Stop David Letterman if you’ve heard this transphobic joke before

Transphobic and transmisogynist humor is nothing new for late night talk shows. So it’s sadly to be expected The Late Show with David Letterman would make a joke about Amanda Simpson. I don’t watch Letterman’s show, though, so I have to ask: is his humor always this stale?

Transcript after the jump.

Woah, déjà vu. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard or heard of almost exactly the same joke. A straight cis dude is shocked to “discover” he’s been “duped” into “accidentally” sleeping with a trans woman. He reacts how he’s supposed to – he’s sickened and he panics. Cue laugh track. Seriously Dave, your transphobia couldn’t have been a little more original?

On a more serious note, the line of thinking perpetuated by this joke – that straight cis men are tricked into sleeping with dishonest trans women, who are sexually disgusting – is used to justify the murder of trans women. By making this same tired joke, Letterman is continuing the mainstream cultural support of the deadly notion of trans panic. Nice going Dave, humor and humanity fail.

Sign a petition demanding David Letterman apologize here.

Letterman: Well here’s something interesting. President Obama has appointed a transgender person, a transgender person, her name is Amanda Simpson and he has appointed her to be part of the Commerce Department. We have a photo, here she is right there. Yeah, that’s Amanda Simpson, and she’s a transgender…

Alan Kalter: WHAT? AMANDA? Amanda used to be a dude? OH MY GOD! (Runs away)

(Audience laughs)

Letterman: (Laughing. To someone offscreen) Will you talk to him later for me?

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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Join the Conversation

  • FeministLookingGlass

    This is full of yuck.

  • Comrade Kevin

    Old, certainly, considering The Kinks made the same basic joke in 1970 with the song “Lola”, a mere forty years ago.

  • johninbuffalo

    I signed the petition, I hope he addresses it. Between the joke about Palin’s daughters, his affair, and this, this guy just keeps screwing. Too bad because he’s capable of being quite funny. This, however was lame and predictable, and perpetuates negative ideas about trans people. I think Conan has done similar things in the past though. Oh, shouldn’t Alan Kalter apologize, too, since he delivered the joke?

  • Kat

    Please don’t use the word “lame.” It is ableist.

  • NapoleonInRags

    Yes, but Lola was radically more sophisticated since the song’s narrator comes to love the title character despite his initial expectations. So Letterman is forty years late and incapable of seeing a humanity that was evident to Ray Davies.

  • Véronique

    Actually, Ray Davies left things wonderfully ambiguous. “I know what I am, and I’m glad I’m a man, and so is Lola.” So is Lola what? Syntactically, it’s more likely that Lola is glad the narrator is a man, not that Lola is a man.

  • johninbuffalo

    That’s the first I’ve heard of this. I’ll admit I don’t really understand. Would it have been better to just have said it wasn’t funny?

  • johninbuffalo

    Sorry about my previous post. I forgot that lame really means disabled. I’m used to it just meaning “bad”. In no way does that excuse my choice of words. As someone who has Aspergers syndrome, I too am affected by prejudice towards people with disabilities. I apologize for my carelessness, and will avoid that word in the future.

  • Kurumi & Cheese

    I love Dave and have been watching him all my life, so maybe I’m not the person to be commenting, but …
    I gotta say.
    Late night talk shows have writers. And yes, in theory Dave is in charge of what he says and doesn’t say, but it’s entirely likely he didn’t write the passage in question. Sometimes jokes fall flat, and sometimes Dave says things that he obviously isn’t “into,” and you can tell that he would rather not say that or knows it’s not funny. I don’t know how he felt about this particular bit, but as a long-time watcher who has observed him repeating jokes he obviously doesn’t find funny, it tells me that he doesn’t always have 100% say over what he says on the show. And it’s obnoxious when people who don’t actually watch a show latch onto one thing that someone said and pretend that it means something about that person.

  • faithdarwin

    Yes, his humor is always this stale. Also, I’ve noticed whenever he introduces a female guest he always comments on her appearance and no other attributes. He then goes on to essentially hit on them for the remainder of their interview. Basically, David Letterman is an unfunny creeper.

  • Rachel

    Damn. Without the context of this article, if I’d just been watching as it happened, I might have foolishly thought it was a great opportunity to say something positive about her appointment, and that they were going to take it, but you know, they had to go and wreck it with this shit…which is their way. Humor isn’t humor unless a marginalized person’s experience is trivialized, right? And everything uttered on late-night tv has to be a joke, right?

  • James

    I’m sorry… but given the amount of creative control Dave Letterman is allowed to exercise over the content of his own show, I don’t buy that. He might sometimes tell jokes he’s not “into,” but it’s still ultimately his choice to let them come out of his mouth. He’s in a position vis a vis CBS that he doesn’t have to say anything he doesn’t want to say.

  • MLEmac28

    I remember going through many years of saying “lame” without realizing that it meant anything other than “stupid” or “half-assed.” I finally learned the original meaning when I was reading greek mythology which described Hephaestus as being lame. I laughed because it seemed like a modern slang was being used to describe a greek god, then a friend corrected me.

  • FLT

    I always thought the narrator was saying,
    I’m glad I’m a man, and also I’m glad that Lola is.” That is, I thought he was happy how the whole thing turned out. By the time the narrator is telling the audience the story, he is well aware that Lola is trans but there is no disgust, only curiousity and puzzlement.
    So what I mean is that Ray Davies was more loving and accepting in the 70s than we expect of our celebrities now.

  • Devonian

    I knew the original meaning, but I always thought it had fallen out of use (like the original meanings of so many other words, including many insults), at least when applied to people. The only time I ever saw it used literally was in reference to animals (mostly dogs and livestock)with injured legs…

  • j7sue2

    Same old same old. All trans people are either pathetic fakes (if you detect their original gender) or evil deceivers (if you don’t). Doesn’t apply so much to transsexual men, because of course what is going on here is as much homophobia as it is transphobia.

  • Liz B.

    These kinds of jokes reek of so much ignorance of not only transgender issues, but also homophobia. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I feel like jokes like this undermine the legitimacy of transitioning people, but also suggest “Oh no! Shes a guy? Not only is she a big liar, but now am I gay?! AHHH! Thats totally the worst thing a guy can be ever!!!” Sooo sick of it.
    And seriously, jokes like this normalizes bigotry against trans people and I’m really tired of explaining to my guy friends and parents why terms like “he/she” and “it” are not appropriate. How hard is it to respect the gender decisions of people.
    (sorry for the rant!)

  • LadySydney4

    I think Amanda’s too good for that guy.