Flat White

Dave Chappelle braves the TERF wars

12 October 2021

6:11 PM

12 October 2021

6:11 PM

Dave Chappelle has us arguing again over his last Netflix special “The Closer”.  Chappelle has controversially declared himself “team TERF.” Of course, people have lost their minds.  

As someone routinely labelled a “TERF” (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist) I’d like to make some comments about what I think he is saying. Before I do, it is important to note that gender critical feminists do not refer to ourselves as “TERFs”, it’s inaccurate and an insult.  I use it here tongue in cheek.   

Chappelle used his last special to address his critics and it seems his biggest frustration at them. He has accused his critics, first and foremost, of not “LISTENING” to what he is saying.  Hopefully my TERF listening skills are better than most.  Without quoting his words, I will summarise what I heard the famous Black comedian say.  

Dave said that race is important, immutable, historical and political, and he is going to keep talking about it.  Dave said he has tremendous compassion for transgender people as fellow humans, but Black people have their own needs, and he is compelled to raise these needs as a priority. Dave said that he was not critically engaging with the LGBTIQ community, he was critically engaging with white people and what he sees as race-based forms of power and domination.   

I heard Dave say that conversations about race are being hijacked by activist talking points, that he was making fun of those talking points because they were ridiculous, harmful and authoritarian. He was saying that just because people are gay or transgender, does not mean they are not racist, and he wasn’t going to be shushed by a white people regardless of sexuality or gender identity.   

Chappelle was saying that he had walked away from a 50-million-dollar contract because he wouldn’t be told what to say by white people and corporations, and like Rosa Parks, he had taken himself off the bus.  Dave seemed to be indicating that he was engaging in a boycott of systems of power that were as harmful to his people as segregation. I heard Dave say that he was going to keep having conversations about race and more specifically about the historical descendants of African slaves in America.  Apparently, this is all very important to him. 


Then Dave talked about women, or the “bitches” as he refers to us.  I am a woman and a feminist and if I can hear over the “bitches”, and his tale of beating up a lesbian, everyone has the capacity to hear what he is saying, over the offence of his words.  Let me tell you first what the “TERFs” are saying.  

TERFs are saying that sex is important, immutable, historical and political and we are going to keep talking about it.  TERFs are saying that we have tremendous compassion for transgender people as fellow humans, but women have their own needs that we are compelled to raise these needs as a priority.  TERFs are saying that we are not critically engaging with the LGBTIQ community, we are critically engaging with men and gender and what we see as sex-based forms of power and domination.   

TERFs are saying that conversations about sex are being hijacked by activist talking points, and those talking points are ridiculous, harmful and authoritarian. We are saying that just because people are gay or transgender, does not mean they are not misogynists, and we won’t be shushed by a man regardless of sexuality or gender identity.   

By being labelled a TERF we are walking away from institutionalised power and wealth to speak the truth.  We are going to keep having conversations about sex and more specifically about the immutability of sex and its importance over gender.  This is all very important to us. 

Dave was saying that mainstream feminism is broken and dominated by white women.  I don’t disagree. Chappelle said that women need a man to fix feminism and he was prepared to take the job.  In return for fixing feminism, all Dave wants as payment is for women to suck his dick.  It is masterfully subtle point in a jarringly crude package.  Chappelle was making the point that as a man the political protection and leadership he could offer women can only ever be corrupt.  Because the form of power he would wield over women, was the exact power that makes women vulnerable.  He understands that male political power over women inevitably leads to sexual exploitation. It was a parallel analogy to his points on race. His comedy is political, and he will not submit his art to corporate dictates or political censorship. It is a luxury that he knows not many comedians can afford

I could list fifteen things that I disagreed with that Dave Chappelle said in his latest comedy special, but he asked for a listening ear, and for what it’s worth, this is what I hear him say. Dave declared himself team TERF because he sees cancel culture as the protection racket on the bus that all of us must boycott.  That bus has run over comedians like bowling pins, so he is unlikely to be forgiving for that.   

Although Dave is clearly not up with the nuances of TERF doctrine, using the word “gender” when the word “sex” is more correct, he knows a dissident movement when he sees one.  Dave can see that TERFs are off the mainstream feminist bus.  He sees our struggle to insist that our reality is recognised.  It is not surprising that he wants to actually listen to what we are saying, above what people are saying about us.   

Dave Chappelle’s heart is very obviously, first and foremost, with African American people and wants to see them lifted out of the historical disadvantage they still live with as a legacy of slavery. You would have to be willfully blind and stupid to not recognise this at the core of his work.  

Unfortunately, TERFs don’t recognise male feminists, as Dave declared himself to be, but we are always thankful for a powerful ally. In a sea of cowardly men refusing to tell the truth in the streets, about the reality they live between the sheets, Dave is a welcome voice.  As we see the pushback, watch for those who guard the front of that bus with vicious aggression.  

Edie Wyatt has a BA Hons from the Institute of Cultural Policy Studies and writes on culture, politics and feminism. She tweets at @MsEdieWyatt and blogs at ediewyatt.com.

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