Each year on March 31st, the world observes TDOV to raise awareness about transgender people. It is a day to celebrate the lives and contributions of trans people, while also drawing attention to the poverty, discrimination, and violence the community faces.
Today marks the 11th Annual International TDOV which was created by trans advocate Rachel Crandall. Crandall, the head of Transgender Michigan, created TDOV in response to the overwhelming majority of stories about transgender people in the media being focused on violence. She hoped to create a day where people could re-focus on celebrating the lives of transgender people, empowering them to live authentically, while still acknowledging that due to discrimination, not every trans person can or wants to be visible.
This year, despite a new Presidential administration, trans people, especially trans girls and women, are aggressively under attack in legislatures across the country from politicians with their own agendas attempting to scapegoat and pit girls and women against each other.
A letter, organized by GLAAD and Raquel Willis, comes in response to the hateful and discriminatory rhetoric and attacks facing trans people, especially trans women, and represents a clear and loud statement of solidarity between cisgender women, trans women, and feminist allies. Over 200 feminist leaders signed the letter standing in solidarity with trans women and girls in honor of Women’s History Month and Transgender Day of Visbility. The letter reads, in part: “We all must fight against the unnecessary and unethical barriers placed on trans women and girls by lawmakers and those who co-opt the feminist label in the name of division and hatred. Our feminism must be unapologetically expansive so that we can leave the door open for future generations”
Read the letter and sign here: /tdovletter
This year, GLAAD and Instagram are teaming up again, but this time to spotlight trans comedians on the platform.
Shar Jossell (@sharsaysso), who wrote an article earlier this year commentating on why jokes made at the expense of trans people are not only tired but threatening. She shared why the need for comedy in this moment with GLAAD:
“I believe laughter and comedy are essential components of the shared lived experience. With so much anti-trans legislation being proposed and passed this year, we owe it to ourselves to lighten the load and find pockets of joy wherever we possibly can. Jokes that punch up, instead of down, are a necessary requirement in this climate and transphobia simply cannot be tolerated. The implications of reinforcing harmful, dangerous, and often wildly inaccurate depictions of transness is exhausting and people’s lives are literally on the line. Compassion is key. We’re all collectively dealing with the side-effects of a life-altering pandemic. In order to move the conversation and the culture forward, it is imperative that we work together to ensure a safe, healthy, and prosperous future for people of the trans experience everywhere.”
Given current events and the increasing cultural antagonism toward trans people, trans youth in particular, GLAAD created a Guide on Instagram to highlight talented trans comedians who are using their platform to speak from personal experience, gifting us humor and relief to help sustain us as we fight back against this baseless legislation and these infuriating attacks on our humanity.
Associate Director of Transgender Representation and the campaign’s originator Alex Schmider (@anderfinn) explains:
“Trans people, particularly kids, are under attack in legislatures across the country, and the epidemic of violence targeting trans women of color continues to escalate. Our survival depends on us creating joy, finding ways to laugh together, and sharing insights that can only come from truly knowing ourselves. Comedy, when created by trans people, has the unique ability to connect us all through our shared humanity. On Trans Day of Visibility, a day that was created to celebrate the contributions of trans people, we’re spotlighting trans comedians whose work supplies joy and comedic relief, and allows us to reflect on the gifts of our self-awareness, authenticity, and resilience. When facing a world that makes it so unnecessarily challenging to be ourselves, trans comedians can help lead us through–inviting people to connect and laugh with us, not at us.”
In GLAAD’s annual Where We Are on TV Report which tracks the quantity and quality of representation in streaming, broadcast, and cable television, it’s noted that the majority of trans characters currently appear in dramas. Of the 26 series featuring trans characters, 22 of them are dramas. There is a need and desire for trans representation in comedy, especially as the comedy and social impact program Yes, And…Laughter Lab reports: “By expressing social critique and creatively engaging in tough social issues – in ways that can either skewer the status quo or infuse motivating hope and optimism into dismal problems – comedy can attract attention and engage audiences in ways that are memorable and effective. Research across disciplines shows that comedy is uniquely persuasive, memorable, enlightening, and attention-getting when it comes to serious issues – and it works in tandem with serious forms of messaging and journalism to engage publics around social challenges.”
The comedians featured in GLAAD and Instagram’s #TransComedyTakeover guide include D’Lo, Julia Scotti, Kai Choyce, Nori Reed, Rain Valdez, T. Wise, Rhea Butcher, Shakina Nayfack, Jes Tom, Jesse Leigh, Zeke Smith, and Michael D. Cohen. They share why trans comics play a critical role in shaping culture, the power in punching up, and the personal meaning for them in taking themselves and their comedy out into the world.
Jes Tom • @jesthekid • they/them/theirs
D’Lo • @dlocokid • he/him/his
“Ignorance and Intolerance are sicknesses, and comedy is like the orange juice a parent mashes the medicine into before giving it to a sick kid.
y’know before pills started tasting like actual candy…
When it comes to queerness or race, we sometimes forget to shut up and listen. Comedy is my most powerful tool to get a message across. People’s guards are down when they are laughing and being entertained, that’s when you drop the lessons or the knowledge or shine the mirror back at them. We all have dumb shit about us, and comedy helps us look at it without getting defensive. (unless you’re a defensive idiot)
Trans folks actually CAN take a joke, it’s just that we’re too busy trying to stay alive sometimes to laugh at ill-crafted, cheap-shot humor.
Trans folks are incredibly funny when you’re not ruining our lives.”
Julia Scotti • @juliasscotticomedy • she/her/hers
“Comedy, if done correctly, has the ability to take hate, love, anger, heartbreak, sorrow and pity and re-form it into something universal for all of us to cling to and not feel so all alone. Laughter is cathartic, unifying and oftentimes uplifting and inspirational. I, of course, do none of those things to my audiences.”
Kai Choyce • @kaichoyce • he/him/his
“Having public perception about trans people shaped entirely by often misinformed narratives constructed by cis people doesn’t just cost trans creators opportunities and jobs, it can and has come at the expense of the safety and lives of trans people everywhere. There are so many trans people out there who are only beginning to see their multitudes of experiences and truths accurately reflected in the media they consume as opposed to just being the butt of an outsider’s joke. By telling our own stories we get to not only dispel myths and misinformation via normalization but we also get to give voice and visibility to people who historically have not seen themselves in the media they support.”
Nori Reed • @norireed • she/her/hers
“This pandemic has been extremely difficult and isolating, especially for queer and trans people for whom community is everything. I have definitely felt isolated myself and the struggle is very very real. It has meant so much to me to receive messages from people from all sorts of backgrounds telling me that my comedy has helped them get through this extremely challenging time. I am so grateful for these messages, because they give me purpose and help me to know that I am not alone. Right now my heart goes out to those in the Asian American and Pacific Islander Communities who are currently navigating fear and hatred all across our country. It has been incredibly powerful to see AAPI comedians come together to fight this injustice and protect our communities.”
Rain Valdez • @rainvaldez • she/her/hers
“Comedy in any form can bring community together and create levity but when weaponized against an already marginalized group for a cheap laugh it creates an invitation for violence and ridicule to that specific group or person. Especially at an early age, rom-coms is how we learn what love can look like and what’s possible once we’re out in the world. For decades, we’ve been telling the world that those who get to be loved are white, cisgender, heterosexual and monied. Everyone who isn’t within these identities, transgender people particularly, have longed to be afforded a loving and aspirational narrative. The lack of trans protagonists in a rom-com has been a great disadvantage to our community but we all deserve to be loved and I hope we continue to create fun, comedic, trans-led films to keep showing the world just how lovable we are.”
T. Wise • @Thatlittleboyblue • he/him/his
“In comedy, a world where trans people are almost always the butt of the joke, to go on stage and get an audience that is trained to laugh at you to laugh with you instead? That is a feat, a victory, it’s empowering, but also vulnerable. We are up against an eternity of everyone pretending we don’t exist and yet in some way also having constant commentary on our existence. What better example than the amount of time spent by cis comics joking on trans people? (*Cue Obsessed by Mariah*) But what happens when we are actually in the room? What happens when we have the mic? There is power in that. Comedy calls on connection-there is power in that. Being trans calls on blocking out all the noise around you so you can really listen to yourself, to measure your own value, to be bold and wild enough to hold a million pieces-there is power in that. I think trans comics are of parallel importance to legislation and lobbying. Comedy is part of how we shape culture and trans comedians are part of shifting it.”
Rhea Butcher • @rheabutcher • they/them/theirs
“Comedy is important because ultimately, it makes people laugh. What a concept, right? It brings people joy, and joy can be hard to come by in life. So if we can bring someone joy, that’s a huge gift to us all.
I use comedy to tell my story, to hopefully open people up to a new perspective, or for people who have had a similar story, to help them feel less alone. It helps me feel less alone!
The impact that I’ve felt and seen has been a lot of people saying that they see someone that looks like them or acts like them when they experience my work. Or that they’ve felt the same way. And this is all very important to me and I don’t take it lightly, because it was really important in my own growth and experience to not feel alone. I still can! So it’s important to find our commonalities with each other and to respect our differences, so we can begin to understand each other as humans and to begin to have a softness with each other.
I joke about this a lot but I feel that stand up comedy is an important art form because people quite literally listen to it. How often do people really listen to each other? For an hour, people are listening. Including me! That’s a powerful thing, and my hope is that at least for an hour, I can help some people have a good time, and not at the expense of anyone else.”
Shakina Nayfack • @shakeenz • she/her/hers
“Comedy has helped me face my fears and work through old wounds. Sometimes life can feel too big or scary to deal with head-on, but when I find a way to tell my story that lands on a joke, I can make others laugh with me, and it takes the pain I’ve gone through and transforms it into something magical. Because that joy belongs to everyone, even if the struggle that brought it forth felt like it was mine alone.”
Jesse Leigh • @jesse.leigh • they/them/theirs
“Trans and Asian communities have always been the butt of jokes, especially in sitcoms. That’s why it is important for me to do characters who are authentic to themselves. We’re finally seeing characters in comedies that proudly don’t fit into the gender binary. The next Asian trans kid can see me on screen and not feel so isolated when they see false depictions or generalized ideas of how a trans kid is living their life. Every trans life is a story worth telling. I was extremely shy when I was younger, and I feel like having someone on screen that reflected me might have empowered me to be more confident.”
Michael D. Cohen • @michaeldcohen • he/him/his
“Comedy is a unifier and laughter heals – it makes us experience our connection to one another. So representation is important because it reminds us that no matter what our differences, ultimately we’re all in this together. Besides being an actor in different comedies, I also teach comedy and direct sitcoms. And the one thing that is consistent is that the best comedy is grounded in truth and authenticity. It just so happens that truth and authenticity are fundamental to the trans experience. It’s a natural skill set. Plus, I’ve often felt that the relationship I’ve had with my body has been one of a cosmic joke. It’s ridiculous. And that’s a gift.”
Zeke Smith • @zekerchief • he/him/his
“Laughter is healing. Comedy – perspective, silliness, weird truth – is our mechanism of catharsis. A laugh, much like a fart, is an ejaculation of joy.”
Josie Totah (@josietotah) and Patti Harrison (@party_harderson) are given special shoutouts for their combined comedic work in Netflix’s “Big Mouth” and Totah’s titular roles on Peacock’s “Saved by the Bell” as producer and star. Both shows are examples of what happens when talented trans creators get to work in the writer’s room and wield producing power.
As Jaye McBride wrote in an op-ed for GLAAD called “I’m a Trans Comedian and I’m Asking You to Laugh With Me on TDOV. Here’s Why,” she reasons “you can’t laugh at someone if you’re laughing with them.” Read it in full here.
To learn more about how to take action beyond TDOV and show support for the trans community year-round, read Raquel Willis and Chase Strangio’s powerful op-ed for the Nation, summarizing how “Our visibility can be a tool to build resistance and power, but we can’t win this fight without sustained action and solidarity.”
Louise Prollamante, an aspiring trans comedian herself who works at GLAAD, says: “Comedy is a powerful thing. What we find funny is not just a matter of taste but it reflects us at our core. What we know, what we believe, what we fear, what we will fight for. We build affinity with people we laugh with and build animosity towards people we laugh at.”
To sustain, self-care is necessary and building community and connection is vital. The #TransComedyTakeover can offer some form of that joy, humor, and levity through comedy to help us keep going.