Antonia D'orsay

Understanding the Idea of Slurs

Filed By Antonia D'orsay | April 13, 2010 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: homophobic behavior, LGBT, racism, responsible journalism, slurs, transphobia

Of late I've felt obliged to write posts, but at the same time, the stuff I want to write is not something I can write at this time without it triggering some kind of related hook into some recent event that I'd rather at this point just move on from because I dislike trying to talk to people who won't answer simple questions about their positions.

Today I'm going to talk about slurs. No, not just trans ones, but all manner of slurs. Because while I labored under the false impression that people were aware that they used them often, I was pretty good with it.  However, the stories over the weekend and the last 15 days or so have made it apparent that people don't understand the idea of slurs, or don't care.

I can't make people care, but I can at least provide some understanding.

So let's get started with one of the nastiest slurs out there.


While absolutely not a universal, faggot is something that cis women generally don't hear.  Yes, some cis women do hear it, and some cis women hear it an awful lot.  Faggot is reserved mostly for men and trans women. Trans men do hear it, as do various trans persons who might be something other than binary identified.

An interesting thing about faggot is that it can be used as a term of endearment. But primarily by people who have heard it a signifcant portion their lives and directed at people who are familiar with it being hurled at them a significant portion of their lives.  When someone outside that particular group uses it, it is a slur.

This has precedent. Nigger is another slur -- one I'm personally well acquainted with, and to a degree that I'm more familiar with even though I as well as have heard the term faggot.  Nigger is used at times among some people of African descent, predominantly male, to connote a slight bit of affection.

I will note that most Black folks really do find it annoying even when other Black folks use it.  It triggers issues of class warfare to some extent, as well, due in part to the representation of people doing that in the mainstream media.

In short, Black people can use Nigger with other black people in limited contextual circumstances while anyone else doing it is racist.

And here's the kicker: they are racist.

It's common among any group of people who are subjected to slurs. Since I'm already being harsh enough with the ones applied to me, I'll skip the one's that are used for other ethnic groups.

Just like gay folks can use the term Faggot among themselves in certain contexts with certain people and in certain contexts, someone else who uses it is homophobic or heterosexist (a term that needs wider use).

Fag is a shortened form of it.  With the same restrictions. Unless talking about a cigarette. In the UK.

Another slur like that is "tranny" -- inclusive of the variant spellings of it like Trannie. Unless talking about a transmission, it's flat out wrong. And people using it are, indeed, transphobic (or heterosexist).

Now some might say that Tranny is not a slur.  Indeed, if one notes my rather large online bibliography, I can be noted as having used it to describe myself, and that I'm aware that trans people can and do use it as a term in the same way that others use the term faggot or nigger.

It is, as well, fairly interchangeable with the others, and still carries the same meaning. My favorite example is the inevitable "angry" part.  An Uppity Nigger, an in your face Faggot, an Angry Tranny.  All of them ways of saying that someone is refusing to know their place in the social heirarchy -- that they are not following the rules.

And used also as evidence of how the person saying those things is supposedly "above all that."

Well, no one is above all that.  Anyone who uses those terms to refer to anyone other than themselves is metaphorical toilet paper -- a sort of metaphorical headgear for the hind end of an equine animal.

There are other slurs as well, and these are also common in the LGBT+ community.  "Crazy." "Wingnut." "Lunatic." "Nutter." And all the various aspects of calling someone who may or may not have a mental illness  something that indicates they are insane.

Which is interesting for me to note, given that I use a particular e-nym not often noted in LGBT+ circles (by design).

Some other slurs: breeder, crotchfruit.

Even more: Cunt, sissy, pansy, wimp, wuss, bitch.

One thing that these particular slurs have in common is that all of them seek to do the same thing: erase respect and equivalence.

Now, I'm separating these particular slurs from the more profane ones.  And there's a reason for that.

All of these slurs seek to make some aspect of the person's inherent nature a negative. Cunt and bitch deal with women, predominantly -- and when used by men to say "they are like a woman," which is, in the end, using women's lives as an insult -- even in jest and "just for fun, not really meant."  Such excuses work in some contexts -- narrow ones that apply almost always in person, and among a small group of people who know each other fairly well.

You take these same slurs and you put them in a broader context -- say, online -- and you get a whole different meaning because the context has changed.

That context is what allows the words to be used that way.

It is not acceptable for a straight trans person to go around calling gay folks faggots to most of the gay community (inclusive of trans people who are gay and gay people who are trans). It is not acceptable for a cis person to go around calling trans folks trannies. They can call them trans, or transgender, or transsexual, or crossdresser, or whatever other term is there for the kind of trans person the individual is. But tranny is not a specific kind of trans person, it is used against all of them.

Doing that is the same as a white person going around calling Black people niggers.

Calling someone an angry tranny is no different than calling someone an uppity nigger. It is essentially saying they are "shoving it down your throat," much like straight people sometimes say about gay and bi people.

It isn't dong that,  It is standing up to say that these things are not acceptable.  It is not acceptable to say "That's so gay" in general discourse.  It is not acceptable to say "hot tranny mess" in general discourse -- or, to use the old turn of phrase, to do those things "in mixed company."

Because it doesn't get more mixed company than the internet.

The purpose of using a slur can vary.  Sometimes people might use a slur and say they are "reclaiming it."  Which is actually fine -- if they are the one affected by the slur and they are doing it for themselves.

My running around and trying to reclaim the slur faggot would be pretty freaking asinine of me to start, extremely insensitive, and very rude.

The same applies to Nigger, and to Tranny.  A white person "reclaiming" the term Nigger is going to piss off black people.  A cis person reclaiming the term Tranny is going to piss off trans people.

This is because slurs, used outside of the very limited context where it is socially acceptable to a limited number of people in a specific time and place, are always there to hurt someone.  It doesn't matter if the intention is there or not -- they are hurtful words (and recent studies have even shown that words with significant meaning such as a slur trigger the pain response in the brain, so they literally hurt).

So using those terms -- even in a neutral situation as I've done here for this column -- is always painful.  You cannot step around it, you cannot ignore that, and doing so simply means that you are being more of an jerk than if you were to do so while still acknowledging it, as I am here.

We use slurs when we are angry, for the most part -- so they are emotionally charged terms, filled with all the power that emotion conveys.  It is nearly impossible to discuss slurs without feeling their impact and they always raise strong feelings in one.

I would be lying if I didn't say that since I've been personally called all the slurs I'm citing thus far, I am experiencing no small amount of emotional pain in writing this, but I'm trying very hard not to be too affected by it --

I really do try pretty hard to avoid a lot of slurs.  I'm working on being less inclined to use slurs relating to mental illness.  I'm not so hot at the ones relating to intelligence, but I am, in fact, prejudiced there and need to work on that more. It's a hugely challenging issue for me (to the point that I didn't like Forrest Gump because of it).

In the process, I'm doing different ones. Profanity laced expletive pejoratives with a strong metaphorical component.

Even they are problematic, though, for they generally work in a manner that is dehumanizing.

Which is something for another time.

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I like posts like this, especially since you point out that there are "innocent" slurs like "crazy."

Or maybe I'm just an angry faggot who doesn't know what he's talking about.

Fairly good, -get-it-off-your-chest piece.

Especially bringing out that it is RESPECT, we all need to be
using and looking for in others.

Lack of respect can be confronted, but you won't teach those
without it to understand.

This comment has been deleted for violation of the Terms of Service.

While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising.

If I'm to understand the endless tiresome conversations I've had concerning a certain recent film playing at the Tribeca Film Festival... there are no more slurs. Trans people are fine with being called "tranny" or "shemale", all gay men are good with being called "faggot" and black people are cool with "nigger." I've been told this over and over again. And on the other hand, I've been told that each of those words (perhaps with the except of nigger) isn't evan an insult.

True... say something enough it's true.

One of the, if not the, best, of your posts, Bil

There's an art to insult. One that makes ones feelings known, yet lacks the spite, malice and venom that all too often poisons both giver and receiver of a slur.

Personally, I'm rather partial to using the Abecedarian Insult.

"Sir, you are an apogenous, bovaristic, coprolalial, dasypygal, excerebrose, facinorous, gnathonic, hircine, ithyphallic, jumentous, kyphotic, labrose, mephitic, napiform, oligophrenial, papuliferous, quisquilian, rebarbative, saponaceous, thersitical, unguinous, ventripotent, wlatsome, xylocephalous, yirning zoophyte."

Or, in more commonly used words,
"Sir, you are an impotent, conceited, obscene, hairy-buttocked, brainless, wicked, toadying, goatish, indecent, stable-smelling, hunch-backed, thick-lipped, stinking, turnip-shaped, feeble-minded, pimply, trashy, repellent, smarmy, foul-mouthed, greasy, gluttonous, loathsome, wooden-headed, whining, extremely low form of animal life."
But for someone who gives me the irrits, I'll use Ed Morrow's immortal words:
I urge any and all to hate you and your kind, to loathe you, to taste bile at the thought of you, to shudder at your approach and rejoice at your departing, to see your shadow and draw back as from a viper. May your children hate you, your neighbors hate you, your mom, dad and Aunt Ida hate you. May your dog and his fleas hate you. I urge all people to band together into societies, clubs and fraternal associations to hate you. I beg them to relentlessly revile you, to rename fungal diseases and offal-eating insects after you, to, when they step in something loathsome, look at their shoe bottom and think of you. I urge the world’s artists to illustrate their hatred of you in paintings, sculpture, and, dare I say it, cartoons. May they be joined by the world’s writers whom I implore to write epics of hatred of you, the world’s musicians to compose songs of hatred of you, and the world’s dancers to choreograph interpretive dances of hatred of you. May Wal-Mart sell inexpensive T-shirts and coffee mugs embellished with “I H8 [insert your picture here].” ... At Christmastime, may the citizens of communities all around the world gather together in their public spaces, join hands in great circles, smile upon each other, and, while swaying rhythmically, harmoniously chant “We Hate (your name)! We Hate (your name)!” I beseech all the creatures that walk the land, all the fish that swim in the sea, and all the birds that flit through the sky to hate you. May the dirt beneath your feet hate you. May burning hot hatred of you grow till it provides an economical substitute for fossil energy. May amoebae evolve enough wit to hate you. If there be life on other planets, may it construct complex vessels and span the vasty depths of cold space to land in your back yard and sneer at you through your windows. If there is an afterlife, may all the departed, be they gazing down from Heaven, glaring up from Hell, or peering sideways from Purgatory, hate you. May every generation till the end of time hate you. And, if mankind becomes extinct, may the last learned men, before they, too, fade away, devise a self-perpetuating automaton to carry on hating you through the long, long eons till the very heat death of the universe. Then, I suppose, we can, wherever our spirits find final rest, stop hating you and just resent you.
And that is Artistry.

And there was me thinking a tranny was an old-fashioned radio.


Zoe Brian, you remind me of the saying that a gentleman never insults anyone unintentionally.


I've never understood when gay men refer to each other as "dicks". Arent we supposed to *like* dicks?

Insults can be sooo confusing sometimes...

i only wish you had an editor, antonia. this was very difficult to read.

slurs have always been anathema to me. i could no sooner call someone a nigger than i could tolerate being called a whitey. i have used the term "faggot" when talking to myself - about myself - but never in an attempt to degrade anyone.

these are all terms of degradation and if the world at large would recognize that the use of such terms demeans the user, we'd be rid of them (perhaps).

Very nice post. I still hear a lot of ethnic slurs aimed at the Irish and the Poles. What amazes me is that when people find out that I am Polish and Irish they want to tell me their best joke about Poles and Drunk Irishmen.
And I love all of the bi jokes that people tell me.
But since I do some stand up people do think that I am fine with any kind of joke so I try to minimize how emotional my response was but I do tend to tell people if a joke was not appropriate. And I do use queer and especially bi subject matter in my show. But I try to not be insulting with it. I even use the fact that I am Gaelic and Polish and as far as disabilities go my dyslexia and ADD bits get some laughs.
The way that I walk the line about these subjects is that I base everything on my personal experiences as a person dealing with these issues from the inside.

Thanks for your thoughtful post, Antonia. I was particularly struck by your discussion of adjectives like "uppity" and "angry." I think you're spot on when you say that these are words designed to put a person in his or her place. Nicely done. I'll continue to look forward to your columns.

There's no need for this sort of overblown response to a simple word like tranny.

What many people still refuse to recognize is that NO WORD is inherently bigoted. Words only have the meanings we ascribe to them.

By refusing to allow a word like tranny to have bad connotations, you take away the power from the bigots.

It's the same thing that gay men, bisexuals, lesbians, and trans people have done with the word queer. Or what gay men have done with the words faerie and faggot.

Tranny is not a slur.

I am friends with Trans women who call themselves Trannies. I'm not lying or making any of this up. This is how they self identify.

I know it's a can of worms when you tell PC Trans people like Marie Delta that yes there are lots of Trans people who do self identify as a Tranny, chick with a dick, or a shemale and there is nothing that the PC Trans people can do about it.

Tranny is a term that is used by many Transgendered women to describe themselves and they self identify as a tranny. There's nothing wrong with using the word or telling other people that they can't just because they are cisgender or their natural born gender.

Tranny is not a slur and many if not most trans people call themselves "Tranny". This tiny group of PC trans police are ignoring the reality and experience and choices of the very people they claim to be speaking for.
If they're so concerned, they should try to get trans people to feel offended by the word. Because they largely do not. Stop policing Trannies!

ots of trans women like yourself call and self identify themselves a tranny and some even say they are a she male.

You're now going to paint them with the brush stroke that they are "wrong" for choosing to self identify as a tranny or shemale or that they simply must have internalized Transphobia.

All the info about the ultra PC group GLAAD and ultra PC trans women that censor the word tranny just shows how out of touch with reality, the use of language, and how in complete denial these political groups and people are with how language changes and words take on new meanings.

You're ignoring the fact that yes there are trans women who do call themselves a tranny or shemale and they have no problem with either of these terms just because you and a minority of Trans people do and want to censor them and claim ownership of the words tranny and shemale and make them into slurs.

If you want to play the victim and continue to grant power to the bigots who would use tranny as a slur, be my guest.

But I'm better than that. And I'll say tranny with pride.

You keep people marginalized by having them surrender certain words that have been historically used to describe them–declaring those words "non-PC"–so that other groups may perpetually use the words as clubs over the heads of the marginalized.

You empower the oppressor through this surrender.

Every time a GLBT person cries out in horror when another GLBT person uses the word queer, or tranny s/he empowers the enemy.

What is your point Bayne? Bisexuals make up a larger percentage of the population than either Hermaphrodites or the Intersex and Trans people do yet people usually either completely ignore bisexuals or they are perfectly fine with bisexuals.

The PC nazis if they are trans love to flip out and play the cisgender privileges card even though many of them do like to pretend that they have always been the opposite gender of what they were born and always will be despite having surgery and taking loads of hormones like candy. These people do not pass as cisgender people even if they want to pretend that they do.

To be honest I think the trans need to find their own movement. Trans has nothing to do with orientation and frankly, they hold our movement back. Its time for our movement to go GLB and to let them take their attention elsewhere. I am disturbed that they are part of our movement. We talk until we are blue in the face about dropping conventional gender roles, just for them to turn around and switch genders because they were "born in the wrong body." No, I am sorry, the community talks out of both sides of its mouth on this one!

Further more, take a good hard look at what they teach. St Louis's own "TransMafia" as it is known or "transhaven" as the trannies call it teaches that it is GOOD that they are classified as having a Psych illness. Many trans people want INSURANCE to cover this "disability"… it is also wrong to say that a child is Trans and that he/she should be placed on hormone therapy before puberty or the earlier the better.

Now tell me, when the GLB community consists of many people who really DO have family values and who DO want FULL equality, why do we include a community that wants to ride on the backs of insurance companies and SSI as "disabled" and that wants to put children on hormone therapy? Why are we inclusive of a group that wants OUR equality but demands different treatment??

Then there is the fact that Trans people love to play the victim card and say that everyone that is Cisgendered has it so much easier than they do and that we have some privileges that they do not have and will never have.

Then there are some Trans women who love to claim that they really are and always have been cisgendered even though they love to bash bisexuals, gay men, lesbians, and straight people of both genders who really are cisgendered.