Esquire Philippines recently ran a piece about the transition of singer Jake Zyrus. Zyrus, who used to perform as Charice Pempengco, recently revealed his chosen name on Twitter. Esquire super-maturely mocked it. (JAKE ZYRUS HA HA HA HA.)
Social media exploded with callouts of the magazine’s transphobia. Two days later, the magazine took the story down and apologized. The apology is getting a lot of praise…almost all of it deserved. Let’s talk about what they did right and what they did wrong, shall we?
But first, let’s get to know Zyrus! He’s been famous for a long time. In 2010, Charise was the first Asian solo artist ever to hit the Top 10 of the Billboard 200 albums chart (the album “Charise” debuted at #8). And Zyrus was memorable as the tiny, cheery, big-voiced, snazzy-glasses-wearing Sunshine Corazon, one of hypercompetitive Rachel’s nemeses, on Glee.
In 2014, Zyrus told Oprah, “My soul is male.” And now he is tweeting as his full, true, self, so yay. He hasn’t yet performed as Jake, but here’s the most recent clip I found of him, from last month, performing a Zayn song.
And here’s a number from Glee in 2010, with the delightfully hateful Lea Michele as Rachel.
(More evidence of vocal powerhouse-ness here. Dang. That’s a voice.)
Immediately after the name announcement, Esquire went to town. Award-winning writer Shakira Sison enumerated what the magazine did wrong.
Jenny Ortuoste, a columnist for the Manila Standard, further noted the hypocrisy of the magazine saying “We’re happy for Jake Zyrus. We really are,” followed by mockery of his name. Ortuoste noted drily, “In my experience, the phrase ‘we really are’ signals the opposite of what the writer has just declared.”
Two days later, Esquire apologized. It’s a pretty dang good apology. The headline “We Were Wrong to Make Fun of Jake Zyrus, and We’re Sorry” is excellent. You should go to the link and read the whole piece. The editors begin by saying, “We thought we were being a crass-but-supportive friend in the way we wanted to show our support while poking a little fun at Jake, but we totally drunk-uncled our way through it.” Nice. They say they now understand that making fun of a trans person’s name isn’t parallel to, say, snarking at Ron Artest for changing his name to Metta World Peace and then to Panda Friend. The magazine clarifies that for a trans person, the revelation of a new name is a crucial part of embracing identity, and noted, “We are blockheads and are just not as enlightened as we thought we were. It’s simple as that.” Indeed. After a wee moment of mandatory self-congratulation for staff diversity, the apology continues:
Ultimately, it was a failure in empathy and sensitivity. We regret the article and, knowing that a lot of other people are critical of Jake’s name, urge everyone to be more thoughtful about the issue, and more careful when discussing it. This kind of lapse is easily made, especially when you consider yourself fairly liberal and progressive and accepting. It helps to remember what that really means, once in awhile.
Yup. The magazine then shares some resources readers pointed them to: GLAAD’s guidelines for journalists writing about the transgender community, and a clear, potent article from VICE about the importance of names for trans folk. The apology concludes:
Bottom line: it wasn’t cool to say what we said. What we intended as snark is actually a very harmful affront to the rights of transgender people, and it cannot go hand-in-hand with support of them. We’re committing to a more thorough respect of everyone we talk about, especially those who suffer grave social injustices.
This both acknowledges wrongdoing and shows understanding of impact. It evinces clear comprehension of the harm done and offers a commitment to do better.
So what’s lacking? Well, we’ve noted many times that a good apology makes clear precisely what you’re apologizing for. This apology never reveals what Esquire Philippines wrote. (Fortunately, the cache provides. Staffer Miguel Escobar, who incidentally is not named in this apology, wrote: “’Jake Zyrus’ sounds like it could be the name of a vampire hunter who vanquishes his foes using two automatic rifles and a machete that’s glazed with the blood of a newly slaughtered elf. ‘Jake Zyrus’ sounds like the name of a character that Keanu Reeves would play in an R-13 movie that your 11-year old cousin really wants to see. ‘Jake’ and ‘Zyrus’ sound like they could be the names of Blue Ivy’s new twin siblings.” Ugh, Miguel. Not even a teensy bit witty.) The piece opts not to name the writer, who really should be accountable too.
Furthermore, we believe that there should be an institutional record of a fuckup. Rather than taking down the article in question, editors should append a note enumerating the problems with the piece, explicating why they regret publishing it, discussing what they’ve learned, and noting how they’ll make sure the problem won’t recur. This makes it easier for other folks to learn from the publication’s errors. It’s also a form of accountability: It’s harder to claim to be noble and heroic, as The Daily Beast did when it took down that vile piece that outed Olympic athletes, when people can actually eyeball the horror of what you wrote. It’s easy to minimize something that’s not right there to be factchecked. Serious news outlets agree that best journalistic practices include not “unpublishing.”
All that said. The quality of Esquire Philippines’s apology is so high, and the determination to do better is so clear, I think we can forgive the lapses. Jake does.
— Jake Zyrus (@jakezyrus) June 21, 2017