Trigger warning: sexism, misogyny, transphobia.
A few months ago, The Guardian, one of the UK’s largest newspapers, published an online only article by Tara Joshi, ‘You’re left to rot if you speak up’: the abuse faced by female roadies, on sexism in the music industry. For this article, she interviewed women and non-binary people in the music industry on their experiences with sexism, as a follow up to an earlier piece.
It felt both awkward and an honour, to have my photo and quotes being the eyecathers.
The article was shared left and right (as of today, the latest sharecount directly from the article pages is 560), and it garnered lots of attention within the music industry.
I did too as a result; I was asked to join several panels on female representation in particular, and diversity, equity, and inclusion in the live music industry in general.
Within the music industry, not all voices ran in unison, but most were respectful and cognisant of the bigger theme here.
Many, regardless of gender, spoke up because of this article; with their own stories and experiences. Including the discomforting ones. Some may have spoken up for the first time ever.
Some thought it wise to speak on whether The Guardian’s intent was pure, questioning if this was journalism or sensationalism, and several felt the need to discuss details from the original blog post, and whether or not that meant it could be a truthful blog post.
Strikingly enough, though, a lot of “well, I haven’t ever noticed anything like that, so I don’t think the issue exists” was heard.
Maybe these people have indeed not seen it, while others see it every day; but, yes, technically, it is possible. Highly unlikely, though.
I think it’s way more likely these people have tuned out sexism, to be able to get on with their thing, which is making sure the show goes on, or are so accustomed to it being everywhere, they actively or passively partake in it themselves without being aware. That is not an accusation, it is something that just happens. I have done so too. I can honestly only recall one instance where I did, but already one is too many.
Before my transition, I myself have made an inappropriate joke aimed at a female colleague on tour, and she reached out to me stating as much, following her having read the news article. She told me she found it inappropriate of me to talk about sexism in this article, that it made me look like I pretended to be above it, and she knew I was not.
I can not undo what I did in the past, other than sincerely apologising for what I did, and actually “be” sorry; by bettering my ways moving forward.
I have worked for so many different bands over the years, with so many different crew members; from all walks of life, and different social backgrounds. I do not think, not even for a second, that it is a coincidence that the number of tours where I did not notice any form of sexism, or micro aggressions with sexism as a theme, is easy to count on one fully-fingered hand.
Should I have stood up against it then? I should have, yes. Absolutely!
I couldn’t and didn’t even defend myself then, there simply was no “me” to defend. Defending someone else was an even more alien concept. I try to be better. Every day. There is a “me” now, and that me will defend your sandwich as much as I will, and would, defend my own. Unconditionally.
On the The Guardian’s Facebook page, the article was shared as well, and what happened there was a wholly different animal, compared to what it was like within the music industry. Sadly, I had grown rather “accustomed” to the kind of comments made there, due to my being a very visible transgender athlete. But it doesn’t make comments like these any less hurtful. Ever.
Some of them offended ‘Weird’ Al Yankovic for comparing my hair to his, others attacked me for being transgender, in all of the hateful manners you can imagine they would.
What hurt me most, though, was a different kind of comments. Comments that ironically enough, cut straight to the core, straight to sexism.
I was told I should not have been wearing that tanktop (one person even insisted on mansplaining to me that it was an undergarment and therefore could not be a tanktop, despite it being sold as one), that I should have covered up instead; that this was not a presentable way to dress while working. Ignoring that for a man working on stage in a (the name alone makes me vomit) “wifebeater”, or shirtless, it is totally fine, and even seen as cool and macho, to do so. I have done so myself, working on stage shirtless, when I still pretended to be one of the guys; I remember a few shows in Greece, mid summer, in sweltering heat and humidity, and the same goes for several South American shows. No one ever told me to cover up; and my body wasn’t nearly as toned as it is now (another effect of there not being a “me” previously), so even that was deemed acceptable.
Hello #BeachBody nastiness.
No comments were made. At all. Not by our band or crew, not by the local crew.
I was told that, as a man, I had no right to speak for women. Ignoring that a transgender woman is just that, a woman.
I read that, as a woman in live music industry, I had no business being there if I didn’t take the locker room talk for granted, and didn’t take it as light entertainment. That I had no business being there if I minded being abused verbally or physically for being a woman on the road.
I read “well, why is this an issue? They sleep with bands, so why do they complain now?” I am so outraged at this. I literally have no words!
Soon after, The Guardian took a decision that I still resent them for. Deeply. I let them know. In as many words.
They deleted the whole post. It’s not hidden, like some moderators would do, no. They straight up deleted the whole post. Like it never happened.
I can understand from a brand integrity and marketability point of view this was done, but it is the wrong decision. Always.
They could have owned it, and it would have made them the ally, the protector, the teacher.
By releasing a statement (with or without the author or me) on the inappropriate and inexcusable comments that were written at the expense of women and transgender people, they could have made a statement stronger than the original news article could ever have.
Even though, I was the only explicit victim (and countless implied by association and familiarity) of the hate on that post, I wanted all of that hate to be visible, have it be a teaching moment, on how relentless and out in the open, hate against women in general, and transgender women in particular is.
Shortly before the post and all of its comments were deleted, I had a bright moment, and I saved all of the comments made until then; I wanted to make sure I could refer to details in case I had to. Maybe one day, I will share bits and pieces.