NBC's "Friends" episode offensive to intersex youth

Classification: News

Intersex youth was the butt of a joke in the thanksgiving episode (Nov. 22, 2001) of NBC's popular sit-com, Friends, and intersex activists and allies are talking to NBC to address how hurtful and offensive it was to us.

The show consisted of Brad Pitt playing a character who went to high school with the characters Ross, Monica & Rachel. Supposedly Rachel made his life miserable, and so he and Ross made up a rumour about her. The rumour was that she was born "with both male and female reproductive parts" and that her parents "flipped a coin" to decide to raise her as a girl, but that she "still had the hint of a penis". The rest of the show consisted of everyone making fun of her, calling her "the hermaphrodite cheerleader from Long Island", staring at her crotch asking for "proof" that it wasn't true, and Rachel crying "you told people that I was half and half!" At the end, Monica resolves it by telling Rachel "even with that rumour, you were the most popular girl in school", as if that would be so suprising.

Intersex youth was the butt of a joke in the thanksgiving episode (Nov. 22, 2001) of NBC's popular sit-com, Friends, and intersex activists and allies are talking to NBC to address how hurtful and offensive it was to us.

The show consisted of Brad Pitt playing a character who went to high school with the characters Ross, Monica & Rachel. Supposedly Rachel made his life miserable, and so he and Ross made up a rumour about her. The rumour was that she was born "with both male and female reproductive parts" and that her parents "flipped a coin" to decide to raise her as a girl, but that she "still had the hint of a penis". The rest of the show consisted of everyone making fun of her, calling her "the hermaphrodite cheerleader from Long Island", staring at her crotch asking for "proof" that it wasn't true, and Rachel crying "you told people that I was half and half!" At the end, Monica resolves it by telling Rachel "even with that rumour, you were the most popular girl in school", as if that would be so suprising.

Intersex ally Devon King from Berkeley wrote a letter to NBC, and is encouraging others to do the same. You can write directly to NBC at friends@nbc.com. Below is the letter he wrote:

November 26, 2001

Dear NBC and producers of "Friends",

Your Thanksgiving episode (the one featuring Brad Pitt) was ignorant, insulting, degrading, and absolutely unprofessional. Was any research done before creating the script? Did the writers have any understanding of the reality of intersex people before thinking up the "hermaphrodite cheerleader from Long Island" rumour?

Every day in this country, children are born with "ambiguous" genitalia. And every day, at least five of those children are subjected without their consent to harmful and medically unnecessary surgeries recommended by doctors who want the children to fit their definition of "normal". Their physical and mental health and future sexual pleasure are completely disregarded.

In this environment, you created a "joke" in which Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) was mocked by her entire high school for being born with "both male and female reproductive parts", and had her parents "flip a coin" to decide to raise her as a girl, even though she had "the hint of a penis". How horrifyingly similar to intersex youths' history. How disgustingly close to what actually happens to innocent children every day.

But to you, it's comedy.

Maybe you didn't know. Maybe at NBC it's standard to mock and humiliate groups of people without any sort of education in regards to the characters created. How completely repulsive.

You have offended one of your biggest fans. You have the potential to fix it. Please visit the Intersex Society of North America (ISNA)'s website:
http://www.isna.org. While there you can educate yourself and then understand how insensitive this episode was. When the new episodes start showing again, I strongly suggest they air accompanied with a much needed apology to intersex people.

Devon King