Dear gay dudes,
James Nichols at HuffPost Gay Voices has been doing a series of pieces covering Brooklyn drag culture. As someone who frequently blogs on HuffPost, I tend to read what is going on here. For the latest installment Nichols interviewed a drag queen by the name of -- sigh -- Amber Alert. As certainly as the sun will rise, an interview with a drag queen will invoke one of the more hateful trans-specific slurs: "tranny." This interview proved to be no exception.
"I felt immediately at home there among the irreverent trannies," the drag queen told Nichols. Sigh.
I've found that one of the more common misconceptions that people have about transgender people is that we're the same thing as drag queens. Trans friends of mine have had people ask them what their "stage name" is, and people have been surprised by my somewhat mainstream and conservative appearance.
As I've written about in the past, a quick way to see why "tranny" is a slur is to perform a few quick Google Image searches. First, search "transgender woman." Next, search "tranny." Notice the difference? Yeah, that's why I'm not thrilled when someone calls a trans woman a "tranny." Nor am I thrilled that this term, which has been thrown at me on several occasions, is legitimized in the public eye through use by drag queens and cisgender gay men (which most drag queens are).
Cristian Siriano, Project Runway winner and designer of shoes for Payless (when I think "super fashionable," I think "Payless"), even decided to fold this hateful term into his catchphrase: "hot tranny mess." Now, this catchphrase certainly raised a few questions. First, why does a fashion designer need a catchphrase? And second, what gives him the right to appropriate that term?
Oh, it's just a joke! But wait, why is it a joke? What makes it funny? Are "trannies" just inherently hilarious as a concept? Here's a fun fact that might take some air out of the sails of the pro-saying-"tranny" crowd: During the airing of fourth season of Project Runway (the season that Siriano appeared on), three trans women were brutally murdered in the United States. Ha, ha! Siriano is just so sassy and hilarious!
Neil Patrick Harris got himself in a little hot water a while back for saying "tranny" on TV. (And this isn't even counting the dozen or so times that he and his How I Met Your Mother co-stars have said it on their show.) The same goes for Lance Bass. At least these two apologized after they realized that saying this in public isn't exactly in their best interests. (They can go back to saying it in private, I suppose.) RuPaul, king of transphobic comments, throws that word around like it's going out of style (which is something I wish would actually happen).
But it's OK, folks, because they're gay dudes and are therefore untouchable by the LGB-centric media.
A common argument in favor of using "tranny" is, "But that word is just part of drag culture!" Here's my rebuttal: I don't care. "Drag culture" or not, that's not a word that's appropriate to throw around. It's a hateful slur that is often the last thing that trans women hear before being beaten or murdered. Just as it wouldn't be acceptable for me to go around using the word "f*ggot," as I'm not a gay man, it's inappropriate for gay men and male-identified drag queens to use "tranny."
Ryan Murphy, creator of Glee, is seen as someone who can do no wrong. You may ask what problem I could possibly have with him, right? Take, for example, this scene in another one of his shows, Nip/Tuck, where a character violently beats a trans woman, without any real repercussions (trigger warning: transmisogynistic violence).
With Glee, Murphy supposedly made an effort to be less awful to trans folks, but then he had characters throwing around "tranny" at random. Unlike the instances on the show where a character used a homophobic slur and was immediately called out for it, insults against the trans character are often left without resolution. On top of all that, a cisgender boy was hired to play the role of a transgender girl. Really, Murphy? Finally, there are the various plot lines that made my skin crawl: The trans character takes birth control pills as hormone replacement therapy (this is super dangerous; do not do this!), and recently, one of the plot lines had the trans character fighting for the right to use the girls' bathroom, only to eventually be given the "separate but equal" treatment: access to a private bathroom. (This was treated as a victory, which it is not.)
Also on The Huffington Post, Joe Hutcheson blogged about his evolution toward accepting the use of female pronouns and terminology -- "she," "her," and "girl" -- for male-identified gay people. That's cute and all, but some folks actually care about pronouns. If someone is going to call me "she," "her," or "girl," I want it to be because that person, you know, sees me as a woman, not because they're just so super-sassy that they say, "Pronouns and identification be damned. I'm calling you 'girl' because, um, fierce!"
Do whatever you want, gay dudes, just stop doing things that harm trans people in the process. Can you manage that? It's bad enough that while trans people still struggle to use the restroom without legal repercussions, we're expected to sit quietly as marriage rights take the bulk of money donated to LGBT (more like GLb...[t]) organizations. We shouldn't have to worry about whether or not you're going to stab us in the back with words too.
In conclusion, don't say "tranny." Just don't. It doesn't matter if you do drag, or if "it's not meant as a slur." If you are a cisgender gay man, that is not your word to use.