Daniel Franzese: 'We need to educate our allies, not attack them'

2015-08-11
_D5A2908Before you read what I've written, realise that I am a cisgender gay man speaking from the heart - a man who has a great deal of transgender friends whom I love and admire. Even though I have trans people close to me, I must say I can never know what it would feel like or how I would react to the world as a trans person. I can only listen and imagine. Recently, I witnessed an unfortunate incident while attending a fundraiser for an LGBT charity. The comedian hosting the event was delivering some slightly mean-spirited jokes about the Kardashians being untalented when a heckler yelled out a familiar name: "Caitlyn Jenner!” The comic was a little thrown off and made an off-the-cuff joke about how 'Bruce Jenner shouldn’t be ashamed of becoming a woman but should be ashamed of raising superficial girls'. I heard a few soft groans from the audience. This was an LGBT fundraising night in West Hollywood – there would no doubt be Kardashian fans, or indeed friends, in the crowd. Sure, it wasn’t the best joke, but what happened next wasn’t a laughing matter at all. Someone from the audience took to social media, labelling the host transphobic because Caitlyn’s proper name wasn’t being used, and that Jenner had been misgendered for the sake of a cheap dig against her family. It didn’t stop there. There were tweets, Facebook posts and ultimately an article written labeling this host (who I won't name here, as they've copped quite enough of an online backlash already) as transphobic. Famous people began retweeting the article. Phones started ringing. Tears began flowing. The comedian is known as a supporter of LGBT causes and in the past had spent many free hours lending their comedic skills to raise money for LGBT causes. Perhaps the comedian was a Kardashian-phobic, but transphobic? I'm not so sure. The way I see it, it's imperative as we strive for full acceptance and understanding that we use moments like these to educate, instead of attack. As advocates for LGBT causes - even as just as outspoken members of the LGBT community - we certainly have a right to be angry about issues dear to us, and we often look for someone to be angry with. I remember during the historic California Prop 8 vote on marriage equality years back, a favorite Los Angeles Mexican restaurant of mine was accused of donating money to the vote against gay marriage. I still can’t ever eat there. I understand what it is to be angry, but have to be careful where I place my anger. I know plenty of educated gay people that still have unanswered questions surrounding trans folks. As the transgender movement has drawn international attention, we get to meet the Chaz Bonos and Caitlyn Jenners of the world, to hear their stories in their own words, which can only be a good thing. In a recent conversation with my friend (and Caitlyn Jenner’s new bestie), trans actress Candis Cayne, she pointed out that after her stint on the TV show Dirty, Sexy Money, the work dried up – until recently. Now Candis is proclaiming it “the year of transgender actor,” as she fields auditions left and right. On my HBO show Looking, we had five or more trans recurring roles alone. There were more than a handful of series regular roles for trans people this pilot season, too. The times are changing - and not soon enough. As LGBT activists, we should want people to ask questions, not scare them into silence. Be easy on everyone who is just catching up on all this information. Don’t be so quick to judge and attack when met with someone who isn’t as informed as we are. We can also take the lesson both ways and make sure we can be as informed as possible ourselves. Education leads to understanding. In the next few years, thanks to entertainment revolutionaries like Candis, Caitlyn, Chaz and Laverne Cox, more stories will be told and more questions will be answered. Until then, let’s not be so quick on the draw to shoot down the well-intentioned folks who make mistakes. Words by DANIEL FRANZESE – Daniel Franzese is an actor of stage and screen best known for his performances in films like Mean Girls and for ordering pizza at 11pm. Online, his viral videos Please Go Home and Sh*t Italian Moms Say have reached millions of viewers worldwide. Follow him @Whatsupdanny on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr and on YouTube.com/MyMyMyTube. He currently lives in Los Angeles, California where he starred as #EDDIEBEAR on HBO’s LOOKING. More by Daniel:  So we've got marriage equality - what now? Has talking about HIV fallen out of fashion? It's time I came out of the closet: I'm a gay Christian