If we lived in a world without double standards, the same people pushing back on homophobic language would also take a stand on transphobic language.
I present: “A Few Words From a Real, Live C*cksucking Fag: Transphobia Edit,” based on the essay “A Few Words From a Real, Live C*cksucking Fag” by Noah Michelson
[edit: please read the original essay before proceeding]
It’s true: I am a tranny. In case you’re unfamiliar with the phrase, it means I’m a woman who was assigned male at birth.
Recently several (presumably) cisgender gay men have had a lot to say about these terms and whether or not they’re okay to use, whether or not they should ever use them and whether or not those terms are (or should be) considered offensive by real, live trannies like me.
Seeing as I have some practical (humility keeps me from going so far as to say “impressive”) experience here, I’d like to clear up a few things for those men and anyone else who might be confused by these terms and/or when they can and should be used:
1. If you are a cisgender person, you do not get to use the words “tranny” or “shemale.” Ever. You just don’t. Even if all your friends are trans and everyone in your family is trans and they all say they’re fine with it (more on this below), it’s still not OK. Sorry. Choose another insult.
2. If, for some reason, you do use “tranny,” you don’t get to then insist, as drag queen RuPaul recently said, “no one has ever said the word “tranny” in a derogatory sense. In fact, you have to go to the intent of the person saying it. Of course Lance Bass, his intent would never be to be derogatory. Never. So, you know, that’s really ridiculous. And I hate the fact that he’s apologized. I wish he would have said, ‘F-you, you tranny jerk!,” that trans women should “ Change your mind about yourself being a ‘tranny.’” For millions of trans women, that word is only charged with meaning: There’s a surge of crackling, bright-blue electricity sprinting down the corridor between our heads and our hearts whenever we hear or see it. It’s the word we hear just before a fist meets our eye socket or a bottle is brought down upon our skull. It’s the word that has told us we are dangerous and filthy and evil. It’s the word that has led too many of us to our ends (real or imagined) too soon.
3. What’s more, claiming, as you did in a recent tweet, that the word “tranny” doesn’t refer to trans women but is a way of cis gay men labeling themselves isn’t any better. It reveals that you either equate being trans with being a drag queen or don’t understand the intimate relationship between transphobia and sexism. Or you do understand but just don’t care.
4. As a tranny, I do get to use that word. And so do my she-male friends if they should choose to do so (and, it should be noted, many of them don’t). It stitches us together with a shared history of pain and violence and strength and resilience, and if and when we choose to reclaim and use it to define ourselves, it is ours to do with it as we please. We have earned that right.
5. If you are a cisgender person and say “she-male” as a method of boosting ratings, as RuPaul did last month, admit it, offer a heartfelt apology and then work on your shit and try not to do it again. I get it: You grew up in a transphobic, sexist society, and learned behavior is hard to unlearn. That is incredibly challenging. But tough luck. And claiming that you weren’t referring to trans women, is not appropriate or convincing, either. (I mean, really?)
6. You can’t (sort-of-kind-of) address your alleged use of the word “she-male” but then not discuss your use of “tranny.” “she-male,” when used in a situation like this, is also a transphobic and sexist slur that functions to demean trans women by casting them as less than real women.
7. You can’t claim to have trans people’s backs and use words like “tranny” or “she-male” as slurs. And if you do, you don’t get to trot out your trans friends, as you appeared to do, to defend you. (And really, people connected with the show, Noah?) You can have a trans friend or even a trans sibling or parent and still be transphobic or make transphobic statements. Hell, you can be trans and still make transphobic statements. When you’ve been told how disgusting you are for your entire life, it only makes sense that a little of that might have rubbed off on you too.
Ultimately, if you aren’t virulently transphobic and simply made a mistake, I don’t think you should be paraded out to the stocks and humiliated or punished. That doesn’t change people; it just makes them angrier or more bitter or helps them miss the point entirely because they’re so blinded by and busy deflecting the heat of the rage they’re receiving. But you should be held accountable for what you say and do.
I just want people to start thinking twice about what they’re saying and why. Words do have meaning. Words are important. Words make things happen. And they have consequences. We can push for equality and pass all the laws we want in hopes of achieving it, but as long as terms like “tranny” and “she-male” are used against us or to shame anyone — trans or not — we will never truly be liberated, because the underlying attitudes and assumptions we’re operating with will still be inherently transphobic.
So let’s grow up, give it up and spend our energy living life instead of using words that define our painful past. I promise it’s a lot more fun, and it’s much less likely that anyone will get hurt.