Metro Weekly

Netflix’s ‘Tiger King’ portrays trans man as lesbian

Saff is presented and referred to as lesbian, but identifies and presents as male

saff, joe exotic, tiger king, netflix

Saff in “Tiger King” — Photo: Netflix

Netflix’s true-crime docu-series Tiger King has taken the internet by storm, but the series reportedly erased the gender identity of one of its stars.

The show follows gay Oklahoma-based animal breeder Joe Exotic, who was ultimately jailed for attempting to have his rival, animal rights activist Carole Baskin, murdered.

RelatedTiger King’s Joe Exotic files $94 million lawsuit claiming he was targeted for being gay

Tiger King has already drawn criticism for failing to focus on the abuse of the animals that Exotic bred and displayed in his zoo. And now, LGBTQ Nation reports that Saff, one of the zoo’s employees, is presented as a lesbian female, but actually identifies as male.

Saff — who is shown in the series being mauled by one of the zoo’s tigers, resulting in the amputation of part of his left arm — is repeatedly deadnamed and identified with the wrong pronouns by those around him.

Author Robert Moor, whose podcast Joe Exotic: Tiger King offered a deep dive into Exotic’s story, noted the discrepancy in Saff’s depiction in a Twitter thread.

“Saff, the person who got mauled by the tiger, told me repeatedly that he is trans, prefers to be called Saff (not “Kelci”), and uses he/him pronouns,” Moor tweeted. “So please do likewise.”

He added in an earlier tweet that “news broadcasts at the time, and most of the people at the zoo, use the wrong pronouns for Saff. (Joe was particularly bad about this.)”

Related‘Tiger King’ review: A human menagerie of cons, crooks, and animal exploiters

Speaking to Esquire about the way his gender identity was depicted in Tiger King, Saff said, “I don’t care if they’re calling me she; I don’t care if they’re calling me he. On a daily basis, I am called 17 different things. I never really took it to heart.”

He said that during his time in the Army, “they always use last names. So, Saff was my preferred name. And I’ve always gone by him since I could say that out loud. My family was always very supportive — it was never an issue.”

Read more:

Netflix’s ‘Money Heist’ criticized for not casting trans actor in trans role

Georgia police criticized after arresting nine men in Grindr sex sting

Transgender woman fined for violating Panama’s gender-based COVID-19 rules

Support Metro Weekly’s Journalism

These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!

Rhuaridh Marr is Metro Weekly's online editor. He can be reached at

Leave a Comment:

Support Metro Weekly's

LGBTQ Journalism

For as Little as $1.15 a Week

Like What You're Reading?

Get Metro Weekly's Daily Email