According to press reports, all of these reactions are related solely to allegations about things that Chappelle said about so-called transgender people and transgender ideology. Before preparing to write this column, I was only vaguely aware of who Chappelle is. I had never seen any of his TV shows, films, or stand-up acts. But, in the interests of journalistic responsibility, I watched The Closer to see what all the excitement was about. What I found, among other things, is a remarkably intelligent and insightful man, saying true things from which we can all learn.
Before getting to the substance, it is incumbent upon me to issue an immediate, strong caveat. These truths are delivered within a monologue that will be highly offensive, perhaps even scandalous, to many Catholic viewers. Chappelle very liberally uses three unprintable words beginning respectively with the letters “n”, “b”, and “f” that many will find intolerable. If this is you, don’t watch it. But don’t fret, gentle reader, because I watched it for you.
Chappelle commits the unpardonable sin of advocating what transgender activists derisively call “gender essentialism.”
The essence of the complaints about the show is simple to explain. Chappelle commits the unpardonable sin of advocating what transgender activists derisively call “gender essentialism.” This roughly means that men have penises, women have vaginas, and the removal of either changes the gender of neither. Nor does a man become a woman (or a woman become a man) by declaring it so. The offensiveness is epitomised by Chappelle having the temerity to declare, in the most raw and visceral hate speech imaginable to trans ideologues, “gender is a fact.”
For this, Chappelle has been called a TERF—a trans-exclusionary radical feminist. “I didn’t even know what . . . that was” he explained; “but I know that trans people make up words to win arguments”. Having learned the definition, Chappelle proudly accepts the attribution, and stands in solidarity with such other hate-mongering TERFS as J.K. Rowling.
Through the obscene delivery of the profane jokes in The Closer, Chappelle says things that are not only true, but sensitive and insightful. While the second half of the show is more like social commentary than comedy, it is good social commentary with salutary lessons about moral truth, empathy, and personal integrity.
Aligning himself with radical feminists, Chappelle explains that other TERFs are offended by transgender people in the same way that black people are offended by white people who apply blackface. “They look at trans women the way we blacks might look at black face”, he explains. “It offends them like, ‘Oh, this [person] is doing an impression of me’”. He uses the example of Caitlyn (formerly known as Bruce) Jenner, who, Chappelle says, was “voted woman of the year”, analogising it to the musician Eminem being proclaimed black person of the year by Black Entertainment Television. It’s difficult to argue with the comparison. How ironic is it that a typical trans ideologue is also someone who complains that a European person who cooks Chinese food is guilty of “cultural appropriation”? Yet, as Chappelle demonstrates, trans activists believe they are the privileged ones, immune from such (or any) criticism.
Through the obscene delivery of the profane jokes in The Closer, Chappelle says things that are not only true, but sensitive and insightful.
But in the end, Chappelle tempers his observations about the immutability of gender and his criticism of the ideologues with a summons to solidarity with those who experience authentic gender dysphoria. From the standpoint of a black man in a culture with persistent racist elements, Chappelle admonishes us to empathise with the suffering of others, even when we refuse to bow to the ideology that might inform it.
Through a conversation with a transgender person who he came to know in San Francisco, Chappelle demonstrates a level of empathetic solidarity from which we can all take a lesson:
“I don’t need you to understand me”, he quotes the person as saying. “I just need you to believe . . . that I’m having a human experience. . . . Just believe I’m a person and I’m going through it”.
“I know I believe you”, replied Chappelle, “because it takes one to know one”.
And then, as he nears the end of The Closer, Chappelle declares, “Empathy is not gay. Empathy is not Black. Empathy is bi-sexual. It must go both ways. It must go both ways”.
Ken Craycraft is a Chapter House columnist.
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