100 SECONDS OF TRANSPHOBIA

By Mads Ananda Lodahl

A Danish TV host gave a fine display of all the most common forms of discrimination against transgender people in less than 100 seconds when he compared transsexuality to “a freak show” and “weirdos with perverse desires,” insisted on talking about a transgender woman’s body parts and consistently referred to her as “he” and as a man.

The name of the journalist is Søren Ø Jensen, and he was interviewing a lesbian LGBT magazine editor on the local TV station, TV2 Østjylland, on January 7th 2011, when he felt he needed to ridicule (an article about) the transgender woman, mother of two.

You can see the program here, but it’s in Danish. Coming at some point, probably: Version with English subtitles on YouTube.

What Søren did wrong

If Søren had been a professional journalist he would have researched the subject he chose to bring up in his program. If he had done that, he would have known that:

1. It is hurtful and offensive for a transsexual to be referred to by the gender that person was assigned at birth, and that you always talk about and to the person using the gender that the person identifies as. Or put in an even more understandable (but not completely correct) way: You talk about the person as the gender which the person wants to be.

2. Being transgender is not a sexual orientation, but a gender identity.

3. Even if he thinks it’s interesting what people have between their legs, it’s actually none of his business. And also: Gender is not (only) defined by body parts.

4. And while there’s nothing wrong with being a freak or a weirdo with perverse desires, it’s not a nice comparison if you don’t see yourself that way.

All of this could with a little (very much) goodwill be seen as unprofessional journalism. You could also call it the behavior of an ignorant hillbilly, who thinks he can get away with stepping on a minority.

But as the guest of the show, Tine Kristensen, corrects the host, who defiantly keeps calling the transgender woman a man, then that’s simply discrimination and disrespect. You could also call that being a fucking dickhead.

How people reacted

Luckily, Tine Kristensen did a good job answering him, and after being encouraged by several trans people, the small online LGBT portal Pridenews.dk brought a story about it, and transgender activists from LGBT Denmark have put together a complaint and sent it to the TV station.

However, in Denmark it is tradition that when minorities speak up for themselves as a reaction to unfair treatment, there is always a choir of idiots shouting the word “tudefjæs” (“whiny face”) in comment spaces in articles and blogs. Since they have all their privileges secured, they feel it’s their job to define righteous, queer anger as whining.

Surprisingly enough, Martin Møller Aamand, the chief editor of the member magazine of LGBT Denmark, joined this choir with an uncalled-for article in which he not only defended the transphobic TV host, but even attacked Pridenews.dk for bringing their story.

Martin didn’t see that there was a problem apart from, yeah well, okay it would have been nice, if the host hadn’t spoken of the trans woman as a man, but “such exemplary behavior, as we all know, is still wishful thinking.

The first step towards realizing this exemplary behavior is breaking down prejudice and ignorance (…) which the program definitely did, by even showing a well-functioning and happy transsexual person.” Blah blah blah…

I guess, if anyone hit Martin on the head with a rock for being gay, he would turn around and say: “Oh thanks for noticing me. Bad attention is better than no attention.”

But let me spell it out for Martin and everyone else who doesn’t see the problem. It’s pretty simple: You treat other people decently and respect their personal choices, and you don’t humiliate and belittle minorities just because you can.

Or as a reader writes in a comment to Martin’s article: “Necessarily, it must be the individuals themselves who define who they are. When the journalist consistently talks about the transgender woman as a man, he expresses that he knows best – better even than herself – who she really is.”

What I did

From countless encounters with discrimination I learned that people don’t always discriminate because they really want to. Often they do it because they don’t know any better. That doesn’t mean it’s okay. What it means is that if you feel like it, you can give them a chance to apologize and better themselves. And if you’re a really nice person, you can even help them better themselves.

I thought I was being a really nice person when I wrote Søren and told him what he’d done wrong, how he could have done it right and asked if he was considering doing something to make up for his mistakes.

He answered that he “didn’t mean to hurt anyone.” And well, that’s a sweet thing to say, but he obviously didn’t want to do the necessary work to make sure he didn’t hurt anyone either. He asked me to write his boss, Eva Kvist, but she didn’t agree with me, either, that Søren made a mistake. She thought the interview was “carried by curiosity and respect.”

When I asked if neither she nor Søren had thought about trying to make it good, she answered: “That’s correctly understood.”

Once you’ve given people a chance to understand why they fucked up, and they still insist they have the right to discriminate, you don’t have to cuddle their straight egos anymore. Then it’s okay to drag them through the mud on your blog. But anyway, here are a couple of ideas as to what Søren and Eva could do to make it up to the people they ran over:

What Søren can do now

1. Acknowledge that he fucked up.

2. Find out how he can treat transgender people with respect, so he knows the next time he is confronted with transgenderedness (and he will be). He can start here and here.

3. Apologize on TV and show that transgender people deserve the same respect as everyone else.

4. Make a decent program about and with transgender people (if he can find anyone who wants to talk to him).

5. Donate money to an organization fighting for transgender rights.

What you can do

1. You can write to Søren (evkv@TV2OJ.dk) and tell him what you think he should do. A lot of people already have. He usually forwards the mail to his boss, and she responds with “we didn’t mean to hurt anyone, but we didn’t do anything wrong” or some other arrogant stuff like that. But maybe if they get about a hundred more mails they’ll realize maybe they did actually fuck up.

2. See points 2 and 5 above.

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