Category Archives: Television

Dehumanizing people in the service of “jokes” isn’t okay. It literally gets people killed.

Last week, I was looking at the news while I had my coffee. You know, like you do. I saw that Netflix had this massive comedy festival coming up, and Netflix had invited Dave Chapelle to headline.

Real quick, for context: Chapelle has repeatedly, proudly, unapologetically, hurt people I love and care about, and when the people he hurt spoke up about it, he and his supporters doubled down, hurting them all over again.

When someone I love is attacked or threatened or bullied, the part of me that’s rational and thoughtful gets shoved into a box and tossed into a locked shed while the part of me that will fucking tear your throat out and bathe in your blood takes over. Lots of us who are trauma survivors have this extreme response to things we perceive as threats (even threats that aren’t directed at us, but toward people we care about) because the fight or flight reflex that helped us survive when we were in the midst of whatever our trauma was is sort of set up to be run by an automatic system that, in my case, slips past my rational self and detonates a hydrogen bomb that doesn’t care who it vaporizes. It just knows that it is protecting me or someone I care about. Or at least, it thinks it is. A younger, traumatized version of myself needed this reserve of fury. If you get it, you get it (and I’m so sorry). I don’t need it any longer. I haven’t needed it for years. But it’s still there, and on occasion it yanks the controls out of my hands and I don’t have any say over where it’s going to go before I am in control again.

I’m not sure this makes sense outside of my head. I hope it does. Put another way, I will, on occasion, have a reaction to something that feels appropriate in the moment, but like fifteen minutes later reveals itself to be entirely not appropriate at all.

And that’s what happened the other morning. While I was reading the news, I saw that Chapelle, whose bigotry disguised as jokes has hurt, and will continue to hurt, people I love, is being rewarded for his hurtful behavior. My friends don’t deserve to be mocked because of who they are. My friends are people who at the very least deserve to exist and be happy in this world, and Dave Chapelle has made it REALLY clear that, as far as he is concerned, they aren’t people who deserve the same love, respect, and right to exist as he does. He’s made a cruel punchline out of my friends, whose fundamental existence as human beings is constantly under attack, and Netflix doesn’t seem to be bothered by that. After weeks and weeks of transpeople begging the world to listen to them about how much this hurts and how it increases the risks to their lives, Netflix didn’t only ignore them, they gave Chapelle the headliner spot on their massive comedy special.

I found this to be deeply offensive and morally bankrupt. It disgusted and infuriated me and before I knew what was happening, that hydrogen bomb went off. I stepped WAY out of my lane and suggested that comedians who were part of this festival should withdraw unless and until Netflix kicked Chapelle off the bill. I do not apologize for getting angry. I do not apologize for speaking out in support of people I love. But I deeply regret going way overboard and giving garbage people an opening to distract and deflect from the fundamental issue: Netflix is supporting a bigot at the expense of the entire transgender community.

After the mushroom cloud settled and I looked out at the smoking, radioactive wasteland in front of me, I had a few moments of reflection, and I regretted making that suggestion. It’s so easy for me to sit here at my desk and issue declarations and edicts about what people should do, and that’s just … that’s obnoxious. I can absolutely make the choice to personally boycott this festival, even though friends of mine and people I think are great are performing in it. But it was not okay for me to declare that any of them should make the same choice I would make.

Surprisingly quickly, a few C-list right wing personalities grabbed hold of my post and said I was trying to cancel Chapelle. I mean, it’s adorable that anyone thinks I have that kind of influence over ANYTHING, much less an internationally famous comedian (who I still think is a bad person), but I’m just not that important. Still, I saw how easy it was to draw that conclusion, and I decided it was best to delete that post.

So I did, and in its place I wrote something that I hoped would give context to why I reacted the way I did.

Trans rights are human rights, y’all. Don’t forget that. Dehumanizing people in the service of “jokes” isn’t okay. It literally gets people killed. Don’t forget that.

Here’s what I posted on my Facebook. I want it here for the record:

For anyone who genuinely doesn’t understand why I feel as strongly as I do about people like Chapelle making transphobic comments that are passed off as jokes, I want to share a story that I hope will help you understand, and contextualize my reaction to his behavior.

When I was sixteen, I played ice hockey almost every night at a local rink. I was a goalie, and they always needed goalies, so I could show up, put on my gear, and just wait for some team to call me onto the ice. It was a lot of fun.

One night, I’d played a couple hours of pickup with some really great dudes. They were friendly, they were funny, they enjoyed the game, they treated me like I was part of their team. They welcomed me.

After we were finished, we were all in the locker room getting changed into our regular clothes.

Before I tell you what happened next, I want to talk specifically about comedy and how much I loved it when I was growing up. I listened to records and watched comedy specials whenever I could. One of the definitive comedy specials for me and my friends was Eddie Murphy’s Delirious, from 1983. It had bits that still kill me. The ice cream song, aunt Bunny falling down the stairs, mom throwing the shoe. Really funny stuff.

There is also extensive homophobic material that is just fucking appalling and inexcusable. Long stretches of this comedy film are devoted to mocking gay people, using the slur that starts with F over and over and over. Young Wil, who watched this with his suburban white upper middle class friends, in his privileged bubble, thought it was the funniest, edgiest, dirtiest thing he’d ever heard. It KILLED him. And all of it was dehumanizing to gay men. All of it was cruel. All of it was bigoted. All of it was punching down. And I didn’t know any better. I accepted the framing, I developed a view of gay men as predatory and weird, somehow less than straight men, absolutely worthy of mockery and contempt. The culture that surrounded me, that I was part of, reinforced over and over again that gay people were not normal, like I was. Always good for a joke, though.

Let me put this another way: A comedian who I thought was one of the funniest people on the planet totally normalized making a mockery of gay people, and because I was a privileged white kid, raised by privileged white parents, there was nobody around me to challenge that perception. Everything around me, in my suburban bubble of privilege, reinforced that perception. For much of my teen years, I was embarrassingly homophobic, and it all started with that comedy special.

Let’s go back to that locker room.

So I’m talking with these guys, and we’re all just laughing and having a good time. We’re doing that sports thing where you talk about the great plays, and feel like you’re part of something special.

And then, without even realizing what I was doing, that awful word came out of my mouth. “Blah blah blah F****t,” I said.

The room fell silent and that’s when I realized every single guy in this room was gay. They were from a team called The Blades (amazing) and I had just … really fucked up.

“Do you have any gay friends?” One of them asked me, gently.

“Yes,” I said, defensively. Then, I lied, “they say that all the time.” I was so embarrassed and horrified. I realized I had basically said the N word, in context, and I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to disappear. I wanted to apologize, I wanted to beg forgiveness. But I was a stupid sixteen year-old with pride and ignorance and fear all over myself, so I lied to try and get out of it.

“They must not love themselves very much,” he said, with quiet disappointment.

Nobody said another word to me. I felt terrible. I shoved my gear into my bag and left as quickly as I could.

That happened over 30 years ago, and I think about it all the time. I’m mortified and embarrassed and so regretful that I said such a hurtful thing. I said it out of ignorance, but I still said it, and I said it because I believed these men, who were so cool and kind and just like all the other men I played with (I was always the youngest player on the ice) were somehow less than … I guess everyone. Because that had been normalized for me by culture and comedy.

A huge part of that normalization was through entertainment that dehumanized gay men in the service of “jokes”. And as someone who thought jokes were great, I accepted it. I mean, nobody was making fun of ME that way, and I was the Main Character, so…

I doubt very much that any of those men would be reading this today, but if so: I am so sorry. I deeply, profoundly, totally regret this. I’ve spent literally my entire life since this happened making amends and doing my best to be the strongest ally I can be. I want to do everything I can to prevent another kid from believing the same bigotry I believed, because I was ignorant and privileged.

So this stuff that Chapelle did? That all these Cishet white men are so keen to defend? I believe them when they say that it’s not a big deal. Because it’s not a big deal TO CISHET WHITE DUDES. But for a transgender person, those “jokes” normalize hateful, ignorant, bigoted behavior towards them. Those “jokes” contribute to a world where transgender people are constantly under threat of violence, because transgender people have been safely, acceptably, dehumanized. And it’s all okay, because they were dehumanized by a Black man. And the disingenuous argument that it’s actually racist to hold Chapelle accountable for this? Get the fuck out of here.

I love dark humor. I love smart, clever jokes that make us think, that challenge authority, that make powerful people uncomfortable. I don’t need a lecture from some dude in wraparound sunglasses and a “git ‘er done” tank top about how I don’t understand comedy and I need to stick to acting. I don’t need a First Amendment lecture from someone who doesn’t understand the concept of consequences for exercising speech the government can’t legally prohibit.

Literally every defense of Chapelle’s “jokes” centers white, cishet men and our experience at the expense of people who have to fight with every breath simply to exist in this world. Literally every queer person I know (and I know a LOT) is hurt by Chapelle’s actions. When literally every queer person I know says “this is hurtful to me”, I’m going to listen to them and support them, and not tell them why they are wrong, as so many cishet white men do. If you’re inclined to disregard queer voices, especially as they relate to this specific topic, I encourage you to reflect on your choices and think about who you listen to and why.

Too many of my fellow cishet white men are reducing this to some abstract intellectual exercise, which once again centers our experience at the expense of people who are genuinely threatened by the normalization of their “less than” or “outsider” status. Thirty years ago, I centered myself and was appallingly hurtful as a result.

I was sixteen and didn’t know any better. I still regret it. Frankly, a whole lot of y’all who I’ve already blocked on Facebook should feel the same shame about what you said TODAY that I feel for something I did three decades ago when I was sixteen and didn’t know any better. But you don’t, and that is why people like me need to keep using our voices to speak up and speak out.

All I ever wanted was to be seen

Last week, I wrote:

“Hosting Ready Room is so cool for me. I get to occupy this space as both a veteran of the Star Trek universe, part of what we’re calling Legacy Star Trek (let me tell you how old that makes me feel), while I am also a huge fan.

“It is my goal as the host of the Ready Room to bring my fellow nerds into the room where it happens, by asking questions and relating to experiences that I hope are as interesting to the audience as they are to me. This season on Ready Room, there are a couple of episodes that really landed on me in unexpected and profound ways. I chose to talk about those experiences with my guests, and the part of me that is just drowning in endless, bottomless, relentless anxiety has been screaming at me ever since that I fucked up. The rational part of me is telling that other part of me to take a deep breath and trust my instincts that it’s all okay, maybe it’s even good. But WOW am I anxious about all of it.”

Last week was one of those “couple of episodes” and this week is another. Something happened on Disco this week that landed on me in a way nothing from Star Trek (or, I think maybe anything) has before. It’s a scene that features Tilly and Burnham. It made me ugly cry in a really great way.

FULL SPOILERS FOLLOW so proceed accordingly.

Continue reading… →

the width of a circle

While watching Discovery to prepare for Ready Room, I had this sudden realization that my journey and Wesley’s journey are almost identical. I don’t think I’ve ever thought about it until just now. But check this out.

When we were about 20, we walked away from everything we knew, every expectation that was ever put on us, every person we ever cared about, because we both knew that something was wrong in our lives. We both needed time and space (he needed all of time and space, if you accept my headcanon that he’s a Traveler) to find out who we were, and what was important to us.

Wesley’s bit in Nemesis is not canon, because it was cut. So his whole “I’m going to serve on the Titan” thing we’ve all seen didn’t actually happen. In fact, I think current actual canon is that he wasn’t even there. I think actual current canon is that he is off on some other plane of existence doing donuts on someone’s lawn.

But let’s presume, for a moment, that it actually did happen. I want to talk about how that mirrors my own journey. To get there, let me put his appearance at Troi and Riker’s wedding through my headcanon … uh … headcanonizer.

He’s been off on his own for a long time. He is in touch — barely — with his family, even though he doesn’t serve on their ship or even exist in their reality. He loves them, and he misses them. He wonders if they think about him. He rarely sees them, but when he does, he is so careful about every word he says every choice he makes. He wants to make them proud, though he knows in his heart that he doesn’t have to do anything to achieve that. They love him already. Still, it’s just part of how he’s wired. But he knows he’s loved.

A quick jump cut, now, to me. I’m in my twenties, I’m wearing Wesley’s haircut from The Game and holy shit I have just got to get away from everything. Yeah, it’s mostly my shitty parents, but also it… well, that’s all of it, actually. Every choice I made from my late teens into my early twenties was driven by needing to get away from them and see if I could find myself, find what was important to me. Because what I had been forced to do by them for my whole life wasn’t it. And honestly? I was just so tired of feeling like shit all the time.
Back to Wesley. What he’s been doing his whole life isn’t what was truly important to him, it turns out. Unlike me, he is loved and supported by his mom and all of his father figures. He’s exploring other planes of existence, gaining valuable experience and context that his life had been lacking until that point. I mean, his entire life had been essentially on a starship, doing what other people expected him to do. It’s scary and exhilarating to be Out There, and he discovers this world beyond Nanites and Holodecks and laying in coordinates and impressing people with his science projects. He discovers this world where, as a Traveler, he can actually make a meaningful difference in this universe in a way he never could if he had stayed in Starfleet.

Hi, it’s me again, I’m doing all the stuff that I wrote about in Just A Geek (AND STILL JUST A GEEK WHICH YOU CAN PRE-ORDER NOW THANKS), and I am learning so much about myself. I’m starting to figure out what’s important to me. During this time, I realize how much I love Star Trek and my Star Trek family. I realize that the things associated with Star Trek that hurt me don’t really have anything to do with the show and universe I’ve loved since I was a child, and they have nothing to do with my relationship with the cast. It’s all my parents, a small but relentless group of shitty fans who thought being shitty to a child was great, two greedy and shitty convention promoters who made that child feel unwanted and unworthy, and an executive producer who, like my mother, treated me like a thing. And like my father, didn’t treat me with any kindness, empathy, or respect.
When it was all set out in front of me, I could see the shit that hurt, and I could do the work of separating it from the stuff I loved. WOW was that a lot of work. It’s work that continues, I think.

A significant component of that work was letting go of the shit that hurt. I don’t mean condoning it, I mean not letting it make decisions for me, any more. I had to find a way to stop carrying it, since it didn’t have anything to do with me, in the first place. It was never about me. It was always about the people who hurt me.

I got rid of as much of the shit that hurt as I could, and I looked at all of it, set out in front of me, again. Without all that shit everywhere, what I found was wonderful.

Cut to Wesley, seeing through space and time for the first moment in his new life. He is changed, and he is ready to go home. Not to stay, but to visit, and to love every moment of it while he’s there.

Back to me. I’m ready for it when I am asked to host an after show for Picard. I say yes so fast. I don’t even have to think about it. Are you kidding me? I fucking LOVE Star Trek and you’re telling me I get to be a guy who is not just a Starfleet veteran, but also an unashamed superfan? Who gets to take other nerds into the Room Where It Happens? Yes yes yes a thousand times yes!

And then they ask me to do it again, for Discovery. And then for Lower Decks. And for Prodigy. And Discovery again. And oh my god how is this even real. Maybe I’ll get to do Strange New Worlds. I can not believe this is happening to me.

So, like Wesley, I chose to come back, in a different way. In a different context. As a different, changed, person. What I choose to come back to is everything I loved, and what I have left behind is everything that hurt.

Wesley didn’t need to find he way out of the hurt like I did. He was loved and supported in ways I was not.

But we both left this thing that had been our entire lives, that looked to be the rest of our lives. We left the only thing we knew, because we knew it just wasn’t right for us. I don’t know if it was as risky for him as it was for me. He’s a character. I’m a person.

But if we accept my headcanon, (and if you’re still reading I presume you do) I love it to death that Wesley came back to this thing that he loved, deliberately not the way he was expected to be part of it. The whole “I’m serving on the Titan” thing? I write it out, and just put him at the wedding, in an appropriate uniform, because he loves his family and wants to be with them. I don’t know if he Traveled off again or not, but I know that, when he left that wedding, he knew that he could come back whenever he needed to. He would always have a home with his crew.

And I did the same thing. For him, it’s a cool story arc. For me, it’s one of the most beautiful closings of a circle I’ve experienced to this point in my life.
Now I’m going back to watching Discovery, loooooong before it’s released to the rest of my fellow nerds, because I have the best job in the world. Yes, that was a little bit of a nerd flex. (Disco S4 is AMAZING don’t tell anyone I told you.)

Oh, real quick: don’t read anything into this about the plot of Disco. I have no idea what makes the part of me that writes stuff and thinks about this kind of stuff wake up and go to work, but I know it wasn’t related to the story. I just saw [CHARACTER REDACTED] and my brain was all, “Hey, did you ever think about this?”

That was like 35 minutes ago and I really need to get back to it. I just told Anne, “I should be watching Disco, and instead I’m writing about Wesley and me. This is how you know your husband is, in his heart and soul, a writer.”

Ensign Wheaton, reporting for duty.

As many of you know, I absolutely love Star Trek: Lower Decks.

Many of you also know that since 2019, I have had the pleasure and privilege of hosting The Ready Room, your home for all things Star Trek Universe. It’s one of my favorite jobs I’ve ever had. Top three, for sure. Maybe top two. I’m so grateful that I get to do this thing that brings together my love for all things Star Trek, my 30ish years of experience being part of all things Star Trek, and gives me the opportunity, if I do it right, to be a Trekkie who brings my fellow Trekkies into the room where it happens. I do not take a single second of it for granted.

There’s INSANELY COOL Ready Room stuff coming up that I can’t talk about. In fact, I’ve already said too much, and you should probably forget I said anything. But there’s also an INSANELY COOL thing that I can share right now.

Continue reading… →

Star Trek Day: 2021

Star Trek premiered this week, 55 years ago, and tomorrow we will celebrate all things Star Trek, past, present, and future with a live, free, global streaming event that I can not believe I get to co-host.

I’ve read the entire script, and I’m about to leave for rehearsal, so I know most of the OMGAREYOUSERIOUS stuff that will be revealed. I’m not going to spoil anything, but I will tell you that if you love Star Trek the way I love Star Trek, you won’t want to miss it.

I mean … look at this:

 

I’m co-hosting with my dear friend Mica Burton. We’ll be coming to you, live, from the Skirball Cultural Center, starting at 5:30pm Pacific / 8:30pm Eastern. Star Trek Day will be streamed on Paramount+, YouTube, Facebook, and via Rutherford’s cyborg implant.