Wendy Williams’ “Transphobic” Comments Should Be Cause for Education, Not Vilification

by Lucas Witherspoon

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Wendy Williams, radio-shock-jock-cum-talk-show-host, is no stranger to controversy. She’s essentially made a career of being brash and with brazenness inevitably comes offensiveness, so it should come as no surprise she’s managed to ruffle her fair share of feathers throughout her career. On Thursday’s (March 13) edition of her talk show, The Wendy Williams Show, during a panel discussion about about Chloie Jonsson, a transgender personal trainer who is suing CrossFit for $2.5 million for being denied the opportunity to participate in the women’s division of the CrossFit Games, she and one of her panelists made incredibly insensitive and blatantly ignorant comments about not only Jonsson herself, but about transgendered people in general. Specifically, Williams defended CrossFit’s actions, saying:

“This is an unfair advantage… you can take away female parts or male parts or whatever — it’s like Chaz Bono! You know Chaz is a man now, but I bet she [sic] still fights like a girl like the rest of us and she’s [sic] not as strong as a man who was born a man.”

Panelist Joe Pardavila had his own absentminded opinion:

“Think about it. You look inside — she’s got all guy muscles, and the juices! You know, I’m not a doctor or anything but inside her that’s all there.”

Gay media outlets were especially quick to pounce on the comments, prematurely labeling Williams and her guest “transphobic.”

While their comments were oblivious and incredibly obtuse, what always seems to happen in instances like this is that, instead of using the moment to expand public understanding of LGBT issues, people go into attack mode. The transsexual and transgendered communities are particularly susceptible to widespread misunderstanding, even within the LGBT community. What makes the ordeal especially dismaying, though, is that Williams is a visible media figure who’s used her noteworthiness to be very vocal in her adoration of the LGBT community for pretty much her entire career and has done a lot in the way of promoting LGBT causes, specifically HIV/AIDS. That in itself is more than most of the people criticizing her can say. The sudden hostility towards her for one misguided and flippant comment is astounding. She’s not a tireless anti-gay activist who spends every waking moment trying to demean every effort made by the LGBT community to gain equality (quite the opposite actually), so why is she being treated in the same manner? She misspoke on an issue she’s clearly under-informed about, she’s not a villain.

Moreover, labeling her or Pardavila “transphobic” is as naive as the comments themselves. Not only is treating terms like “transphobia” and “homophobia” as being synonymous with “anti-trans” or “anti-gay” archaic, but neither of them fit into any of the aforementioned categories. The prefix “anti-” and suffix “-phobia” imply, respectively, an aversion towards or legitimate fear of something. They’re not ‘anti-‘ anything or so-and-so ‘-phobic’, just ill-advised, so to hastily brand them with terms that imply nefariousness is unmerited.

Williams and Pardavilla were both obviously quick to apologize after the ensuing attacks:

Apologies are nice, but hollow if you haven’t learned anything from your mistakes. While it’s clear their comments were not intended to be malignant, the best way to help the ill-informed is to better inform them. This is why, more than anything, if the LGBT community hopes to continue to improve understanding, philistinism should be met with education, not denigration.

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