Friends’ Marta Kauffman Regrets Misgendering Trans Character

Marta Kauffman
Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

More regrets. Friendscocreator Marta Kauffman expressed remorse over the way the show depicted a trans character days after she said she was embarrassed by the show’s lack of diversity.

“We kept referring to [Helena] as ‘Chandler’s father,’ even though Chandler’s father was trans,” the producer, 65, said during an interview with BBC World Service’s The ConversationSet to air Monday, July 11. “Pronouns were not yet something that I understood, so we didn’t refer to that character as ‘she.’ That was a mistake.”

Kauffman was referring specifically to Charles Bing, a character who was stage-named Helena Handbasket. Kathleen Turner. Helena and ChandlerMatthew Perry) had an awkward relationship in the show after she split from Chandler’s mom, Nora (Morgan Fairchild).

Since Friends — which also starred Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer Matt LeBlanc — ended in May 2004, public sentiment about the show’s depiction of Helena has vastly changed, with some critics calling the character transphobic. Kauffman for her part noted that her own approach towards trans issues has changed significantly over the past decade.

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Kathleen Turner and Matthew Perry

“I like very much to create an environment where we have a happy set and a happy crew,” she told the BBC. “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 for making a joke about transcamerapersons. That just can’t happen.”

In 2019, Turner, 68, said that she wouldn’t play Helena if offered the role today. “Of course I wouldn’t do it now because there would be real people that would be doing it,” the Romancing the Stone actress said during an episode of Andy Cohen Live: See What HappensAdding that cocreator David CraneShe was encouraged to take the role. “I thought, ‘A woman playing a man playing a woman, I haven’t done that.’ So, I said yes.”

Kauffman acknowledged last month that she now understands the reasons Friends critics have taken Friends to task for its lack diversity. “I’ve learned a lot in the last 20 years,” the Grace and FrankieThe cocreator shared the story Los Angeles TimesIn June. “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.”

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Kathleen Turner

After absorbing criticism about Friends‘ all-white cast, Kauffman decided to pledge $4 million to her alma mater, Brandeis University, to establish an endowed professorship in the School’s African and African American studies department.

The Philadelphia native said that she’s received “nothing but love” since announcing the endowment. “It’s been amazing,” she told the Times. “I’ve gotten a flood of emails and texts and posts that have been nothing but supportive. I’ve gotten a lot of ‘It’s about time.’ Not in a mean way. It’s just people acknowledging it was long overdue.”

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