‘Friends’ co-creator apologizes for dated depiction of trans character

Marta Kauffman, the Emmy Award-winning co-creator of the quintessential 1990s sitcom “Friends” has made an apology to the transgender community over the way her show handled a trans character. 

E! News reported on a forthcoming BBC “World Service” interview, that will air next week, in which Kauffman touched upon the character “Helena Handbasket,” Chandler Bing (Matthew Perry)’s trans parent, played by Kathleen Turner. “We kept referring to [Helena] as ‘Chandler’s father,’ even though Chandler’s father was trans,” Kauffman said in the interview. 

Indeed, we first meet the character in a seventh-season episode called “The One With Chandler’s Dad,” and she is referred to primarily as a drag queen. 

“Pronouns were not yet something that I understood, so we didn’t refer to that character as ‘she.’ That was a mistake,” she added. 

Last week it was revealed that Kauffman made a $4 million donation to fund a professorship (in her name) at her alma mater, Brandeis University, for African and African American studies. This was done, she said, due to guilt and embarrassment over the lack of Black characters on “Friends,” a criticism of the show going back to the 1990s. She said that had initially found the criticism “difficult and frustrating,” but now realizes that it is valid. 

“It was after what happened to George Floyd that I began to wrestle with my having bought into systemic racism in ways I was never aware of,” she said. “That was really the moment that I began to examine the ways I had participated. I knew then I needed to course-correct.”

Kauffman and creative partner David Crane got their start creating the early HBO comedy “Dream On,” and later made “Veronica’s Closet” and “Jesse.” She recently created the Emmy and Golden Globe-nominated “Grace and Frankie” without Crane for Netflix.  

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