Let truth and falsehood grapple over SAS stink
The last time I wrote for this publication I was a man, now I’m a woman. At least that’s how the world sees it. Back then I was Mr Jeremy Traylen, an earnest young man teaching economics at Vic and extolling the dangers to the world of Japan’s bubble economy. Now I’m Mx Jem Traylen, an earnest, young-at-heart transwoman working for myself and Rainbow Wellington as an advocate of diversity and inclusivity.
Today is a special day for transpeople – some of us celebrate it as the International Trans Day of Visibility (#TDOV). I say ‘‘some of us’’, because even in this day and age it can be a scary place to be visible as your own unique self. New Zealand has come a long way in celebrating diversity, but we also have some of the worst statistics in the world on reported rates of bullying. That makes it a scary environment for people from vulnerable minority backgrounds, so many of us trans people keep our heads down and try to blend in. At its most extreme we repress our true nature and never come out of the closet – in my case I waited until I was well into my 40s.
I did start to come out in my 20s and 30s, but gave up due to a lack of support. This time around I was simply too desperate to ignore the sickening inner unease that has become known as ‘‘gender dysphoria’’.
While there still isn’t any real support from public agencies for people like me, it has become easier to do a few basic things like get a passport in the gender I identify with. Attitudes towards people who are different have also improved, and there are many Wellingtonians, from work colleagues to strangers in the street, who have encouraged me along the way.
It has taken me a long time to begin to get over the completely trans and homophobic environment of the 1960s that I was born into. Back then, trans people had no human rights whatsoever. In the eyes of the law, a transwoman was simply a man wearing a dress, offending public sensibilities and liable to be arrested on sight and often abused by the police while in their custody.
That is until one brave pioneer decided she had enough and wasn’t going to plead guilty anymore to the crime of expressing her true gender identity. She hired a lawyer and won her case. She was still considered to be a man in a dress and had little in the way of human rights but at least she couldn’t be arrested for simply being what she was.
That courageous pioneer was Carmen Rupe, whose legacy we celebrated during last year’s Trans Day of Visibility with the unveiling of her portrait and the installation of the pedestrian lights in Cuba St. Many people probably wonder who the dancing woman in the lights actually is – she is our ancestor, a brave whakawahine, who went on to become a major local icon of the entertainment district and even a contender for the mayoralty.
She opened the door for trans people to emerge back into the light after living an underworld existence for many centuries. Trans people were accepted, sometimes even revered, in most indigenous societies, including Aotearoa. Unfortunately that changed when we imported the British legal system and the legalised transphobia and homophobia that came with it.
Following in Carmen’s footsteps, it’s been a long journey for all the various gender diverse and sexual minorities of this country. That journey continues today, particularly for trans people like myself who face many struggles from employment to health care.
That is why we need days like this, to celebrate our achievements and to acknowledge the challenges that we still face. The day is not so much for a trans person like me to make myself more visible but for the rest of the community to make a show of their support – to let us know that we are accepted and that you will play your part in making a world in which vulnerable minorities can actually thrive.
That’s why it’s important for the city council to be literally flying the flag for us and for our civic buildings to be lit up tonight in Trans Pride colours.
That’s why it was great to see thousands of Wellingtonians turn out for our first Pride Parade in over 20 years.
Next year there’s an international conference coming to Wellington for all the groups that are working to make the world a safe and accepting place for sexual and gender diverse minorities. Let’s work together to make sure they find Wellington to be one of the truly great Rainbow cities of the world. Jem Traylen leads the Trans Secretariat at Rainbow Wellington. She will be speaking at 3pm at ‘‘Tea on the Terrace’’, a special celebration for the Trans Day of Visibility, at St Andrews on the Terrace.
Iknow what you’re all thinking. Lord, spare us any more comment on the SAS-Afghanistan controversy. But please bear with me here. Yes, I think there should be an inquiry. But I have to hold my nose as I write that, because I don’t trust Nicky Hager.
There are a number of reasons for this. He insists on calling himself a journalist, but all the journalists I’ve worked with made it their business, before bursting into print with damaging allegations against anyone, to seek a response from the person or persons accused.
This is called balance, and although it has become unfashionable in certain quarters it remains a fundamental principle of fair journalism.
Hager doesn’t bother with balance. He and co-author Jon Stephenson didn’t approach the Defence Force for its side of the story before publishing Hit and Run.
This is consistent with Hager’s previous modus operandi. I don’t think he gave Cameron Slater a chance to respond to the claims made in Dirty Politics either, or Don Brash when he published The Hollow Men.
He likes to get in first with a king hit. It’s much harder for someone to fight back when they’re sprawled on the canvas with the wind temporarily knocked out of them.
Hager would probably argue that the reason he doesn’t approach the subjects of his books is that it would give them an opportunity to obstruct publication, possibly with legal action.
But newspapers take that risk every time they run a potentially damaging story about someone. It doesn’t stop them seeking comment from the people or organisation they’re about to take a whack at.
Certainly there’s the danger of an injunction against publication, but I believe there are other reasons Hager doesn’t give his subjects a right of reply.
The first is that his story would be undermined if there turns out to be a compelling counter-narrative. Better not to take the chance.
Another is that by publishing before his subjects have a chance to respond, and getting saturation media coverage (as he routinely does), he establishes a huge psychological advantage. His victims are immediately in the position of having to come from behind.
Is Hager’s tactic of launching his books just in time to make the TV news, thus allowing no time for journalists to seek contradictory comment (and this after tantalising the media with high expectations of a scandal), part of this strategy?
Very likely, although it should be pointed out that early evening is the standard time for book launches. In any case, you could say it’s just clever marketing. Perhaps there’s a bit of shrewd capitalist lurking in the crusading left-wing author.
My other reason for not trusting Hager is that he has an agenda. I’m suspicious of people with agendas, because they tend to frame their narratives to align with their agenda.
To put it another way, there’s a danger that the agenda, rather than the facts, will dictate the narrative, and that any facts that don’t conform to the agenda will be ignored.
In Hager’s case, the agenda can’t be neatly summarised, but it’s there. It can be broadly categorised as an antipathy toward ‘‘the establishment’’, capitalism and authority in general.
He seems convinced that people in power are constantly plotting to deceive and mislead the people. That theme runs through all his work. I’m not sure that such a pessimistic mindset leads to reliable conclusions.
So given that I don’t trust Hager, why do I think there should be an inquiry? Well, partly because I don’t much trust the Defence Force either.
I suspect they resent outside scrutiny. This may explain why they seem so bad at dealing with it. The military is an insular institution, not accustomed to having to explain itself to others.
Besides, the NZDF has previous form. Several years ago, disgracefully, it tried hard to discredit Hager’s co-author Stephenson – a man for whom I have some respect – and ended up paying him a settlement in order to avoid a $500,000 defamation action.
In this latest case the NZDF came suspiciously late to the party with a story that was intended to shoot Hager down in flames, but which succeeded only in muddying the waters and creating more doubt and confusion in the public mind.
The only way to clear this mess up now is with an open and independent inquiry that would clarify matters once and for all. To quote John Milton: ‘‘Let truth and falsehood grapple; whoever knew truth put to the worse, in a fair and open encounter?’’
Jem Traylen, above, is an advocate for diversity at Rainbow Wellington. Below, she is pictured as ‘‘an earnest young man’’ in an Evening Post economics column from 1995.
Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant General Tim Keating.