I didn't know Daphne Dorman but she was one of my people. Daphne was a transgender comedian and a Queer rights activist in the San Francisco Bay Area. She was a gifted software engineer who created her own web development agency but still managed to make time to volunteer as an instructor teaching other trans people code at her local LGBT Center. She was a devoted mother and sister who had survived a hellish childhood without ever losing her wicked sense of humor. She managed to turn this hard earned skill for comic survivalism into a budding career as a stand up in her local comedy scene.
Daphne Dorman is probably best known though for her friendship with fellow comedian Dave Chappelle who would become something of a mentor to her. After Dave's 2019 Netflix special, Sticks and Stones, came under heavy fire for perceived homophobic and transphobic material, Daphne stuck her neck out for her friend's right to free speech on Twitter only to have it savagely slit for days by her own people, my people. As Chapelle would note at the end of his latest incendiary special, The Closer, within weeks of being dragged across social media as a traitor to her kind for simply voicing an unpopular opinion, Daphne took her own life, leaving a litany of apologies to her community on Facebook.
We will probably never know for sure if Daphne's tragic suicide was the result of these attacks, as Chappelle has insinuated. As noted above, Daphne had a lifetime's worth of demons to contend with and she had just lost custody of her young daughter. Suicide is sadly common among my people. But I can tell you as an openly genderqueer transwoman myself that there has been more than one occasion when having the support of my tribe has been the only thing that's kept me from walking into oncoming traffic and Daphne lost this safety net right when she needed it most. We, as a community, let her down and now we all have to live with that.
So why then do I feel like the only trans person who feels guilty. In all the fall out over The Closer, with the protests and walkouts and online diatribes calling for Dave Chappelle's microphone to be cut, the facts surrounding Daphne's death have been largely glossed over at best. Dave devoted the last ten minutes of this special to a proud transwoman who he called a member of his own tribe, and her entire existence is being treated as a footnote.
That's because most of the people reacting to Dave's controversial set, Queer and straight, didn't even bother to watch it before deciding that it should be canceled for crimes against political correctness. But to me the greatest crime here is the fact that my people chose political correctness over one of our own and the results may have been devastating. We owe it not just to Daphne but to ourselves to take a good hard look in the mirror and ask ourselves, what have we become? And is this who we truly want to be?
That's why I chose to write this piece. I'm not here to defend Dave Chapelle or his set. Though I truly believe that Dave's intention with The Closer was to open up a dialogue between the Black and Queer communities, his failure to acknowledge my communities own history of oppression and in particular his abject failure to even recognize the existence of Black Queer people disturbed me as much as any Queer person.
My intention also isn't to write a partisan diatribe against the evils of liberal cancel culture. Quite the contrary. I recognize cancel culture to be a uniquely conservative contraption birthed by those fascists in the Christian Right. Which is why I really wrote this piece, to ask my people on both the far-left and in the Queer community, why in god's green dick are you embracing the distinctly conservative values of censorship and what do you honestly hope to achieve by doing this? This isn't who we are. We can do better than this. I know because I came to these movements to escape this cancel culture.
I grew up in a stultifyingly conservative rural Christian community. I spent 11 years at a tiny Catholic school where everything that was deemed inappropriate for young Christian minds was canceled and nearly everything was deemed inappropriate. That TV show is too violent, cancel it, it's inappropriate. That pop song is too suggestive, cancel it, it's inappropriate. That playground game doesn't instill traditional Christian values, you guessed it, cancel it, it's inappropriate.
But the real trouble didn't start until it began to become abundantly clear that I myself was the problem. Everything I did, everywhere I went, was somehow always wrong, the way I walked, the way I talked, the way I dressed, the pictures I drew and the stories I wrote all seemed to point to the fact that I was somehow fundamentally different from the other little boys and girls and therefore I was inappropriate.
In a small town in rural Pennsylvania in the late nineties nobody had ever even heard of words like genderqueer or non-binary. What I knew about being transgender was that it meant you were a boy who played with dolls and wore dresses, and it meant you were mentally ill and probably going to hell. I had no idea that someone could be a tomboy or even a lesbian in a boy's body, so I grew up having no idea I was Queer. I had know idea what the hell I was. All I knew is that I was a freak and that was inappropriate. Even worse, the few people on TV who looked or acted anything like the way I felt on the inside; Grace Jones, KD Lang, Marilyn Manson, Dennis Rodman, were all canceled sinners destined for eternal damnation, so it didn't take me very long to connect the dots.
I grew up convinced that I was going to hell and that if anyone ever saw the real me, my friends, my teachers, my parents, they would run for the hills from what they saw. I didn't believe that I was deserving of even god's love, so I didn't love myself. These feelings of deep seated shame and self-loathing lasted well into adulthood and ultimately festered into PTSD and a series of crippling nervous breakdowns that metastasized into full blown agoraphobia by my early twenties.
My only salvation from this isolated hell was my books and my music. Through my own private studies on the counterculture of the 1960s and 70s and my discovery of punk rock music, I was introduced to the far-left. This was the far-left of Lenny Bruce, H. Rap Brown, Patti Smith and Jello Biafra. The far-left of CBGB's and the White Panther Party. The far left of rock n roll, dope and fucking in the streets. This wasn't a movement defined by rules and mores.
It was a tribal community of fellow freaks who refused to be ashamed, who did what they wanted, smoked what they wanted, fucked who they wanted, and above all else, said what they wanted to say. A movement all about speaking truth to power and telling it like it is. It was the polar opposite of the conservative Christian gulag of my childhood. As long as you weren't hurting anyone else, nothing was inappropriate, no subject was off the table, and if anything, offending people was celebrated as a revolutionary act of liberation.
It was this movement that finally led me to my tribe. I didn't begin to recover from my childhood until I came out of the closet and embraced my queerness in all its uncensored glory. I wasn't LGBT. I was a genderfuck bull-dyke with a dick and I was done with being ashamed of being inappropriate. John Waters wasn't appropriate. Allen Ginsberg wasn't appropriate. Vaginal Davis sure as fuck wasn't appropriate. So why the fuck should I be. I was finally free from the prison cell of my childhood tormentors, but somewhere along the line something very strange and terrifying happened. The left and the LGBT movement became appropriate.
Somehow my people had become the new church ladies, and once again, the way I walked, the way I talked, the pictures I drew and the stories I wrote became inappropriate, this time in the name of political correctness, an unwritten code of conduct that insures that no one will offend anyone ever again. Now nobody seems to give a fuck about the freedom these movements once represented. They're all much too concerned with safety, even if it means silencing our own damn people with the machinery of big government and big business. Well I won't have it. I won't stand by and watch the movements and communities I love become like the one I barely escaped with my life.
I fundamentally reject the insane notion that equates art and speech of any kind with violence. This is the exact same bunk that the Christian Right has trafficked in for decades. Record stores and comic shops were lobbied mercilessly by pearl clutching Jesus freaks to remove violent and sexual content that they insisted would lead to bedlam. Now my own damn people are protesting any website that provides a platform to people who talk shit about us because this allegedly promotes violence towards marginalized people like me. Well this marginalized person calls bullshit.
Dave Chapelle is no more responsible for the actions of assholes who bash me for stepping in the wrong bathroom than Grand Theft Auto is for the latest school shooting. Art doesn't kill people, psychopaths do, and cancel culture of any kind only empowers the same corporate and federal psychopaths that thrive on the very bigotry they claim to protect us from. Down south, the state is sold as the only defense good Bible thumping folk have to protect them from perverts in skirts in the ladies room. Up in the supposedly enlightened north, this exact same power structure is sold as the only thing protecting minorities like me from roaming mobs of mouth frothing bigots. I for one am tired of being used as prop for this scam. It's a fucking shell game and no matter which shell you pick, the house wins.
Queer people got sold this shit because we're scared and we have every right to be considering the sheer amount of violence and oppression we face on a daily basis. It's not unusual for victims of oppression to adopt the tactics of their oppressor in self-defense. But this is not the answer. The only thing political correctness achieves is making it easier for powerful bigots to hide behind good manners while brave outspoken powerless people like Daphne Dorman get crushed for not following the rules that supposedly protect us. As long as the same hierarchal structures remains in tact, any rules we create will only be used to solidify their power.
So I say let Dave tell his shitty jokes even if they do make us cringe, and push companies like Netflix to hire more trans comics instead of canceling him, because everyone deserves a platform, even the assholes. The only thing inappropriate enough to be worth canceling is the power systems that censorship, no matter how well intentioned, reinforces. This can only be done by giving everyone the freedom to speak so long as everyone has the right to respond.
Peace, Love, & Empathy- Nicky/CH
Soundtrack; songs that influenced this post
* Bad Catholics by the Menzingers
* Eat Me Alive by Judas Priest
* Everybody Does by Julien Baker
* Bastard by Motley Crue
* Shell Game by Bright Eyes
* Animal (Fuck Like a Beast) by W.A.S.P.
* M.T.V.- Get Off the Air by Dead Kennedys
* Into the Coven by Mercyful Fate
* Rock n Roll N*gger by Patti Smith
* Possessed by Venom