'TrAnnie' raises ire of trans people
Cabaret performer Trevor Ashley and the Sydney Opera House have apologised but say their new show trAnnie will still go on despite some members of the transgender community voicing concerns the panto perpetuates negative stereotypes.
A parody of the recent smash musical production Annie, the show written by Phil Scott and Ashley is to have its premiere season at the Opera House from December 5-23.
It follows the “hard knock life” of ten year old orphan Fannie who is desperate to have “long-overdue” gender reassignment surgery but must first escape the Sutherland Shire Children’s Orphanage and the clutches of boozy matron and registered sex offender Miss Trannigan.
Members of the trans community though are said to be not amused with either the show’s title or its plot, with many late last week taking to social media sites to air their upset with the show’s producers.
Indi Kelly Edwards, a spokesperson for activist group Trans Menace Australia, told SX she was just one of many people who found the panto to be demeaning towards the trans community.
“One quick read of the synopsis left me guttered,” she said.
“Trevor and Phil need to dig deep and understand they are in their own way promoting the continuum of trans hate and violence by turning our lives into a comedy pantomime. It’s 2012, it’s time that the rest of the alphabet soup took our concerns seriously and stop treating us in such a tokenistic way.
“There’s no getting around it. This show is transphobic in every sense and we are surprised the Opera House has let this slip under the radar.”
Sally Goldner, spokesperson for Transgender Victoria, said such concerns were valid as the term ‘trannie’ was largely deemed offensive by people experiencing transgender issues.
“For a cisgender person (people whose gender identity matches their body and the gender they were assigned at birth) to use it without consultation is as offensive to trans people as the use of faggot by a heterosexual is to gay men,” Goldner told SX.
“There is also the concern that the production brings in a character who is a sex offender for no apparent reason and concerns have to be raised about how this could be seen as humourous in any context, trans or otherwise.”
The growing controversy has led to the Opera House and Ashley releasing a joint statement in apology.
“The title trAnnie is a play on words. It is a play on the musical Annie and combines the letters of Trevor's name into the title. It is also a play on the fact that the central character is transsexual,” the statement read.
“The show, while being a comedy, shows the transgender character in a positive light and hopes to encourage more understanding of the transgender community.”
Ashley, who missed out on a Helpmann Award last night, said there was a power in reclaiming once offensive words.
“Although I appreciate that the word may brush some transgendered people up the wrong way, the intent is not to harm, but take the sting out of what I’m sure could be a painful word for some,” Ashley told SX.
“Being a part of the GLBTQI community for many years, we are people who can reclaim words that have been used in harmful ways towards us in the past.”
Goldner told SX the incident highlighted the very real issue of others speaking on behalf of trans people without their input.
“[It’s] behaviour which is happening to some extent in a range of areas including activism and legal reform,” she said.
Goldner added that she and others had been consulted frequently over the past few years by performers wanting to cover trans issues. This included, within the last two months, an approach by two Brisbane-based performers about a possible future production involving transgender themes.
“An approach involving consultation can therefore easily balance the right to artistic expression while avoiding offensive material. Trans people know trans’ lives best, are therefore in the best position to speak for trans people and advise accordingly,” Goldner said.
Edwards told SX it was up to everyone, including fellow members of the LGBTI community, to prevent potential incidents of discrimination or prejudice.
“NSW has had a transgender Anti Discrimination/Vilification Act in place since 1996 and we would ask that all parties involved observe our rights,” she said.