I’m pretty sure the only reason why anyone was friends with me throughout most of my life was my sense of humor. I never really took much seriously and, I think, that made me a fun person to be around. Somehow, despite not taking anything seriously, I’ve always had my “life together,” as they say, but I’m also 100% certain I spent a lot of time simply being a jerk because I thought everyone else was laughing too. Some were, but a lot weren’t.
When I decided it was time to start being more honest with myself and move ahead with transition, I quickly became a much more serious person. I didn’t really have a lot of choice in the matter and it wasn’t conscious, it just sort of happened. I was forced to open my eyes to new things I didn’t take notice to before and I had to think about and process a lot of things differently. It’s not that I was viewing the world as a woman for the first time, I’ve always done that, but it was more that I started to see how sexism actually affected me, and even worse than the sexism was the transphobia. I finally started to understand how it has affected me my entire life, even before I accepted the idea of transitioning. I’m still dealing with internalized sexism and transphobia today.
It’s kind of self-centered, if you think about it, that it took for me to be in a position where I was on the oppressed side of bigotry and oppression and I’m not proud of that. I did care about other people and their struggles, a lot, but I wasn’t able to see things the way I needed to and should have. Up until I decided to transition, as far as the world knew and treated me, I was a middle class, white, cisgender (not-transgender), heterosexual man. I experienced no oppression or inequality…at all. While the real me is still white and middle class, albeit with a lot less money thanks to transition costs, I am actually a homosexual and transgender woman. Now, I live at the intersection of sexism, transphobia, and homophobia. It’s a real triple-threat! It took this change for me to rethink how I see the world and what I found was that I was wrong…very, very wrong.
With my eyes way opened to the bigotry in the world, a lot of things stopped being funny to me. It became impossible to laugh at things that contribute to the oppression of entire groups of people. While transphobia and sexism affected me the most, it didn’t even matter anymore if the target was a group I was a part of or not. I became more sensitive to things like racism and classism as well. I started to see inequality and bigotry everywhere, woven into our society. Again, I always knew we live in a messed up world with lots of hate, but the piece I was missing about the jokes I would make and laugh at was that it really matters who the butt of the joke is. It’s often not who you think it is.
I love satire and sarcasm and I always thought whatever I said was okay because it was making fun of the bigotry and the bigots. Unfortunately, I never actually thought about who the real butt of these jokes was. It often wasn’t the transphobes, homophobes, racists, sexists, and whatever. Too often it was the very people I claimed to support and the groups I was secretly (at the time) a part of.
It’s easy to sit back and say these are just jokes and they don’t really matter. We should have thicker skin and laugh it off. If we don’t like it, we should walk away or not watch. Malice is rarely intended in these jokes and there are dozens of arguments people use to try to defend their “innocent” jokes, but they ignore reality, psychology, and sociology. These jokes do real harm and have real-world effects on people’s lives.
When people like Stephen Colbert or shows like Arrested Development and How I Met Your Mother (note that I purposely chose shows I otherwise love) constantly make jokes with trans people being the ones taking the hit, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. For the average person, the tired tropes used to make trans people into jokes are the only things they “know” about trans people. The average person thinks representations on Jerry Springer are what trans people are really like. These things make _us_ and our lives a joke. People don’t take us seriously and they don’t see us as people. Why would they? The world around them is constantly using us as jokes and never admits that we’re actually real humans. People internalize these jokes and form beliefs based on them, their everyday language evolves to reflect this. It’s all they know and they take it as based on reality.
When people think you’re a joke, they don’t think you’re human. When people don’t think you’re human, they don’t feel like you need to be treated like a human. You don’t need to use the proper restroom, have access to health care, have a job or family, or even, in too many cases, exist.
So no, I don’t find jokes that use oppressed people as the butt to be funny and I don’t laugh at them because the reality is that they’re not jokes, these are the things people actually think.
But the title of this post is “Yes, I still have a sense of humor,” and I do. I described myself has having become a more serious person, but I’m still not very serious most of the time. I will always call out transphobia, sexism, homophobia, racism, and any other type of bigotry, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a sense of humor. When you live in a world of people trying trying to get the quick, easy, and lazy laugh without putting in any real effort, it’s easy to think you need to be putting down people who are already down in order to be funny, but the really funny people don’t need such crutches. It’s actually even possible to pull off stupid, low-brow humor without the bigotry. My favorite example of this is It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. They’re constantly using race, class, gender, sexuality, and anything else you can think of for jokes, but they’re careful (or at least come off like they are) about who they’re actually making fun of. If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice the butt of the joke is always the gang. They’re constantly being shitty people, but you’re never put in a position of thinking they’re anything other than shitty people. You’re intended to be laughing at how horrible they are, not the people they’re being horrible to.
I laugh at a lot of things and I still don’t take much in life seriously. Even many things related to my transition are totally comical to me. I think I still have a great sense of humor, I just don’t think it’s funny to kick people who are already down. I also don’t think it’s hard to take an extra second to think about who the butt of your joke really is and consider whether or not what you’re about to say is something that contributes to making someone else’s life harder.