Rebel Wilson’s Trans Comments Adequately Reflect Our General Ignorance
During her presentation speech at the BAFTA awards for best supporting actor, Rebel Wilson made some jokes about the lack of diversity at the Oscars, joking that she’s never been invited because the Oscars are racist, because she’s Australian, get it?! She then assured the laughing audience that she plans to win a BAFTA in the future, and is “practicing her transgender face” in preparation for her win.
While some would say that this was a clumsy attempt by Wilson to once again poke fun at the lack of diversity in Hollywood, what it amounted to was a room of largely cis-gendered people laughing at both the reality of exclusively cis people being cast in the few trans roles available, but also the idea of trans people in general, all tied up the neat bow of the outdated term “transgendered.”
Did the BAFTA audience laugh because it was a packed joke? Did they laugh out of discomfort and transphobia? Probably a combination. As much as it’s tempting for me to criticize Wilson for making a joke that ultimately played out at the expense of trans people, rather than really doing her homework and making a smarter statement that shone a light on Hollywood’s hypocrisy —how they love to profit off trans pain while denying trans actors roles or visibility — her tone-deaf attempt at humor highlighting trans issues served as a perfect mirror for the large cultural ignorance surrounding the trans experience.
Even some of the most self-proclaimed progressive cis people I know are confused about terminology, and rather than doing a quick Google search to correct offensive terms, often react defensively when corrected for misgendering someone or using dated slurs. I’m definitely guilty.
As better articulated below, the term “trans face” is both offensive in its implications of othering, and the emphasis of costumed appropriation, much like a white person putting on black face in order to appropriate someone else’s story while still upholding the very systems of oppression that create those stories.
We’re in a time when despite huge claims of progress and awareness, we demand anyone outside of the cis-binary explain and label themselves within a trim box of respectability. As cis people, we coyly act entitled to explanations for anybody’s gender we don’t automatically comprehend and then expect trophies for acknowledging the existence of people outside the cis-binary, while still expecting grace and understanding when we turn around and flippantly employ old slurs and gender essentialism as a punchline.
It would be deeply hypocritical of me to attack Wilson for her flippant joke, as she just happens to serve as the mirror to our widely accepted privileged shortcomings. We can all get better at listening and supporting, rather than hawkishly punching down.