“The Simpsons” blasted for consistent failure in trans representation

YouTuber Lily Simpson
Lily Simpson Photo: Screenshot

Over its 34 seasons, Fox’s The Simpsons has failed spectacularly in representing trans people. That’s the conclusion of trans YouTuber Lily Simpson (no relation to the cartoon family) in a new video essay about the show’s depiction of trans characters and trans issues.

In the 43-minute examination, Simpson, who writes and vlogs about pop culture and trans issues, attempts to answer the question “Where is the trans stuff in The Simpsons?” by breaking down trans representation into three categories: trans episodes, trans characters, and trans gags or jokes.

While the series has included many gay-centric episodes, including a drag-centric episode in 2018, Simpson says that it has never had a trans episode, which she defines as “entire pieces of media that are centered around a trans issue and involve one or more trans characters featured throughout.”

“In 748 episodes, there has not been a single one that focuses on trans issues, that has at its core a trans topic or trans person,” she says. Referencing the 2022 South Park episode “The Simpsons Already Did It,” she adds, “It looks like the one thing that The Simpsons didn’t already do is have a trans episode or have a trans character who exists in some longer format.”

Simpson blasts one 2005 episode as being explicitly transphobic. In “There’s Something About Marrying,” Marge’s lesbian sister Patty discovers that her fiancé, Leslie, is actually a cis man masquerading as a woman in order to compete in the Ladies Professional Golf Association tour. Simpson notes that Leslie embodies an number of harmful anti-trans myths, specifically the ideas that trans women athletes are “really” cis men trying to gain an unfair advantage in women’s sports and that trans lesbians are men trying to trick cis lesbians into heterosexual relationships.

“It’s literally part and parcel of the very stuff that sits behind the current wave of trans panic,” Simpson explains.

As for trans characters, Simpson rejects the reading of queer side character Waylon Smithers as trans. The has been depicted pointedly buying estrogen “for a friend,” and in one episode we see a brief glimpse of a medical file labeled “Smithers, Waylon, Soon To Be Wanda.” But, Simpson says, there has been “No clear definitive moment of [Smithers] being transgender, and far more often [the character fulfils] a gay stereotype of a character who is into drag.”

Instead, she identifies five minor characters who are canonically trans in the show: Clara Hossenthralllen/McBabe, Judge Judy parody Constance Harm, gym teacher Brunella Pommelhorst, Helen Lovejoy’s cousin Stanlerina, and Homer’s cousin Francine, a.k.a. Mother Shabubu. But according to Simpson, none of these characters constitute actual trans representation. Their brief appearances and the show’s fleeting references to their transness amount to gags, she argues, wherein their transness is established “in the same breath that they link it to some kind of joke or bit.”

Simpson also dismisses the show’s various future timelines in which characters are shown to have transitioned as non-canonical jokes at the characters’ expense.

Such trans gags, she argues, are harmful because they portray trans people as either jokes or stereotypes. “Multiple throwaway moments like this are far more harmful and annoying than a single trans episode that’s done poorly,” she says.

Why should we care about trans representation on The Simpsons, a show that Simpson herself admits has been on a steady decline in ratings, quality, and relevance for decades? Well, despite that steady decline in viewership, the show remains a prime-time network sitcom that draws a larger audience than trans-centric streaming and cable series like Pose or indie films like the recent Monica. And as Simpson notes, The Simpsons is meant to be a defining representation of American life.

“Trans people are a part of that,” she argues. “It could do a lot, culturally speaking, for a show like The Simpsons to have a positive role model of transness, especially to counter all the less than appealing ones they’ve had so far.”

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