PRESS RELEASE: Gender DymaniX statement on trans-antagonism on Idols SA

On Sunday the 30th of July, Idols SA aired an episode that featured trans antagonistic, dehumanising bullying directed towards Ashern Madlopha, a 22-year-old contestant who entered the singing competition. After they* (Arshen) completed their performance, they left the stage but returned to retrieve the contestant number that had fallen from their shirt. Upon Arshen’s return, judge Somizi Mhlongo proceeded to make sexual comments directed towards the contestant, saying “Yessss your body’s banging girl! Oh oh, walk like a lady! Yes! Whooo!”. After the performer left the room, the judges proceeded to discuss Arshen’s gender, with some arguing that “it must be a girl”, and other judges claiming that Ashern is a boy. A particularly disturbing element of the judge’s discussion is the dehumanising use of “it” to refer to a fellow human being. This argument about Arshen’s gender which is highly inappropriate and dehumanizing, and furthermore is an unnecessary discussion to be carried out by the judges because a contestant’s gender plays no role in the competition.  

As an organization that promotes advocacy and human rights for trans and gender diverse persons – particularly those who are forced to the fringes of society as a result of marginalisation – Gender DynamiX fully condemns Idols SA’s dehumanisation of Arshen. It’s highly concerning that in spite of the numerous levels of checks and balances that likely exist within Idols SA production, no concern or objection was voiced to the airing of an episode that featured such blatant transphobic bullying and dehumanisation of a contestant. This bullying was instead broadcast as a means to sensationalize and play to society’s fascination with trans identities in order to ultimately pull in ratings for the show. As a large national broadcaster, Multichoice should be held to a high standard of integrity in regards to the content they choose to broadcast. Particularly in this instance, we see that Multichoice has fallen short of this standard by failing to hold Idols SA accountable.

We endorse this petition and expect Idols SA and Multichoice to make a public apology, in addition to the expectation that psychosocial support will be provided to Arshen. These are necessary reparations for the pain and suffering Idols SA has undoubtedly subjected Arshen to as a result of mockery on national television. Multichoice as a broadcasting network must also be expected to reevaluate their systems of checks and balances to ensure that an incident such as this is not repeated, as well as mandating sensitivity training for all staff.

*as Arshen has not been provided the space to disclose their pronoun use in English, we have defaulted to using singular they