes us out of the comforts of our conditioning. He asks why we take what we’ve been taught about the world at face value, and why we don’t just come up with a framework that fits us better. Sketch comedy was the perfect setting for Chappelle’s ruminations about race and class. Inside the confines of a sketch, Dave was able to reveal our ugliest tendencies, wielding the god-king power of a comedy writer seemingly lacking in fear or reservations while maintaining a safe distance from the actions of his characters. Beneath a flurry of punch lines and quotables, his sketches were dioramas of American disorder. The show ended in part, as Chappelle would explain last year on My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman, because the creator started to worry that his intentions were being misconstrued, and his comedy was getting to people who lacked the proper context for it.

It’s fascinating, then, that the Netflix specials have devoted so much time pointing out that Chappelle no longer cares if you understand or appreciate his intentions. The latest, The Closer, attempts to resolve conversations that began with 2017’s The Age of Spin and Deep in the Heart of Texas — the one-two punch of comeback specials where the legend caught himself up on current events but drew ire for flip remarks about sexual assault and the LGBTQ community — and after this, the plan is supposedly to take time off. At the end of Spin, as Dave guided his audience to a feisty kicker, you could see a man in the front row physically bracing himself for the punch line, a prickly one about balancing Bill Cosby’s record of altruism with the dozens of allegations of abuse. This hang time between the thoughtful setup and the questionable payoff typifies the experience of watching Dave post-hiatus. He almost wants you to overreact. You can feel him priming for a strike. You hope it lands smoothly. Occasionally, it does.

That his attitude toward celebrity and cultural influence has changed in the fifteen years since he famously abandoned his eponymous sketch show is interesting but hardly shocking. He spent nearly a decade in the wilderness reflecting. But, as Jenkins notes, it’s not like he wasn’t pushing buttons on race and other social issues back in the day.

The Closer is very funny early on, and it’s refreshing to hear Chappelle own the divisiveness of jokes that rubbed people the wrong way, even if it’s often a ruse to set you up for a harsher dig. (Dave works crowds like a boxer. He keeps you off-balance.) Replying “One ‘they’ or many ‘theys’?” to a fan who says, “They’re after you!” is the rare pronoun gag delivered by a veteran comic without a smoldering bitterness. When he asks what he’s saying “that would make these bitches think I hate women,” it suggests a self-aware and self-deprecating heel act is happening here, a method to the comic’s combativeness, though he’s at his best not while debating points of offense but when he’s simply entertaining his devilish imagination. A lazy riff calling Mike Pence gay catches fire on a savage payoff: “Please, Jesus, make these buttholes ugly to me.” (When you recall the story in 2017’s Equanimity that’s written punch-line first, you’ll wonder whether this was another one of those.) The impression of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. directing glory-hole traffic is a riot.

Different folks will find different bits funny. Chappelle’s mind simply works differently than any other human beings and your mileage will vary line-by-line. But the interwoven bits form a stunning tapestry; it’s comedic genius on display even if the occasional joke lands flat.

How much you enjoy The Closer will depend on whether you’re able or willing to believe the comic and the human are separate entities and to buy that the human loves us all, and the comic is only performing spitefulness for his audience. If you feel like people complain about comedy too much, you’ll love this special for addressing most of the criticism leveled at Chappelle’s recent work, however speciously. If you only wanted to get through one of these without a long, crabby detour on gay people and gender identity, Closer‘s designed to work your nerves.

This, again, is the dichotomy at work in most great standup comedy.

I very much enjoy family-friendly comics like Mike Birbiglia and Nate Bargatze or, in earlier eras, Bob Newhart, Bill Cosby, and Jerry Seinfeld. It takes a special talent to be funny without going blue. And it has the additional advantage of being relatively timeless.

But most of the greats, from Lenny Bruce to George Carlin to Richard Pryor to Eddie Murphy to Bill Burr, intersperse comedy with an examination of the toughest social issues of the day. And Chappelle is widely considered the best of the best.

The Closer wants you to know that Chappelle does not hate the women and queer folks and other minorities he has poked fun at in six stand-up specials. It also wants you to know that he hates having to say this. What it seems the comic wants is license to be an equal-opportunity offender, to have it known that there’s no malice in his jabs. He wants the old thing back — the freedom to be crass without having it reflect negatively on his character. But he’s come back to a world where faith in the goodness of famous people is understandably diminished in the wake of a thousand scandals of every type, and the audience has avenues to take their displeasure with a gaffe or off-color remark directly to the source. The party line among comics of this era has been that everyone takes themselves too seriously now, and it’s their job to shake us out of it. 

So, I think that’s right. But it’s not the whole thing. Chappelle isn’t falling back on the “it was just a joke” trope. He would be insulted by the notion that he’s merely a clown performing for our amusement. He’s delivering his truth through his art, which is comedy. And his truth is that he’s a cisgender straight dude who is working hard to understand the realities of women, gays, and transgender folk and yet finds parts of the experience funny. And his audience seems to find it funny, too.

As a straight, cisgender white man, I’m in a particularly poor position to critique Chappelle’s work. I’m not the butt of the most hurtful parts of it. (That a large part of his routine has always been making fun of “the Whites” is immaterial because that, by the rules of our current milieu, is “punching up.”)

But, because Chappelle is Black, he has an out: even though he himself is rich and famous, he’s part of a historically oppressed group and can use comparisons to his advantage. (So long as we’re not going all the way back to Egypt.) And that’s where Deggans is coming from when he accuses the comic of hiding behind his white privilege.

He doesn’t want to make people feel bad but doesn’t accept any grief for it when it happens. If you react poorly, you are proving him right that you can’t take a joke. This is, to a wide swath of types of guy, a brilliant trap. Your ability to stomach these specials hinged on whether or not these points struck you as unshakable tenets of comedy or outdated excuses masking a refusal to update a worldview. (Two things can be true.) Intermittently, the collection is genius. There are too many beats, though, where the comic obsesses over negative feedback, all the while insisting that the opinions of his detractors are functionally immaterial to him because social media is “not a real place.”

Because, like most of us, there is sometimes a dichotomy between what we think and what we feel. Chappelle is a superstar with more money than he can ever spend and doesn’t need to give a shit about what some rando on Twitter—or even critics at NPR, the Daily Beast, or Vulture—think of him. And, yet, of course, he does. He thinks he’s a good dude and wants people to like him. Especially when he thinks the animosity results from people reading a couple of setup lines in a long bit as a representation of the whole act and, therefore, of him.

The Australian comic Jim Jefferies has a brilliant bit about a show where a sign language interpreter was translating one of his shows for a group of deaf audience members who not only ruins his act for them because “her comedy timing sucks” but because his edgy lines come across as mean-spirited without the charm of his delivery.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Entertainment, Gender Issues, Humor, Popular Culture, Race and Politics, Standup Comedy,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    In History of the World, Part One Mel Brooks had a very brief comic sequence at the end on “Jews in Space.” I wonder if Chappelle remembers that, particularly since he co-starred in another Brooks movie, Robin Hood: Men in Tights.

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  2. MarkedMan says:

    There is a real personal danger to Chappell in going this route, although the danger is to his psyche rather than his body. It’s not just that people that are actually haters may misinterpret his humor, it’s that those people might be the ones that give him positive feedback, while the ones that are tired of the shock humor stop going to his shows or his parties. Howard Stern used to brag that he was nothing like his character, that every day he commuted back to Long Island to be with his typical suburban family. But he gradually transformed into his character, left his family and ended up living his life through his character, as his character. It could have been the wildly positive reinforcement from people who thought it was entertaining and hysterical to goad, say, Donald Trump into admitting he wanted to bang his teenage daughter. Just as important, the ones who thought it was disturbing and gross just dropped away and no longer provided feedback. It wasn’t just that his schtick depended upon degenerates, but that his schtick required him to laugh and delight in them. Chappell could end up in the same place.

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  3. Beth says:

    I find Chappell boorish, unkind and not funny. I hate constantly having to have this conversation both with Trans and Cis People. That said, back into it.

    I think the Jenkins criticism is a very good one. I got the impression that Jenkins is both a fan of Chappell and sick of his crap.

    “These intersections are blind spots for Dave. He speaks about Black and queer struggles as if they are strictly in competition, not always entangled. He has the textbook edgelord ally’s arrogance. He swears he knows how to fix things for you, but he’s just asking for you to take up less space, to usher in progress by giving other people time to come around to you.”

    I’m also starting to think that Chappell isn’t “working hard to understand” as Dr. Joyner put it. I suspect that Chappell actually believes that one can’t be both Black and LGBTQ. The inference being that being LGBTQ is something Whites impose on everyone else. That’s a horrifying thought, but while fringe, not uncommon.

    The “Team TERF” jokes lands horribly different if your a member of my community. We wouldn’t be laughing if he announced he was “Team Nazi” or “Team Klan”. TERFs have created their own set of blood libels for us and very explicitly want us dead or suffering. Also, am I supposed to believe that Chappell is stupid and incurious enough not to know that major TERF organizations have explicitly aligned with White Supremacists? There is a huge overlap between explicitly many TERFs and White Supremacists.

    A couple of anecdotes about the effect of this garbage:

    1. I was at a real estate closing yesterday. It was about an hour in traffic from my office, more in traffic. I screwed up and drank too much coffee. By the end of the closing I had to pee. I drove all the way back to my office rather than use the public bathroom. Why? Because even though I keep up a facade of outgoing fearlessness, I’m terrified of using a public rest room and getting my teeth kicked through the back of my head. Thanks Team TERF.

    2. Me and 2 other 40-50 year old Trans Women who are parents are going to meet with the parents of a 20 year old Trans Women and explain to them that we exist, or lives are valid, our children love us, and that they need to support their kid. Chappell and Team TERF makes that conversation so much harder.

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  4. Beth says:
  5. George says:

    Oddly enough, I haven’t watched any of his shows, but because controversy has made me curious I probably will. I suspect that’s a common reaction, and I’d guess that Chappelle is very grateful for his critics — they’re very likely to dramatically increase his viewership.

    If they didn’t want people to watch him they’d have done better to ignore the controversy and just say his show was boring. Controversy is interesting.

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  6. senyordave says:

    @George: When you have performers who do extensive racist or anti-semitic shtick the sentiment is rarely “ignore it, pretend it doesn’t exist”. It is almost always “confront it head on” using a variety of methods (sometimes including economic threats). Why should it be any different when we are taking about homophobia and transphobia?
    I tried to watch Chappell’s special, I made it about halfway through. I liked Chappell’s Show on Comedy Central but his stand up has never done it for me. Substitute any race, ethnicity for his treatment of LGBTQ+ people and I think it be safe to say he would never have had a Netflix special.
    Its one thing to try to attack material that hasn’t aged well after a few decades. The “I have an LGBTQ+ friend” excuse that Chappell uses sounds as ridiculous as it would if it came from a comedian who had racist material and says “but I have black friends”.

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  7. Stormy Dragon says:

    Does Stern really think Chappelle believes transwomen bleed beet juice? I don’t think it’s a particularly funny line but it’s clearly a joke.

    Do I have to think Ben Shapiro actually thinks he’s an attack helicopter to be offended by his “joke” about it?

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  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    Chappelle dug a hole and now, brilliant as he is, he can’t dig his way back out. He can’t admit he was wrong without betraying audiences who laughed. He can’t say he was wrong because it undercuts his view of himself. He’s made the classic mistake of believing his own hype, so he sees himself in messianic terms – messiahs aren’t allowed ‘whoopsies.’ He boxed himself in and now he’s doubling down while still trying to wriggle free and it isn’t working. Messiahs aren’t funny because once you choose to wrap that mantle around yourself all your punches are down.

    Do I think he hates trans people? I suspect the answer is irrelevant because I doubt Chappelle really gives a damn one way or the other. Chappelle is a genius – and I don’t throw that word around – at using words to manipulate. He positions himself as a representative of Black people, but he’s a performer, a comic, he cares about laughs first, second and third.

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  9. Mr. Prosser says:

    @CSK: Chappelle’s character in Brooks’s Robin Hood: Men in Tights was, of course, a hip, urban anachronism, a continuing joke that started with the hip-hop group that intro’d the movie. He bails out the dense Robin Hood trying to rouse his potential idiot merry men by giving a parody of Malcolm X’s intro to his speech on America. At the same time his character suffers the common slights and assaults of black men in a white society. I think he and Brooks had and maybe still have a close relationship.

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  10. George says:

    @senyordave:

    I’m not saying ignoring controversy is the right way to go, like most people I find controversy interesting. In fact I think looking at all sides of an issue (whether its race related, gender related, science related, history related etc) is always the way to go. Having discussions about issues is always a win-win proposition, even when its about silly stuff like creationism or flat-earth — the process itself is worth it.

    I’m just saying that if their goal was to stop him from passing on his opinions (and for at least some of the critics that seems to be their intention) then they went about it wrong — they’ve almost certainly greatly increased the number of people who will watch him.

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  11. Jay L Gischer says:

    I’ve watched a bit of Chapelle and yeah, the dude’s got it. So what about this material about trans people?

    I think the fundamental problem here is that Dave doesn’t know any trans people, other than maybe extremely casually. He doesn’t know anyone who has transitioned, he hasn’t gone to meetings like Beth describes, he hasn’t given his daughter a nerf gun and told her “shoot me every time I misgender you”. But he still wants to make jokes about it.

    Now, I think there could maybe be a rich vein of comedy there. And I don’t think he has to be a trans person himself to find it. But no, he hasn’t done the work, and the point of the comedy is “I don’t have to do the work, I know”. No, he doesn’t know.

    It’s kind of like me making jokes about black people, or Jews.

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  12. Jim Brown 32 says:

    Ironically, for a guy who wasn’t readily embraced by the Black Community at the start of his career…Chappelle ended up being its spokesman socially. Black people do not want their struggle associated with LGBTQ or, frankly, even the Holocaust. Dave will never apologize because hes speaking a black majority view and has GFY money.

    As time has unfolded, neither LGTBQ nor the Jewish have been effective allies beyond protests and virtue signaling about Black Lives. Jew were when they werent considered white. But once they were brought into the white community… ‘see ya n@$#3rs’. They fell right into the white way of dealing with blacks…you have to in order to be in the club so I don’t really blame them. It was an economic decision.

    Heres the rub: physical we *overwhelmingly* come into the word as xx or xy. I avoided using male or female to limit confusion. Sure, there are exceptions…like there are for almost everything in the human experience.

    Now, there is a group of people that say, they don’t identify with the xx or xy they came here with and demand legal accommodation for their chosen identity.

    There is absolutely no reason why the same couldn’t also apply to race….other than we don’t play around about race in America. Hey, forget what you see, Jim Brown has always known he wasn’t like other blacks, he’s had different tastes, style, and never quite fit in with them. JB32 was always more comfortable with white people and the things they like.

    Of course none of this applies to me…but it does millions of black people. They are NEVER going to check the white box…and a percentage of them would if given the chance. That would never, ever, EVER happen in this country despite being medically possible to artificially whiten your skin. Look at Michael Jackson, Lil Kim, and Sammy Sosa.

    In general, Black people sympathize with any group of people abused by white folk, including marginalized groups of other white people. The rub is when people use our plight and demand legal and institutional change that would nor could ever apply to us. This goes beyond asking mean white people to stop being evil to people not like themselves. Most black people support that. Obviously, I personally have a nuanced view..but collective views dont do nuance. They are what they are and thats what Chapelle has tapped into. Its ok to be offended…just understand if you are…you arent the audience.

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  13. CSK says:

    @Mr. Prosser:
    Same as the Cleavon Little character “Bart” in Blazing Saddles.

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  14. MarkedMan says:

    @Jim Brown 32: in the politics of social dominance, the most common techniques used to set groups against each other (and therefore not paying attention to what else is going on), is the ones we all know: “they will take your jobs”, “they are dirty”, etc etc and so on back through all history. But I’ve realized there are more subtle ones that are just as effective when used on the enlightened and the woke. “Your group is not allowed to compare yourself to my group. Stay in your place.” is one of them.

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  15. Beth says:

    @Jim Brown 32:

    As time has unfolded, neither LGTBQ nor the Jewish have been effective allies beyond protests and virtue signaling about Black Lives.

    As a member of the a couple of LGBTQ communities I agree with this. In one of my Trans groups we had to police several members who were using their pain at what Chappell was pushing in a racist way. That’s unacceptable. Full stop. That there are Trans racists is wildly unacceptable. I would gladly dump them overboard.

    I also, as a White outside observer, think there is more the Black community could do for Black Trans people. I’m going out on a limb and guessing that St. Marsha would be just as unacceptable to most every day Black People as she is for White People (especially White Gay Men). She’s a HUGE hero in our community. I would like to think that, as a community, we are at least attempting to make space for non-White Trans people. We probably fail at it a lot, but we are trying.

    One thing I find endlessly fascinating (I don’t have a better word) are my discussion with Black Transwomen in our group about how other Black women treat them vs how Black women treat me (a White woman) post transition. Please excuse me if I explain this poorly. A large part of the discussion is how poorly other Black women treat them. It’s bad and unpleasant. While my experiences with Black Women has been overwhelmingly positive. I don’t mean to say that Black Women are fawning over me in some sort of gross way. Just that they’ve been generally nicer to me. They treat me like another woman. I’ve had several instances where Black Women specifically call out people misgendering me in front of them. I’ve been treated with a kindness that I don’t get from any other group. White Men are confused and afraid of me. Black Men ignore me. Other groups fall somewhere in between the two. It’s been a very weird shift.

    And look, nothing Chappell says is immediately life or death for me (I mean, until TERF inspired nightmare beats my ass in a bathroom or I discover I have bladder cancer). But for Black Transwomen, that shit is life or death. Actual life or death. The vast majority of Transwomen killed every year are Black. My community remembers them. Every year we remember them. It’s crushing to us to see all these beautiful, amazing, tough Black Women snuffed out. And then get tortured in death by cops that ignore them and a press that slanders them. St. Marsha, and while she’s not Black, St. Sylvia. Again, she’s not Black, but I have Gwen Araujo’s face seared in my brain. I think of her constantly.

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  16. Cheryl Rofer says:

    “I’m just joking” has long been a cover for bigotry.

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  17. Stormy Dragon says:

    I have no direct evidence of this, but this is a growing intuition of mine:

    There is something about the issue of transgenderism and Chapelle specifically beyond the typical “trans people make me uncomfortable” form of transphobia you see in the general public. I don’t know what, but I’m getting more and more convinced of it.

    Because it’s not like he gets asked about it and says something ignorant about, he keeps spontaneously bringing it up unasked. He’s devoting bigger and bigger chunks of his set to it.

    It’s like in the 90s and 2000s, there was a general air of homophobia in evangelical christianity, but the people who were constantly obsessing about it invariably turned out to have some sort of specific personal issue that they were transferring onto LGBT people.

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  18. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Jim Brown 32:
    Without value judgment, just political analysis: Black hostility to trans folk will end up marginalizing Blacks more than trans. It breaks the progressive notion of intersectionality, of a world divided into Straight White vs. Everyone Else. Now, personally I never bought intersectionality, it’s a reductionist fantasy, I never thought it would hold up. But I’m not telling you anything you don’t know when I say that conflict within that ‘intersectional’ activist community will not benefit Blacks.

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  19. Gustopher says:

    I’m not sure why he felt compelled to spend the bulk of his special talking about trans folks if he doesn’t really have much to say other than “you ain’t really what you think you are.” It felt tedious and repetitive after a while, and he didn’t really pull it together — if he has an interesting point, it didn’t land.

    Comparing trans folks to blackface was… special.

    He’s also either whitewashing JK Rowling, or has absorbed a very whitewashed image of her.

    I get it, he’s old. He’s uncomfortable with trans folks, and he doesn’t like being criticized for that. And then it goes on for another 45 minutes of that.
    Lots of people are shitty on one thing or another, but we don’t wallow in it.

    The parts about comparing the struggles of LGBTQetc to the struggles of Blacks to reach equality were good. And way more interesting. And so much there that was left untapped.

    The special just felt like a waste. Excellent craftsmanship, but not much there.

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  20. George says:

    @Gustopher:

    I’m not sure why he felt compelled to spend the bulk of his special talking about trans folks if he doesn’t really have much to say other than “you ain’t really what you think you are.” It felt tedious and repetitive after a while, and he didn’t really pull it together — if he has an interesting point, it didn’t land.

    Perhaps I’ve watched too much boxing and MMA, but I find it very easy to believe he’s discovering there’s a lot of money in playing the villain. To the point where many fighters who in real life are sensible to the point of being boring will put on a very hated public persona (including claiming to have committed worse crimes than hate speech, up to and including falsely claiming to be murderers). It turns out there’s a surprising number of people who are happy to pay (and often pay a lot) to watch someone they hate.

    Its quite possible that for Chappelle, the measure of whether a performance lands or not is reflected on changes in viewership rather than whether people enjoyed it or not.

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  21. Gustopher says:

    @Jim Brown 32:

    Now, there is a group of people that say, they don’t identify with the xx or xy they came here with and demand legal accommodation for their chosen identity.

    There is absolutely no reason why the same couldn’t also apply to race….other than we don’t play around about race in America.

    That’s not true at all. We claimed the Irish weren’t white for ages. And now we even think Sicilians are white. Sicilians!

    Sure, we have the one drop rule and quaint racist terms like “octaroon” but that’s because we need them to police those boundaries lest people escape their fate. Otherwise, people would shift their race.

    Do you have any doubt that Clarance Thomas would declare himself white if there was any chance anyone would believe it?

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  22. Modulo Myself says:

    I find Chappell boorish, unkind and not funny. I hate constantly having to have this conversation both with Trans and Cis People. That said, back into it.

    Thanks Beth for contributing.

    I find that jokes about white people by black comedians are funny and not unkind, and I’m white. Richard Pryor’s white voice is funny as hell. Dave Chappelle’s white people are funny. So the fact that trans people are not really into the joke should say something.

    Ideally, there’s no law that says group x can’t be funny about group y. But I can’t think of many or any white comedians who can tell jokes about black people that are funny and I can think of a ton of black comedians who tell funny jokes about white people. Maybe one of the Rat Pack with Sammy Davis Jr? I don”t know.

    I think there’s a part of the internet which reads this situation as saying all of the funny jokes by white people about black people are being censored by Cancel Culture. It’s not that these jokes are incredibly rare or maybe don’t exist. No, they’re taboo and therefore we need to talk about the controversy. And I think that’s what Chappelle is buying into with trans people.

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  23. Beth says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    Thank you.

    To be fair to Chappell, I think the “Impossible pussy” bit to be mildly amusing. It personally hits to close and too hard to parts of my traumatized brain to really be funny. But, properly developed into something that doesn’t ultimately end up at “Team TERF”, it could be pretty funny. But that’s not where he decided to go.

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  24. Kari Q says:

    His best line about this was, “Ever ask yourself why it was easier for Bruce Jenner to change his gender than it was for Cassius Clay to change his fucking name?”

    If Jenner had tried to change gender in 1964 (the year Muhammad Ali changed his name) I think there would have been, at best, no more support. This is not deny either the humor or the reality of continuing racism, but the comparison seems weird to me.

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  25. Beth says:

    @Kari Q:

    It’s still not all that easy to change your name. Transformative Justice Law Project has a several month backlog of volunteer name changes just in cook county. And that’s added onto the inherent expense and wait the process takes.

    Also, it’s terrible. For me what was supposed to be a victory got real awkward real fast when the Judge asked me if I was a sex offender in front of my kids, family, friends and the other assembled lawyers in the courtroom. I mean, I can spin that in a humorous way, but still, screw that guy.

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  26. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @MarkedMan: There never was going to be a clean solidarity blacks and LGBTQ so I don’t believe social dominance cues are at play to drive a wedge between the 2 communities. Blacks and Jews…absolutely. Black America historically recognize Jews in their biblical identity as ‘Gods Chosen People’. King drew allusions between himself and Moses. There could have been magic mad. Many people wanted magic to happen…but it just wasn’t to be.

    Look at history…anyone that tries helps Black people collectively is tossed over the side. If I were a Jew I wouldn’t help us (overtly anyway) either. The larger lesson we need to learn is that we need allies…but we can help ourselves. We have a learned helplessness that is finally dying off. Slowly but surely.

    A socially conservative demographic that until recently still had high rates of church attendance was never going to embrace LGBTQ. A lot of Blacks ARE evangelical. They only differ in their belief against actively using the law to affect people they believe are living in sin…and their belief in Govt intervention to solve socially ills. There never was any “there” there. But for our 2-party system…they had no choice but to be lumped together with them.

    Going forward, I only see this fissure and the rest of the fissures in the Democrat coalition growing. The era of Bless Your Heart is over. This is the age of GFY.

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  27. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Beth: Easy. As it is for white people, its pretty easy to treat black people anyway you want…especially hyper-marginalized groups of black people…without any repercussions. So people do it…we do it to each other.

    Screw with the wrong white person however, and the situation could go from 0-10 fast. And who are the cops going to believe…the white trans-person or your black ass?

    Black people are little more ..ahem.. discriminating when it comes to messing with white folks. Totally different risk calcus.

    Black women are already angry and traumatized by Black men’s inability to provide a meaningful lifestyle and safe space for them in America. We can go on about whats our fault and whats the white man’s fault…but that doesn’t change lived experiences. When they come into contact with a black man who doesn’t want to be a man or portray that aura of strength…much of that dynamic is still at play. All I can say is hurt people.. hurt people. That treatment doesn’t surprise me at all.

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  28. dazedandconfused says:

    @Jim Brown 32:

    I think an awareness of Dave Chappelle’s living in Yellow Springs OH goes a long way towards understanding some of the the particular bends of his humor. He’s not afraid to live next to poor rural whites and he knows how to get them to laugh at themselves. He certainly gets black people laughing at themselves too. I wonder if he imagines the LGBTQ community can sometimes laugh at themselves as well.

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  29. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Absolutely, politically if anyone gets tossed out of the Democrat coalition its black folks. Maybe Im wrong but the only actual reliable demographic within the community is older black women. It’d be a hard choice but numbers wise…black women would be more expendable that other groups that have more numbers.

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  30. Gustopher says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    I wonder if he imagines the LGBTQ community can sometimes laugh at themselves as well.

    If he thinks that… oh, that sweet summer child!

    The old queers can, but the youngsters? Oh no. Maybe in another 20-30 years it will be different, but no. It’s not Twitter culture. I expect it has a lot more to do with having to assert your identity onto unsuspecting or resistant parents, family and friends, usually during puberty, usually while trying to figure even the slightest thing about themselves. Their very identity is too often tied to teenaged rebellion.

    The ability to laugh about it? That’s going to take another 10-20 years of maturity. Maybe in the future it won’t be a big deal for a kid to be queer, but that’s way too uncommon now.

    There’s no comparison to other groups. Imagine if black people were born to while people, and then began molting their white skin around 13 years old, but could suppress it through self-loathing…

    Or if at the beginning of Harry Potter, Hagrid came along and said “you’re a Jew, Harry.”

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  31. Gustopher says:

    @Jim Brown 32:

    if anyone gets tossed out of the Democrat coalition its black folks.

    I expect that the LGBTetc group will splinter politically before that happens. Queer white folks are white through and through. Stop demonizing us, and a whole lot of us shift immediately to worrying about property taxes and reading David Brooks and thinking that he made an important point.

    “Who I want to boink is a private matter, but those people are bringing down property values.”

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  32. Mimai says:

    Interesting discussion. Part of this comes down to one’s philosophy of humor. What is humor? What’s it supposed to do (if anything)? Are there boundaries? Does it matter who is the delivery agent and who is the target? etc…

    Things also brings to mind the notion of decouplers vs. contextualizers. Yes, theoretically, this is a spectrum. But like any spectrum, people tend to fall toward one end or the other.

    I wonder if Chappelle’s humor is more appealing to high decouplers and more off-putting to high contextualizers.

    But even that is unsatisfying. Context isn’t singular. How one defines the relevant context (where are the boundary points) matters enormously.

    At the micro, one can define the self as context, as is done in some psychotherapy schools of thought (eg, ACT). At the macro, one can define the entire planet (or universe for that matter) as context. The in-between is vast (eg, family, social group, twitter, etc.).

    And it gets further muddy by the fact that, despite our dispositions toward one or the other, we vary along the decoupling-contextualizing spectrum. One thing I find interesting is when and why people vary.

    I suspect some commenters are dispositionally high decouplers, but judge this topic through a high contextualizing lens. My intuition is that there aren’t as many of the inverse – dispositionally high contextualizers who approach this topic as a high decoupler.

    Perhaps that is where other considerations come in (eg, philosophy of humor).

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  33. Hal_10000 says:

    I watched it last night. I thought it was funny. But the reason many people are reacting to it negatively is not because Chapelle was particularly anti-trans. It’s because he kicked one of the most sacred cows out there right now: the belief that the Left is absolutely morally right on transgender/non-binary issues and that anyone who has the temerity to disagree — hell, anyone who even raises difficult questions they’d rather not answer — is a bigot and must be shunned from polite society. It’s a belief so strong that when Dorman had the temerity to defend Chapelle, she was hounded and harassed for her heresy, which may have had something to do with her taking her own life.

    We are still working out some of these issues and the Left doesn’t seem to realize that, when it comes to issues related to transgender or non-binary people, that many their positions are self-contradictory or contradict everything they’ve been saying for the last 30 years. And they don’t seem to realize how much it bothers a lot of people when, for example, they bowdlerize a quote from Ruth Bader Ginsburg as though “woman” were a four-letter word.

    Chapelle is saying, “maybe you don’t have all the answers; maybe these issues are a little more complicated than you’d like to pretend”. Which is something he has said on many issues throughout his career. And that can not be tolerated.

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  34. de stijl says:

    My signature “goodbye” spiel basically goes…

    All right, I gotta bail. Konichiwa, bitches. Be good, be well, be safe. See you next time. Later.

    I do this ALL THE TIME. Reflexively. It always includes “Konichiwa, bitches”. Konichiwa is such a fun word to say.

    I have no idea what “konichiwa” actually means. I just stole it and integrated it into my goodbye patter. I assume it is Japanese.

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  35. Kari W says:

    @Beth:

    But the difficulty of legally changing your name isn’t really the point of the joke. It was apparently easier in 64 than it is today, for what that’s worth.

    The point of the joke is that when Ali changed his name, media refused to call him by Muhammad Ali and continued using the name he’d given up. By contrast, when Jenner said she was now a woman named Caitlin, media just updated their files and Jenner got a courage award. If those two things happened within 10 years of one another, it’d be painful.

    But those two events were 50 years apart. It just seems strange to talk about them as if they happened in the same society. A white athlete coming out as trans in 1964 would have been treated no better than Ali was, possibly worse.

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  36. Lounsbury says:

    @Hal_10000: The Life of Brian rings rather true still

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  37. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Hal_10000:
    What difference does it make to you or anyone else if people want to see themselves differently? Does it take a dollar out of your pocket? The right in question here is the right to define yourself. What societal good is being advanced by punching down at a tiny, vulnerable minority? How is it your business or mine? What is this compulsion to tell people how to be, how to present themselves? What right do you have to insist that everyone stay in whatever box they were born in? Say you and Dave Chappelle are right, what have you accomplished but to hurt some people?

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  38. Barry says:

    @Stormy Dragon: An alternative is that Dave can’t beat on gays like Back in the Day, so he’s switching targets.

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  39. Hal_10000 says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Well that’s a nice straw man, but it’s not really germane to the point I was making. Neither Chapelle nor I suggested it was any of our business if people see themselves differently. Neither of us denied the reality of trans people or their right to present themselves as they see fit. Neither of us engages in “deadnaming” or anything like that. Both of us use people’s chosen pronouns. Chapelle specifically raged against bathroom laws and other Right Wing nonsense.

    What he said — and I agree — is that the Left does have a monopoly on compassion and rightness. That there is something wrong when Rowling gets pilloried for making the reasonable point that someone who transitions to being a woman in their 30’s has not had the same life experience as someone who was female from birth. That there is something weird about deciding that respecting trans people requires pretending that biological sex is not a thing. That when actual transgender doctors are being shut down for warning about the dangers of using puberty blockers on kids, something is wrong. That insisting that you can’t make jokes about a group is paternalistic and condescending. I don’t agree with everything that Andrew Sullivan says here but he, as usual, has a point. This isn’t about compassion for trans people; this is about insisting that there is only one path to doing so and it requires jumping through a bunch of rigorous often nonsensical ontological and linguistic hoops set up by a self-appointed elite.

    That is why people are mad at Chapelle. He didn’t attack trans people as much as he attacked liberal activists.

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  40. Kylopod says:

    @Hal_10000:

    That there is something wrong when Rowling gets pilloried for making the reasonable point that someone who transitions to being a woman in their 30’s has not had the same life experience as someone who was female from birth. That there is something weird about deciding that respecting trans people requires pretending that biological sex is not a thing.

    I haven’t seen the Chappelle special so I haven’t commented on it, but I followed the Rowling controversy closely, and what you described is a phenomenal whitewash of the things she said. And you’re accusing others of engaging in strawmen? Please tell who’s claiming biological sex isn’t a thing or that someone who transitions in their 30s has the same life experience as someone female from birth.

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  41. Hal_10000 says:

    @Kylopod:

    I won’t defend everything Rowling has said but this entire thing kicked off with these words: “If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased. I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives.” This is a sentiment i have heard over and over again from women, that they feel like part of the activism here is erasing the concept of womanhood. Maybe they’re wrong and over-reacting. But I don’t think this deserves flogging from the public square, especially as we have only been having this discussion for less than a decade.

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  42. Kylopod says:

    @Hal_10000:

    this entire thing kicked off with these words

    Actually it was first kicked off by her defense of Maya Forstater, who lost her job at a think tank after a series of tweets in which she repeatedly insisted that trans women aren’t women, that someone named Bruce Jenner was a man playing dress-up, and that there was a connection between trans women and men who disguise themselves as women in order to commit sexual assault, a myth as pernicious as the claim that gay men are pedophiles.

    If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased.

    Please tell me who has been arguing that sex isn’t real. Again, you (and Rowling) are attacking a strawman.

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  43. Schwed says:

    “Please tell me who has been arguing that sex isn’t real.”

    Judith Butler says sex is a social construct.

    Chase Strangio says there is no such things as male bodies or female bodies.

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  44. Dude Kembro says:

    “He didn’t attack trans people as much as he attacked liberal activists.”

    So phony, of course he attacked trans people. He spent 30+ minutes ranting about trans people.

    This attempt to whitewash his transphobia, and that of Rowling, is just gaslighting. Dave Chapelle is a transphobe who (shades of right wing homophobes who are secretly gay) has a bizarre obsession with punching down at trans people. I mean, I’m gay and I don’t think about trans people as much as allegedly-straight men like Chappelle do. Suspect. Not sayin, just sayin.

    Chapelle is therefore being (mildly, I might add) criticized for disseminating transphobic tropes, which manifests as unnecessary, obsessive hostility towards trans and queer people. It’s not any more complex than that. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

    Some of his fans don’t want to admit it for the same reason some Trump fans don’t want to admit he’s racist: because then we’d have to admit their own complicity and agreement with bigotry. I say we, because I’m one of those complicit Chappelle fans. But I’m not going to whitewash to make myself feel better about it: he’s a bigot. Just call the spade a spade.

    And, just like with Trump apologists, I say if you want to be a bigot, just be one loud and proud instead of pissing on our legs and telling us its raining. This whole two-faced fake compassion victim-shifting two-step is so lame. “I oppose bathroom laws and deadnaming because I’m soooo compassionate towards trans people, and now that that’s out of the way, here’s a bunch of dehumanizing transphobia that’s getting people killed, but if you criticize me I’m the victim.” Give me a break.

    Dave Chappelle and JK Rowling are rich and getting richer. Shunned from polite society? Giving someone the megaphone of a Netflix special is an odd way to shun someone from polite society.

    Meanwhile, transphobic discourse has contributed to a toxic environment where record numbers of trans people are being attacked and/or killed. Does that count as being shunned from polite society? Yeah, how dare the left try to help out.

    Trump’s violent, white supremacist facism is threatening the fabric of our society, but Dave Chappelle, Andrew Sullivan, and Bill Maher have found the real bugaboo to focus on: trans activists and liberal twentysomethings on Twitter. But Her Emails.

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  45. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Hal_10000:

    Neither of us denied the reality of trans people or their right to present themselves as they see fit.

    Rowlings has tried to deny trans people the right to present themselves as they see fit. Chapelle explicitly aligned himself with Rowlings.

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  46. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Hal_10000:

    “If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased. I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives.”

    How is the logic in this sentence different from “white replacement” arguments by neo-nazis, only for gender instead of race?

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  47. Lounsbury says:

    @Stormy Dragon: The logic of biological sex is actually founded in deep evolutionary bases, including different operational structures and fundamental genetic differences.

    Race on the other hand is a superficial 19th century concept that has no good roots in real genetic nor fundamental biological differences, and is based purely on mythology and cries to emotional positions for political reasons.

    It is Lefty Culty appeal emotion rather than logic to confuse the deeper issues of sex and gender with real biological roots, with race.

    They are not the same subject, despite superficial calls to the emotional conflation of the two subjects with the rather evident political goal of shutting down critical look at current Lefty socio-political cause celebre positions.

    So that is how they are different, although the rather nasty rhetorical demarche to conflate the racist white replacement without any real foundation in anything but 19th century mythologies with issues arising from a real tension between fundamental mammelian biological issues and a new cultural position which may have some merits but also has profound issues….

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  48. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Lounsbury:

    Both arguments share the idea that there’s a specific group that controls a particular identity, and that the identity only remains “pure” as long as they control it, and that extending that identity to include other formerly outside identities can only “defile” the identity.

    Understanding how a trans-woman experiences operating as a woman in society does not in anyway take away from J. K. Rowling’s experience operating as a woman in society, and the idea the one is only valid if it is forcibly protected from the other is exactly the same logic as “white replacement” rhetoric.

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  49. Kylopod says:

    @Stormy Dragon: I think it also bares some things in common with the arguments against same-sex marriage–that expanding the definition of something devalues it for those who fit into the traditional definition.

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