Let truth and false­hood grap­ple over SAS stink

The Dominion Post - - Opinion -

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.

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