A 2018 episode of The Good Doctor has resurfaced, sparking discussion about the show’s handling of autistic and transgender characters. While the episode—season 1, episode 14, “She”—premiered five years ago, the show has been experiencing a resurgence on social media due to the viral “I am a surgeon” meme, taken from a scene in a 2019 episode. This renewed attention means that some of the more controversial aspects of the show are also receiving additional scrutiny, particularly regarding the show’s portrayal of autism and its alleged depiction of transphobia.
For those unfamiliar with the series, The Good Doctor is a medical drama that premiered in 2017 and follows the career of Dr. Shaun Murphy (Freddie Highmore), a young autistic surgeon working at San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital. Dr. Murphy also has savant syndrome, which occurs when an individual with a developmental condition, such as autism, demonstrates extraordinary skills and talents. In Dr. Murphy’s case, he is a medical genius who boasts unique capabilities, including a photographic memory. The show delves into the struggles he faced in childhood and his medical career, as well as the discrimination he experiences due to his autism, despite being very capable and exceptionally skilled.
While gifted, The Good Doctor also tries to portray Dr. Murphy’s neurodivergence accurately. As a result, he still struggles with things like emotional intelligence and social cues, as well as with managing sensory overload. At times, his autism does impact how he interacts with patients and can lead to him asking questions that may be inappropriate or invasive without realizing it. This is because he’s always hyperfocused on finding a diagnosis and approaching everything in plain and logical terms. However, some feel that The Good Doctor may have taken this point a little too far when it depicted Dr. Murphy’s interactions with a transgender patient.
Why people are accusing The Good Doctor of transphobia
The scene that sparked controversy occurs in the episode titled “She,” when a young transgender girl, Quinn (Sophie Giannamore), is admitted to the hospital for abdominal pain. When the topic of gender comes up, Quinn quickly explains to Dr. Murphy, Dr. Audrey Lim (Christina Chang), and Dr. Jared Kalu (Chuku Modu) that she identifies as a girl, which Dr. Lim and Dr. Kalu accept. However, Dr. Murphy interjects that she can’t be a girl because she has XY chromosomes. He concludes, “Science says he’s male.” When Dr. Kalu explains gender dysphoria to Dr. Murphy, he continues to insist that Quinn can’t be a girl. He even uses himself as an example, saying, “I’m not supposed to be anything. I am a boy. Biologically, that’s it.”
For the entirety of the two-minute scene, he continues to repeatedly misgender Quinn. He also begins interrogating Quinn about her enjoyment of girly things, saying that he wants to understand why Quinn “thinks he’s a girl.” When Dr. Kalu reprimands Dr. Murphy for disrespecting Quinn’s pronouns and asking her inappropriate questions, Murphy reveals that transgender patient care wasn’t a part of his medical curriculum. Still, it seems odd that a surgeon wouldn’t be familiar with the very concept of being transgender. Fortunately, by the end of the episode, Dr. Murphy has corrected his views on gender identity and accepted Quinn as a girl. Despite this conclusion, many still felt the original scene was distasteful.
Is The Good Doctor transphobic?
As the scene circulated on social media, many accused The Good Doctor of being transphobic. Even if it is meant to merely depict the difficulty that Dr. Murphy has in understanding his transgender patient, the scene does repeat very tired transphobic arguments about biology and science. Having someone who is considered a genius deny the possibility of being transgender and repeat an ideology often expressed by transphobic bigots is very problematic.
Plus, aside from some light reprimands, there aren’t consequences for Dr. Murphy’s blatant disrespect of a patient’s pronouns. Some users on social media erroneously claimed that the “I am a surgeon” meme is related to the “She” episode and depicts Murphy being fired for his transphobia. However, the meme is wholly unrelated to “She,” and Murphy was not fired or disciplined at all for his unprofessional behavior—an aspect some viewed as The Good Doctor saying that neurodivergence is an excuse for being transphobic, or that those who don’t understand gender identity aren’t required to educate themselves or be respectful. Others also mentioned that conservatives are already using the scene completely out of context to try to back up their own discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community.
Social media users also slammed The Good Doctor for just assuming that this is how an autistic individual would respond to a transgender individual. First of all, there’s no way to really determine how autistic individuals would respond to the idea of gender identity. No two individuals on the spectrum are the same, so trying to imply that Dr. Murphy’s transphobia is a direct result of being autistic is very inaccurate. This ties into wider concerns that viewers have about the show’s depiction of autism. After all, The Good Doctor centers on an autistic individual, but he’s portrayed by a neurotypical actor. All of the writers, directors, and producers on the series are neurotypical (though, as Slate noted in 2017, some of the show’s visual effects crew were enrolled in a training program for young adults with autism). Suggesting that Dr. Murphy wouldn’t understand gender identity is just one example of the ways the show decides how neurodivergent individuals think, feel, and respond to the world without even consulting them.
Others didn’t find the scene to be problematic since Dr. Murphy changes in the end, but some pointed out that this wasn’t the most sensitive way to depict a redemption arc. The consensus seems to be that The Good Doctor’s depiction of Dr. Murphy’s interactions with a transgender patient was very poorly handled, both because the blatant transphobia is difficult to watch and because of how inaccurate and potentially harmful its portrayal of autism is in that scene. However, there’s little indication that Dr. Murphy’s statements actually represent the views of the writers and creators behind the show. After all, Dr. Murphy’s co-workers and the patient are all very quick to correct him, and the episode makes it clear that his views are wrong.
Saying that The Good Doctor as a whole is transphobic may be inaccurate, but its decision to make an autistic doctor transphobic shows quite plainly why neurotypical individuals shouldn’t be writing about and portraying those on the spectrum.
(featured image: ABC)
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Some people with autism would not be able to get through medical school or the chaos of working in a hospital, but that is not to say this character is inaccurate. For the most part, The Good Doctor does a sufficient job of explaining what autism is and showing how it affects the main character.Why is everyone talking about The Good Doctor? ›
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Dr. Shaun Murphy (played by Freddie Highmore) is autistic, something that in the show lends him preternatural medical abilities in a way that plays into the autistic savant trope.How authentic is The Good Doctor? ›
The Good Doctor is fairly medically accurate
"The Good Doctor" has some errors but is more realistic than many other medical TV shows.
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The condition is typically diagnosed later in life. Surveys estimate that about 1 percent of doctors — primarily general practitioners and psychiatrists — are autistic. Many hide their diagnosis from their colleagues because they worry they will be stigmatized.Has The Good Doctor been cancelled for 2023? ›
ABC continues to shore up its lineup for the 2023-24 season. The network has picked up a seventh season of its medical drama The Good Doctor, marking the third renewal in as many days for the network. Earlier in the week, ABC renewed The Rookie and Will Trent for 2023-24.When did The Good Doctor get Cancelled? ›
The good news, for fans of The Good Doctor, is that the show hasn't been canceled. ABC, which airs the show, has renewed it for a seventh season. Going by previous seasons, it will most likely air in the spring/summer of 2024, though the ongoing writer's strike may affect that prediction.Is The Good Doctor mentally challenged? ›
Shaun Murphy's role in The Good Doctor, plays a surgeon that has autism spectrum disorder. However, Freddie doesn't have autism or any of its primary symptoms. He's keen on doing much research into the field, working alongside a consultant with the disorder to assist in the series' accuracy.
Shaun Murphy isn't based on a real person, but The Good Doctor was inspired by another source. In this instance, however, none of the inspiration came from real life. The show is an adaptation of a Korean drama of the same name, but neither the remake nor the original show based Shaun on an actual doctor.What syndrome does Leah have on good doctor? ›
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The Good Doctor was shot in Surrey and Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Filming also took place at the VCC Broadway Campus. Surrey City Hall was used as the fictional San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital.Why was The Good Doctor removed from Netflix? ›
Due to tight licensing restrictions imposed by different broadcast companies, The Good Doctor all 5 seasons are available on Netflix only in selected countries, including Portugal, Australia, Belgium, South Korea, and a few more.What form of autism does The Good Doctor have? ›
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Famous actors with autism
Here are a few examples: Mickey Rowe (the first openly autistic actor to play Christopher Boone in Simon Stephens' Tony Award–winning play “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”) Dan Aykroyd. Daryl Hannah.