After being locked down in our homes for the better part of spring and summer, TV has been many people’s great escape. No channel has profited more from us being stuck at home than Netflix. It’s known for streaming movies of all kinds, including comedy specials.
Now I have to really be in the mood to watch a stand up special, however after hearing so much about Sam Jay’s 3 in the Morning comedy special, I decided to give her a shot. I did a little research on her. I checked out a couple of YouTube videos and read her IMDB profile, which revealed she was a Saturday Night Live writer. What really caught my attention was that she was a brown skin, chunky, masculine presenting lesbian with a fade. SHE LOOKED LIKE ME! I was all in.
Within the first ten minutes, I was not feeling it at all. I know ten minutes isn’t a long time, but I really was put off. It wasn’t the fact that she was talking about sucking dick when she dated men, but it was the context of why she was talking about it with such emphasis. Although I couldn’t put my finger on why I was disturbed about why she started off with that particular subject, but I pushed through and continued to watch.
My intuition was right, because approximately fifteen minutes later she’s blaming survivors of rape for getting raped. She states, “All these dudes in power were using their power to manipulate situations and be terrible to women…but all those women had a choice.” To me, this was her cosigning rape culture and reinforcing trans-misogyny, specifically aimed at transgender women. Needless to say it was really hard to watch to the end.
I was so bothered by her content that I contacted my good friend and LGBTQ comedian Sampson McCormick. We discussed the fine line of telling jokes that are funny to many, but just as harmful with real life consequences for others. Sampson is a great example of a comedian who tells funny jokes about our community while not bringing harm to that same community.
Founder of Black Girl Masculine Nalo Darling felt the same way about Sam Jay’s Netflix special and called her out on Twitter. After much back and forth about intent versus impact in comedy, Nalo asked Sam Jay to do an interview to further discuss the impact of Sam’s routine on the community. Sam initially agreed, then backed out, and then agreed again to do the interview via Instagram live.
I set an alarm to watch the live interview because I really needed to hear Sam’s explanation on why she chose problematic subjects to make fun of. Especially during a time of the #MeToo movement and the huge number of trans women—mostly Black—murdered in 2020 so far.
I came in with an open mind but honestly what I expected to hear was explicitly and in a super cocky way, rehearsed. I certainly didn’t expect Sam’s viewpoint to change on a dime because the toxic language she spews under the guise of comedy takes years of intense willingness to unlearn. But I did hope that she would at least consider the views, feelings, and learned experiences of the greater community. She did not. In fact, she doubled down on her lame excuses and reasoning. Sam reminded me a lot of Trump, super cocky in her indignation.
The interview with Nalo was a performance for Sam. She was too busy looking at her reflection in her phone and massaging her waves rather than really listening to what Nalo was trying to convey. I could tell she was prepped by a team to stick to the script. Sam was quick to exclaim she isn’t a politician but was seriously pulling political stunts.
With great power (and a huge platform) comes great responsibility, even I know that as known sex educator and advocate. Those who know me well have definitely noticed I’m more measured in my words as I’ve matured. My mouth is beyond reckless, but I also know I have a young audience that looks to me and takes what I say as gospel. Like it or not, I still have a responsibility to lead by example as best I can.
Sam Jay is in the same boat because representation matters. As much as I hated her performance, I absolutely enjoyed seeing someone who looked like me in every way. She is that dyke we all know. I used to be her. On many levels I sympathize with her. She has a lot to learn and unlearn. And it will be even more difficult for her because she’s a part of the capitalistic Hollywood machine. Sam has a taste of fame and she ain’t gonna risk that for no trans woman’s feelings or safety. But someday soon I hope she learns words have power.
Sam Jay and her defenders all want to scream that it’s just comedy or jokes. It is until those jokes manifest into a transwoman being assaulted or worse killed. When called out on the Black Girl Masculine interview, Sam said, “Well, I have trans women friends.” Same excuse white people use to justify racism, having Black friends. Again, words have power.
Remember when I said her enthusiasm to talk about dick sucking really stuck with me? Well I realized that her comedy is geared toward a predominately Black, cis hetero male audience, not us. She is more than happy to tell jokes about herself and the community that reinforces bad stereotypes to make THEM feel comfortable…and more importantly like her. I recognized immediately that it’s a defense tool used by some masculine women at one time or another to ease tension among cis men around us.
At the beginning of the Netflix special we see her getting her haircut. The barbershop is a sacred space for cis men and when masculine women are in that environment sometimes we have to endure a lot of misogyny and disrespectful rhetoric toward women. Sometimes we agree with it or play along, even if we don’t agree and know it’s wrong.
Ultimately, I’m still hopeful she will open her mind more and really do the work to understand why her words have impact and consequences.