Well known comedian Jamie Foxx made several jokes while speaking at the iHeartRadio Music Awards Sunday night. Two in particular landed with a resounding thud.
"We got Bruce Jenner [who] will be here doing some musical performances. He's doing a his-and-her duet all by himself." No one applauded.
Not knowing to quit when behind, Mr. Foxx responded to the lack of roaring laughter by doubling down. His retort? "I'm just busting your balls while I still can. Give it up!"
I'm not a comedian, nor do I play one on TV; I'm just a (not so) mild mannered trans* and genderqueer psychotherapist. It's not my job to tell you how to do yours. But jokes based on stigmatizing another's identity seem just-so-last-century.
Clearly the comments were inappropriate, offensive and outright rude. Horribly so. Initially I was angry yet tempted to dismiss the jokes as two more in a long string of atrocious examples of Bruce's gender being the fodder of tabloid-esque sensationalism. Mr. Foxx got exactly the feedback from the audience and in the press that the lines deserved... but they lingered in me. I wondered how he might even have thought they were funny, what sort of reaction he might have been hoping for. Did he expect people to rally behind his slurs? Driving to work Monday morning, I found it more and more troubling. I came up with several thoughts on why.
In 1984, Gayle Rubin noted that throughout history, people in outsider groups have often tried to align themselves with the mainstream while also distancing themselves from those further outside the norm. This process draws lines between 'us' and 'them,' and whether the topic is sexual orientation, gender, religion, race or anything else, the pattern is the same. "We're just like everyone else," a group might say. "But those folks... they most definitely are not." If 'they' are not 'us' then 'we' do not need to treat 'them' with respect, or even see them as human. She also suggested we try and move past these tendencies in the future. Mr. Foxx heartlessly turned Bruce Jenner into a 'them,' possibly because he assumed it was an easy laugh.
I don't need to point out that Mr. Foxx might have been considered a 'them' not very long ago, or even in many places today.
Nowadays we no longer mock the overweight kid or the one wearing glasses, put down the person in the wheelchair or view other racial, ethnic or socioeconomic groups as valid targets for ridicule. Nor do we do it about sexual or gender minorities.
And while Bruce has yet to speak about Bruce's situation, I can't help thinking that targeting a person who is clearly suffering is simply another form of bullying. We don't do that anymore, either.
Mr Foxx, this isn't a matter of political correctness run amok, I'm not asking you to be nice to another person out of some vague appeal to good karma. This is an issue of awareness.
Gender is a central part of any person's identity, and yet for many in our world it can be a source of great pain. It can be used against someone as a way to put them down, deny them of rights, reject their humanity. We know the same can be true of so many other parts of who we are. Mr. Foxx, I'm asking you be a bit more reflective, think before you speak and perhaps realize that you and Bruce are not all that different. This is where we are as a society, and hopefully where we are headed.
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