Guest Blogger

An open letter to Christian Siriano: Time to retire "hot tranny mess"

Filed By Guest Blogger | April 06, 2008 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Media, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Christian Siriano, Jay Leno, Project Runway, transgender

Editor's Note: Lena Dahlstrom is a crossdresser from the San Francisco Bay Area who also performs under the stage name "Joie de Vivre." She's counting down the days until the next season of 'Project Runway.'

christian_l.jpgDear Christian,

I hope you're enjoying your new-found, and well-earned celebrity. It was refreshing to see a "Project Runway" contestant who's actually as talented as they thought themselves to be. And if you're brash... well, that's part of being 21-years-old.

I saw that you recently retired "fierce," and-- as someone who's trans (I'm a crossdresser who also performs as a drag queen) -- I'd like to ask you to retire your other catch phrase: "hot tranny mess."

I realize you probably started saying it to be hip and edgy. Maybe you even meant it affectionately in a snarky sort of way -- although you clearly intend it to refer to something tacky and ugly. But think about it. If straight folks started using "hot faggot mess" as a put-down, I suspect you'd be a bit peeved. (BTW, did I mention how adorable you look when you're miffed...?). And yes, it is a put-down, just in the same way that "that's so gay" is an offhand put-down straight kids use to describe something lame. As if being gay or being trans is sucky and something one ought to be ashamed of.

Or to put it another way- somehow I doubt you'd even think about using "hot n-word mess," yes?

I also just wanted to let you know that your use of the word "tranny" is treading on insensitive ground. Yes, some of us trans people do use the word "tranny." But there's a difference when a term that's often been an epithet gets reclaimed by members of the stigmatized group 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 it around carelessly.

I realize you probably don't mean it as a slur -- which is why I haven't given you my "hot tranniest look" (yet...). But the thing is, usually when most of us trans people hear the term "tranny" it's said by someone taunting us, threatening to beat us up, or even kill us. (So far in the first three months of this year, three other gender variant or trans people besides Lawrence King have been killed in apparent hate crimes. But you rarely hear about them, 'cause after all, we're just "trannies" -- nobody worth giving a damn about.)

Since you weren't exactly the most straight-acting kid in the class, I'm willing to bet you had people call you "faggot" in similar circumstances, so you understand how hearing an epithet can hurt, even if the speaker didn't mean anything by it.

As a celebrity -- like it or not -- what you do and say does influence people. And from what I'm seeing, "hot tranny mess" is becoming the latest "ain't it cool" thing to say in certain circles. I'm sure you'd much rather be remembered for your stunning designs than for creating a catch phrase that thoughtlessly hurts others.

You helped start and it. You can help stop it. The next time you do a talk show, let people know that you're retiring "hot tranny mess," and why. If Leno can do that, so can you.

But if you really want to keep using the word "tranny," why not use it describe something worth admiring -- I've even got a new catch-phrase for you: "hot tranny fabuliciousness."

Yours in fabuliciousness,
Lena Dahlstrom aka Joie de Vivre

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Thanks for this funny, yet heartfelt post. I have to agree that I have been uncomfortable hearing Christian say this catch phrase for awhile now.

I also agree that he probably just says it to be edgy, which is why your humorous, non-aggressive approach is so great. Educating him seems to be the key.

And I would love to see your "hot tranniest look"! I bet it's beautiful! :)

Lena, great letter. To Christian - I HEART YOU! Are you and Posh Spice BFF yet or what? Just don't drink the Kool-Aid!

I agree, Lena. I always cringe when I hear that phrase.

I never watched Project Runway, so the extent of my understanding was the SNL skit. I had no idea if "hot tranny mess" was a compliment or insult (I mean, "hot tranny" or "tranny mess" - where you put the emphasis makes a difference, IMO).

All that said, Lena's post has convinced me. Now I've just got to train my tongue around "hot tranny fabuliciousness."

Lena, excellent post. I completely agree. But I think there is one more unacknowledged elephant.

What about his own gender variance? I don't watch that show, so I don't know what, if anything, he has said about how he identifies. It seems everyone assumes he's gay, and perhaps that's what he said.

But his gender expression is more typically feminine than anything else. Is that why people assume he's gay? Well, that and the whole fashion designer thing.

The point is, he could just as easily be described as transgendered. Yet, he's giving attitude about trannies? Is he trying to put himself above trans people; or perhaps does he secretly identify as such, and it's some kind of psychological acting out?

I don't know, but it does strike me odd that he of all people should 'go there'.

Thanks for this Lena. I don't watch TV and I live on the other side of the world, but I've vaguely heard about this and I didn't really know the context. Thanks for explaining it all!

I guess this is a young person thing from cableland or something, never heard of Christian or the phrase.

I am not that offended by the phrase. Of course I have a pretty thick skin, and regularly refer to myself as a flaming psycho trannie bitch, so there you go. I have never really heard tranny used as a perjorative term before. I mean I am more insulted when someone calls me a guy.

I hear you're most insulted if someone calls you a "Yankee."


Damn Straight! Calling me a Yankee, well them is fightin words.

There is still enough Texas redneck in me for that! ;)

Thanks all.

BTW, I'm glad that I'm not the only who'd noticed. Turns out Margaret Price made some similar points in a piece for Bitch magazine's blog.

Jere: Once you've got your tongue trained, then you can work on saying it five times fast. ;)

Rory: I don't remember off-hand whether Christian specifically mentioned on the show how he identifies himself, but he's widely been described as gay in various profiles and interviews -- such as this one -- and he's got a boyfriend.

That said, I think do we need to be careful about not assuming/talking as if being gender variant being trans are the same thing. Lots of non-trans folks are gender variant -- unfortunately the folks who hate us usually don't bother to ask whether you're LGB or whether you're T before hurling a slur (or worse).

OTOH, I think for those of us who know better, it's important to respect how people self-identify Statements like "we're all transgendered" (which I've heard in the said to make the point that very few people can completely fulfill the "ideal" of their gender role)l, even though well-intentioned can be a bit off-putting to the intended audience and get in the way of the message. Better to make the focus be about gender variance, which covers a lot of people who aren't "straight acting" -- including butch hetero women and nelly hetero men.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | April 7, 2008 11:53 AM

Is it really already the beginning, no it must be the end, of television telling us what is the season. Michael Khors should be ashamed to associate himself with this nearly meaningless search for talent in what can only be called Kitch rather than fashion. Dears I saw the first three (and from what I hear the best seasons) of this program. From Thailand I cannot see the program. Thank You Lord Buddha!

Message to Alex: Darling! you live in France which is closer to THE world rather than the other side. I have a Master's degree in Media and I KNOW IT IS NOT REAL! I am sad to riff on anyone, but this poor person is being used totally by the show producers in the same manner that (ANDRE!) was used for near comic relief. None of this was the liberation I sought when I came out in 1972 at Purdue. Truly a step backward to become a show focus, by being an offensive clown.

"Trannie" is offensive, and I agree Christian shouldn't use it.

While it is not offensive, some in the gender variant community intensely dislike the word, "transgendered." Just as we wouldn't say that someone is "maled," or "femaled," so too, we wouldn't say someone is "transgendered."

"Gender Variant" is an all-inclusive term that is inoffensive to those who insist on using words like "pre-op," or "transgender," or "transexual." It doesn't step on anyone's toes.

Lena - your article was - "fierce."

I am an admirerer of Christian's work, and am disappointed by his use of the word, "tranny."

Amen, Sister Fabulous!!