Dave Chappelle's "Some Of My Best Friends Are Trans" Story Doesn't Hold Up
The comedian says a mob of SJWs bullied his trans friend into suicide. The evidence says otherwise.
The final third of Dave Chappelle’s comedy special, The Closer, is an extended Some of My Best Friends Are Trans anecdote. Daphne Dorman was a comedian, actress and former software engineer who, according to Chappelle, stood out of the crowd at his small-venue San Francisco shows by both being trans and laughing at his trans jokes. They met after one of his sets and he eventually asked her to be his opening act.
Chappelle described his friendship with Dorman in a “hidden ending” to his 2019 special Sticks and Stones. She was thrilled to be name-checked by one of her favorite comedians and posted about their relationship on Facebook and Instagram. On Twitter, she defended Chappelle against charges of transphobia.
According to Chappelle, this statement of support sparked a wave of vicious harassment from the LGBT community.
“It took a lot of heart to defend me like that, and when she did that the trans community dragged that bitch all over Twitter,” Chappelle says in the last few minutes of The Closer. “Six days after that wonderful night I described to you, my friend Daphne killed herself.”
Chappelle attributes Dorman’s suicide, at least in part, to the avalanche of abuse she received from other trans people. “I don’t know if it was them dragging or, I don’t know what was going on in her life but I bet dragging her didn’t help,” he said. “I was very angry at them, I was very angry at her.”
Since the release of Chappelle’s special, the narrative that Dorman was bullied into suicide by other trans people has taken hold in right-wing media and Just Asking Questions Twitter.
It has also, as these things often do, migrated to “serious” publications. Here’s The Economist repeating Chappelle’s description of Dorman’s suicide.
Where’s The Evidence of An Online Mob?
Chappelle is making a serious accusation. Blaming a specific person or group for “hounding” someone into suicide amounts to a charge of murder. Given the complex nature of mental illness and self-harm, cases where the facts warrant such an accusation are extremely rare.
So what’s the evidence that online bullying from trans people led Daphne Dorman to take her own life?
None. There is none.
Chappelle’s wording implies that Dorman’s suicide happened shortly after she sent the tweet supporting him, but her post is from August 2019 and she killed herself in mid-October, nearly six weeks later. In the interim period, I could find no trace of online harassment or abuse.
Her tweet currently has hundreds of replies, but they’re almost universally from Chappelle’s fans after The Closer came out.
Back in 2019, according to archive.org, the tweet had just 12 replies. Another, jokier tweet about supporting Chappelle, had 9.
Of the contemporaneous replies that have been archived, none are critical. Here’s what they look like:
It’s like this across the internet. The Instagram post in which she declared her friendship with Chappelle doesn’t have any critical replies. Comments on her Facebook post announcing that she was opening for Chappelle are uniformly positive; so are the ones on Reddit after she posted about it there. She doesn’t appear to have said anything on Twitter or Facebook about receiving abuse. Her suicide note doesn’t mention bullying; nor do any of the obituaries written after her suicide.
I also couldn’t find any news stories from 2019 describing a campaign of harassment against Dorman. Right-wing websites will publish anything that makes trans activists look unreasonable. I find it difficult to believe that a trans woman was bullied by other trans people for supporting Dave Chappelle — basically the Platonic ideal of an alt-right clickbait story — and it didn’t show up in Breitbart, Spiked or the Daily Mail.
None of this means Dorman wasn’t criticized for her association with Chappelle. Other Twitter sleuths have found her debating the content of his special and whether their friendship meant that he accepted her. Maybe she felt attacked by these conversations. Maybe some abusive tweets have been deleted. Maybe she got nasty DMs or lost friends. We don’t know what being online looked or felt like to Dorman during those six weeks.
But listen again to how Chappelle describes this period:
“It took a lot of heart to defend me like that, and when she did that the trans community dragged that bitch all over Twitter. For days, they was going in on her, and she was holding her own ’cause she’s funny. But six days after that wonderful night I described to you my friend Daphne killed herself.”
Really? Trans activists were “dragging her for days” but left no public evidence of this whatsoever?
As a comparison, consider the case of “Prom Dress girl.” In 2018, a white teenager posted a picture of herself wearing a Chinese-inspired dress to a school formal.
Lefties found it and called it cultural appropriation; righties called the controversy SJW-ness gone mad, we all know how these things play out. But look how much residue this brief, minor, forgotten controversy deposited onto the internet. A simple Twitter search reveals thousands of posts and a half-dozen hashtags. Redditers discussed it, small-fry news sites wrote it up, YouTubers discoursed about it.
You could argue that Dorman supporting Chappelle was a smaller hubbub and left fewer traces, but none? Not a single mean reply or salty Reddit post?
Dorman, as far as I can tell, had roughly 600 Twitter followers at the time she defended Chappelle. She barely used Twitter and most of her posts have likes and retweets in the single digits. Maybe you want to argue that Dorman would have faced criticism if more people knew about her support of Chappelle, but the most plausible read of the evidence is that the internet simply didn’t notice.
What Is Chappelle Doing?
The narrative that Dorman was “hounded to death” by trans people relies exclusively on Chappelle’s word. Dorman’s sisters (who support Chappelle and call him an “LGBTQ ally”) attribute her suicide to PTSD from a traumatic childhood.
Her friend and former roommate says Dorman had battled suicidal thoughts for years. “The final blow,” she wrote in a Facebook post, “was a combination of her losing custody of her daughter, losing her job, and dealing with a lot of transphobic harassment on the streets of San Francisco.”
Speculating on the “real” cause of someone’s suicide, especially someone I’ve never met, feels reductive and gross so I’m going to stop here. I don’t know why Dorman killed herself and it’s none of my business.
For years now, right-wing media has cast trans people (and especially the dreaded “TRAs” — trans rights activists) as radical, hysterical and dangerous. The primary evidence for this claim is the frequency with which they bully their critics online.
This charge is irrelevant, of course. The fact that some percentage of gay people are jerks on the internet has nothing to do with the merits of gay marriage. Transphobes regularly bully and harass trans people online; their fellow transphobes appear not to think it invalidates their cause.
And yet, the charge of bullying has become central to anti-trans rhetoric. Here is Andrew “I’m against eugenics but” Sullivan arguing that trans rights activists have the power and cultural capital to “blackmail” their opponents into submission.
Here is a famous children’s book author arguing that cis women are “justifiably” terrified of being doxxed, fired or physically assaulted by trans activists.
This too is trickling into the mainstream. Last month, the CBC (sigh) argued that activists’ “slander and defamation” tactics were holding back the cause of trans equality. “I have been regularly appalled by the attacks on even well known celebrities, such as J.K. Rowling, Martina Navratilova and, most recently, Margaret Atwood,” the author wrote. Won’t someone think of the celebrities?
This is a classic tactic of reactionary backlash: Guide the debate away from the core issue (do trans people deserve equal treatment and protection under the law?) into irrelevant cul-de-sacs about “civility,” strategy and linguistics.
I don’t think this is operating at a conscious level. Few members of the JAQ-brigade would admit to believing trans people should be denied rights because some of them are mean on Twitter. But there is a reason this irrelevant accusation comes up so frequently in the trans “debate” — and why it came up during the Civil Rights Movement and Stonewall and women’s suffrage and every other struggle for minority rights.
“What if we give this group equality,” the majority population cries whenever a stigmatized group demands recognition, “and they don’t deserve it?!”
Trans Suicides Aren’t Trans People’s Fault
I’m going to write a separate post about whether The Closer is transphobic (gee I wonder what I’ll say), but it’s worth pointing out that Chappelle is not telling Dorman’s story in a vacuum. The United States is in the middle of a years-long, nationwide effort to deny medical care to trans kids, block bathroom access and ban LGBTQ books from classrooms.
Chappelle’s message isn’t just congruent with these efforts, it’s even more batshit. According to a 2020 study, queer and trans kids who die by suicide are five times more likely to have the word “bullying” in their death records than straight and cis kids. More than half of male transgender teens and 30% of female transgender teens report attempting suicide at some point in their lives.
Is Chappelle really implying that trans people are the reason trans people are more likely to die by suicide? Are you fucking kidding me?
Chappelle presents his friendship with Dorman as a story of empathy, two people from different walks of life finding common ground. But when you reduce it down to its core elements, what has Chappelle actually learned? He told some transphobic jokes, trans people criticized him, a trans woman told him they were incorrect, then they hounded her to death.
There is no arc here. Chappelle started out thinking trans people were unreasonable, then he met One Of The Good Ones, then her community acted unreasonably toward her — with devastating consequences.
This would be irresponsible even if it were true, but the specifics of Dorman’s death make it unforgivable. The lesson Chappelle wants to leave you with is the opposite of empathy: It is not be nice to trans people, it is watch out for trans people.