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The only not-awful person in Tiger King is a trans man who was misgendered throughout the series

Nick Duffy March 30, 2020
Saff, who features heavily in the Tiger King documentary, is trans

Saff, who features heavily in the Tiger King documentary, is trans

It seems like the entire internet is collectively watching Tiger King at the moment – but the Joe Exotic documentary leaves out a lot that people should know.

While there aren’t many good people to be found in the exotic animal underworld, a lot of viewers have expressed admiration for Saff – the loyal, level-headed keeper who lost an arm during a tiger mauling, and appeared to be one of the few people at the zoo who genuinely cared about the animals.

Tiger King star Saff is transgender and uses he/him pronouns.

But Saff’s gender identity was not made clear in the documentary, which has led to confusion about his identity online.

Robert Moor, the reporter who made an in-depth podcast series exploring the life of Joe Exotic before the Netflix series came along, clarified on Twitter that Saff is a man who uses he/him pronouns, despite being frequently misgendered.

He wrote: “A useful piece of info for anyone discussing the show: Saff, the person who got mauled by the tiger, told me repeatedly that he is trans, prefers to be called Saff (not ‘Kelci’), and uses he/him pronouns. So please do likewise.”

Moor added: “It’s tricky, because all of the news broadcasts at the time, and most of the people at the zoo, use the wrong pronouns for Saff. (Joe was particularly bad about this.)”

The reporter also shared a ton of other tidbits and details left out of the show – including some backstory that explains how how the young libertarian activist, Josh Diall, came to meet Joe Exotic in the first place.

Josh Diall was drawn to Tiger King Joe Exotic because he was one of the only out figures in Oklahoma
Josh Diall was drawn to Joe Exotic because he was one of the only out figures in Oklahoma

Moor wrote: “One night in 2015 Joe and I were walking through Walmart when a portly, bespectacled young gay guy walked up, shook Joe’s hand and thanked Joe for being the only out-and-proud gay man for many miles when he was growing up.

“That kid was Josh Diall, who later ran Joe’s campaign.”

The show has faced some scrutiny for pretending bisexuality doesn’t exist.

While the documentary does not shy away from depicting Joe Exotic’s sexuality, it’s clear many of the other queer people involved in the saga – not least Saff and Josh Diall – had their lives elided for the sake of storytelling.

Fans have also questioned why the documentary so strongly focuses on the fact that Joe Exotic’s husbands have sex with women – and touts it as “proof” that they cannot possibly be attracted to men.

One viewer tweeted: “The bi erasure of Tiger King is disappointing. It’s amazing how many gay men even are in denial about the existence of bisexual men. Missed opportunity to have a dialogue about something rarely depicted in media yet more common than people think.”

Another wrote: “My only complaint about the Tiger King was how the show acted like he bribed the straight guys into being gay like there aren’t bisexual people.”

Indeed, one of the more bizarre trivia items revealed by Moor is that Joe Exotic and Jeff Lowe had planned to “buy the land next door and open a bisexual strip club/petting zoo” called Tigers and Dreams – though the plan never came to fruition.

More: Joe Exotic, netflix, Tiger King

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