If there was a theme to Ricky Gervais’s performance at Sunday’s Golden Globe Awards, it was that pop culture’s purported “transgender moment” is awfully funny. He pretended that he thought Eddie Redmayne, who plays a transgender woman in The Danish Girl, was actually female. He speculated about what Jeffrey Tambor does with his testicles on Transparent. And toward the beginning of his monologue, Gervais said that he himself had changed a lot in a year, “but not as much as Bruce Jenner, obviously.”
There was a short pause. Some laughter from the audience. Then a follow-up joke.
“She became a role model for trans people everywhere, showing great bravery in breaking down barriers and destroying stereotypes. She didn’t do a lot for women drivers, but you can’t have everything, can ya?”
Some online reactions called Gervais’s routine “transphobic,” and on Tuesday, Gervais responded. “Suggesting a joke about Caitlin Jenner is automatically transphobic is like suggesting a joke about Bill Cosby is automatically racist,” he wrote on Twitter. A few hours later: “I made a joke about Caitlyn Jenner killing someone in her car. I’m #TransportPhobic.”
Gervais is right that it’s silly to label every joke about a trans person as “transphobic.” He also has a pretty good case that the car joke wasn’t hurtful to trans people. It was hurtful to Jenner’s reputation, perhaps (though it’s not like the fatal car crash at issue went unpublicized), and also to anyone who suspects that a good way to help end stereotypes about women is to stop making jokes that rely on them.