The Closer was published two months ago, and the effect from some of its content — particularly, Dave Chappelle’s never-ending fondness for trans jokes — is still being felt. Since its release, the program, his latest (and possibly final) for Netflix, has been panned. The trans employees of the streamer staged a walkout in protest. It resulted in one of them being suspended, then reinstated, and finally retiring. Chappelle boasted about how much he enjoys controversy, and he had no qualms about insulting a group of high school students when they called him out on it.
Now he’s been subjected to yet another, fervent dissection of why many believe Chappelle’s trans jokes are so dangerous. Wil Wheaton, a Star Trek: The Next Generation and Stand by Me alum, has written it. The actor and writer isn’t afraid to share both happy and sad things on social media. It was both upsetting and inspiring to hear him speak about the Chappelle incident.
Wheaton wrote a lengthy Facebook post explaining why he feels “deeply” about “people like Chapelle making transphobic statements that are passed off as comedy,” sharing a tale from when he was 16. He went to a neighborhood rink every night to play hockey, and one night he made friends with a group of other players. Wheaton, who was young and not very enlightened (but nonetheless sensitive) at the time, made an unthinking homophobic remark in the locker room, oblivious to the fact that everyone around him was gay.
Wheaton, to his credit, swiftly realized his mistake:
I was humiliated and terrified. I realized I had essentially spoken the N word in context and had no idea what to do. I wished to vanish. I felt compelled to apologize and ask pardon.
The hockey players tried to correct him, but Wheaton mishandled the attempt, attempting to lie his way out of it in order to save his “pride and ignorance.” In the end, the hockey players didn’t say anything else to him, and he hurriedly left without saying anything, ashamed of himself then and now.
One of the reasons Wheaton made that homophobic joke was to make a point. Because he picked it up from comedy specials. Eddie Murphy Delirious, the comic and actor’s renowned, barnburning — and also highly homophobic — HBO comedy spectacular from 1983, was where he learnt it. Wheaton now admits that the show’s LGBT gags are “just f*cking horrible and unacceptable,” but not when he was younger and more impressionable:
In his pampered bubble, young Wil thought it was the funniest, edgiest, dirtiest thing he’d ever heard when watching it with his suburban white upper middle class classmates. He died as a result of it. And that was all degrading for homosexual males. It was all so terrible. It was all bigoted. It was all a barrage of punches. And I had no idea what I was doing. I accepted the framing and established a perception of gay men as predators, somehow inferior to straight guys, and completely deserving of ridicule and disdain. But it’s always good for a laugh.
To put it another way, a comedian who I considered to be one of the funniest people on the planet completely normalized making fun of homosexual people, and because I was a wealthy white kid raised by affluent white parents, there was no one to question that image. I was painfully homophobic for much of my adolescence, and it all started with that comedy spectacular.
Wheaton observes a similar pattern with Chappelle’s trans jokes:
So, what exactly did Chapelle do? That all these white Cishets are so eager to defend? When they say it’s not a big problem, I trust them. Because it’s not a huge problem to CISHET WHITE DUDES, but it normalizes cruel, uneducated, bigoted conduct toward transgender people. Because transgender people have been securely, acceptably dehumanized, those “jokes” lead to an environment where transgender people are continuously threatened with violence.