A new movement cracks down on 50 years of LGBT culture.
By: Calpernia Addams
April 17 2014
To be ignorant of the past is to be forever a child. —Cicero
Some time in the early 2000s, I saw a profoundly troubling trend being born in the newly popular Live-Journal-type blogs. It later spread through Tumblr and Twitter, across our small, bright quilt of communities: an online thought police. The officers of the thought police felt deeply entitled and were intent on unraveling a half-century of LGBT community-building to insulate themselves from what has become the unendurable offense of much of today’s activism: feeling offended.
The Internet is a world of words, whether typed, superimposed on cat pictures, or spoken in videos, and decades of boundary-shattering LGBT culture have delivered up dictionaries full of scandalous language that make children — particularly those who’ve been windburned by a lifetime of hovering helicopter parents — very uncomfortable.
Right now, the endless flap over the gender community’s language is a hot topic, with RuPaul’s televised shemale and tranny games highlighting the question of who gets to say what in our balkanized communities. The language cops, in this case conservative trans women who object to their use under any circumstance, want tranny and other such words completely banned. I understand the arguments against the insult, but I don’t think these torch-wielders realize that transsexual women do not own the experience of gender crossing or the language created around it. Both the experience and the language have a long and hard-fought history across many groups; our history books are full of these stories. In seeking to blot out our internal language of historical words like tranny, the thought police are essentially burning books, one word at a time.
I am an artist. I’m far from being placed among the best in my fields (at least by those who want to hold a measuring stick to everything), but I feel this identity deeply. My deepest and most banal experiences all flow through the lens of my creativity, which I express as art. Before I am a woman, a transsexual woman, or even a physical body, at my core, I am a soul who loves to create whatever beauty I can from whatever I have at hand.
The world is full of those who create, and also those who destroy. Flaubert said, “One becomes a critic when one cannot be an artist, just as a man becomes a stool pigeon when he can not be a soldier.” Those who criticize their own community’s artists as transgressive word villains while producing nothing themselves might find uncomfortable resonance in that quote.
The LGBT community has historically been a source of art, culture, and wit that guides the world’s tastes. In being forced to embody the artifice of acceptable lives, we learned to create art itself. We wrote love songs to those we loved in secret. We brought together those who shared our marginality. Pushed to the fringes, we were often forced to find dark humor in the worst of circumstances. Through it all, disempowerment, rejection, and violent punishment lent an intrinsic sense of transgression to just being ourselves. And pain does inspire some of the most moving art.
From of that artistic heritage came the words we have created and reclaimed to describe ourselves. I feel slightly ridiculous talking about slang words like tranny and shemale, words I myself do not choose to use. But I’m not going to asterisk them out or hint at them, because if you’re reading this, you’re most likely a grownup and I’m going to hold you to that. Faggot and dyke have reached the sort of homeostasis that racial epithets have in their communities; taboo for outsiders but reclaimed in the culture’s art, with full awareness of the history. But control over the language of gender travelers is still being fought for in the LGBT community, and like children squabbling over an inheritance, transsexuals, genderqueer people, and drag queens all lay historical claim to these words.
In the United States, a major difference between us and non-LGBT people is how we are shaped by our struggle against society’s rejection and punishment. As this struggle has lessened, so have some of the differences in our formative experiences, and one result is the emergence of the kind of comfortable, privileged scold we once only saw warming the pews of conservative churches. Like those who demanded chastity and temperance with little experience in the ways of sex or booze, our modern-day conservatives would strike words from the lexicon that were created long before they first tinted their Twitter avatar to Equality Red.
Continue reading at: http://www.advocate.com/commentary/2014/04/17/op-ed-burning-books-one-word-time