Alex Blaze

Susan Sarandon, Joy Behar, Michaelangelo Signorile discuss "tranny"

Filed By Alex Blaze | November 12, 2010 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: animal rights, GLAAD, Glee, PETA, Susan Sarandon, tranny

Susan Sarandon likes the word "tranny" and thinks GLAAD shouldn't be criticizing Glee's use of it (no word on what she thinks about Glee censoring the word "transsexual"):

rocky.jpgSarandon, who starred in the original film version of the musical, defended the show and accused GLAAD of becoming extremist like the animal rights group PETA.

She told the New York Daily News: "What should they [Glee] have said? [GLAAD is] getting like PETA - way out of control."

More Sarandon, plus video of Michaelangelo Signorile's explanation of how much he loves the word tranny, after the jump.

She added that she knew people who embrace the word 'tranny' as part of their identity.

In response, GLAAD spokesman Richard Ferraro told the paper: "The word 'tra--y' has become an easy punch line in popular culture and many still don't realise that using the term is hurtful, dehumanizing and associated with violence."

I'm not 100% there with GLAAD's general project, but comparing them to PETA seems off. PETA is offensive for the sake of being offensive and GLAAD's doing the exact opposite, for better or worse.

But, whatever, they're both orgs that do things that displease Susan Sarandon, so that makes them the same.

Here's video from a discussion of her comments on the Joy Behar Show:

I'm not going to respond to anyone in that video. Feel free to go at it in the comments.

But the producers on Joy Behar's show.... They couldn't find a single actual trans person to discuss this word? Would we put up with a discussion of any other slur on TV without at least one representative of that community there? Signorile, whose trans-friendliness cannot be questioned because then he gets really pissy, isn't transsexual or transgender so I don't see why Behar invited him to discuss that word.

There are telegenic trans people can present an intelligent argument on this word, no matter their ultimate opinion on it. They could have sent an LGBT or trans org an email or asked an LGBT PR firm and they would have gotten a contact list. There's really no excuse other than complete laziness or a lack of understanding of what the word even means.

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The dumb thing is, Joy Behar actually thought she was having a representative of "the community" by having Signorile on. In other words, 'oh, this is about the gay community, so we'll have a gay man on." That's the level of sophistication. It's like having a Irish guy on the show to discuss if the word "wop" is offensive. That said, I thought what she actually said on the show made Signorile sound positively uninformed.

My guess is, she was too uncomfortable having an actual trans woman on her show. Behar, progressive as she is, was very uncomfortable when Candis Cayne was on The View and she's made a number of comments on that show which show her to be rather uptight on the subject of gender variance.

Where is Archie Bunker when we need him? I'd love to see him discuss this with Edith

As much as Rocky Horror has some great elements around it, the trans community has had a love/hate relationship with it - among my friends it's been mostly hate. I gather that one of the extras roles that random cast members can fill is designated "tranny."

When I was in college, a few of the Rocky cast folks would hang out at the LGBTQ student union and toss the word around left and right. "So that's when the trannies come out..." "You should have seen what this one tranny was wearing last night." "You should audition. Even if you don't get a main role you can always be a tranny."
There was one person in particular who was seething with anger around it and finally blew up about it.

So I'm not surprised that an original cast member of Rocky Horror can take such a position. I'm a little disappointed that a star from a decades old film known for their ignorant and insensitive portrayal of trans identities gets more credit on trans issues in the mainstream media than actual trans advocates, though.

As for the argument that "I have friends who use the word tranny for themselves." First, why not invite them to be on the show? Second, well, I have friends who use the word faggot for themselves, but take a look at how seriously GLEE has taken that word -- and how comparatively seriously the media takes it.

Huh, I didn't know that ... I haven't really ever talked to my circle(s) of trans friends abt Rocky Horror, nor have I hung out with cast members or anything. I recently read though that Richard O'Brien identifies as transgender, which for him he defines as "in between" genders I think. For whatever that's worth. Dunno. Doesn't exonerate anything automatically, of course. Just an interesting / potentially relevant fact.

Anyway, regardless of how we all feel about the word (and my own opinion [as a trans guy, fwiw] is actually pretty conflicted, though I'm inclined to say it's trans women's and trans women's alone to use/reclaim), I think it's really, really problematic that cis people feel they get to be authorities on the subject. It's incredible how many gay guys think that by virtue of being gay they are magically incapable of being offensive to trans people. Like, wtf, no. Even if you were /trans/, you wouldn't be immune to that, you know? Sigh.

And, and. I haaate the common perception that Glee can do no wrong, because it does a *lot* of wrong. Just because it claims to have some sort of inclusive identity politics or whatever does not make it beyond criticism, and there are SO MANY things -- e.g., this week's portrayal of the butch character -- that are really problematic. Rawr.

Also I have no idea what the first part of that video is talking about but the weird comments about burqas and the taliban are just like, ugh.

Silly trans people, we should let the cis people decide whether or not words cis people use to harm us, should be allowed.

Of course, we also need to respect that people-born-people never agreed to be called cis, and it's degrading to use language which fails to respect their superiority.

Tranny didn't begin as being short for transgender, but transvestite. People who use tranny derogatorily are referring to cross dressers, and transgender people don't like being conflated with 'fags who sometimes where dresses.'

To say that gay men have no authority on usage of the word tranny is incorrect. Convincing people to stop using a word because you say so is a great arm wrestling victory. But it's not going to erase the overlap between drag queens and drag kings and trans women and men.

Transgender people are called faggots and dykes way more often, but they want their own fight apart from the 'faggots and dykes.' So, fine. But I read it as being ticked off at the inevitability of being grouped together.

You do make a good point about the range of people the term "tranny" indicts. It certainly includes crossdressers, drag queens, and a whole lot of other trans feminine spectrum and/or male assigned gender deviant people. That does not necessarily equate with all gay men though.

Gay men who walk down the street in full drag, get yelled at by passerbys, face anti-trans violence, and get stopped by police for "walking while trans," certainly have some authority on the issue -- and to a degree all gay men who's gender deviance makes them subject to transphobia. But is that Michaelangelo Signorile? No.

I read another account of the Ulane v Eastern Airlines decision this morning and I thought, yes, that is the judge's opinion and it is legal precedent in the U S but how does that change what Karen Ulane was at the time the case was heard.

"But it's not going to erase the overlap between drag queens and drag kings and trans women and men."

O K, another judgement, another opinion.

"So, fine. But I read it as being ticked off at the inevitability of being grouped together."

There are actually whole sovereign nations and unions of sovereign nations that actually lump us together with the males and females we believe we belong with. Why don't you have any respect for that?

There are worse things than being called a tranny. Anyone who has no respect for a persons integrity as a human being is not an ally. Self deprecation is reserved for the person who deprecates themselves. What you are erasing is the overlap between male and female, intersex and transsexualism. There are many gay and lesbian people who have done great harm to transsexual people over the years. Generally the antagonism is overt. What I keep hearing here is so guarded it seems designed to draw people into false alliances with people who could do more harm than straightforward people who are willing to take us at face value.


I actually don't see any proof as to how this term started so to me it's a moot point. Despite Kate Bornstein's totally unresearched claims that it was an 'Australian community term from the 1960s'... (she was told this information by one person... drag queen Doris Fish and has repeated it ad infinitum) the term was already used in 1950s exploitation publications which mostly dealt with transsexuals (like French trans woman performer Coccinelle, and trans woman burlesque performer Hedy Jo Star) who were both post-op transsexuals but referred to them as transvestites. Talking about who the term refers to in a historical sense is kind of absurd.

Well, the S-Bomb used to mean "masculine woman", but that's not who it covers today. So even if "tranny' used to mean cross dresser, the group it covers isn't limited to that part of the community.

No one is born offended. We learn to be offended and we each make a choice whenever we interact with others. Long ago I realized I could choose to remain unoffended even when it clearly seemed the other person intended to be offensive. Gee I hope that is not offensive but then WTF. Life is too short.

theflyingarab | November 12, 2010 5:36 PM

gotta love how the privileged think everyone has a "choice" in being offended or not. but whatever -- life's too short to try and right wrongs, y'know?

Oh gosh now you have confused me. Are you saying you were born pre-programmed to be offended?

Evidently, some be are born pre-programmed to be dismissive.

Let's try that snark again...

Evidently, some are born to be dismissive. Other are born to misspell.

I always enjoy your perspective.

The word sounds like a mockery. it is used in context to mock trans people and dehumanize us. It is used to be hateful. It *is* offensive. I don't care if people try to use it in plain context or don't mean offense- the word inherently trivializes and mocks our very real lives. It is used in a highly hateful context a lot. It carries the same power as the word "faggot" and I am highly offended any time it is used.

Don't care if people try to tell me I should not be offended, I am. Most trans people *are*.

Renee Thomas | November 12, 2010 7:40 PM

Leaving out the great unwashed for just a moment . . . I suppose my general question to the larger LGB&T community is just how many times do you need to be told before it begins to sink in for you?

friday jones | November 12, 2010 8:26 PM

I don't get it: Cis people often get pissed when trans people call them cis, but cis people get to decide what names for tans people are offensive or not? Susan Sarandon is a cis woman who happened to be in a film where a cis person played a cross-dresser, and that makes her a spokesperson for the trans community? Wow, appropriation, silencing, an patronizing, I think my bingo card is going to fill all the way up.

battybattybats battybattybats | November 12, 2010 10:35 PM

I know Australian Transsexuals, one for about 20 years, who use the word as an identity term and don't consider it offensive. It's important that we remember that we cope with the variety of terms and their different meanings cross-culturally. To some in some places Transvestite is insulting and crossdresser not, to others vice versa. Each person has a right to self-identify and we must respect their personal identities.

I've seen some people tell people who do identify with the word that they must stop doing so. This is as unacceptable an abuse of their human right to self-identification as to call someone Tranny who doesn't identify with the word.

Now thats not to say that all these programs aren't doing seriously wrong things.

For starters we know that there's likely at least one transsexual at every school when they are estimated at 1 in every 500 people. So Glee's failure to include a transsexual character yet feel its ok to use the word Tranny alone is a huge issue.

But then when the APA claims that 2%-3% of males (they always forget the FtMs) are crossdressers, and other estimates go up to 10% and even as high as 20% comparing with the Australian figures of 2.7% of the population self-identifying as Gay or Lesbian and 20% report being Same-Sex Attracted (10% in highschools, 6% in primary schools) then we can see that Transgender is comparatively prevalent to Gays and Lesbians and likely to Bisexuals too. Making the failure to address the issues of Transgender people extreme.

And Intersex it's worth people knowing is 4% of the population (source: University of Queensland Geneticist Peter Koopman).

It's vital that members of these communities are given voices. Representation. Recognition.

Trans and Intersex suffer the most violent results of societies sex and gender issues. They should be at the forefront of every ITBLG rally, action, legislation, media, cultural empowerment program etc. Instead they are afterthoughts and that is a shame that the LGB community is going to have to make amends for.

To me the most important thing in this discussion of slang, labeling, grouping and terminology is context. A lot of things are still economically impossible for many people, like surgery and electrolysis, in the U S. I actually grew up thinking the word transvestite had exotic connotations when I brushed up against the sub culture where I am from. Recently I learned about Jacki Shane, an R&B performer from Toronto who had a following in the sixties. It seems a lot of gay people have claimed Jacki for their own. Most never even consider the possibility that she may have been transsexual. I read an account from one person, a male, who I would surmise was not even gay who visited Jacki where she was living in Georgia as a woman shortly before she died. I can only imagine what she had to put up with. There are many accounts of her life on line. Most refer to Jacki as a "crossdresser" and use male pronouns in reference to her. I don't know how she felt but I can picture enormous distress.

The Johns Hopkins did not do transsexual surgeries until 1966, around the same time Harry Benjamin came out with his transsexual/transvestite taxonomies, in the book he published. At that time the word transvestite had to be used to describe people who could not reject the description and had no other alternative to but to present publicly as male. If one reads Aleishia Brevard's account of how she had to dress leaving Finnochio's one realizes transsexual people had no choice but go back into the closet when out in public or face arrest. Many people never found a way out of the closet. I am sure many still don't. I don't doubt that the one in five hundred estimate is accurate. The intersex estimate's accuracy is dependent on definition but I believe there is a great deal of accuracy in that figure.

The way the question of privilege is used against transsexual people who have found ways to pay for their medical procedures is as unfair as denying that people who are not able to afford them are not transsexual. The problem is that people who are able to get organ transplants are just as alive as the people who don't need them. Privilege allows for that possibility. I think there are many privileges that should extend to many more people than the way things are currently. Some countries allow for better treatment of transsexualism. Many industrialized countries offer better health care to less privileged people.

A great many of the people denying transsexual women and men their authenticity are capable of obtaining the procedures necessary. The reason they don't seek those procedures is because they are not transsexual. A lot of them can't accept the fact that bi-sexual people exist. Many more people consider gayness a lifestyle choice. It is horribly oppressive to make a determination on how another person might feel where that determination renders another person deluded, a liar or both.

What is the definition of "tranny". The problem for a transsexual person is that it has no clear definition. The same problem exists for the expression transgender which, in the grand scheme of the English language, is a neologism that is most often used when describing someone who has for the most part made a legal transition to another sex, as someone who belongs back on the side of the sex/gender binary they were desperately trying to escape. In other words, it becomes a very subversive way of tacitly demanding that a person go back into the nightmare they were living. Not very fair, actually, horribly oppressive.

I will offer whatever help I can to further the rights of anyone who has been denied their rights. If somebody wants to force me to fight for my rights as the sex I was wrongly assigned, I consider them as oppressive as anyone who would deny them their rights.

As far as tranny is concerned, I often call myself an idiot. I do have a sense of humor. If someone else calls me an idiot, however, I have to spend way too much time wondering what they meant by that.

It is my feeling the political climate has a lot to do with this regardless if we wish to come to terms with it or not. With the "Conservative Republicans" in power or the mood being seen as them having the upper hand anyway, the LGBT community is again fair game for these little slurs. These shows on Television tend to pander to the audience as they are after all ultimately controlled by the sponsors. The greater the audience, the more money they get, the more sponsors they attract. So if they feel they can slur a small segment of the population because it is seen to be an accepted thing without downside to them in some way, then they do so. GLAAD is not out of line, Sarando and Behar are but they will get away with it. After all it is only offensive to something far less than one percent of the population. It would be far different if she would use a term most Blacks or Latino Americans felt offended by. Oh and of course those of us in the LGBT community choose our orientations after all right? Apparently the social and political correctness of Hollywood depends upon who they wish to pander to like many people.

Always a hot subject. I have used the word to refer to myself, and even wrote an article about it that was posted here a couple of years ago. But, as time has gone on, I see that by using it for myself, it somehow makes non-trans people think they have the right to use it as well. I have stopped using it in public, but I will occasionally use it when it's just me and my partner, who is also trans.

Because I may use to to refer to myself, doesn't give Glee or any other non-trans people the right to use it. No matter how many times it's discussed on blogs, it will never change hard-headed people, like the Glee producers and Sarandon from changing their minds until you get right into their faces and tell them in no uncertain terms that they are wrong. It's reached that point.

Tranny is for transgender people as Nigger is for black people, so why is it acceptable to use one, but not the other? The simple answer is, if the word offends, don't use it.

I agree it really is that simple. I doubt that the t-word is always intended to be a put-down ... but if there are significant numbers of people who object to it, then it is best to avoid it.

Here's a CBC radio documentary on Jackie Shane.

I don't want to project my constructions on anyone else but when I read between the lines, I very much wonder how much Jackie had to put up with. Hopefully times are different. Hopefully, we don't have to be put in places other people have reserved for us anymore.

Here is the only video of Jackie available:

I stayed up last night looking for the blog where the person wrote about helping Jackie Shane move all of Jackie's belongings. I thought I remember reading that Jackie was living in Atlanta at the time. Jackie ended up living in Nashville, so maybe that's where it was. I couldn't find the blog with the account. It may have just been a comment in one of the numerous blogs about Jackie. The person clearly describes Jackie living as a woman.

What I find disturbing is the way Jackie is continually called he and him, called a crossdresser and transvestite and openly gay, in spite of the facts that make it so obvious that Jackie was simply a totally unique individual who played R&B clubs. Jackie mysteriously drops out of sight. There are conflicting accounts about Jackie dying in the late nineties and at the end of a CBC radio documentary someone recounts having a telephone conversation with Jackie in 2005. Some accounts have Jackie being murdered, some have Jackie committing suicide.

After listening to the CBC radio interview where people who had obvious affection continually refer to Jackie as a "man" it makes me wonder how much a need someone like Jackie would have to drop out of sight. There just doesn't seem to be any comprehension among anyone gay or straight that some people are obviously transsexual and how impossible a nightmare some people's lives can become when people keep insisting a person is not what they obviously are. Jackie was enormously talented. It seems obvious that Jackie could have become much more successful if Jackie's personhood weren't more important to Jackie.

Tangential topic:
I never knew about Jackie Shane until now. Loved the video, the song, and the voice. Thanks for the info.

Did you see this website?

The intro refers to Jackie as a "he", but about 2/3rds down there is a first person account of a student encountering Jackie (in 1996) and how she was living as a woman.

Nonetheless, the site includes Shane as part of its "drag artist discography".

There is also a March 2010 update (about 1/3 way down) that notes that Shane was found, and was alive and well.

Some nice photos including the original 45s that Shane recorded on "Sue Records INC".

While I personally do not like the term "tranny," and have admonished people for its public use in a mocking light, one must recognize that different trans communities have different relationships with the word. It is my understanding that, on the West Coast of the US, the term is used by many transgender and transsexual people without a negative connotation, whereas on the East Coast, its use is much more problematic. The same is true of the use of the n-word by in-group and out-group members. Non-US English speakers, particularly in Australia, I am given to understand, do not find the term "tranny" offensive. I don't use it, and I don't like its use, but I'm not prepared to condemn someone who uses it in a non-derogatory context. I agree with Signorile that one must look at context.