Is Ray Jessel's "What She's Got" number offensive/bigoted/transphobic?

I can’t be the only person to have noticed that there’s a bit of an internet flap going on about the recent “America’s Got Talent” audition performance of showbiz-writing veteran Ray Jessel:

Harmless novelty song, or toxic bigotry superficially sanitized by association with a well-intentioned cuddly grandpa figure?

Harmless novelty song but I can’t really blame transgendered people for being somewhat upset. Listening to the song Jessen does consistently refer to the woman as “she” and “her” though.

Fearmongering about ending up in bed with a woman with a penis is one of the more prevalent forms of transphobia. I’m afraid I can’t watch the video at work, but the article I read (which was very pro-Ray) seemed to say the punchline was “haha dude ended up with a lady who has a penis”.

I think I’m with you on this. The song seemed to me pretty gender-identity-respectful throughout, and there was no suggestion that the adored woman in question was in any way considered “icky” or “dishonest” because of her identity.

It was more or less squarely in the venerable comic-song tradition of “singer is madly in love with wonderful woman but is devastated on finding out that for some reason she is unexpectedly off-limits for him”. Whether she’s your unrecognized half-sister as in “Elma Turl”, or your captain’s wife as in “Whale of a Tail”, or whatever, it kinda sucks when the girl you’re crazy about turns out to have an unexpected dealbreaker. And from the spectator’s view, it’s often kinda funny.

However, in today’s culture there’s a lot of blur between “I don’t find penises sexually attractive, even on women, so that’s a relationship dealbreaker for me” and “Women with penises are disgusting/unnatural/deceptive cheats who should be shunned and/or punished”. So I can understand how some transgender people hearing the former sentiment are going to get uncomfortable echoes of the latter.

Sorry to bump this, but I just listened to it, and can respond fully.

I still think it is transphobic. The punch line of the joke is how outlandish it is that women with penises exist. The guy falling for her and finding her perfect but for one thing is the framing, not the punch line. If it were the punch line, then it would still be funny if her “fatal flaw” were something more usual like “she doesn’t like me.” “Her penis is bigger than mine” is another line that shows that the joke is about how wild and crazy it is that some transwomen haven’t had surgery.

Is “transphobic” now someone who doesn’t want to be intimate with a person with a dick? Call me transphobic then, because I wouldn’t want to be with that someone whatever the person goes by in the way of pronoun.

I don’t think it’s clear that the song is treating her having a penis as outlandish.

You’re right it wouldn’t be as funny with most other “fatal flaws,” but this doesn’t mean a woman having a penis is being treated as outlandish. It’s just not a thing that’s expected to fill in the “she’s perfect except for ____” blank. (Also, cute old dude suddenly saying “penis.”)

If anything, there’s arguably a pro-trans message here–nothing about her having a penis, according to the narrator, detracts in any way from her other attractive features.

I don’t know if it’s necessarily transphobic, but it’s certainly gauche.

The transgender people I’ve talked to on this have opinions ranging from “storm AGT with pitchforks and torches” all the way to “OMG that’s funny!” I haven’t conducted a poll or anything, but my general feeling of my people (I love saying that) is “meh.”

My personal opinion is more “meh” than anything else. I think RuPaul has created far more negativity and strife than this octogenarian doofus has.

The difference between unexpected and outlandish is a pretty thin hair.


I have no objection to anyone wanting to be treated as a woman even if they were born with a penis and still have it, but I have no intention of having sex with one and I would consider it arrogant, even dishonest, of them to assume by default that I would. Nor do I consider my viewpoint in the least out of the ordinary although I don’t rule out the existence of plenty of people who think otherwise, and all good luck to them. If you want to bully me into more acceptable views by screaming “Transphobic!” at me then knock yourself out.

Who exactly are you arguing against? I seem to be the only one claiming it’s transphobic, and I think I’ve been clear my problem was that the song treats women with penises as an absurdity, not that Ray has any obligation to have relations with her.

I think you’re reading too much into it. There wasn’t any hateful component or ridicule of the woman herself, just a sort of dismay on the part of the song’s author that this woman is perfect, but she’s got a penis.

I’d be dismayed too; penises aren’t something I find arousing or sexy (quite the opposite), and a woman with a penis is definitely not something I’m interested in.

Understood, and I would think anyone who did think Ray had was demented. I’ve no reason at all to think you are, and my default assumption is that you’re not.

I’ve not heard the song, but is it saying that the existence of the person is what’s absurd, or just the situation the singer finds himself in? In the latter case I wouldn’t think it was bigoted or transphobic, though I might well argue for “crass” given that, even if I had a thoroughly nasty opinion of pre-op transpersons, it would be the height of bad manners on my part to laugh and sneer at them.

Well, sure. Lots of people aren’t interested in lots of things. But this ignores the fact that - and please somebody correct me if I’m wrong about it - this is a fictional situation created for the purpose of being ridiculous. If I somehow found myself head over heels in love with a woman in the real world and suddenly realized that she was in fact biologically male, o dismay! What a complicated situation with real people and real feelings involved!

But Ray Jessel is a comic songwriter. This is not a thing that happened; it’s a punchline. The dismay is prospective. It’s all a vehicle for him to say “she’s got a penis!” and for that to be inherently ridiculous, right? I’m not going to waste any calories trying to convince people on the SDMB what or whether or why they should be offended or render any opinion at all about who should be allowed to make jokes about what, but it isn’t reading too much into it to acknowledge the glaring difference between making something up as an absurdity to be laughed about, and the response any of us might have if the (I assume rather implausible, without knowing the lyrics) scenario had really played out in the real world and a real person had experienced a feeling about it.

Doesn’t seem any more transphobic than the Kinks’ “Lola”.

I thought it was one of the most hilarious skits I’ve seen.

The humor is not that she has a penis, it’s that a decrepitly old man is singing a sweet song about a girl he likes that is perfect who he later finds out has a penis.

The transition from innocent old man to dirty little secret is the genius and the humor. Anyone offended by this missed the entire point and is simply seeking an excuse for recreational outrage.

Last week I took a new transwoman, another professional, to a day on the town. Despite looking really good and having a perfect female voice, she was so terrified it was heartbreaking. When she had gone out in her home town people who knew her had harassed, catcalled, shoved her, and finally threatened her life.

Later last week I talked to a caseworker, who told me she has nearly 30 transwomen locally who have been forced into prostitution because when they came out, their families threw them on the streets, their friends rejected them, and if they had a job they lost it. One was thrown out by her parents at age 12 with nothing more than the clothes she wore; she’s been a prostitute for 7 years now, HIV positive and without any hope.

This week I spoke with a transwoman who just lost her job, fired because her boss told her flat-out “I don’t want a trannie scaring off the customers.” For her at least we have an attorney, but the maximum settlement she is likely to receive is about 6 months minimum wage pay. Meanwhile, she has no job, no insurance, and is staying at a shelter.

Today I spoke with yet another mom who has had to take her trans child out of school, because the harassment, bullying, and threats from the kids, and the lack of action from the school, has reached the breaking point. She now joins a local transgender homeschool circle, filled with kids who were bullied out of the school system.

These are the realities of my people. This is why some take offense at humor directed at us.

Because I’ve had privilege it doesn’t hit me nearly as hard. But I understand why it does for others.

They seem pretty different to me. Something can be both outlandish and expected, and something can be unexpected yet completely normal in itself.

It’s expected that Bob, your racist uncle, will say something outlandish, but that’s because it is common for racist uncles to say racist things. I am having a lot of trouble thinking of something that isn’t unusual that would be surprising*. I know outlandish has the connotation of both unusual and bad, but I think bad is established given how many ways the song says that he doesn’t like that this woman has a penis.
*actually my girlfriend gets startled when I enter the kitchen and she doesn’t hear me coming. I’m not sure if that counts or is relevant.

Can we all agree that if a transgender woman does not tell a man she is about to sleep with that she in fact has a penis, that such behavior is wrong?

Isn’t is her obligation to tell the man that she has male genitalia?

Or is expected to discover a penis on women these days?