Question for Friday (My Response) — the "Tranny" Mess — Part 2/3

6 02 2009

What’s wrong with the word “tranny?”
Part 2/3

There is one more piece after this one — a guest blogger that I am so happy to be writing for QueerCincinnati.com.

Update (8 hours later): Perhaps I am not the most lucid on this subject; perhaps I am not as clear as many of my commentators. In reality, I am still struggling with it. Lately, I’ve felt someone numb to a lot of the rhetoric around semantics. My good friend called me a pragmatic feminist when I chose to support Hillary Clinton in the primary; this friend, as with others of that group, often comment that my response to most things is: “Yea, it’s nice to talk about it, but what are you going to do about it?”

I am, at my heart, a pragmatist, and the ongoing debate even in risk behavior of identification seems a little much. After all, does it matter if someone identifies as gay if they take it up the ass in the bathhouse? No. In the same way, does it matter if someone identifies as transgender or tranny or metrosexual or androgynous if they still lack the same rights as other people, or are treated as less than human based on their gender expression or identity? No.

Like with my feelings on the queer theorists — there are still very practical things that need to happen within the gender movement (public education, basic rights, insurance coverage of SRS, etc. etc. etc.) before we can really move truly into the semantic debates that this whole issue over tranny can matter, ultimately.

At the same time, there is something to be said for reclamation and power. I have taken on the term “queer,” as a way of empowering it on my terms, rather than allowing homophobic individuals to claim it as their word of power.

An anecdote: at Miami, two of my dear male friends were walking down the street, hand in hand, and a car full of boys drove by and started screaming “FAGGOTS.” I still remember, in a moment of wonderment, both of them screaming back: “YES WE ARE.” And, thus, the potential hurt and shame that word implies is taken away and the two boys were allowed to identify and empower themselves despite the discrimination.

“Tranny.” Hrm.

No, you don’t have to identify as such, and you don’t have to like it. But, I think, if you allow the hate that people can infuse into the word to define it, then you’ve all ready lost, haven’t you?

I think there’s a lot that’s been said over the last week and a half on this blog and others on the word “tranny,” and I’m not quite sure I yet understand what the problem is. You are going to have to walk with me through this, and understand that I am processing the information rather than making a definitive statement.

As always, I’m learning, and I’m not always the best on trans-issues, but I’ve always been open to learning.

Is there anything wrong with the word “tranny” — no, I don’t think so — in much the way that the words “fag” or “queer” or “dyke” have absolutely nothing wrong with them, by their very nature. It’s all in how they are used. And, though I have a thing against moral relativism, I think it’s valid in this situation.

Working in the Emergency Department gives me an interesting perspective: there are people out there that identify, or, at least, refer to themselves as trannies. It’s their identity. Unfortunately for the dominant hegemonistic rhetoric that seems to be developing over the terminology, they lack the proper education and access to Judith Butler to truly understand what awfulness their identification enacts upon the movement as a whole. Sure, if pressed, they will tell you that they are one of the “big three T’s” — transvestite, transsexual, or transgender. On a daily basis, though, they are simply tranny.

It’s certainly what their john’s refer to them as.

In a way I just posited that to rail against the term is both racist and classist. In the porn industry, too, “tranny is used about as much as as “chicks with dicks.” So, there’s that…

I used to be really, really against the word FAG. In fact, I ran a whole series on it — well, sort of, it was a brief series. But I use the word too, affectionately. Now, granted, I use FAG as the basest of the queer insults, but it’s never actually hateful in its use. It’s just the lowest denominator, in a way. I grew out of my displeasure with the term because I was more upset with how it was being used rather than that it was being used at all.

I think tranny is, or should be, much the same way.

If I’m a raging transphobic asshole, I can understand why someone would take great offense to my using ‘tranny’ to describe anything. But I’m part of the community, and I’m supportive generally of trans-issues, and I have my own trans-expression issues, so is it fair for me to use the term lovingly?

Of course it is, in much the same way Christian Soriano (or whatever) used it. (Guess what? He’s sort of a tranny too… go ahead, challenge me that he’s never run into discrimination based on his expression.)

This has become a bit on the rambling side, so I’ll just close it up by saying this: there’s really nothing wrong with the term tranny, IMHO. However, if someone is offended by it, then the appropriate response is to inform me and then I’ll stop using it in reference to them. I think, too often, we confuse what is offensive to me personally and what is genuinely offensive to human dignity. If something is offensive, then say so. If something is genuinely hateful and expressed in a hateful way, then it should be stopped.

I think that most people in the community don’t use tranny hatefully, or, at least, not with the intent of being hateful.

On the other side, it’s not a term that should be used in journalism. It’s not even a real word, in this context. “Tranny,” then, should be eschewed in favor of the proper terminology. But, as I have said before, I am not a journalist.

Rereading this, I don’t know if I like what I wrote… I’m not sure I got my point across. So watch for updates.

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