Tobi Hill-Meyer

Context: Let's Talk About "Tranny"

Filed By Tobi Hill-Meyer | December 30, 2010 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: derogatory language, Kate Bornstein, Michelangelo Signorile, Quinnae Moongazer, reclaiming, slurs, transmisogyny

This is part three in a three part series. You may want to first read part one, which details the meanings and associations of the term "tranny" when used as a slur. Understanding those meanings provides useful background for talk & talkunderstanding the implications of the term in other contexts. And part two, which examines criticism and controversy around the term being uncritically used in the media.

This part examines the impact and consequences of using the term on a more individual level, including what types of context make a difference and what types of context may matter less than you think.

Who's Speaking?

Context plays a big role, but as with any slur, the personal experience someone has as the target of the slur is a part of that context - and it makes a big difference. Part of why I say it would be fine to have had Stryker's film be titled "Screaming Trannies" is because it's a documentary examining transphobia and trans people's activism created by a trans woman who's significantly connected to trans community and regularly challenges trans misogyny. The context makes sense. Whereas when Michelangelo Signorile, a cis gay man, goes on tv and tells everyone that tranny isn't a slur and he knows 'cause he's a big homo, and "has some friends" who use the term (why didn't they invite those friends on the show?) the context is pretty clearly insulting.

While breaking down who can and can't use the term based on identity is an easy shorthand for some very complicated issues, it has downsides. One of the big downside is that it can cause an increase in policing the boundaries of trans and trans female/feminine identity. Can a drag queen use the term? A trans man? A genderqueer trans man? An uber feminine fag? Not to mention that it creates a situation that encourages judgment of how trans someone is or how valid a female identity is, which can leave transfeminine genderqueers in a difficult situation. The same goes for any trans woman who is misread as either not trans or not a woman. And such people who also happen to fit aspects of the stereotypically tranny image are left in an even more tenuous position. The downside of black and white rules is that you spend a lot of time parsing the gray areas and trying figure out how to put people in their place rather than evaluating the value of the rule in such situations.

Ultimately, the important question is not just if, but how does the term get used against a person? It's pretty common for straight men to be called faggot, but that doesn't mean it's an anti-straight slur. Trans men occasionally are called tranny, but that doesn't erase the fact that the slur specifically attacks one's femininity as fake or a failure, as if they are a man in a dress who's trying too hard - as explained in part one. I know a few sissy, femme, and/or crossdressing trans men, and I can understand how they feel they have some ownership over the term, but it's because they are sissy/femme/crossdressing, not because they are trans men.

For example, consider the various "women and trans" events and spaces that are conspicuously lacking representation of trans women. It's almost always due to trans misogyny, historically and/or currently. Trans women are more likely than trans men to have traumatic experiences with the term and be triggered by it. When trans men use the term in such spaces - as commonly is the case - it contributes to the dynamic keeping trans women out, regardless of whether or not it is their intention.

Similarly, I've heard people suggest that because of the overlap in the trans feminine spectrum between trans women, drag queens, and sissy faggots, that gay men should therefore be free to toss the slur around without being criticized. I can understand the point if you're a gay man who walks the streets in drag, facing harassment, being called a tranny, and getting profiled by police for walking while trans. However, that doesn't give all normatively gendered gay men carte blanche to rebuke any criticism for using the term just because they went to a few drag shows. That doesn't give all gay men carte blanche. It certainly is no excuse for OUT magazine the justification to claim that the term is powerful and liberating just because they (predominantly cis men) are the ones saying it.


But all this identity parsing is really secondary to how you use the term - and I don't mean simply using it "positively" without taking into account how that can still hurt and alienate people is not how you do that. Using it sensitively while referencing the transphobic context it is often interpreted in is much more important. And even being a trans woman does not mean that no one will ever be uncomfortable or react negatively with how you use the term.

Kate Bornstein has been using the word in ways that have made a lot of trans women uncomfortable. Quinnae Moongazer explained exactly why in an open letter to her. Kate responded, temporarily apologizing and pledging not to use the term any more but later recanted. (For more details see what I wrote specifically about the incident).

I don't think anyone is saying that Kate shouldn't be allowed to use the term for herself and her consenting friends and family. It becomes a problem when she: a) uses the term generically for other people who don't consent to it, and b) tells others (particularly those who aren't trans women) that there are no consequences to using the term uncritically. While personal experience as a target of the slur certainly matters, ultimately respect, consciousness, and the ability to address the power dynamics surrounding it are what's important. If anyone refuses to do that, their identity will not make them immune to criticism.


Speaking for myself, the term is growing on me. I'm finding more and more places where it feels appropriate to use. However, I don't like simply reclaiming it as a positive. I can't simply erase the context that the word conjures up for so many including myself. Instead, I'll use it specifically to highlight that context. If someone is condescendingly dismissing trans women's concerns, I might exclaim that they just want the trannies to shut up and go home. If someone argues that trans people deserve rights, except for non-op women, overly sexual women, or sex workers, I'll tell them that they are playing a game of "good tranny, bad tranny," and building their case for rights by taking away other people's rights. In such cases the usage doesn't seem okay to me despite the negative connotation, but because of it. I'm not reclaiming, I'm repurposing.

Even being a trans woman and having a strong reasoning behind when and how I use the term, I'm still going to be extremely careful about how I do so. I will likely avoid the term altogether in public settings, explaining my use when I do use it, and I certainly won't use it to name my business or for a generic trans event. Because avoiding offending others is not just a way to be politically correct. It's not hard to predict that some people may take offense or be triggered by the term. Accusing them of trying to silence you, minimizing and dismissing the negative impact, and trying to badger them out of being offended will only make the situation worse. Whether you're performing, writing an article, speaking to an audience, making a film, or just networking and meeting new friends, using the term without a great deal of care or even at all, can have significant impact on how effective you will be.

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Honestly, I wish the entire controversy over Israel Luna's gay-establishment-endorsed commercial hate speech had been limited to the content of his feature-length promotion of violence against trans people and not one particular word in its title. There was - and, in spite of 'fair and balanced' gay media such as the Dallas Voice siding with Luna, will always be - ample ample evidence merely from 'the cover' by which judge Luna's 'book' for what it is: a gay male transphobia-fest.

We wrestled with the "Ask A Tranny" segment on our show The Sausage Factory. I always thought it was a slur, or at best like my folks saying "Nigga" this and that. I never thought I had any right to use the term at all.

The Transgender community here in Vegas asked us to name our Transgender weekly segment "Ask A Tranny". We have had mostly positive response. We have also had Transgender guests who insisted that they be able to express there displeasure with the segment name if they were going to be a guest. Of course we agreed because we want to make sure that we aren't taking liberties that aren't ours.

I'm including a link to a segment of "Ask A Tranny" to get some reactions. It's the second interview after Ari Ezra Waldman.

"The Transgender Community"... as a whole, everyone got together and said "let's call this segment "ask a tranny?" Derek, I truly appreciate you might feel as though you're between a rock and a hard place dealing with differing people's preferences and experiences but, if some guests are already saying they don't like the title (and I know a lot of trans women who wouldn't appear on a segment called "ask a tranny") maybe "the community" who requested you use that title isn't really thinking about the entire community.

One of the aspects of this I think Tobi is addressing extremely well is that we can all have our own interpersonal use of the word, but we don't get to make global statements which sound something like: "get a sense of humor" or "we're reclaiming the word for the entire trans community" or "if you were a progressive queer trans person you'd be okay with it." And, sadly, it's a lot of the dismissiveness surrounding those 'explanations' that the term should be used in broader media and a widespread community context which create much of the hurt and frustration among many.

As a trans woman who was so successful at staying in the closet for 55 years that I have never had this term used against me, so I don't personally have a major problem with it, I still see the point.

I think you need to ask yourself, if you where doing a show supporting persons of African decent would you feel comfortable with Ask a N......ger?

If your answer is no problem, save the name. I'd say tomorrow is a new year. Announce your respectful name for this show starting now!

For me what the transgender community needs is more RESPECT

Respect of one's self.
Respect for our Transgender Community... all of it.
To be outwardly respectable and respectful in every situation.
And to request or demand respect from society.

I do have issues with tranny, intensely dislike the way the term is thrown around with entitlement and have been referred to in a nasty way using the term but I really, really wish people (especially white people) in the trans community would stop comparing it to nigger. It's not the same as nigger. No term in the US is the same as nigger. Yes, both are used dismissively and disrespectfully but that's where the similarity ends and I don't think it does our community any good by making this false comparison.

Renee Thomas | December 31, 2010 1:25 PM


I respectfully disagree with you on the singularly unique status and exclusivity of the word "nigger." While we can certainly argue as to issues of appropriation, historicity and degree, the expressed intent of both slurs is identical. The object of the use of words like "nigger" and "tranny" is foremost to strip the dignity and humanity from the individual, in so doing we reduce their unique personhood to a kind of vulgar one-dimensionality.

That's the real cost to consider when indulging in the rehabilitation of language.

"is foremost to strip the dignity and humanity from the individual, in so doing we reduce their unique personhood to a kind of vulgar one-dimensionality."

Renee, you can say that about a lot of terms... some which are fairly innocuous. But to compare words or oppressions which are directly connected to genocide or slavery to terms which are merely demeaning or ridiculing but have not had holocausts or human bondage connected to them is not to a communities' benefit. As someone who had a large portion of her family die in WWII, I've heard endless people trying to compare this situation or that to the Jewish holocaust and it's totally appropriative and ultimately dismissive of what happened during the war.

Same thing with the African Slave Trade. There is no comparison to that. And to try and link a word like "tranny" to it in any way and to use the African Slave Trade's unique oppression as a way of making your oppression seem more grave is a false comparison. There are lots of ways to emphasize how tranny is used against trans women without going down that road.

And for the record . . . I'm a Jew and an Israeli

I am old enough to remember when insulting words were commonplace. Words that are no longer used, thank goodness, by educated and thoughtful persons included "kike," "wop," "bohunk," "mick," and "nigger," are relegated to the past because over time people learned that these words are mean-spirited and hateful. I don't even like the word, "queer" when applied to gays and lesbians.
In my opinion words like this tend to objectify and depersonalize people making them objects of scorn and ridicule rather than human beings and creatures of God. I think the use of the word, "tranny" in any context is counterproductive to our efforts to become fully accepted by society.
My two cents worth....

Sierra Bellum | December 31, 2010 4:25 PM

First, I learned something new. I had thought bohunk was some sort of complementary term, simply assuming it was related to beaux and hunk, previously. Since it wasn't a word I tended to encounter, I apparently hadn't bothered to find out what it really was. Thanks.

Second. I'm one of those people that like the word "queer." Probably because I'm also one of those people that tends to see things on a spectrum. I personally don't subscribe to the reclaiming theory; it just seems to work well to describe certain perspectives. However, even though a significant number of people also seem to use the word and there is even scholarly use of the word (queer theory, et cetera), I either don't use the word in public, preface it with an explanation similar to the above, use it only for people who have already self-identified that way, or try to limit it to a context of scholarship where I'm trying stay within the language of the original authors/speakers. I see many LGBT people following the same rules for public etiquette, and it, at least, seems like this is the consensus position.

I can understand someone being uninformed or failing to appreciate the context of a word under certain conditions, but common politeness seems to dictate that once one has been informed one should at least try to avoid injuring others through offensive language.

Though I have to admit that I generally don't bother trying too hard to avoid using vulgar language around those who are offended by it.

Stonewall Girl Stonewall Girl | January 1, 2011 1:57 PM

I, too remember when a lot of those ethnic words (slurs) were commonplace and used sometimes in an innocent or neutral fashion. My uncle and his friends would casually use the terms and an appropriate adjective before those words would determine whether it was positive or negatively used.

Today were are supposed to be better educated and supposed to be more sensitive to others. yeah... right!

I normally consider "tranny" a slur and do not tolerate it except when it is used as a compliment! Let me explain... in early 2005 very soon after our Transequality legislation was introduced in the Assembly, I showed up with 2 other transwomen at a local Democratic organization meeting that chaired by the Assemblyman, a semi closeted gay man, who happened to be the bill's chief sponsor. When he was speaking ...and intermittently acknowledging various officials he saw us and said, "we have the Tranny Mafia here". Under those circumstances, I took that as a compliment and a sign of our growing political power which is all I wanted from him.

There are other people of the "gay political establishment" who may refer to me as "T" or in passing as I may be introduced as representing the "T" in LGBT to make a point of promoting full inclusion.

Someone mentioned using the term "queer". This is a term I normally don't like, but will use myself to make a dramatic point under certain circumstances. As a member of the Democratic National Committee and the only LGBT member of the NJ Democratic State Committee, I interact with the full spectrum of the Democratic Party. when I casually speak to people and mention my involvement with Stonewall Democrats and I get an "unknowing" look, I look them in the eye and explain, we're the "queer Democrats ... you know L-G-B-T ...". then they get it!

The term (like the N word)will never go away, like it or not... so I figure it would be best if "we" owned it!

And for a gay man such as Signorile or any non-transperson to justify using it or anyone to ask anyone other than a transperson about using the term "tranny" is pure bullshit!

"The Transgender community here in Vegas asked us to name our Transgender weekly segment 'Ask A Tranny'."

Uh huh...

I'm not going back on what I wrote earlier about my wish that the focus during the protest of the Luna-tick had been on content rather than a word. However...

For 'balance' (and we all know that that's the only thing that matters), I'm going to get my podcast back up and running and I've already made a thorough survey of 'the gay male community' to determine that a segment which features interviews with gay men should be entitled 'Ask a Tweaking, Toilet-Trolling Pedophile'.

I totally want to listen to Kat's podcast now. *grins*

It sounds "edgy" and "modern" and what a true progressive queer should listen to! Right?

Its just as 'edgy' and 'modern' as as the film oeuvre of that 'true progressive queer' Israel Luna.

Sierra Bellum | December 31, 2010 4:02 PM

'Ask a Tweaking, Toilet-Trolling Pedophile'

I can't stop alternating between cringing and laughing at your new show's title.

That must mean it's brilliantly insightful right?

Well, what can I say? I have it scheduled to follow a minimalist documentary series, entitled 'Ask a Transsexual Who Was Allowed to See the 2010 ENDA Revision Language'.

Hey Tobi,
This was a really excellent text, adressing all the important points.

On a sidenote about the Bornstein discussion- I am wondering if this is really about Bornstein saying tranny, or rather, as Moongaze suggested, about a clash between two political opinions, namely the genderqueer and the binary gender identified one. I'm torn about this, cause as a trans guy I'm probably pretty binary identified, or rather I'm identified with cis men. I don't believe that there are *only* two genders though. As a political person, I'm highly suspicious of "brain gender" theory, and think it's reactionary. The political theory that I as a trans person can embrace doesn't exist yet, I'm afraid (any sugestions?). So I think, you're all wrong ;-) (or partially right)

I wanted to stay out of the 'tranny' discussion this time. Sorry to go off on a tangeant again.

There may be many different reasons for a person to reject a sex assignment. It is hard for me to imagine that one would want to opt for transsexual medical procedures for "political reasons" but I can only speak for myself. What you, Ship of Fools, describe as "brain gender" is usually referred to as "brain sex". I agree that expressions such as "brain sex", as a notion that the human brain should be expected to conform to commonly held notions of what is appropriate for males and females is oppressive. What you seem to imply, however, is that biology plays no part and being transsexual is an act of volition - a "will to power".

As I said, I can only speak for myself. My transsexual experience, I am sure, is rooted in the way I perceive the world and am perceived by it. My perception has a lot to do with sensory input. Some of what I am sure is so subliminal it seems abstract. I doubt much of it is. Sensory input is received in various parts of the body and interpreted by the brain. I think this works differently for everyone, even people who are transsexual. Our bodies are very different, one from the other. The brain is very closely connected to the genitals through the hypothalamic, pituitary, gonadal axis and the feedback loop involved. To overlook how this works for a lot of transsexual people, both male and female, I think would be to deny the obvious.

When interpreting how all this works it is tempting to impose a gender upon it. The fact is all of this exists with or without the labels the human mind would impose on it. My earliest experiences were not gendered experiences. I didn't understand gender before puberty. My earliest experiences were nightmare experiences of being herded into places where I did not belong. As I grew older the feelings of being in the wrong place among the wrong people intensified, became more obvious at puberty and impossible in my late teens until I finally realized in my early mid twenties, I would not grow out this.

Once someone like me is able to accept who they are and be accepted by others it can be a positive thing. No one would choose to go through what I have been through, however. I know a lot of my experience is sensory and has to do with a social fit that is very mechanical. It doesn't just suddenly come out of the clear blue. Things may be different for you and many other people but I get the feeling there are many others who have had experiences similar to mine. Politics is something outside of me, imposed by others, something to deal with in order to be kept out from under its domination, except where there is good faith involved and the common good to be worked for.

Sierra Bellum | December 31, 2010 5:28 PM


I haven't had time to read the latest publications in LGBT research for a year or so, but I have made myself familiar with most of the previous studies. I am also very interested in the brain/body/behavior/person connection, and have done some research related to consciousness myself.

Getting past the problems many people note with older and even some current studies (failures to parse bisexual and trans people from lesbian and gay people is just one common example), to me the brain/body/person connection is so complicated that I'm not convinced it can ever be completely understood (such as some test that fully predict people's future behaviors), or, if so, is at least several generations away.

And as you suggested ["The fact is all of this exists with or without the labels the human mind would impose on it."], many (approaching all in my personal opinion) of our social behaviors are relavitely arbitrary compared to underlying biology/physiology. And we are clearly subject to the social times in which we live.

I haven't seen any research that has found more than some "thing" which is associated with some particular LGBT behavior for a portion of the population studied. And, I can't remember any study which didn't find some people with that same "thing" who weren't engaging in that behavior. To me that implies even for that portion of the studied population there are other, quite likely at times environmental (that word can include a lot of factors all the way to cosmic radiation), factors which affect expression.

In fact, epigenetic research demonstrates that environmental factors, including our personal choices, can in turn affect some genetic expression. Some research even suggests that environmental factors and choices of our parents and grandparents can affect our genetic expression.

The first time I heard people saying that a large number of feminist lesbians from a certain generation had embraced lesbian behavior for political reasons, I assumed it was a Limbaugh-style pejorative comment. But I later encountered a number of those same people (and read histories of even more others) who described their choices exactly that way. While there are arguments which can be made here, I really try to respect how people describe themselves.

Given that my understanding of the research leads me to believe to that even genetic coding can often lead to expressions across a spectrum, I am prepared to accept that some people may feel personally free to choose from a number of expressions across any given labeled behavior. And to even choose to do really hard or (socially) dangerous things for reasons entirely their own.

To me, the point should be that people are free to do as they will however that "choice" (and just to be clear even if absolutely every biologically based behavior was expressed on a spectrum only those at or near the middle would have what most of us consider a free choice) came to be. However, again for me, part of the reason to respect that "free choice" is because our biologies/physiologies are so complex that parsing what is really a free choice from what is not is not within humanity's abilities. And I think this last is often true even when we look at ourselves.

Of course, I also find it interesting that my understanding of the research leads me to believe what I already believed before reading the research [for those who have not gotten to interact with researchers in biology/psychology this is beyond common]. For instance, I tend to not privilege those things which are clearly expressed as a binary (many genetically-based diseases provide clear and easy examples) compared to what I feel are more complex observations which seem, to me, to be on a spectrum. Funny how that works, huh?

Hi Sierra,

Get it "Hi Sierra"? :) Happy New Year

I don't want to side track Tobi's discussion any more than I have. I wrote a comment to that Out Magazine article by Bornstein. I forget what I wrote. I like "Auntie Kate". I think she's, zie's? cool. I think we're all different and we all have different needs.

The chicken/egg, nature/nuture, arguments and other arguments about how pre-determined things are will probably go on until the end of time. I am not a Calvinist. I can tell you that much.

I like that song by Carlos Santana and Michelle Branch that goes " a little bit o' this, a little bit o' that".

The theories of Daniel Everett pitted against Noam Chomsky's ideas are interesting:

"Anthropological linguist Daniel Everett, who wrote the first Pirahã grammar, claims that there are related pairs of curiosities in their language and culture.[10]
The language is claimed to have no relative clauses or grammatical recursion, but this is not clear. Should the language truly feature a lack of recursion, then it would be a counterexample to the theory proposed by Chomsky, Hauser and Fitch (2002) that recursion is a feature which all and only human languages must have."ã_people

All I know is how I feel. As far as Kate Bornstein, women's spaces, etc., I don't want to be anywhere I am not welcome. I think there are many women who feel excluded from various groups at different times. I don't think there are "essential females" or "essential males". I think the nature human beings is a very diverse phenomenon where sex is concerned and otherwise. Things are split down the middle, regardless, the way things presently stand. Transsexual women are women not "trannies". I think that is an important distinction to emphasize. No one fits in everywhere.

Sierra Bellum | January 1, 2011 10:16 AM

I'll also try to keep this short out of respect for Tobi's excellent series, though I can be quite verbose.

As one easy example, by random chance I have happened to be around when two mothers discovered while their daughters were entering puberty that each girl was genetically XY despite physical appearances. Should these girls, who were apparently completely happy as girls, have been forced to suddenly label themselves something else? I know I don't want any system where others get to decide not just the circumstances of my life but what I am.

Personally, I think there should be room in our social structures for those who wish to have labels other than male and female. And maybe it represents my personal psychology but I don't really understand why that is so hard for so many people. However, whether that ever changes or not, I don't see how the standard can be anything other than what people communicate to me that they are. Even if some (probably small portion of)people choose to change it on a daily basis.

I have no interest in policing gender/sex and, more, I don't believe it can even be done in any kind of consistent way other than accepting people's "opinions" about themselves, however those "opinions" came to be. I believe any other system is inherently flawed, perhaps to the point of irrationality.

I believe that life is inherently hard enough and we should congratulate people for finding ways to be comfortable and happy that don't harm others. The most beautiful and happy people I know have in common that they found ways to match their interior and exterior lives.

Sierra Bellum | January 1, 2011 10:20 AM

Oh, sorry. :)

And Happy New Year to you as well.

High Sierra,

I have read what you said, here, over a few times. All I can say is yes.

Quinnae Moongazer was definitely touching on several long term criticisms Kate Bornstein, mainly that her gender theory positions binary gender as either less progressive, less desirable, or non-existent. Again, I'd say the issue isn't so much one of a gender theory vs another, but how it gets applied. For example, as Moongazer cited, How she so readily agrees with second wave feminists who proclaim that she (and all trans women by extension) can never be "real" women. And while she might be comfortable in a psuedo-woman space, the implication that that's where all trans women belong is obviously problematic.

From my perspective, it seems like a major part (certainly not the whole) of what's going on now was sparked when OUT magazine was looking for a trans voice to defend their use of the phrase "tranny nanny," and Kate gave them her article defending the right of all people (cis or trans, male or female) to use the term so long as it is not intended as an insult. And while there certainly is a lot else to respond to, that's the part that's relevant to what I was writing.

I read Bornsteins initial text, but didn't realize that it was requested to justify the use of the term "tranny-nanny" by a mostly cis LGB magazine. Well that changes things a bit..
I understand Bornstein's usage of tranny within a context of general reclaiming during the 90s (fag, dyke, fat etc). But a mostly cis magazine using that to defend their own unreflected and "humorous" usage of the term is something else.

While loving Bornstein's work as a whole, for many years I have been critical of her approach to gender, and her uncritical embracing of gender theory. I always felt that she was desperately trying to find a place for herself within a lesbian community that was still deeply influenced by Raymondism. I came out as trans during the 80s and remember that athmosphere only too well (I read Raymond at age 16, as it was the only book I could find that even mentioned the existence of trans men). There was no other place Bornstein could go as a lesbian feminist. There were no queer, pro trans lesbian communities yet. So she took early gender theory and bended it to her own needs, thus opening the way for a more tolerant feminism (though still flawed).

"How she so readily agrees with second wave feminists who proclaim that she (and all trans women by extension) can never be "real" women"

I think this is a misunderstanding of Bornstein's approach-- as she was deconstructing her own femaleness, she was also deconstruting cis women's, subtly. She was using gender theory to level the field for trans and cis women (feminisnm says that gender is constructed, thus I'm constructed, thus you are constructed). That approach is not perfect,and I'm not a huge fan of advanced gender deconstruction, but she worked with what she had, and in many ways she won the battle.
As I said, I have had endless discussions with LGB friends who were trying to tell me that my gender was constructed (but not their own). That's why I don't like deconstruction as used by cis people. My own experience as a trans person was devalued by referring me to Bornstein's books. But I'm angry at the cis people, not at Bornstein. She wasn't the only one with that approach- f.e. Riki Ann Wilchins wrote very similar things. Deconstruction was very much engrained in all 90s trans activism. So I say lets not start to pick on a single person. She doesn't deserve that. I hope her dinner with Moongazer will materialize and all this will lead to a constructive point.

Disclaimer: I'm writing from the EU, so I don't have access to everything that happens in the US.

In fairness, she originally wrote the article for herself. OUT Magazine just asked for permission to reprint it in a point-counterpoint around whether or not it's okay for them to use the term.

As Kate's approach, I'm not just trying to pick her apart for being a deconstructionalist -- I came of age in deconstructionalism and related queer theory and it's been a major influence. However, there are instances when she seems to cede ground to transphobic feminists, such as here:

Years earlier, when I went through my gender change from male to female, I glided through life under the commonly accepted assumption: I was finally a real woman! That worked for me until I ran into a group of politically smart lesbians who told me that I wasn't allowed to co-opt the word "woman." Woman was not a family word that included me. My answer to this exclusion was to call myself a gender outlaw: I wasn't a man, I wasn't a woman. By calling myself a gender outlaw, I had unknowingly reclaimed the right to name myself outside the language generated by the bipolar gender system. Under that system, each of us needed to fit neatly into a pre-fab sex/gender identity.

She says that she was neither a man or woman, but the way that's written it definitely seems to imply that it applies to anyone who's trans. Afterall, she calls it a "commonly held assumption" that trans men and women are "real" men and women.

But ultimately, this is all a side point. The main point I was making by including this, is that identity does not confer immunity to criticism. It's possible to be a trans woman and use the word tranny disrespectfully and get called out on it.

ShipofFools | January 1, 2011 5:02 PM

Toni, I didn't mean to draw attention from the main subject of your text. I just didn't have to say anything about is because I agree with all points ;)
I have to do some more reading about the Bornstein discussion- If you (And others) are not criticising her deconstructivism, then I think I don't understand the discussion fully.
The quote you gave- from what I read by Bornstein, I can't believe she meant it the way it gets interpreted. It wouldn't make any sense that she said: trans people aren't real, but cis people are. I seriously belive that there is a misunderstanding somewhere. I hope very much that she will adress this.
Or did she say similar things elsewhere? I have read all three books and a lot online and can't remember that she says anything along those lines.

I just started a blog and Facebook community page dealing with trans-offensive reporting, blogging, etc. The site is gaining popularity and we have had two successes and a 'promise to be nicer in the future'. This has been up less than a week. Then there is Jamie Freeze who titled one of her articles HE/SHE/IT who refuses to change the title. I started a petition which is about 10% signed so far.

Anyone that wants to watch and/or participate please feel free to do so. The more help with have the better results we have.

How many gender variant people need be individually subjected to violence or death before we at last acknowledge that the motivation that fuels genocide is exactly the same. The blind hatred of the "Other" whether it motivates the murder of one or the murder of millions makes absolutely zero difference in the balance. Does the death of one weigh less than the death of many?

Who is more oppressed is a distraction when ending oppression is the goal.

Kate Bornstein n author, playwright, performance artist, and gender theorist.

Bornstein studied Theater Arts with John Emigh and Jim Barnhill at Brown University (Class of '69)

April Out Magazine article

April Out Magazine article comments

November 19 Out magazine article comments

July GO Magazine article

"Bornstein knew that she was not a man, but the only other option of the day was to be a woman, a reflection of the gender binary, which required people to identify according to only two available genders."

I live in Providence. I remember the picture of Kate all prettied up and in a gown. I can't remember if it was the eighties or the nineties. She was like an East Side Brahmin debutante. I remember. What? I have to put up with her telling gay men what it's like to be me? And, she gets paid for it?

How many articles has she written, Tobi? I am confused. Which one were you referring to?

Call me anything you want. Being late for dinner doesn't have anything to do with the price of beans. There's no money in that.

Kate went to Brown before Paul Vogel got there. I could tell you how I learned to drive. I don't think anyone will offer me a Pullitzer for it, though. Gender as performance? I guess it is for some people. What about everyone else, those of us who are not Stage Beauties?

I'm talking about the article that prompted Quinnae Moongazer to respond: You'll notice three elements to it, the editor's note, Kate's article, and an article from NCTE. All in point-counterpoint style, prompted from protest that OUT magazine received when they ran a story about Obama's "Tranny nanny"

Yes, I should have noticed the link in the text of your post and that GO magazine is a women's publication. Sorry about the rant. I shouldn't have gotten involved in this discussion.

I just think performance is performance. In other words, performance is gender with the sex taken out of it. To perform well one has to be well trained. I don't think it requires a lot of education or training to recognize a slur. Of course, context matters. Gender exists in the context of sex. No matter what a person is called they are who they are. If a person is a good performer they are a good performer. If a person isn't a good performer they still are who they are.

And, oh, after I finished my latest pedestrian thought and checked my understanding of "gender as performance" by Googling the expression, I find that Julia Serano has already discussed this, kind of, in Kate Bornstein's latest book:

Oh well. as I said, I shouldn't have involved myself here. One wonders, however, how much who we are and what we become is influenced by a handful of thinkers. At least, I do. What about the part of us that can't be influence by forces that exist outside of us?

As far as the term "tranny" is concerned, it is most closely associated with drag queen and by its first syllable it implies that it is equivalent to three words that have "trans" as its suffix - transvestite, transgender and transsexual. Isn't that obvious? I fail to see how the expression "trans" doesn't imply those three words are not interchangeable, also, except when the latter two are used as adjectives, which only means that transgender and transsexual would be interchangeable. That would imply that the word transsexual is not distinguishable from transgender which diminishes and dismisses what it means to be transsexual.

The term tranny diminishes a person whose existence is trans in one way or another to one of mere caricature. Caricature is useful as a form of artistic expression. Caricature is not suited for every day living, however. I am reminded of the plan to put the whole city of Winooski Vermont under a dome:

The idea of a "trans umbrella" cannot accommodate the needs of all the intended constituents. That is what the term "tranny" does in the worst way. It puts everyone under an umbrella where those under it are defined as all sharing something in common with the most over the top caricatures of either gender.

Very enlightening. I read parts 1,2 and 3 and all the comments. My take on it is this. Its never the word but the context. However some words get used frequently enough that a general context becomes assumed with the word. Then people start freaking out and reacting emotionally whether or not the immediate context the word was used in warrants it or not. At that point I tend to remove said word from my personal vocabulary because its use overshadows any functional communication.

But, I believe in civility so whenever I meet a handsome stranger I say "you can call me anything you like, just call me".

It's stupid arguments like this that keep me from being involved in the trans community. I spend my energies instead on movements that are more productive like labor, the environment, etc..

It's certainly true that infighting can break out over subjects like this, and those arguments can be very unproductive (although the same pattern can happen in labor and environmental movements). However, I hope that through a detailed and constructive analysis of social power dynamics, such as what I do through writing, that we can more effectively build community. And community building develops resources and support structures that can be very important for individual survival and developing group political power.

In this instance, the word tranny is like an open wound. So long as it keeps getting poked, it will only inflame anger, insecurity, and further infighting. My hope is that through work like producing this article series, more of us can move past this issue.

But Dyna, I notice you took the time to read this, didn't you? Love it when people (on all sides) say they don't pay attention to "petty community arguments" only to spend the time to post on these threads. I'm glad you pay attention to the struggles for labor and the environment, but you don't need to use your commitment towards those to put down the painfully evolving movement for the rights of trans people or Tobi's thoughtful essays. Nor does doing so doesn't make you more evolved or 'real.'

Double negative... let's try "Doing so doesn't make you more evolved or 'real.'