Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

'Tranny' Is Not Acceptable

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | June 23, 2011 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: Special Olympics, Spread the Word to End the Word, trannie, tranny

The Spread the Word to End the Word campaign, an on-going initiative from Special Olympics and Best Buddies, was created to eradicate the derogatory use of the word "retard(ed)" from everyday use and promote the inclusion and acceptance of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It's powerful.

Monica Helms decided to put together a similar PSA referring to the use of derogatory terms about trans people. It doesn't have celebrities, and it's not glitzy, but it makes an important point.

As in the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign, the actors tell you what words not to use, one of which is "tranny." I know people who don't think the word is derogatory, and I've even heard some trans people say that, but I don't like it, myself. What do you think?

Monica's video is after the break.


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Personally, as a feminine gay male, or genderqueer person, I don't ever say or call anyone that word. However, if people self identify that way, I guess I think it's up to them. It's okay for me to identify as queer, but it's not okay when someone drives by and yells "QUEER!!!" out their car window - big difference. In bigger cities, there is growing usage and acceptance of the term tranny - particularly among trans boys and trans men which I have heard from many trans women that they find offensive and problematic because they feel that word is used most often against them. Language is tricky and always evolving.

The word "tranny" doesn't bother me or sound offensive to me especially compared to some of the others they mentioned, but seeing as I'm a heterosexual, cisgendered person I don't figure it's for me to be bothered by it or not; and anyway I tend to figure I'll call people how they want to be called.

How about people who are comfortable enough with it to self-identify with the term feel free to use it and those who don't like it not identify with it or its use.

These kind of words are basically contentious and derogatory depending on context.

"Faggot"/"Fag" is a slur when it's used offensively, and not when gays who are cool with it use it to refer to one another.

"Dyke" is a slur when it's used to describe a woman and why they fired her from her position. It's not when it's followed by "...On Bikes" at a Pride Parade.

If some trans people actually identify with the term (and yes, some do), then they should be free to use it to describe themselves and their events and should likewise exercise discretion and sensitivity for why it's being used and when it shouldn't be and which of their trans compatriots do not identify with it.

The problem is that cis society largely doesn't believe slurs against trans people count as slurs. Particularly those among cis gays who think they have a pass to throw "tranny" around because they know someone who self-identifies as one and therefore we all must.

And there's nothing worse than people making broad assumptions about other groups of people, right?

Yep, which is why I was careful not to speak in absolute terms.

I do not like the word, never have liked it and feel it would be good to be rid of it. Words like this and several others I will not bother to mention are just useful in dividing people. What we need to do instead is to stop playing this type of game. People are people plain and simple.

I don't care if a trans person calls themselves a tra**y. I do so now and again myself, although for me it's usually in a sarcastic or self deprecating manner. If a cis person does so, however, the whole dynamic is completely different.

For a trans person, reclaiming the word is fine. Applied to a trans person from without is wrong, imo.

Indeed. Context is everything, and, if you don't have what TV Tropes would call T-word privileges, you're playing with fire if attempting to use the word in a liberating manner. That film that will not be named, for example. I could see a comedian finding a way to use the word, actually, Patton Oswalt, and if I could find the relevant clip I'd link to it, did a bit where the T-Word was broken out but where it was used to mock insular values.

But you, uncreative average, not-a-brilliant-wordsmith person out there? It's best if you just don't try it.

And I note that in the current "queer" issue of the SF Bay Guardian (SF's oldest alternative rag) they have a big article about this comic book which was created by a gay man who is not trans:

http://periwinklejournal.tumblr.com/post/2329114558

I just saw a new film at the Frameline Festival called "Bob's New Suit" which contained a 90-second discussion of the word tranny and a trans character says "I like the sound of it". The film was written and directed by a gay man who is not trans.

I note at Queerty (yes, a gay forum mostly for a-holes) there was a thoughtful article about community terms which should be retired. Needless to say, tranny was among the list and a sizable number of gay men took offense to it's inclusion because "they have trans friends who use it all the time."

See a pattern here?

I saw this a few days ago and posted it on Facebook for my friends to see...I've been called most of the names, sometimes by people who should know better. Tonight a "friend" continued to call me he in a meeting. I wanted to lean over and slap him, but I didn't. I do believe the "t" word is offensive and hurtful, but I also know that I can't control what other people call me. I try to follow the Eleanor Roosevelt thought of "No one can make me feel inferior without my consent." That is fine, but words DO hurt.

I do know some trans people who will use this term in an endearing way towards other trans people; it's true. But I think this ad notes that the deliberate mis-application of pronouns, or the blending of them to imply freakishness, are also hurtful. Indeed, in terms of abuse toward trans videos on youtube, the pronoun mucking is by far the kind of derogatory insults that I unfortunately will read . . .

Jaime Dunaway Jaime Dunaway | June 24, 2011 1:29 AM

I don't like the term, never have. Only a few people irl have tried to call me by the t word and I straightened them out pretty quickly. I live pretty openly since I transitioned in a small town and either they don't really know all the good slurs or they just don't care to apply them to someone they mostly consider to be a nice person despite their opinion on the whole trans deal. I still have to deal with the occasional misgender by a few who knew me before, but they are mostly ignored by me or anyone within earshot.

I do think our community sends a mixed message by saying its ok for some of us to use, but not others. That line of thinking has never sat well with me. I'm in the practice what you preach camp in general. And I've grown sick of hearing gay men tell cis people that its ok to use as if they should even have any say in it at all.

In the interest of full disclosure - I like the word and I use the word. However, it is mine - I get to reclaim it from the pornographers and the jerks.

The best excuse I've heard for non-trans women to sue it is that it is a shortened form of transsexual (or trans gender). Thus, it is like "homo" in that respect. Now, if a gay man calls another gay man a "homo" it can be cute and ironic and maybe scathing. If a strange straight guy calls a gay man a "homo", one would think it would not be seen as such a neutral "loving" term... or am I wrong here?

I'm fine if you want to reclaim the word, but I find it offensive. So, feel free to use it whenever you want...knowing you are offending some people when you do. Personally, if a friend of mine (transperson or not0 used it, they would not be a friend of mine.

If someone uses the word and doesn't intend it as offensive, why bother to get upset, and if they are trying to be offensive, why give them the satisfaction.

Sounds nice in theory but you could apply that logic to absolutely any offensive language.

Language, like water, finds its own level. We can never mandate a word into nuance or significance. Popular usage overrides those attempts. If those who are transsexual stated that they give themselves permission to use the word tranny only in private and among themselves, I'd understand, but they use it in popular and published formats such as the long running http://www.trannyshack.com/ or http://www.myspace.com/tranniepalace/photos. This rather takes the wind out of the argument that it is unacceptable. I no longer use the word because it is offensive to some, and I don't want even one reader to flinch because of my word choice, but that argument skews to my personal sense of craftsmanship and less to the good/bad nature of the word. I do not at all mind offending those who disagree with my opinions as long as I can state something I believe with deference.

Jaime Dunaway Jaime Dunaway | June 24, 2011 1:36 PM

See, to me, that is an issue. Those sites appear to be primarily drag. They likely go off stage, remove the makeup and clothes and don't have to deal with anyone's hateful use of the word in their regular life away from that, although I imagine a few likely enjoy whatever attention they get, negative or not.

I'm not as extreme as most of the wbts or woth or whatever, but I really don't see drag performers as trans nor do I really view crossdressers(men or women who dress as the opposite sex for fun or fetish, but identify as their birth sex) as trans either. I don't see how they have any rights in determining what is appropriate to call trans people who actually live their lives as who they are contrary to their birth sex. But I also realize that there is so little agreement in our community on anything that its becoming a lost cause along with any other definition that is out there dealing with us.

Its getting to where if anyone asks me what I am, I tell them I'm a bunny rabbit, very little stigma attached to that, you know? :)

Jaime Dunaway Jaime Dunaway | June 24, 2011 1:36 PM

See, to me, that is an issue. Those sites appear to be primarily drag. They likely go off stage, remove the makeup and clothes and don't have to deal with anyone's hateful use of the word in their regular life away from that, although I imagine a few likely enjoy whatever attention they get, negative or not.

I'm not as extreme as most of the wbts or woth or whatever, but I really don't see drag performers as trans nor do I really view crossdressers(men or women who dress as the opposite sex for fun or fetish, but identify as their birth sex) as trans either. I don't see how they have any rights in determining what is appropriate to call trans people who actually live their lives as who they are contrary to their birth sex. But I also realize that there is so little agreement in our community on anything that its becoming a lost cause along with any other definition that is out there dealing with us.

Its getting to where if anyone asks me what I am, I tell them I'm a bunny rabbit, very little stigma attached to that, you know? :)

Jaime Dunaway Jaime Dunaway | June 24, 2011 1:38 PM

And yeah, don't hit refresh without thinking after the thingy goes to that page after you post a comment. Feel free to remove the duplicate along with this post as well:) Sorry.

Tina (IL) | June 24, 2011 2:48 PM

rabbits eat lots of vegetables, but corn isn't a vegetable (mixing my entries, cute, eh? not really, stupid). I think this points out the problem with the umbrella. I'm fine with crossdressers...but you are right, they might deal with it on their way to a meeting or whatever, where I deal with things day to day, every day of my life. They can call themselves trans, but until they've spent a few years in my shoes (and they aren't six inch stilleto heels!), they have no idea what it is like...just as I have no idea what it is like to be a person of colour.

Ugh Trannyshack... I'm not sure why this place keeps being used as an example of trans women using the word. As far as I know no trans women are really involved in the club/night. The guy who hosts and promotes the night identifies as a gay man and a drag queen not as a trans woman. I'm not even sure if trans women who are also involved in the drag scene have even been invited to perform there.

If anything, trannyshack is an example of what trans people in the video and the comments here have been saying is a problem. rather than an example to disprove that there is a problem or that significant numbers of trans women are totally cool with gay men using "tranny" uncritically.

Tony,
You and I have had a conversation where you decided that you knew better then a trans person on what therapist they should use. Then, on your blog, you advocated that trans people should not be included in ENDA. Now it seems you are making an excuse on why you feel you should be allowed to use certain words because it, "skews to my personal sense of craftsmanship." Am I right on this? I suppose that you are giving permission to non-gay men to use the f-word for all the same reasons? When I write something, I do my best in respecting my gay brothers by never ever using the f-word. Maybe you would do best in following the same idea when engaging in your "craftsmanship."

Seems pretty simple, really. If a person says the word offensive, then don't use it. I have been in the wrong here, but I'm willing to admit it. If you have a trans friend who uses a word to self-identify, it doesn't give you permission to use the word in front of them, even if you are trans. You don't get the right to argue with a person on why they should accept a word that is offensive to them and you don't get to tell them they're wrong.

Even though there are trans and intersex people who accept some of the words in the video, it was made for the general public, and especially the LGB people. The PSA is to tell them it's not okay to use them, even if you know someone who does. Sometimes the trans community are our own worst enemy by sending mix messages to non-trans people. This PSA was made to set the records straight . . . sorta speak.

Trannyshack is run by gay men who do drag... they live the vast majority of their lives presenting as gay men. That has always been the history of that drag show. I don't know why that's so hard for people to understand this point because literally every time there is a discussion about "tranny" in relation to trans women, someone (always a gay man) brings up Trannyshack. Moreover, there have been very few trans women who do drag who've even performed at that venue. Furthermore, tranny is used as an misogynist insult to non-trans women whenever they look somehow abhorrent to media snarkists... and I find that offensive both to them and to trans women who are evidently to be seen as the ultimate state of ugly or as some kind of 'hilarious' putdown.

When words are used to describe people in an impersonal fashion, that is when the meaning becomes scrutinized. The firemen who died in 9-11 are described as "heroes." Nobody has a problem with that because the word is universally regarded as a compliment.

The word "tranny" is not complimentary. Why? Because there is no inherent benefit in being Transsexual in our society. Even amongst Trans people, the word is, at best, a form of depreciation. Embracing it isn't going to make Transsexualism a desirable condition to be born with. It might dull the derogatory nature, but no more than "Physically Challenged" dulled "Disabled" which dulled "Handicapped" which dulled "Crippled" which dulled "Spastic" which dulled "Palsied" which dulled "Lame" which dulled "Feeble" which dulled "Gimpy."

It's not the word, it's the intent behind it. They only way to dis-empower those who use it is to not identify with it.

I had to look up half those words. I suppose it's a good thing that i don't know anyone who has said them before, but still, of all the words people use to insult jews, i thought they could have used one i knew.
Maybe America is just more racist.