Family Guy once again reminded all of us how tired and outdated its sense of humor is by making some extremely lazy jokes about trans people in its most recent episode. During the October 6 installment, “Bri-Da,” Quagmire’s trans mother, Ida, who has previously been the butt of many transmisogynistic and transphobic “jokes,” came back to the show, and unfortunately absolutely nothing has changed.
In the episode, Ida (voiced by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane) is caught looking at porn on her phone at a bar. When the bartender tells her she’s not allowed to do that, she responds, “Oh, it’s OK, I’m transgender.” This prompts an apology from the bartender who says, “Oh, I had no idea. Do whatever you want all of the time.”
There’s also a long, boring joke where a waiter can’t figure out if Ida is a woman or a man while she’s on a date with Brian the Dog and then when they go back to a hotel to have sex later in the episiode, Brian says he’s worried someone will find out he’s having “goofball sex” (whatever that means). He’s reassured by his family that in 2019, “things that were gross five years ago are heroic.”
Thanks for calling me gross and saying anyone willing to have sex with is me a hero, Seth. That’s just great.
The main premise of the storyline is that trans people enjoy greater privilege than other members of society, but in trans women — especially Black trans women — often get arrested for even less than the inappropriate behavior in which Ida is engaging. It’s called “walking while trans” and leads to many women being harassed, targeted, and jailed by police under the suspicion of being a sex worker. We can be, and are, put in lockup facilities for doing things like checking into hotels or going out at night.
Thus, if a trans woman was actually caught watching porn in a public place, or even if she was caught doing it in many private places, she’d definitely be locked up without a second thought.
Meanwhile, 51 percent of Americans told Gallup in May 2019 that transgender people should be forced to use the bathroom that corresponds with gender they were assigned at birth, rather than their gender identity, meaning that the majority of U.S. citizens still support laws that effectively criminalize trans individuals for existing.
But this isn’t the first time Family Guy has come down on the wrong side of trans issues. The first time Ida appears on the show, they showed Brian throwing up for close to a minute because he was disgusted he slept with a trans woman. When Quagmire’s mom wasn’t having sex with a dog (because no human would have sex with a trans woman, I guess?) and that dog wasn’t throwing up or scrubbing himself in the shower to “get clean” after having sex with her, she is repeatedly referred to as “it” or — in one of the most egregious cases of misgendering I’ve ever seen on TV — Quagmire’s “he-she father-mother.”
Meanwhile, her entire storyline is focused on her surgery. After we see Ida leaving the operation room, every character asks her about her transition, as if that’s all trans people ever have to talk about. “So, Ida, you miss your penis?” Peter asks. (She doesn’t miss it, she responds, because she didn’t undergo bottom surgery.)
If that’s not enough, Ida was originally voiced by noted transphobe and general a-hole Adam Carolla, but since her transition, McFarland himself has been doing her voice work — in one of the strangest voice casting decisions I’ve ever seen.
The situation doesn’t get better in subsequent episodes. Ida, who is still referred to ‘Quagmire’s Dad,” comes to her son’s side when Quagmire’s own appendage is bitten off by a shark in the Season 16 episode, “The Unkindest Cut.” Then Ida — I kid you not — donates her old penis to her son. Not only is it even close to how any of this works, it’s also incredibly unsettling and disturbing, especially given that it’s one of the few depictions of a trans woman many of its viewers will see represented on TV.
Even for someone who has complained about the show’s violently transphobic history, I had forgotten until this week how bad Family Guy can be. What’s particularly disappointing, however, is that the show vowed to change. Earlier this year, Family Guy executive producers Rich Appel and Alec Sulkin said the longrunning comedy — which is now in its 17th (!!!) season — was going to be “phasing out” gay jokes. That admission was followed by a February episode in which Peter has a heart-to-heart with Ida, which suggested the show was making good on its promise to be more LGBTQ+ inclusive.
In fact, the episode ends with Peter apologizing to Ida after pretending to be transgender to get his own bathroom. That description is itself a lot, but Family Guy at least appeared to be acknowledging its past faults. “I feel really awful,” Peter admitted, seemingly on behalf of his show. “I’m a really bad person for what I did. I deserve what happened to me.”
But if this week’s episode is any indication, Family Guy is still the same old slog. Peter should feel awful, but the ones who should be shouldering the blame are the writers and producers who have admitted they know better and refuse to hold themselves accountable.