Sometimes NPR is home to reasonable discussions about queers. Other times, not so much. But for a radio network that’s living in a confused world of outing, it’s gone farther than even we expected in making fun of Americans who don’t stick to gender norms.
By making intersexed folks the punchline on this weekend’s installment of NPR’s current events game show Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!.
The comedy program takes current events and has its guests (and sometimes, callers) run through various exercises of guessing who or what they’re talking about. It’s a game show for the culture elite. Except last weekend, one of the show’s segments featured comments made by Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (on NPR) regarding “transgenders and hermaphrodites,” who would, he said, be able to serve openly if the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy is repealed — which we covered here.
It did not go well.
Peter Sagal (Show Host): Duncan Hunter: He’s a Republican Congressman and military veteran, He went on All Things Considered and he said…
Duncan Hunter (audioclip): “Well, if you let the gays in, then you’ll have to let in the quote ‘transgenders and hermaphrodites.’ Unquote.”
Carl Kasell: Huh.
Peter Sagal: He said that. He was worried about the hermaphrodites. He doesn’t understand that hermaphrodites would be a tactical asset: They can pursue enemies into both men’s and women’s restrooms.
Adam Felber: That’s true. Yeah.
Julia Sweeney: Then maybe…
Peter Sagal: The Taliban would have no place to hide.
Adam Felber: I don’t think we have any laws on the books preventing hermaphrodites from serving in our military, do we?
Peter Sagal: Well…he’s afraid that they will figure that out.
Mo Rocca: They fall under the Don’t Ask, Can’t Tell policy.
Julia Sweeney: *Laughs*
We’re not sure how many Taliban fighters spend their time hiding out in public restrooms, but Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!’s jokes are lame to be sure—not just these, but pretty much all of them. One’s inclined to laugh at the show to avoid the reality that they couldn’t find a better way to spend their Sunday evening. (Fine, that’s all a matter of taste.)
But whether you find NPR’s show hilarious or not, self-professed “killjoy” blogger Autumn Sandeen at Pam’s House Blend isn’t laughing. And she’s outlined four reasons why:
1) The North American Intersex Society identifies “hermaphrodite” as a term to avoid;
2) The trans “Bathroom Meme” has been used in arguing against basic civil rights not just for trans folks, but for lesbian, gay, and bisexual people as well;
3) Male terrorists sometimes dress up as women to avoid intensive scrutiny, which has turned airport security into a horror for trans travelers;
4) The “Don’t Ask, Can’t Tell” comment suggests intersex people are gender confused because of genetics, ambiguous genitalia, or other biological factors when that’s not the case.
Sandeen ends her post by saying, “We wouldn’t find it acceptable to mock African-Americans for the color of their skin; we wouldn’t find it acceptable to mock physically disabled people for their disabilities; we wouldn’t find it acceptable to mock women for being women — so why would the host, reporters, and comedians on Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me find it acceptable to mock intersexed people for being intersexed?”
NPR’s likely to ignore it seeing as there’s been little public outcry. Or if they do acknowledge their faux pas, they’ll say “We intended it as a joke, we should have recognized the hurtful nature, and regret any offense.”
But Adam Felber raises and interesting question in the program: What happens to the DADT debate if someone asks about trans and intersex people serving in the military?
Right now, various discriminatory policies preclude transgender and intersexed people from joining the armed forces, including labeled transgender status as a disorder calling for immediate disqualification.
Once out of the military, transgender veterans (who snuck in!) are often unable to secure health care they once they’re done serving due to other discriminatory policies; the Department of Defense lists transgender status and gender identity disorder diagnosis as reasons for automatic disqualifications from military. Plus, “benefits available to most veterans, such as special mortgage and student loan rates, can be difficult to access because inflexible military documentation rules restricting transgender veterans from having appropriate and consistent proof of service.”
So while a DADT repeal wouldn’t automatically open the barracks to trans and intersex recruits, it’d certainly be a step in the right direction. Sure, conservatives would say that “transsexuals can be a risk to military effectiveness, in part because their transformations entail higher-than-average anxiety and depression,” but the military already has psychological screening before enlisting, so shouldn’t any possible mental flaw be caught then? (Then again, the military’s screening keep out the felons, racists, and gang members.)
Not that you’d hear any of this on NPR and its high-larious game show.