Is Family Guy Transphobic or Funny?

If you watch Family Guy, you probably find humor in things that may be considered offensive. Family Guy has already been criticized for various tasteless jokes, including making fun of Sarah Palin’s son, who has Down syndrome. Given the nature of the show, perhaps no one should have been too surprised after Sunday night’s episode, which made fun of transgender people.

In the episode, Dan Quagmire, Glenn Quagmire’s father, comes out as a transgender woman and decides to have sex reassignment surgery and go by the name Ida. The episode shows Quagmire’s process of dealing with his father’s transition. Initially, Quagmire expresses concerns with his father’s new body and is reluctant to talk about Ida’s surgery or new lifestyle. Brian Griffin (the family dog) met Ida at a hotel bar and had sex with her, unaware that she was transgender. When he discovers that she was born male, he vomited for 29 seconds. Toward the end of the episode, Quagmire apologized to his father for his lack of acceptance.

Was this portrayal comical or downright offensive? Brian’s response, it seems, clearly perpetuates the false idea that intimacy with transgender people is disgusting. This idea often results in transgender people being assaulted, and is not a laughing matter. GLAAD reported on the episode, stating that it was “incredibly offensive to transgender people.”

It’s certainly positive that Quagmire eventually came to accept his father, showing that while people may initially have inappropriate reactions, their opinions can change. And if nothing else, the inclusion of a transgender character means raising awareness of the existence of transgender people. The episode covered several important issues including gender identity, coming out, surgery, and family and societal acceptance of transgender people.

But it failed to cover these issues in a way that actually respectfully portrayed the transgender experience. While I was excited to see a transgender character, I don’t think the storyline showed understanding of transgender issues. It seems likely that the episode will spread incorrect ideas about transgender people and encourage the damaging notion that transgender people are weird and gross, rather than part and parcel of reality.

What do you think? The episode is available online at Hulu by clicking here, and embedded below.

Photo credit: Kwintin