Humor As a Passive Agent for Discrimination

You may or may not have heard about how Ann Coulter’s attempt to capitalize on the “Bring Back Our Girls” meme has backfired pretty badly on her (or worked out well – I guess if she wanted to get her face out there, she succeeded).

There’s one picture, however, that I want to shine a light on to try and raise some awareness:


Let’s step back and ask ourselves: “What is the joke here?”

The answer is: “Ha, ha! Ann Coulter is a trans woman with a penis!”



What’s wrong with that? I mean, yes, it likely makes her a huge hypocrite (if we can safely extrapolate what her views of trans people are based on her other publicly-stated opinions), but her hypocrisy is not the joke here. The joke is: she is, physically, a man who expresses as a woman.

This wasn’t a socially-conservative site that shared this; it was the “Hot Liberals” Facebook page – presumably, a place for socially-liberal people to gather. While it may not surprise any of us (though we’ll still find it offensive) that a conservative Facebook page would share this, it’s telling that this was shared by a liberal-minded Facebook page, and what it tells us:

Humor can be an extremely effective, subtle, and subversive agent to propagate prejudices and discrimination.

Like I said: no one would be terribly surprised if this showed up on a Rush Limbaugh fan page, but, as allies of trans people, what’s our excuse? It typically boils down to simple ignorance – not taking the time to examine why there may be something not all-right with the punchline. The end effect, though, is still the same as, and possibly worse than, when this joke gets spread by social conservatives.

Ask yourself: what does it tell our friends and family who are trans and our allies who are trans when we spread jokes like these? What’s the end effect of when we propagate the idea that, for whatever reason, the idea of a trans woman with a penis is somehow a bad thing or such a person should be laughed at for merely being a woman with a penis?

I’m not on a rampage to condemn the people who shared this photo – I wish I could count on only one hand the number of times I have, in ignorance, repeated a joke that spread a problematic idea. However, I want to raise awareness that things like this show how easy it is for racism, sexism, anti-LGBT, and other forms of discrimination can weave their way into the humor of even the staunchest ally of a cause. Sometimes, it’s a really good idea to step back and assess whether a joke, as funny as it may seem now, is still funny when the people you care about have also seen it.

One Reply to “Humor As a Passive Agent for Discrimination”

  1. Thank you! It really saddens me when people I view as more aware share incredibly sexist or racist or homophobic or transphobic (etc) jokes. Being an ally means paying more attention to your words and actions.

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