John Cleese Faces Backlash From Fans for Tweets Perceived As Transphobic

John Cleese has held many titles during his decades of work, including comedic actor, producer, and even self-help author. After a recent fallout on Twitter, many people are already adding another credit added to his otherwise distinguished resume--bigot.

John Cleese
John Cleese during a book signing in London to promote his book "Creativity: A Short and Cheerful Guide" in September, 2020. Dave J Hogan/Getty

The trouble for the co-founder of the Monty Python comedy troupe began Sunday morning, when someone shared a screenshot of a September 30th tweet from Cleese that went somewhat unnoticed at the time--it was a signed letter expressing "solidarity" with J.K. Rowling, the Harry Potter author who has spent the better part of the year rousing controversy with transphobic remarks and one particularly incendiary essay. (She was even publicly denounced by Daniel Radcliffe, who famously portrayed Potter onscreen.)

The letter Cleese signed and tweeted a screenshot of in September was published in The Sunday Times the prior weekend written in support for Rowling, calling her a victim of "an insidious, authoritarian and misogynistic trend in social media." The letter, also signed by novelist Ian McEwan and playwright Tom Stoppard, further cited her treatment as an "example of hate speech directed against her and other women that Twitter and other platforms enable and implicitly endorse."

On Sunday, Cleese was asked on Twitter if he really believes "there is some deep conspiracy to turn people 'against their genders.'"

Cleese's response prompted the backlash against him: "Deep down, I want to be a Cambodian police woman. Is that allowed, or am I being unrealistic?"

Deep down, I want to be a Cambodian police woman

Is that allowed, or am I being unrealistic ?

— John Cleese (@JohnCleese) November 22, 2020

When another person asked Cleese to "be upfront and tell us your thoughts on JKR's position on trans folks," he replied that he was "not that interested" in the issue.

"I'm afraid I'm not that interested in trans folks," he wrote. "I just hope they're happy and that people treat them kindly."

He added that he was more focused on other matters, such as the "threats to democracy" in America, the "appalling British press," and police brutality.

I'm afraid I'm not that interested in trans folks

I just hope they're happy and that people treat them kindly

Right now I'm more focussed on threats to democracy in America, the rampant corruption in the UK, the appalling British Press, the revelations about police brutality...

— John Cleese (@JohnCleese) November 22, 2020

Pia Glenn was one of many who were left saddened by the legendary actor/comedian's comments. Glenn is a well-known Broadway actress, who had a starring role in the musical comedy Monty Python's Spamalot.

One person pointed out that the fact that Cleese kept responding with more offensive remarks shows that he is indeed interested in transgender people and issues, perhaps to the point of "fixating" on them.

LGBTQ+ activist and writer Charlotte Clymer pointed out that people in her community are discriminated against all the time--a situation only "exacerbated when public figures speak from ignorance and bigotry on trans rights."

Podcaster and journalist Jesse David Fox wrote "I do wonder who young people think John Cleese is" in response to his "Cambodian police woman" message.

Volcanologist Jess Phoenix wrote that making such statements as wanting to be a Cambodian police woman implies that trans people have a choice and joking about the issue can "harm vulnerable people."

Video game developer and computer programmer Brianna Wu bemoaned the fact that celebrities accused of transphobia like Cleese, The Mandalorian actress Gina Carano, and Dave Chappelle use their considerably large platforms to hurt rather than help them.

Respected oncologist and critic of alternative medicine and the anti-vaccination movement Dr. David Gorksi felt that Cleese's jokes were not only hurtful but also unoriginal.

Writer/filmmaker Jesse Hawken told Cleese that he betrays his following of gay and queer people who grew up with Monty Python.

Queer Eye star Jonathan Van Ness pointed out that while Cleese is "not that interested in trans folks" and instead is focused on what he feels is more important issues like threats to Democracy and police brutality, transphobia itself is a major issue worth bringing attention to since trans people are being murdered all over the world.

This writer thinks Cleese's police woman joke is 1) unfunny and "done to death" and 2) the star might even feel better not "picking on marginalized people."

This responder defends Cleese, mainly taking exception to those who say the comedian is no longer relevant.

Even with the huge outpouring of people calling on Cleese to do better, he clearly isn't backing down from his detractors as of yet, though, as evidenced by a couple of tweets later Sunday night meant to provoke woke culture.

It's the complete lack of perspective that bothers me

Of course, that goes with a complete lack of a sense of humour

Heard a woke joke yet ?

— John Cleese (@JohnCleese) November 22, 2020

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