GLAAD Responds to the Susan Sarandon Glee Kerfuffle

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GLAAD Responds to the Susan Sarandon Glee Kerfuffle

After we posted the comments Susan Sarandon made to the New York Daily News over GLAAD's statement about the word "tranny" used in Glee's "Rocky Horror Picture Show" episode, (phew did you get all that?) We heard from GLAAD spokes person Richard Ferraro who wanted to set the record straight.

One correction to our post: It was the character Mike Chang who backed out of Frank-N-Furter (not Kurt) because his parents didn’t want him “dressing up like a tra**y.”

Richard emphasized to me that the NYDN had "sensationalized" GLAAD's statement to Sarandon. Their comments regarding Glee's episode can be read in full on their blog.

GLAAD stated:

The casual manner in which the word [tranny] was used is jarring, even if he [the character Mike Chang] may have been repeating what his parents said. The word “tra**y” was made all the more confusing by the decision to change the word “transsexual” to “sensational” in the song “Sweet Transvestite.”  As many commentators have pointed out, it seems strange that Fox would want the word “transsexual” cut from a well known song, but find “tra**y” acceptable.

The larger problem here is that the word “tra**y” has become an easy punch line in popular culture, and many still don’t realize that using the term is hurtful, dehumanizing and associated with violence, hatred and derision against transgender people- a community that is nearly invisible in media today.

Richard pointed out that "GLAAD didn’t issue a Call to Action or make a public statement, Glee producers reviewed our blog before it was posted, and are meeting with GLAAD to discuss transgender issues." In contrast GLAAD also contacted the producers of Jersey Shore after they aired the reunion show in which the cast members disparagingly used the words "tranny."

In addition GLAAD maintains they used these instances "as a way to spark a wider discussion in mainstream media about the transgender community – how words like this can hurt and who the community really is."

While we all appreciate the LGBT watch dog role GLAAD plays in our community, I pose this question here for our readers: Is there a difference between a fictitious show and a reality show using queer terms disparagingly. Additionally is there a difference when an out LGBT character or a straight one uses queer terms?

Please add your comments to this dialog because it matters.

Comments [8]

Not2Taem's picture

It seem apparent that the

It seem apparent that the change of wording in the song was meant to reflect censorship that certainly would happen when using such material in a public school. This is also acknowledged in the end of the show when the students ultimately perform the material for themselves, rather than an audience.Similarly, the character's use of the word tranny was, well, very much in character. Kids will repeat what their parents say, either without thinking, or deliberately to shock others or just reveal to their friends what arses they have to put up with at home. I think the show was just keeping it real, and if it loses that, it won't be worth watching.

Personally, I think tranny is a very loaded word that even those in the gay community should approach with caution. That being said, I have heard some transfolk and their friends use it with obvious positive intent. As for other vocabulary, I have thoroughly embraced the Q Word, and use it on a regular basis. I also make it clear that certain people should steer clear of it, since their overall attitude turns it nasty. In my experience, few people have a hard time understanding the difference.

CA_Medicine_Woman's picture


I find GLAAD's reaction a bit, well, off.  After all, there have been many (of late) patently offensive transphobic comments in the media (David Letterman comes instantly to mind) that GLAAD either chose not to comment on, or did so belatedly and quietly.  So, why now, and why in this context?

Oh well, if it gets people thinking and talking about the issue, I guess any reaction is better than none.

Tiff's picture

I support GLAAD on this; however....

I think the LGBT community has a tendency to be too hard on its members and allies alike, which is dangerous, considering how much we need them.

I was offended by the reactions of various characters regarding a sexually ambiguous character (who, for the record, claims to be a "sweet transvestite from Transexual, Transylvania"), however realistic that reaction might be. (Not to mention the fact that Rocky Horror is pretty offensive to actual Transylvanians, as well as transvestites and transsexuals--the character is presented as a "freak" in the show.)

I also felt sick (despite loving Idina Menzel's work) that we met Rachel's biological mother before ever being introduced to the fathers who raised her.

However, looking at the reaction from the LGBT community to various aspects of this show, and remembering the sort of hate that's been spewed in the direction of Ilene Chaiken, I think that many in the community (or in any community, for that matter) have a tendency to overreact.

I also think that anyone who expects one of the few members of the community, who are in a position to make a significant difference in the portrayal of LGBT characters, to be capable of perfectly addressing every issue, is unfair.

It was totally appropriate for an organization like GLAAD to comment on the Glee episode. And frankly, I think Susan Sarandon would have been better off not commenting at all. But for members of the community to berate the writers and swear off a show that's capable of getting a message like this out, just because they don't address everything that's wrong with this world in one episode is going too far. If you're looking for some sort of saviour in the form of a television show, you need to redirect your efforts. It can't be everything for everyone. It's still Hollywood, after all.

Its practically impossible not to offend someone when creating something like a tv show. I don't see anyone here complaining about the jocks being stereotypically portrayed as stupid or cheeleaders being portrayed as sluts. Is that somehow ok, just because they were the "popular" kids in school? Did high school so utterly screw every last one of us up, to a point where we think some stereotypes are ok and others aren't? I haven't seen anyone here complaining about Mike and Tina and the whole "met at Asian camp" storyline either. I'm not Asian, but I found that somewhat offensive. The problem is people, as a general rule, tend to only cry foul when it's an issue that is important to them. I think what Glee is trying to do (which is ambitious, considering it's a tv show) is show us that our similarities are greater than our differences, and when one of us is hurt by something all of humanity takes a hit, too, in some form or another.

Glee has made me cry, numerous times, for all the right reasons. I think one of its strong points is not shying away from realities that might be offensive. A significant portion of the population has no idea what it's like to be gay or physically or mentally disabled, or to be a straight butch woman, or any of the other multitude of marginalized characters, but Glee is showing them. The beauty of the show (besides the singing and dancing part, which I love) is its ability to link anyone who feels isolated because of some difference, and help people to realize that at the end of the day none of us are all that different from one another.

"If you deny any affinity with another person or kind of person, if you declare it to be wholly different from yourself—as men have done to women, and class has done to class, and nation has done to nation—you may hate it, or deify it; but in either case you have denied its spiritual equality, and its human reality. You have made it into a thing, to which the only possible relationship is a power relationship. And thus you have fatally impoverish you own reality. You have, in fact, alienated yourself." Urusla K. Le Guin

Conlite's picture

If I remember right, Kurt

If I remember right, Kurt initially refused the Frank-N-Furter part before Mike volunteered and then had his parents make him back out.  He maybe didn't use the word "tranny", but there was some back and forth comments among the cast at that point too.

Does it matter if the person using the word "tranny" is gay or straight, fictitous or on a reality show?  Not so much.  Philosophically perhaps, but what is on TV influences viewers regardless of the larger show context.

What is more important in TV or movies is if the person using the word is seen in the plot of the show to be the hero or the prejudiced jerk.  Also if the word is not always deregatory, eg. "gay", are they using it in a derogatory or friendly manner?  These are the simple things that kids (and adults) pick up on and may perpetuate bullying and discrimination.

I think with this show, Glee may have been trying to explore the boundary of what kind of (self) censorship constitutes discrimination and what should be normal for teachers and parents responsible for kids.  Of course, transgender and gay issues sit right in the middle of this debate.  Anyway, Glee certainly provoked a discussion of the subject, intentionally or not!

geek4grammar's picture

I support Glee's normalizing use of queer language

I'll repeat what I said in the last post on this:

I said to my friends before the ep was even over, "glee's gonna get it from GLAAD tomorrow." I agree w/ susan sarandon. Glee has never used any queer words in derogatory ways; the fact that they use them at all is good for America, especially the parts where they don't hear queer words used in a normalizing context. I am a big defender of transgressive language used in the proper context...what connotes "the proper context" may be up for debate, but at heart is boils down to insulting vs. normalizing. Glee is normalizing all different shades of queerness to middle america (we've got the obvious femmy gay boy, the sex-positive label-refusing bisexual girls, the gay parents, and don't get me started on quinn & rachel...). By opposing that, GLAAD is inadvertently allying themselves with right-wing anti-queer groups like focus on the family. derrrr...

...That's what I said the other day on the first post, but I would also like to add one more thing: by writing the word "tranny" as "tra**y," they're also essentializing this word even more as a pejorative-- there are positive ways to use queer words, as GLAAD even admits (, and I think that by positioning "tranny" as a word that can never, ever be positive they're just fueling the fire in the "oh poor LGBT people are so oppressed" mentality. The kid who said it was into it; he was the sympathetic character. The homophobic parents who refused to let him do it are the punchline. That's the way it should be. I mean, if GLAAD starts writing "dyke" and "queer" as "dy*e" and "qu**r" I think I will have to revolt, for realz.

We're all born naked. The rest is drag.
--RuPaul (appropriating Judith Butler for the masses...)

SMBrown's picture

I think you're getting ahead

I think you're getting ahead of the dominant culture here--I don't think we're at the point where 'tranny' has been effectively reclaimed, not when their treatment by society, and by some in the gay community, is still so appalling.  Maybe it would be better not to assume but to ask the transgendered how they feel about this?  

CA_Medicine_Woman's picture

Words and Labels

Growing up near Boston, the word "tranny" only had one meaning, transmission.  I wouldn't here the word used to describe me until after I was discharged from the US Army on the West Coast, and the first time I heard it was in a gay bar.  I never really associated the word as offensive or threatening until an incident on an LA transit bus.  After that, I reacted badly to the word, and associate it to this day with bigotry and see anyone who uses it in that context as a potential threat.

Funny thing, though, I didn't see it as particularly offensive in Glee the way GLAAD did, I thought it was used entirely in context with the story line.  It did spark a conversation amongst many I know about how many, including within the LGBT population, view the word itself, and that led to discussions on other transgender issues, etc.

Perhaps GLAAD was more upset about revealing transphobia amongst gays and lesbians than about the use of the word itself?  Makes sense to me, given how silent they've been in the past about the truly offensive and threatening remarks towards transgender people in the media this year (again, Letterman's idiotic transphobic skit comes to mind).

SMBrown's picture

100% support GLAAD on

100% support GLAAD on this--gays are some of the worst offenders when it comes to disparaging the transgendered.  We've even seen it on this site (or it's precursor).