Problematique: Wellington City Council defies temptation toward transphobia


This column is about calling it out. There’s so much folx need to educate ourselves about and DO BETTER. From cis privilege to white privilege, whether it’s how to decolonise, how to handle the pronoun illiterates, this column is an inclusive space, for ALL GENDERS and ALL IDENTITIES. It is exhausting having to do the emotional work but hey the world is full of normies being problematique.

by Bea Woodward-Nelson

Shout out to Wellington City Council for shining a light on the women who really matter this International Women’s Day. There is far too much focus on cis women on days like these when really we should be using our privilege to amplify the seldom heard voices of our trans sisters.

Thankfully, WCC was there to remind us cis women that even though she never claimed to be a woman (drag queens did a lot of drugs in the 70s so we must assume she would’ve if she had remembered), Carmen Rupe is the greatest woman Wellington has ever produced. Mansfield would have been in awe if only they had lived in the same times.

Carmen is the perfect woman to front the Wellington Council’s sophisticated IWD social media campaign. Being assigned male at birth was not, as some transphobes will tell you, a barrier to Carmen’s ability to understand the challenges of womanhood. Rather, it enabled her to examine female performance from a uniquely trans lens and thus produce an identity, a look, a style that puts most women to shame. I challenge any woman to draw on eyebrows with the precision of Ms Rupe – case closed.

Additionally, Carmen was a trailblazing sex worker who advocated for legalised brothels and better conditions for pimps like herself. She is an example of how women can lift each other up and achieve more together. Although she found herself unsuited to the backbreaking and sometimes humiliating (it’s okay if it is a kink) work of being a prostitute herself, she found her niche prostituting out other women who needed a bit of a nudge in the right direction. A true feminist leader.

Wellington City Council could have had lesbian and internationally acclaimed chef Monique Fiso front the campaign but, as we know, lesbians have become problematic. Of course, I myself only use the term ‘lesbian’ when my partner tells me to; she is a trans woman and expressing that we are in a lesbian relationship is validating to her. The rest of the time I find queer a more appropriate label.

It was not only important for WCC to centre Carmen Rupe on International Women’s Day, it was vital. They needed to signal to their ratepayers that they would not be tempted to celebrate an internationally acclaimed writer, a key figure in Māori literature, a director nominated for the Academy Award, the first Pasifika Councillor, or the first female judge of the District Court in Wellington, when they could do the right thing and relegate them to the web page.

I may just be a white, cis, queer/lesbian, but I’m sharing the right opinions here and that’s what matters. When there is transphobia-by-omission like that in Wellington Zoo’s IWD Facebook post, we are lucky to have a council so attuned to the latest identity discourses when they could so easily be distracted by burst pipes and sewerage in the Harbour.