Trans comedians explain why Dave Chappelle’s Netflix special is so infuriating and degrading

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Trans comedians have some thoughts about the Dave Chappelle Netflix show.

Chappelle’s latest special, which premiered on 5 October on Netflix, sees the comedian make explicit jokes about trans women’s genitals and defend DaBaby and JK Rowling, before declaring himself “Team TERF“.

In response, trans writer and showrunner Jaclyn Moore, who worked on Dear White People, quit her job at Netflix on 7 October, saying: “I will not work with them as long as they continue to put out and profit from blatantly and dangerously transphobic content.”

She’s not the only one unimpressed. Thousands have signed a petition demanding Netflix drop the special, and many trans and queer comedians have shared their displeasure at the special – but not because they are “offended”, as much of the media coverage has suggested.

In an open letter to Chappelle published by The Guardian on October, Dahlia Belle wrote: “I don’t need an apology for all the trans jokes. I’m 40 years old. You think I’ve never heard a trans joke?”

She added: “As a longtime fan, something I always admired about comedy was its ability to push boundaries and challenge norms. Now it’s 2021, and I think we can all agree that bitter old men griping about progress are killing comedy.”

What made Belle angry enough to write the letter was that in his Netflix special, Chappelle spoke of the late trans comedian Daphne Dorman, who died by suicide in 2019, referring to her as his “trans friend”.

“I hear you holding up our fellow comedian Daphne Dorman as the Good Tranny, who never made Dave feel bad for being transphobic,” Belle wrote.

“Daphne Dorman, your ‘friend’, who you describe as a terrible comedian, and didn’t know she had a child until reading her obituary, after she had killed herself, eight days after the one time you actually spent any significant amount of time with her, in person.

“The marginalisation, mockery, dehumanisation, and violence many of us face everyday of most of our lives is what fuels our despair. For you to use Daphne’s tragedy as your closing tag is the only thing you’ve done that’s made me angry enough to write a letter.”

Trans comedians respond to the Dave Chappelle Netflix special

Alongside Dahlia Belle, other trans comedians have been speaking out about Netflix’s Dave Chappelle special amid widespread criticism of its anti-LGBT+ jokes.

“I fervently believe that the most f**ked up joke isn’t as bad as a genuinely bad take, which is why there’s only one part about Chappelle’s special that bothered me and is actually monstrous, which is how he used Daphne,” tweeted stand-up comedian Robin Tran.

“A lot’s been said about how he used her as a shield, his ‘trans best friend’ and that should be pointed out. But what I find even grosser was that he used her death to take a swipe at cancel culture. Now his fans think that other trans people bullied her into suicide. Disgusting.

“I hate even bringing Daphne up. I have friends who actually knew her. She was a real person. I saw what was happening to her on Facebook after she opened for Chappelle. A lot of HIS fans attacked her. She was also going through a LOT. There were so many factors.

“To presume that this thing you’re obsessed with (cancel culture) killed her & making that the focal point of your story is absolutely sociopathic behaviour. And I’ve also heard that they were not close friends. I’m inclined to believe that. I’d never use a friend’s death this way.”

Hollis Black, a non-binary stand-up, said “it f**king sucks” that “every year or two one of the most famous and acclaimed comics does a special where he gets applause for saying things that make me want to die and never express who I am, and then all the people in the comedy world get into a fight about it in which one half decides that jokes are more important than safety”.

Black explained how after a previous Chappelle special, they “tried to own it” on stage and spoke of their own experience as a queer person.

“The next comic… devoted half of his set to making fun of mine. He didn’t have jokes. He just went ‘pansexual? What’s a pansexual?’ and ‘I didn’t know this bar was serving non-binaries.'”

The crowd “ate it up”, Black said, prompting them to have a panic attack.

“That’s the kinda s**t that gets normalised by this,” they added.

“I’m not thin skinned, make a joke at my expense and I usually laugh, I LIKE being roasted. But this was something else, this was a room of people laughing at the very concept of my identity.”

Dave Chappelle’s The Closer follows his 2019 special Sticks & Stones, which also included anti-trans material. Chappelle is reportedly making at least $20 million per special.

The backlash against the comic peaked this week with more than 7,000 people signing a Change.org petition urging Netflix to drop Chappelle’s special, saying: “By providing a platform to Dave Chappelle and his transphobic ‘jokes’, Netflix is perpetuating violence and hostility towards transgender people.”

In response, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos said it would not be dropping the special, adding that Sticks & Stones is Netflix’s “most watched, stickiest, and most award winning stand-up special to date”.

“Several of you have also asked where we draw the line on hate. We don’t allow titles on Netflix that are designed to incite hate or violence, and we don’t believe The Closer crosses that line,” Sarandos added.

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