WASHINGTON, DC — on a park bench looking out at the COVID-induced eerily deserted streets of the nation’s capital, I couldn’t help but shiver in nervous anticipation. Occasionally, a figure would shuffle along in the distance, and I’d wonder. Still, each time it turned out to be anyone but her: a vagrant, a dog walker, an unaccompanied child followed by a suspicious and dilapidated station wagon.
I checked my watch and tapped my briefcase. It was starting to look more and more like I was being stood up. I couldn’t even be sure that Persephone Rose was a real person despite having spoken with her on the phone the evening prior. Maybe there was something to the internet’s conspiratorial musings that the enigmatic Emperor Pigs creator was actually a hoax or part of some really bizarre ARG.
I kept checking over my shoulder and squinting into the windows of nearby buildings, more and more convinced that I’d spot someone with a hidden camera documenting my every move. Eventually, I’d resolved to cut my losses and call an Uber back to Union Station when I heard a quiet, unsettling voice say, “hello.”
It was her. Even wearing the leopard print mask, I’d recognize those caterpillar eyebrows and the chipped purple nail polish anywhere. “Persephone Rose?” I asked.
“Yes.” She said, again in that alarmingly, neither feminine nor masculine voice that challenged the very fabric of reality with every syllable. “This is she.”
“Prove it,” I said.
She rolled her eyes and lowered her mask to reveal the hypnotically patchy stubble on her chin and around her mouth. A pattern so intriguing it had long been burned into my mind from binge-watching her “Not The Half Of It!” videos.
“Okay, okay!” I said, suppressing my gag reflex. “Put it back on.”
She complied. “What did you want to talk to me about?” Her tone was cold, now, as if I’d somehow offended her.
“I was hoping you could address the rumors about Emperor Pigs somehow relating to your life as a, uh, person of the transgender experience.”
Persephone Rose: Of course it relates to my life as a person of the transgender experience. How could it not?
ME: Because everything you do is tied to your transness?
PR: That’s absolutely right. I have no sense of identity other than being trans, that is the only thing I ever want to talk about, and none of my other hobbies or interests are of any relevance to anything.
ME: I thought so. Our readers will be delighted by your overt confirmation.
PR: The pleasure is mine.
ME: I’m forced to wonder, though, if you’re just saying this now all of a sudden because Lilly Wachowski said all of sudden that The Matrix is a trans allegory.
PR: Yes, that’s exactly right.
ME: Mmhm. I thought so. So what would you say to all the trans people and their allies who have expressed outrage about your employing harmful stereotypes of non-binary people?
PR: I understand why you feel that way, and I am deeply sorry.
ME: That’s it? You can’t rustle up a better apology? Aren’t you worried about being canceled?
PR: Not particularly, no.
ME: My God, you’re an entitled self-obsessed asshole.
ME: Okay, so explain this character, what’s her name… “The Androgyne?”
PR: They’re a they, not a her.
ME: Whatever, when they first appear on the show, they throw a hissy fit about being misgendered.
ME: Well, don’t you think that’s a little offensive, to do that for a cheap laugh?
PR: I think it’s real. I think it’s raw and honest. The Androgyne has no support network, they’re trying to figure themselves out, and they’ve never met another non-binary person.
ME: Yeah, but couldn’t you have presented her — sorry — it — I mean, them, in a more positive and respectful light? Every interaction with The Androgyne seems to be about poking fun of their gender identity.
PR: The Androgyne is a bit of an autobiographical character, actually. So yeah, they’re easily triggered, and constantly on the defensive about their identity, but when you’re living in an extremely transphobic and hostile world, this kind of all-consuming identity crisis is very real.
ME: But Emperor Pigs is a work of fiction, taking place in a fictional world, so who’s to say that world has to be “transphobic and hostile” as you put it? Isn’t there enough of that in the real world already?
PR: I’m saying it. The creator of the show. The world it takes place in is extremely transphobic and hostile. It’s also patriarchal, extraordinarily racist, and it runs on exploitative slave labor.
ME: That’s disgusting.
PR: That’s the point. The world of Emperor Pigs is an Earth allegory.
ME: I just think you could do better. You make trans people look like awkward, unstable self-obsessed morons?
PR: Oh, is that how you see it?
ME: Don’t try to tell me you don’t.
PR: I think “awkward, self-obsessed morons” could easily describe at least 90% of the characters in Emperor Pigs.
ME: Name one example.
PR: Well, Fernod, the quarter devil, for one.
ME: No, that’s too easy. Pick another one.
PR: Rove, K.T., Lord Holgar, Alberta, the Gluten Intolerant aliens, Gary, pretty much every customer, Jared —
ME: Jared, the vampire that wants to be a werewolf?
PR: That’s the one.
ME: I bet you’re going to try and convince me he’s a trans allegory too.
ME: I think you’re just a colossal fraud, honestly. A veritable shithead liar capitalizing on the real-world suffering of marginalized people in a sitcom for a cheap laugh and a quick buck. I think every word you’ve said to me today is some kind of a twisted joke in your sick little head. A way of alleviating your guilt — if you can even feel guilt — by doubling down on your mockery of trans people.
PR: I do have a bit of an affinity for meta, self-deprecating humor.
That was the moment I, Crippling Self-Doubt, ceased to exist. At least for now.
Emperor Pigs returns for season two sometime soon. Catch up on season one for free at EmperorPigs.com, or search for “Emperor Pigs” on your favorite podcatcher.