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Transphobic and Homophobic Slurs Don't Matter, but Our Response Does

04/02/2014 12:58 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016
  • Calpernia Addams Longtime activist, actress and musician, known for her work with the trans community
Zero Creatives via Getty Images

A few weeks ago newcomer to transition and lesbian/trans issues Parker Marie Molloy purposefully misgendered me and called into question my identity as female in an op-ed piece for Advocate.com by calling me a "drag queen" and saying that I "[refer] to [myself] as 'a transsexual.'" Apparently she's expressed similar sentiments about Carmen Carrera and others. I was freshly returned from speaking at Oxford University and recording my acoustic LP in London, so I filed the incident under "See If This Still Matters to You in a Few Days" and resumed my busy life here in Los Angeles.

I wasn't sure who Molloy was, but I assumed that she was another one of the nutty trans hacktivists who had been "triggered" by the buzz generated when Jared Leto thanked me in his Oscars acceptance speech. A small but vocal handful of new transitioners are particularly horrified by my love for the gay community and my willingness to cooperate toward shared goals rather than demand and grab what I want. All these angry, attacking women seem to share certain telling characteristics. Perhaps conditioned to bully and take by a lifetime of white, heterosexual, male privilege in academia and business, these women seem to relish the co-opting of yet another source of power: Often in only a year or two, they drop the mantle of white, straight, male privilege, having wrung every benefit that a 20- to 30-year-old person can from it, and take up the currently unassailable position of being a queer female with all the zeal of a new conqueror. What's the thing they rail against when not decrying other trans people? "Cis-het privilege"?

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Molloy's original Advocate.com passage misgendering and slurring me. After a few emails from me, Advocate.com did edit the transphobic slurs without comment or apology, and the piece was scrubbed from online archives. After another email, they added a notation that the slurs were removed. After more emails, they added that The Advocate "regrets the error." Whew!

Now, I've known plenty of people who were able to live successfully integrated into heteronormative culture as someone of the gender they were assigned at birth, and who then went on to become strong voices for the trans community and the LGBT community at large after joining us. And I don't discount anyone's identity as female here, regardless of their privilege or behavior. I won't fall into the trap of Oppression Olympics, trying to "win" by discounting another person's struggle in favor of my own.

Those who reject the mantle of male privilege in order to join our community are to be applauded. Most who transition later in life sacrifice almost everything they've built to join us. But at any age, those who just use the gains and habits of this privilege to step in as word police and identity police should be called on it.

I believe that my identity is an expression of my soul, and I assume the same for everyone else, separate from how they express their body or whether they choose to live as good or evil people. But I've put in enough years to recognize some uncomfortable facts, and I'm not afraid to say them at this stage in my life, especially because points about transphobia and homophobia inside the trans community are issues that should be addressed by a transsexual person before anyone else outside the community.

There is palpable homophobia in the language of women like Molloy when they sneeringly wield the term "drag queen" in an attempt to destroy someone's identity. Coming from someone whose entire body of work is essentially about policing language, the hypocrisy is particularly staggering. And especially when it comes from people who've presumably lived most of their lives with the tacit approval and support of a society that viewed them as heterosexual, white men (however they truly were inside), this misplaced anti-gay language should receive the same level of criticism as something like RuPaul's use of the words "she-male" and "tranny." To me it's worse, because I believe RuPaul's error is simply the tone-deaf carelessness of someone who has lived through and shaped many eras of queer and gender culture. The "gimme that too!" victimization grab of women like Molloy comes from not having earned their place as "inside" cultural commentators yet.

During a youth wherein I was forced to present as male despite a feminine and soft nature, I was pretty soundly rejected from participating in heteronormative culture, despite my best efforts. After years adrift without a connection to my own body or that of a lover, I sought out and joined a renegade underground culture of rebels and fighters: the LGBT community of the 1990s, built on the backs of revolutionaries, many of whom were still alive at the time. I have been called a "faggot" (pre- and post-transition), marched in pride parades in the benighted Deep South, attended court hearings and appeared in pre-Internet local LGBT papers with opinions on our culture. Before even the tragedy of 1999, I was a participant in LGBT culture, and I was a gender rebel. The work I've done after the tragedy has been a calling and a privilege of another kind, but I am proud of that too.

Molloy expresses hate on Twitter.

So when a few hate-filled, angry and inexperienced folks hop the fence at this late stage and try to dictate our culture rather than learn and build and participate in it, that is indeed worthy of a response. Their slurs and homophobia do not matter so much, because the impact is tempered by an understanding of the source. But our response does matter. We should give newbies a chance to find their footing (Lord knows I said some stupid things in my early days), but no matter what oppressed identity they claim, if they start making power grabs before learning the culture, we should call them on their lingering "cis-het privilege." (God, I hate the term "cisgender.") If they express hatred and derision for gay or lesbian culture (and it's almost always anti-gay, for some reason), we should call them on their homophobia. We should call out the transphobia of those who attack trans people who choose to wear makeup, associate with gay and lesbian people or embrace non-binary bodies, whether the negativity is coming from outside the community or from inside. (Molloy has attacked not only me but Carmen Carrera and Buck Angel.) Being trans is not a free pass to be transphobic or homophobic.

You choose your community's voices and heroes. You choose your entertainers, your thinkers and your fighters. Make those choices. And if somebody is making your world a worse place, call 'em on it.

This post originally appeared on Calpernia Addams' personal website.