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