"Mike and Molly" has gotten a makeover, and it's not pretty.
Billed as the "new Mike and Molly," the show is now trying to capitalize on its star Melissa McCarthy's breakout bawdy movie persona. The problem is that recent episodes of the show have been much in the style of "Two and a Half Men," another of producer and writer Chuck Lorre's shows. That is, it has amped up its derogatory jokes for laughs.
As Sue Kerr, founder and editor of the Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents, points out, the show's transition into lewd humor has come at the expense of the LGBT community. For instance, in the second episode of the season, Mike takes Molly on a ride-along to help her get ideas to write a crime novel. On the ride-along, the two meet Lousette, a trans woman the characters repeatedly misgender and question about her genitals — as if that's at all necessary to the story.
We saw a hint of this so-called humor last season when the show landed in hot water with transgender advocates for using the term "shemale," a term blogger Trish Mifflin describes as "exclusively associated with pornographic depictions of trans women." To be called that is dehumanizing for someone who wants to be seen as a person, not a sex object.
After the incident, Kerr claims that GLAAD worked with CBS to make "Mike and Molly" more inclusive of LGBT people, or at least not overtly mock them. That clearly didn't work out.
Some of CBS' other comedies also have a history of marginalizing the trans community. In an episode from the seventh season of "How I Met Your Mother," for example, Josh Radnor's character Ted Mosby meets a transgender woman in the bathroom before learning of her trans status. He gasps.
" 'HIMYM' consistently takes cheap, easy shots at trans people, a kneejerk reaction to the portrayal of transgender sexuality and bodies as something unfamiliar to be feared," wrote blogger Rosie Wang in an essay about the episode. "The writers clearly assume that the audience will guffaw along with this, because they assume that everyone agrees that a person undergoing a gender transition is the least desirable partner possible, someone's worst nightmare."
Lorre's "Two and a Half Men" devoted an entire episode to showing how disgusting it thinks trans men are. Chris O'Donnell played an ex of Charlie Sheen's who had undergone a transition to living as male. Charlie (that was his name on the show too) spends the entire episode turning up his nose at his old flame, becoming even more alarmed when his mother falls for O'Donnell's character. She doesn't know about his gender history but dumps him when she finds out.
This humor is out of step with the direction our society should be headed. While we're certainly making progress — from the University of Northern Iowa, which crowned a transgender homecoming queen in October, to the Senate, which recently passed legislation protecting transgender employees — we still have a long way to go.
Just this month, the Latin Post profiled a waitress, Vivien Diego, in Los Angeles who was brutally assaulted when some of her customers learned of her transgender identity. The men waited for her in the parking lot. According to the Post, Diego "was hospitalized for seven days, suffering from a broken jaw, a shattered cheekbone, and two ribs were cracked during the stomping."
Earlier this year, Islan Nettles slipped into a coma and died after being beaten outside of her home in Harlem, and sadly, Nettles isn't alone. This is an epidemic in the LGBT community, where trans women accounted for a majority of all anti-LGBT hate crimes in 2012. Since 2008, at least 1,200 transgender people have been killed around the world, with many crimes unreported.
This is a pivotal time in LGBT history, one in which transgender people need our support. The outdated bigotry we see on TV, particularly on some of CBS' comedies, gets in the way of progress for everyone.
I don't know what kind of message these TV shows think they're sending, but there's an easy way to send one back: Stop watching these programs until they ditch the transphobic comedy bits.
We need to show that this isn't just about television. There is a human cost of transphobia, and to fight it — so that we may all enjoy an equitable society — we need to be in this together.