Sort out your transvestites from your transgenders – that’s the lesson from a booklet about harlots

Alf is a bit bemused about who – exactly – has been offended by some Auckland Council pamphleteering. More important, why should they have been offended?

His bemusement is prompted by the council’s expression of regret for any offence caused over a booklet it helped produce on street prostitution in South Auckland.

It seems this booklet prompted a string of complaints to the Human Rights Commission.

According to a Stuff report (here) –

The 19-page booklet was released last month and addresses the concerns of residents, councillors and business people and pushes for a law change for councils to ban prostitutes from working in certain areas.

So far, so good, unless you happen to be a prostitute banned from “working” in certain areas.

Have some of these ladies taken umbrage?

Not that Alf can ascertain.

One complaint comes (we should have guessed) from a bloody academic.

Auckland University of Technology lecturer Lexie Matheson claimed the booklet was biased because it was written “largely by middle-class, white privileged heterosexual men” without any consultation and was discriminatory towards the transgender community.

The next complaint comes from a city councillor, which is pretty rich, because it was the council that published the pamphlet.

Councillor Cathy Casey then complained after unsuccessfully trying to address the issue at a governing body meeting. The Human Rights Commission had asked her to resolve the issue within council, but having failed to do so she is now pushing for them to investigate.

At this point in the story, it is apparent, no complaints have been made by harlots. At least, none that attracted the Herald’s attention and/or none that has been named by the other complainants.

In short, it seems the complainants are people who seem unlikely to face being constrained from working in South Auckland.

The council nevertheless is keen to appease them.

And at this point of the Stuff report, we are given a better idea of what the complaint is about.

It’s about a confusion between transvestites and trangenders, although why an academic and a councillor should get so bloody uptight about the misuse of a word is confusing, too.

Council Community Safety Forum Chairman George Wood said “we certainly didn’t mean to offend anyone and council regrets any offence caused”.

“There have also been concerns that within the document the term ‘transvestite’ is used when the correct term would have been a ‘transgender person’. The term is used within interview scripts with two local people. If it is misused, it will be an issue of understanding, rather than prejudice,” he said.

Wood said concerns had also been raised that the sex workers’ needs were being ignored in favour of using their plight to push for law change.

“Some people have raised concerns that there needs to be more focus on the needs of the prostitutes themselves. I completely agree,” he said.

“Street sex workers are often among the most marginalised, poverty stricken and vulnerable people in our society. They need support. However, that does not detract from the fact that the activities of street sex workers are causing distress in some of the poorest and most vulnerable parts of our city. We have to look at both the needs of the street sex workers and the needs of these communities.”

Oh dear.

Is “marginalise” another delicate word to disguise what these street workers actually do?

And does meeting their needs extend – say – to the provision of beds, or condoms – or what?

As for the offending booklet, a council spokesman said all copies had been distributed and further copies would not be printed.

The council would not “support production of further copies with the text in its current form”, he said.

That’s one way around the problem of distinguishing a transvestite from a transgender but not necessarily a solution to the problem of hard-working harlots of all descriptions trying to ply their trade on the streets of some parts of Auckland.

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