On Sunday Fox aired a Family Guy episode in honor of Mother’s Day. In the episode, Quagmire’s father comes out as a transwoman named Ida. The show follows Ida coming out and the subsequent reactions where she is repeatedly torn apart by appallingly transphobic remarks from nearly the entire cast. GLAAD is all over it, and prominent queer blogs like Bilerico are talking it up really well. And while everyone is quick to say THIS IS BAD, I feel there is a lot not being said about why this is such a problem, the complex attempts at support, and the deep the oppression this episode exemplifies.
I will admit it, I have been a major Family Guy fan; I’ve seen every episode dozens of times. And since I am a fan, what sucked almost as much as dealing with the episode was my expectation that it would finally force me to boycott Family Guy (and I’d do it too, fan or not).
Some background: I am very familiar with the methodology of the series, and the arguments against it. The biggest case against the show is that it is unfailingly offensive, and it is. Some argue that it is ok because the show attacks everyone. I DO NOT think is a viable argument. The show attacks everyone who is already dis-empowered, but rarely, if ever, do you see any episodes talking about how fucked up white privilege is or how misogyny is a major theme in the show. Even with this, I liked the show because like the shows that came before it (i.e. The Simpsons, South Park, Married with Children,) I can appreciate the irony. The purpose of the problematic stuff is to highlight reality, and in this hell-trap of oppression sometimes laughter is good medicine. Peter Griffin and Homer Simpson are NOT intended to be heroes or idols. They are a mirror of what the USA is at its worst and in that awareness we are to laugh at them and not be like them. Yes, I realize not everyone reads the show like I do, and I am sure the producers milk the uneducated demographic without trying to change it, but sometimes I just want to say “Fuck the bigoted idiots who take it seriously, I want a smart laugh.” But as seasons progress that has gotten harder and harder to say about Family Guy…
Family Guy has progressed past social commentary. The show’s creator and writer, Seth MacFarlane, frequently goes too far, and this transphobic episode is one of those times. I am positive the guy is absorbed in white male privilege and regardless of his decent politics and good intentions, he’s still a rich white-male jackass poking fun at unrepresented groups in whatever way he and his writers can imagine we, the minority, are like. After Elton’s Brent Hartinger highlights some good points about Seth MacFarlane’s statement saying that he:
“…can safely say that the transsexual community will be very, very happy with the “Quagmire” episode… It’s probably the most sympathetic portrayal of a transexual character that has ever been on television, dare I say.”
Now, I agree with Hartinger that MacFarlane is most likely an idiot. But honestly, Ida herself is a decent representation of a transwoman. Aside from her saintliness in receiving discriminatory remarks from EVERYONE and a‘trapped in the wrong body’ description, Ida actually presents a pretty positive (or at least not negative) representation. Ida describes thinking about transitioning her whole life and at one point she says a very empowering statement: “I’m changing my future, not my past” which is not the common representation of trans folk, especially by non-transfolk. The show even recognizes that being trans is not the same thing as gay. Ida’s son Quagmire’s reaction is also non-offensive. He reacts realistically, torn emotionally between his own concept of his father, his personal masculine hang-ups and lack of education about trans identity, and his desire to please his father. And though he is clearly upset, he never says or does anything out of line and continually shows his love and concern for his parent. In the end, Quagmire supports Ida, saying he loves her and wants her to be happy. He is the only character in the show who does this, or demonstrates any other form of acceptance of Ida’s trans identity.
But though the episode created a positive trans character, it but normalized the attacks on her. The rest of the cast has repetitive transphobic dialogue that is so offensive it was nothing else but horrifying. It is hard believe anyone could say this episode is sympathetic, or indeed close to anything but monstrous.