WHAT on earth could link Canadian students getting in a tangle over transphobia with the unguarded words of a local Labour councillor in Stroud? The hyper-connectivity of modern life, that’s what.
In the past, a local indiscretion or splash of stupidity would stay local, but now such stories fly around the world at the tap of a finger.
As students at the University of Guelph in Central Ontario have just discovered. They held a campus event at which they played the Lou Reed song, Walk On The Wild Side, and then got their over-sensitive knickers in a twist and issued an apology for having exposed people to such a transphobic song. The layers of misunderstanding in this affair are many, not least the fact that this song is a hymn to acceptance and a celebration of people.
Sadly, the students didn’t see beyond their thin sensibilities and published a Facebook apology (later deleted) for having played a song with the lyrics: “Holly came from Miami, FLA/Hitchhiked her way across the USA/Plucked her eyebrows on the way/Shaved her legs and then he was a she/She says, ‘Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side’.”
As Jenni Muldaur, a friend of Reed, told the Guardian, the song was about: “Everyone doing their thing, taking a walk on the wild side. I can’t imagine how anyone could conceive of that. The album was called Transformer. What do they think it’s about?”
Well, precisely. What a shame it is that we are bringing up a generation of young people who are so afraid of causing offence that they can’t just enjoy a great song.
In case those students still have any doubts, Holly Woodlawn, the trans actress who inspired those lyrics, was thrilled with the song – “Lou Reed made me immortal,” she has said.
Reed was confused about his own sexuality at a time when homosexuality in America was still classed as a mental illness, and he often expressed his love and affection for trans women.
And, on top of all that, the song came out in 1972 – it’s been pleasing all sorts of people for 45 years, so pipe down with your ridiculous apology.
After the over-amplification of one small local incident, here is another. Debbie Hicks, the vice-chair of the Labour Party in Stroud, was suspended after making comments on Facebook and Twitter that the Manchester terror attack was “wonderful timing for Theresa May”.
Unwise words said too soon, for sure. And Hicks has since apologised. Here was another small local incident made too loud in the social media echo chamber. I first noticed the story in a Facebook post being used as evidence of the vileness and unsuitability of the Labour Party to govern. Oh, come off it – whatever you think of Jeremy Corbyn, that is just ridiculous.
Hicks showed poor taste and timing, but it is reasonable at least to ask if the handling of such an appalling atrocity doesn’t play well to the sitting prime minister during an election. Jon Snow of Channel 4 News was asking a similar question about putting troops on the street, and in today’s Guardian, the former editor of the Times, Simon Jenkins, argues that in her public statement about the atrocity in Manchester, Theresa May “seized the megaphone for herself, and thus inevitably politicised the event”.
As for the previously unknown Debbie Hicks – unknown, at least, to those outside of Stroud – she has discovered that a moment’s lack of caution can see you paraded through the social media streets as a public disgrace. If nothing else, that mauling shows a lack of perspective.