Small Steps

Two days ago, Sig Fig tweeted that she’d found the t-word in yet another site she frequents–namely, this one. I’ve never read Mighty Girl, but I thought I would hop over and see what was happening. I was a little surprised to see that Sig Fig had already commented (since we’ve talked before about how she’s too self-conscious to comment generally; she’s started several comments here and erased them, so we usually end up just talking about posts in person), and I thought I’d back her up.

Imagine my surprise when, rather than being defensive and sticking to her guns, Mighty Girl apologized and changed the language in the post.

Now, as you can see, the perma-link stayed the same, so the language persists, and several of the other comments seem totally comfortable using the term. And the reasoning behind using the term in the first place is still a bit problematic–does anyone really say “transvestite” anymore? And is it even relevant to the crushing of the iPhone, or is it just there for entertainment value?–but I have to say, this is the first time I’ve seen someone genuinely apologize for the t-word (or a similar slur) and make a clear effort to change the language:

I was keeping it in the title until I got more information, because among my friends, I haven’t encountered anyone who mentioned this. Changed it when five minutes of Twitter conversation convinced me it was fairly widely held viewpoint that I just hadn’t come across.

My intent wasn’t to upset anyone. I apologize, and I won’t be using the term again in writing or otherwise.

What’s frustrating to me is that people who genuinely don’t know why words like “tranny” are offensive (if those people exist, and I think they do, though I think some who claim ignorance know perfectly well that it’s offensive) had to have gotten the word somewhere. And that “somewhere” is the mainstream media and assholes like Christian Siriano. (Yes, I’m aware that some trans folks do self-identify this way, or use the term amongst themselves. But if you know enough trans people that you’ve heard support of the word, how have you never come across someone who finds it offensive?)

Note: my first comment in the Mighty Girl thread never made it out of moderation. It included several links that I thought (and still think) should be required reading if you don’t know why the t-word might be offensive.

From Cedar (part 1, and part 2)

From Renee at Womanist Musings (Go Ahead Say N—– and Family Business)

18 Responses to Small Steps

  1. One gets the word from the communities that one inhabits: sometimes cisgender, sometimes trans. But when one’s conceptualization of the word is shaped by a community in which the word is not understood as degrading, then you have no sense that it, in other communities, it is seen that way. It’s just another descriptor word until someone tells them differently.

  2. pandanose says:

    Well, then, I guess it’s our responsibility to get the word out, eh?

  3. radicalyffe says:

    Hi Pandanose,

    I always enjoy reading your blog.

    As for transvestite, yes, many people still use that word. In fact several of the MTF-spectrum members of New Canberra Transgender Network identify exclusively as ‘TV’, and almost half use crossdresser and transvestite interchangeably. All of them identify as ‘trannies’.
    I’m an FTM boi that likes to dress in women’s clothing for erotic reasons (I’m autogynephiliac if we wish to reclaim another Dirty Word in a way that would piss of the medical establishment). I occasionally identify as a transvestite, as do some of my other FTM friends.

    Language is a complicated thing, and the factors that have gone into some trans people declaring the word ‘tranny’ off limits are varied.
    I think that part of it is classism. Here it is working class, less educated trans people that use the word Tranny. Its sex workers, and WOC, and MTF’s that have never been to university. The kinds of women that I’ve met in person in Australia that are offended by the word ‘Tranny’ tend to be educated, white, middle-class, and more or less transphobic jerks.
    Part of it is pure cultural imperialism. American’s seem to think that they can dictate to any people, in any culture, according to American cultural norms. Its rude, and its offensive, and its completely ignoring the cultural differences that exist between English-speaking nations.

    In the end though, our name… whatever our name is, will be a swear word. The name isn’t what matters, its the meaning behind it. So long as being trans of any kind is a bad thing, then being a ‘tranny’ will be a bad thing.

    If you’d like to see an example of an Australian attempt to reclaim the word ‘Tranny’, that is an organisation where young, old, MTF’s, FTM’s, Binary ID’d, and GenderQueer types all work together, take a look at http://trannypanic.com.au/

  4. pandanose says:

    Hi radicalyffe- Thanks for stopping by!

    Let me be up front and say that, no, I hadn’t at all thought of the implications of the word in an international context–because I’m a dumb American, and know very little outside the American context. So I thank you for that bit of education, and the link.

    I’ll have to ponder whether those class implications hold true here as well. My own social and academic spheres admittedly run toward the better-educated, whiter, and more upwardly mobile… but I’m trying to be better at learning about experiences outside my own. And some of the voices I’ve heard calling the t-word problematic aren’t educated, white or middle-class.

  5. radicalyffe says:

    Hi again Pandanose!

    I hope I didn’t offend you with the comment about American’s. I’m still a little bit miffed that an American tried to make our Pride group change our name. I think its silly to try to demand that everyone every where play by American rules.

    I think that in the USA the word ‘Tranny’ is genuinely more problematic than it is here in Australia. I totally agree that using it in an offensive way… Whatsisface’s ‘Hot tranny mess’ rubbish for example, or saying someone looks like a tranny when you mean they are ugly… those are all problematic usages.
    I think that just using the word to describe people is ok though, especially for *self-description*.

    I’m outspoken on the internet in support of the word Tranny. I don’t feel like I need to reclaim it, because its been the word of choice for trans people in Australia for a long time. However, I do understand that the trans warriors in the US don’t like the word, and I do explain to people why it is problematic, and why cis people shouldn’t use it, and why I don’t apply the word to anyone unless I know they self-identify that way.

  6. pandanose says:

    Oh, no offense taken at all! Again, I can only ever speak from an American standpoint, but I’m aware that we have a tendency to waltz in and declare our way or the highway. (Putting it mildly…)

    I certainly agree with you on self-description. I think insider language can be a very powerful thing, and I’d be really insulted if some straight person told me I couldn’t call myself a dyke.

    It sounds like we’re really in agreement on this issue–with the wrinkle of living in different cultures.

  7. radicalyffe says:

    Yes, I think that we agree too… I probably wouldn’t have bothered commenting if I thought you would just be like “Oh fuck off. Tranny’s a bad word always, and you shouldn’t use it you trans misogynistic twerp!”

    I just think that its interesting to throw out my experience with the word as an Australian… after all, Americans aren’t ever going to come *looking* for information on the Aussie trans community, so I might as well throw in my 2c now and then. :)

  8. pandanose says:

    Oh, definitely. It’s a perspective I probably wouldn’t have heard otherwise, and it’s really interesting to hear about such a different take–really enjoying browsing the link you dropped!

  9. Zoe Brain says:

    The New Canberra Transgender Network is a Transgender network. It’s for all people in the Transgender spectrum, and their families.

    There are relatively few Transsexual people there. They tend to leave after transition, though some drop in sometimes to help others.

    There’s almost no commonality of interest between those at the extreme end and others. Perhaps 1 in 3 is seriously considering medical help, and only 1 in 10 would contemplate surgery. Fewer would have it.

    When a majority is talking about a wonderful new place to buy oversize pumps to die for, and a minority is discussing various hormone regimens, there’s a bit of a disconnect. Some are stuck in the “gender twilight zone” for years, afraid to go forward and lose everything, job, family, and yet unable to rid themselves of their transsexuality. Others are just happy cross-dressing, and glad to have a safe haven.

    Such divisions though tend to dissolve when we’re all together. Different, but all human, and there’s some truly wonderful people there, even if I don’t identify with them at all. I don’t have to, nor they with me.

    “Tranny” is considered offensive to most TS people. Not to most TG though. I don’t like it myself, but in the end, it’s just a word. One can be too PC. And too much of a “educated, white, middle-class, and more or less transphobic jerk.” too. I plead guilty and throw myself on the mercy of the court.

    See for example http://www.trannyradio.com

  10. radicalyffe says:

    Hi Zoe,

    I wasn’t referring to you when I mentioned the transphobic jerk. That was a trans woman who has said *much worse* things about the ladies at CTN. :)

    I’m not sure that there is a clear cut line between transgender and transsexual, and willingness to have surgery would certainly not be it, in my humble opinion.

    I think that arguments that draw lines between the various identities are counter productive at any rate.

  11. pandanose says:

    I also want to point out that there’s a really clear difference (to me, at least) between being “politically correct” and altering your language to show that you respect other people. I’ve always taken PC to mean “I’m saying this thing because otherwise people will get mad at me, but you all know what I want to say.” Prime example: Ann Coulter stopping just short (like, by millimeters) of calling John Edwards a fag.

  12. radicalyffe says:

    I’d totally agree with that Pandanose.

    I mean, some of the same trans women that bawl me out for using the word ‘trannyboy’ to refer to myself, also say that the trans women at NewCTN are like an image from the ‘Transsexual Empire’ (you know, the book by Janice Raymond), or call trans women who can’t pass ‘freaks’ or ‘post-operative transvestites’.

    Sure, they might be avoiding the politically-incorrect word ‘tranny’, but is what they are saying any less hurtful?

    Debating around particular words is somewhat pointless, if people still don’t respect the underlying identity.

    I do apologise for kind of hijacking your thread here! I think you are an awesome blogger, and great trans ally for the record.

  13. pandanose says:

    No apologies necessary! I pretty much never get this quality of comment thread going, and I don’t consider it a hijack at all. (And, of course, thanks for the kind words.)

    You’re right that semantic debate won’t get us anywhere if we’re not actually exchanging ideas about identity and its connections with language. But it’s especially frustrating if you’re having a one-sided conversation–with one side making real arguments and the other dismissing them as “merely semantics.”

  14. radicalyffe says:

    I’m glad you are enjoying the thread. I haven’t bothered spending this much time in a thread for a while… probably because its usually degenerated into a flame war by this point, LOL! :)

    When we’re talking about semantics, the history, common usage, cultural context AND personal experience with the word, all need to be taken into account. What the word means to various people can be really diverse, and needs to be assessed.

    To my friend Peter’s Australian grandmother ‘tranny’ means ‘transistor radio’. To a mechanic in Australia ‘tranny’ means ‘car transmission’. To Cedar, ‘tranny’ implies unexamined trans misogyny. To some creep googling ‘tranny cock’ it means pre-op trans woman porn. To a journalist it means a sensationalistic headline. To my MTF girlfriend ‘tranny’ is a word that too many people have told her that she isn’t ‘trans enough’ to use, but to other MTF’s like Zoe, willingness to use the word tranny is in itself evidence of not being ‘trans enough’.

    I think that people often gloss over all these complexities in their desire to prove that their meaning of the word is the one correct meaning, and the only one that should be allowed to be valid.

  15. pandanose says:

    Fair enough. But we get to a point where the question becomes–does one vile meaning of a word outweigh neutral or positive associations? Or the flip side–does a positive association manage to rise above the negative baggage?

    This, I think, is one of the central questions of language reclamation.

  16. radicalyffe says:

    I think that a lot of people in this debate are forgetting that its not the word we need to fight, but the meanings.

    For example, two scenarios:
    1. I tell my girlfriend that she’s a “hot tranny”

    2. Lady Gaga says “People say I’m hot, but I think I look like a transsexual

    Now in both scenario’s tranny is used as a synonym for transsexual. There’s no difference in their meaning… just one is slang, and one is a medicalised term like homosexual.

    Now in the first scenario, tranny is being used by a trans person, and applied to a trans person in a way that is inoffensive, and even positive and affirming. (Although admittedly, I’ve left myself wide open for accusations of fetishising my girl there… lol, also I wouldn’t say that, because she’s a woman to me first and foremost, but its an example.)

    In the second, the term transsexual is being applied to a cis person in order to imply that trans people are undesireable and ugly. ‘Trashy’ even.

    I know which usage I would prefer to see bandied about.

    My argument is that I don’t need to reclaim ‘tranny’ because its being used by the trans community here whether or not people like it. Its a trans word, and the hets can’t have it… end of story.

    What I’m reclaiming, is TRANSSEXUALITY ITSELF.

    I want people to understand that trans people, transgender warriors, gender queers, trannies, MTF’s, FTM’s, bearded ladies, whatever you want to call us… we are strong, and beautiful, and fantastic, and fabulous, and sexy, and loved, and desireable, and clever, and sane, and generally awesome.

    I’m not reclaiming the language, because the language is irrelevant… I’m reclaiming the identity. As someone pointed out above, most people just see tranny as a descriptor.

    I think thats correct, and that unfortunately what it describes is considered a bad thing, so it has become a bad word. It doesn’t matter if we demand people use ‘trans’ or whatever else instead, eventually that word will be tainted with our identity.

  17. pandanose says:

    I really like the way you phrased that last sentence, and I think it’s valuable for thinking about the language we use to identify any marginalized group.

    Again, I don’t think we disagree–I’m not arguing that insider groups shouldn’t be able to self-identify however they choose. And it’s not my place here to do so, though I always find it telling when outsiders try to define language for a group.

    On the question of U.S. vs Australian usage, I’m not a semantic historian, so I can’t tell you when (or by whom) “tranny” was first used here, but I do feel confident in saying it’s historically been entangled with exploitative porn, and that relationship perists. That–along with problematic usage from outsiders, and the testimony I’ve heard from many (American) trans folks–is why I don’t use the word, and why I try to discourage other cis folks from using it.

  18. radicalyffe says:

    Sorry Pandanose, I’m so used to arguing with other trans people about my right, and other trans peoples rights to self identify that I get a bit carried away sometimes. :)

    Tranny/trannie first appeared in the 1960’s as an abbreviation for various other words (transmission, transistor, and transvestite). Given that the people most likely to abbreviate a word are the one’s using it most often, I suspect that Tranny was first coined by trans people themselves. I have seen no evidence to the contrary.

    But you are right, the usage by outisders is problematic, and cis folks can keep their paws off the word.
    :)

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