It really frustrates me that the biggest story in the Hobart City Council elections this week is over a two-year-old email in which a (now) candidate signed of declaring themselves “Kermit (Riddup – I identify as a frog).” Whilst we could be talking about how to deal with the housing crisis, or how to ease transport challenges, or how to improve any aspect of the City of Hobart, we’re talking about a transphobic remark on an old email.

And so first I want to address the ridiculous arguments.

Why are you against her identifying as a frog?

Funnily enough, if this were her genuine position, I’d probably not care. It might be something that I would be curious about, but if her social media and election campaign material was using the name Kermit, then sure, go for it. I use a preferred name too, what of it?

She doesn’t, though. The email sign off was very clearly mocking the primary recipient who, like me, is non-binary and chooses to use alternate pronouns from that of their biological sex.

Come on, it’s just a joke.

Sure, it’s a joke, and we can all have a little laugh at it. However, like many jokes, the reality is that it’s based on something more sinister. As mentioned above, the point was not to genuinely provide information on this person’s identification, but was to mock the recipient by providing a farcical comment that discredits their gender identity.

This is a common argument by people – particularly of the right – when being called out for offensive jokes. Sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and more are all the basis for jokes that discredit minorities, and conservatives like to call people ‘snowflakes’ because they can’t insult someone else for a laugh.

 (Meanwhile, tell these people that we want to change the name of a brand of cheese because it has racist connotations, and they will … well, The Joker says it best.)

Which leads me on to…

Don’t be so sensitive.

Leaving aside the ridiculousness of accusing someone of sensitivity when you can’t handle an absolutely inconsequential brand name change, this is the crux of the issue. Are we becoming too sensitive in our society?

The answer is no. At least, not in this sense.

The only time people seem to have these arguments, is when they get called out for insulting someone else. I know that here in Australia we’re particularly proud of our deprecative sense of humour, but I don’t believe that’s something we should be proud of.

I was brought up with the lesson continually drilled into me that, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” I was also brought up in a Christian household where I learned lessons such as, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”

What’s wrong with lifting one another up? What’s wrong with encouraging one another? 

It shouldn’t be a difficult concept to understand that what we say impacts the world around us. When we make jokes at another person’s expense, we devalue that person, we imply that they’re lesser than we are. It’s why there’s been a movement in recent years to kerb racist and sexist jokes, because we can see the line drawn between offensive jokes and the disrespect that they cultivate, and more sinister crimes against those people.

We’re not becoming too sensitive. We’re just expecting better from our society – and not everyone likes the idea of being held to higher standards.