THE ABC has defended two incidents which aired on ABC’s Q&A program and published on ABC Online, which have been slammed by trans people for containing language deemed offensive and potentially dangerous.
Published on April 10, the feature article written by Dr Graham Willett – president of the Australian Gay and Lesbian Archives – discussed the country’s history of sexual fluidity which he wrote “when we bother to look, we discover that Australia’s past is chock-full of queerness”.
In the pieces, Willett described same-sex marriage in colonial times, lesbian romances between prisoners and first-wave feminism giving rise to middle-class romances between women.
He also told the stories of three people who identified with a gender different to what they were assigned at birth; Edward De Lacy Evans, Ellen Maguire and Bill Edwards.
In the article he uses the terms ‘cross-dressing’ and the pronouns ‘s/he’, which Melbourne trans student, Isaac Hamann said are problematic.
“The biggest problem I had with it, was the the guy talks about historical trans people as cross dressers and ‘this person did this and surprise it’s a woman,” they said.
“The combination of portraying trans women as a gotcha moment and cross-dressers is what gets trans women killed.
“In that time period if you’re living full time as a man or woman it’s not easy, so you’re not doing it for kicks, you’re doing it for real.”
However, a spokesman for the ABC defended the use of the terms: “the article in question is clearly looking at the history of the gay and transgender community and the use of historical language is as such justified”.
Hamann refutes those claims saying the author should have included a quote to say he was using a historical term and that the terminology would not be appropriate to be used in 2016.
“He is talking about a historical phenomenon of same-sex couples being together, and he uses the contemporary term for same-sex marriage, even though that term didn’t exist then. Why couldn’t he do the same for the trans stories?” they said.
“It’s also a problem because most of the audience is going to be cis-gendered and straight, who won’t be as aware of trans issues and they will be reading this presuming Graham is an authority on trans issues. But cis-gender queer people do not have the authority, they’re not trans.
“Portraying people as cross-dressers, it plays into the kind of societal beliefs that contribute to us, in extreme cases getting killed, but living with poorer mental health and physical outcomes.”
The controversy over Willett’s piece follows comments by writer Germaine Greer about trans issues on Monday’s Q&A program. She was asked by an audience member to clarify her position on trans issues, following transphobic remarks she made during a speech at Cambridge University.
Greer admitted her comments may have been wrong but said a person can’t know if they were born into the wrong sex.
“If you’re a 50-year-old truck driver who’s had four children with a wife and you’ve decided the whole time you’ve been a woman, I think you’re probably wrong,” she said on the show.
The ABC spokesman said its Editorial Policies cover any language or terminology that might be construed as offensive and acknowledges a public broadcaster “should never gratuitously harm or offend and accordingly any content which is likely to harm or offend must have a clear editorial purpose.”
“In both cases, Willet’s article and Q&A, the context was a serious examination and discussion of issues of discrimination and the use of language,” he said.
“If offence was taken by any viewers or readers, we regret that but it was entirely justified in the interests of a full and frank discussion of important issues. There was nothing in either that that could reasonably interpreted as condoning or encouraging prejudice against or stereotyping of transgender people.”
Star Observer contacted Dr Willet for an interview, but he declined to comment.