Monday, April 22, 2013

Lenny Bruce, Corporal Klinger, and a Clean up in Section 8

Crass, obscene, and arguably the
conscience of his generation.
Lenny Bruce was a comedian. Corporal Klinger was a punch line.

Lenny Bruce was offensive, vulgar, and by today's standards, unacceptable. And we have Lenny Bruce to thank for our standards today, partly because he turned his day's standards on their heads. 

Before his career as a comedian, Lenny Bruce was thrown out of the Navy with a Dishonorable Discharge because he 1) performed some kind of comedy routine for his shipmates while he was dressed in drag, and then 2) convinced his Commanding Officers that he was having "homosexual urges."

That's how things were back then.

Spring forward about 25 years, and pop culture is quite taken with a fictitious character named Corporal Maxwell Klinger on the TV series M*A*S*H.
A punch line

Stealing a cue from Lenny Bruce, the show's creators decided Corporal Klinger was a straight guy from Ohio, cleverly seeking early release from the Army on a Section 8 psychiatric discharge. His gimmick? Klinger wore dresses. 

Although he was entertaining, he was never taken seriously. He was a joke, a counterfeit. A ploy.

As the series continued, Klinger eventually left the dresses behind, began being taken seriously, and ultimately received a promotion to Sergeant.

Corporal Klinger was not what we now call "transgendered," he was in drag--and there is a world of difference between the two. Admittedly, drag and Drag Shows are a ton of fun. We laugh at ourselves and at all the crap we bring to the concept of gender and God help us if we ever let that go.

Being transgendered, though, is entirely different--it's not silly, it's not a show, a ruse, or a deception. Transgendered people are people--three dimensional, with dreams and abilities and contributions to make to a world in desperate need. 

Until fairly recently, transgendered folks were, like Klinger, not taken seriously until they "lost the dress."

This mindset is changing in the midwestern US, thank God. In my church family, among my colleagues, even in the culture at large, the T's in LGBT are better understood and received. This is overdue.

And as for Lenny Bruce, his Dishonorable Discharge was later changed to Discharged Under Honorable Conditions, due to "unsuitability for the naval service."