Every morning on my way to grab a coffee, I turn on my local Phoenix, Ariz., radio station, Mix 96.9, for some good music, a bit of news and some conversation from the a.m. hosts. Usually the banter is funny and timely, comments coming in about pop culture and whatever happens to be in the headlines. This past Monday morning, however, I was shocked speechless when host Mathew Blades brought up the subject of a photo of three women he had seen on his wife's Facebook page over the weekend. He labeled the women "transsexuals" and urged listeners to go to the Mix 96.9 website or Facebook page to gawk at this seemingly hilarious picture -- hilarious due to the fact that all three on-air hosts couldn't stop laughing about it.
Before I had a chance to look at the photo myself, I was on the phone calling up the station. I got on with all three hosts and told them how offensive it was for them to be labeling three non-transsexual women "transsexual" and joking about it. Blades apologized -- amidst chuckling -- and told me that he really meant that they looked like "drag queens" and asked me what the difference between "transsexual" and "transgender" meant. After explaining the terms, I was interrupted by more laughter, with the hosts egging each other on and chastising each other, jokingly. Throughout the conversation -- if you can even call it that -- I never once felt like I was being taken seriously.
Once I got to a computer, I went on both the Mix 96.9 website and Facebook page, both of which still had the photo in question up. The photo is of three women at a bar. That's all. Blades posted it because he felt that several of the women were "masculine-looking" enough to be labeled "transsexual." And he had a good laugh about it at the expense of the women and, undoubtedly, at the expense of transsexual individuals in the Phoenix area.
I could not believe the radio station would condone such antics. I can only assume that any transgender or transsexual listeners who had tuned in that morning were as upset as I was, if not more so. This is bullying at its most public and most dangerous. What if there was a transsexual woman listening who went on to look at this photo and identified with it? What if she was on the edge, having been bullied before about her appearance? What if this incident pushed her over that edge?
Gender identity is not a laughing matter. People all over the gender and sexuality spectra express their gender in all ways, shapes and forms. It's a beautiful thing. We cannot stand for such jokes to be expressed without reprimand, especially in such public forums. These are the types of conversations that perpetuate transphobia and make it all the more difficult for transgender individuals to come out and be accepted by those around them.
My comments on both the Mix 96.9 Facebook page and website led Blades himself to contact me via Twitter Monday evening in an effort to "clear the air." He wrote the following to me: "I just feel so bad about my word choice this morn. I am such a supporter of the LBGT community and my words didn't reflect that. Please accept my apology."
In response I told Blades, "I really appreciate that, Mathew. I'm a big fan of the show and was shocked that something like this would have been made fun of. I've heard you as a defender of LGBT rights before. I hope you consider a public apology to your morning listeners if you haven't already. I know how a lot of LGBT youth especially can take something like this personally."
Blades assured me he that had already apologized on the air and would do so again the following morning.
This instance demonstrates how figures in the public eye -- even if it's just across one city or state -- need to really think through their actions and words before going on the air. At a time when the bullying of LGBT youth across the country is becoming more apparent, the last thing we need is for radio and talk show hosts to perpetuate stereotypes and biases that just give bullies more fuel for the fire.