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2 February 2011, 12:00 pm 5 Comments

Tokenized: Transphobia, SNL style

Submission by Sylvia Renee, TNG columnist

I had plans for today’s article. It was something that had been on my mind for a while and I was going to be glad to get it out there. And then something happened. Ever come across one of those moments where you get so angry that your speech center threatens to shut down? This is one of those times. It is literally a struggle for me to maintain coherent sentence structure.

On January 29th, SNL aired a horrific skit entitled Estro-Maxx (I won’t link the video because frankly I dont want this garbage to rack up any more views). While SNL has not been funny for years, if not decades, this video takes it to another level. In just under two minutes it managed to hit just about every negative image possible about trans women, usually relying on the “man in a dress” trope for most of the “humor,” and even then I use the term lightly.

For the writers, all that matters is that these bodies have breasts, and that these breasts are explicitly sexualized while simultaneously a source of revulsion. In fact, every single scene contains some sort of explicit sexualization of their bodies. And every time it is “funny,” at least if we are to believe the laugh track. Because from the perspective of a “normal” straight (presumably white) man there is no way that a trans body should ever be sexy in its own right.

There is one scene where a TSA agent scans one of the bearded actors and is immediately shocked and aroused. It is no small implication that the agent is played by Keenan Thompson. While white men should be repulsed, there is a black masculine sexuality in play that is both voracious and suspect. Without detouring too far, the US has used this same imagery for over two hundred years as an effort to police and control black male sexuality.

Last time I checked, interacting with the TSA was nothing like that.

And then it just keeps going. A voiceover informs the viewer that “men taking estrogen may develop an interest in TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress.” Because obviously in order to be a proper woman you have to aspire to heterosexual marriage theater vis-a-vis a reality tv show.

Shit like this just plays on conservative fears that men will somehow “invade women’s space.” Beyond that, it only confirms the inherent biases amongst ass-hats like Ellis. Trust me, the only space I am interested in are spaces where I can be safe and have my presence accepted or even valued.

Please feel free to tell NBC all the ways in which this is unacceptable.

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  • Levi said:

    Probably not the first time this has happened…Most definitely won’t be the last.

    We’ll be lucky if they even issue an apology.

  • Alexander said:

    I’m transgender FTM. I disagree with you.

    People make fun of everything, for any reason. What’s more bizarre to me is that THIS is what GLAAD/HRC/people choose to fight over when there are more pressing issues for the trans and women community! A bullshit skit does not demand this much attention…but lack of resources for the trans community does. So does increased targeted violence for trans people, so does higher rates of suicide/murder/unemployment for trans people…I mean the list goes on. How about lack of media visibility for reputable/successful trans people?

    This skit doesn’t change minds either way. And it wasn’t funny…but it COULD HAVE been, had they consulted/involved transwomen. We make fun of each other all the time!

    I wrote about it, too, on my blog. FYI

  • Just Some Trans Guy said:


    Fortunately, some of us are capable of multi-tasking and can breathe AND walk at the same time. It’s not a matter of “complain about transmisogynistic as hell SNL shit” or “fight employment discrimination.” People can do both. Lots of people ARE doing both.

    Also, since you claim to care about the violence trans people face (and which trans WOMEN disproportionately face), I will suggest that skits like the SNL skit–which isn’t “ha, ha, taking pills is funny” (as you claim on your blog) but “ha, ha, trans women are funny, don’t they realize they look like men”–help to normalize anti-trans women attitudes and fuel the violence.

    The person who sees this skit and is then asked to serve as a juror at a trial where a (usually cis) man has murdered yet another trans woman? Is going to be just that much more likelier to say, “You know what, that man in a dress really was asking for it. I think we should acquit this poor ‘fooled’ defendant.”

  • Alexander said:

    Hey, Just Some Trans Guy. What helps “normalize anti-trans women attitudes and fuel the violence” is NOT skits on SNL! It’s not having the same rights as others. How can anyone treat someone respectfully if that someone, by law, isn’t treated the same? I see your point. I see the points of GLAAD.

    My point is simply that this sudden outpour of anger could/should also be used for SEVERAL other things that actually make a difference in the lives of trans people. Especially, when those several other things warrant more attention. I want you all to be angry that I can’t serve in the military. I’m a perfect candidate for military service – I scored a 92 on the ASVAB, am height/weight proportionate, and most importantly, I want to serve. Doesn’t that piss you off just the same or more than the SNL skit? That someone can’t serve in the military of their country simply because they are trans? Where are my journalists/bloggers/HRC/media/outpour of support etc etc etc for that? That’s all I’m saying, guy.

  • Just Some Trans Guy said:


    “Doesn’t that piss you off just the same or more than the SNL skit? That someone can’t serve in the military of their country simply because they are trans?”

    Of course. And that’s something I, as an activist, am actively working on. Signing a petition or something re: the SNL skit takes, what, maybe 5 seconds out of my day? It’s not eating into my other activism time. And lots of people are talking and blogging about that–just because you haven’t seen it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

    Also, I really wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the HRC to take a stand for trans service members.