Opinion

Opinion: No One Cares About Your Friendship With a Bigot

Patton Oswalt defends his friendship with Dave Chappelle despite the latter's transphobia.
Patton Oswalt defends his friendship with Dave Chappelle despite the latter's transphobia. Screencap from Instagram
Over New Year’s Eve, comedian Patton Oswalt got himself sent to Cancelvania because he agreed to come perform a guest spot with Dave Chappelle. The two have been friends for decades, and it was Oswalt’s first chance to do an arena gig. Later, he posted a photo of him and Chappelle, which led to a loud barrage of fans upset because of Chappelle’s long and relentless history of transphobia.

The internet seethed, and Oswalt began deleting comments. Eventually, he released a statement talking about their friendship and Oswalt's guilt over the people he has cut out of his life for toxic views.
I like Patton. He's arguably my favorite living comedian, and because his daughter is slightly older than my child I have over the years used his jokes about parenthood as a kind of guide for my own rearing. Most of the time, Patton is a good dude doing his best against an increasingly unkind world. He certainly has a long history of posting about LGBTQ rights, and I believe he is sincere when he says he doesn't agree with Chappelle's bigoted nonsense.

What annoys me about his argument is the same thing that pisses me off when I see people on Facebook holding onto old high school acquaintances that turned into MAGA cultists. There is a worth put on the friendship that is supposed to, pardon the pun, trump everything else. In fact, that's a sentiment that you'll find in the comments of Patton's Instagram post. What kind of friend are you if you cut someone loose over a "political disagreement"?

The thing that I think Patton and a lot of other people are missing is that there are trans people who have had to cut ties with their whole damn families in order to live in safety, both mental and physical. They've lost jobs, income, connections, homes, and relationships thanks to a cruel, intolerant world that is actively martialing against them with the full force of the government. Trans people are literally fleeing our state because of the action of the legislature this year.

I'm sure this was a deeply uncomfortable choice for Patton. Here's a guy he's known for years and deeply respects offering a gig. Making an enemy out of Chappelle could do real damage to Patton. And hey, maybe Patton is right and Chappelle can eventually be reached, though it's likely to leave a lot of trans people dead and hurt in his path to enlightenment.

It's understandable that Patton would prioritize his friendship and personal comfort over the thousands of faceless strangers who make up his audience. God knows there is no appeasing the ravenous public, and Patton owes his Twitter and Instagram followers nothing.

That said, it's good to know why they are angry. It's not because someone had a different opinion or told an offensive joke. It's because these last five years have been a literal nightmare. Severe and frequent mental distress among LGBTQ Americans nearly tripled during the Trump years, and the fact that formerly beloved comedians and authors are now on bizarre transphobic crusades while still raking in millions is probably not helping matters much.

Surviving in this environment has been very hard. Often, it comes down to a choice between loneliness and active abuse from people who are supposed to love and support you. A trans woman watching their kids pull away because they couldn't handle who Daddy really was or a non-binary person working retail because their office wouldn't accept their pronouns has little sympathy for a rich cis white dude who appears willing to sell them out. And for what? An arena gig and not having to tell a buddy Patton admits he hasn't seen in years that he doesn't want to be associated publicly with that friend's bigotry?

All this hate is costing LGBTQ people so much. They see that cost, measure it against Patton's guilt, and find the balance obscenely uneven. That's why people are upset, and why a celebrity friendship seems so worthless in comparison. I'm sure the friction between Patton's beliefs and his camaraderie with Chappelle is painful. However, if you drop your ideals the second they burn your hand, then they weren't really ideals to begin with. They were just pretentions of convenience.

I'm sorry about your friend, Patton, but you can't expect people who have lost far more than an old work pal to give a shit when they are under constant threat. 
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Jef Rouner is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner