The ‘T’ Word

From Huffington Post:


Hey, can we have a conversation about the word “tranny”?

It’s a word that is generally considered dehumanizing and offensive when referring to transgender people, like the “N” word for a person of color, or the “F” word for a gay man. But there it was in headlines last week in the story about DJ Mister Cee, who’d been outed as having had sex with a transgender prostitute (see “Is That You Boo? Mister Cee DRAGGED Out The Closet By Alleged Tranny Lover Who Taped Their Encounter??? [Video]“). There it was in a Daily Beast interview with actor Jared Leto about his performance as a transsexual woman in the new movie Dallas Buyers Club. (Writer Marlow Stern’s first question: “How did you summon your inner tranny for this role?”) And there it was, virtually everywhere, when Chelsea Manning came out as trans last month, causing editors from The Huffington Post to NPR to go running to their copies of the AP Stylebook for help. Politico’s Dylan Byers actually wrote a smart article about the challenge, titled “Manning Switch Challenges Style Editors,” which you’ll have to admit was putting it mildly.

Still, even among folks who ought to know better, the “T” word still gets plenty of use. There are a lot of reasons that this is the case, but I suspect that the core of the issue is that many simply people fail to take trans men’s and women’s humanity very seriously. As a result, in the hearts of such people, there’s not much of a sense that insulting us comes at any particular cost.

But it does come at a cost. It’s a word thrown around with careless disregard in order to belittle people, as in the egregious phrase “hot tranny mess,” a coinage popularized by designer Christian Siriano in 2008. And while Siriano later claimed he meant no harm, it’s inconceivable that anyone would say, for instance, “hot [‘N’ word] mess” or “hot [‘F’ word] mess.”

I have been on the receiving end of the word, and I can tell you that its capacity to wound is profound. In 2007, for instance, when I played myself on several episodes of a popular ABC soap opera, a conservative Christian publication titled their derisive story, “All My Tranny Children,” a phrase I am pretty sure they did not intend as a compliment.

That hurt takes place even when writers mean no harm. Gawker titled its coverage of Los Angeles Times sportswriter Mike Penner’s transition “Tranny Sportswriter Lookin’ Good!” Penner committed suicide two years later, in 2009, not in direct response to this article, of course, but surely in part because his transition, in such a hostile culture, proved unendurable.

The use of the word is made more complicated by the fact that some people in the transgender community use the word themselves, in a manner reminiscent, perhaps, of the way the “N” word is used by some African Americans. Younger people, in my experience, as well as people in the drag community, are more comfortable using it than transsexuals. For some trans folks, it’s an attempt to reclaim a slur and redefine it with pride and ownership. RuPaul, America’s most famous drag queen, uses it with abandon; so does Kate Bornstein, our most respected genderqueer activist.

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