Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Powerpuff Girls Transgender Unicorn Episode Not A Good Thing

The following article is purely my opinion, based on how I felt watching the episode, it may differ from your own opinions.  What I am presenting here are my own thoughts only, and as such it should be viewed not as 100% universal, but just one view amongst many.

One of the new episodes of The Powerpuff Girls features a 'transgender' unicorn character called Donny, who is a horse that believes he is a unicorn and has the girls help him attain his goal.  Whilst the show is trying to send a message about transgender people, I found that it went and did the opposite.

The series executive producer Nick Jennings spoke about the episode and said, 'Basically when we start out, he's a pony, but he wants to be a unicorn.  He has to go through a transformation to become a unicorn so it's a whole, 'What are you on the inside?  What are you on the outside?  How do you identify yourself?  How do people see you?'  There's a lot of subtext to that.'

'I don't think you can be too young to start talking about those issues and those things and just presenting an attitude, a voice that is going to resonate with people.'

For first main issue is this, why go through the whole scenario of a horse who believes he's a unicorn?  I get that it's a metaphor, but why not just have a trans character instead?  Clearly the creators don't think that their audience are too young to be learning about and thinking about gender, so just talk about it rather than using a metaphor.  Trans people exist, we're not metaphors.

I found the actual content of the episode itself to be contradictory to the idea of expressing a pro-trans message that the creators say they were trying to convey.  When we first see Donny he's wearing a horn to be a unicorn and Buttercup immediately rips off the horn, says he's not a real unicorn and reduces him to tears.

So, essentially what we have here is one of the heroes confronting our trans character and saying that they are fake, that despite trying to make himself look like a unicorn he's not.  To me, seeing her rip off his horn and call him out is no different than seeing someone pulling off a trans woman's wig and calling her a man.

Does this mean that Buttercup is taking the place of a transphobe or someone that abuses trans people?  It certainly looks that way, and she's the hero!  What kind of message is that telling children about accepting someone's gender identity?

When Bubbles tries to get the Professor to help Donnie there's a whole big scene about the multiple dangerous side effects of undergoing such a transformation, at which point Donnie ignores all of these dangers and immediately signs under a big red 'Forever'.

When I saw this part of the episode it looked like the writers were trying to say that trans people are so desperate to sign up for medical procedures that 'last forever' that we ignore dangers to do it.  Whilst there can be some dangers in medical transition it's wrong and misleading to portray it like this.  There's no real greater danger in changing gender than there is in many other medical procedures, don't go and make out that trans people rush into unsafe medical procedures because that's just plain not true.

When Donnie goes through with his transformation things go wrong and he transforms into a monster, a literal monster and goes on a rampage.  What exactly is the message here, that if you try to change your body you will become a monster?  Are they trying to say that trans people are somehow monsters?

Add into this the fact that characters, including members of the Powerpuff Girls themselves, call Donnie a freak more than once at this point and I can't see it as anything positive.  The message they're conveying is, if you change your body to try and match who you are inside you will be seen as a 'freak' and a monster.

Add onto this the fact that at the end of the episode it turns out Donnie was a unicorn all along and gets changed back into his true self, what's the point of this episode.  Donnie isn't a horse who wants to be a unicorn, he's already a unicorn.  The message at the end is 'be who you were born as'.

The episode might have been made to comment on gender, but I really don't think it was trying to make a good point.  Donnie is mocked for trying to be who he feels he is, he signs up for dangerous medical procedures without a car, he becomes a monster and gets called a freak, and the end message is 'don't try to change yourself'.

Like I said at the start, this is only my personal opinion, but I do not see this as a positive message about trans people hidden behind a metaphor, I think it's an incredibly negative message about trans people.  I'm extremely disappointed in this episode, but it just seems to add to a history of the show mocking trans characters and queer coding villains.


1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed the episode myself, I felt it wasn't as effective as Adventure Time's "Princess Cookie" or even Kids Next Door's take on transgenderism with the Heinreich/Henrietta storyline, but it gets a "You Tried" ribbon from me.

    First off, Buttercup ripping the horn off and saying Donny was fake didn't really bother me because if you watch the show both the reboot and the original, Buttercup is usually the one whose brash, ill-tempered, rude, quick to jump to conclusions, insensitive, and without tact. Buttercup ripping off the horn and saying Donny wasn't real I felt was a positive note because Buttercup is the one member of the Powerpuffs to lack empathy and not think things through. Especially since Bubbles, Blossom, and Donny quickly establish Buttercup to the party in the wrong.

    Now on the other hoof is it were, this episode does have a lot of missteps that make it not as effective as it could be.

    The biggest misstep of this episode in my opinion was the "You were a unicorn all along!" thing. I felt it would have been more effective if the unicorns transformed Donny with their magic and in doing so Donny became much happier. Having him be a unicorn from the start completely destroys the entire point of it being a Trans-Friendly Episode.

    The fact that Donny ignores all of the Professor's warnings and then immediately signs for the transformation without thinking didn't help too. It reminded me of all the times people told me that I'd "regret the surgery" and how "people often do", which is a common myth transphobes like to push that "Transition will make it worse." which statistically speaking isn't true, in fact the only times people do seem to regret the surgery is if they have too high of expectations. Having too high of expectations however was something that mainly happened in the past when doctors didn't feel comfortable talking about this kind of stuff, just called it a "Sex Change" and moved on because the details were "icky"... which resulted in a lot of FTMs wondering why removing their breasts didn't make them taller or MTFs wondering why having a vulva didn't miraculously change their voice. This kind of thing happened in the 60's and 70's and standards in medicine have improved greatly since then.

    Overall, I felt the episode was a good effort, but having an actual transperson consulted for the writing of the episode would have helped. It's clear this only turned out this way because this episode was written by a cisperson who wants to send an anti-discrimination message but doesn't actually know anything about the group they're sending a message about.

    I understand they couldn't have a transperson or even have Donny want to be female because Cartoon Network had already gotten really mad about Steven Universe having canonlogical lesbians directly stated to be lesbians but couldn't really do anything to stop it because the ratings were too good to censor it or pull the plug on the show.

    Why Donny couldn't actually transform into something is because of an old Cartoon Trope where you're "Perfect the way you are" and any changes or transformations will "Always be worse"

    Obviously the writer didn't realize that trope is incompatible with telling a pro-transgender story. It's an outdated trope even if we don't bring transpeople like ourselves into the equation imho, as people change all the time in real life and a lot of the time it's for the better. I'd really love it if a kid's cartoon transformed a character or had them change stations, have it work out for them and say "I like things better this way", it'd be more realistic. We shouldn't teach kids that "Change is always negative"

    tl;dr version - It's obvious they were trying to be Pro-Trans, but had no idea how exactly to pull it off because they just didn't consult a transperson for research.