October 6, 2022
It was almost a decade ago now that Michelle Sheppard was first interviewed on Melbourne community radio station Joy 94.9 FM about her lived experience as a transgender woman.
Michelle – aka Mama Mish – tells Radio Today “As soon as I walked out of the room, they were like ‘Can you come back? Can you stay?’”
“I ended up hosting the show I came in to be interviewed on.”
Within minutes of speaking to Michelle it’s easy to see why. She’s engaging, funny and forthright, and when I find myself asking if I may call her Mish, she nods enthusiastically and says “Please do!”
Mish doesn’t hold back in her own assessment of how others might perceive her:
“I’m not palatable. I’m the ‘evil tranny’ that everybody talks about in the media.”
Mish believes there’s a golden opportunity in mainstream radio that’s ripe for the taking.
“I haven’t seen another transgender woman on the radio hosting shows beyond community radio, and even then, the conversations we are a part of are often only about sharing lived experiences.”
Mish – who went on to host the breakfast show Mish and Mates, along with programs including TransPositions, Trans POV and Family Matters – says she found herself in a quandary:
“I was like, wow … I have this talent that I didn’t know I had. But at the same time I’ve no way to build it and stoke the fire to take it further.”
“I just found that there was no support.”
Mish says many transgender people she’s met struggle with the idea of their voice being heard and then misgendered by the listener.
“A lot of the conversations I’ve had – just with trans people in general – is usually around voice. There was a trans man on one show, and he really struggled with the fact he felt he still sounded like a woman on air.”
Mish says “Many trans women like myself, who has a very masculine, deep voice … there’s that fear you’re going to be misgendered as a man on radio.”
“I would love to see mainstream stations engage diverse communities more and run programs to help uplift and develop diverse talent for the future of radio.”
Does Mish think people feel panicked about using the wrong pronouns?
Mish smiles: “All the time. All the time. And I tell people ‘It’s OK. You’re going to.’ And it’s totally fine. I get it.”
Mish would love to hear more queer voices on the mainstream airwaves, talking about regular, everyday stuff.
“I’d like people to know me as the parent that I am. As the woman with queer experience that I have. Not the scary trans woman who’s six foot three.”
“In an ideal world, I’d love to be on a competing radio station of someone like Kyle Sandilands and be at another station and say ‘He said WHAT?’ And have that countering voice at another station and be able to speak for my community and represent my community.”
“If I do hear something on, say, a podcast – again, it’s content that’s very trans-heavy – let’s talk about our genitalia, let’s talk about surgery, let’s talk about our experiences of being misgendered … I’m like, I can talk about my kids, my dogs … can we talk about some of the other weird s**t that’s happening?”
“The weird conversations I have! My daughters’ lives … this is stuff I could be talking about on air and have fun with, and I want to do more of that, but I find that there’s nowhere to go to pitch and talk about that stuff.”
“I would love to see one of the mainstream stations have a call out to people like myself, who might have some experience, who they might be able to help us maybe develop a show, or mentor people to help with some of these voices, because the problem is that there’s also a fear that people don’t understand who we are. They’re too afraid to engage, they’re too afraid of being cancelled – of doing the wrong thing – so they just don’t engage.”
“I want to tell the fun things,” says Mish, reflecting on an amusing incident at a shopping centre with her children. “I’m getting ready to go into the toilet and I have to look at them and go ‘Hey, what do we say in the toilets?’ And they’re like ‘We don’t say Daddy.’”
“These are the fun stories that I want the wider community to hear.”
“I will continue pushing any way I can so that I can continue to tell these fun stories and help change the perception of who and what we are.”
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