Culture Wars/Current Controversies

A Queer Call for Free Speech

By Nicky Reid aka Comrade Hermit

Exile in Happy Valley

I didn’t know Daphne Dorman but she was one of my people. Daphne was a transgender comedian and a Queer rights activist in the San Francisco Bay Area. She was a gifted software engineer who created her own web development agency but still managed to make time to volunteer as an instructor teaching other trans people code at her local LGBT Center. She was a devoted mother and sister who had survived a hellish childhood without ever losing her wicked sense of humor. She managed to turn this hard earned skill for comic survivalism into a budding career as a stand up in her local comedy scene.

Daphne Dorman is probably best known though for her friendship with fellow comedian Dave Chappelle who would become something of a mentor to her. After Dave’s 2019 Netflix special, Sticks and Stones, came under heavy fire for perceived homophobic and transphobic material, Daphne stuck her neck out for her friend’s right to free speech on Twitter only to have it savagely slit for days by her own people, my people. As Chapelle would note at the end of his latest incendiary special, The Closer, within weeks of being dragged across social media as a traitor to her kind for simply voicing an unpopular opinion, Daphne took her own life, leaving a litany of apologies to her community on Facebook.

We will probably never know for sure if Daphne’s tragic suicide was the result of these attacks, as Chappelle has insinuated. As noted above, Daphne had a lifetime’s worth of demons to contend with and she had just lost custody of her young daughter. Suicide is sadly common among my people. But I can tell you as an openly genderqueer transwoman myself that there has been more than one occasion when having the support of my tribe has been the only thing that’s kept me from walking into oncoming traffic and Daphne lost this safety net right when she needed it most. We, as a community, let her down and now we all have to live with that.

So why then do I feel like the only trans person who feels guilty. In all the fall out over The Closer, with the protests and walkouts and online diatribes calling for Dave Chappelle’s microphone to be cut, the facts surrounding Daphne’s death have been largely glossed over at best. Dave devoted the last ten minutes of this special to a proud transwoman who he called a member of his own tribe, and her entire existence is being treated as a footnote.

That’s because most of the people reacting to Dave’s controversial set, Queer and straight, didn’t even bother to watch it before deciding that it should be canceled for crimes against political correctness. But to me the greatest crime here is the fact that my people chose political correctness over one of our own and the results may have been devastating. We owe it not just to Daphne but to ourselves to take a good hard look in the mirror and ask ourselves, what have we become? And is this who we truly want to be?

That’s why I chose to write this piece. I’m not here to defend Dave Chapelle or his set. Though I truly believe that Dave’s intention with The Closer was to open up a dialogue between the Black and Queer communities, his failure to acknowledge my communities own history of oppression and in particular his abject failure to even recognize the existence of Black Queer people disturbed me as much as any Queer person.


Leave a Reply