Katy Guest: 'Sorry' is glib. This apology means more

Without the S word, Minchin shows true intent

Share
Related Topics

They say that sorry is the hardest word. Bankers seem to think so, as well as politicians and presenters of Top Gear. A litigious culture convinces us that apologising for our mistakes can only lead to trouble, and that the best solution is to get defensive and lie. Perversely, this is why I respect the comedian Tim Minchin even more for not saying "sorry" after he was pulled up publicly for an offensive remark.

First, full disclosure: I am a pathetic fan of Minchin. I am awed by the genius of his linguistic trickery. I want to ask him if a fake ginger like me is ever allowed to "call another ginger ginger". His song "If I Didn't Have You (I would probably have somebody else)" is my "our tune". But when he made a joke on Channel 4's 8 Out of 10 Cats about a "tranny", I winced. The Independent on Sunday Pink List last week highlighted the fights and achievements of transgender people; our corresponding news story showed the shocking rise in hate crime against them. Jokes about "trannies" do not help.

Sarah Brown, a Cambridge city councillor (and number 28 on the Pink List), contacted Minchin on Twitter to reprimand him gently: "I love your work, but please lay off the 'tr*nny' jokes. Some of us find that really offensive." And so began a discussion between Brown, Minchin, their followers, and the organisation Trans Media Watch. Minchin said he'd had no idea that the word was offensive: "I have drag friends who use it... Not defending my ignorance, just letting you know." He did some research, and soon understood why transgender people were so upset.

Trans Media Watch asked if he would apologise. "To what end?" Minchin asked. "I was interested in this, sought more information, and politely answered questions." Followers of both sides pitched in to defend their team, many of them by attacking the other. Both sides told their fans to lay off.

Minchin is not the only comedian recently to refuse to apologise for causing offence. When Ricky Gervais was told off for a joke about "mongs", he decided defiantly to repeat it. Just like Chris Moyles using the word "gay" as an insult, he argued that the English language has moved on.

Tell that to the playground bullies who copy celebrities when they torment their victims, was the response of people to whom those words are used in hate. Moyles was cleared by the BBC, and was later accused of homophobia again. Gervais eventually bowed to public pressure to apologise, but by then it was hard to believe in the sincerity of his sorryness.

Minchin's reaction was far more measured. Let's not forget: this is a man who makes a living as the funniest PC liberal ever to sit in front of a piano, and no such person likes to be told that he is an unwitting transphobe. Sometimes, "sorry", like "I love you", is the easiest word: the linguistic version of a get-out-of-jail-free card. But demonstrating contrition, like demonstrating love, takes more effort. Or, as Minchin put it: "[I have learnt] that grown people seem to think demanding & receiving an apology has inherent value. Apologies are about intent." He also admitted that he is "too proud... to succumb to hectoring". Instead, he diplomatically pointed out to his 246,000 Twitter followers that "tranny" jokes are not acceptable.

At the end of a day of Twitter opprobrium, some of which looked a lot like bullying, Minchin had still not used the word "sorry". "I am not interested in PR or those who think that's what matters," he tweeted. He ended by passing on the other thing he had learnt that day: that "A word is as offensive as those who have been victimised by it tell us it is. That's why I won't use the term again."

Trans Media Watch are now friends with Minchin, and they call his public learning experience a positive result. I call it a real apology.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - Commercial Vehicles - OTE £40,000

£12000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Leader - Plasma Processing

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Operations Leader is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Most powerful woman in British politics

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
All the major parties are under pressure from sceptical voters to spell out their tax and spending plans  

Yet again, the economy is the battleground on which the election will be fought

Patrick Diamond
Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders