Hey UofG, take a walk on the wild side
The University of Guelph’s Central Student Association is to be applauded for trying to be sensitive to the feelings of the transgendered community.
But by labelling Lou Reed’s classic song “Walk on the Wild Side” as “transphobic,” the student association went well beyond reason. It entered the realm of politically correct inanity.
Earlier this month the student association apologized via social media for playing Reed’s 1972 hit on campus radio. After describing the song as “transphobic,” the association added: “We now know the lyrics to this song are hurtful to our friends in the trans community and we’d like to unreservedly apologize for this error in judgment.”
Somewhere along the line, the association realized its apology was “the error in judgment,” not the playing of the song. Nonetheless, the association’s Facebook post garnered outraged headlines as far away as England where The Guardian newspaper ran a story featuring astonished reaction from Reed’s friends and collaborators.
A little research by the student association would have demonstrated how wrong they were. “Walk on the Wild Side” was a pioneering song, written 45 years ago when the term “transgendered” was practically unknown. It includes the lines “Holly came from Miami F.L.A. … plucked her eyebrows on the way, shaved her legs and then he was a she.” “Holly” was Holly Woodlawn, a close friend of Reed and a member of the artistic community known as “Andy Warhol’s Factory.” According to Reed biographer Howard Sounes, she was a huge fan of the song.
“Walk on the Wild Side” should be seen as a celebration of New York’s trans community, one of the first songs to bring it out of the shadows and into the mainstream. It was Reed’s way of translating his reality to pop music. According to Sounes, Reed was “a bisexual who had close friendships and conducted love affairs with (transgender) men.”
In the context of the day, Reed’s lyrics, which also dealt with prostitution and drug addiction, could be considered revolutionary, not “transphobic.” It’s interesting to note that “Walk on the Wild Side” appeared on an album called “Transformer.”
“Walk on the Wild Side” did, of course, draw criticism and censorship when it was first released, but not because it was “transphobic.”
Just to include such images in a song was considered controversial. As well, there was that chorus intro that still makes people cringe — “And the coloured girls go …” which can best be considered a piece of vintage Reed satire.
If the student association received complaints about the song, a better way to have dealt with them would be to have had an open on-air discussion about the lyrics, perhaps with pop music historians or critics.