John Oliver is a British American comedian, political commentator, television host, and is widely known for hosting HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. The June 28, 2015 episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver featured a segment about transgender people and the issues the trans community faces, and it was very well done with a great deal of relevant information as well as his unique brand of humor.
He hit the nail on the head when he said that society likes to celebrate trans people and praise us for our courage while at the same time dehumanizing us and not actually supporting us, which he clearly demonstrated in ways both funny and sad.
He commented that while there are a handful of transgender people who have been winning awards and appearing on magazine covers, they are not representative of the average trans person. There are an estimated 700,000 transgender people in the United States, which is more than the population of Boston, and the majority of us are struggling to survive. He illustrated this with a few facts such as the 41% suicide attempt rate for trans people and the fact that we are four times more likely than the general population to earn less than $10,000 per year, as well as the staggering rates of harassment, violence, and sexual assaults that transgender youth face in school.
There were clips of interviews from big names such as Katie Couric, Barbara Walters and Larry King looking so earnest and concerned as they asked their transgender guests about their private parts. Why is it that cis-gendered people seem to think its okay to ask a trans person about their genitals, but that subject never seems to come up in interviews with non-trans people. Funny how that works.
John went over the basics such as the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation, and then touched on another common issue – what to call a trans person. And he so eloquently answered this by simply saying that we should be called what we want. This point was illustrated with examples like David Evans who one day decided he wanted to be called The Edge, and no one has ever had an issue with that. And there is Sean Combs who has gone by Puff Daddy, P Diddy, Diddy, and then back to Puff Daddy, and again, no one had a problem with it. Yet people seem to have a problem figuring out what to call trans people and what pronouns to use. It really isn’t that difficult, just ask.