Dr. Mrs. The Monarch and Being Trans In the Court of Public Opinion
My wife and I have an extensive and ever expanding list of Halloween costumes we want to put together as a couple. At the top of that list — Dr. Mrs. The Monarch and a genderfucked Henchman 21 from The Venture Bros. Had it not been for the pandemic, this would have likely been the year we would have put that plan into action. Aside from obviously being fans enough of the show to make the commitment to create costumes that intricate, I am naturally a baritone and often imitate the Missus’s voice randomly to make my own missus laugh.
Plus, getting more use out of the big, fake titties I bought for our Elvira/Svengoolie costume set last year would make me feel much better about spending as much as I did on them. We love a versatile garment.
At the time of writing, my wife and I just completed a rewatch of The Venture Bros in its entirety, something I suggested because it had been a long time since either of us had seen the series all the way from the beginning. It also has been about two years since the last season, so we were about due for news on season 8. Unfortunately, it was announced last month that the series was being canceled.
As nice as it is to know that Adult Swim did agree to work with the showrunners to somehow give the series a conclusion, it is still heartbreaking as I have been watching this show for most of my life at this point. As I’ve gotten older and changed, so has The Venture Bros. It grew up with me and that is even more evident seeing the earlier seasons of the show within the last couple months.
One of the most prominent examples of this growth is the repeated skepticism around Dr. Mrs. The Monarch’s “true” gender. Despite nearly universal attraction from the men in the show, there is still a lingering hesitation from most of them because, to paraphrase the sentiment of these characters and some fans, “she might actually be a dude”. This belief is centered entirely around her raspy and extremely deep voice — canonically attributed to many years of smoking. Despite the repeated insistence that the good Doctor was biologically born female from herself as well as characters who have known her very intimately like The Monarch or Phantom Limb, there are still plenty of characters who have their doubts.
Dr. Mrs. The Monarch started as a parody of Jackie Kennedy, including her iconic deep, raspy voice that was then elevated (or, in this case, physically lowered) by Doc Hammer for the character.
I’ve watched a lot of comedies where trans women or crossdressing cis men are the butt of the joke. It’s kind of my brand to subject myself to such things. So, I can recognize the comedic beats that lead to a punchline or “surprise” reveal of trans characters. In the first three or so seasons of The Venture Bros, it feels like the show is constantly leading up to a similar formula, but that punchline never happens. The joke of Dr. Mrs. The Monarch is as simple as her having a voice deeper than you’d expect, and you are an asshole for questioning it — just like the cast of jerks in this show’s universe.
I saw discourse over a similar situation recently in regards to Adam Sandler’s Hubie Halloween. (Look! This article is seasonally appropriate outside of the intro!) Throughout the film we hear the sultry voiced DJ Aurora and it is assumed that the radio host would be someone like Lynne Thigpen in The Warriors or Adrienne Barbeau in The Fog but upon Hubie’s arrival to the station, it turns out that this woman is actually Shaq. Like, normal looking Shaquille O’Neal who puts on this sultry and “womanly” voice when he DJs. Adding to the joke of not making assumptions you know what someone will look like based on their voice, we then meet DJ Aurora’s wife Bunny who is a cis woman (Betsy Sodano) with a voice deeper Shaq’s normal one.
I saw some people calling this “a joke at trans women’s expense,” and it’s clearly not. It’s Occam’s razor with comedy. The joke is as simple as these characters not sounding like you’d expect them to, and shame on Hubie (and the viewer) for jumping to their own conclusions. A trans read of a piece of fiction is not the same thing as trans representation, and it certainly is not the same as transphobia.
Dr. Mrs. The Monarch is my favorite Venture Bros character, one of my favorite women in fiction, and she, no matter what theories people have, is not trans. Short of Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick reversing a stance they have been staunch assured for over a decade, she will never be a trans character and I don’t need to write my own head cannon to co-opt her. In general, I feel like that is rude for people to do just so their community can score that win.
While the reality of this fictional character is that Dr. Mrs. The Monarch isn’t trans, however, if people think you are trans (or “a man” if you want to subscribe to that small brain energy) then in the court of public opinion…you are. Regardless of the actual circumstances surrounding your identity, you are guilty and it will be used against you.
This mirrors similar treatment of real-life cis women like the late professional wrestler Chyna, tennis champion Serena Williams, and former first lady Michelle Obama. The latter two being prominent examples of the way society sees and treats Black women as ways of discrediting their accomplishments and abilities. (There are countless articles written by people who are much more qualified to discuss that subject than me, I’ve linked to some of them here, here, and here.)
The Doc might not be trans, but there are trans elements to Dr. Mrs. The Monarch’s existence and there is power in that, at least for me.
Whether you have a dick or not, if people think you do…then you do. Dr. Mrs. The Monarch is an example of someone who has risen above and succeeded in spite of that judgement both in The Venture Bros universe and in the evolution of how this show and comedy is written in general. Trans or not, I love that. As this show evolved, the running joke of her gender was phased out entirely and this “masculine” characteristic was just treated as matter of fact. It was just a small part of the most stable, capable, and well rounded character in the entire show.
With the announcement of the show’s premature end, I can’t help but feel like I’m mourning a loss. There is no show who’s cancellation has been more personally devastating. Dr. Mrs. The Monarch (or Sheila, if we’re gonna get personal) is not a trans character but she does not need to be in order to be important to me. There is a lot that can be written about gender without sticking to the stringent criteria of trans experiences, because expectations exist in all forms. I came to terms with my insecurities a long time ago and that included my deep voice. Hearing that brassy croon be treated as such a normal thing means more to me than most forms of direct representation ever has. That might be the thing I will miss the most, but maybe the council will meet again one day.