Casual Transphobia – This Week on the ABC

I’m usually a huge fan of the shows broadcast on Australian tv station ABC, but tonight I’m more than a little disappointed.

Comedian Charlie Pickering’s latest project, The Weekly has been a relative success (at least in my book). The program, in the style of the American ‘Daily Show’ is largely entertaining, informative and surprisingly insightful. Pickering has tackled serious, newsworthy topics with sensitivity and intelligence – and tonight was no exception. Opening with the ongoing debate regarding footballer Adam Goodes’ “war dance” during the Indigenous round football game last weekend, Pickering used Goodes’ overt display of Indigeneity to herald a segment regarding the outlandish incarceration rates of Indigenous people. The segment was equal parts hard-hitting and sensitive, informative, and well overdue.

However, the piece also overshadowed a more troubling story earlier in the program, which seems to have been largely ignored. Tom Gleeson hosts a segment each week, named “This Is What You Think”, and this week the Australian public were schooled to think in terms of transphobia and mockery. Alleging to explain the recent developments regarding Caitlyn Jenner’s very public debut as a transgender woman – Gleeson went on a bizarre rant, coming very close to accusing Jenner of ‘faking’ as some sort of stunt, admitting to understanding very little of transgender issues and reducing the entire situation to farce.
Mid-rant, Pickering interrupted, asking “Isn’t that transphobic?” to which Gleeson responded “Probably! I have no idea what I’m doing!” This aroused a round of laughter, because casual transphobia is a barrel of laughs.

This is horrific on many levels, not least because the ABC tends to view itself – and be viewed – as a more progressive, left leaning broadcaster – one would hope for more empathy and understanding were this really the case.

More important than the bruised ego of one TV station, is the careless cruelty of the piece in the first place. Reducing Jenner’s courage in coming out so publicly to a joke, implying it is a publicity stunt is shockingly insensitive and could have untold consequences ย The harm that could have been caused to individuals throughout Australia as they watched their televisions tonight, and saw what was thought of them is crippling. Laughing at what can only have been a monumental decision, many years of fear, pain, and confusion and a life altering journey is despicable and I am so disappointed. As arguably the most respected broadcaster on Australian free to air television, the ABC must hold itself to a higher standard and take responsibility for the consequences of being held in such high regard. If this was meant to be satire (which, it has been pointed out to me, it might have been) it missed the mark by a lonnnnnnng way. Satire is only effective when it doesn’t victimise already vulnerable populations. The general rule of only punching up seems a good one to abide by

I understand people not knowing what to say, or how to react – but the answer isn’t making insensitive jokes. Thinking of any other subsection of society, jokes at the expense of a minority or vulnerable group are grossly offensive. Instead we are encouraged to be open-minded, learn the appropriate ways to speak, and wonder at how quickly the ‘other’ is normalised. I would argue that the same is applicable here. Though I doubt Tom Gleeson had any malicous intent, his actions are not excused by ignorance and I truly hope that he, and we all, can take the opportunity currently being given to us to learn and grow. Caitlyn Jenner risked ridicule, and allowed herself to be made incredibly vulnerable by so publicly coming out. She has done a great service for transgender communities and has given society another push towards having to make a choice. How do we treat people? How do we consider our humanity?ย Only last week, Margot was being heralded in The Age for her courage in coming out as transgender at such a young age – and tonight I feel like we’ve taken two steps backwards.

Well tonight Australia has told the world that we laugh at transgender people; we reduce their struggles to jokes and we shrug when challenged on our views. I have learned that the Australia represented by The Weekly is not safe for transgender people, does not take them seriously, and definitely is not an Australia I want to associate myself with.


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