GLAAD Says SNL’s Estro-Maxx Skit is Transphobic and Even Less Funny Than SNL Usually Is These Days

If you are one of those people who a) has a TV and b) watches Saturday Night Live even though Tina Fey isn’t on it anymore, you may have seen an SNL sketch this week advertising a false product called “Estro-Maxx.” You may also have flipped a shit over how transphobic it was, and consequently either changed the channel or kept watching even though you were disgusted because wasn’t this the one with Nicki Minaj?

As is its custom, GLAAD has issued a demand for an apology, and started an online petition for Saturday Night Live to respond. Their statement reads:

In the January 29 episode of Saturday Night Live, NBC broadcast a dangerous and blatantly anti-tansgender segment which they called ‘Estro-Maxxx’ – the punch line of which was the lives of countless transgender people across the country.

The piece was a mock commercial for estrogen replacement therapy and featured men with facial hair wearing dresses, meant to represent transgender women. This segment cannot be defended as “just a joke” because there was no “joke” to speak of. The attempted comedy of the skit hinges solely on degrading the lives and experiences of transgender women. Holding people up for ridicule simply on the basis of their identity fuels a hurtful climate and puts people in danger, especially given how infrequently the media shines a fair and accurate light on the lives of transgender people. “The violence, discrimination and harassment that transgender Americans experience each and every day is no laughing matter,” said GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios. “Saturday Night Live is a touchstone of American comedy, but Saturday’s unfunny skit sends a destructive and dehumanizing message.”

See that? What they did there? They made a logical and solid point about when things are funny and when things are not funny. This is a disappointing story in terms of the sickness of our national climate and the casual cruelty of our media culture and the willful ignorance of The Average American, but these things will only change when people understand WHY these things aren’t funny, or why it’s different when the joke is at the expense of marginalized groups.

From “Is GLAAD Humorless? Is it Just a Joke?” (the whole thing is worth a read):

From a pure script standpoint, this sketch is not at all anti-transgender and is actually rather respectful. In fact, some transgender people might agree with lines like “nature got in the way.” But the fact that the sketch gets all of its laughs from visual gags, aside from Brittain’s line, undermines that respect entirely. In fact, the respectful dialogue almost makes the sketch even worse, and here’s why.

By having the actors play these transgender characters more like straight men, this sketch is telegraphing how it really feels about transgender people; they’re actors, pretenders, and ‘men in dresses.’ Two of the characters even have obvious facial hair, one of whom has purposefully groomed his into a mustache. And by playing their appearances for laughs, the sketch is telling the audience that no matter how seriously transgender people take themselves, that doesn’t mean you have to take them seriously.

It’s not “just a joke,” and it’s not that GLAAD doesn’t “get the joke,” because there was not a single ‘joke’ in this entire sketch, unless you think the appearance or acceptance of a transgender person is funny.  SNL should be better than this.

COMEDY should be better than this.

Is GLAAD overreacting? Opposing Views says no:

“Yes, it’s true that SNL pokes fun at people of all shapes and sizes, races and genders, backgrounds and political leanings. But they poke fun at their behaviors or their mannerisms or the way they react in certain situations. They don’t poke fun at them just for being who they are.

From a really basic creative standpoint — a spoof has to point out the ridiculousness of the original — like the idea of spreading a magic potion on your head to grow hair overnight, or that the best way to get skinny is to hold a vibrating weight in your hand. But the fact that you need to take Estrogen more than once a day isn’t really problematic, ridiculous or funny and furthermore, it’s never advertised on television! And if the idea is to poke fun of ads for bio-women’s estrogen pills, it seems like the more effective ad would be more akin to this ad spoof of Annuale and have nothing to do with transpeople at all.

An apt point to end on, from The Opposing Views article:

But just because something makes people laugh does not make it comedy. (There were lots of people laughing when I was shoved into a row of lockers or knocked down the stairs in junior high. I don’t think any of you would call that act, in and of itself, comedy.)

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Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

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32 Comments

  1. Wow! That was bad even by regular SNL standards. I can’t put my finger on what I find to be so problematic about the show over the last several years, but there seems to be a pervasive maleness in most of the material. Lack of balance and perspective in the writers’ room I suppose.

    • I agree. Since Amy and Tina left, there’s been something that’s just…off about it. I didn’t even really know how to put it into words, but “pervasive maleness” sums it up pretty well.

    • I think the pervasive manliness is correct but that isn’t unusual for SNL. The Fey/Poehler/ era aside, for most of its history it has been dominated by men. And when Sandler and Farley were the main focus it was a similar sort of frat boy manliness but still managed to be funny.

      I think its a very specific type of College Humor focused “comedy” now. They aren’t really trying to make good tv, with interesting sketches, they are trying to make something that will translate into a good clip on the internet and will grab people’s attention immediately. And they are mostly trying to appeal to young college guys with no attention span.

  2. When i watched this the other day I was horrified. Not that it would have redeemed it to be a little funnier, but really? Sight gags at the queer community’s expense? Way to go guys, guess I’ll keep not watching SNL indefinitely

  3. I made it through about a minute of this before feeling so nauseated I had to shut it off. I think that my offense threshold is actually pretty high, but this was straight-up hateful. Seriously, I cannot imagine what ANYONE involved in this could’ve been thinking, besides “trannies LOL, amiright?”

  4. I think the problem is that the skit wasn’t funny. There wasn’t really a punchline. The inherent joke was men wanting to become women. I think the only thing that could pass as humor was the nod to those damn airport scanners revealing way too much about us, but it just wasn’t funny. SNL has just gotten really dumb. It’s not clever anymore.

  5. Thank goodness you covered this. I was confused why on Monday no own had uttered a word about this horribly offensive sketch. Maybe I’m following the wrong sites! I couldn’t believe they actually went as far as they did with this.

    The appearances pissed me off so much. It was this huge joke about how trans women can’t be taken seriously because they look like men and have facial hair. How gross & funny that these “women” have facial hair and try to wear dresses! Let’s laugh at their situation! They’re so ugly! We all know they aren’t really women haha! How fucking gross and immature are those attitudes?! I was sickened by this. We are living in fucking 2011. This shouldn’t be humour.

  6. I’m all about offensive jokes, but this crossed so many lines for me too. There were crickets in our living room after the end of this sketch… we were just… shocked. This is the kind of mistake I would expect from NBC back in maybe 1989, not in 2011!! Haven’t we progressed past this? Shame on the writers who wrote this and the producers who thought it was appropriate to air.

  7. OMG.That’s so incredibly offensive it’s ridiculous. What were they thinking?? If the fact that it’s unfunny, cruel and transphobic wasn’t enough to stop them from making something so terrible you’d think they’d at least be able to anticipate the backlash from GLAAD. Did they really think that the queer community would just let that fly?

  8. Watched it. Dumb. I don’t miss owning a TV. I hadn’t watched TV in about a year, and I “binge-watched” like three hours of it a week or two ago. It left me feeling anxious and pessimistic, as always.

  9. I feel like SNL is the perverted 36 year old, who cracks 14 year old antics around cooperate mid-forty year old employees who don’t care.

    Betty White’s episode was great though. Can we just re-run that every Saturday night?

  10. I actually thought the skit wasn’t as horrifying as people are making it out to be. No, it didn’t make me LOL and yes, my jaw was on the floor BUT the writers didn’t say anything blatantly offensive or demeaning..which was already covered in this post, so I came to the conclusion that even though poking fun or demeaning someone for their appearance(who they are) is never nice, I think that for a main stream show to even bring up the topic of transgenderism, is actually kind of progressive. Because even though the skit was made for laughs I think that it makes it easier for a lot of people to digest…especially people who are not part of the community.

    • Actually, I think it does the exact opposite. You’re right. Transgendered people aren’t represented enough in the media, which is why, when peoples’ only representation of transwomen is “men in dresses”, it’s so terribly damaging. It makes it even easier for people to not take transpeople seriously. It makes it easier for people to just see them as men and women playing dress-up in opposite-gender clothing. And that fights against what we’re working toward.

      We don’t want transwomen to be seen as men with vaginae. We want them to be seen as women. But, mostly, we want them to be seen as people.

  11. I personally feel that the sketch was not half as bad as it could have been, rather funny, and informative about the process transwomen take. I felt that SNL tried really hard to approach the subject in a lightly comedic way to introduce straight people to the concept.

  12. Pingback: The year in TV (trans edition) – Weekend Trans

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