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Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman says the show’s transphobic jokes were ‘a mistake’

Marta Kauffman has also gone on to say she regrets the show's lack of diversity.

By Emily Maskell

Words: Emily Maskell; pictures: YouTube/Larry King

Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman has addressed the show’s mistreatment of Chandler’s trans-parent and says many of the writing choices around the character were “a mistake”. 

In the famous sitcom, which ran for a decade between 1994 to 2004, Helena Handbasket was often referred to as “he” and was the butt of many other jokes about their sexuality and gender identity.

As reported by The Radio Times, in an interview with The Conversation, due to air on BBC World Service on 11 July, Kauffman, 65 says: “We kept referring to [Helena] as ‘Chandler’s father’, even though Chandler’s father was trans.”

She also says, “Pronouns were not yet something that I understood so we didn’t refer to that character as ‘she’. That was a mistake.”

It wasn’t until after the NBC show aired that the creators confirmed that Helena was a trans woman.

Kathleen Turner played Helena but has since said that she would refuse to take on the role if she was asked today.

A guest on Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen, Turner remarked: “Of course I wouldn’t do it now because there would be real people able to do it,” before explaining how she got the part.

Kauffman also says she now fosters a much safer work environment. 

“It’s very important to me that where we are is a safe place, a tolerant place, where there’s no yelling,” she explains. “I fired a guy on the spot for making a joke about a trans cameraperson. That just can’t happen.”

Kauffman’s reflection on Friends’ transphobia comes after she addressed the criticism levied at the show for its prevalent lack of diversity.

Subsequently, Kauffman pledged a $4 million donation to Boston’s Brandeis University, to establish an endowed professorship in the school’s African and African American studies department.

“I’ve learned a lot in the last 20 years,” Kauffman told the LA Times last month.

“Admitting and accepting guilt is not easy. It’s painful looking at yourself in the mirror. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t know better 25 years ago.”

The Attitude July/August issue is out now.