MTV Apologizes for Jersey Shore’s Transphobia

Yes, I watch Jersey Shore and have been watching since the first episode. I am somewhat ashamed being half-Italian that I take pleasure in watching self-proclaimed “guidos” and “guidettes” engage in drunken tomfoolery and unapologetic misogyny. But it’s no more painful to me than watching my sisters of color (and all colors) fawn over Flavor Flav, Real and Chance, Chad Ochocinco and a various assortment of dirtbags. Glutton for punishment, perhaps?

I remember this season when “The Situation,” whose entire shtick is that he can get any girl because he and his abs are so irresistible, meets and makes out a woman in the club who appears to be transgender. Initially I thought the exchange was pretty comical (with the help of MTV’s editors) because they spliced clips of the other cast members who all speculated that the woman was transgender, and the house Casanova was the last to know. Let me clarify: their language (excessive use of the word “tranny” and “it”) and attitudes about the woman are undeniably reprehensible and offensive but I could not deny the  irony of this hypermasculine character who claims to be “hooking up with this girl, your girl’s girl and her girlfriend’s girlfriend’s girlfriend” loving up on a transgender woman because in their world that is the antithesis of their idealized playerific persona.

If you are well-versed in the reality TV template, then you know that when a season ends the producers will beat a dead horse in the form of a reunion special where cast members rehash old beef and viewers are privy to tortured with numerous behind-the-scenes b-roll montages. In this reunion special, the Situation’s incident with the transgender woman becomes a focal point and the butt of many jokes, including a scene where fellow cast member Ronnie, dances around in a dress. The hostess, Julissa Bermudez (remember when she was on 106th and Park?), throws around the t-word again, they make some jokes about cross-dressing and a good laugh is had by all…at the expense of the transgender community.

Queerty recaps the incident:

…the reunion’s host Julissa Bermudez, a MTV employee, also engages in the laughter and slurs: “Who was that tranny? Was that your girl? What was up with that?” You’re right, Julissa. Why would a perfectly straight, pussy-conquering man ever be attracted to a MTF? (A MTF, I might add, who does not look terribly different than you did on the reunion show.

POW! Watch the videos, both the original broadcast, and the reunion clip here and judge for yourself.

Thanks to GLAAD, MTV has apologized for their insensitive framing of this incident and transgender people, and will delete the segment from future broadcasts of the reunion show. Cheers to both sides for handling this quickly but the damage is already done. What this highlights is the continued fear within our society of transgender people and issues. The segment is merely a reflection of current attitudes. Now I know that we can’t make sweeping judgments based on the (lack of) cultural sensitivity and mental agility of the Jersey Shore cast, but MTV is an indicator and agenda setter of American pop culture. I remember the MTV of my childhood that pumped safe sex and healthy sexuality messages as much as they played music videos (ah, the good ol’ days) and this is an opportunity for them to step up in that same spirit of education and tolerance. They are, for better or worse, influential in shaping many young minds.

MTV has invited GLAAD reps for a meeting and I hope that they create some messaging campaigns or better yet some concrete programming that can further demystify transgender issues. They already have an anti-bullying campaign and this could be a natural integration. I know I learned a lot about cisgender and transgender politics through open discussion on Twitter and Tumblr because there is power in honest communication and education. I’m sure many within the transgender community are tired of having to be educators to the uninformed, in the same ways that people of color get tired of having to educate or explain their cultures to folks. But we have to realistically assess the society we live in which mainly white, cisgendered male, heterosexual and often myopic. I want to blame this on outright ignorance and not necessarily malicious intent. While homosexuality has made its way into public discourse and thought, issues affecting the transgendered community are rarely considered often and aren’t registering on people’s radar.  If we don’t push towards creating candid and uncomfortable conversations and calling out transphobia, we will continue to breed contempt and move further away from understanding.

Join the Conversation

  • Renee

    As a trans woman myself, I appreciate your attempt at disseminating some of this information. But there are elements of your post I find offensive.

    For starters (and this is subject to some debate within the trans community itself, although the general movement is in this direction), the term “transgendered” is considered to be in poor taste, for the same reason “colored” is in poor taste when referring to people of color.

    More problematic is your admitted amusement at the “irony” of a trans woman paired up with the Situation. You get that “tranny” and pronoun conflation is offensive but seem comfortable having a laugh because “in their world that is the antithesis of their idealized playerific persona.” That reads like, “transsexuals make great foils when you want to take a manly man down a notch…take that straight cis guy!” Maybe you’re just not communicating your point well, but I fail to see the “humorous irony”. Maybe I’m just overly sensitive because dating is a living hell for me (and many many other trans women) thanks to these perceptions, but I don’t consider myself ironic, nor do I see myself as the antithesis of anything.

    Maybe you can clarify. Or maybe this is just one of those discussions you suggest need to happen.

  • nazza

    There’s still a profound ignorance present, as you’ve talked about quite a bit. There’s just not a lot of available resources and education present. What I’ve learned has been from personal anecdotes primarily.

  • goddessjaz

    I mean no disrespect and do not want to offend anyone. This is definitely the space where I want to have a conversation and see my cis-bias. I own that. What is a more appropriate term? As I say, I want to learn.
    I see where you are coming from and my “laugh” is not really because it’s funny in a “haha” sense but more so because he claims to be this super macho player to all the ladies and his reaction speaks loudly about his ideas and expectations of gender. I had to be honest about my initial (gut) reaction until I started to think more about the nuances of what happened and how it was framed for TV. I think the instance is ironic but let me clarify some of my words to make it clearer in the original post. Do you not agree that it’s counter to their ideas of manliness? It’s highlighting their idea of “once a man, always a man” and highlights a common sentiment. Instead of it being a teachable moment, it gets covered in ridicule. I’d like to know your thoughts.

    • Renee


      Regarding the term “transgendered”…just using the word “transgender”, without adding the “-ed”, is proper. Like I said, this actually gets lots of conversation in the trans community itself. Many, many trans people don’t see the problem, while others (like myself) argue that it presents a barrier to understanding because “transgendered” sounds like the conjugation of a verb…being transgender isn’t something we do, it’s who we are.

      Regarding the Jersey Shore flap, I want to be careful here because I’m still not entirely sure I’m clear on what you’re saying and I don’t want to put words in your mouth. I’m sure the perspective of the cast is such that Mike’s flirting with a trans woman does call into question his manliness. That’s because they don’t consider trans women to be a “real” women. I don’t want to presume you share that point-of-view.

      For the sake of argument, allow me to attempt an analogy (understanding that no analogy is perfect): If Mike had been flirting with a cis woman who just happened to be a little heavy, and was subsequently taunted and shamed by his fellow cast mates for being a “chubby chaser” (or something equally offensive), would your reaction have been different? I know mine wouldn’t; at first I’d be pleasantly surprised to find that Mike was blind to such stupid culturally-imposed standards of gender and beauty, and then righteously pissed that his friends ruined it by making sure he saw and acknowledged those standards.

      And one final point, in response to Nazza’s comment (but I think it also dovetails nicely with what you talk about in your main post): People are a lot less ignorant about most* transgender men and women than they realize. There is only one central conceit people need to understand: We are the gender we say we are. Everyone already has a lifetime of experience living with both men and women, so everyone already has the education they need on how to talk to us, live with us, love us…but to get there they need to start believing us.

      (* I say “most” because there are genders beyond the binary and those do require some re-education)

      • goddessjaz

        Thank you for the clarification about “-ed.” That was really helpful to me and duly noted!
        Your analogy opened some things up for me. It’s hard to compare weight because it’s 1) there have been women on there that they have called fat and then hooked up with (Snooki for one) and I was just as annoyed. It was Mike who was doing the labeling and using that as a dis for women who wouldn’t put out, or were “grenades.” It’s interesting that you saw him as accepting and that his friends ruined it…I didn’t look at it that way but it does makes sense. I will say that he actually handled the situation better than I expected. I mean he was still an ass but he didn’t get violent or cuss her out which is what I think a lot of men would have done. I think you raise a good point that it was his friends that had more of a problem than he did.

        I 100% consider transwomen to be women. Like you said, from my experience, you are what you say you are and I respect that always. It’s not for me to judge or question. I was hesitant to write this post honestly because I had to call out and expose my own privilege and biases. Again, I don’t think that it’s funny that most of us have such messed up gender ideals. What I laughed at was that Mike, one of the most misogynist, woman-hating, macho characters (at least when he’s on Jersey Shore) had an experience that tested his ideas of manhood. Not that I believe that transwomen aren’t women but that’s where he and the rest of the cast are operating from, and because he seems so secure in what he believes is his masculinity, it was an experience that questioned that. That was the irony and humor to me because he is an arrogant know-it-all. But I see what you’re saying definitely and how my statement comes off as transphobic. Even as I’m writing this I understand how the idea of transwomen not being women is inherent in my thought process and how I observed the clip when it aired.

        • Renee

          Hi again,

          Thanks for the reply.

          First my own clarification: I don’t know that I saw Mike as being accepting, per se, so much as blind to what his cast mates were seeing. That at least seems marginally better to me than the rest of them. And yes, that moment where a person’s transness comes into the light can be a scary one. That’s why I’m completely upfront about my status on all my dating profiles, even though I know that I shouldn’t have to be (it is, essentially, the same as saying “Hi, my name is Renee and my genitals looks like this”, which is not something most people feel compelled to share), and why I never accept invitations from people I meet in the “real world”. Even from the safety of the internet, peoples’ reactions and the lengths they’ll go to ridicule can be heartbreakingly cruel; I don’t ever want to see how that plays out face-to-face, even though someday I’d love to be able to call the cute guy who gives me his phone number at the grocery store.

          *sigh* Anyway…

          In your clarification I think you nail what was bothering me better than I actually articulated. The show framed the incident for laughs, presuming most people share its viewpoints. And frankly, most people do. But even for those who don’t share that POV, it’s still most likely going to take on a cis framing…that of the morality play where Mike “gets a little taste of his own medicine”. Both framings are about the cis people, and the trans woman is relegated to the role of plot device, either as a source of humor or the tool by which Mike is taught a lesson.

          GLAAD’s reaction to the incident was good and appropriate, and I definitely appreciate the amount of coverage this has gotten on blogs such as your own. The thing I think is missing from the conversation – which GLAAD has been really good at pointing out in the past – is that this goes deeper than derogatory slurs. When Amanda Simpson became the subject of ridicule on shows like Letterman, GLAAD was quick to point out that trans people, like all people, are deserving of love and kindness. And while I know there was never bound to be a love connection between Mike and the woman featured in the show, the message (whether the word “tranny” was used or not) is that trans women are so gross and disgusting that no one could, or should, find them attractive and lovable. The rebuking of that message in no uncertain terms is something I wish I would see more of. It obviously holds personal relevance to me.

        • Renee

          Oh, and thank you for taking the time to discuss this, and for being so willing to put yourself out there. I really do appreciate that.

          I do want to apologize for using the weight analogy. As someone who is on the “plus size” side, I kind of feel like I own that, but in general I don’t like to co-opt one group’s struggle to make a point about another.

          Also, one last moment of pedantry for me: “transwoman” and “trans woman” are two different ideas. Although the former is common, the latter is generally considered better (just like the “transgender” is better than “transgendered”) because it establishes that we are trans and women.
          Similarly, I always try to keep “cis” and “woman” separate.

          You don’t have to publish this comment if you don’t want…it’s not terribly relevant to the discussion.

  • Kierstyn Hayducka

    I watch Jersey Shore also, but I do not condone what they do in any way. I know how I feel as a gay rights, women’s rights, human rights, etc. advocate, and that doesn’t mean I, or any who feels the same way as I do, shouldn’t watch the show. I get often “how can you watch those people when they’re doing the things you don’t believe in?” and often times I wonder myself. But what they do has no effect on my beliefs whatsoever.

    With that said, I think this post is great. It completely puts my thoughts into words. I knew how I felt about this incident, but I didn’t quite know how to explain it. And this is how! Thanks!

  • Jenny Barnes

    I could not deny the irony of this hypermasculine character …loving up on a transgender woman because in their world that is the antithesis of their idealized playerific persona.

    I can only read this as transphobia. Why would a hypermasculine character not want to love up on a woman? I can understand why a transphobic hypermasculine character might not want to, but I can see no reason why a non-transphobic (hey do we need a special word for this?) oh I know NORMAL hypermasculine guy couldn’t love a transgender woman.

    Check your privilege if you find it funny. It’s happened to me – tell someone I’m trans – and poof, gone. Transphobia is NOT funny.

    • goddessjaz

      Hi Jenny,
      As I mentioned to Renee (above), I viewed what happened from the eyes of the cast members which is how MTV frames the show. I don’t think there’s a difference between cis and transwomen nor do I think it’s funny that people are fearful or cruel. My reaction to the show when it aired highlighted my privilege for sure. But it also speaks a lot to ideas of masculinity and femininity and the main idea that held by the entire cast that trans and cis women are not equal.
      I see your points and consider my beliefs about gender. In my mind, I see women as women and men as men (cis or trans) but I notice how I reacted to the show. What’s interesting is that I have been hating Mike for being such an ass but I see he’s really an equal-opportunity lover (and hater too)…

  • Mari

    I found that statement problematic when I read it as well, and I don’t really understand your explanation for why it is “ironic.” There is really no way for that situation to be “ironic” unless we accept as a truth that “transwomen are not the equivalent of real cis women,” which in my opinion is exactly the kind of attitude which is a problem. I mean, I appreciate you’re talking about it here and everything, but I think this general attitude needs to be re-examined. Transwomen are women and they can have misogynistic (or whatever) boyfriends if they want to- that doesn’t make the situation ironic or somehow a diss to the misogynist and his “manliness,” it just makes it a woman dating a misogynist.

    • goddessjaz

      I get you, Mari and thank you for the comment. I addressed much of your concerns in the replies above. I hope you will take a look at them. That’s an important point that misogyny affects us all the same…I’m looking at how I subconsciously put things in boxes even as I consider myself to be open-minded. I appreciate your thoughts.

  • v

    The main issue of this is wide acceptance from the media etc that commenting on peoples’ appearance is cool and normal. I’m all for free speech from individuals but essentially I feel something as powerful as the media has a responsibility to not f-ing go there. If I think someone looks shit I’m totally grateful I have the right to say to my friend “oh god they look awful”, but essentially with media the way it is right now, inspection of body shape is disgusting. It’s NOT news and it is NOT in public interest. Similarly, regarding this tv show, whilst I respect people’s free speech to say trans people look gross or whatever, it’s utterly irresponsible to show some bolshy freaks saying words like “tranny”.