Bil Browning

Apple pulls PeekABooTranny app

Filed By Bil Browning | October 29, 2010 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Geeks, Living
Tags: App Store, Apple, iphone app, peekabootranny

Sometimes there's not an app for everything. It appears transphobia is once again an App Store taboo.

peekaboo-tranny.jpgThanks to GLAAD and everyone who called Apple's public relations number yesterday, the technology behemoth has yanked PeekABooTranny from its online store. It is no longer available thanks to the big stink the LGBT community made about the app.

While there wasn't anything specifically horrible about the app itself, it would have properly been labeled as PeekABooDragQueen. Instead, the designers thought it would be cool and hip to use the derogatory name "tranny" instead and market it as a way to shame your friends.

We've had several good conversations about whether or not "tranny" is an offensive term, but the general consensus seems to be that it depends on who says it. If it's a trans person, it's generally considered acceptable. If it's a behemoth computer megacorp, not so much.

Kudos to everyone who helped get the app removed. Together we can move mountains.

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I'm still confused about the "tranny" controversy. As far as I can tell, the word was coined by queers and is broad enough to cover drag queens as well as transsexuals. When did it come to be seen as so derogatory? It seems to me it's a very narrow subset of transsexuals -- who want to distance themselves from drag performers and possibly sex workers -- who are so vocally offended by the word. Am I wrong?

It's become pejorative in the same way calling someone a faggot or a nigger. Yes, there is a subset of the affected populations who do use it; I have called myself a tranny many times and know I don't mean it offensively.

That said, when I am waking down the street and someone calls 'Your a freak you fucking tranny', I can be pretty sure they don't mean it in a nice way. Likewise, I think we can all agree the people making this app didn't mean it in a nice way.

Like many words, if you are not 100% or more certain how your using it will be taken, Just Don't. It doesn't, in the end, MATTER how the word started or was meant when it was, but it is used now more as a slur than a descriptor and should be treated as such.

This app should never have been approved, end of story. Good on Apple for pulling it, bad on them for passing it in the first place.

Steven, what proof do you have that it was coined by queers? I hope you're not using Kate Bornstein's version of that story, which is totally unsubstantiated (she admits it) and was basically told to her by one drag queen, Doris Fish/Philip Mills.

It is, in fact, a term which is still very widely used in mainstream media and parlance to demean trans women and basically a synonym for "dude in a dress." A large number of people are "reclaiming it" yet aren't even the populations which are insulted using the term (eg. trans men, non-trans gay men, queer activists). I in no way equate it with terms like nigger (which has a much more complex history of oppression), even though I do think there are people who use it as a put-down towards trans women with the same intent.

My basic view of it is, if someone feels the need to ID themselves as a "tranny"... go ahead. But talking about transpeople, transsexuals, transwomen as trannies is offensive and the reality exists that there is still a large percentage of the population of trans women which finds the term incredibly offensive, especially when used by people who aren't trans. The unfortunate part of the term is it's (fairly recently) become a blanket slang for 'transgender' which is, in itself an absurdly vague term which incorporates groups of people who have little in common either in terms of experience nor identity. I think this is some of the source surrounding sensitivities toward the use of the term.

I don't have proof of anything, never claimed to. I just find etymologies, especially of slang, interesting. Much more interesting than knee-jerk tribal indignation.

You may think it's knee jerk tribal indignation but it isn't you tribe now is it? When the people that the term is aimed at say it's offensive maybe you should, at that point, stop talking and start listening. This really isn't a difficult concept.

Relax, relax. I don't think Steven meant any offense. He was asking why it was offensive and how it changed from the drag usage. People are answering him and using very personal stories to illustrate.

He's not said anything anti-trans or remotely transphobic and has specifically said he was interested in the etymology of the word's acceptability. Why not let his education continue without demanding that he "stop talking"? Shutting down someone else's voice doesn't amplify your own; in fact it silences the conversation for everyone else in the thread.

Let it roll. He'll either get it or he won't. Neither option is our responsibility. It's his. Snark and innuendo won't help with the first though - only the second.

I AM listening. I'm listening my fucking head off. And I haven't heard much except, "I'm offended. End of story."

It's supremely frustrating in this community (and yes it IS my tribe) how difficult it is to have a nuanced conversation about sensitive issues without getting shouted down by the most closed-minded among us.

YOU listen.

Steven, the only reason I mentioned Kate Bornstein is because in virtually every discussion I've ever heard about "tranny" someone brings up how it was created by the queer community in Sydney during the late 60s and used by both drag queen and transsexuals. This explanation is totally taken from a Kate Bornstein book and is repeated ad nauseum as a fact even though it's totally not true. So... I'm not saying you were repeating it, just that when I hear it's a term from the queer community... I feel as if I'm going to hear the 'same old same old' yet again. My jumping the gun. and I'm sorry if you felt disrespected.

I hadn't heard Kate Bornstein's hypothesis, but, if you're sure it's incorrect, what do you offer instead? Until what's-his-name on Project Runway popularized "hot tranny mess," a few years ago, I had only ever heard the word used in queer circles. So where did it come from? Any ideas?

The reason these identities get "crammed together" is because they significantly overlap; in fact I'm coming to believe more and more that they are all is some essential way the same. Drag queens are not something "other" than transsexual women. Many drag performers ARE transsexual women, so whether you like it or not, they get a vote in this debate.

I hadn't heard Kate Bornstein's hypothesis, but, if you're sure it's incorrect, what do you offer instead? Until what's-his-name on Project Runway popularized "hot tranny mess," a few years ago, I had only ever heard the word used in queer circles. So where did it come from? Any ideas?

The reason these identities get "crammed together" is because they significantly overlap; in fact I'm coming to believe more and more that they are all in some essential way the same. Drag queens are not something "other" than transsexual women. Many drag performers ARE transsexual women, so whether you like it or not, they get a vote in this debate.

I'm not going to get into a historical debate about the term... someone like Susan Stryker would be a much better source. I do know the term was used in "exploitive" magazines and "autobiographies" in the 1950s by 'adult' publishing houses. It was applied to transvestite-related stories, but also to stories about 'sex changes' and people like Coccinelle (French trans woman from the 50s-60s who was a hugely famous as a female impersonator/variety performer).

It was used as a put-down term for trans people way, way before Christian Siriano was ever on Project Runway. Maybe you weren't paying attention to it, but those of us were who had a more personal stake in than you.

It's been used as a synonym for "man in a dress" for decades. And I think therein lies some of the hurt around the term. People in the drag community (of which only a fairly small part are actually trans women... but they are certainly there) don't have an issue with that kind of juxtaposition of tranny meaning 'man in drag.' It's a sign of outrageousness and transgressive and feels positive. A large percentage of trans women (not just some little subgroup as you suggested) most definitely do and feel as if it strips them of their womanhood. But not all. There are trans women who are cool with the term "shemale" (which is very much a creation outside the trans community and is completely about exploiting and fetishizing trans identities for porn)... most trans women loathe that term.

Just as there are gay men who are cool with 'faggot' and men who can't stand being called that, there will NEVER be unanimity in ANY community about what terminology should be used. I remember black people appearing on tv in the mid-70s saying they hating being called black and preferred 'negro.' To expect otherwise isn't terribly realistic.

As to your theory about drag queens and trans women... I don't buy it. The vast majority of drag queens are gay men who live 95% of their lives as gay men and don't exist in the world outside of bars and clubs as women. Maybe as femme men, but nonetheless men. There are some people who do drag (and I would actually classify it as a slightly different subcategory... female impersonation... not the same as drag) who are some flavor of trans. But to try to stir us up all into one big stew is reductionist and dismissive of who we are. Maybe that works for you, but it doesn't work for me... and I'm living the life, not you. And I would argue that you have far more in common with straight men than I or most trans women do with gay men who perform as drag queens.

1. You know way too little about me to be making so many assumptions about my life and identity.

2. You can divide and subdivide all you want (in the end, we all have our individual stories which set us apart from each other) but I still believe that we gender non-conformists have much more in common than you want to acknowledge.

"1. You know way too little about me to be making so many assumptions about my life and identity.:"

Pot calling the kettle black. You live as some flavor of guy while I live as some flavor of woman. Leave it at that. And don't go down the road of assigning people like me to the "club gender non-conformity" because... ahem... you know way too little about me to be making so many assumptions about my life and identity.

Trans-performers in Dublin using "Tranny" frequently in one of their songs

The Humans of Tulla ceili band along with friends are starting the session down at as220 as I write this, Maura. I have been very friendly with most of these people, who I love dearly, for decades. As much as I love them, the music and the culture, I won't be going because the prevailing level of understanding does not reach beyond a comparison of me to the people in the video you just posted which is not the first time you've done this. I just can't take the kind of stress involved I consistently get from family and friends that I do not get from people who I meet who don't have long term connections to me or knowledge of the most intimate details of my life.

I got sick talking to my sister on the phone last night. She kept on going on about how much I have in common with her boyfriend who is a lover of the same genres of music I am. The subtext of what she was going on about was much more involved, however.

Steven wrote: "in fact I'm coming to believe more and more that they are all in some essential way the same. Drag queens are not something "other" than transsexual women". What I would like to know is, are you so fascinated by this video because YOU are coming to believe more and more that you are "essentially the same" as the people in the video? Please, don't make me feel insolent for asking the question which is the crux of the issue involved.

this video:

which Maura Hennessey linked to in the post I replied to

The question is how far should an umbrella be extended and how meaningless does it get the further it extends?

You used the word "essential". What do you mean? For instance, do you mean x and y chromosome essential?

If that is the case here is another link:

It isn't that you point out similarities that exist but what do they mean? The article I linked to has a lot of complex implications regarding sex differences and the frustrations clinicians are running up against in trying to determine sex differences based on the probability that someone who has a y chromosome will differentiate as male and one who doesn't will differentiate as female. It isn't that simple as this paper on "DSD's" points out. The authors seem to have trouble realizing that a "Disorder of Sex Develop" is a characterization borne of a warped perspective. Things are not as simple as putting people into male and female categories. People are far more differentiated than the way their reproductive capabilities would divide them. Most "sex defining characteristics are determined by genes that are on the autosomes, not the sex chromosomes.

You will continue to meet dissent if you exclude half the population from discussions of how similar people are and refuse to acknowledge the differences between the other half. To put the matter in simple terms, transsexualism exists and the left out "I" for intersex is treated as mythological. One to three percent of the population is treated like it doesn't exit at all. That one to three percent is a statistic that is much larger than the portion that is transsexual and may account for some of the gay men who you believe have something in common with women who are transsexual. Personally, I relate much more closely to women but only certain women, not all women. It is not that I don't see some similarities in feminine gay men and myself. It is just a matter of my whole being not adding up that way. And, yes, it is very subjective because everyone's whole experience is an infinite amount of complex interrelationships between their body and the world around them.

I think I made a long rambling reply to this comment. I think it might be in moderation. I don't know what happened to it. These threads are hard to follow. The video I was referring to was the one Maura Hennessey linked to. I thought it followed the one where you said,

The reason these identities get "crammed together" is because they significantly overlap; in fact I'm coming to believe more and more that they are all in some essential way the same.

Actually, Maura's post came in more than a half hour after yours did so what I was reading into what she was trying to point out was slightly out of context. Still, the problem is this discussion has been more about context than a particular word. The context for me is that I am legally female but you write that there isn't any difference between a 'transsexual woman' and drag queen. What you write implies that I shouldn't be legally female because even if many drag performers are transsexual women, most are not interested in being legally female or living with the complications and implications imposed by living as a female. So if I am "essentially the same" that would mean "essentially male".

I am entering into the Victor Victoria zone, here. What about a "woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman?" Is there also something "essentially the same" between Julie Andrews and drag queens, too, or is she different because she is a real woman not like those phony "trannys"?

It has been a very difficult week for me, I apologize for going off point and adding very personal bits of my current situation which probably served to make anything I was trying to say incomprehensible. As far as what I wrote, which might be in moderation, I am hoping now that it won't be posted here. It probably won't be comprehensible because it goes way beyond the discussions here where understanding is lacking that some people's personal reality exists in more than just socio-political realms.

Actually, Maura's post came in more than a half hour after yours did so what I was reading into what she was trying to point out was slightly out of context

I meant a half hour before.

"There's something happening here but it just ain't exactly clear"

One wonders whether I should consider Frank E MannII, Heather Delgado and Mona Longoria allies, too.

Maura, in your video link, they don't refer to themselves as 'trannies'... they only refer to the 'tranny show' which is how society views such performances... really a huge difference, isn't it? Again, I don't have an issue with individual trans people referring to themselves as tranny or even shemale, but it's the extended use of those terms which I find offensive. That, and telling people who do feel disrespected by them that they have no right to feel that way or they're somehow elitist or down on the queen totem pole for not embracing those words. In this case, it's about mass merchandising a product using a term a sizable number of people in the impacted group are not okay with. (and I feel the same way about putting songs on the radio using the term 'ho' or 'bitch')

Kathy Padilla | October 31, 2010 3:43 PM

Yes - it often seems to me that non trans folks reclaiming trans slurs means commodifying the term - not using it in their personal lives to refer to themselves. But wanting to use it in their writing or production and getting pissed that people get in the way of their making a buck.

It comes off like these guys trying to reclaim a gay slur:

Glad to see the application gone. I will say, however, I had to watch Julia Serano's "Cocky" video closely more than once to make certain she did refer to herself as a "tranny", seemingly without reservation. I can't speak for her but I would very much doubt she would see anything of herself in the image presented by that application.

A few weeks ago, after I attempted to point out to a person, who wrote they were genderqueer, that the expression "tranny" was considered pejorative by many, I was made to feel trite and terse. This person said Sylvia Rivera was once a roommate and, also, that Kate Bornstein was a very good friend. There don't seem to be any hard and fast rules. I don't know. Where does someone like me get off issuing caveats?

A picture speaks a thousand words that may apply to some but not to others. I would agree that if someone is comfortable with the description "tranny", I shouldn't get uptight about it. What I find most problematic about the expression, though, is its umbrella term aspects, along with the widespread prejudice that sense of self conflict with sex of rearing and embodiment is nothing more than a frivolous joke and, without question, open to ridicule.

I don't think anyone should get uptight about the notion that many might be offended by the implication that the idea of "tranny" is an association they should be forced to accept in relation to who they are. I think there should be sensitivity to that. Some things are just unacceptable. I think the message sent by the image presented in that application is one of those things. I don't think the word is as problematic as the way it is used and by whom it is used by in the message being delivered.

So no one's going to make me a PeekaBoo Faggot app? That's OK, I don't have an iPhone.

Not until you explain why gay guys find it offensive as it relates to the etymological roots of the word - and show that most gay guys know the etymology.

Mind you - we still get to determine for gay guys if it's offensive & whether we want to make money off of reclaiming it for you.

However - we still won't be able to wipe off the makeup, cash the check & walk home safely. Because - all things being equal, not all things are equal.

You were so much more pithy than I

I don't have an iphone,either and my ancient cell phone broke two months ago. After some of the insinuations I've read here, it makes me wonder if I'd be better of without a computer.

So no one's going to make me a PeekaBoo Faggot app? That's OK, I don't have an iPhone.


The term is one of the most offensive words ever used to describe me.

Recently, a close friend of mine (who happens to be lesbian), related that she had told someone, "you should meet my tranny friend Amy". I nearly took her head off, to which she responded, "all my lesbian friends use it" (the term). I do not care if "everyone" is using it, I don't and furthermore, I rarely hear any other transpeople use the term.

I don't think there should be any debate about this. I really don't care to hear all the psyhosocial babble about reclamation. It is offensive and in the same perjorative class as f****t and n****r.

Like Amy I find the term offensive but I know other Transsexuals who use it themselves. I often admonish them for doing so if I hear them. I do not own nor do I think it likely I will ever own an IPhone. They do not work were I live anyway. What good is a phone that has all manner of bells and gadgets if you cannot make or receive a phone call with it unless you stand on your roof?

I am trans although I do not define my identity according to transness; I normally just think of myself as a woman. But when I am with my cisgendered boyfriend and we talk about trans issues, I would almost unconsciously use the word "tranny" to refer to myself and other trans people. And this has bothered me a great deal lately because I don't really think of myself as a "tranny" and I know I would feel insulted if someone else refers to me by that term, and I know others would feel insulted to be referred to that way as well. So I have made a more conscious effort to not use the word. Anyway, I think for some on the trans spectrum, "reclaiming the term" is itself problematic.

Bill and Steven I get frustrated hearing "tranny" thrown around by Gay and Lesbians and getting told that there is nothing wrong with that word when it doesn't apply to them. If the word used was "faggot" there would be no one talking about education or knee jerk tribal indignation then. We can talk about the etymology of tranny once you learn to stop using it as a cutesy word for a transgender person. You can decide that I am close minded all you want Steven, at the end of the day I could care less, but if you really want to learn stop trying to question whether tranny is derogatory when the people it is aimed at are telling you that it is. Because you ARE questioning whether the word is derogatory and whether I have a right to be offended. Sorry but this is one thing that Gay men don't get to dictate.

And I never used the word "transphobic" so I'm not sure where that came from Bill.

The app does not bother me in the least.
If someone refers to me with a word I don’t care for I deal with it on my own.

By the way, try this:
Type “tranny” into the iTunes Store.
You folks and GLAAD have some work to do…

This is post I wrote on a friend's FB page who was discussing this app:

While I didn't like the name of the app and am absolutely against any mainstreaming the term 'tranny,' I still wonder if this hubbub has more to do with discomfort around someone like Apple selling the app? Is it because they're so well known and thought to be culturally sensitive? If someone else sold it would this be a big issue?

This little drama is, for me, is one of many inter-community struggles which are occurring partly because of the imposed "transgender umbrella" and the almost absurd variations of identities which have been crammed together under it. If you're going to consider drag queens part of the transgender community and they get to use terms for themselves which they want to use, who's to say they can't use it or exploit themselves as they wish? Does a drag queen get to call a trans woman a tranny because they're both 'community members?' I feel as if there's a lot of avoidance about discussing these issues in transgender circles and pretending as though everything is cool between these sub groups when it clearly often isn't. There's a lot of hurt feelings and a sense of being disrespected on all sides.

I just find it typical that we've gotten hung up into debating whether the word is offensive or not and that GLAAD again put so much emphasis on that part of it.

First of all, it's up to trans people decide on whether a word applied to them constitutes a slur or not. Even if it has its origins among LGBTQ people, meaning and context changes with time. And if a fairly large number of trans people are saying it's offensive - you are not going to be frigging William Wallace for getting defensive about contentious language. You are not giving up anything critical to human expressive potential here. If anything, not saying "tranny" encourages you to be specific about who you're talking about. I love my drag and impersonator sisters and I don't need that word in order to bond with them about our shared experiences. There may be no clear etymology, but the important thing is how it affects trans people, particularly trans women, in the here and now. And Bill, given the history of this blog, I think you should consider whose interests you appear to be looking out for when you stand up for someone's right to be a passive-aggressive jerk about it. I mean come on, "knee-jerk tribal indignation?" Pointing to trans people self-identifying with the term says nothing about its acceptability when coming from non-trans people, and I would like to think Maura Hennessey is smart enough to know that.

Second, much like the TOTWK controversy, the app would still be hugely offensive even if they removed all instances of that word. And not just for its mocking of trans people - didn't anyone else go the app's website and notice "ChiChi Burrito - the spicy Latin lady who will sass up any somber situation" among its list of characters? Personally I'm tired of arguing about how the word 'tranny' affects me but it doesn't take much to gather that the whole thing was gross. Focusing on the word provides a great opportunity for getting mucked up like we see here.

I think you should consider whose interests you appear to be looking out for when you stand up for someone's right to be a passive-aggressive jerk about it.

Hey - if we had to cut off all conversations that involve someone being passive aggressive, we'd lose half the comments. :)

I didn't see the ChiChi Burrito add on. Oh holy shit. It just keeps getting worse, doesn't it?

And Maura Hennessey? What does she have to do with this? I'm working off the phone today so it's hard for me to keep up and see threaded comments.

All I'm saying is there's an opportunity for an interesting conversation here. I get asked about "tranny" quite a bit anymore and it's usually in reference to drag queens or "transgender drag queens" which seems a little bit unwieldy as terminology. The exploration of the boundaries both with regard to language usage and actual differentiations could be fascinating to read in the thread.

Bil, so many of these issues come from the complexities of lumping together people with hugely different identities and experiences under broad categories like "transgender" and assuming everyone is going to be okay with it. And you're right that many of these discussions are tiptoed around in the LGBTQ whatever and there are a lot of tough conversations on all sides which need to be had.

I think if any language is used with love, and genuine respect rather than entitlement or snarky humor, that makes a big difference in seeing someone as a true ally and not an ass.


Re: Maura - that was in response to her comment above citing a trans person self-referencing with it, as though that has any relevance here.

And I take it that what you mean are drag performers who either are trans women or have accessed some degree of trans-related medicine? Sorry, I don't buy that "tranny" is a good compromise for terminology you might consider clunky, and how is "drag queen" clunky? Part of the issue is that the wider public (including much of the LGB world) doesn't really differentiate between a cis male low-camp drag queen performer, the trans woman still working as a female "impersonator" for various practical reasons, and a trans woman with no history in drag communities. That is part of the context of how the word is currently used in contexts such as TOTWK, TrannyAlert!, and PeekABooTranny, and in the life of a trans woman who hears the word screamed at her while walking to work.

Determining the actual etymology of "tranny" might make for an interesting project at some point, but I don't think this is really a good place for it, as cis hostility about community response to an offensive and ultimately useless novelty demonstrates.

I resent being called passive-aggressive. There's nothing passive about my aggression. :-)

The problem in a nutshell -

I resent being called passive-aggressive. There's nothing passive about my aggression. :-)

Without which there probably only have been nine or ten comments to sort through on this thread. Of course there was that video, obnoxiously thrown in for good measure with the men and their bowler hats provocatively placed below their navels where their brains are located. 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1, mission accomplished - all buttons pushed.

I just can't get Frank E. Mann out of my head - the similarities. Really, Frank E. Mann!!! like a character out of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. What are friends for? Thank you for your forthright Frankness, man. Horror show, indeed. I know, some of your best friends are drag queens, so, you really understand. Really? Really, really, really? . I think I'm goin' out of my head, oh, I think I'm going' out of my head. I have this recurring nightmare of one of the Edwards Twins doing their impression of Cher singing the Little Anthony and the Imperials classic . . .

Halloween was yesterday, wasn't it? Someone please tell me this nightmare has an end.

Kathy Padilla | November 1, 2010 12:47 PM

When gay guys say they find "faggot" objectionable; I don't make them prove to me why they find it objectionable....I don't tell them I want to use it as I hear some trans folks using it in ways I find funny...I don't really care what the roots of the word have been down through the centuries. And I don't try and imply that when people do use they shouldn't just live with it - but they should like it.

I guess I'm doing this wrong.

Not to mention the photo of the black guy sitting down and the "white tranny" looking scared. Har har har. But heaven forbid we bring that up or the protectors of the embattled trannies will accuse us of being elitist and not having a sense of humor (like theirs).

I did notice this point about the photo. But I decided that the female-dressed person looks more fake-scared than genuinely scared -- meaning that if she is making any statement at all, it is mockery of the notion that all black men on the street need to be feared. And the black guy looks about as threatening as a silver platter of Girl Scout cookies and warm milk -- so, my take is that she is being sarcastically anti-racist rather than truly racist.

So often, it's all in the eye of the beholder -- and that is a convenient segue into my comment farther below.


"The black guy" is my friend Matt sitting on the fence around our apartment. He posed for me so I could use the application and then post the picture that it "enhanced." She looked the same in all of the practice photos we took.

Whoopsie Bil, my bad, my wrong. I've seen that image on every link about the app and assumed it was from them. But it is a wonderful example of how you can incorporate Peek-a-Boo Tranny™ into some hee-larious and entertaining racist imagery... perfect for the next two years in these United States. :-(

This thread became more convoluted than I had patience to wade thru -- but before the thread dies, I'd like to make the point that there is no right answer to these type of questions. Whether "tranny" or "faggot" for "n*gg*r" is offensive usually isn't a clear YES or NO, except when such a term is used as an obviously hateful insult, a de-humanization of its target.

For the last several years, I've been wondering, "What was so racist about the children's story Little Black Sambo?"

Many of you may be young enough to have never heard about Little Black Sambo. Originally, it was a British children's story, published in 1899, that became regarded as racist and thus got culturally extinguished during the Civil Rights Movement. If you want to know the story itself, check out Wikipedia [_here_].

The Wikipedia entry gives a good summary of all the controversies this story has precipitated, including variations in which Little Black Sambo is a boy in India, and even a Japanese version where Little Black Sambo is a Labrador puppy.

I remember eating at a few of the Little Black Sambo restaurants -- one was near the corner of 21st and Shadeland here in Indianapolis, as I remember. Not being very experienced in the development of racial nuance, and having an intrinsic awareness that I was not inheriting an objective attitude from my family environment (all my grandparents were clearly racist, and my own parents were only slightly better) I was mystified about what all the bruhaha was about. I remember asking myself, "Am I supporting racism just by eating a plate of pancakes?" but I couldn't begin to penetrate the fog -- so I dismissed the troubling thought and ate my damn pancakes.

I now understand that there is absolutely nothing intrinsically racist about a story about a cute little African boy playing in the jungle. To this day, cute little African boys play in the jungles across Africa. Fortunately, our world now sees that such little boys deserve clean drinking water, deserve not to lose their parents to HIV/AIDS, deserve decent education, and even deserve equal Internet access.

But the racism in the book Little Black Sambo was all in the execution (insensitive illustrations that make the Africans look like moronic white people wearing blackface, for example) and the alleged (and possibly, correctly so) racist condescension of the various publishers through the years.

So is Little Black Sambo offensive? Is "tranny" or "faggot" and so on offensive? There is no YES or NO answer, it all depends upon the intent of the usage, the skill of the user, and the historical and cultural context in which the usage takes place. To argue either YES or NO in all cases turns you into either a book-burner or an automaton. To me, until you fully appreciate this point, this whole thread is a big waste of keyboarding skills.

Now I've ranted on for many paragraphs, but I have said the same thing many times and much more succintly:

Context is everything.

Thank you AJ for bringing some sanity back to the conversation. My original comment was intended to spur some chat about the origins of the word -- not to provoke debate about whether or not it is derogatory, because, as you point out, sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't (which is what's interesting to me about it) -- but I failed miserably, which I regret.

Thanks for the kind words, Steven.

Remember the old novelty tune "Little Old Lady From Pasadena?" ... Since it seems time for some humor, I wish I had the musical talent to do a modern re-write entitled, "Hey, Tranny Granny, Get Your Fanny In My Hot Trans-Am" ... but now that I have put the idea out into the public domain, maybe Brian Wilson or some other talented soul will run with it. (Randy Newman, where are you when I need you?)

Kathy Padilla | November 1, 2010 8:01 AM

Ah - but Randy didn't write a song about "midgets", now did he? So - the analogy isn't very apt.

The context I see here is two gay guys attempting to appropriate a slur that doesn't effect them - which was the starting point in the discussion as the author of the app isn't transgender. Why not give us a good "faggot" app to make your point?

And really - back to the etymology nonsense? It's not helping.

True, Randy Newman did not write a song about "midgets" -- instead, he wrote a sarcastic song about "short people".

However, in a different song he did write these lyrics:

We're rednecks, rednecks
Don't know our ass from a hole in the ground
We're rednecks, rednecks
And we're keepin' the niggers down.

... and everyone knew that his use of the n-word was not an insult to African-Americans. In the same vein, people knew that "Little Old Lady From Pasadena" was not pejorative to elderly women, even though "little old lady" is often used as a condescending term.

My point again: Context is everything.

But in one way, you are right, Kathy: Seeing that there is such a heated disagreement about the use of the t-word, it would be best to avoid it entirely.

And I am with Alex in that I would be amused by a "Peekaboo Faggot" app -- although I am sure that the humorless army in our midst suffering from PC-OCD (Political Correctness Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) would insist that it be pulled, also. This discussion is hopeless. I'm outta here.

Kathy, everything we've said on this issues has been diagnosed as "insane."

"Context is everything": Making money off a word which (whether any gay men/queer peeps like it or not) IS a slur to a large portion of the community of trans women. That's the context.

Kathy Padilla | November 1, 2010 1:08 PM

Ah - that's it. The app was pointing out how trans woman are being kept down...thanks Gina!

What I was in effect complaining about was really more like how a transpohobic character in a film used it in a way that was was appropriate for that character in that film; which had a larger artistic message that wasn't transphobic.

Silly me...I should know to avoid battles with straw by now.

So, to sum up:

I thought it might be interesting to discuss the etymology of the word "tranny." I was promptly swooped down upon by the faction of us who thinks a conversation on this subject is insulting and dangerous and should be shut down:

"It doesn't, in the end, MATTER how the word started…"

"I'm not going to get into a historical debate about the term…"

"I don't think there should be any debate about this."

"I don't really care what the roots of the word have been…"

"And really - back to the etymology nonsense? It's not helping."

It's interesting to me that the same people who are so bent out of shape about the very suggestion of a possibility that someone describing them as trannies might not mean it derogatorily are the same people who have no qualms about calling me a "gay" man, which is a word I don't use to describe myself because of connotations I find negative, insulting, and imprecise.

I've been checking in on this thread off and on yesterday and again today.

I'm afraid I was one who jumped in decrying the use of the term without much thought to it's origins.

Agreed, a discussion surrounding eytomolgies of various descriptors used throughout the lgbtqi community would be interesting. Maybe you could post a well structured piece laying the groundwork for a good discussion?

Kathy Padilla | November 1, 2010 2:16 PM

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Enough. If you can't join the conversation without resorting to name calling, perhaps it's time for you to leave the thread.

There is a conversation to be had here. Simply trying to shut it down by saying the topic isn't important or calling people names is unacceptable.

Steven, what I got from what you were saying is that you dismissing the concerns many trans women have about the word, trying to marginalize the people who have issues with it into a "narrow subset" and basically suggesting you have as much right to determine how the term is used as trans women do, not to mention your suggestion that femme men and trans women have more in common than, say, non-trans women and trans women do.

For me the etymology of "tranny" is derailing the entire thread. If you want a thread which does that, then you're a contributor here... do so. Whatever explanation of the term's etymology you come up with doesn't change my feelings about how the word dismisses and ridicules my womanhood... you don't get to decide that for me.

If you don't want to be referred to as a gay man, fine... tell me what you DO want to be called and I will respect that. I am only cool with being called a woman or, if in the direct reference to my gender history, a trans woman will suffice.

I have somewhat mixed feelings about this issue. While I believe the word "tranny" can be objectionable, I also hold to the dictum that words can only have power over you if you LET THEM have power over you.

Personally, I try to avoid all such terms, tranny, trans, transgender, and transphobia. They are tossed around thoughtlessly by journalists and activists alike and have become far too generalized (even in a scholarly context, it always devolves into purely academic debates which makes me cringe). I've also encountered many supposed "experts" on transgenderism that use (what I consider) demeaning misconstructions of the word such as "transgenders" and "transgendered". And it doesn't help that the term itself shares a history with transvestism and transsexualism, and so contributes to further confusion amongst the general public.

Instead I've come to simply identify as genderqueer or altergender. "Trans" no longer has any place in my vocabulary. It's become that token pop phrase that everybody in the queer community likes to use, yet remains too esoteric to readily identify any specific group of people.