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Gaining Ground's Staff Blog
Responding to Dave Chappelle's Netflix Special
Contributors: All Staff
October 24th, 2021
Kyle Fullmer, LMHC
There have been discussions recently about Dave Chappelle's new Netflix special, The Closer, and his comments about trans people.
In seeing the comments and discussions online, our staff has reflected on how these representations of perspectives on LGBTQ+ identities are talked about, both in the media and in larger discussions online.
First and foremost, the following needs to be established: all of our staff is cisgender. This immediately comes with an outsider bias. Nevertheless, trans and non-binary people's existence should never be questioned or invalidated.
In reading our staff's responses to this recent special below, I encourage you to keep in mind that I, as well as all of the staff at Gaining Ground, will always lift up and support trans and non-binary people. I also encourage everyone to read this article from the Los Angeles Times' Op-Ed column, written by LZ Granderson, as it highlights an important perspective on the intersectionality of queer and BIPOC identities.
Nadi Sawinski, MHC-LP:
May we first establish the difference between the two following terms: Sex and gender identity. Sex is a label, male or female, that you are given at birth based on your chromosomes and the genitalia with which you are born. This is likely what will appear on your birth certificate. Gender refers to socially constructed roles, behaviors, expressions, and identities of men, women, and gender diverse people. Some people feel aligned with the sex they are assigned at birth, and continue their life identifying in this manner. Others do not feel aligned with the sex they are assigned at birth, so they identify with what feels true to them. What feels true to you is your gender identity and it absolutely can be different from what was written on your birth certificate. If you are unsure about these terms, your identity, or understanding someone else’s identity, I encourage you to continue exploring and check out planned parenthood’s educational page on the topic.
You can find this here:
My thoughts on Dave Chappelle: The Closer
A friend messaged me asking if I’d seen the latest Chappelle special and asked for my input. I was curious, though I generally don’t watch Chappelle, as I feel he often takes entire communities of people, fits them into a box, then kicks that box repeatedly. Additionally, I had seen the headlines for the special, deeming Chappelle anti-trans and I simply did not want to give any energy to it. However, this friend genuinely wanted to know my thoughts, so I pulled up Netflix and let the thumbnail sit on screen for about half an hour while I prepared my mind and heart. I wanted to watch with an open mind, prefaced that Dave is a comedian and this is a comedy show. I wanted to listen with an open heart, tapping into my love, understanding, and respect for another’s perspective and opinions. Though I do draw a line somewhere and stand firm when I do.
Sometimes bold statements have the power to make my entire body tense, tingle, or even go numb. I felt all of these somatic responses throughout Dave’s special. On the other hand, I did notice myself relaxing into the comedy at times as well.
While my values certainly do not align with the statements DaBaby and J.K. Rowling have shared, I do not subscribe to cancel culture. I’m not sure what kind of therapist I would be if I were to deny a person’s ability to learn, heal, grow, and change. Cancel culture can be toxic for anyone involved, as it seems to adopt a no tolerance stance, which can be harmful to those who may have behaved offensively in their past. I want to allow room for mistakes, for people to make these body numbing bold statements that spark conversation throughout the masses. In Dave’s case, I like to think he wanted this conversation to happen. Though he does take some stances that oppose my own, I hope we can all recognize there is always more to learn and we are not done growing. Even Dave.
Now here’s where I drew the line.
Dave made a claim that “gender is a fact” and reported to be “team TERF”. Dave added, “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”. He explained you must look at it from a woman’s perspective. Well, hello, Dave - I’m here. Let’s have a look at it.
If I were to talk to Dave personally, I would tell him that his experience of being birthed does not replicate the experience of every human being on earth. I’d also like to say that I think he’s focusing so much on transwomen that he forgets to/simply does not mention transmen at all. Transmen have babies all of the time and saying that only women have children does dismiss this entire community of people. May I also acknowledge the nonbinary identity and all other gender identities that exist within not just our society, but within cultures and indegenous peoples all around the world who recognize there is more than just the constructed binary. Dave shared that his allyship is based on him understanding how ciswomen feel about transwomen. While I cannot argue what Dave does or does not understand, I can say that this: As a woman, a transperson’s ability to look feminine and beautiful, or their ability to be masculine and carry a child, does not take away from my own magic of being a woman. All transpeople have the basic human right to find that magic in themselves and identify with it in whatever way feels right for them. I may be echoing Trystan Reese (harbinger of the trans revolution) here a bit, but I direct this question to anyone who is team TERF when I ask: If you are a woman because you can give birth, and now you see that men can give birth too, what does that make you? And I hope your answer is that the foundation for your identity was never based on your ability to give birth to begin with. Many women choose not to give birth. Many women face infertility. Many feminists believe that women are not required to give birth in order to secure their role as a valuable human. Unfortunately, this society has constructed strict gender roles and the hate that is directed to those who do not allow themselves to be confined is what scares others from straying away. Let us connect with that magic in ourselves, wherever it may be on the gender spectrum. Let us see sexism as the problem, not transpeople, and let us stop joking about transpeople all together, Dave.
If you would like to learn more about transfertility and LGBTQIA+ parenthood, please check out the following source:
With all this being said, I am grateful to my friend for encouraging me to watch this special. I did appreciate some of the points Dave made and ended up having a good laugh here and there. When I responded with my thoughts, my friend said, “I think that would require him to reprogram his brain”, which made me laugh because it’s honestly kind of true. We each have a responsibility to unlearn the harmful beliefs we’ve been taught about ourselves and others.
Adrianna Beck, MHC-LP:
“Well this is art.” That is how Dave Chappelle started his conversation about the trans community and his thoughts on trans women specifically.
Dave Chappelle spoke openly in his special about the root of feminism and what it means to be a woman. He spoke on the fact that biological women might feel slighted by trans women sharing the experience of being female.
He made jokes about how the gay community a marganilazed community but only when it suits them to be marganilazed. He also compared the black experience in America to the LGBTQIA+ experience in America.
As a cis gendered heterosexual woman I do not think it is my place to talk on the LGBTQIA+ experience but I do think it is my place to talk about the woman experience.
I am a woman who is cisgendered and I am heterosexual. But I am also a woman who is in her mid 20’s and does not want children. I don’t buy into gendered roles and I don’t want to ever rely on another person to support me.
As I listened to Dave Chappelle talk about cisgendered heterosexual women feeling slighted by trans women relating to this overall feminine experience but never experiencing a feminine trait like having a period I did not know how to think. These thoughts have never crossed my mind. I have always carried with me the ideal that if you are a woman, no need to categorize how we are women, then you deserve a seat at the table.
That is feminism right? Everyone deserves a seat at the table or a spot in the room? Dave Chappelle spoke on feminism and used a lens of humor to speak about how he did not know the definition of feminism and was surprised at the definiton. He used offensive language to bring light to the racism that is inherent in the feminism waves that have occurred across history. He drew light to the words of Sojourner Truth, “aint I a woman?”
This is where I struggled with Dave Chappelle’s special. I thought that, as a woman and someone who has close friends and family in the LGBTQIA+ community, there were moments where I felt angry about the words he was using. But as someone who values humor as a driving force of change and as an art I could see the craft.
Dave bookended some of his statements with hard truths. He spoke about racism, sexism, transphobia, and the pandemic, in ways that were poignant at times.
Humor is a craft and an art. Humor should be used to describe those things that we might not want to talk about.
When Dave Chappelle spoke about his friend, who was a trans woman, he spoke of her as a dear friend and someone whom he connected with despite differing lifestyles. Then he spoke of her death. He talked about how he was angry about how she was no longer here in his life to spread laughter and truth. Then he made a joke about her death. An audible sigh was heard through the crowd. But is that not grief? Is that not the truth? You could see that Dave Chappelle had lost someone close to him and that he did not fully understand why she was gone but he knew that she would appreciate the humor he used to process the loss.
I did not agree with the things he was saying but I can see the art he was mentioning throughout. Comedians constantly talk about how they will say things that will make people uncomfortable and his special at times did make me uncomfortable.
Dave stated this about his friend, “she told me I am just having a human experience.” That is what she wanted to get across to him. She did not want to be understood but just wanted him to know she was having an experience all her own. That is art, to me, a human experience. I think that this special is divisive, dark, and at times offensive. “Well this art,” and, just like other pieces of art, the interpretation is vast and at times uncomfortable.
Meaghan Confer, MHC-LP:
When sitting down to watch Dave Chappelle's latest Netflix comedy special, The Closer, I admittedly went into it expecting the worst. Although, while I had some issues with Chappelle's comedy, I found that he raised several important points.
In his special, Chappelle touches on "cancel culture" and comments on his reputation as transphobic and sexist. In broaching these subjects, Chappelle highlights how historically, the feminist movement has wrongfully excluded women of color in the fight for equality. Chappelle also brings to light the fact that there is still much work to be done in ensuring equal rights for marginalized groups in America, by emphasizing the disparity between the anti-racist movement and the movement to ensure equality for the LGBTQ+ community. Chappelle also uses his experience of unlearning and re-learning about transgender people and feminism to highlight the importance of open dialogue when learning about marginalized groups. I appreciate that he brought up these issues, as I believe these are important points to bring to light. I also agree that open dialogue is crucial in continuing to promote understanding and equality for all communities. However, while Dave Chappelle's intention in broaching these topics may have been good, I believe there are still some glaring issues with his delivery and the effect of his words.
When watching this special, I found several issues with Dave Chappelle's jokes. The greatest concern I had with Dave Chappelle's performance was how he would comment on how he is not transphobic, but would then make jokes that invalidate the identities of transgender people. This includes Chappelle making jokes about transgender women not being real women, to the point of even calling transgender women imposters. Chappelle also sides with J.K Rowling in her transphobic comments, by affirming that he believes gender is a fact. This comment points to the incorrect notion that being biologically born one sex means that you are automatically the gender identity that matches that biological sex. Chappelle also tells the story of his friendship with Daphne, who was a transgender woman. During this story, Chappelle mentions that Daphne defended him on Twitter when he was accused of punching down on the LGBTQ+ community, specifically transgender people. Chappelle highlighted that part of Daphne's defense was the idea that punching down on someone requires you to think less of them. In my opinion, this statement and the fact that Chappelle told the story of his friendship with Daphne after making several problematic and invalidating jokes about transgender people, seems like an excuse for him to hold and communicate problematic views of transgender people. I believe this because to say that the only way you can punch down on someone is to think less of them, is to excuse the effect of someone's words or behavior in favor of that person's intent. To me, this is a key shift that our culture has seen with the development of "cancel culture". I believe we are canceling those who are not taking responsibility for the effect of their words on marginalized communities because we now realize that good intentions are not enough.
Overall, I think Dave Chappelle's special is thought-provoking and highlights the fact that language matters. As we continue to strive for a world that is accepting and inclusive of marginalized communities, we need to expect more from one another and from our entertainers than just good intentions. If the effect of your words perpetuates harmful stereotypes about communities that we need to uplift, that is unacceptable. Therefore, the key takeaway I have from Dave Chappelle's special, is that we need to take accountability for the effect of our words, not just our intentions. In doing that, we all need to continue to unlearn, and re-learn about marginalized communities to dispel harmful stereotypes, and promote language and media that uplift these communities.