The Australian had the gall to cover the drama around Dave Chappelle‘s controversial comedy special on Netflix last week, which is some straight-up bullshit when you remember its own history of transphobic reporting. Their write-up says a lot about whose voices they think matter, which spoiler alert, is not the trans people actually affected by this story.
But first, here’s why people are talking about Netflix and Dave Chappelle’s The Closer
In case you missed it, Netflix released a new comedy special by the infamously controversial comedian Dave Chappelle this month. In it, Chappelle spends up to 37 minutes of his one-hour and 12-minute special making a series of ‘jokes’ about trans identities, trans-female genitalia, and in support of homophobic rapper DaBaby and Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist (TERF) JK Rowling.
After trans and queer employees at the company called for the special to be pulled from the service, they were told by Netflix’s co-CEO Ted Sarandos, via The Verge, that while it “never feels good when people are hurting, especially our colleagues”, Netflix wasn’t going to remove it. Then, three trans employees tried to “attend a director-level meeting they weren’t invited to” and were temporarily suspended. One of those employees resigned, and another, who was organising a staged walkout and leaking information to the press, was fired.
The way this has been covered by The Australian tells us a lot about whose voices they think matter and, unsurprisingly, it’s not the ones from the trans community
The Australian’s first report on this is less than 300 words but tells you a lot about whose voices they think matter. Unsurprisingly, it leans into the fact Netflix “stands by” the controversial comedian rather than mention any of the actual complaints raised by its employees or other trans voices (you know, the people actually affected by this story).
“Critics claim the special, where Mr. Chappelle criticises some trans activists, is anti-LGBTQ and transphobic,” the article says, managing to both downplay Chappelle’s ‘comedy’ and misrepresent the real accusations of transphobia. (‘You can’t criticise me, I’m trans’ is a straw man argument frequently trotted out by bad-faith actors in this space.)
It notably does not include a single quote from a trans person about the situation, but it does end on this quote from Sarandos:
“I recognise, however, that distinguishing between commentary and harm is hard, especially with stand-up comedy which exists to push boundaries. Some people find the art of stand-up to be mean-spirited but our members enjoy it, and it’s an important part of our content offering.”
The Australian doesn’t specify what it is Chappelle said or what about it people find anti-LGBTQ or transphobic – most likely because doing so could harm their argument. The report mentioned that Sarandos’ was defending Netflix’s decision to release Chappelle’s special, but failed to mention that three trans employees were suspended as a result of speaking out.
In this way, The Australian‘s write-up tries to completely rewrite the narrative. The publication’s decision to omit the other side of the story shows that they don’t think trans and nonbinary voices should be heard. Much like the rest of the coverage of trans and nonbinary voices on the site, it silences them by picking up a speakerphone and speaking over them with a one-sided part of the story.
Given their published attempts at invalidating trans people’s lived experiences, it’s not at all surprising that they tried to rewrite the narrative here
The Australian‘s interpretation of the response to Dave Chappelle’s special isn’t at all surprising when you consider just how much damage the publication has done to the trans and nonbinary community. I mean, a quick trip down memory lane and it’s hard to imagine a publication that’s done more harm for the trans community in Australia than our national masthead.
Over the last few years, The Australian‘s Roving Editor Bernard Lane has written opinion pieces – labeled as ‘exclusives’ – that are full of transphobic arguments disguised as allegedly unbiased news reporting about trans identities and the trans experience. As picked up by the ABC’s Media Watch, one claimed that “Adults ‘fail by giving in to trans teenagers’”, while another unfairly mentions that “Gender change is ‘no fix for autism’”.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, these articles often discuss trans teens and children from a non-trans person’s perspective, the safety and ethics of giving hormone medication to young people who are suffering from gender dysmorphia, and the rate of de-transition among young people. That last point is a particularly dangerous fixation in transphobic writing, as it implies trans people aren’t 100% sure of their decision to transition, and therefore shouldn’t be listened to. Given the copious amounts of care taken before undergoing any life-changing medical procedures, including top or bottom surgery, that assumption is far beyond the actual truth.
In September this year, the Australian Press Council found that 45 articles published by The Australian regarding gender-affirming healthcare and trans children and teen within a ten-month period “were likely to and did cause substantial distress” to gender diverse people and their loved ones.
“As to offence, distress, and prejudice affecting gender diverse persons and their families, the Council recognises that such a series of articles is likely to have such an effect, even a substantial one particularly given the lack of material published from the specialist part of the medical profession which was supportive of affirmative gender treatment,” they said in the report’s findings.
“…While the Council considers the absence of a notice was a not breach, it accepts that a number of the articles would be read by a vulnerable section of the community and might be taken to be challenging their experience of life and including sources of assistance might have been a prudent step.”
So, all of this is to say that The Australian reporting on Netflix suspending trans employees is a bit fucking rich if you ask me. In the context of its other coverage, it reads like a “gotcha” moment, another example of twisting the narrative to disqualify trans people.
They’re the ones publishing pieces trans people say are harmful. They’re the ones who published a story called, ‘’Reality bites the trans agenda‘, where a writer claims “there is no third sex”.
The actual Netflix story here is that a multi-billion dollar company (which brands itself as diverse and inclusive) made a series of business decisions that actively harm those same diverse communities. Instead, The Australian has turned this late-stage capitalism horror story into a jovial poke at the trans and nonbinary community being reprimanded for speaking up. And that should be called out.