Dave Chappelle’s shameful trans bashing might be “humor that was never intended for white audiences anyway.” Except even then, it’s just shameful trans bashing.
Full confession: I haven’t watched Dave Chappelle’s Netflix special, “The Closer.” And I don’t intend to.
As a gay man who’s known he was gay from the age of eight, believe me, I’ve had enough abuse in my life. Some of it — and I’m sorry to say, and not wanting to cause any bad feeling or point any fingers or do anything unwokeful, for heaven’s sake, or be unfair, and I sincerely regret bringing this up, even as I bring it up — some of that abuse came from, well.
And I don’t want to make this tiny admission into a “thing.” Like, a resentment. Or god forbid, because god apparently is kind of the driver of all of this, an accusation.
And as abuse goes, it wasn’t all that bad or that much, really. As a gay man, I’m used to abuse, from the day I realized I had an unusual urge to sing along with the “Judy at Carnegie Hall” album, or, on a good day, lip-sync Maria Callas performing “Vissi d’arte” wearing my mother’s brown chiffon cocktail dress, with the matching booties that had the fur pom-poms.
And I tell, ya, this eight-year-old rocked that cocktail dress.
No, this was just standard level disapproval and pursed lips, except on the rare occasion it was abomination and hellfire.
Just enough abuse to be the size of, say, a small, nicely groomed, keeping-to-itself sort of, you know.
Elephant. In the room, I mean.
Lately, I’ve started paying more attention to the trauma I’ve experienced as a gay man just living his life and being himself. Because I fit into that Quentin Crisp category: Not a closet case. An out, in your face queer. The type who goes through hell, but only inside; and on the outside puts on a brave face, firmly insisting on being who I am, however excruciating that was to others, but mainly to me. I didn’t really feel I had a choice, though, in fact, like every other gay man, I did.
I could have accepted my invisibility, which would have meant accepting that I, the real me, had no right to exist. That I was a mistake. A bad arrangement of genes, or the product of my own recalcitrant “bad choice” (though being gay is not a choice, one of the proofs being that any person who would choose to fight this 24/7 battle for the right to exist would surely be a sucker for punishment and/or well-cushioned with at least a trust fund. Money eases most pain, which is a topic I’ll explore later in my signature style.
(Yes, I’m shallow and flippant, but you made me this way.)
I’m starting to understand that a lifetime of existential rejection, negation, free-floating anxiety, and condemnation, leading to constant feelings of worthlessness—an atmosphere of judgement all-enveloping yet mostly unspoken—a spiritual miasma I had no choice but to breathe—is not such a minor complaint.
I’ll tell you honestly. I’m not just pissed off about it. I’m enraged.
And though my memory tells me most of my oppression came from whites, maybe that’s because, in my small town and later in a bigger town, there really weren’t a lot of Black people in my line of sight, the product, surely, of whites self-segregating, the better to “keep our standards up” and “save our neighbourhoods,” probably officially nudged in that direction by insidious, racist public policies.
And I think also maybe Black people were too busy dealing with their own oppression to pay the right amount of attention to abusing queer folx. That could be the reason, when you think about it. They just weren’t at full speed, yet. They were overworked. They had things to do.
It’s possible they put that agenda on hold, pending, like, Selma. “Remember to pick up milk, sit at the whites-only lunch counter, oppress a sinful homosexual. Hmm, scratch that last one, till after we sort out Brown vs Board of Education.”
It got, you know, bumped.
So, stand-up comedy. Wanda Sykes for me embodies the best of that uniquely American genre, hands-down, and not “best Black stand-up” or “best Female stand-up” both of which qualifiers would subtly mean “macaroni picture”, which is to say, good, for a (insert qualifier here). No, just best.
I feel this way because, well, Wanda’s a dyke, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t poke fun at, say, gay men. Her stories about coming out and being invited to gay cruises poke wicked fun at the scene.
But she’s speaking from personal experience, pointing out the hilarity of the situation, and she’s basically dishing. She’s like your cool sister, laughing with you.
She doesn’t hold back on white people, either. She can be caustic enough to make me stare down at my shoes when she hits home. But she’s got empathy. She’s not extrapolating her experience to make bizarre analogies or pontificate.
Well, of course she isn’t. She’s not a man. Women dish. Men pontificate. Ask a man, “Can you figure out my new computer?” and he’ll fiddle with it until it breaks rather than read the manual, pontificating non-stop. Then, if you don’t say, “It’s OK, I totally understand that it’s Acer’s fault!” they’ll sulk, the second favorite male pastime.
Wanda Sykes is hilarious without being malicious or abusing the power that comes with a public platform. She sticks to what she knows. She understands what she’s doing, in other words, she has mastery. She’s fearless. She would never, I sense, end up eating a great, big, fearful, ineptitude pickle the size of the one that’s gagging Dave Chappelle.
In her special “Imma Be Me” Sykes makes a startling comment. “It’s harder to be gay than to be Black,” she says, about her coming out. “After all, I didn’t have to come out as Black!” She then riffs on this by imagining a fantasy scene in which she comes out as Black to her shocked parents. It’s to-die funny.
And it’s very sweet of her to say, but it’s not true. It cannot be true.
Because of the history of Black Americans as enslaved people, and the bloody and deadly struggle for civil rights which they have fought for over two hundred years—
—a fight they have waged with a civility and grace and dignity and playing-by-the-rules and hope that I cannot fathom, until that summer came when the deception became apparent: that no amount of civility or grace or dignity or playing by the rules would change one damn thing, because it didn’t change the fact of their Blackness, the summer when, not all hell but some hell broke loose—because of the burning of white supremacy into the consciousness of white Americans and its embedding in the structures of society—
—it cannot be true.
The reason is simple. I, gay people, we queer folx, invisible, hiding-in-plain-sight, don’t exist until we choose to make ourselves exist. If some bigots think being gay is a choice, that is the only sense in which they’re more or less correct.
Being visible is the choice.
That’s kind of a struggle, for sure. We get beat up, killed, jailed. Housing and jobs are denied us, as is the validity of our relationships. We’re assumed to be second class citizens, having had to fight for the right to marry and to raise kids. We get called, especially fags, child molesters (which is the dog whistle of QAnon and the lie that never dies).
Just the other day Pete Buttigieg, US Secretary of Transportation, was called a pedophile on Twitter for holding one of his adopted babies in his arms.
So, there’s definitely a struggle. But, honestly. I can’t look a Black man or woman in the eye and say it’s harder to be gay than Black. I would be ashamed to say that.
It’s not harder. It’s just plain, old, common or garden, fucking hard.
I’m now thinking of another Black female stand-up comic and damned if I can find her on YouTube, or remember her name. I probably wiped it from my mental hard drive.
I was thoroughly enjoying her her raucous, raunchy performance, which had been recorded in a grand-looking old-timey theatre somewhere in the US, and, as far as I could make out from the occasional long camera shot, for the enjoyment of a predominantly Black female audience, when her material took a nasty and viciously homophobic turn.
Enough to say that it riffed on anal sex (always and forever supposedly the invention of, and copyrighted by, gay men), and how you could tell if your man was on the down-low by his campy gestures, his suspicious habits and the sorry state of his underwear.
The audience went approximately nuts.
And I felt my face going red with that involuntary rush of fear, shame and self-loathing so familiar to me, that inner sense of threat and exposure that can only come from a thousand people reducing you to a sexual stereotype, a laughingstock, and a target of unalloyed disgust.
Progressives, one of which I consider myself to be, drone earnestly on about intersectionality, those shifting nodes of privilege and oppression, which codify the idea, which you could corroborate by spending five minutes on Twitter, that everyone needs a nigga.
Someone to punch down. Someone you can point at and say, I’m oppressed, but you? You’re just a weirdo. Indefensible. Subhuman. You’re a unicorn, and I don’t believe you exist.
Intersectionality, so I thought in my naïve, old-white-dude way, told us that we’re all oppressors and all oppressed. It’s like a three-dimensional chess game, or one of those drawings by Max Escher, the staircase that’s also a wall if you squint.
Now you see the oppressor, squint, now you see the oppressed. No one is immune. We’re all in this together. We all have innate prejudices to deal with and we all have to acknowledge that, and, in the end, we’ve got to stay humble, feel some empathy, listen to and love and take care of each other.
Oh, boy. What a steaming crock of horse shit that concept has turned out to be.
What we forget is that this intersectionality business doesn’t work without the concept of oppression — if you can even imagine what that kind of milquetoast world would be like.
Because while we sit around arguing about who’s going to wear the KKK robes today and who gets to lynch who, before the music stops and we switch, there’s the ultimate top dogs, the guys who benefit from us being at each other’s throats and endlessly absorbed in our Machiavellian power trips where the prize is staying right where we are.
“We” and “all” and “together” are relative. Relative to the one class of people who are perpetually outraged, and perpetually on top: the white, heterosexual males who are the most coddled, most entitled, most fragile (and therefore most dangerous) species on the planet.
Seriously. Those dudes are frailer than a preemie with coronavirus in a crowded ICU. We give them all the power (or else they’d grab our toys and run off with them anyway, so it’s easier to just give in) and we wipe their noses when they’ve done too much blow and soothe their diaper rash with whiny-baby powder and we cook their meals and we do their n****in’ for them. They have everything sewn up.
So you think they’d be happy.
Nah. A happy str8 white dude would just sit contentedly in the corner, gazing with love at his shrively white penis and marveling at its power (until a woman laughs at it, which is why women have to be kept in purdah.) The only attention he’d be getting would be his own, and that’s a given.
And what’s worse than an attention whore, aka str8 white male, without attention? Exactly right. Nothing on gawd’s gang-raped and abandoned Earth is worse.
(And by the way: Earth came on to them, OK? Just between you and me, Earth’s a little slut! Oh, yeah! Earth was begging to be raped! Otherwise, why would she be out after sundown, flaunting her oil and her oceans and all those pretty flowers and forests and mountains, big and natural? I tell ya, buddy, Earth was asking for it!)
No, white str8 guys are unhappy. Forever. Not content with their wealth, and their power, and their shrively white penises, they need more. So, restless and dissatisfied, they turn their attention to what you’ve got that they should have, too.
They need to control what women do (so as to not get laughed at, and so they know that another shrively white penis hasn’t invaded their private property, crawled under the real or metaphorical niqab and spawned bastard babies) so they’re apoplectic about abortion, simultaneously afraid of and disgusted by and in thrall to vaginas. Str8 men are so conflicted about vaginas, I don’t know how they manage to be str8. It’s mind-boggling.
And they are apoplectic about LGBTQ2+ people. They never stop obsessing about us! And they know, much, much better than we could ever know, what we are and what we need and why we’re second class, and why we don’t matter and why I’m not up to snuff in the manliness department, even though the sight of one drag queen in a feather boa has them quaking in their Hush Puppies.
Any anyway, gay men? It’s just — dudes taking it up the ass! Gross! Str8 white men would never do that! Str8 white men don’t even wipe their ass! And if you don’t believe me, honey, blow a str8 white dude one day. You’ll understand why women cry.
Str8 white dudes know everything and will not rest until you know that they know. They have to pontificate about big government (even though, in their full expression, they mostly don’t believe in government, which is a cute trick of cognitive dissonance) and they get to sneer at those coddled poor people, lazy losers with no get up and go.
Unlike themselves, who built their empires in a space station on Mars, apparently, because they’ve had no advantages from the tax breaks and the white supremacist economic system and the glass ceilings that keep women from power, and systemic racism not our fault, man, no POC applied!, and the infrastructure that facilitated their supply chain and built the roads so they could drive their muscle cars noisily and fast, and spend those tender afternoons down at Joe’s Garage making goo-goo eyes at their buds and whispering, “Sweet ride, dude!” as they shyly kick the tires.
No, white str8 dudes need everything. That’s why they suck the juice out of our planet like a twink sucks the juice out of the captain of the football team at the Mattachine Ball. If it’s there, it’s theirs, by right. Don’t dare question this, or, worse, take the attention off them for one second, for the butterfly’s wing that is their self-esteem will dissolve into fairy dust and blow away.
Now, along with all that, there’s an interesting effect of money. You see, we’ve all known that money talks, lately in the form of Dave Chappelle on Netflix, more on that in a mo, but here’s something amazing: Money is magic. Money can make you into a str8 white dude.
Just let that sink in for moment. I know, right? Is that deep or what?
Like Dorothy’s ruby red slippers, the simple escape route from your oppression, great oodles of money, has been right there in front of you all along! Couldn’t you just kick yourself, you female or gay or black or poor or trans or — or any combo of the above, with or without fries — person?
Because if there’s one thing we revere even more than str8 male whiteness, it’s great container ships full of cash, mountains, fountains, of freshly minted, new-car smelling, petroleum-drenched, diamond-mined, crypto-change-o money.
Mmmmm! Freshly minted money!
Well, I want to propose an exercise. Let’s say we take this crock of shit that intersectionality seems to be — not because it’s not a valid lens, but because everyone abandons it once the penis envy of oppression takes hold, who’s had it biggest, longest, and hardest? — let’s put on our magic intersectionality goggles and examine us some unicorns.
It must be obvious by now that when we put on our magic intersectionality goggles and gaze at Dave Chappelle, whose deal with Netflix alone was worth twenty-four million bucks, we see — ta-da! Well, blow me down, if it ain’t a str8 white dude!
Tinkerbell’d by the glitter dust of money, his Blackness magically disappears. Poof!
Now, I want to be fair. Maybe I “just don’t get” Dave’s special Black humor. I’m informed, by a Black writer on Medium no less, that Dave’s comedy has always really just been for Black people anyway.
Oh, now I get it! That makes it better, because it lets all the Black people sneer transphobically together, without us po-faced, just-not-getting-the-hilarity-of-their-queerphobia, inconvenient white/gay/lesbian/trans party-poopers.
Aren’t we a caution! Not content with merely putting raisins in the potato salad, we just turn all ornery and refuse to enjoy the special, nudge-nudge knowing-wink elbow-in-the-ribs Black transphobic humor. But I’ve seen the light! I get it, now! It’s just your way of talkin’, y’all! so why don’t we just mind our beeswax and let you have your fun? Right?
Well, fuck you and kiss my old, white, faggot boomer butt-cheeks, transphobes. I’ll even draw the bull’s eye for ya. Yeah. Kiss it. Right here, baby. Come on! Let’s hear those smooching sounds, nice and wet and sloppy. There ya go!
I’m here to spoil your fun, like, in an official capacity, and I have standing, because Dave Chapelle exhibits — but only with our magic goggles on, OK? — all the signs and symptoms of str8 male whiteness.
Because Dave Chappelle has opinions in lieu of facts, just like str8 white dudes. He just out and out thinks that being trans is exactly like — well, “blackface.”
Yep. He really fucking said that.
It’s like, so he explains— and if you can imagine anything more entitled or moronic or inappropriate or just downright obnoxious, send it to me on a postcard and I’ll eat a pound of boot polish — waking up one morning and deciding you’re Chinese, and walking around making a racist stereotypical Chinese face, and when people call you out on that, you simply say, “Hey, this is what I feel like inside!”
Dave. Dave. Now, first of all, if my experience of Black str8 guys is anything to go by, I know you’ve had yourself some down-low sex with a dude. Don’t pretend you haven’t. If you know what goes on in a trans person’s head, then I know what you’ve been doing with your BBC. OK? Fair’s fair.
Here’s the thing: Why do you imagine we would give a running, jumping or standing toss what you think about trans people? What could you possibly know about their lives and loves, hopes and fears?
I gladly and willingly allow that I will never, as a white man, ever truly understand the Black experience; that I have never experienced, nor will I ever experience, racism. I have to learn about it, painfully, humbly, from those who have experienced it, grasp my part in that oppression, and, painful as it is, imperfect and inept as I may appear, try my best to be a good ally.
So what is this free sneer at a trans card that you get when you could not possibly know what is their experience?
Why do you flaunt your homophobic fear, aka homoerotic desire, by punching down a vulnerable minority? Is that really something you want to do? Because if it is, you’re str8er and whiter than I ever thought possible.
I’ve argued before that stand-up comedy is a bit of an exception, a kind of sandboxed arena designed and understood as a place for airing outrageous, even taboo, concepts. But there are still unspoken rules.
You mock upwards, your oppressors. You mock sideways, your peer group. But, baby, you never, ever mock down. You never openly mock and oppress a vulnerable group, because — for fuck’s sake, do I really have to explain why?
You’re a str8 white dude, Dave Chappelle. But it could be only a temporary affliction, if you’re willing to confess that you don’t know every damn thing, and particularly any damn thing about being trans. To get your credibility back, you will need to humble yourself. You will need to shut your fresh mouth about trans people.
Maybe you’ll even take that meeting with the Netflix employees and not worry about “what you’ll talk about,” because, if you’re as smart as I believe you are, you won’t be doing any talking for once in your privileged life.
You’ll be listening.