I’ve always felt guilty about enjoying South Park. While it is funny for the most part, some of the jokes go way too far. I love black comedy, but I’ve never been a fan of offensive comedy, and whenever South Park includes something that’s genuinely offensive, I get really uncomfortable. For example, the Inception parody episode was hilarious…until it got to that particularly nasty joke about child abuse near the end. Most of the time it’s witty and insightful, but there are other times when it’s just not. So, when I found out that the latest episode was about transgender people, I didn’t know what to expect, because even if it did make some good points, the creators still might not understand the issue fully. The reviews I read were positive, though, so I decided to give it a go. I was pleasantly surprised.
The Cissy is wonderful. I usually find that South Park can be a bit heavy-handed when it comes to morals, but this episode delivered its message just as well as Breast Cancer Show Ever, another of my favourites. (Admittedly, it’s still anvilicious, but considering how little education there is on stuff like gender identity, it can be forgiven for that.) Plot-wise, it’s similar to Le Petit Tourette, in that Cartman pretends to be part of a disadvantaged group because he thinks it will benefit him. Annoyed that the boys’ toilet is always full, he proclaims himself to be transgender so that he can use the girls’. Of course, Cartman would be the first person to mock anybody who was genuinely transgender, a fact made painfully obvious when he starts taunting Stan later on in the episode. His behaviour is a clever parody of the way some ignorant people see the transgender community, especially when it comes to the whole toilet issue, which has been blown completely out of proportion in real life. None of the girls in the show seem bothered by the idea of a transgender person using their toilet- what they have a problem with is that Cartman is using it. When Wendy gets angry with Cartman and challenges him, it’s because he’s trivialising the problems of people who truly aren’t comfortable with their assigned gender. Absolutely nobody is fooled by his act (except for Butters, which shouldn’t come as a big surprise to anybody), but not knowing how to deal with the situation, the school decides to appease him with his own “executive” toilet. However, Cartman continues to misrepresent transgender people, and things start to get confusing for Stan, who discovers that Randy is having similar problems at work.
To try and stop Cartman, Wendy pretends to be trans too. With two of his friends now claiming to have gender dysphoria, Stan is no longer sure about how he identifies himself.
The really cool thing about this episode is that it doesn’t portray transgender people as weird or attention-seeking. The only person like that is Cartman. I particularly love how it’s Stan, one of the sanest characters on the show, who starts to question his gender identity, and for a pretty good reason. Beforehand, none of this stuff probably ever occurred to him, but now, two people he knows really well have begun to use a separate toilet, and things aren’t so black and white anymore. And what’s really great is that this confusion isn’t made out to be a bad thing. It might not be fun, but by the end of the episode, Stan does seem to be a lot happier. He realises that it doesn’t matter where he chooses to do his businesses. Randy (who it turns out is actually Lorde) identifies as male, but he still prefers to use the female bathroom at work, simply because that’s where he writes his best songs. His crossdressing is used as a source of humour, but not in a mean-spirited way. The Lorde parody is affectionate (the creators constantly heap praise upon her music, which isn’t surprising considering how they’re also fans of The Cure), and Randy’s actions are shown to be harmless. A gender-neutral toilet might be a good idea, but not to separate trans from cis people. Rather, it can be used for people who are scared or uncertain, or for bigots who need to be kept away from the open-minded people who don’t really care.
One final great thing about this episode is that it’s continuing the thread of establishing a sort of continuity for series 18, with a few small references to the previous two. Thankfully, it’s done well enough to not feel like a gimmick, and I’m interested to see what will follow. Also, Butters dances in a tutu, which is something that everyone needs to see.