Are transvestites so bad?

This first struck me in reading Wednesday’s letters to the editor (if you follow the link, it’s the first letter), but when I saw the very same argument being made in a letter in today’s paper (in this case, the last one), I had to say something.

Both letters complain about our having run a Pat Oliphant cartoon making fun of all the hoo-hah overOliph_2 "Brokeback Mountain." For those too lazy to follow the links, here’s an excerpt from the first letter:

The comment from the “cowboy”: “Of course, they’re pearls, silly — what
else would I wear with basic black?” is what puzzles me. I know a
thousand gay men, including many in Darlington County, and not one of
them speaks this way, owns a set of pearls or has any interest in
women’s jewelry. That’s quite a slur.

It is?, I thought. Anyway, I set that aside until the Thursday letter, which in part said:

The cartoon appearing on the Saturday Opinion page regarding the harm
done to the cowboy image by the film “Brokeback Mountain” was a cheap
shot aimed at perpetuating insulting stereotypes of gay people.

Do you see the common thread (aside from the fact that neither writer is overly blessed with a sense of humor)? In both cases, the cartoon supposedly insults gay people by associating them with transvestites. This suggests that there’s something wrong with a man who wants to wear women’s clothing (or in this case, accessories).

This seems kind of judgmental to me. Did it seem that way to you?

This forced association of homosexuality and transvestism, which Mr. Oliphant is obviously using to ironic effect to mock the controversy (stereotypes are a fundamental part of the language of cartoons; the more absurd, the better), reminds me of a previous work of humor. I’m thinking of a particular sketch in Woody Allen’s "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But were Afraid to Ask)," the one titled, "Are Transvestites Homosexual?"

It certainly wasn’t the best bit in the movie. I vaguely recall Lou Jacobi being mildly amusing when, having snuck upstairs to the master bedroom, he pranced about in great delight wearing a dress belonging to his hostess. I don’t recall the putative question ever being answered, except that it seemed obvious that he was not supposed to be gay, but was a "regular guy" who got off on cross-dressing.

But that title, which I suppose came directly from the original book, seems in retrospect to contain a judgmental suggestion aimed not at transvestites (comical as they may presumably be), but at homosexuals. In "Are Transvestites Homosexual?," there’s a certain hint of, "Is there anything really wrong with transvestites?"

That was 1972 — well before it became unacceptable in Hollywood to suggest that there’s anything wrong about being homosexual. Much has changed since then. Today, we’ve got folks sticking up for homosexuals (defenders of tolerance, in other words) who call any suggestion of transvestism — even an ironic one — a "slur."

Is this progress?

22 thoughts on “Are transvestites so bad?

  1. Capital A

    I think the wardrobe selection of the men on Dancing With the Stars is breaking down barriers.
    Seriously and slightly tangential to the matter at hand, what is this current fascination with womanless beauty pageants that is winding its way through churches in SC? More and more, I’m seeing these used as fundraisers…and the usually staid crowds go wild!
    I was asked and refused to participate on grounds that it wasn’t even funny when Milton Berle did it, much less when I might. Ironically, the same (much more conservative than I) people who normally find every conceivable way to decry “effeminates” and “men lying with men,” howl at the the visions of a fellow clergyman in tights.
    Apply psychoanalysis as wanted.

  2. Dave

    I don’t know what the estimates are of the percentage of transvestites in the general population but my guess is it is very low. In many movies and tv shows, they have been used as comical relief. Mrs Doubtfire and Some Like It Hot as two examples. In Silence of the Lambs and Psycho, the transvestite wasn’t so humorous.

    The fact that now transvestites and/or the politically correct now see some victimization of these people is a direct byproduct of the feminization and resultant cultural decline of America. In this new culture, everyone and everything is a victim of the white Euro-American cultural history. So why not throw in a few mentally deformed transvestites in there with all of the other victims? What next, affirmative action for transvestites? All in the name of diversity of course.

    At these male beauty contests, the audience think cross dressing is funny simply because it is so outrageous in itself. The star QB as a church lady is pretty funny simply because of the contrast. The “pink lemonade” drinkers out there don’t appreciate this at all. They need to get over it.

  3. Herb

    Male beauty contests something new? We’ve doing this sort of outrageous stuff at youth ministry camps for over 30 years. Of course, I’ve been mostly outside the country during that time, but a we had a good number retreats with North American youth during that time, so I don’t think I’m entirely out of the picture.
    Oh, for those interested in a more or less balanced view of the uproar over the cartoons in Europe, this link is a good one. One thing that is important is always to distinguish the different strands in the “rope” of Islam. There is an evil power structure (yes, sorry, but I am a literalist here), but there are also valuable cultural aspects (we can’t hold a candle to their hospitality, for example) and some great people among them.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Ooh, what a giveaway! Did you hear that? Did you hear that, eh? That’s what I’m on about! Did you see him repressing me? You saw it, didn’t you?…

  4. bill

    No,there’s nothing bad about being a transvestite.The ones I know are extremely intelligent,with very thick skin.The complaints mentioned are about stereotyping.If you’d run a cartoon stereotyping blacks in some similar fashion, you’d be facing a boycott by the NAACP.Frankly,I just found the cartoon unfunny and the “humor” outdated.Yawn.
    Most gays have a great sense of humor.It’s necessary for survival.Rent John Water’s “Serial Mom” for some real”laugh out loud” humor.
    If you find any of the papers’ editorial cartoons that funny or actually laugh during a Woody Allen(the boring Mr Incest)movie,though,you might not get it.
    Bottomline,Brad,you’re pretty transparent-you think homosexuals are bad.

  5. Capital A

    I wasn’t saying the womanless beauty pageants are new; it just seems there is an odd resurgence of them lately.
    A man dressing as a woman has no comedic value to me. I’m not a prude, by any means. It’s just not funny because it’s so direct and uncreative, cheap, if you will.
    Of course, I never tire of people getting hit in the crotch on home video shows. So, irony noted.
    I just wish someone could explain to me why people who attack “effeminates” because they find the idea of gender-blurring abhorrent, all of a sudden find it a “hoot” when Jimbo fills his coveralls with waterballoons.

  6. Capital A

    Another thing, he’s right about Woody Allen. He has to be the most overrated “humorist” in American cinema, ever. He stinks.
    Sorry, I could clothe my disapproval no longer.
    Didn’t Ed Wood (Burton film) deal with these same issues pretty effectively?
    bill, I don’t see where you get that Brad is anti-gay. Most straight men find homosexual men a source of humor. I know I do. Almost EVERYTHING in this world is a source of humor (minus womanless beauty pageants, that is).
    That doesn’t mean I want harm brought to anyone who differs from me. If that was so, I’d soon grow tired of laughing only at myself.

  7. bill

    Yeah,maybe I was a little harsh on Brad.If I didn’t have great respect for his opinions,I wouldn’t be reading everything he writes.

  8. Brad Warthen

    Oops. I defended myself from Bill’s previous comments before I saw his latest. My bad.
    But my point about “Love and Death” remains out there, as a question for both Bill and (now) Capital A.

  9. Capital A

    Honestly, I’ll have to rent it and get back to you, Brad. here I come. I’d highly suggest this service, especially if you are still waiting in line at your local, selectionless movie shoppe.
    Woody Allen is for a certain generation, in my opinion. His brand of humor isn’t timeless. I can see where he is supposed to be funny, but that northeastern, urban neurotica leaves me cold. (Did I mention the child molestation? Oy!)
    Anything featuring George Carlin, Seinfeld and the Friends series puts me on ice as well.
    I call it the Full House effect. Millions of Americans are laughing while I’m face-frozen. Or maybe I’m just a staunchly Jeffersonian humorist…

  10. Capital A

    I dunno. He pulled a pretty funny joke over on Napoleon and his advisers. The punchline ended with four states added to our collection.
    Always makes me laugh when the man of thought defeats the man of action without so much as a shot fired.

  11. VNVet

    What makes one laugh makes another cry. I’d guess you could add this to the list of humorist things such as watching protestants being used as torches by Catholics, or baking instructions for Jews. Not funny? Neither is current thread and I see no difference.

  12. Capital A

    I fail to see any correlation between those totally disparate ideas. Your reasoning didn’t help, either. Care to connect the dots?
    Also, did you fail to capitalize Protestant on purpose or was that your minor form of protest? Are we buggin’ you?

  13. VNViet

    You’re very obsrvant, I have not time for Protestants, the capitalization was actually an error on my part. But it’s true, I have no time for Protestants, particularly evangelicals.
    The issue was whether or not the cowboys at a bar should have been auditioning for Queer Eye. Since the movie didn’t address the issue of cross dressing for either gender, why was it appropriate? It was another assault on other lifestyles by insinuating that all gays are breathlessly waiting to try on the latest Victoria’s Secrets. How truely lame.

  14. Brad Warthen

    Folks, let me try to explain this again. Pat Oliphant was making fun of people who see the movie as threatening by mocking the idea that the image of the cowboy was going to change radically. He did this with cross-dressing, thereby further mocking people whom he assumes think that homosexuality and transvestism are synonymous.
    He’s mocking the stereotype, folks. It’s called irony.

  15. Capital A

    These are the type of people (Bright and Viet) who are still tying to get The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn banned in 2006 America. I pray their lack of appreciation for even the slightest of comedic sophistication is merely a byproduct of youth.
    It’s odd that what riles one, roils another’s laughter. Obvious misspellings of basic English words offend me, but rant I will not. Truly.

  16. Capital A

    To be as obvious as you are in answering your question, the divide between race and sexual preference is the difference as put forth in your inadequate analogy. This world is gray, not black and white (or black and gay, as it were).
    If you look at Oliphant’s past works, he clearly “gets it” when it comes to complex issues. That is the genius of the truly successful political cartoonist–capturing truly ironic and complex issues in one frozen frame of black lines on pale paper.
    If you study his past works, as asked, and still reach the conclusion that he is a hatemonger, then the irony of you intending for your nickname to be ironic will not be lost on me.

  17. bill

    Enough about the lousy cartoon.These blogs are often filled with antigay slurs/insults(see Dave above-“pink lemonade” drinkers).I realize that gays use “queer” as blacks use the “N-word”.When such words(queer,etc)are used so casually to insult and so easily accepted on this blog,it gives credence to NVB’s analogy.
    It’s still OK to joke about one minority but not the other.
    I’m not suggesting censorship,let the bigots expose themselves.
    For gays in SC,it might as well be 1956.


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