Night Court has a transphobia problem

I have fond memories of the show Night Court growing up. In particular, I have a fondness for the episode “Best of Friends”, which I’d remembered being a surprisingly progressive episode about trans issues.

I have been rewatching the entire series from the beginning, for the first time since the series ended in 1992, and “Best of Friends” was in fact surprisingly progressive for the era. It still had problems, though; it put the burden on the trans woman for having hurt Dan’s feelings, rather than on anyone else for not respecting her, and her new husband was seen as some sort of freak for daring to support her. But in the end, Dan more or less comes around and realizes that Charlene has done what’s right for her.

But oof, there is so much unnecessary, downright mean transphobia in the rest of the show. For example, in the episode “Hurricane,” there’s a few jokes about a baby being “transsexual” due to a miscommunication (which also involved Brent Spiner’s bumpkin character), there’s a common undercurrent of perpetrators wearing dresses for the sake of man-in-a-dress jokes, there’s some ridiculous gender-essentialism on display in “Bull Gets A Kid,” and in the episode “Rabid,” there’s a gag in which two Swedish women (of course) turn out that they “used to be men,” which they feel compelled to disclose in response to Dan saying he might have rabies — and them being transsexual is treated as far, far worse than said disease.

As a kid I remember a bunch of later-episode jokes about big burly men wailing that they are a “woman trapped in a man’s body” but I’d always chalked that up to 1990s edgelord humor, during a decade when every other episode of a sitcom would involve some joke about a woman being “really a man” or just generally being shitty. But no, this show ended up having it all the way throughout its entire run.

Sometimes I wish I could get the ear of the writers and producers of TV in this era and see how they feel about how they treated gender-diverse people.

And of course it’s not just the transphobia. In the first couple of seasons, this show is generally pretty gentle, and optimistic, and treats quirky people as the wonderful diversity of life in New York, but as time goes on, the humor just gets meaner and meaner. And even Harry Stone, perpetual boyscout and optimistic truth-and-beauty-seeker, joins in on the punching-down.

I’m about halfway done with the show, but I’m not sure if I want to finish it.

And just as I was writing this, the episode “Caught Red Handed,” which I was already not looking forward to due to some well-remembered blatant hypocrisy regarding sexual harassment, is making fun of feminism, with Christine going on a feminist rant, and then she gets pulled out of it — by a trans woman agreeing with her.