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Kathleen Turner Reflects On Playing Chandler's Trans Parent on Friends

Kathleen Turner Reflects On Playing Chandler's Trans Parent on Friends

Warner Bros. Television/NBC

The actress famously played Chandler's transgender parent on the beloved, long-running sitcom.

The beloved, iconic sitcom Friends dominated viewer ratings during its 10-year run from 1994-2004, but certain aspects of the show haven't aged as well in modern times.

One aspect comes down to the portrayal of main character Chandler Bing's father. Depicted on the show as a drag queen named Helena Handbasket who performs in Las Vegas, co-creator Marta Kauffman later confirmed the character was actually transgender and expressed regret as to how they handled Helena's misgendering.

"I've learned a lot in the last 20 years," Kauffman told the Los Angeles Times in regard to the show's lack of diversity. "Admitting and accepting guilt is not easy. It's painful looking at yourself in the mirror. I'm embarrassed I didn't know better 25 years ago."

Kathleen Turner, the actress who took on the role, acknowledged ways in which the show hasn't aged well and told Gay Times in 2018, "It was a 30-minute sitcom. It became a phenomenon, but no one ever took it seriously as a social comment."

Despite the show playing host to one of the first on-air lesbian couples, many believe that was more to appease the male audience because, at the time, lesbians were viewed as "borderline cool and unique." With that in mind, homophobia and transphobia remain among the main issues modern-day watchers of the show call it out for.

In regard to accepting the role of Chandler's trans parent, Turner said, "How they approached me with it, was 'would you like to be the first woman playing a man playing a woman?' I said yes, because there weren't many drag/trans people on television at the time."

Turner recently discussed the role with The Guardian, where she said, "There was no question of casting a trans person or a drag queen -- it was never considered. It never crossed my mind that I was taking a role from someone."

When asked if she'd take the role again if offered today, she said, "Probably not. But I certainly don't regret having taken it. It was a challenge!"

She also previously told Andy Cohen the same thing on Watch What Happens Live, saying she wouldn't do it "because there would be real people able to do it."

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Andrew J. Stillman