Heard the one about the ladyboy? Media jokes about trans people are not acceptable
Impressionist Morgana Robinson claimed last week that: “you can tell a tranny by their hands and their feet.”
Does the star of Channel 4’s Very Important People congratulate herself when she spies a woman with large shoes? Does she smile and think “Ah, look, it’s one of those trannies”, or is she humble; does she see it as an easy-peasy guessing game? I can only speculate.
I’m a trans woman and I hear these stupid comments daily. “Transsexual” has become shorthand for someone ridiculous, someone unnamed, someone that nice, middle-class people probably don’t know. Transphobia has passed the dinner table test because those who mock trans people simply don’t expect to see one of us at their dinner tables. I’d like to petition high profile trans newsreaders and politicians to raise awareness, but none exist. Trans people are today’s Aunt Sallys – and comics throw pies at us with impunity.
Take BBC3’s Snog Marry Avoid! If you’re lucky enough never to have seen it, the format involves a fictional computer called POD who “makes-under” anyone with a remotely individual look. Participants are dressed down both verbally and physically before finally emerging in exquisite blandness. Here’s how it went last week:
POD: Who are you?
Participant: I’m Rachel
POD: Are you sure it’s not Richard?
POD: POD computes that with those eyebrows, eyelashes and ridiculously big hair, you look like a transsexual
Rather poor form from a channel aimed at young people, don’t you think? As Julia Serano remarks in the wonderfully polemic Whipping Girl, as well as being offensive to trans people, the “you look like a tranny” line is also deeply misogynistic. Look, it says, you’re doing femininity all wrong – you must be a man! The BBC dismissed complaints against SMA with a sorry-you-were-offended, and described POD’s pejorative use of transsexual as “a light-hearted comment”. I disagree. I don’t know if I meet BBC3’s ideas of what trans people look like, but the fact I’ve got a reasonably acceptable face is something of an achievement. It was punched, kicked and spat on repeatedly during ten years or so of “light-hearted” bullying at school. Ha-ha.
Suicides of gay teenagers have received widespread attention recently. Do you suppose the situation is better for trans youth? A recent American study revealed that 41% have tried to kill themselves (compared to 1.6% of the general population). Perhaps they “looked like transsexuals” and couldn’t, therefore, go around their daily business without being abused and ridiculed – like the 79% of British trans people who’ve suffered verbal and violent harassment. A disproportionate number are murdered.
But just what do “transsexuals” look like? Germaine Greer says we’re “ghastly parodies of women”. Actually, we’re as varied as the rest of the population: check out #WhatTranssexualsLookLike on Twitter and see for yourself. Some of us wear makeup; some don’t; some of us are fat, some thin, some have bad breath and some of us (like me!) you want instantly to jump into bed with. And we aren’t all going in the same direction, either. Chaz Bono has done wonders to promote visibility of trans men, yet vacuous pundits still use “transsexual” to denote some absurd, pantomime dame version of femininity.
Of course, when trans people do conform to narrow beauty standards, we’re presented as deceivers. Cue Stand Up for the Week comic Paul Chowdhry, who recently humiliated a trans woman for entering Brighton’s Next Hot Model. Prepare for some “edgy” satire:
Chowdhry: This week right a Thai contestant beat hundreds of women to the final of a UK beauty competition. Here’s the contestant…
[Shows image of woman]
Chowdhry: Nice innit? She had real balls to enter that competition!
Chowdry: Cos it’s a geezer!
Chowdhry: That’s not a bird, this is a bird
[Shows image of muscular woman]
Chowdry: See these birds together; which one would you rather deal with?
He then mocks the contestant’s “giveaway” blokey voice. Side-splitting, isn’t it? I was particularly disappointed to see this aired on Channel 4, which signed a document last year calling for improved trans representation. Channel 4 has made huge strides forward, but clearly there’s still some way to go.
Ultimately, I’m most offended on behalf of comedy. I mean, knob-jokes – really? People are more likely to yawn than laugh. I met with Jonathan Ross earlier this year after I complained about a similar ladyboy skit on his ITV show. He admitted it was weak material. Why did someone with Rossy’s profile agree to meet me though?
“Because I knew I could’ve got away with it, and that seemed unfair.”
Ross is right. The media are annoyingly tolerant when it comes to gender based bigotry. In a fair and free society, which respects the humanity of all its members, this must stop. Time for some different jokes, folks.Tagged in: Aunt Sally, bbc, Brighton's Next Hot Model, channel 4, Chaz Bono, gender, Germaine Greer, Jonathan Ross, ladyboy, Man, Morgana Robinson, paul chowdhry, POD, SMA, Snog Marry Avoid!, trans, trans people, trans representation, Transphobia, transsexual, Very Important People, woman
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter