Transgender activists in Australia have criticized Sydney Opera House for a pantomime called ‘trAnnie’ which they say is transphobic and sexist.
Australia’s most globally-famous cultural institution is planning to stage the panto later this year, despite publically apologizing and saying it is not intending to disrespect trans sensitivities.
‘TrAnnie’ is the brainchild of 42-year-old Australian drag artist, Trevor Ashley.
It is claimed to be a play on words, combining a lampoon of the musical Annie about an orphan who comes good with the first two letters of Ashley’s name. This is then put into the pantomime musical-comedy format for a pre-Christmas audience.
The plot, according to Sydney Opera House’s own site, associates transsexualism with issues of under-age sexual attraction, sexual offending and inappropriate sexual behaviour.
It is the story of ‘10-year-old little orphan Fannie’, whose parents abandoned ‘him’ (sic) while just a babe. Fannie, aided by ‘his/her (sic) trusty ex-sniffer dog’ is now desperate to fund ‘her (sic) sex change’. She proposes to do this by taking part in a ‘very arty’ photo shoot for multi-millionaire and amateur photographer Daddy Warlow.
Along the way she must evade the clutches of boozy matron and sex offender, Miss Trannigan (Rhonda Burchmore).
Indi Edwards of Trans Menace Australia says she was left almost speechless when she saw advance publicity for the show.
Speaking to Australia’s Gay News Network, she described herself as ‘gutted’, and called on the show’s writers, Phil Scott and Trevor Ashley to ‘dig deep’ and understand how shows such as this promote a ‘continuum of trans hate and violence’.
Sydney Opera House have responded with an apology, but add that the work shows the transgender character ‘in a positive light’ and ‘hopes to encourage more understanding of the transgender community’.
Ashley adds: ‘Although I appreciate that the word may brush some transgendered people up the wrong way, the intent is not to harm, but take the sting out of what I'm sure could be a painful word for some.
‘Being a part of the GLBTQI community for many years, we are people who can reclaim words that have been used in harmful ways towards us in the past.’
According to Sally Goldner of Transgender Victoria: ‘This seems very much about ego.
‘We are not saying that artists should avoid subjects of this kind, even in comedy. We are asking that they be prepared to listen: doubly so, when it is clear that their actions are causing significant offence and humiliation for a particular group.
‘We have a long history of working with writers and artists on transgender issues. We have put out an olive branch to Trevor, but so far, it has not been taken up.’
Goldner also highlights the problem of individuals not of a particular minority putting themselves forward as representatives of that group.
She says: ‘My understanding is that Trevor is a gay man closer to drag than any wider sense of sex or gender identity. He is in no position to comment for people who do experience gender issues. He is not speaking from our perspective.’
Transgender campaigners in Australia claim Sydney Opera House has not engaged with them further about their concerns.
A number of people have now complained about the show to the New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Board.
One petition on change.org, now closed, asks Sydney Opera House to think again, warning that this play is likely to contribute to the death of trans children. Now a new petition has been put in its place which you can see here.
See the promotional video for TrAnnie here: