Wednesday, September 29, 2010

We own you... yet another gay male comic gets big trans laffs

Left: Serrato... Right: Heaven

Michael Serrato, an LA-based former member of the Logo network program "The Big, Gay Sketch Show" is a gay man who, yes, occasionally performs as a "tranny hooker" character called "Heaven." Most recently, Mr. Serrato, as Heaven, has come out with a video for a song called "I Though You Knew" about a player who finds out his lover (a transsexual former prostitute) is "really a man." As with my previous post about Paul Soileau, Serrato is yet another gay, non-trans performer who is trying to get mileage out of laughing at the world of trans sexworkers.

I Thought You Knew perpetrates the trope of trans women "tricking men" and how many of the men linking up with them have no idea the women they're attracted to have a trans past. In reality, the vast majority of men who have perpetrated violence against trans women knew very well who they were involved with and even sought out those women specifically for a sexual connection with a trans woman. He writes (as Heaven), "It's pretty much autobiographical, It's real sad. But don't worry my babies, I'm all good now, I gotta a real big vibrator.") In other words, men breaking up with trans women is a big joke, not a situation which is rife with abuse both emotional and physical as well as violence and even murder. In the real world, Serrato is a gay man who doesn't in any way actually live even part time as a transgender person. It's a schtick.

Previously, Serrato had another video called "Heaven" about his trans character transitioning and hooking to save up for "her fishy" (aka vagina). It's all done with a lot of ghetto patois even though Serrato makes no direct attempt to "black up." It has lots of jokes about "lady bits," giving oral sex, trans-related surgery and how she's going to be a lady rapper when she gets a pussy. There don't seem to be any actual trans women in the video which goes a long way to make trans sexworkers lives into a joke. The term "tranny" is repeated ad nauseum, at one point Serrato saying "look bitch, I'm a tranny... t.r.a.n.n.y."

While Serrato is a comedian first and there's little question the videos are not made as serious social statements about the lives of trans sexworkers, it's also true that he falls into a category of "gay-themed" entertainment which laughs at the supposed trashiness and marginality of trans women involved in the street economy. Moreover, this genre of humor seems to overwhelmingly be done by white, non-trans performers for overwhelmingly white, non-trans audiences willing to laugh at the hi-jinx of trans women of color. Note that in "I Thought You Knew" the boyfriend being referenced is clearly supposed to be a black man and, at one point, there are what sounds like white men trying to imitate the voices of black trans women. It is a kind of aural blackface, albeit without the greasepaint.

Left: Serrato... Right: a real gay man

Why a rather preppy gay man feels he can only get big laughs when dressed as a take-off of a trans hooker is a question which needs to be asked. Is his own life too flat and colorless to be the source of the outrageous humor he's trying to express and market? Why do so many gay performers feel the need to objectify and even ridicule trans women to live out their own transgressive dreams? How is it non-trans men feel they possess the entitlement to make highly personal and even dismissive observations about trans women's bodies, transitional struggles and life experience? I'm aware chubby gay men can feel marginalized and unappreciated in their own communities, but why is this an invitation to make complex and difficult trans lives into cartoons?

Serrato and gay buds explaining the realities
of tranny hookerdom.

In none of the performances of this genre have I ever seen an expressed appreciation for what trans women, especially those from low-income communities of color, actually go through nor, the very real danger those women are exposed to as the group with the highest seropositivity rates, horrific rates of rape and domestic violence and the worst murder rate of any group. No, that's not the stuff of laughs, but it might give a depth of portrayal and empathy to what is now little more than crass minstrelsy and lazy cultural appropriation.


  1. Another misogynistic, gay man. I'm shocked!!

    Great post, as always!

  2. I am trans and I find the 'Heaven' character to be in poor taste but hilarious.
    I like these songs, they are deliciously just so wrong and inapropriate.

  3. @Cynthia: I have no issue with entertaining bad taste nor low brow funnies... I have a problem with people who aren't members of communities feeling entitled to exploit and ridicule those communities and being intellectually lazy in their efforts. Trying to score outrageousness brownie points using trans imagery because he's too self-conscious about his own. If he wants to do hee-larious take off videos about chubby, preppy, white gay men, fire away. If he's going to produce works which involve the trans community, then he better put some actually brainpower and feeling behind it.

  4. I think people need to lighten up. I knew michael for many years and was there when he was starting out. He had transgendered friends and completely respects them. This is not about transgendered people, this is a joke!! Michael made fun of himself as a gay man all the well as making fun of str8 men and all other people. He is a comedian. It's like watching south park. It is so over the top that it is not to be taken seriously. If he wanted to make fun of transgendered people he would have done something more realistic and obviously fake.

  5. @maries:
    When you say "people need to lighten up" do you mean... "you people?"

    But of course, he doesn't portray himself as a gay man in these videos, he portrays himself as a fucked-up transgender woman (and not even just a gay man doing drag). It's not that he's making fun of us (although I think there is a lot of that in his assumptions of how he portrays us) rather that he appropriates our supposed identity to crawl his way to grade-c stardom much as how white minstrels appropriated black people and culture to do the same 90 years ago. And many of those white minstrels were 'friends' with black people too.

  6. well first- he says "I'm a tranny- T.R.A.N.Y."

    second- i would LOVE a good takedown on my newest project The Vagina Song. it's got 200,000+ hits and the comments are really very positive. I don't think I say anything offensive other than throwing some fingers inside to facilitate dialation.

    tear it a new one, Gin.

    p.s. Michael Serrato directed it. lol

  7. I bet I'd love Gina, she sounds smart and bitter. Arguably my favorite combination. You go lady! MS.

  8. Gina- When I say people need to lighten up, I mean people who take things like this seriously. I am a very sensitive person and feel that we should not do or say mean things to hurt peoples feelings, but I really think there is a limit to this and you have to see what is behind it. When there is hate and exploitation behind it (for example howard stern) then I feel there is a problem. However, michael was not exploiting anyone except himself, and there was no hate behind this. He even called a vagina a "fishy" and I take no offense to this because it is simply a joke. If he truly hated women and was saying it maliciously (and I know for a fact he loves women) then I would have been offended. This is just a spoof. Just like handi-man on In Living Color. It in no way portray real transgendered people. Heaven is really just a crazy guy who wants to become a girl. Just my opinion.

  9. @marie: "Heaven is really just a crazy guy who wants to become a girl."

    Which feeds into the perception many non-trans people have about trans women. There have been a large number of gay male "spoofs" about trans women in the past year (and some, sadly with the participation of trans women). It's an ugly trend which is mostly funneled by trying to sell media to gay bars and clubs who actually find this dreary stuff entertaining. Michael isn't exploiting himself because it's not about him, it's about a trans character. Are gay men's lives that boring that they have to go outside their little world to get a laugh?


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