'Friends' Co-Creator Marta Kauffman Says She Regrets How Show Misgendered Chandler's Trans Parent

"Pronouns were not yet something that I understood," Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman said, noting that not referring to the character of Chandler's transgender parent as "she" was a "mistake"

Marta Kauffman attends the Netflix - Rebels and Rule Breakers For Your Consideration Event at Netflix FYSee Space
Photo: Phillip Faraone/Getty Images

Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman affirmed that the beloved NBC sitcom made mistakes in how it handled Chandler Bing's (Matthew Perry) transgender parent.

Kauffman, a creator and writer on each of Friends' 235 episodes, told BBC World Service's The Conversation that the series was wrong to refer to the character, portrayed by Kathleen Turner, as Chandler's father.

"We kept referring to her as Chandler's father, even though Chandler's father was trans," Kauffman told the program. "Pronouns were not yet something that I understood. So we didn't refer to that character as 'she.' That was a mistake."

Turner appeared as Helena Handbasket in three 2001 episodes of the Friends' 7th season, her debut being in an episode titled "The One With Chandler's Dad."

The character was never fully acknowledged within the show as trans, and was frequently referred to as gay or a drag queen in her performances in Las Vegas.

FRIENDS, Season 7, Episode 22, Kathleen Turner, Matthew Perry, 'The One With Chandler's Dad',
Warner Bros./Courtesy Everett Collection

In an interview with The Gay Times back in 2018, Turner said that people thought the character "was just dressing up." The 68-year-old actress told the outlet that when she was initially approached to play the role, it was pitched to her as her being "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 the Times, adding in a 2019 appearance on Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen that she wouldn't do the role again "because there would be real people able to do it."

Kauffman, who co-created Friends alongside David Crane, emphasized in her interview with the BBC that she now approaches her professional environments drastically differently than when she ran Friends, which finished its 10-season run in 2004. The 65-year-old producer, who also co-created Netflix's Grace and Frankie, said that she enjoys creating "an environment where we have a happy set and happy crew," via E! News.

"It's very important to me that where we are is a safe place, a tolerant place, where there's no yelling," Kauffman said. "I fired a guy on the spot for making a joke about a trans cameraperson. That just can't happen."

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This is the second time in a week Kauffman has publicly expressed regret for how Friends' approach to diversity; on June 29, she told the Los Angeles Times that she has pledged $4 million to the African and African American Studies department of Brandeis University, her alma mater, in response to criticism of the show's lack of diversity within its cast.

"I've learned a lot in the last 20 years," Kauffman told the outlet. "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."

Her hope is that the donation will help the department to hire more expert scholars and teachers, and provide new opportunities for academic studies and research.

"In this case, I'm finally, literally putting my money where my mouth is," she told the L.A. Times, adding she wants to be "conscious in hiring people of color and actively pursue young writers of color" in her career moving forward.

Kauffman's full interview on The Conversation alongside Ghanian director and screenwriter Nicole Amarteifio will air on July 11, according to the BBC.

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