I’ve written a number of editorials about the use of transphobic language within lesbian, gay, and bisexual (okay, primarily gay) circles, and I’ve frequently expressed my frustration with the continued pushback.
I recently reported on use of the word “she-male” (alternate spelling: “shemale”) on the latest episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race. I’m used to pushback on my opinion pieces (because hey, it’s an opinion, I understand that you might not share my particular point of view), but this was simply me reporting what happened on the show, and illustrating why it could be interpreted as transphobic.
The comment section exploded, working its way up to more than 500 posts over the course of two days. Within, I watched as the conflict I opened this post with raged.
“Wow, the PC police have gotten so bad they are turning on their own. Sad day when our own words are a crime,” someone using a Human Rights Campaign logo as their avatar wrote.
“People, chill the fuck out!!!!” another said.
Charles Cumberland, a man whose Facebook page featured one of those “NOH8” pictures, wrote in response to one of my friends (who happens to be transgender), “You’re a man. There are plenty of studies that the transgender community tries to suppress that show that the idea of being transgendered [sic] is just a fetish of a gay getting off sexually to being objectified as a pretty woman.”
The target of his venom pointed out that no such “studies” exist, and while they were floated as theories (autogynephillia), they have been largely debunked and discarded by medical professionals. In response, Cumberland wrote, “You’re still a man. You will always be a man. You will never be a woman no matter how much silicone you put in your chest or how much you wish to chop off your penis. If a biological born woman was a meaningless term, the tranny community wouldn’t have to make up a phobic term like “cisgender” to try to “fight” to be treated as real woman.”
Now, obviously Mr. Cumberland isn’t representative of all cisgender (which isn’t an insult, folks), gay men. Still, his statement, stemming from offense taken at being told that others were hurt by another gay man using the anti-transgender slur “shemale” (currently, the word is most regularly used as a genre of pornography starring transgender women. Some of these women use the term on their own websites or in marketing as, sadly, that’s still the more popular term; discarding use would cost them money), is representative of at least a segment of an increasingly-splintered “LGBT community.”
Perhaps he’s simply not aware of the word’s deadly history.
In 1979, Janice Raymond released “The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male”. The book, which include lines like, “All transsexuals rape women’s bodies by reducing the real female form to an artifact, appropirating this body for themselves,” and “Transsexuals merely cut off the most obvious means of invading women, so they seem non-invasive.”
See what she did there? Penis reference. It always comes back to penis.
Raymond is a woman who has also written this gem of a line: “I contend that the problem with transsexualism would be best served by morally mandating it out of existence.”
Yes, “morally mandated out of existence.” Me, mandated out of existence.
Let that sink in. It’s about as absurd a statement as one could imagine, but there it is.
There is your origin of the word “she-male.”
Raymond and Mr. Cumberland seem to hold similar views when it comes to transgender women. They certainly share the same ignorance on the topic of gender-confirming surgeries, as no, it is not someone “cutting off their penis.”
By appropriating this term, RuPaul (who has always played on this word before, often in the form of saying, “you’ve got she-mail!” LOLz) has put himself in the “morally mandate trans women out of existence” camp. See, it’s not a cutesy, fun word. It’s derogatory, dehumanizing, and dismissive of trans identities.
RuPaul’s transphobia — that’s what it is; let’s not dance around this — comes with a body count. He influences people like Mr. Cumberland and the other people behind those hateful, hurtful comments. He teaches them that it’s okay to deny me my own existence, and doing so, he makes it less morally repugnant to inflict violence against trans women. This is how he “morally mandates” trans women “out of existence;” by feeding the crowd the fuel used to dehumanize us.
Are you like RuPaul? Are you like Mr. Cumberland? Do you stand behind their actions and their statements? Do you support “morally mandating” trans women out of existence? Do you believe, as RuPaul has said, that the only difference between a gay man who does drag and a transgender woman is “$25,000 and a good surgeon?”
Or do you respect me enough as a human being to stand up, and call him out when he fans the flames of hatred? When he incites transphobic violence?
Pick a side.