League of Gentlemen rejects transphobia accusations: ‘There is room to have a laugh’
A BBC comedy has sparked a debate with the return of a controversial character which some have labelled as ‘mean spirited transphobia.’
The League of Gentlemen, which first aired in 1999, returned to BBC Two earlier this week.
The show has returned with a set of anniversary specials to mark the 20th anniversary of the show’s radio debut.
In the first episode of the show, the character of Barbara, a transgender taxi driver, returned.
Barbara (or ‘Babs’) insists that her taxi is a “safe, friendly, mutually-respectful, and above-all tolerant space” before discussing pronouns with her passengers.
The comedy sketch used many stereotypes about transgender women, including lingering shots of Barbara’s body hair and large hands.
The show then continues with an exaggerated discussion of ‘gender-neutral pronouns.’
At one point in the episode, Barbara somewhat ironically says: “People used to make fun of the likes of us, well that’s all gone now.
“We are no longer a source of cheap humour and laughs.”
Later in the episode, a character says Barbara “has gone a bit militant” to which another character responds by ambiguously gendering the character, either saying ‘he’ or ‘ze.’
A spokesperson for Mark Gatiss told PinkNews that the character did say ‘ze’ and that this was in the script.
The show stars Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith and Mark Gatiss, and is written by the cast and Jeremy Dyson.
Dyson and Gatiss discussed the return of the show on BBC Radio Four’s Today Programme earlier this week and acknowledged the potential for backlash.
Gatiss, best known for his work in the BBC show ‘Sherlock’, said that whilst there were discussions about the return of the trans character, he said there was ‘room to have a laugh’ when discussing gender.
He said: “We had a lot of discussions around how the world has changed, and there are a lot of real things where you think ‘well, it was a long time ago’ – but there are also things that you feel you can still lampoon.”
“To me, some of the wilder extremities of gender politics create a kind of madness where almost nothing is capable of being said anymore.”
He continued: “I think that’s still an area where there is room to have a laugh.”
Fans of the show have expressed mixed opinions about the return of the controversial character.
One fan called the return of the character “lazy punching down by out of touch writers trying to make some sort of ‘point.”
“Disappointed by the ‘apology’ /pushback on the trans character Babs in League of Gentlemen. Just some lazy punching down by out of touch writers trying to make some sort of ‘point’.”
Another fan called the character “mean spirited transphobia.”
“I think I liked the first new League of Gentlemen, but their decision to double down on the mean spirited transphobia is just baffling.”
This sentiment was echoed by other fans.
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“I’m excited to see how The League of Gentlemen have updated their work for the new millenium. Their voice unmired by transphobia and classism would be something to behold. They’re surely smart enough to move with the times. LOL JK THEY JUST DOUBLED DOWN ON THEIR WORST IMPULSES.”
However, some people enjoyed the return of the fan favourite.
One fan said: “Gotta love league of Gentlemen. Good to see they kept Sean Dyche on as Barbara the cabbie!”
Another said the portrayal of the trans character was handled “incredibly tastefully.”
“Watching The League of Gentlemen and thought they handled Babs incredibly tastefully. I was worried about how they’d handle that character.”