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Friends Co-Creator Apologizes for Misgendering Trans Character

Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman and Kathleen Turner's character from the show Helena Handbasket.

The co-creator of the wildly popular '90s television sitcom Friends regrets misgendering the transgender parent of one of the show's main characters.

In an interview one week after she pledged a donation to compensate for the show's lack of racial diversity, Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman addressed the trans issue.

In a segment slated to air on BBC World Service's The Conversation next Monday, Kauffman apologized for referring to Matthew Perry's character Chandler Bing's transgender mother as his "father."

"Pronouns were not yet something that I understood," Kauffman told the BBC,which published excerpts of the interview online and shared them with several news outlets. "So we didn't refer to that character as 'she.' That was a mistake."

Kathleen Turner, who played the character in question, Helena Handbasket, said on Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen in 2019 that she wouldn't have accepted the role if it were offered to her again because real transgender people could play that character now.

There were numerous jokes about Chandler's "dad" on the show. Furthermore, the show conflated drag queens with transgender people, as Helena Handbasket had a drag show called Viva Las Gaygas. Kauffman confirmed that Chandler's "father" was trans, but the series never explicitly addressed her gender identity.

"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 Gay Times at one point. "It became a phenomenon, but no one ever took it seriously as a social comment."

It's not the first time Kauffman has addressed some of the show's more problematic elements.

"I think we didn't have the knowledge about transgender people back then, so I'm not sure if we used the appropriate terms," she told USA Today in 2019. "I don't know if I would have known those terms back then. I think that's the biggest one. Every time I watch an episode, there's something I wish I could have changed."

Kauffman, co-creator of the Netflix show Grace and Frankie, explained she now tries to cultivate an inclusive environment on set for everyone.

"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."

Kauffman spoke of the lack of diversity on Friends in a recent Los Angeles Times interview. While she initially defended the show, she donated $4 million to Brandeis University to establish the Marta F. Kauffman '78 Professorship of African and African American Studies.

"I've learned a lot in the last 20 years," Kauffman told the Times. I'm embarrassed that I didn't know better 25 years ago."

Kaufman commented during the BBC interview about the lack of Black characters on Friends.

"I'll never make that mistake again," Kauffman continued. "I was clearly part of systemic racism in our business. I was unaware of that, which makes me feel stupid."

If she knew then what she knows now, she would have changed many things in the popular sitcom.

"But I didn't know them, and I have since learned," she said.

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