Whenever I do the kind of performance that comes along rarely in poetry, the sort of gig where I have the audience in the palm of my hand, where the bits between poems flow easily and I get to display the kind of crowd-pleasing cool that puts people in mind of Dean Martin during his heyday, I always find myself on edge afterwards. Jumpy. Disturbed. Because I know there's a chance someone from the audience will wind up talking to me and will utter the phrase I most dread:
'Mate, why are you wasting your time on this poetry crap? You're really good, you should be a comedian!'
And then, because I'm a good girl, I smile politely and say 'thanks' with what I hope is just the right note of self-deprecation, but inside I am desperate to say: 'NO! No, I do not want to be a fucking comedian! I hate comedians! I despise most of the fuckers! If a virus wiped out 95% of the comedians in the world overnight then as long as it neglected to infect the few of them I can stand to have a drink with, I would isolate that virus and shake it by the dominant allele! Fuck comedians! Fuck comedy! If I wanted to be a comedian I wouldn't have been a fucking poet, would I, you bloody INANULON! Piss off!'
A somewhat extreme position, you might think, but it's one I've arrived at through long observation of the similarly extreme position which most comedians have taken towards people like me. Time after time in this blog, I've detailed the way comedians such as David Letterman, Stephen Fry, Graham Linehan, Sean Lock, Lucas & Walliams, and even Stewart Lee, have all, in the past, chosen to make trans people the punchlines of their jokes. As this blog has outline again and again, jokes like these have a body count, best evidenced by the names added to the Transgender Day of Remembrance list year after year.
When you treat an entire group of people as a joke, you legitimise the idea that they don't matter. When you pander to the hatred that makes peoples' lives unbearable, you legitimise that hatred. And, ultimately, you tell those who want to kill trans people that actually, it's okay. That we aren't fully human and, anyway, if you find out we're trans, then it's only understandable if you freak out and batter us to death. Jokes!
Recently I was watching a stand-up comedy show on the BBC and I saw something which gave me a little bit of hope. One of the turns on the show made a naff joke about his wife 'having a penis'. And what was amazing was that every joke he'd been telling before this point had been getting good, round laughs, but when he drew from the transphobia well, his laugh flattened. There were a few titters here and there and maybe a couple of belly laughs, but the thick, full, rounded laughs that most of the audience had been giving him had faded away to nothing. And I thought about this conversation we've all been having, online, in the arts, in politics and in the wider culture, and how more and more voices - of which this blog is one - have been slowly chipping away at the notion that people are punchlines - whether those people are trans, disabled, poor, gay, lesbian, bisexual, black, fat, whatever: and I thought, well, thank fuck for that. We're having an impact. We're starting to break through.
Sadly, we are not yet having enough of an impact to stop America's flagship comedy show from behaving like a bunch of transphobic douchebags (problematic reporting flag: 'transgenders' used as noun).
Look at the picture at the top of that article and you see everything that sickens me about most comedians, and the reason why I'm ashamed to be associated with them. Look at the face: the smug, cis, caucasian face. I have no idea which smug, piece-of-shit 'comic' that face belongs to, and I care even less. All I do know is that that's the kind of face I got sick of seeing at school: the face of a scumbag enjoying the pleasure of mocking people who don't have the privilege he has simply for lacking that privilege, safe in the knowledge there won't be any comeback, and he can get away with it.
I have no desire to be associated with that kind of vileness. I have no desire to be a comedian while that kind of arrogant, bullying crap is the public face of comedy. I'm a poet, and I'm proud of it, because it's a calling that demands a higher standard than the cheap laugh and the slap on the back, and because I want to live in a culture that demands high standards. That demands better, for everyone outside the charmed circle of privilege.
Demand better: let NBC know we won't let them turn people into punchlines any longer. Flatten the laugh; wipe the smirk from the privileged faces. Sign the petition.