THE BLOG
05/29/2014 09:19 am ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Hypocrisy of the Pro-Slur Crybabies

A few things to ask yourself before you claim the right to use a slur: Do people find it hurtful? Is your life experience different from theirs? Do you honestly believe it hurts you more to not use it? Does thinking that make you kind of an asshole?

First, to clear the air: yes, there are people who absolutely have every right to identify as or reclaim the slur "tranny." They are actual trans people. They are not drag queens who claim that the long-mothballed interchangeable use of "transvestite" somehow has any cultural weight in this day and age. If you're a trans woman or man and want to identify as a tranny, good for you. You are able to wear a word often intended to hurt you as a badge of honor. People have different sensitivity levels, different life experiences and different relationships with words. That is to be respected, all around. If you want to paint "TRANNY POWER" across your naked chest and march up and down the street, I will be the first to applaud.

But if you're a gay man who walks around looking like a guy all day long and just think it's fun to use the word when you're dressed in drag in mostly supportive environments, I'm sorry, but you do not live the same life as a trans woman. It is not your slur to reclaim. You know the Quentin Tarantino character in Pulp Fiction, who hangs out with black people and drops n-bombs every other word in a really sad attempt to project the cool of a minority experience he didn't actually live? Don't be that guy.

And, yes, the way that some allies (and even members) of the trans community have been targeted in this debate has been shameful. Call-out culture has turned what should be a meaningful dialogue about respect for different experiences into an often brutal hunt for personal failings among people who mostly mean well. Most of the people being targeted for use of words like "tranny" are not transphobic -- or at least don't think of themselves as such. They just haven't come to realize that it's often a hurtful term, or that they won't fall over dead if they stop using it.

Yet... It is no less a failing.

When someone says that they find a label hurtful, the natural, reasonable response is to just stop using it. Instead, a mob of mostly older, mostly urban, mostly privileged gay men has chosen to stomp their feet, cry and plead oppression. In a truly staggering feat of hypocrisy, their defense is usually centered on the contention that their alleged oppressors are hyper-sensitive crybabies. Meanwhile, what is their demand? Continued use of a tacky term that some people find hurtful. "Hot tranny mess." "Bad tranny." Fun with words!

So they ask people who are hurt by this militant insistence on continued microaggression to just shut up and accept that they know what's best. As if urban gay men have somehow earned the right to dictate to trans women in rural Texas what they can and cannot be hurt by. I'm not convinced that misogyny and urban bias are bigger problems in the gay community than they are in the culture at large, but they are certainly palpable in the great tranny debate.

Imagine, for a moment, that a straight man or lesbian defended the word "faggot" the way that some L, G and B people are defending the word "tranny." The response of the gay community would be apoplectic. Yet, look at any gay man's defense of the slur -- they're not hard to find. "PC culture is out of control!" "It doesn't mean what you think it does!" "It's only a word!" "You're taking away my rights!" "Don't we have bigger problems?" "But I can use it, because I'm cool!" These are the very same non-arguments.

Especially disappointing has been the response of RuPaul Charles. Charles is a genius -- someone I have really come to admire. But here's his take on people who have spoken out about anti-trans slurs:

"Most people who are trans have been through hell and high water. And they've looked behind the curtain at Oz and go, 'Oh, this is all a fucking joke.' But some people haven't and they've used their victimhood to create a situation... Don't you dare tell me what I can do or what I can't say or do! It's just words. Like, [mock whine] 'Yeah, words hurt me!' Bitch, you need to get stronger. If you're upset by something I said, you have bigger problems than you think."

Yikes. Even RuPaul doesn't own boots high enough to wade through that. When your demand is a right to immunity from criticism for using a slur, intelligent people are not going to let you play the "be enlightened," "don't pretend you're a victim," or "stop being petty" cards. Those cards are off the fucking table. Your position is unenlightened, you're not a victim and your compulsion to argue it is petty. And if that upsets you, you have bigger problems than you think.

It really pains me to write that. RuPaul is so brilliant, has done quite a bit for humanity, really, and is so very, very right about so many things -- including the fact that people would be happier if they could just get over the power of words. I just wish, in this case, that he practiced what he preached. But I have faith that he'll come around. I really do. Knowingly hurting people and claiming victimhood in a series of circular and brazenly hypocritical statements is just not the RuPaul I have come to respect. And, up until this controversy, I have noted that RuPaul has generally shied away from slurs.

I grew up near San Francisco. When you do that, you see zines in shops (yes, they still print them,) with names like "Tranzilla" and "Trannies Rule." You hear drag queens using words like "tranny chaser." And, most importantly, you go to Trannyshack, a brilliant performance art event, major San Francisco institution and essential rite of passage. Then, at some point, you discover that out-of-town visitors are appalled at such casual use of the term. It means something else outside of that bubble. It means hate. It means disdain. It means threat of violence. It is a micro-aggression at best and re-traumatization at worst. And telling some people to get over it is like telling someone with PTSD to get over the sound of gunfire. So you just stop using it. Because it's not that fucking difficult to do.

Trannyshack was established by local drag legend Heklina in 1996, back when transvestite was a kitschy throwback and transphobic people were, by and large, not aware enough to wield "tranny" as a weapon. It will change its name next year. As with any re-branding, it's probably going to cost its founder money, but Heklina, my personal hero in this debate, doesn't seem to have any regrets.

"When I started the club," she explained to SFist, "the word 'tranny' was not seen as a hurtful thing; today, it is... I don't want to seem hopelessly out-of-step with the times, and I'll be damned if I'm going to seem less enlightened than Jerry Springer!"

"It's not my place to tell someone to get over something," she said in the same interview. "If you're hurt by something, those feelings are your feelings."

And while she insists that she was under no pressure to change the name, she says that there has been pressure to keep it. "I've seen so many comments directed at me like, 'What happened to having the courage of your convictions?' My convictions to what, hurt people?"

It's a question I wish more people in the LGBT community would ask themselves.

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