On June 12th of this year, “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” shot in Chicago. In his monologue, O’Brien told the audience about one of the city’s nicknames: “the City of the Big Shoulders.” He continued on this vein by joking that name “…was better than the name they almost went with… ‘the unconvincing tranny.’” Following the show’s airing, a backlash was felt on Twitter from Janet Mock, editor at People magazine and Jamie Clayton, an actress who recently appeared on HBO’s Hung as Kyla in Season 3, both successful trans* women who felt wrong by the comment. After being contacted by GLAAD about the offensive nature of the joke, O’Brien released this statement: “My staff and I had no idea that term was offensive to the transgender community. We apologize and you will not be hearing that term again.” In 2009, though, O’Brien participated in a sketch on his then-show which involved him being trapped in a transsexual strip club where trans* women were depicted as mustached strippers.
Humor is hard to navigate. It is difficult to find that line between humorous and offensive. The media is an outlet which has the power to navigate people’s thoughts towards a community, and O’Brien’s attempt at humor here crossed a line, a line he had previously crossed. GLAAD stepped in to ensure the offensive material was removed, and O’Brien did apologize. Perhaps being within the community has given me automatic knowledge of derogatory terms, but when has tranny ever not been offensive? I find the apology almost more offensive than the attempted joke itself. What about you? Did you know tranny was a derogatory term? I’m just trying to understand the logic.