The buzz on Black Twitter this past week saw online users unwittingly engaging in what I can only describe as a major cultural moment in South African trans identity politics. It also showed the urgent need for transformation and education within media for the LGBTQI+ community.
It all started last Monday when the team behind the highly popular show “Podcast and Chill with MacG”, released an episode in which the hosts used transphobic and divisive commentary in jest of trans lives. What ensued was a week long online debate on the validity and existence of transgender individuals. The online twar became so volatile that one user posted “Twitter is on fire tonight, stay home”.
As I watched the conversations unfold from the safety of my ghost account, there were two clear factions. The first camp was spearheaded by the LGBTQ+ community who seemed to be unilaterally determined to spotlight the problem and educate the public on the blatant transphobia that show producers had allowed to air. Meanwhile, the other camp, made up of mostly heterosexual persons, retorted to calling the responses from the LGBTQ+ community as “unnecessary and overly dramatic”. To add insult to injury it seemed that certain celebrities felt comfortable enough to support the online transphobia. One such person is non other than mega star Pearl Thusi, who retweeted homophobic rhetoric in support of MacG and Sol. Well, that didn’t take me by surprise much, I’ve come to understand that heterosexual women can be equally as complicate as men in fueling the toxic narratives that support the oppression of marganalised communities. However, the real gag for me was the deafening radio silence from so called long term straight allies, like DJ Zinhle, for one, who are usually quick to snap and post things like #queerloveislove but they were no where to be heard or seen from when, the trans community, needed voices like theirs most.
We see you.
On that note, I would like to address the now infamous Dr. Melusi who used his position of power to fuel the hate filled cancel culture that does very little to progress a culture of acceptance. To you I say, your actions were just as problematic as the actions of these very transphobic individuals. Like them, you lacked the knowledge to understand how to shift narratives to a more inclusive environment. I would like to urge you to look into how you can teach and correct individuals even within your community, to handle issues of inclusion and representation with the honesty, love and openness required to develop our message. To you, as a gay man, I say “Do better”.
But back to the matter at hand, and as if right on cue when things go nuclear on Twitter, it didn’t take long for the producers of the show to broadcast a public apology in the form of a “special episode” featuring Yaya Mavundla, a trans woman, publicist and activist. Yaya was one of the most vocal online commentators during last week who went as far as calling out performative allyship in and amongst local fag hag celebrities.
Well, I think we can agree, gone are the days where we can excuse transphobia or misogyny due to feigned ignorance. Trans people have been visible and the resources that amplify their existence are but a Google search away. But, there was one question that wouldn’t leave my mind all week, “Given the rates of discrimination and violence towards transgender people, specifically, and the flaws inherent in the existing models of coexistence and allyship, globally, how can we start a transformative dialogue or create spaces where trans people are finally heard and respected in main stream media and culture?”
So, as I sat down to watch the “special apology show” it was my full intention to do so with an open mind and without fear of another straight person pulling the ignorance card. I had assumed, that the hosts and producers would surely not air another episode without doing some real work to ready themselves to engage the trans community. Unfortunately, my hopes were short-lived, as the first in many micro-aggressions in the one-hour episode happened before I even pressed play. The episode’s thumbnail was made up of the trans pride flag but sullied by the show’s logo which features the images of these two very straight men. Now as a non-binary trans person, who understands the political importance of this flag, it felt highly insensitive and deeply out of place for this show to use it when a mere 4 days earlier they were referring to trans women as “chicks with dicks”. It felt like a rushed, overeager, disingenuous and weak attempt at performing allyship with our community. In that moment I knew that this episode will serve as a teaching moment not only for my own viewpoints on performative allyship, but for all of the visible queers who are always trying to be the better person when explaining their existence to straight people.
Ten minutes into the show, Yaya shrewdly asked the hosts if their public apology was motivated by the extreme backlash they received from the LGBTQ+ community?” She further went on to share, “During one of your past episodes, I remember you guys calling out Vusi Nova as bisexual and then in the same breath making a homophobic joke that either way that’s so gay. I remember calling you guys because I was trying to teach you guys, that its not ok to make jokes out of people’s identity.” Yaya further pursued that as hosts with a public platform the onus of responsibility falls heavily on the them, as public figures, to be mindful of their language and aware of the power their words hold in shaping the narratives they present to society.
In true heterosexual form, MacG rebutted with a comment that had me so gob smacked I needed a sip of wine. One would assume that after 4 days of viral engagement, at least MacG would have done some reflection, maybe even light Googling to understand his transphobia; instead he goes on to ignorantly ask Yaya, “Please help me understand, is it what we said or how we said it, that’s a problem?”
At that moment I knew that both of these hosts were involved in such an elaborate, self serving performance and that they had no real interest in understanding the most basic reasons their comments were dangerous. Their goal it seemed was saving face and regaining trust with corporate sponsors, like Old Mutual. MacG and Sol had demonstrated that they had no intention to do any of the real ally labour required to equip themselves with the knowledge and tact required to understand and relate to gender diverse communities.
So, from everyday white fragility to the violence of cis fuckery, to the clear transphobia this past week, we as the LGBTQ+ community are all too familiar with the performative excuses that some straight people often use, for example “I’m on your side, so you should be nicer to me” or “educate me, please, I’m still learning!” or, my personal favourite for every time I am forced to remind the same person to use my correct pronoun and they respond with “Can’t you see I’m trying?”.
It feels like a slap in the face when these so called allies refuse to do the work and are insisting on holding queer people accountable for their evolution. I no longer have energy to just use my existence to teach, especially when there is very little active learning taking place. The more I think about It the more I am resigned to the notion that “allyship” has become an elaborate performance that heterosexuals use to placate queer folk into a false state of comfort. There seems to be very little real intention from most heterosexuals to understand, acknowledge and respect gender diverse individuals.
In the last few minutes that I watch the “special show”, MacG testifies to my reservations when he confirms that in the 10 years since he first got fired for homophobic slurs on YFM, he had still done zero work in trying to educate himself on the the lived experiences of the LGBTQ+ community.
What a joke, my darling.
In conclusion., all this public apology highlighted to me was the rot that still exists in the media landscape and the gatekeepers who ensure our stories do not get the much needed representation required to start changing the status quo and to save trans lives. How can we create room for discourse when the very people responsible for championing diverse representation in media still insist on back-door policies that silence queer narratives and continually erase trans existence?
MacG and Sol, you did one thing right today, you finally started listening. But I wont congratulate you on your mediocrity. I have little hope for transformation unless you and the broader heterosexual community start doing the real work it takes to become allys of the so called “alphabet gang”. Remember, true allyship is a verb, it requires action and not just this low-grade performance you just gave.