So I expected people to be all over this, but I haven't seen anything about it, so I'll have a go--even though I'm not an expert in trans/genderqueer issues.
This week, Saturday Night Live was hosted by Justin Timberlake, a host I generally enjoy and the show was decent--not great, but decent.
That is, until the last sketches, which I found disturbing. (Even more than usual. SNL skates close to racism/misogyny/homophobia/transphobia rather a lot.)
I'll start with the one I found less offensive, a sketch featuring two female cast members playing stupid and/or intoxicated porn stars shilling for a cheap champagne. My real objection to this one is the fact that it made me realize how few and the quality of the roles SNL seems to be giving its female cast. Timberlake also plays a porn star, but is portrayed as a victim of an inappropriate childhood relationship with a male gym teacher and sounds neither wasted or (overly) stupid. I watch SNL intermittently, both because I like sleep and simply because the writing quality seems to have slipped (especially since Samberg left), but I was shocked to realize just how far the writing for its female cast has fallen. Increasingly the actresses are reduced to playing token pieces designed to set up the male actors to deliver the punchlines or portraying stereotypical roles we are meant purely to laugh at. I'd also point out in an otherwise amusing sketch featuring iconic SNL hosts, Candice Bergen was the only woman, had about one line and it was about putting the toilet seat down.
That brings us to the "She Has A Dick" sketch. A prerecorded "film preview" of a romantic comedy supposedly starring Justin Timberlake. Perhaps (and given SNL's track record, I'm being very generous here and sincerely doubt it) this was meant as commentary about the way people who express gender outside the binary norms are treated, but if that were the case it fails spectacularly. The concept is Timberlake meets the perfect woman, pretty, funny, etc., the twist being, you guessed it, she has a penis. (Kenan Thompson plays the "confused black friend" who repeatedly asks questions about the physicality of Timberlake's girlfriend and ends the segment with "Can I see it?".) Timberlake eventually overcomes his (rather minor) misgivings and says it doesn't matter, that he loves all of her. Which is great, in and of itself.
What is glossed over is the profound threat trans/genderqueer people face, and the fact that this is not a light matter--the threat of violence is erased entirely from this Rom-com take of an often overlooked issue in mainstream television/film. As I was watching, I was far from amused because all I could think of was how frightening it must be to reveal something so intimate with someone you care about, but don't really know how they'll react. And to face that uncertainty and chance at rejection with the knowledge that some men will react violently.
But what disturbs me most was the live audience's reaction, specifically when they laughed. The laughter read to me as laughing at the idea of a perfect girl with a penis, at the very concept of someone who does not fall neatly into the boxes we've made for them. The whole sketch feeds into our binary view of gender and gender expression, that because someone falls outside these lines, they are somehow a point of humor in and of themselves. If people are laughing for apparently bigoted reasons, I think we can say the comedy has failed.
Truly, I think the intention of this sketch can only be interpreted as ridiculing trans/genderqueer individuals. This has been agitating me since Saturday night; it makes me a bit sick to my stomach, frankly. "Humor" and hate go hand in hand far too often and hate is a hairsbreadth from violence. Needless to say, this has rather put me off SNL. I don't think I'm overreacting, but as I said I'm not an expert in this area. I would love some feedback from the community as to how transgender/genderqueer persons feel about this.
But I do know I definitely did not find this funny.