Why Dr. Phil Is a “K/not-maker”

Phil McGraw, you must apologize! The travesty aired on 29 April titled “Daddy Drama” sanctioned homophobia/heterosexism, misogyny/sexism, and ignorance about the lives of transgender persons. Doc, you must attempt to repair this irresponsibly wrought damage.

“Daddy Drama” appalled me as someone who respects the health and wealth of human sexuality and gender. It is a respect that overcomes “training” by evangelical, White-middle-class, Midwest churches, which tied “k/nots” around my body, mind, and soul. I started to untie them by reading LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) publications including the Intersex Society of North America web site. Then I asked the Universe to bring me teachers, and today I am blessed with intelligent, creative, strong, beautiful friends who are lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and two spirit.

Some of you may ask, “Well what do you expect?!” when it comes to US mainstream talk-shows. Typically not much, but my expectations were raised by Oprah Winfrey’s 11 April show “Gay Around the World”. Guests included survivors of hate crimes and citizens of countries that criminalize sexuality. The context of dialogue – rather than monologue or sensationalization – made the event a rare opportunity in US mainstream television, with gay marriage legalized only in the states of Massachusetts and California (recently with its overturned ban).

For background, Dr. Phil came into the mainstream spotlight after millionaire Oprah Winfrey regularly invited him onto her now twenty-two-year old show. Yet Phil McGraw’s success by far is not limited to television with “a profitable lecture circuit, a webpage, a forum for giving advice on Match.com, and…five No. 1 New York Times bestsellers as well as several workbooks.” (See more of R. Danielle Egan and Stephen Papson’s article “Commodified Conversion and The Dr. Phil Show.”)

Some of you may ask, “Why are you watching mainstream talk shows at all?” Admittedly, I consume little television in my diet, usually Friday night delights Ghost Whisperer and Moonlight. An exception in recent weeks, though, is the afternoon talk show with my mom when she gets home from work. It’s one way we keep company before I relocate to Belgium.

Challenging knee-jerk responses in our gendered-sexualized world is essential to undoing homophobic and sexist cultural programming. From this mindset I recognized Dr. Phil as a “k/not-maker” in the show “Daddy Drama,” which featured Kayla – a parent who underwent MtF (male-to-female) transition – and her daughters. What is a “k/not-maker”? I’m working with a couple of figurations… Someone who uses “nots” as “knots”, a strategy of bondage securing bodies in useless positions that cut off the circulation of blood. Someone who tangles the lifeline when evacuating a sinking ship, a badly damaged vessel unfit to transport us on life’s sea of knowledge.

On “Daddy Drama” Dr. Phil tied “k/nots” around Kayla by pigeonholing her MtF transition in a vacuum. Besides Kayla’s daughters and ex-wife, the one “authority” figure included on the program was a doctor who works for the show, aka Phil McGraw. Glaringly absent from the conversation were advocates from queer communities and other parents who are transsexual or two spirit. (And who is queer? Check out Zak Szymanski’s article about “reclaiming how a queer sexuality itself is defined.”)

As exposed by Richard Lichtman in Counterpunch, Dr. Phil habitually talks out of both sides of his behind. During “Daddy Drama” the Doc solicited the im/possibility from audience members that “even if” one believed Kayla’s transition was “wrong,” for the person to consider the effectiveness of Kayla’s communication with her daughters. See the virtual raising of my electronic hands? Really, Dr. Phil, as if someone who moralizes identity – the “who” someone knows herself to be, not what another body tells her she is – would be able to momentarily pluck out their heterosexist/homophobic eyeballs!

Doc, the show “Daddy Drama” was an attack on minds, bodies, and souls on par with fundamentalists. Your “k/not-making” battered Kayla, her daughters, and any of us who aspire to transcend gendered sexualized dogmas. Ultimately, you broadcasted a diseased cheap message to the human family. This is why, Doc, you must apologize and attempt to repair the damage.

So, Dr. Phil, are you human enough to own up to this travesty and undo the “k/nots”of your show?

Readers, please share your comments! Dey of the Phoenix aspires to dialogue, a respectful exchange between individuals.
Breaking the Silence is a series of essays by Melissa Dey Hasbrook. The series’ concept is explained here: What Do You Think?.

Post updated: 26 January 2009.

Creative Commons License
Why Dr. Phil is a “K/not-maker” by Melissa Dey Hasbrook is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

This entry was posted in BtS, Sexuality&Gender. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *