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Family Guy

In May of 2010 I was still hard at work in my last ditch effort to become comfortable as a male. I was already losing, and fast, but at the time encountering anything that smacked of gender identity issues brought upon a big old dose of anxiety. It wasn’t helping that my wife was still accusing me of being either gay or a girl, as it turns out with good reason. I attribute all this to the reason I missed the epic episode of Family Guy where Quagmire’s dad reveals himself to be transgendered and all the hullabaloo that resulted. I somehow “forgot” to set the Tivo for that night and probably blamed my wife.

I was watching reruns not too long ago after I already came to my senses and began transition. Now hypersensitive in the other direction, it seemed like the universe was determined to crack me across the face at every available opportunity for my former stupidity. Just wonderful, the universe is an abusive male. It was bound to happen that that this particular episode was going to air as Fox evidently didn’t see fit to pull it from the rotation for sensitivity reasons.

For those who haven’t seen it, it begins with horn dog Quagmire’s dad coming for a visit, and in spite of his reputation as a legendary swordsman with the ladies, his behavior from the beginning indicates he may lean more toward the laddies. Quagmire can’t take the idea that someone so close to him isn’t exactly like him (no wonder old Cleveland got deported and he hates the talking dog who sounds suspiciously like Seth McFarlane), in spite of the fact that he’s a reprehensible pig. Nope, dear old dad isn’t gay, just transgender; something far worse. In typical media fashion, dad gets a 10 minute operation and emerges as a very passable woman. I know, but if you aren’t going to spend the full half decade it deserves, you may as well shrink down transition to a single scene.

Quagmire can’t accept the idea of his dad transitioning into the gender he holds in such contempt and through a well contrived sequence of events, she ends up getting picked up and seduced by Brian the talking dog. Toward the end we get to the scene I imagine causes all the controversy. When Brian, the dog, finds out he slept with a transgender woman, he becomes violently ill at the thought. Yep, woman and dog have sex and it’s the dog who goes bananas over it. If you are transgendered, you are probably a little upset by now. It’s OK, I’m going to rile you up just a little more before calming you down.

No matter how you look at it, it’s pretty offensive. All the usual stereotypes are there – transition can happen in an afternoon, transgender women are out trolling for unsuspecting men trying to ‘trick’ them into bed, transgender sex is actually worse than bestiality – OK, I never heard the last one before, but you know there are people who probably think it. So we should be offended, right? I don’t know, but I’m thinking no.

First of all, the writers of ‘Family Guy’ are equal opportunity shitheads. No one gets a fair shake in Quahog, and the lowest common denominator stereotypes usually shine through. Over the top horny airline pilot, all African American’s subscribing to ‘Grape Soda Monthly’, incompetent politicians, financially hypersensitive Jews, Downs children with Alaskan politician parents, handicapped people who can turn into a form of Voltron. OK, that last one is a little obscure, but I’m sure I’ve heard it at least two or three times growing up. If you are a performing artist, you get mocked by Weird Al Yankovic; if you are human, you get mocked by Family Guy.

I know I should be offended by the sleeping with the dog thing. Having watched the show for many years, it seems that pretty much every female character has slept with that dog one time or another. Sure he’s an alcoholic bore, but compared to the rest of the cast, he’s also arguably the most intelligent and mature of the crazy bunch. Besides, his over the top gay cousin also has a human lover. Not that this justifies anything, but in the context of the FG world, human to talking dog relations are socially acceptable. If it happened on ‘Frasier’ with Eddie and a trans person, that would be one thing, but here, not so much.

We do have a lot to be prickly about. Most people misunderstand our existence and hold a lot of false stereotypes. I believe there are many venues in which we should take up the fight to educate, but one where the title character routinely fights a giant chicken to a bloody mess is probably not worth wasting the energy. Anyone who solidifies their world concept based on a cartoon is likely the same guy who changes his vote due to a hyperactive douche waving a sign in the parking lot of the polling place; he’s good for the last thing he sees and not a whole lot more. If anything, anyone watching the show uneducated about trans existence, chances are they will view this episode and immediately draw the conclusion that what they are seeing is incontrovertibly inaccurate. In this case I think it’s OK to be a good sport and take the joke as just a joke.

About michellelianna

I'm a transgender woman now in the maintenance stages of transition having all the electrolysis and surgery one can reasonably be expected to undertake. While busy exploring my new world, I took to blogging about it with dubiously popular results. I don't have quite as much to say as I used to, but I'm not quite done yet either.

4 responses »

  1. Here is what I wrote when the episode came out:

    “I do have to say that I’ve gotten pretty tired of the “I find it silly to get offended by a cartoon (TV show, movie, whatever)” argument. It does bother me when transness is used as a cheap joke, where the mere fact that somebody is trans is supposed to produce laughs on national TV in any format. If you think that a constant barrage of images that trans people are a joke and not to be taken seriously and that our “thinking” we’re a woman is pure self-delusion doesn’t affect people because some of them are in the form of cartoons, you’re kidding yourself. The “it’s just a cartoon” argument doesn’t fly with me.

    Now, let’s imagine that in a TV show a character gets hit on by a gay guy and throws up for half an hour. Are you chuckling? Let’s say a black character comes on the screen. Would this cause you to bust out laughing? “The show insults everyone”, isn’t comparable to making a joke of the fact of our mere existence. They don’t make a joke out of the fact that there are gay people, or people of different races exist. Our mere existence is often the joke. They don’t know enough about us to pick on just our stereotypes, so instead the joke is us.

    Now, I have to say that I don’t stay up nights thinking about this. I’m not so offended that I freak when I see one of these shows. I’m just pointing out that the “it’s just a cartoon (or whatever)” or “the point is that they’re offensive to everyone” are bullshit arguments. It’s not the same and it does affect the way we are viewed in society. If you don’t understand how people could find it offensive, then I guess it shouldn’t bother you if somebody clocks you in public and starts ridiculing you, since it’s these shows that “aren’t a problem” are a big reason that’s thought as acceptable by these morons. Hey, if some trans woman is beaten, it’s no big deal, because it’s just a cartoon that dehumanized them in the abusers eyes…right?”

    • Hi Misty and thank you for commenting! I’d like to respond first by saying that if the episode offended you, it offended you. I’m not in the least trying to tell you how to feel or what should or should not bother you. Your feelings are valid and I hold that to be indisputable. We both know none of this is easy and a negative portrayal of something that has come hellaciously difficult (I don’t know anyone trans for whom the process has been a breeze) causing our stomachs to clench is not a surprising reaction.
      I would like to discuss a few of your points though a bit further. I think we are looking at different aspects of this from alternate perspectives, so I think it’s worth going deeper. I’d be very happy if you engage and respond further. I’m no all knowing grand guru, and I hold out the possibility that I’m looking at this all wrong and reserve the right to change my mind if that is the case.

      OK, first point: Ida, the trans woman, being the joke rather than a sympathetic character used as a catalyst for dubious humor. You see, I didn’t take her existence as being the joke. In her male life she is very highly regarded by family and peers, speaking to her character. After her quickie transition, her character remains the same, patient, noble, courageous and understanding that the society around her has a huge adjustment to make. Through her character it is acknowledged (though not directly) how few of us there really are and that most people have not been exposed first hand to someone who is transgendered. Aside from her sleeping with the dog (more about that later), whom many of the female characters on the show have also slept with, nothing about her character is portrayed as being negative.

      I think if the dog scene were eliminated, the episode can be looked at as a positive trans portrayal and a fairly realistic depiction of unexposed cisgender people attempting to awkwardly react to a challenge to their world view. The dogs reaction is really the source of the cheap and offensive “humor”. In the context of the show, however, this is not atypical. I find many aspects of Family Guy to be personally offensive from the constant devaluation of Meg as the next to worthless girl child to the very presence of Mr Herbert the “harmless” old pedophile. I’m not saying this makes it right, but I am saying that in the Family Guy universe, Ida’s character didn’t fare a singularly worse fate for being transgendered. Offensive is offensive, but in a medium where everyone is intended to be offended, it is difficult for me to single out a character or event to be more offended about than normal, for any reason other than my demographic happens to be in the cross hairs that episode.

      I don’t think I really touched on your point though, which I believe was that the show being offensive to everyone doesn’t make it right. This is true, it does not make it right. It does, however, make it virtually impossible to be taken seriously by cisgender society when complaining about it. Because of our lack of numbers, we have a very difficult time being heard. In those instances when we are, our words and subject matter should be picked carefully for the best possible effect. Picking Family Guy disparagement will only cause eyes to roll and the inevitable response, “the show offends everyone”. I simply don’t think we will change anything for our collective good by even acknowledging this as a problem to the cisgender world.

      I think you are making a big leap when you equate the show to transphobic violence. I’m going to need a lot more convincing to get from A to B on this. Transphobic violence is something I do take very seriously and if I am missing something, I would like to know. I don’t see though how even the most suggestible of misanthropes would watch this and be incited to taking violent action where he (it’s almost always a he, let’s be honest here) would otherwise not be inclined to assault a trans person, but now would be. I will say though that the dog scene doesn’t help the stereotype that we sit in bars fervently hoping to “fool” some guy into bed. I don’t think though that even the average moron would be on the fence regarding this and be pushed over by this portrayal. Disclosure during sexual encounters is the subject of a future post.

      Again, thank you for writing and I did have to think carefully about my responses. I might have more to add as I mull this over more. Please always feel free to share your thoughts, especially if you disagree – what good is discussion without different points of view. Have a wonderful day sister!

  2. Thanks for commenting! First off, I don’t disagree with anything you said for the most part and very much appreciate your taking the time to add your insight. A couple points of response…

    1. Very good observation regarding the giving up on male privilege and I am planning a post on that.

    2. Ida looking like a man in a dress… ugh. This is difficult because I have friends (self included) who do look like that [to any friends who may actually read this, not you, I’m talking about someone else], so I found that to be the one of the only realisms in this episode. The majority of us were stuck going through male puberty and many years of subsequent testosterone “poisoning”. Very hard to undo those effects, even with hormone therapy, beard removal, voice coaching, movement and mannerism coaching, etc. Some pass flawlessly, while others go through great lengths including drastic facial surgery, but a great many of us are always going to be stuck with people wondering if we “used to be a man”. I have lots more to say on that as well.

    3. I would have far preferred it if Ida were accepted wholly and unconditionally by any or all of the characters, but I wasn’t holding my breath through the episode. Let’s be honest, the only redeeming quality of the show is that it finds new and creative ways to get cheap laughs at everyone’s expense. It is very good at that. My lowered expectations had me hoping she would not be burned at the stake at the end, or worse, portrayed as having transitioned as a whim. Sad to say, I was pleased walking away with a, “well, it could have been worse.”

    Thank you again for weighing in and please stop by any time and comment. 🙂

  3. My girlfriend *hates* that episode and the thanksgiving episode from the current season. She keeps watching the show only because they are equal opportunity offenders. But, I think you really have to look at Ida as a character, does she represent a stereotype or a possible reality? To me, Ida definitely offers a potential, if hyperbolic, version of reality, experienced by at least some in the trans community.

    Ida Quagmire is MtF, which offers a fundamentally different experience than being FtM. In a society still heavily influenced by patriarchal rule, it’s unfathomable and almost unforgivable (to the general population) to give up your masculine exterior and it’s associated privilege, in order to realize a feminine experience.

    You mention the speed of her transition. Ida is older, possibly in her 60’s, from what I’ve witnessed the older you are, the faster you try to push through transition. Also, the older you are when you begin, the less well you pass after basic surgeries. Ultimately the fact she transitioned after a quick surgery is a limitation of the medium, considering Family Guy doesn’t tend to develop plot across episodes, everyone knows this is unrealistic. Even acknowledging that, my girlfriend despises the fact Ida looks like a man in a dress.

    What I think is really the problem with the episode is that *nobody* is accepting of Ida, not genuinely so, not even Brian who is an outspoken liberal. Then Glen Quagmire barely comes around in the end. I think that preys on *everyone’s* secret fears. Ida did what was necessary to actualize her inner self, and it didn’t help, at least not in that episode. The tragedy of this episode is enhanced by the LBGT community’s reaction, which was much like Brian’s– instead Ida should have been embraced, so she would appear more frequently, enabling an evolution of all the characters and raising awareness.


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