THE BLOG

Why We Shouldn't Use the Word 'Tranny'

12/23/2011 03:49 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016
  • Lance Bass Singer, actor, producer, writer, entrepreneur and philanthropist

Let me start this off with two very important words that I truly mean from the bottom of my heart: I'm sorry. I'm sorry to anyone who was offended or hurt by my use of the word "trannies" while appearing earlier this week on Access Hollywood Live.

Let me share what I have learned in the last 24 hours. I have learned, thanks to Glaad.org's website, that the term "tranny" is used as a dehumanizing slur to describe transgender individuals and is oftentimes the last word someone hears before they are brutally attacked. Similar to the anti-gay F-word, the term "tranny" is commonly used to humiliate and degrade transgender individuals.

I can tell you with all sincerity that I had no idea.

I often hear the term used on Logo's RuPaul's Drag Race and spent an entire summer listening to Christian Siriano use the phrase "hot tranny mess" on Lifetime's Project Runway. In my definition, I was referring to the flamboyant and hilarious drag queens and transvestites who play on Christopher Street in New York City, some of whom I even call friends. When I use the word "tranny," I am picturing Tim Curry's Frank-N-Furter character in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, or the wildly hilarious Eddie Izzard. I certainly don't think of Chaz Bono or someone questioning the body they were born into.

It is a word that I have always associated with overly made-up men in garish costumes and dramatic makeup and have always considered it a term of endearment. It had never crossed my mind that it was a slur against those who are transgender and fighting for their identity.

I am incredibly sensitive to anyone's feelings, especially anyone who has been made to feel less than or humiliated. I have nothing but respect and empathy for anyone struggling with, or who has had to struggle with, finding peace in the body they were born into. I know my own struggles that I had to go through just to find peace with my sexuality; theirs is one I could never imagine.

Words are incredibly divisive as it is, but when you add media into the mix, the lines are blurred when it comes to who can say what, how, and where. The word "retard" has been declared inappropriate at all times. People argue to this day that when the Dixie Chicks made their statement, "We are ashamed the president is from Texas," it would have been OK had it been said on American soil, but because it was said overseas, they are un-American and should be chased out of our country with a shotgun. Even Oprah and Jay-Z have recently joined the ongoing debate over the fact that black people are allowed to call other black people the N-word, gay people can get away with calling other gay people the F-word, and Jewish people are allowed to sling Jewish stereotypes at one another, but should anyone outside the tribe say such things, they are racist, prejudiced, and offensive.

I have a friend from Chicago who is your stereotypical, macho "guys' guy," born and raised on the South Side in an environment where they constantly say "that's so gay" about anything and everything. Nevertheless, he has many gay friends. Does that mean that he is homophobic and hates gay people or just needs to be educated and learn to use a different word to describe a situation? When you think about it, choosing the wrong word only makes the person using it look stupid, even though it wasn't done with malice.

At the end of the day, these are all just words. It is the meaning and the intent behind the words that should always be questioned and examined. People do need to be held accountable for the words they use, but the rules of political correctness by which you are and aren't allowed to use them have become so confusing that often we should be relying on common sense and taking into consideration the person's purpose behind using the word. I am sure many of you reading this have a grandmother who can give you a look without using any words, and you know she will give you a whoopin' if you don't behave. It isn't about the words; it is about the action behind the word.

I cannot say it enough, but I am sorry to anyone whose feelings have been hurt by my comment. I recognize in retrospect that it was ignorant and insensitive, and I will remain conscious of keeping that word out of my vocabulary, as well as of correcting anyone around me who uses it.

But there is something that is bothering me about all of this, and I feel I would not be doing my part if I didn't bring it up: I am extremely disappointed with the gay media, which has chosen to turn this into a headline that will garner more attention for their websites and help sell more of their magazines and disregard the irresponsible effect they are having on our community.

Within an hour of the show being over, I knew what I had done and was immediately brought up to speed on the fact that in recent weeks, Kelly Osbourne and Neil Patrick Harris had both used the word "tranny" and were immediately, publicly slapped on the wrist, and I immediately apologized over Twitter. I had not heard about the recent instances; if I had, I am sure I would have added that word to my "things not to say on live TV" list.

Kelly Osbourne is, and has been, a very vocal supporter and ally of the LGBTQIA community. Neil Patrick Harris has arguably and singlehandedly done more for the image and public perception of the gay community than any public figure before him. I recently wrote about my coming out experiences right here on The Huffington Post and have publicly pledged to do what I can not just for our community but for human equality. I am not defending any of us for the misuse of the word, but I am disgusted with how the gay media has pounced on us as though they have been waiting for us to misbehave and spun it to make us look like the bad guys.

Yesterday, The Advocate wrote, "Lance Bass Uses Transgender Slur On Air." Regardless of the article that followed the headline, guess what the mainstream media will pick up and turn into the public's perception in the process? Lance Bass hates transgender people.

In my opinion, a slur comes from a place of hate and intolerance. Go back and read the police report from Mel Gibson's arrest and the things he said to the female officer. I consider that slurring.

I never see a headline in The Advcoate that reads, "Lance Bass Wants You To Join Him At The Russian Consulate In New York City To Help Protest Anti-Gay Propaganda Laws Being Passed In St. Petersburg." But you can check my Twitter feed back on Nov. 28 and you will find that I posted just that and did indeed go speak to the Russian consulate. But I bet if I had written, "Hey, fag lovers, come join me," it would have been picked up by everyone. Who knows, maybe we could have actually had enough people to make a difference?

I am disappointed that the media outlets don't reach out to me, or Neil, or Kelly, when something like this happens, but instead post their headlines first, excited that it will mean that they will get more traffic and possibly even picked up by a nightly entertainment news show. I am disappointed that our community isn't ever able to come together and educate each other and educate everyone else in the process from a constructive place, always coming instead from a defensive place. No matter what I say or do now, it will look as though I am trying to spin the situation and save face, when had we worked together, we could have put up a united front and shown that we make mistakes, but that we are in fact a community that supports its own.

I may be a bit naïve in my thinking, but imagine the headline "Lance Bass Would Like Us To Know Why We Shouldn't Use The Word Tranny." That is what could have happened if The Advocate had called me first and we were able to work together. It's time our community stops bullying ourselves, especially our celebrities who do so much for civil rights. They need to learn that they are in the wrong to spin stories like this and harp on something that was obviously not malicious, because the more we become afraid to open our mouths for fear of backlash, the less likely we will continue being a voice for our community.

So to the gay media, we need to work together, because it will happen again. We live in a soundbite world. Everyone is tweeting their thoughts, 140 characters at a time, all throughout the day and night. Once it is out there, it is available for everyone to dissect and interpret. There are plenty of media outlets ready to tear us down, humiliate us, and make us feel less than. Why can't you be on the front lines to help defend us or educate and set the example instead of tearing us down?

Again, to be clear, I have no problem apologizing. I unknowingly used an inappropriate misuse of the word. I am horrified that I said it knowing what I know now and would be devastated to find out I hurt anyone's feelings. I take full responsibility for the words coming out of my mouth. The first people to report on the story were The Advocate, Instinct, and Queerty, not any mainstream media. My community were the first ones to attack me. The Huffington Post is the only outlet that reached out immediately and suggested I write something to help educate. That to me is responsible journalism, and everyone should follow suit. I just believe there are better ways to handle the distribution of press and would appreciate it if the media, especially the gay media, could be more responsible in how they report a story.

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