One of the things I love most about comedian Cate Gary is how much she gleefully fits the right’s caricature of a lefty. Reading snarky tweets about us liberals and our radical lifestyle choices, I feel downright boring, sober, pajama-wearing hetero married to another white person that I am. Oh that for even a weekend my life could be half as exciting and scintillating as talk radio hosts and YouTube “experts” imagine it to be. While I know for a fact Cate and her partner also spend plenty of boring nights together watching TV, they are, on paper at least, exactly the right-wing nightmare of what us evil liberals would like to enforce as the mandatory new normal.
Just imagine the talk jock getting excited to the point of yelling (they’ll apologize afterward, dear listeners, as if it doesn’t happen at least once per show) describing Ms. Gary’s home life. “This ‘comedienne’ billing herself as The Trumpslayer, lives in California, of course she does, and she works in tech, surprise. She’s in a relationship with another woman, but she didn’t used to be. She didn’t leave her husband or boyfriend for her lesbian lover, oh no, her lover left their own gender! Her partner Robin Tran used to go by Robert. I’ll let that sink in. Robin realized she was Robin a couple of years ago. And they parade this! They hold this up as something to be proud of with their ‘comedy’ show "Unconventional Lesbians." Robin indeed jokes about telling her hardworking, immigrant parents that she was transgender. She jokes about this, people!”
I love it. And Cate and Robin love it. They do indeed tour their show "Unconventional Lesbians" and tell their story, hilariously and proudly. I asked Cate to tell me more about taking her and Robin’s relationship to the stage.
They met in the open mic comedy scene where they were both young stand-up comedians struggling to find stage time and develop their comedic voice. “When we originally went out, we were just two open micers in love in what we presumed was a heterosexual relationship.” The couple were still new when Robin began to transition, and, much to her relief, Cate didn’t seem to think it was much of a big deal for their relationship. “We’re both comedians; our first thought was ‘Hey, why don’t we try to make this into a stage show?’ because we have no shame!”
Despite the self-effacing tone, Cate did see a real value in her and Robin’s tale. Having heard many weepy tales of couples torn apart by transgenderism, they were excited to have a happier story to tell. And the response has been great, with profiles being done by Pacific Standard magazine, and OC Weekly, as well as a short documentary about Robin called "Tran."
Their shows have also been well attended. People are curious, enthusiastic, and Cate says, “We’re both really fucking funny.”
Part of what makes their story so interesting is how little impact Robin’s transition seemed to have on their relationship and their life together. Cate is candid and graphic describing how little impact it had on their sex life. “That’s the big hang-up people have, like ‘Oh the dick was really important with our fucking’ and we weren’t even using it,” she says, laughing.
Facebook fans saw Robin going on her first exhilarating shopping trips to buy dresses, blouses, and skirts, usually with Cate, who does not dress particularly femme herself, coming along for the assist. And there was the pronoun shift. Once again, Cate didn’t see a problem. “I’m like a grammar nerd, so that was just a fun exercise to me.”
I imagine Robin nervous all day prepping for a really heavy, difficult coming-out conversation, and Cate responding with “You’re trans? YES! I gotta call my agent. This is fucking gold!”
Cate laughs at this and considers what a boring stage show it would be if they were just an interracial, hetero couple.
With this background, nobody will be surprised to hear that Cate Gary is not a Trump supporter, but she has earned herself a reputation even among the radical left for her strong opinions, and pugilistic manner of expressing them when it comes to the forty-fifth President of the United States. When I type Trump’s name into a Facebook search, Facebook auto-fill suggests I may be looking for Cate Gary, The Trumpslayer.
Observing from afar, Donald J. Trump would seem to occupy most of Cate’s thoughts over the last year and a half.
“Ha ha. You think I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about 45?”
I don’t. I worry too many of us don’t give this disaster of a presidency enough of our time and attention, but the reality of burnout and depression steps in and requires us to take breaks to watch some cute animal videos or maybe indulge in some comics or cartoons that keep the cynicism and nihilism more comfortably vague and abstract. Cate doesn’t struggle with this same fatigue.
Even when she does take a break, it’s more likely, she explains, that life just got too busy. She assures me she is still thinking of her nemesis. “I just don’t have time to get on the phone and compose something that’s not just a string of capital letters and obscenities. It takes a little bit of artistry to keep the anti-Trumpism fresh.” She remembers that even as an entertainer with a mission, she is still an entertainer.
But what of the ceaseless negativity flowing back toward her? She leaves her posts open to public comment, making herself accessible to Trump trolls around the clock.
“Oh yeah. It’s like the walking dead. There’s a certain absurdity to them.” But the comedian’s greatest struggle where the hateful attacks are concerned is just worrying about herself, and whether it’s healthy that she finds them so amusing. “We have been taken over by a large group of people who are not intelligent enough to realize how incompetent they are and that they are willingly giving people the tools to their own destruction. I find that hysterical,” she says with a laugh. “I’m weird like that. It’s a very dark gallows humor to me.”
Is there a use to this countertrolling, beyond entertainment? Cate says absolutely, feeling that her egging them on prevents them from maintaining any mask of civility. They show themselves for what they are as they post explosive, hateful screeds at her, full of homophobia, misogyny, and a mind-bogglingly poor grasp of the grammar and spelling rules of the language they want to insist all immigrants speak. Keeping this vitriol on display makes it harder to play down their angry potential.
There are those who take countering the alt-right a step further, like those who, when confronted with a proud and blatant racist like Richard Spencer, respond with a punch to the face. Cate approves. “Heroes! They’re the true patriots.”
Cate has jokes about the effectiveness and legitimacy (and pleasure) of calling Trump supporters Nazis. So, is it okay to punch anyone in a MAGA hat?
“You know . . . ” Cate pauses. “I want to say yes, that’s my first impulse [laughing] but I’m thinking, oh, little old lady, so, it’s really . . . it depends. Are they also actively endangering people, out there trying to intimidate people? You know, are they like wearing a MAGA hat by a PRIDE parade, and representing that they’re going to start some shit?
“Then, yes, punch, punch away. If they’re one of the propagandists talking about whatever Richard Spencer calls genocide, you know, like quiet riot or whatever he likes to call it, they’re propagating the idea. Punch them, absolutely.”
Cate says, with a laugh, she would not go to an Internet Trump supporter’s house and punch them in their sleep. “But when they get up, and put their MAGA hat on, and go out and start shit, yeah, then they’re punchable.”
During the 2016 campaign when Trump referred to Mexican immigrants as being criminals, drug dealers, and rapists, when many immigrants and their allies showed up to throw eggs at Trump supporters and otherwise confront them with what they were supporting and the damage they were attempting to inflict, many of us lost friends if we were unwilling to condemn this.
Cate is unconcerned with the word “Nazi” losing its effectiveness from overuse. “Generations of men have been terrorized into toeing the toxic masculine line for fear of being labeled gay, which means name-calling has a tremendous impact on shaping the culture. So keep calling Nazis Nazis. Let’s make the term so widespread that even children in schoolyards start using it against their protofascists.”
While I generally stick to discussing the morality of punching Nazis, Cate sees a possible legal justification in the definition of fighting words. She mentions a case where teenager Justin Carter was arrested in Texas for saying on Facebook, sarcastically according to him, that he’d shoot up a kindergarten.
“So, if you piss off white parents, fighting words, the state can bash in your door and take away your freedom. I would apply the same standards to, yeah, you talk shit about Mexican people, he says he’s going to rip families apart and deport in record numbers, yeah, fuck yeah, them are fighting words.”
It’s a great irony that many of the same people who will get upset at you for saying you don’t condemn or disagree with these acts of violence will threaten violence in response. Cate has received vague threats, like comments about throwing liberals in ovens, as well as pictures of nooses. “Just pictures of nooses, like I’m gonna fuckin’ piss myself. They’re very passive-aggressive about it.” And she keeps herself ready in case she is doxxed, something she doesn’t live in great fear of. “I want to leave this shithole anyways,” she says with a laugh. “I’m mentally prepared.”
Luckily, and despite the way it sometimes looks, the majority of Trump’s online harassment army are not skilled hackers. “I’ll be arguing with a Nazi and he’ll go to my LinkedIn page and be like, ‘Oh, I see you live in San Diego.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, a swing and a miss, fucker.’”
And while she is proud to display her extensive collections of enraged alt-right fanboys, there is a level of anger that can send her reaching for the Block button. “I’m not trying to get murdered.”
That she’ll meet one of them “in the real world” is of course a real and present danger. As stand-up comedians, our schedules and whereabouts are, by necessity, public. Cate’s YouTube videos cheering on “Nazi” as the long-awaited “n-word” you can use to upset white people is seeing a constant inflow of comments, many of them threats. She mostly dismisses the threats as empty, and delivered by cowards acting brave behind keyboards. She describes becoming numb to them after a while. “But I’d be an idiot if I didn’t have in the back of my mind that one of them might [make good on their threats]. I’m gonna learn how to fire a gun.”
While Cate’s partner Robin faces the risk of harassment and violence just for existing openly, her style is considerably less pugnacious. I wonder if she worries about Cate antagonizing such angry and often unhinged people.
“I think she’s worried, more worried than she’ll let on. But she knows I’m not gonna stop so she tries to be supportive.”
It does seem most online threats are idle, as they are hastily made, and if you wait them out, you slowly drop down the troll’s enemy list as new names are added hourly. But occasionally things heat up, especially when mobs attack online, egging one another on and rousing one another up, and they doxx, and sometimes, they do in fact kill.
“They’re so much fun to rile up, so I’m willing to roll the dice on that,” Cate says, dismissing the risks with a shrug and a laugh. And she delights in their angry, over-the-top reactions, collecting screen caps like scalps, each one a notch in her gun. “If they didn’t get upset, I’d consider that joke a failure.”
Cate understands that not everyone has the same energy and stamina for going one-on-one with the worst people in our society, and she doesn’t judge. “Honestly, as long as you’re not tap-dancing for Nazis, I try not to judge too harshly. No appeasing, but you don’t have to throw a Molotov cocktail into their house, either.”
And it’s not all hate and veiled threats—Cate is getting her share of fan mail, also. Every day she receives messages from people, many of whom express that they’re not in a position to tell their racist brother he’s a jackass, or their misogynist boss that he deserves the anger and loneliness that are consuming him, and they’re glad that Cate is willing to be their voice.
Does it happen that they occasionally offer a challenging rebuttal, or some satisfying discourse? Not so much. She’s getting the same tired and retread arguments. “They’ll say ‘You use Nazi and it loses its power’ or ‘You know who the real Nazis are?’ and it’s Hillary Clinton. I’ve never been surprised by the freshness of a rebuttal from them, never. I would eat my hat if someone ever said something halfway witty in response.”
Comedian Kathy Griffin recently posed a challenge for the Trumpslayer crown when she posted pictures of herself holding Trump’s bloody head, causing much uproar, even among liberals. Cate loved it. “Hilarious. I thought when that photo came out that she was doing what I’ve been hoping someone on the left was gonna do, stepping into the role of Ann Coulter of progressivism. Just straight up, ‘I’m going to offend Nazis and with any means possible,’ with plausible deniability so you don’t get arrested, like finding that line and walking it.” Ultimately, though, Griffin stepped away from that line but has not completely disowned it (her current tour utilizes photos in the same outfit holding a globe in place of Trump’s head and is titled “The Laughing Your Head Off Tour”). Cate suggests Griffin may have pissed off a Nazi who signs big checks.
Cate does not see Griffin or anyone else who goes after Trump as her competition. In fact, she is glad that harassing Trump and his supporters has become such a popular pastime and welcomes any and all to join the jokers’ brigade in resistance to Trump and the alt-right. “Comedy is a wrecking ball. You don’t even need to be able to play an instrument, or have any idea about how to pitch your voice. So many people can do it, and we need an army of people doing it.”
She is certainly not looking to take Griffin’s place. “I don’t want to host the New Year’s Eve Show. I would rather try to build a following and a career on the path that I’m on now without relying on wealthy Nazis to write my checks.”