Why “Just don’t watch it” doesn’t work.

TRIGGER WARNING: discussion of violence against trans* people


Recently there was outrage when Jonathan Ross – @wossy on Twitter – made some jokes at the expense of trans* people on his TV show, referring to a news story from a while back about an airline employing trans* women as flight attendants. At least one person commented “@TransMediaWatch it’s a TV program. If you don’t like it, vote with your feet and don’t watch it.” (as retweeted by @transmediawatch – I don’t know if they had more comments along this line.) I’ve heard this sentiment expressed before, and I want to explore why I think that this is a pretty clueless thing to say.

Imagine, for a moment, that people believe that anyone who knits is really likely to be a shoplifter. (I’ve chosen this at random to try and avoid offending anybody by using a real example.) Furthermore, people think that they can tell at a glance who is a knitter by the way they dress, look and act. Imagine that people think you are a knitter, whether you are or not. Security guards trail you in shops, security cameras swivel to follow you, and you are treated with suspicion wherever you go. TV programmes continually make jokes about shoplifting knitters, and when you complain you are told “oh it’s just a TV programme, don’t watch it”. People verbally harass you in the street or even physically attack you, while spouting catchphrases from the comedy shows that you were told to just not watch. And if you try to go to the police, you are told that it is your own fault for being a knitter, or even just looking or acting like a knitter.

For trans* people, this is not an exercise in imagination – it is all too real. Every single joke – even if the comedian didn’t intend it to – gives another piece of ammunition to the people who verbally harass, physically attack and even kill trans* people while they were minding their own business just walking down the street.

Now try and tell me, or my trans* friends, that it’s “just a TV programme”

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