Editor's Note: Lena Dahlstrom, a crossdresser from the San Francisco Bay Area who also performs under the stage name "Joie de Vivre," addresses the Life+Style Editor of a gay newspaper petulantly defending his right to call people "trannies."
Now I know you won't be offended by me -- a hetero crossdresser who also does drag -- calling you that, since after all we're all about reclaiming terms, right? Just like you getting RuPaul to "rule" that it's OK to call trans people "trannies." The thing is, as far as I know, RuPaul identifies as a gay man, so asking his/her opinion on this issue is a bit like asking a white person whether it's OK for other white people call black people... well you know the term I mean.
The thing is, reclaiming an epithet is something that only gets to be done by the people who've been targeted by it. There's a big difference between members of a stigmatized group reclaiming a term as a way of saying "yeah I am a [insert derogatory term here], wanna make something of it" -- and quite another when someone outside that group decides to fling that term around carelessly. And no, we're not "already there" in reclaiming tranny as a cuddly term of endearment -- Christian Siriano's catchphrase "hot tranny mess" was clearly meant as a putdown down in exactly the same way as clueless straight kids use "that's so gay."
As far as using "drag queen," I've got no problem with using that term to describe people who are actually drag queens -- i.e. people who are crossdressing for performance. Some of whom may also be trans. But using it to describe trans people off the stage is implying their gender identity is just for show, akin to straight people who tell you that you're not really gay, you just haven't found the right woman yet. Think I'm kidding? I've seen gay men tell transwoman: "No really, what's your real (i.e. male) name."
I do agree with RuPaul that one does need to take intent into account. I've got gay friends who've thrown around "tranny" -- but when I've gently mentioned that it's a term that a lot of trans people find problematic when used by people who aren't trans (or friends and allies), guess what, they stopped using it. But no, you had to go pissily justify your right to use the term and accusing people who complain of "Nazi-like" rigidity. That's hardly "coming from a place of love and respect" now is it? The place that comes to mind is: asshat-ism. Because bottom-line, if you have to have to ask yourself whether a term you're using is offensive, that's a pretty good clue that it's not a good idea to use it.
Words may never hurt me, but they can piss me off -- and I think RuPaul might also have something to say about the folly of getting on the wrong side of an angry drag queen.