The letter in which I attempt to explain transgender to someone who isn’t interested in my opinion.
Dear Dave Chappelle,
Honey… we need to talk.
I’ll start by saying thank you for pledging not to joke about us again until we’re laughing together. I’m hoping this letter can help us get there.
If you hadn’t already figured it out, I’m a transgender woman. I’m one of the “manly” ones you joke about, the ones who, if you met me in person, no matter how much makeup I was wearing or how I was dressed, you’d just think, “that’s a man.”
You’ll probably never read this, but I’m writing it because I just watched your newest special, “The Closer,” and there’s a few things I’d like to try to explain. If not to you, to perhaps one or two of the people who also watched the special and want to understand a trans perspective.
I’ve watched all of your Netflix specials and I do not believe in my heart that you wish any harm upon the transgender community. In fact, I believe you when you say that you support our right to exist, that you think we should be allowed to use whichever bathroom makes us feel safe, and that you’ve had trans friends. Generally speaking, I think your views have been understandable, if misinformed.
I’m not sure you understand the power you wield over the minds of millions of people. Maybe you do, and maybe that’s part of why you stepped away from the business for so long. But watching your newest special made me feel less safe to live in the world. For the first time in one of your specials, your transphobic comments were met with not only rousing applause, but standing ovations from your audience. I looked at their reaction to your ideas and saw a malice that had previously been unknown to me.
Let’s talk about Stonewall. Because you talk for a decent amount of time in your special about how much you respect “The Stonewall Gays,” a group of people who seem to live in your mind as a bunch of men who fought the police and won their freedom (maybe you watched the whitewashed film about it from a few years ago). The thing is, Stonewall only happened because of Black transgender women. You can’t mention Stonewall without bringing up Marsha P. Johnson, a trans woman who gave everything she had to be able to live her life as she saw fit. She and the other women who fought with her were tired of being harassed by the police. They threw the first bricks. They inspired others to join them.
Another point of contention is your implication that trans people sprang into existence within the last few decades. There are records of transgender people existing as far back as 4500 and possibly even 9000 years ago. Before White People even sprouted, transgender people lived all across the globe. Many native cultures view transgender people as being wiser, or even holy, because of their attunement to both sides of human gender expression (look up the terms ‘two-spirit’ or ‘mahu’ if you want to learn more). They were often spiritual leaders and sometimes kings and queens. This was a common practice for tribes in North America, South America, Africa, the Pacific Islands, and so many more places before the Abrahamic religions showed up and ruined it.
Colonizers and religious leaders found this concept to be repellent, “against God’s will” so to speak, so they stigmatized it. They invented the concept of “only two genders,” and then circled the globe, force-feeding it to every person in every tribe they encountered for the next few millennia. Those who didn’t agree were put to death or made to be slaves.
Transphobia was invented by the very same White people who invented Colonization. The same White people who participated in chattel slavery. At its root, transphobia is a racist idea, created to uphold the cis-normative culture of, “women are for breeding, and men are in charge of everything.” The existence of trans people threatened the very premise of their religion, and the basis of their “right” to conquer new worlds and peoples.
Boiled down into a sentence: Transphobia is racist.
If your fight is, as you say, against White People and White Supremacy, I find it interesting that you’re arguing for their side when it comes to the concept of gender. Part of the culture that was stripped away from the people who were brought to America from Africa and forced into slavery was the normalization and acceptance of transgender people. Part of the culture used to demonize Native Americans and sell them into slavery was the normalization and acceptance of transgender people.
You may not hate trans people. But that doesn’t mean you don’t believe or agree with some transphobic ideas. In the same way that a cop can pull you over and tell you to your face that he LOVES you, think you’re great, and then shoot John Crawford in the same week, it is entirely possible to have transgender friends and not understand anything about the realities of what we face living in the world.
You said it is an undeniable fact that all human beings came into this world because they were pushed through the legs of a woman. This is false. We all came into this world being pushed through a vagina (not counting C-sections, but the point stands), but as you are clearly also aware, there are a whole lot of men in this world who have vaginas. And yes, there are transgender men who have given birth, so some humans were born being pushed through the legs of a man.
“But if you have a vagina, you’re a woman!” I can hear the gender-criticals shout. And that’s the transphobic idea I’m talking about. You don’t have to be “a transphobe” to believe that all people with vaginas are ‘biologically women’, but the genesis of that idea was stuffy White men sitting around in castles trying to figure out how they could own everything—including people with vaginas and the children they bore.
“What if we just tell them what they are the moment they’re born? If you have a vagina, you get to be a wife and a daughter and eventually a mother, because your purpose is to bear children—it’s better for us!”
And trans people made the whole thing messy. So they decided to call us deviants and sinners so no one else would be tempted to look inward and ask themselves, “does my genitalia really define who I am?”
You’re not transphobic, but you believe transphobic things. And when you perpetuate them on Netflix (or just in the world), it makes the people who already hate us feel more outraged at our existence. I watched it happen in your audience. When one of those men gets too drunk one night and tries to hook up with one of us, the outrage might be just enough for them to do something irreversible.
You end the special talking about “punching down.” It is my firm belief that in this scenario, no one has been punching down—we’ve been punching sideways, fighting each other when we should be united in our common cause. After all, our fight is ultimately the same: dismantle the White Supremacist Patriarchy.
Still a fan,
Chloe Jade Skye
PS: Caitlin Jenner is not the person you want to talk to if you want to learn about trans people. We also think it’s outrageous that she won Woman of the Year. We love and respect her but we did not vote for her and she does not speak for most of us.