Tag: words

Context, Culture, Community

Posted by – April 30, 2014

Here are two amazing pieces written as a response to the recent uproar about the use of the term “tranny” but also due to the one caused by a series of articles about Leto playing Rayon and the potrayal of trans women in mainstream media.

The first, by Jen Richards, takes an intersectional, intergenerational approach to looking at the conflict that happened between Parker Molloy (whose work I admire) and Calpernia Addams (whose work I have admired for a long time), and about whom Jen Richards writes:

Her story is not an unusual one for trans women, particularly those of us who came of age before the dominance of social media. The clubs I first went to were gay ones, and the lines between fag, queen, tranny and crossdresser were not always apparent, certainly not to anyone on the outside. In those contexts, differences within the group mattered less than the shared safe space.

For Addams and her followers, Molloy’s criticisms of Jared Leto and RuPaul, her fixation on language and general focus on victimhood, is emblematic of a view of trans women that is, if not inaccessible, at least not understandable. Many of these trans women have carved out unique paths through transition, often outside of a community context, and some young straight trans women may not have ever identified as gay men. Others bend gender and sexuality in ways that exist comfortably outside of the binary and heteronormative view that Addams represents.

The second article, by Cristan Williams on TransAdvocate, does a linguistic, historical review of the usage of the term “tranny” that is just – GREAT. It reviews various appearances of the word from 1985 onward, with sources such as Law & Order, a review of Hedwig, to the use by the “Tranny Roadshow” in 2005. It closes with the following questions:

  • What impact does an obviously very popular context of framing the trans experience (tranny) have on social justice movements?
  • When the majority clearly associates “tranny” with the sex industry while the gay and drag community associates the term with performance and partying, will this affect the ability of the GLBT community to communicate well? 

I would ask one more: is it possible for us within the trans community to use this term but simultaneously object to its usage in a mainstream context? It was always “insider” language for me – never a term I used outside of trans contexts – and a term I have since stopped using altogether, precisely because I am not trans.

These two together are really, really good stuff, giving us not just context, but history and a stronger sense of the struggle of a community to come to terms (oh! I said it!) with its own language and diversity.
The one thing I am sure of: these dust-ups hurt the people involved in them. What doesn’t help is name-calling, condescension, and a too-quick willingness to condemn the very people who are trying to move shit forward.

 

“Farewell ‘Tranny’”

Posted by – April 27, 2014

An old friend of mine, sometimes known as Minerva Steele, wrote a piece on Facebook about his own, queer relationship with the demise of the word “tranny” and the surrounding culture of language policing. I wanted to share it because his opinion is, at this point, one that is not often heard from but one that’s still needed. Often, in any social movement, it is the angriest, most militant voices heard from most often, and, as he said in conversation, voices like his often aren’t heard from “because we don’t care enough to be angry; we already see transpeople as our sisters and brothers and just go on our merry way.” I would add not only that, but there are plenty out there who lived at the edges of subcultures where all of these identities mixed and were valued and respected, even if there were differences in language and worldview. I hate the idea of shutting down people whose identities come with some historical and individual complexity only because the new paradigm doesn’t fit their experience very well.

Recently I posted a link to a video by Alaska Thunderfuck, who appeared on the 6th season of Ru Paul’s Drag Race. It was seemingly created in response to the retirement of the “you’ve got she-mail!” segment announcement on the program, due to increased negative feedback from the trans community. The program has also ceased using the term “tranny” for the same reasons. RuPaul’s producing team was painted to be insensitive to the trans community by using these terms, inasmuch as the context in which they were being used was specifically drag queen oriented. I thought this concession to pressure was a mistake, but I see the logic of not alienating any part of their demographic, however misguided anyone might find their reasons for objection. In any case, I thought Alaska’s video was hilarious, biting and brilliant, typical of that queen and very satisfying for me personally. I posted the following link with my two cents, “I needed this. Can’t say “she-mail”, can’t say “tranny”…what the stinkin’ hell? Used to be this queer community was fun.”

A new friend of mine responded with a polite yet firm opposition,

“Please keep in mind those are slurs that get thrown at trans women on a regular basis, often with threats of violence or rape (or in addition to violent attacks or assault). Sorry to be a wet blanket on a post that might have been made in jest, but as a person who worked with and is close to the trans community, we as Cis people, need to understand those slurs are not ours to throw around for comedy’s sake.”

I sincerely respect where she’s coming from, the topic is hardly unknown to me. One of my closest friends teaches gender theory on a university level and we talk this subject constantly, but my familiarity doesn’t start there: as someone who has spent most of his life with gay, lesbian, bi, queer, drag, and all flavors of pansexual genderfuckery, I hardly come at these hot topic terms as an outsider. For decades I’ve been very comfortable referring to myself among friends and family as a “tranny,” and it’s never been anything but a term I respected and celebrated, and I’ve never thought of “she-male” as a slur…how can I when I’m clearly in that continuum myself? Perhaps I rarely bring the high drag anymore, but I’m still as queer as ever. Why queer? It’s about the best umbrella term I can settle on for anyone who’s deviated enough from the decidedly square and heteronormative model to become interesting; I honestly don’t know what the fuck I am if I really have to break the terminology down, but I stopped trying to figure it out a long time ago and I’m much happier for it…which is a lighthearted way of acknowledging the position that most of us are somewhere on the trans and/or queer spectrum, whether we can see it/recognize it/embrace it/explore it in earnest/reject it outright and deny it exists within us because we’ve been rigidly indoctrinated by exterior forces/condemn and even endanger others who oppose our mindset.

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The RuPaul Brouhaha

Posted by – April 14, 2014

RuPaul’s Drag Race decided to stop using “she mail” for a segment on the show because trans people were upset about it – but moreso upset about an additional segment where people had to guess whether a close-up shot of a body part belonged to a cis woman or a “she male” (as the show put it).

& Today, a lot of really transphobic shit has been posted and tweeted, and by gay men. An old friend of mine who is a comedian and TV producer based in NYC posted a frustrated response on his Facebook page which he’s given me permission to reprint here.

There’s a lot of chatter in the LGBT community today about RuPaul’s Drag Race removing the “She-Mail” element of the show, due to complaints from transgender viewers. As a comedian, I have very mixed feelings about it. Not everyone appreciates satire, and many, many times, those who do not appreciate it end up unwittingly squashing the 1st Amendment rights of others. HOWEVER. As a gay man, I am utterly horrified by how aggressive some gay men and women are being toward those who are transgender over this issue. Many are going as far as to suggest we drop the T from LGBT, because we obviously “have different goals in mind.”

That is fucking disgraceful.

A gentle reminder that it was, in large part, the T in LGBT that conducted the Stonewall Riots. It was the T in LGBT that made it possible for you to get married in a big chunk of our country. It was the T in LGBT that made it possible for you to walk the streets holding hands relatively safely, as compared with 50 years ago, when that would have gotten you killed. Y’all need to slow your roll a bit here. Just because you’re now realizing that the T in LGBT has a much harder road to hoe than the rest of us does not mean you get to dismiss them. They never dismissed you. Those of you who are doing this are the exact same assholes who, if Dancing with the Stars awarded a prize called a Fag Bag, would be burning down ABC and hurling Molotov cocktails into Tom Bergeron’s house. Your brothers and sisters can feel differently about something without getting disowned. Pick your battles, and know your history. Taking a phrase off of a TV show does not constitute a legitimate reason to bury the people who gave you life.

Pick your battles and know your history. Some days those seem like unreachable goals.

“They” – by Ivan Coyote

Posted by – April 4, 2014

“Just a thought: I would like to phase out the use of the term “prefers the pronoun” she or he or they, (or any other) and replace it with “uses the pronoun”. I prefer chicken to duck. I prefer a window seat. But I use the pronoun they. When someone writes that a person “prefers” a particular pronoun, it infers that there is a choice there for everyone, whether to respect that wish or not, and that the person with the pronoun “preference” would be okay with the middle seat or the duck of their identity being respected. Not true. For some (if not most) gender variant and/or trans folks, not having their pronoun respected is hurtful and constantly correcting people is exhausting and alienating. So I vow to change my language. People don’t prefer their chosen pronoun, they use it. My only choice is to be mindful and respectful of others or to be thoughtless, and even cruel. This is not to say I get it right all the time every time, but that is my aim. Saying things like “but I find it so hard to remember because we grew up together” is a cop out. If you grew up together then you owe it to the person to do better by them. And if you want to try the “but the they pronoun is so awkward” angle with me, then I would ask you to think about how your struggle compares to the battles trans people have to fight every day.”

- Ivan Coyote, author of Missed Her, Bow Grip, and One in Every Crowd

Genders and Terminology

Posted by – March 10, 2014

Vis a vis yesterday’s post about language and labels and pronouns, there’s this awesome set of photos of LGBTQ* identified people with the ways they identify.

  • Queer Power Bottom Princess
  • Trans Queer Parent
  • Rural Queer
  • Queer Femme
  • Queer Butch Trans Top
  • Gay Masculine of Center
  • Daddy Femme Dyke Dom Queen
  • Inbetweener
  • Cisgenderqueer Feminist Butch Queen
  • Provocateur Lesbian Dandy

That last one is too awesome.So what’s yours? If I were to think about it, I think I’d wind up somewhere near Pansexual Queer Tomboy. Het Dyke. Depends on the Day.

 

Trans + Language

Posted by – March 9, 2014

Here’s a cool article about pronouns and etiquette in the shifting landscape that is Genderland. She interviewed me (though I didn’t make the cut) and many, many others for this piece. Still, Susan Stryker, Don Kulick, and Mara Keisling are quoted. I’d say the only thing she got wrong was referring to “sex-change surgery” but she mentions it only to point out that only changing someone’s pronouns because of it is bad practice.

Many of the words on the Facebook list, such as “trans*” (the asterisk indicates a “wildcard” search term, so the word means, basically, “trans-anything”), “genderqueer,” “gender questioning,” or “neutrois,” come largely from younger people and online forums and suggest a much more fluid approach to gender. For newcomers, as the various media guides suggest, they may be puzzling. “Most of America probably hasn’t experienced those words yet, and some of those just are very new,” said Mara Keisling, founding executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.

What surprises me is that there’s anyone who is surprised by a list of 50+ gender options. You could easily have a list of 100.

But… Drag Queens.

Posted by – February 23, 2014

The other day I posted and commented on an article about the way language is used in the LGBTQ+ communities, specifically about the way gay men often insist that “tranny” is not a slur even though they would never be called one.

That is, by the way, my rule of thumb, and a good one for allies to remember: if it’s something someone would say to you before threatening you, you get to use it. If it isn’t, you don’t.

But the article talked about how drag queens return to being members of the gay male community when they get out of their femme gear, and a friend of mine protested, saying:

Great article, but I don’t really agree with this line: “When drag queens remove the trappings of their dramatized personas, they become once again a part of the gay rights movement and leave real transgender people to suffer the consequences.” Drag queens have always been a part of the gay right’s movement–they led at the Stonewall riots, and they’ve taught us to fight with our wits. I’m not denying that the language used on Ru-Paul’s drag race isn’t harmful to the T-community, but let’s not denigrate the important role that the queens have played in gay civil rights either.

And he is entirely right. Drag queens had a significant part in taking crossdressing laws off the books, which was an important step in decriminalizing homosexuality and of course transness itself. They were at Stonewall, and at Compton’s.

But here’s the thing: some drag queens identify as trans themselves. Others don’t. RuPaul, for instance, doesn’t, and yet he keeps speaking up about how tranny isn’t derogatory or a slur.

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Whose Community Can Say What?

Posted by – February 22, 2014

I loved this article – which is a trans allied one, not the usual “gays don’t need trans people” bullshit that used to get spouted regularly (and probalby still does, I just stopped reading them).

This is the part I liked the most:

Just last week, actress Gabourey Sidibe repeatedly used the slur “tranny” while on Arsenio Hall’s show. Sidibe, an outspoken supporter of gay rights, was stunned to find out that the slur was considered offensive, and she quickly apologized for her error.

But then, something interesting happened. Stories published on several media forums, including the Advocate Magazine online and Instinct Magazine online, posed the question of whether we are being too sensitive about a word that is commonly used in the gay community.

Numerous gay men and women then weighed in on whether the trans slur was, in fact, a slur. A large percentage of the commenters agreed that the media and the gay community were being too harsh on the popular TV actress. One commenter even said it could not be considered a negative term if popular shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race used the term in a comedic and even an affectionate way.

These comments are evidence that even the gay community does not understand and are often the cause of discrimination against transgender people. In case you weren’t aware, the drag queens on RuPaul’s Drag Race are the reason people like Sidibe are clueless about trans slurs. Those drag queens are gay men who continually abuse a term that damages trans people. Just like “that’s so gay” is often meant to be humorous, comically calling someone a “tranny” may garner a few laughs, but it unintentionally demeans a group of people.

When drag queens remove the trappings of their dramatized personas, they become once again a part of the gay rights movement and leave real transgender people to suffer the consequences.

Although the discrimination against trans people by the gay community is unintentional, it is the reason the “T” should be removed from the LGBT. Gay men often use the slur because they believe it’s a part of their collective community vocabulary. Just as we take liberties by using our own gay slurs as we chose, we mistakenly use the slurs aimed at trans people and whose objections are brushed off as political sensitivity.

And it’s good to see. As many of you know, or may have noticed, I stopped using “the T word” quite a long time ago exactly because it is, too often, a word assumed to be okay within the LGBTQ+ as a whole. But it’s not. The rule – that you should only use a word if it’s something you might hear from someone threatening you – is a good one. So I stopped, despite how much the transverse is my own, and despite being a member of the trans community. And believe me, I am assumed to be trans way more often than most of the cis gay men out there who use it.

Back in the NY Groove (While Still in WI)

Posted by – April 5, 2013

It thrills me to no end that I am going to a retreat this weekend with a bunch of students from NYC. Why? Because I won’t have to talk so slow and constantly regulate my enthusiasm and keep myself from interrupting. I won’t have to count to three when someone is done speaking just to make sure I’m not interjecting too quickly. I’m not particularly good at doing those things, mind you: I’m still from New York and have all the speech patterns Deborah Tannen talks about in this article.

A Californian who visited New York once told me he’d found New Yorkers unfriendly when he’d tried to make casual conversation. I asked what he made conversation about. Well, for example, how nice the weather was. Of course! No New Yorker would start talking to a stranger about the weather—unless it was really bad. We find it most appropriate to make comments to strangers when there’s something to complain about—“Why don’t they do something about this garbage!” “Ever since they changed the schedules, you can’t get a bus!” Complaining gives us a sense of togetherness in adversity. The angry edge is aimed at the impersonal “they” who are always doing things wrong. The person is thus welcomed into a warm little group. Since Californians don’t pick up this distinction between “us” and “them,” they are put off by the hostility, which they feel could be turned on them at any moment.

But around other New Yorkers I can fucking relax and expect people to be a little louder, a little more dramatic, to clip my sentences and know, when I clip theirs, that I am only showing enthusiasm. More

Bonsoir, Mademoiselle

Posted by – February 23, 2012

France has officially dropped Mademoiselle from the lexicon, as there is no equivalent for young men. Abbreviated Mlle., the term was often used to imply a woman’s unmarried state; symbolically, her virginal or simply youthful state.

But there is no equivalent for men, as “monsieur” is used for married & unmarried (& we assume, virginal and sexually experienced) men.

Long overdue, in my opinion, but it’s great to see this change codified.

How to Say ‘Panties’

Posted by – January 28, 2012

(There are some other really great ones, like coccyx, synechdoche, and carpe diem.)

Using the N Word

Posted by – July 20, 2011

Lots of arguments given here, and points made, that are equally relevant to people using the T Word.

Mercedes Allen on the “Transgender” Debate

Posted by – June 2, 2011

What a remarkable essay on the whole recent “don’t call me transgender” debate by the one & only Mercedes Allen. Historically accurate, intentionally personal, coherently political, and — just WOW. Great stuff. Of course I can’t say I agree entirely, but her impulse to take this cry seriously is the same as mine.

I have found myself using the term “traditional transsexuals” – which I love because the idea seems oxymoronic on first glance to many people – because there is a certain type of transsexual person who really doesn’t have much in common with the larger trans community. Jamison Green calls them the “mow the lawn” transsexual people – the people who come to a meeting to find out what to do & how to do it, who then do it, & then they go home & mow the lawn. Transition as a medical, legal and social pathway is effectively curative: I had the wrong body, and now I don’t, & let’s all move on with our lives. Ideally, for some people, this is exactly the solution, and I have known far too many trans people for whom this is the only answer that makes any sense. They are not necessarily stealth or closeted; they are not ashamed of their transness, and they are open about it with a very select group of people – close friends, children, partners – but otherwise are not. That is, they tell people on a need to know basis, and most people need to know someone is trans about as much as anyone needs to know if someone has had any other medical procedure.

Because people often re-gender people who are trans once they find out they are trans. I’ve seen it happen too many times.

That said, many of the things needed by transgender people – the umbrella – are also needed by “traditional transsexual” people while they’re transitioning: Legal & safe use of public bathrooms, access to hormones, non-discrimination legislation, etc. I worry more about trans people who live lives in which people don’t know they’re trans far more than I worry about those who are out — exactly because you really don’t know how someone will react when they don’t know, and many will feel betrayed — even if and when they wouldn’t otherwise have a problem with someone being trans. It sucks, but it’s true. It’s not fair, but it’s true.

The one thing I can say about the transgender communities: stuff changes. Roll with it. It’s the most exciting thing about this social movement.

 

 

Gender Neutral Pronouns

Posted by – May 16, 2011

Thanks to Sarah Wagner (go partners!), who is currently helping plan the Trans Ohio conference, here are some resources on gender neutral pronouns.

First, a fact sheet – with grammatically correct chart - of how to use the various gender neutral pronouns, including possessives and pronunciation. I’d love it if someone wanted to write a sample sentence so that the syntax of them could be demonstrated.
Second, a list of rules to practice good manners with other people’s pronouns and genders.

The only other thing I would point out is that all of us have pronoun preferences. Every single one of us, so please don’t get all “ugh, trans people” about it unless you’re a woman who doesn’t mind being called “he” or “sirred” when out to dinner.

Writing About Bodies

Posted by – May 12, 2011

Dean Spade recently wrote a short piece about how we might use language to de-gender bodies. It’s smart and concise – just as you’d expect from Dean Spade.

About Purportedly Gendered Body Parts

I have been thinking about how much I would like it if people, especially health practitioners, exercise instructors and others who talk about bodies a lot, would adjust their language about body parts heavily associated with gender norms. Lots of people who identify as feminists and allies to trans people still use terms like “female-bodied,” “male body parts,” “bio-boy,”and “biologically female.” Even in spaces where people have gained some basic skills around respecting pronoun preferences, suggesting an increasing desire to support gender self determination and release certain expectations related to gender norms, I still hear language used that asserts a belief in constructions of “biological gender.” From my understanding, a central endeavor of feminist, queer, and trans activists has been to dismantle the cultural ideologies, social and legal norms that say that certain body parts determine gender identity and gendered social characteristics and roles. We’ve fought against the idea that the presence of uteruses or ovaries or penises should be understood to determine such things as people’s intelligence, proper parental roles, proper physical appearance, proper gender identity, proper labor roles, proper sexual partners and activities, and capacity to make decisions. We’ve opposed medical and scientific assertions that affirm the purported health of traditional gender roles and activities and pathologize bodies that defy those norms. More

Charting Identities

Posted by – January 19, 2011

via Google Labs:

Apparently, transsexuals and transvestites are waning, and transgender is ascendant. Not that we didn’t know that, but there it is in red green and blue.

I like the way dyke has remained a subcultural word (consistently small percentages over time), while I assume queer went from being used in the “odd or weird” way to the current meaning, dipping in the late 80s/early 90s.

How the Other Half Lives

Posted by – December 23, 2010

My friend Lynne alerted me to a post about the uselessness of women. I wish I could say it surprised me, even a little, but essentialism is essentialism is essentialism, whether that’s expressed in “women should rule the world” attitudes or “women are useless” attitudes. To me: same coin, different sides.

What amazed me even more was this post on the same blog about terminology in this “manosphere.” I hate to say it, but the stuff is so pathetic I just feel sorry for them in their hateful little world. Okay, not really, but I can’t even imagine what it’s like to live in that tiny a brain.

“My Person”

Posted by – December 15, 2010

Here’s a nice article by a trans partner about the interminable search for the right thing to call our “persons.”

This TDOR: Why Not “Tranny”?

Posted by – November 20, 2010

& To close this year’s Trasngender Day of Remembrance, a note from Mara Keisling of NCTE on what the day means, why not “tranny,” and what next:

The Day of Remembrance, which we commemorate tomorrow, is a time of mourning for transgender people, a time to honor the lives tragically cut short by another person’s hatred or fears. It is also a time to look at how we can have fewer and fewer deaths to commemorate on this day in years to come.

Each year as I look at the names and faces of those we have lost, they touch me profoundly and they also call me to a renewed commitment to the work ahead of us. We have to use every tool available to us to stem the tide; one of those tools is federal law.

A full year has passed since the passage of the first federal law to offer protections to transgender people-the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009. While the law certainly won’t end the problem of hate crimes, it does provide new avenues to address violence when it occurs. For the very first time, the Department of Justice and federal law enforcement officials have been authorized to take action to address the violence that transgender people face. And, while it’s easy to be cynical about the government, there are people in law enforcement who are truly and deeply dedicated to working with us to address the violence.

We’ve been at the table with the FBI and other departments as they’ve worked to update their training programs to include explicit information about gender identity and change the way they record information so we gain vital knowledge about the extent of the problem. I know, paperwork doesn’t seem like it will do anything. There is something very important about seeing the word “transgender” there in the manuals and forms because it means that the federal government is making a record and taking notice of the horrific violence we as a people face. It is information they can use to prosecute a crime and ensure that local law enforcement takes violence against us seriously. It will also help formulate violence prevention programs.

But there’s also something awful about knowing that those forms will record the terror of victims of hate-motivated violence. Law enforcement officers will note down the weapons used, the damage done and the derogatory words that are said to harm a transgender person-someone’s child, or partner, or parent, or loved one.

One of the reasons that we don’t use the word “tranny” at NCTE is because we’ve heard too many stories of violence. We know that when someone hears that word, it often heralds the beginning of an attack. And words matter when we look at hate crimes; the language used is, in fact, part of how we determine if something is a hate crime, because words are one of the weapons used to hurt the target of the violence. Because in a hate crime, damage is done to hearts and spirits as well as to bodies-and sadly, that’s the perpetrator’s point. We hear regularly, especially over the past few weeks, from transgender people who tell us that “tranny” is a word that feels hostile and hurtful to them. We shouldn’t use words that cause pain to others, especially when the word is one that, horrifyingly, transgender people hear as they are being bludgeoned. We have to use our words differently than that.

This week, the Department of Justice brought federal hate crimes charges under the new law for the first time, against white supremists who attacked a developmentally disabled Native American man in New Mexico. Disability was one of the other new categories added to the hate crimes laws, along with gender identity. It is a reminder that violence to any of us hurts all of us.

There are many more cases that are currently in the midst of the legal and investigative processes that have to happen before charges are filed. Each of these cases makes a statement that hate crimes are intolerable and illegal.

But we also have to keep our eye on our goal-ending violence against transgender people. We do this by educating people about the realities of our lives and by asserting our human rights to express who we are and to live in safety. To make this a reality, we have to build a climate of acceptance, free of derogatory words and angry fists, and filled with respect for the differences among us.

Labels

Posted by – June 9, 2010

A nice take on labels by a Jessica Who:

(For the record, almost no one would consider permanent facial hair removal a medical, transsexual-oriented procedure, unless, of course, it’s the first of other procedures. Crossdressers might do the same in order to make passing easier while crossdressed.)