Guest Blogger

Tranny IS Just a Word

Filed By Guest Blogger | February 04, 2009 3:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Media, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: faggot, language, Monica Helms, offensive, tava, trannie, tranny, transgender

Editors' note: Monica Helms is the president of the Trangender American Veterans Association.

clk_trans.jpgI know that by expressing my opinion about this word in an article, I will make a lot of my trans friends angry. Seems that the quarterly label issue is brewing yet again and right on time. This article of mine came about because of an article my friend Donna Rose wrote on her blog called, "Tranny: Just a Word?" Please note that Donna happens to be one of my closest sisters, but, like family, we can disagree on things. This is one of those times.

Human beings have a propensity for figuring out ways to verbally put down other people. Americans are absolute experts in this "field," especially during a war with another country. In Wikipedia, you can find hundreds of words used for just ethnic slurs alone. It's more fun for American to burn bridges rather than build them. If ethnic slurs are so prevalent, then it stands to reason that slurs directed at the LGBT community would be also in abundance. The questions now become, "Are some of these words actually worth getting upset about?" and "How do we neutralize them?"

I tried to look up the "tranny," or my favorite spelling, "trannie," and found out that it isn't in However, they showed all of the various usages for the word that we find in the English language, which are also listed in the Wikipedia entry for "tranny."
Tranny/Trannie is a term with multiple meanings:

  • Transformer (electrical)
  • Transgender (slang)
  • Transistor radio
  • Shortwave radio (not necessarily a transistor model), like the Zenith Trans-Oceanic Shortwave Radio
  • Transmission on an automobile
  • A term for a transgender person.
  • A nickname for the Ford Transit (usually as Tranny van)
  • A transparency, either a photographic slide or for an overhead projector.
  • A Rock band based out of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
  • In skateboarding a slang term for "transition".
Seems it is used for much more things than to describe us. Maybe we should be a bit more careful in getting upset with someone when we hear it being used, especially if it comes from a skateboarder, an auto mechanic or an electrician. I also found the words "trannie" and "tranny" in the Urban Dictionary, and even in there automobile transmissions were mentioned.

Many in the trans community show outrage in the use of the words trannie or tranny. Sometimes I see this outrage as baseless at best. I hear people evoke the "N-word" as an analogy and how it outrages African Americans, even if some of them use the word in conversation. I find it not only ridiculous to say our outrage is similar to this, but downright disrespectful to the African American community and their struggles for even suggesting it's anywhere on the same level.

The "N-word" has over four hundred years of hateful history behind it. It has over four hundred years of struggles behind it. It has over four hundred of blood and pain behind it. And it has over three hundred years of slavery behind it. Can we even come close to that? Most of us were alive when the word "tranny" was coined, so it has very little history. Maybe we can start complaining about its usage in the year 2350. Until then, let's put this into perspective, shall we?

Another source of outrage for the word "tranny" is the fact that it's used on internet porn sites. Should we be surprised? If the site is used to make money, then it makes good marketing sense to use this word, because the word "transsexual" is too cumbersome. Doing a Google search, I found 2.6 million links for "tranny, porn," as compared to 19 million for "gay, porn," or 13.5 million for "lesbian, porn," and 262 million for "porn."

But "tranny" isn't the only word you can find porn associated with us. You can also pull up porn links using the words "transsexual, transgender, trans, transvestite" and "shemale." The words "shemale, porn" brought up 3.58 million links. Let's face it folks, regardless of how you want to label us, we are a category in the internet porn industry, and a rather small one at that. If you want to use online porn as an excuse for not wanting to embrace the word "tranny," I find it to be rather poor reasoning. You would have to include all those other words in your outrage as well.

Part of this discussion also gravitates to the usage of the words "queer" and "dyke," two words that have been successfully neutralized, and "faggot," a word that may never be neutralized. At one time, both "queer" and "dyke" were considered highly derogatory and offensive. Even today, the people who hate try to use them, thinking it will somehow make a queer person or dykes upset. The LGB and T communities have done a good job in embracing and reclaiming these words and now they have become part of the acceptable culture we live in.

The word "faggot" has not made the transition to being acceptable to the LGBT community. It is a term directed to ALL members of the LGBT community, even heterosexual trans people. Its origin dates back to the late 16th century, meaning "old or unpleasant woman," and the modern use may well derive from this. The word is a shortening version of the term "faggot-gatherer," applied in the 19th century to people, especially older widows, who made a meager living by gathering and selling firewood. The word "faggot" means a "bundle of sticks for burning." The modern usage of "fag" and "faggot" are primarily used in English-speaking countries. Of course, the word "faggot" is a British term for cigarettes, because they are also a "bundle of sticks for burning." If a British person asks you for a faggot, they're not looking for a gay man.

The word "faggot" shows its usage to date back 500 years, most of the time having an offensive meaning. It has a well-establish history as a derogatory word, but it didn't get attached to effeminate men until the late 19th, early 20th Centuries. Some people in the LGBT community are trying to neutralize this word, but with no success. But please take note of this one major difference between "faggot" and the "N-word." Most of society, and even LGBT people, have not yet accepted or even considered changing "faggot" to the "F-word." With that long of a history for this word, maybe we should.

Hate words are nothing more than one person using language to take control over another's emotions. When the person uses them to be offensive on purpose, they succeed in taking control when the other person actually takes offense. Hate language can provoke some people to violence. We have proof that the word "tranny" has been used in violent acts toward trans people, along with "shemale," "it," "abomination" and "faggot." Reclaiming the word will not stop the violence, but the word doesn't cause the violence. Violent people cause the violence. We cannot blame violence toward trans people on one word.

People used to take offense with the words "queer" and "dyke," both of which predates the words "trannie" and "tranny." The word "dyke" is the shorten version of the word "bulldyke," first seen in 1920 novels. "Queer" is much older, coming from the English language in the 16th century, meaning "strange, unusual," or "out of alignment." These words were used to denote LGBT people for a long time, yet they have been successfully reclaimed to neutralize their emotional affect. However, they are still heard during violent acts toward LGBT people.

Many trans people are reclaiming the words "trannie" and "tranny," and they appear to be mostly the younger people in our community. They seem to understand the need to neutralize the affect that others have in wanting to offend us. Younger LGBT people also accept "queer" and "dyke" more than older LGBT people and may actually become the ones who will successfully neutralize the "F-word."

For me, I refuse to allow anyone to take control of my emotions by allowing them to think that the word "trannie" will offend me. Yes, I have other words that push my buttons and many who read this can easily attest to that. My faith has helped me smooth some of them out as well. We have no reason to let a relatively young and weak word take control of our emotions, when so many stronger ones out there can easily upset us. Let's eliminate this one first.

"Tranny" is such an easy word to reclaim, because it has far less baggage and history attached to it then the others I have mentioned. This is something trans people have to do themselves, so non-trans people cannot help the reclaiming by using the word right now. It's an issue we have to take care of ourselves. And if the older generation doesn't wish to reclaim the word, we don't need to. The younger generation will reclaim it for us, whether we want them to or not. It's the natural order of things.

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This was an interesting article. This is the part that made me sit back and just nod...

And if the older generation doesn't wish to reclaim the word, we don't need to. The younger generation will reclaim it for us, whether we want them to or not. It's the natural order of things.

It is a hard lesson for this newly minted 50-something brain to wrap itself around. I think I'll hang it over my desk.

Many trans people are reclaiming the words "trannie" and "tranny," and they appear to be mostly the younger people in our community. They seem to understand the need to neutralize the affect that others have in wanting to offend us.

I think this represents a fairly common and rather large misunderstanding of why a lot of (but not all) younger folks use words like queer, or tranny, or faggot, or transdisaster, or whatever it may be. For me it's not about neutralizing an offensive word, it's about aligning myself with a radical political identity.

Let me put it this way. It's like, ok, well if Joe Solmonese is gay then I'm definitely not that. So I must be a faggot.

It's really not young folks who are trying to change the meaning of words -- it's participants in the assimilationist, mainstream gay rights movement who are fighting to transform the word gay into something indistinguishable from the word straight. That’s where the real language shift is occurring. But I want a word that won't slide smoothly down anyone's throat. Something that says, yes I am different for all of these glamorous and tragic reasons, and I don’t have, or want, any place in this violently racist, anti-womyn, queerphobic, culture we live in.

Nick, this is so insightful, and so exacty why and how I use the word "queer." Is it okay if I link to your comment in my blog?

I know that by expressing my opinion about this word in an article, I will make a lot of my trans friends angry.

If anyone gets angry at you for writing your opinion, I think they have a problem. I don't get angry at people if I disagree about something. I'm a grown woman. :)

steve tabarez | February 4, 2009 8:33 PM

My feelings aside, it is simple. If someone finds that word, or label, offensive, or
derogatory,than don't use it. It's not about reclaiming anything, it's about treating someone with dignity and respect. It may serve us better to reclaim that,
than to reclaim words that were designed to be hateful. It is a matter of personal preference, and above all,
we should the decency to respect that. If you choose to embrace that label/word, then that should be
respected. But villifying one another over terms like those serves no one.

Thank you for your thoughtful words. You are right. Respect is important, and it is something I still screw up on at times.

I am so tired of folks conflating the LGBT struggle for social, political and economic justice in the US with the struggle for racial equality. Yes, we have some common interests. Yes we suffer from some of the same systems of oppression. And YES, many LGBT people are people of color and/or folks involved in the anti-racist movement. BUT why can't we just own our sh*t when we talk about our LGBT struggles and STOP conflating it with the ongoing struggles of various racial, ethnic and national groups (ie saying it is the same damn thing when we all know, or should know, that it isn't).

Take this for example:
"Human beings have a propensity for figuring out ways to verbally put down other people. Americans are absolute experts in this "field," especially during a war with another country. In Wikipedia, you can find hundreds of words used for just ethnic slurs alone. It's more fun for American to burn bridges rather than build them. If ethnic slurs are so prevalent, then it stands to reason that slurs directed at the LGBT community would be also in abundance. The questions now become, "Are some of these words actually worth getting upset about?" and "How do we neutralize them?"

Could have been written as:
"Human beings have a long history of using labels to 'other' groups of people. In the United States this practice has been particularly odious during times of tighter thought control and social restriction, such as war time. In Wikipedia, you can find THOUSANDS of definitions of transphobic, misogynistic or heterosexist words. The questions for us LGBT people are, "Are some of these words actually worth getting upset about?" and "How do we neutralize them?"

In other words, you lost my interest in the second paragraph.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | February 4, 2009 8:48 PM

It's participants in the assimilationist, mainstream gay rights movement who are fighting to transform the word gay into something indistinguishable from the word straight. That’s where the real language shift is occurring. But I want a word that won't slide smoothly down anyone's throat.

Right on, Nick!!

Count me in with the "young-at-heart" trannies who also embrace the word queer for the reasons you've so well explained.

Monica, I'd been under the impression that the word "faggot" gained parlance during the witch trials in Europe, when not only a horrifically high number of women were burned at the stake, but also countless gay men?

I will look into this. It was an angle I didn't find, but want to read more of.

Thanks Brynn! And yes, I really didn't mean for my comment to exclude older & elder folks, as I know lots of them who identify as queer or tranny in the same way and for the same reasons. These wonderful people are my mentors, and I wouldn’t have my analysis without them!

"Of course, the word "faggot" is a British term for cigarettes, because they are also a "bundle of sticks for burning." If a British person asks you for a faggot, they're not looking for a gay man."


Nope .. the words fag and faggot are not applied the same in Britain. The term "fag" as applied to cigarrettes means to smoke something that "fags you out", as in makes you tired. The phrase "fagged out" in british common language, means to be tired. Somone may ask you for a "fag" which is the correct term for cigarrette, but they do not ask for a faggot.

The preferred term in Britain which is equal to the deregatory term "faggot" used in the USA is "Queer".

..and now you know ....the rest of the story

My OED has this to say:

"FAG 1: [noun] a tiring or unwelcome task: it's too much of a fag to drive all the way there.
* junior pupil at public school who works and runs errands for a senior pupil.

[verb] (fagged, fagging) work hard, especially at a tedious job or task...

- origin mid 16th cent. (as a verb in sense of 'grow weary') of unknown origin.

FAG 2: [noun] N American offensive: male homosexual...
- Origin 1920s: short for FAGGOT (in sense 3)

FAG 3: [noun] a cigarette.
- origin late 19th cent.: elliptically from FAG END

FAG END: [noun] cigarette end
* an inferior or useless remnant of something
-Origin early 17th cent. (in the sense of remnant) from 15th cent. fag 'a flap', of unknown origin. The current sense dates from the early 20th cent."

It goes on to point to "faggot" as a meatball made of pig offcuts (the sense I always knew it as until my early 20s), a bundle of sticks (US usage), an offensive N American term for a male homosexual, and "Brit. dated: unpleasant and contemptible woman"; it also mentions faggoting as an embroidery term in which several stitches are pulled together. With the origin of the word being a bundle of things, the ways in which it's been applied has been circuitous to say the least.

I'd always assumed that fag = cigarette via bundle of twigs, and was interested to see that it had an entirely different origin. And I was interested to see that faggot was used first as a misogynist term of abuse. I've often seen faggot = gay man via fuel for fires in inquisitorial times, but never found any evidence for it, and the use of the term in reference to women bolsters my belief that homophobia and misogyny are tightly bound (bundled?) together.

Thanks, Monica, for a reminder that language is complex, and that both parties should take care to clarify what they mean. I identify as Queer because I consider it to be an inclusive term, but I understand that there are some people for whom the word can never be rehabilitated; they and I need to listen to one another.

We had this discussion on a listserv a short while ago, on words like "tranny," "shemale," etc. And while they're not words I would use to describe myself, I've come to a point where I take much less offence from someone who says "that's a cute shemale" than someone who spits out "$%@^#$@ transsexual." Of course, I'll correct them on it, but the bottom line is that the intent and context say more to me than the words themselves.

That, and the fact that I am sooooo tired of labels to begin with. :)

Great post, Monica. I actually had lots of discussions on labels and language at the conference this past week and a lot of people seem to feel like Nick (great comment, btw!).

It is always hard to walk the line between not offending others and using a word you feel describes you best.

I always say that labels belong on cans and not on people. I also find it interesting when someone actually marries themselves to a label, then spends a great deal of time defending their choice.

Personally, I see labels as part of my activist toolbox. I wear the appropriate one when I am talking to people because not everyone is comfortable with one label or another, or understand one label over another. The only label that really matters is "Monica." That's the box I live in.

steve tabarez | February 4, 2009 11:32 PM

Beautiful Monica. For that is exactly what I was trying to get at in my earlier comment. It is always about the person we are inside that matters. The person that each of us are inside, free from the niches, and boxes, or constraints others put on us. Or the ones we sometimes put on ourselves. Who we are depends wholly on how we percieve ourselves and how we love that person we percieve ourselves to be. That in itself cannot be constrained by mere words. And we should all respect that.

I left this in a comment on a similar thread over at PHB:

I know a quite a few people who don't identify as L, G, B, or T, but who identify as queer (and have sex with members of the same or both sexes). It just works better for them. And depending on how annoying some gay men have been, sometimes I feel like jumping the "G" ship and keeping both feet firmly planted on "Q." Sometimes the way gay male identity is deployed I feel like I have to have a penthouse in NYC, be looking to get married, and be on a perpetual diet to be a real gay men, and that's so not me.


This all reminds me of a chapter from Miss Manners Rescues Civilization (a truly great book on American etiquette) where she discusses how to refer to a married woman. Mrs. Jane Husbandslastname? Ms. Jane Husbandslastname? Mrs. John Husbandslastname? Ms. Jane Maidenname? Mrs. Jane Maidenname-Husbandslastname? Ms. Jane Husbandslastname-Maidenname? Etc.

There are people who prefer all sorts of things there, and Miss Manners just asks for us to use in good faith whatever we think the other person would want and use whatever they want to be called when it's pointed out. And people who are called something incorrect should take it with good humor and also take the initiative to politely point out what they prefer.

I'll also ditto what Nick said and add that, to me, queer has a different plain meaning than "gay" does. It includes a different group of people and describes a different idea.

Good post...fascinating overview of how language changes. I do disagree that the word "queer" has been neutralized in the LGBT community. A certain faction have succeeded at imposing its usage, and they even get a few heterosexual media to use it. But for some of us (including myself) it is still a negative term.

I fully understand. How words affect our psych has a lot to do with our life experiences. In my opinion, words affect us like foods and smells. They evoke memories, good or bad. It is why many LGBT people will never accept certain words, no matter how many others will.

I think that a lot of people who identify as queer (as Nick attested to, and as most of my friends, acquaintances, and I would argue) aren't seeking to neutralize the term at all. And the media's co-option of it with things like "Queer Eye" is just that - a co-option of an identity and a label that is about precisely the opposite. For many, it's an anti-assimilationist claim and stance. Queer is embraced precisely because it isn't quite so palatable, because many hetero people still understand it as a "bad" thing - and there are those of us that don't want to be seen as "acceptable" or "palatable" or "tolerated" by the hetero mainstream - because that means fulfilling a whole slew of oppressive and marginalizing expectations and standards.

I'm not saying that all people who identify as "gay" or who aren't comfortable with the term "queer" are "submitting to the man" or anything like that, and I'm really supportive of people living their lives in a way that feels authentic and affirming for them. If "queer" doesn't sit well with you, that's fine.

But for some of us who claim "queer," it's about the same thing. It's about living our lives and our identities in a way that is authentic and affirming, and not about trying to make the term more tolerated or acceptable to anyone - the broader LGBT community or the mainstream hetero world.

I left this comment over on Queer Cincinnati (as he is getting ready to address the issue on Friday) after some controversy errupted on his blog, due to coverage of events on the national stage, from an incident at a McDonalds where some drag queens went after the employess for their remarks.

Here was my comment:

My frustration comes into play (from a journalism/commentator perspective) when you have 20 descriptors for five groups of people, depending on what stage, identity, social role, etc. they are in at the moment. There is no one consistent that even applies to one individual member of the TransGendered and or InterSexed Community. This is why the press uses trannie and even OUR COMMUNITY's entertainment "elite (such as Johnny McGovern & Co.)" still refer to them as "a hot trannie mess". The Bible just called them all Eunuchs when translated into English.

There is no one label that applies even tranny is a misnomer when you are dealing with straight bois wearing dresses as a prank or to show support for their gay friends, (like being a "bridesmaid" in a gay wedding, and yes we wore dresses) in that case cross dresser doesnt even apply, nor should it.

As someone who prides himself in being crass or lewd in my commentary, and at the same time socially and politically astute, I freely use the word fag, queer, and tranny at will, because sometimes this boi just aint happy or gay about something. But that is because I am a ghetto redneck queen with some pretty large balls so my testosterone levels are still up there with the jocks and frat bois ...having a moment.... This is an issue that will not be settled overnight or without a lot of heartache either way but it is a conversation that OUR COMMUNITY needs to keep having across the board not just on the T/I issues but also race and relationships etc.

Here is a link to the original post on QC:

Thank you Patricia Nell Warren. The word "queer" is not universally accepted as appropriate language to describe people in our community. When I hear someone refer to themselves or others as "queers", I politely let them know that I find this language offensive, and ask them to refrain from using the term as a label for human beings in my presence.

Thanks for this article, Monica. It was an awakening for me to know that anyone found tranny offensive. To me there is a beautiful ring to it, it kind of rolls off the tongue, better than transgender or such.

Not to mention I'm word-lazy, and like cutting back on the amount of words used.

That said, I don't use it in public or with anyone other than friends who are trans or queer.

As to queer, I love the word. I think it describes me perfectly, and actually the person I would love to be- "strange, unusual."

To Marc's comments, if I referred to myself as queer, and someone told me not to refer to myself as queer, I would tell them to mind their own damn business.

To me its just allowing people to identify however they like. We're all strange in our own ways.

So if someone said to me, I don't like being called a tranny, I would absolutely respect that, but I expect others to respect my choice on how I identify as well.

Great post Monica!

I really don't like the use of most of the words you have used in this article. No, they will not make me fly off the handle as you are right, they don't control me.
You talk about a word being around for hundreds of years before you can classify it as derogatory. I don't think so. The word F- word and not faggot has not been around that long and in most blogs or even in news print it can't be used. So, I don't think that longevity has anything to do with a word that is offensive to some of us. If it is offensive to just one person, why use it. No, it isn't just a word.
You talk about how words can't hurt you, well, I have to disagree with you on that one as well. Words can be very powerful more than the sticks and stones that get thrown at us. You can hurt people without using derogatory terms. So, I think that the derogatory terms are as hurtful and demeaning as someone getting beat up. Just because the words are used a lot doesn't make them valid.
I personally don't like to be labeled anything but female, etc. Or my name. I know who I am and I'm not ashamed of my past.

Your feelings on the various words are perfect for you. I just want to point out that longevity isn't a factor, but the history of their use is.

In my opinion, when it comes to "tranny," it's almost as if some people in the trans community were disappointed that we didn't have our own "N-word" or "F-word" and so they picked on poor, little "tranny" so we could also have a word that would upset us. I fail to see the proof on why it was chosen to be Our-word-to-piss-us-off. Where's the beef? The so-called "logical reasons" on why it was chosen to be Thee Word are not logical to me. If a person just doesn't like a word, fine. It's emotion, not logic for choosing "tranny" as our "bad word." Nothing wrong with emotion.

steve tabarez | February 5, 2009 3:12 PM

HMM. Intersting sets of comments here. But I kind of fail to see the significance of many as it relates to the virtues of respect and dignity to others. And how we comport ourselves accordingly based on how we view, and respect ourselves. Are we acquiring and putting on labels, or rejecting them to prove something to ourselves, or others?
To me I am a human being worthy of respect,
dignity, and equal consideration under the law like everyone else. No matter what label I choose to discard, or affectatiously decide to put on.

Respect is important. That's not the issue. I cannot get any clarification on why and how the word "tranny" all of a sudden became the transgender community's "bad word." When I started nearly 12 years ago, it wasn't, but I didn't want to use it. Now I want to use it in the 21 Century, but it has become taboo and I didn't get the memo on why. The only reason it is considered our "bad word" is because some people didn't like it, convinced friends to also not like it, then invented reason why not to like it, avoiding the only real reason, emotions. Can't anyone respect my request on why and how the word suddenly became taboo in the 21st Century?

FWIW, I'm far less upset about the word itself as much as angered someone gets all pissy when they're asked to stop using it because some people find it hurtful.

That's when I feel like I'm being arrogantly diss'ed.

steve tabarez | February 5, 2009 5:53 PM

Unfortunately,Monica,I can't tell u that. Maybe for some,
they never spoke up and said they didnt like it until now because they feel more empowered now. Maybe some came to that position after having embracing it before. Maybe some just simply hadn't given much thought to it before since they thought noone else underTHE LGBTQ UMBRELLA were paying much attention them until now. Which we haven't. This search for answers may just be a sign that you and others can now begin defining yourselves on your own terms. To me, that is a wonderful thing. But what do I know? I still have problems calling my ex David, by her new name: CHRISSY. LOVE AND PEACE,

You are a sweetheart, Steve. Thank you.

I wrote this in my PHB piece on this from February 3rd, entitled Nuance Lost On Some LGBT Journalists Using The Term "Tranny":

I believe the nuance her is that most people (but not all) who identify as queer would consider themselves as belonging to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, but not everyone who identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender would say they belong to the queer community. In other words, for the most part the nuance of using the term queer is that queer functionally is a subset of the LGBT community -- which is why many people add a Q to LGBT -- but that LGBT isn't a subset of Q. With this in mind (in my opinion), legacy and new LGBT media should reflect in it's coverage that the term queer community isn't interchangeable with term LGBT community.


My comment is that their are nuances to using the term tranny, much as there are nuances to using the term queer. And, my problem isn't that some LGBT media and reporters use the term tranny, but that they don't comprehend the nuances of when -- and how -- to use the term.

And here's the nuance -- people who identify as a tranny (for the most part) identify as transgender, but not everyone who identifies as transgender identifies as a tranny. Those who identify as trannies are a subset of broader transgender community; the terms tranny and transgender aren't interchangeable terms.

And, just as it is with the term queer being considered a defamatory epithet to many LGBT people, to a good number of those who identify as transgender -- but not as trannies -- consider the term tranny to be defamatory epithet.

I fall on the side with Donna Rose. I don't want to personally be identified as a tranny; I personally see the term tranny as more of a epithet then a term that I would want to reclaim.

And hey, I've recently had the term tranny hurled at me as an epithet by a clasic transsexual/woman-born-transsexual. She called me a tranny specifically to minimise me as a person -- this after I took offense to a lesbian blogger indirectly identifying me as at tranny in a paragraph that also referred to the Buffalo Bill charater in Silence Of The Lambs.

Those who want to reclaim the term are free to do so -- with my blessing should they want my blessing. Just don't label me a tranny in the process, or label all transgender people as a whole as trannies -- I don't identify as a tranny, and I don't believe I'm ever going to want to identify as a tranny. Calling me a tranny definitely insults me.

Reclaiming the word doesn't mean everyone has to use it. I hope that's what you're thinking.

Autumn, really well said!

The reason that tranny is like the N-word is because both of them turn people into objects. It makes people 'less than' and dehumanizes us. It is a way that mainstream people, or people in higher-up minority groups, keep us all in our places.

The struggle for equality of all people means that all struggles are equal. Creating pecking order for who's fight for rights deserves more reverence is misguided, I believe. It is tantamount to saying "How dare you compare your piddling gay struggle with the (trumpets please) Civil Rights Movement".

Some people do not like the comparison because they do not want to be linked to gays. Some on the gay side do not want to offend by making the comparison. They are, however, both struggles for human dignity.

The problem with 'tranny' is that you slur many different types of people at once. It is also non-representative of people's lives. It disinforms rather than describes. That's what makes it a slur.

Nobody likes to be othered. Why do people insist on being rude and using these terms when it just makes for good neighbors to refrain? When did it become okay to discuss how to label people against their will?

In my opinion, the comparison to horrible racial and ethnic slurs is completely valid. The fact that people outside the trans group don't see the issue highlights the need for discussion. Maybe it time to revisit what equal really means.

I would be a bit careful comparing "tranny" with the "N-word." You need to reread my article.

I read your article, I just disagree with you. If you read enough of my comment to find my thoughts on the word comparison, perhaps you could clarify why you feel I'm in error a bit more. I don't agree that some people's inequality is more valid than others.

I also want to add that I, for one, do not accept labels on the basis that someone who claims to be like me says it is ok. I will decide for myself who is like me, and who gets to label me. There are many of us who do not agree to the would-be rule of apologists. It's like having our own little trans-Herods acting as sycophants to the Romans in the hopes of being appointed leader of Transville.

I would like to stay out of these sorts of things, but as long as certain people keep insisting that they can include people in things against their will, there are going to be disagreements. It is a fundamental lack of respect for other people's identity and dignity, and many people resent it.

All the time I was growing up the word tranny referred to Christine Jorganson in a derogative way. They also used transvestite and other words that I do not like. It made me feel ugly and perverted. When I transitioned, I transitioned into female not any other label. My past was a transexual now it is female. I'm not queer unless you call all the other women queers and they are not. My sexual orientation is not queer either. I do like women and I do like some men. I am not queer. There is nothing unusual about loving another person, we are human beings and we have that capability to love others whether it is our same gender or the opposite gender. Please don't start making up names to suit someones thought processes. We are all different, that is what is meant by diversity.

You mean 'trannie' doesn't really mean a gearbox? Then, what is that heavy aluminum object that I took out from under my van that doesn't work anymore? And if my van doesn't have that gearbox under it, but I'm under it anyway, can someone say that the van has a dead trannie under it? Or must it fall on me first? And, what if I'm wearing a skirt and mascara while the van falls on me?

This is too confusing.

I think I'll just use 'trannie' to describe gearboxes, and 'human being' to describe people, or whatever name they wish to be known by. It's just easier.

I don't think we can stop, or need to stop, the use of the word 'tranny' in lgbtq circles, which to me is ok, as long as it is btw friends and not meant to demean anyone. In the case of media, I believe we should state clearly that it is not acceptable.

If I were a teacher in a classroom of thirty teens, discussing lgbtq sexual / gender orientations, and I had say, three young adult trans folk in the class, should I say to myself, "Well, most everyone here won't be offended if I use the word 'tranny', so it's probably ok."

I don't think so.

The word has a derogatory stigma attached to it, and that is true for a lot of people (I'm estimating >50%, judging by the numerous articles and comment pages I have read. I know that because I have been reading all the articles and all the comments I could find on the web, and according to my classroom theory, I cannot condone it's use, period.

I wrote an article on this subject. What I did was starting with the Christian Siriano 'foot in mouth' fiasco, I traced through a few subsequent articles and then pointed out the trickle down effect of the use of the word 'tranny' in the media.

The media is mnore powerful in it's subtext and subconscious programming than any concrete, rational affiliations we can make. The negative connotation of the word 'tranny', and moreso, our allowance of the word as reference to a human being, is undermining everything we seek to accomplish.

Here is the link for the article I wrote on the subject. If you read some of the comments made referring to the validity of the trans community even having a debate about this, you can easily see the sentiments it fosters.

Note: In the post, I tried to be fair in showing a few negative comments and one trans supportive comment, but the ratio of bad/good was much higher.

@Aria - I agree wotj your sentiments and language. Can you contact me through my blog? Brielle


I put that statement in caps and bold to show all the others that there are ways to support your opinions with something more than hearsay. Just saying the word is bad wasn't good enough for me. I asked for people to convince me why the word was bad and asked to prove it, but all I got instead were people being pissy and saying I was being disrespectful to them and their opinions. Yet, my opinion was fair game for them to disrespect.

YOU, however, made a convincing statement and backed it up with other convincing statements in another article. Why couldn't anyone else do that? Brielle, you are someone I would love to talk more with in the future. I hope we get that chance. Again, thank you.

Monica: thank you from the bottom of my heart. I respect that you are willing to go against the flow, I think it's good to shake things up. The funding for a lot of agencies is going to drop anywhere up to 50% over the next few years, and I think it's a good time to get really practical and do as much as we can with what we have.

I'm writing articles here on semantics and the use of a single word in the media, while I research corrective rape in South Africa, and I have to shake my head (and hold my supper down) while I wonder wtf is going on here?

You know, I have an instinct, and I am not bad at journalism, even though I have no training. It is really hard for me to do this, because I am such a newbie compared to everyone, so thanks again. I'll be glad to talk anytime.

This discourse had made up my mind. That I will work to keep THE PROP 8 passage. Cause as a post op transsexual woman who is strait. Why the Fuck should i care if you ever get equall rights in society.

The obvious disregard to Transgendered people feelings leave me lil empathy with the Fag and dykes of the world.

steve tabarez | February 7, 2009 12:54 AM

Ana, Not all here are as callous and abhoringly and insultingly insensitive as many of the others were about the use of words/names/labels. I hope u understand that. And if that makes me an apoligist in some peoples eyes, so be it. That in itself is kind of funny because I definitely don't feel the need to apologize for having the sense, the decency, nor the insight or compassion to understand the concepts of respect, dignity, and decency. Nor for understanding how hateful words can be. Steve

Way back when.. Long before all the post-modern. Trannie was a generic collective sort of like trans.

Transgender wasn't commonly used until the mid 1980s. So trannie functioned as a collective for post-ops, pre-ops never-op, drag queens etc.

There is a touch of classism in the condemnation of it as it came up from the streets and not down from the privileged of IFGE.

I sort of like the lumpen aspects of it.

Hi Monica drop me a say hi.

steve tabarez | February 7, 2009 10:25 AM

Monica, I hope you don't include me amongst the ones that disrespected or attacked you, or your opinions. I definitely don't hope u felt that didnt do so because you felt to ask yourself and others, a question on identity and it's changing or evolving meanings to you, and others under the LGBTQ UMBRELLA. As for the reasons why I may find it deogatory, has more to do with what I have seen happen to my trans friends when accostted in public at a store, or by family members, where that word is stingingly flung at them to humiliate them, demean them, and make them feel subhuman. And sadder still,
used by those under the LGBTQ umbrella at events or clubs, along with subtle distancing, and penchant as treating them as freaks. I have read Brielle's piece, and need to thank you both for enlightening me further. I merely suggest that sometimes the answers we search for are many times right before us. I do not villify those seek those who feel the need to reclaim labels,words,symbols or the like. As long as they do so in a respectful way, and that they must not use the venom behind that word/label and iuse it against their own for choosing not to reclaim it. I do not mean you, by the way. Steve

I wasn't including you in that. Your comments were respectful to both sides of the issue.

Thanks for the link to your great blog post Brielle!

Zythra: TY for saying so - I tried to click through to y2gender and a spamguard warning came up, then I clicked through and got your site. I tried contacting you through your site ('Potty' post) and the interface stated it detected spam and I couldn't post. ??
briellezbub at hotmail dot com

@Monica H. - please excuse the off topic interjection here, but there was no other way.

There are a number of journalists' organizations that have banned the use of the word. What do you think
of that?

I think Brielle asked a good question. I'm sure it would be difficult to find out who in our community lobbied these organizations for this. It sure wasn't a consensus.

Great article. I have been sitting quietly watching the battle over "Tranny" and wondering what two friends in the Dublin TG band "Ladyface" would think about it, particularly since they used the word in the refrain to their song "Daddy-Oh"

@Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

I think it is very interesting indeed. I would like to get as much info as I can about this. Would it be possible to post the names of those journalists' organizations which have banned the use of 'the word'. (if you have a lot of info, I'd be glad to receive it at my email)

I'm very curious how that came about and who negotiated it.

like always, depends on who is using it and why


Wow, we all have very impassioned views on this word. We all have our own stories that lead us to those views.

I am personally on the side of the Author. I have hear and used the term "Tranny" on so many occasions. I have described it much like the "N-Word" as well. But it's not even that that disturbs me about the trending of view on this word. The thing that really disturbs me is that people in the transgender/queer community are turning on each other because of their use of this word.

There are transgender people that are in films, that are writing books and blogs, that are radio talk show hosts, that are professionals and that are upstanding members of society that are actively using this word. Yet, in the midst of this others are protesting their work due to this one word.

Shouldn't we be encouraging these brothers and sisters to express themselves and be successful? Should we not support these people that are actively living lives as trans people and working openly trans.

There are so many of us who have lost jobs for just being ourselves. There are many of us who cannot get jobs because of who they are. Yet we, the trans community are attacking those who are being themselves and able to express them selves in a way that is distinctly themselves.

Let's put these petty disagreements aside and join together to promote unity and acceptance and to show the world that we are as diverse as any people. We bleed, feel and love the same.

Love to you all,


Dina - brilliant thanks.
I so agree. The GLB has gone ahead over the years far more then T because they have had more unity. The Trans community seems more wanting to fight between themselves than help and support each other.
This fighting over the use of the word Tranny is pathetic in a time when trans are being beaten, cant get equality in health, employment and society.
Far more important things to put energies to then fighting over words and definitions.
I believe the word was first used in Australia and was used to refer to transsexuals and transvestittes. Not Drag Queens or Cross Dressers.
I use the word sexchange to describe myself as its been used down under for years but these days the righteous young tell me it is wrong and offensive.
Get over it. It is a word I believe easily and correctly identifies me just like tranny or trans.
Transgender is really what I am but I cant use that as it is now an umbrella term used to cover a range of gender identites of which im not one of those.
Google the word 'tranny' and I got 18,500,000 in 0.23sec - Its a commonly used word.
Here in New Zealand, we have a TS lady who is 65, raised 70+foster children, reciepent of the NZ medal of Merit, sits on our Human Rights Tribunal and proudly on has the number plate 'trany'. She is widely respected, adored and known as the 'Tranny Granny.'
There are bigger things to fight unitedly as Trans then words. - get working together.

Yes, this is months after the last post... but the subject is still active for moi.

Brielle... props to you... what you've written really resonates with me.

If someone wishes to identify themselves as a "tranny" or even a "shemale" it's certainly their right. Don't expect my respect for you when you say it, but it's certainly your right. My issue comes when people start referring to other trans people as trannies and start defending a global use of a term which is still upsetting and hateful to many other trans people.

As Brielle stated, if you look at it's place in general usage, it's overwhelmingly said as an insult (and no, I don't equate it with nigger... two different histories... but the intent of the user might be the same in many situations). Moreover, it's used as a synonym for a man in a dress, silly/ridiculous or someone dressed ugly or trashy. Yes, some trans people are into a "trash aesthetic" but you don't get to apply that to all of us (especially if the trash aesthetic you own is mostly for stage and not 24/7).

I also have huge issues with non-trans people, trans men (who, despite desire need to center themselves in this discussion, are not referred in a derogative sense as trannies in mainstream usage) and, especially, non-trans gay men throwing the term around and, particularly, explaining to me why I have no business being concerned with their use of it. In my opinion, this is where the "tranny controversy" becomes most problematic. No, it's not nigger - a term of systemic racism, economic oppression and ownership, but the ignorance propelling its use has some overlap, especially when it comes to issues of entitlement of who gets to own it.