Recently, iHeartMedia announced a new podcast titled ‘Transgenesis’. The show is a scifi dystopia where there is a forced hybridization of humans with aquatic monsters. Those who are hybrids look normal at birth but become more monstrous as they age. These humans are called ‘transgens’ and non-hybrid humans are ‘cisgens’.
There was, as you might imagine, a rather negative response from many in the podcasting industry to this show when it was announced this week. The language used in this show does rely on science and Latin, as ‘trans’ and ‘cis are both scientific terms and Latin roots. However, you have to admit that ‘transgens’ and ‘cisgens’ are fairly close to the terms ‘transgender’ and ‘cisgender’, two terms that trans folks have been trying to normalize for ages.
Queer and trans folks within the podcasting industry have been criticizing ‘Transgenesis’, both on the show’s premise and its terms. Lucy Valentine has a thread about this new show on Twitter and has some really great points about the dangers of the language used in ‘Trangenesis’. She points out that the show’s current synopsis, character descriptions, and premise could lead to more justification of violence against trans folks.
Another queer person named Mads pointed out that with this show (and every show), you have to think about what exactly you’re demonizing and glorifying. Is your show feeding into current biases that already exist and maintain the violent status quo? Are you aware of how your show could hurt marginalized folks? If you answer yes to these questions and go ahead with the show, you’re seriously putting real people’s lives in danger. The things we create have real implications, even if they’re scifi dystopian shows and if you don’t mean any harm.
All of this highlights the need to be both mindful of how your work might be perceived and to work with marginalized folks about the content you’re creating. The 12:37 Podcast, for example, has a couple tweets about this and how you can unintentionally be harmful in your art. But working with folks can help you deal with issues you might not have thought of.
Ultimately, I highly doubt I’ll be listening to ‘Trangenesis’, as the premise of the show does seem harmful to trans folks. It could very well be that the creators and writers of the show had no intention of harming LGBTQ folks and it’s also possible that the show isn’t an allegory for gender. But the reality is that this creation, like all other art, does not exist within a vacuum and can have very real implications on a really marginalized group.
If you want to support trans and queer creators, here are some links to pay them!
- Lucy Valentine, writer, voice actor, visual artist.
- The Whisperforge, a podcast collective run in large part by queer and trans writers, actors, and creators. Their shows include ars PARADOXICA and Caravan, two audio fiction shows that involve LGBTQ characters, actors, and writers.
- Elena Fernández Collins has a thread with trans fiction creators you can support. (And this thread includes so many amazing LGBTQ creators, actors, and writers?!? Please check out the replies!!)
- Morgan Givens, voice actor, creator, and the force behind the hopepunk fiction podcast ‘Flyest Fables‘.
- Queer Dungeoneers, an actual play Dungeon World podcast featuring mostly trans folks.
There are, of course, so many amazing LGBTQ/queer creators, actors, and writers within the podcasting community, especially within the audio fiction world, that aren’t listed here.
Update [April 12, 2019]
Yesterday afternoon, the Transgenesis Twitter account posted a thread with an apology related to the concerns that many have brought up with the show. I do think it’s good that the team behind the show fully listened to the criticism and decided to reach out to trans writers and activists.
However, it feels like a little too late, as the show is set to launch in just a couple days. That step of reaching out to trans writers should have happened much earlier in the production process. There really are no shortage of amazing trans and nonbinary writers and showrunners in the podcasting industry, especially in audio fiction, so it’s really not particularly difficult to find a great writer or consultant!
Similarly, the thread also mentioned not intending to co-opt trans vocabulary or any experiences (see tweet and quoted tweet above). Intentions in situations like this, where harm could result in further violence against a marginalized community, mean very little. That is in large part because the outcome could still result in harm.
Helen Zaltzman summed up some of the problems with the apology in another tweet and said that “I don’t think they do understand the issue. And I’m not particularly eager to congratulate them for apologising when they massively failed by being so clueless in the first place. If they missed it, they are dangerously stupid. If they did it intentionally, they are more so.”
Ultimately, it is good that the ‘Transgenesis’ team decided to hear out the very valid criticism of their show. But as mentioned, it feels too little too late (unless they decide to push back the release and completely rework the show). And I have to agree with Zaltzman, I also don’t want to congratulate them on the fact that they were so clueless about the language they were using.