John Cleese sparks outrage with ‘deeply unkind’ and ‘offensive’ comments about trans people

Sirena Bergman@SirenaBergman
Sunday 22 November 2020 10:16
Celebrities
‘Monty Python’ star challenged comedians to tell him a funny ‘woke joke’

Actor John Cleese has sparked outrage with a tweet many are interpreting as mocking transgender people.

It began when the actor tweeted an anecdote to show that “people just don’t like admitting they’ve been wrong”.

He went on to quote-tweet one of the replies to his comment, which included a screenshot of Cleese’s tweet from 30 September saying he was signing a letter “in solidarity with JK Rowling”. 

(Twitter, John Cleese)

The letter, which was published in The Sunday Times earlier this year, followed backlash against the Harry Potter author for a series of statements about trans women. Rowling maintains that her stance is not transphobic, but many trans people and LGBTQ+ activists disagree.

When Cleese quote-tweeted the screenshot, asking “What would you like to tell me?”, a Twitter user by the name of Michael Afterglow Kweeno replied:

Why the f*** can't you just let people be who they want to be? Do you actually think there is some deep conspiracy to turn people "against their genders"? Or do you like her as a person and therefore there isn't anything she can do wrong? Latter probably...

At this point, Cleese’s response seemed to compare trans identities with wanting to “be a Cambodian police woman”, something which many have deemed offensive.

(Twitter, John Cleese)

Lots of people took issue with the fact that this entire exchange suggested that transgender people “choose” their gender identity. 

This argument has been disputed by both scientific and anecdotal evidence, as explained by activist Charlotte Clymer in a thread, saying

"We have provided overwhelming evidence that medical and other scientific experts affirm trans and non-binary people. We have pointed to leading gender theorists and sociologists and feminist leaders who support trans folks. Why does he ignore all that?"

Tim Ireland added:

“It is not about what people want as if rainbow wishes & magic unicorns were involved, and to portray their futures as 'unrealistic' with a facile argument like this denies them their humanity. This debate deserves more than a false dichotomy.”

Others pointed out that although Cleese’s analogy has nothing to do with trans rights, if he wants to make a choice for himself that harms no one then yes, that should be absolutely fine:

(Twitter, Kestert)

Many detractors labelled Cleese’s tweets “deeply unkind”, suggesting they would “alienate a lot of people”, while some pointed out that his brand of comedy has always been provocative, and former fans were disappointed that Cleese “turned out to be transphobic”.

John Cleese, 81, is best known for his roles in Monty Python  and Fawlty Towers. He has sparked outrage in the past, suggesting that ‘woke culture’ is stifling creativity, and making “xenophobic” comments.

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