“Friends” co-creator Marta Kauffman opened up about the misstep in referring to Chandler Bing’s transgender parent, played by Kathleen Turner, in the original series as a man.
Kauffman, who created the 1994 to 2004 series with David Crane, admitted that “referring to her as ‘Chandler’s father’, even though Chandler’s father was trans” was a “mistake.”
“Pronouns were not yet something that I understood. So we didn’t refer to that character as ‘she.’ That was a mistake,” Kauffman said during “The Conversation” on the BBC World Service (via The Huffington Post).
Matthew Perry as Chandler endured numerous jokes about his “dad,” played by Turner, on the series. Turner played Chandler’s parent Charles Bing, who performed as Helena Handbasket for her drag stage show Viva Las Gaygas. The series never explicitly addressed whether Charles was trans, but Kauffman confirmed that she was.
Kauffman added that she set out to create a safe space for the cast and crew and did not tolerate transphobia offscreen.
“I like very much to create an environment where we have a happy set and a happy crew,” Kauffman said. “It’s very important to me that where we are is a safe place, a tolerant place, where there’s no yelling. I fired a guy on the spot for making a joke about a trans cameraperson. That just can’t happen.”
Actress Turner previously admitted that the show hasn’t aged well in terms of its LGBTQ representation.
“How they approached me with it was, ‘Would you like to be the first woman playing a man playing a woman?’ I said yes, because there weren’t many drag/trans people on television at the time,” Turner told the Gay Times. “It became a phenomenon, but no one ever took it seriously as a social comment.”
“Friends” co-creator Kauffman further addressed that the series has been “criticized in a number of ways” since its conclusion in 2004, including its lack of racial representation.
“Over the course of the last few years I’ve gotten to the point where I can say unfortunately yes, I am guilty of that,” Kauffman continued on “The Conversation.” “And I’ll never make that mistake again. I was clearly part of systemic racism in our business. I was unaware of that, which makes me feel stupid.”
Kauffman recently announced a $4 million donation to her alma mater Brandeis University to establish a fund to support scholars studying Africa and the African diaspora.
“I’ve learned a lot in the last 20 years,” Kauffman said. “Admitting and accepting guilt is not easy. It’s painful looking at yourself in the mirror. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t know better 25 years ago.”