So, it’s taken me a while to get around to writing this piece, partly due to a crazy work schedule but also because it took me a while to figure out exactly what I thought about the South Park episode ‘The Cissy’.
Now, I was a little behind on South Park when the episode aired and first heard about it when a friend of mine at work brought up the subject. He knew I was a fan of the show and wanted to know my opinion on the episode. I have to be honest, I was worried when he told me what the episode was about. I mean, I like the show, I find it very funny but it’s not exactly a show that could handle Trans issues with a great deal of sensibility.
For those who haven’t seen the episode it essentially starts out following Eric Cartman at the start of his school day, with his inner monologue stating that people are starting to push him too far and that they’re going to finally make him use what he has in his pocket. Now, if you went into the episode not knowing what it was about you’d probably at this point think the episode was going to be about violence in schools, particularly gun crime. Just when you think Cartman is going to produce a gun from his pocket and shoot the place up he pulls out a pink bow, places it on his hat and claims that he is ‘transginger’ and now gets to use the girls bathroom.
Not only that, but the B plot of the episode found Randy Marsh revealing that he is the singer Lorde, and that she is a side of himself that he has been keeping secret for a long time. This thrusts Trans issues into both the A and B plots, making this an episode focused on nothing else.
With a show like South Park focusing its attention so squarely on the trans community it would be easy to believe that this could be the worst episode of the show, that they would proceed to make us the butt of every single joke.
I, however, found that not to be the case. The episode tackled a very sensitive issue, the rights of Trans people to use the correct bathrooms, in a very level headed and fair issue. Yes, the school principal doesn’t want to let Cartman use the girls bathroom, but not because he’s Trans, but because he’s Eric Cartman. A sentiment the principal makes very clear to other members of the school staff.
During the course of the episode you see that Cartman has clearly done some research on the topic, knowing about Cis and Trans (despite pronouncing the gender as ginger) and even had Mr Garrison explain what those terms are in the correct way. Garrison even corrects school counsellor Mr Mackie when he says that cis is just ‘normal people’ by jumping in and tells him that ‘Saying ‘normal’ is extremely offensive to people who aren’t in that group.’
Whilst Cartman is clearly using the Trans issue as a way of getting better toilet conditions for himself, and himself only, the episodes B plot shows Randy/Lorde going through a similar situation and being forced to use a separate transgender bathroom. This scene in particular is great as it doesn’t have any joke at the end, it draws itself out and makes the audience uncomfortable as you have to see the emotional damage the situation does on Randy.
During all of this Stan finds himself questioning gender identity is. ‘Two people close to me are having gender identity issues,’ he explains to the principal, ‘and I’m … I’m confused,’ he says. When Stan goes to his father for guidance, the question he asks is: ‘Dad, is it possible for someone to be one way on the outside, but totally different on the inside? I mean, can somebody identify as one sex, but be something else, but still have it be nothing about sex?’
For a show like South Park to get something like that so right, to phrase a question like that in such a way, to show that they understand what it’s all about is amazing. They show the audience that whilst having Trans people and Trans issues around children will make them question gender, make them try to understand it more, it will not make that child transgender.
This episode doesn’t aim its jokes at the Trans community, it aims them at those who oppose trans people. It paints the trans community in a very real light, it shows those who might never know trans people and understand what we go through that we’re not ‘freaks’ or ‘weirdo’s’ but normal people. It shows that we get treated with mistrust and misconceptions all the time, that we’re made to feel different and in some cases ashamed by ‘normal’ people.
‘The Cissy’ show the audience that those who oppose trans people are the ones in the wrong, that they’re the ones you should be making fun of because they’re the ones in the wrong. Those people are the ones your anger and distrust should be put towards.
I was expecting ‘The Cissy’ to make me feel very uncomfortable. And you know what? It did, but not for the reasons I was expecting. I wasn’t uncomfortable because it was yet another example of mainstream entertainment making fun of Trans people, for vilifying us or using us as a target. The episode made me uncomfortable because of how well it portrayed some of the issues I face in life. It put a spotlight on just a small part of the pain and suffering that I and other Trans people go through.
But as well as that, I also loved the episode. It made me laugh, it made me want to cry, but never once did it make me want to turn it off.
I never thought that I’d not only be praising South Park for handling Trans issues well but wanting to encourage others to watch it too. I personally think that this episode is an amazing moment for the series, and goes to show just how far the Trans community is coming and how the tables might be turning. Maybe we won’t always be the punchline or the villains anymore. Maybe people who would never even take the time to think of the Trans community will see just a little bit of what we have to go through.
To the creators of South Park, and everyone who worked on this episode I want to say thank you. Thank you for handling this as well as you did.