Comedian Dave Chappelle had a history of offending some trans activists. His latest Netflix special, Closer, focusing on that subject, sparked a firestorm. Netflix was assailed and picketed, some employees joining in, demanding the show’s cancellation.
My wife and I decided to watch it, to see what the fuss was about.
And I was shocked.
Not by anything Chappelle said. Instead, what shocked me was that something so mild provoked so much umbrage. Chappelle actually seemed quite empathic toward trans people. Venting envy at what he saw as their success, compared to Blacks, in combating discrimination. One long riff concerned a trans comic he befriended and mentored. Though her act had bombed, Chappelle honored her as a great human being. The story’s gut-punch coda was her suicide. But also, Chappelle did skewer trans activist extremism — a subset of “woke” censorious intolerance.
It’s understandable that the trans community, as longtime social outcasts, would be coming from a sense of beleaguerment. But now that’s turned 180 degrees, with any deviation from their rigid catechism deemed a cancelworthy offense.
Wokeism weaponizes linguistic hair-splitting to delegitimize its targets. I’ve written about a man savaged for almost saying “colored people.” He quickly corrected it to “people of color.” But that didn’t forestall denunciation by, among others — get this — the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
As a lover of language, I believe words do matter. And have meaning. But there are two sides to that coin. Some trans activists, even while fixating on how words are used, in other ways reject the concept that words have meaning. Witness J.K. Rowling’s condemnation as transphobic for holding there’s a difference between trans women and what we’re now supposed to call “cis-gender” women. If allowed to say “women” at all. Yet these words simply denote physiological differences. Which trans activists want to deny; while their own promotion of “cis-gender” terminology is itself differentiating. Otherwise why not just call them all “women?” Yet still it’s somehow deemed a crime to acknowledge the differentness.
This is the kind of thing Chappelle was deconstructing. He pointedly observed that every person alive was born through the birth canal of a woman.“Woman” is a useful category word applicable there. A transgender woman, even if considered female for most purposes, nevertheless differs from cis-gender women in certain respects. “Transgender” too is a useful category word. That’s what language is for. Where is the offensiveness?
Scientist Richard Dawkins was also pilloried for the same notional offense as Rowling. The American Humanist Association revoked his long-ago “Humanist of the Year” award. And when I posted an essay defending people changing gender, but also criticizing the attack on Dawkins, and trans extremism more generally, some ferocious responses illustrated exactly what I was talking about. For example, bashing my calling gender dysphoria biological, a brain-body mismatch. (Bizarre, because if they’re right, then trans haters might have a point in considering it a psychological perversion.)
Dave Chappelle got similar bashing. What a pity; the activists doing this seem blind to how harmful it actually is to their cause, generating far more antagonism than sympathy. It’s an old truism that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. James Carville ascribed recent Democratic election setbacks to excesses of “stupid wokeness.” Though why didn’t voters punish the Republican counterpart? Apologists for a coup attempt, the deranged “stolen election” lie, covidiocy, etc. Wokeism versus Trumpism — we’re whipsawed between the two countervailing pathologies.