Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Peter Kay's Transgender Taboos

As a fan of Peter Kay for many years, I never really saw him as an offensive comedian; his bubbly Bolton humour has brought laughter to the North West since the late 90s. Kay’s humour, while at times edgy, was a household name and enjoyed by all the family. His jokes about his holidays in Blackpool and his dad’s repulsion of garlic bread are not quite on par with the riskier comedians such as Frankie Boyle. So it was to my surprise this week how many comments on Twitter criticized his offensive behaviour with one of his more recent characters, Geraldine McQueen.

Kay plays Geraldine as an Irish winner of a UK talent show; Geraldine is also a transsexual. The jokes concentrate on Geraldine’s sex change after her quick operation in Bangkok. Last night Twitter filled with criticisms of Kay; one Tweet read ‘’ The one thing I can't understand is why Peter Kay didn't go for broke and make 'Geraldine' a black lesbian trans woman in a wheelchair.’’

I have to say that I watched Britain’s Got the Pop Factor and also laughed at the Geraldine jokes, unaware of how offensive it could be to others. I’ve looked at the situation again, especially since the above statement was Tweeted. The Tweeter made a valid point; we wouldn’t laugh if Kay had come on and joked about black people, homosexuals or the disabled. So why is a transgender person any different?

Transsexual people have fought for the same (if not more so) rights that other minorities have for their equality and yet they still do not appear to gain the same respect. Jokes about race, sexuality or disabled are incredibly taboo and yet society still deems that transsexuals are still acceptable to mock within a casual joke or even as far as national television. The law may have changed so that transgender people can legally be deemed the sex they desire and yet society still falls behind.

It isn’t necessarily Peter Kay’s fault; he was most likely unaware (like the rest of us) of how people may feel watching the show and wouldn't of produced the show had he considered someone may have been hurt by the scenes.

Jokes about transgenders are most likely to be due to the small number of transsexual people in the country; everyone knows somebody who is of a different colour, sexuality or disabled, but few know someone who is transsexual (or at least are not aware of it). It is the lack of understanding within the public that allows people to believe they can carry these jokes through. Racial and gay history surrounds us through the heroic stories of Martin Luther King and Harvey Milk, but little history has been presented of those who have changed sex.

The fact is that transsexuals do still suffer today, despite our seemingly open and accepting society of all minorities; it is sadly, for many, a lifetime of confusion, operations and worst of all judgment from other people. Thankfully programs such as Coronation Street have tried to convey a positive message about transgender people through characters such as Hayley Cropper; seeing Hayley’s struggle over the years to strive for acceptance from her neighbours allows the human element of feelings to carry through the screen. It is the human element that people sadly forget. It is possibly a subject that the government and Ofcom need to consider in their regulations in the future of television to portray these messages, rather than transgender people being a subject of humility.