On the heels of being publicly called out by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, the producers of late-night ABC gab fest “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” apologized for a recent rant of jokes by host Jimmy Kimmel about the appearance of transgender women. “In the future, please know we will be more sensitive should a similar circumstance arise,” show staff members wrote in a March 2 letter to GLAAD.
Along with transgender activists from across the country, GLAAD objected to remarks Kimmel made during an interview with actress Rebecca Romijn that aired Feb. 21. Romijn portrays Alexis Meade, a transgender woman who faked her own death as a man, then returned as a woman, to shock and overall acceptance on the hit ABC comedy “Ugly Betty.”
“Let’s take a look at some other transsexuals,” Kimmel joked with Romijn as he produced a photo of Renee Richards, a transgender woman who underwent sexual reassignment surgery in the 1970s under heavy media scrutiny. According to Kimmel, Richards is “perhaps the most feminine of the group” he showed Romijn, which included a photograph of actress Amanda Lepore, also a transgender woman, and a photo of CNN talk show host Larry King, altered to show heavy rouge on King’s cheeks, as well as dangling earrings.
“And then there’s you,” Kimmel said to Romijn, donning a photo of the actress in which she only wore lingerie. “How did they make that leap where anyone would consider you as man?” he asked, to applause from his studio audience.
The host finished his interview by reading an excerpt from a romance novel personalized for Romijn and her fiancé, actor Jerry O’Connell. “And then he finds out you have a penis and he hits you with an axe,” Kimmel read, to thunderous applause.
REPEATED ATTEMPTS TO contact Kimmel and the producers of “Jimmy Kimmel Live” through the ABC network press offices went unanswered at press time. “The violence [in Kimmel’s jokes] is just so over the top and inexcusable,” Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said on March 2, before news of the apology broke. “Because everybody knows if you find out that your partner is trans, you’re supposed to be repulsed and you’re supposed to murder them,” Keisling said, combating Kimmel’s remarks with sarcasm of her own.
Bringing transgender sensitivity out of the closet will take increased exposure, particularly by gay media outlets, Kiesling said. “GLAAD and most LGBT organizations are doing really great trans work. We’re getting there,” she said. But low-brow jokes about transgender people remain common, she said.
“It is still a standard joke in sophomoric comedy movies. It’s a fairly typical easy laugh line. There’s so often a cross-dressing punch line,” Keisling said. THE “LIVE!” APOLOGY came days after GLAAD called Kimmel and the show on the carpet for the remarks in a Feb. 23 press release that noted Kimmel’s track record of “gay-inclusive humor and satire.”
Transgender activist Autumn Sandeen, author of “The View from (Ab)Normal Heights,” a regular blog about transgender and other issues, asked GLAAD and the news media to increase scrutiny on anti-trans remarks. “I hope that this does become as big an issue to GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign as the recent rash of homophobic media incidents have been. Mocking transgender people as a class, and then joking about violence against transgender women, seems at least as significant an issue as the [Isaiah] Washington ‘faggot’ comment,” she said.