It’s been two months since Dave Chappelle released The Closer, and the fallout over some of its content — namely, his undying penchant for trans jokes — can still be felt. The special, his latest (and perhaps last) for Netflix, has been condemned since it dropped. It inspired a walkout from the streamer’s trans employees. It led to one of them being suspended, unsuspended, then resigning. Chappelle bragged about loving the controversy, and had no qualms about trashing a bunch of high schoolers when they called him out.
Now he’s received another, very passionate deconstruction of exactly why people worry that Chappelle’s trans jokes are so dangerous. It comes from Wil Wheaton, alum of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Stand by Me. The actor and writer is no stranger to sharing heartwarming and/or heartbreaking things over social media. When he opened up about the Chappelle controversy, it was a combination of heartbreaking and heartwarming.
On Facebook, Wheaton posted a lengthy entry about why he feels “strongly” about “people like Chapelle making transphobic comments that are passed off as jokes.” To do so, he shared a story from when he was 16. He played hockey every night at a local rink and one night he befriended a bunch of fellow players. In the locker room, the young, not terribly enlightened (yet still sensitive) Wheaton unthinkingly made a homophobic joke — not realizing that everyone around him was gay.
To his credit, Wheaton quickly realized the error of his ways:
I was so embarrassed and horrified. I realized I had basically said the N word, in context, and I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to disappear. I wanted to apologize, I wanted to beg forgiveness.
The hockey players attempted to set him right, but Wheaton fumbled that attempt, trying to lie his way out of it, to save his “pride and ignorance.” In the end, the hockey players didn’t say another word to him and he hurried and left without saying a word, ashamed of himself then, ashamed of himself now.
One reason Wheaton made that homophobic joke? Because he’d learned it by watching comedy specials. In particular, he learned it from Eddie Murphy Delirious, the comic and actor’s legendary, barnburning — and also incredibly homophobic — HBO comedy special from 1983. Today, Wheaton acknowledges that the show’s gay jokes are “just f*cking appalling and inexcusable.” But he didn’t think that when he was young and impressionable:
Young Wil, who watched this with his suburban white upper middle class friends, in his privileged bubble, thought it was the funniest, edgiest, dirtiest thing he’d ever heard. It KILLED him. And all of it was dehumanizing to gay men. All of it was cruel. All of it was bigoted. All of it was punching down. And I didn’t know any better. I accepted the framing, I developed a view of gay men as predatory, somehow less than straight men, absolutely worthy of mockery and contempt. Always good for a joke, though.
Let me put this another way: A comedian who I thought was one of the funniest people on the planet totally normalized making a mockery of gay people, and because I was a privileged white kid, raised by privileged white parents, there was nobody around me to challenge that perception. For much of my teen years, I was embarrassingly homophobic, and it all started with that comedy special.
Wheaton sees much the same thing happening with Chappelle’s trans jokes:
So this stuff that Chapelle did? That all these Cishet white men are so keen to defend? I believe them when they say that it’s not a big deal. Because it’s not a big deal TO CISHET WHITE DUDES. But for a transgender person, those “jokes” normalize hateful, ignorant, bigoted behavior towards them. Those “jokes” contribute to a world where transgender people are constantly under threat of violence, because transgender people have been safely, acceptably, dehumanized.
It’s a beautiful post, which you can read in full on Wheaton’s Facebook page.