Choosing to Center Human Rights
We found Chappelle's Netflix special interesting for six weeks. We have already forgotten the crisis of transphobia in the United States.
CW: transphobia, violence against trans people, Dave Chappelle’s “The Closer”
Hello, I was one of those (white, straight, cis) people who did not watch the most recent Chappelle special on Netflix but still said stuff about it. Or rather, I was one of those people for about forty-eight hours. Then my partner called me and said, “wait, have you even watched “The Closer”? I just watched it because I thought you had, and you had some strong opinions about it.” Summarily busted, I admitted that I had not. I promised I would watch it the next evening.
Mind you, I didn’t want to; I think that Chappelle’s 2020 special “8:46” is excellent, and I have an ancient soft spot for his TV show (hello, teenage me), but Chappelle’s other recent work generally has struck me as alarming. On the one hand, how he talks about the white, American refusal to acknowledge and/or respect Black humanity is incredible. But on the other, his commentary on the queer and trans communities has only gotten more dangerous and more reductive over the years. He treads into erasure territory, transphobic territory, and anti-Black-in-a-queer-context territory. Watching the “LGBTQ section” of any of his specials is upsetting. But my partner’s phone call reminded me that, generally, I do try to do my due diligence before mouthing off about something. Dave Chappelle was no exception. I pressed play, expecting to come away deeply angry.
But that wasn’t quite it.
A large part of me was sad; I kept thinking, “wow, this man is in a lot of pain,” as he talked about a variety of personal traumas and history. I was impressed by his insights regarding the persistent American disregard for Black lives. I largely understood his discussion of the speed at which LGBTQIA+ activism has advanced in the last 4 decades versus the relentless series of deadly roadblocks that Black emancipation has been subjected to for centuries. But I was incredibly frustrated by the total erasure of queer and trans Black people that took place during the “LGBTQ section” of his set. So when public discourse became predominantly fixated on whether the Dave Chappelle and his hour were transphobic or not, I understood. I did wish that the conversation was more specifically focused on anti-Blackness in queer contexts, but I also just recognized that, in this day and age, media has a one-track mind. The release of “The Closer” had resulted in a surge of content about LGBTQIA+ rights in media, and that was good, right?
For a few weeks, there, after “The Closer” was released on October 5th, Chappelle and trans rights occupied the zeitgeist. Then, the wheel turned, and the public fixated on something else. By the time the Human Rights Campaign made its November 18th announcement that 2021 was officially the deadliest year for trans people in American history, minimal attention was being spared for trans rights. In preparing for this piece, I looked up the headlines from major news outlets on the day following the HRC announcement (November 19th, 2021), and found no reference to this violent milestone from NPR, DemocracyNow, the New York Times, or CNN. Eventually, CBS news did release a statement on the 20th. But the urgency that had so fueled the conversation a few weeks prior was gone, and the real reason for all that media kerfuffle in the first place was clear: the shining star had been Chappelle, not human rights.
It didn’t matter how hard activists and their communities were trying to center LGBTQIA+ narratives; everyone was talking about “The Closer.” And in late October, when texting with a friend, that reality was brought into harsh perspective. I mentioned to said friend, who is in the queer community, that I was working on poem in response to the special. They replied, “I actually have very little room in my life to read the name Dave Chappelle again but i am very happy for you,” and I got it, then. “Got it” in the way that non-marginalized folks get to do, weeks after the damage has been done to a marginalized group: in this case, the queer community. Members of that community had been expected to suffer this violent imbalance of attention, fueled by Chappelle’s rhetorics, until public attention was shifted elsewhere, then carry on fighting for rights and protections in relative mainstream obscurity. Indeed, here we are in the December of the most violent year on record for trans people in the U.S., and no major news outlet is talking about it.
So, listen. If you, like me, watched “The Closer,” posted about “The Closer,” talked about “The Closer,” read about “The Closer,” or ingested the special and Chappelle’s rhetorics in any other way in October and November, I want us to do something:
elevates trans and queer voices, now.
Read the names of the more than 50 individuals whose lives have been taken due to transphobia in 2021 (I have listed each of them below, along with a link to their biographies). Donate money to activist causes, protective causes, housing causes; to efforts being made to protect trans and queer lives (see links below). Add links to organizations in the comments section of this essay, so that funds can be directed to them.
Donate time. Donate social media attention. Donate intention. Talk to your children about advocacy and acceptance. Learn about parenting children who live beyond the gender or sexual binary. Engage in the building of a world in which parents, partners, friends, and community members do not have to fear for their loved ones’ lives because of transphobia. Shift the focus.
Dave Chappelle got a lot of attention for his thoughts on transsexuality, queerness, and human rights in October and November of 2021. What about the members of those communities who needed attention (POSITIVE attention) before, during, and after that media fire?
Samuel Edmund Damián Valentín
Bianca “Muffin” Bankz
Siblings Jeffrey “JJ” Bright and Jasmine Cannady
Diamond Kyree Sanders
Whispering Wind Bear Spirit
Danika “Danny” Henson
Oliver “Ollie” Taylor
Kiér Laprí Kartier
Royal Poetical Starz
Zoella “Zoey” Rose Martinez
Jenny De Leon
Donation starter pack in the US and Canada (add in the comments section, please):
Multiple listed resources:
Instagram accounts to follow: