Sunday, March 28, 2010

Is calling 'Tranny' an offensive word Offensive?

No thats not a joke. Or a defence of bigotry.

This is a VERY serious question.

One relating to Cultural Imperialism, to Class, to Transphobia between subsets of Transgender, to anti-sex-worker hate too.

The calls for Tranny to be considered a dirty word have been substantial. And they have some clear merit. Most of the time we encounter the word in the general media it's used as a derogatory word.

Its often condemned for being a word used with hate. A word used to un-gender or label third-gender binary identified transsexual women and women of transsexual history. A word that associates Transsexuals with the sex industry.

Wait a moment!
I know people who ARE third-Gender people! Intersex people who embrace being neither male nor female. Cissexual Genderqueer people. Bi-gender people.

I have been told by one commentor at Bilerico that the term originally referred to transvestites and so is offensive... wait a moment! I have friends who self-identify as transvestites! Their not fetishists either.

The use of the term to incorrectly call a binary-person non-binary is bad yes.. but being a non-binary person is not! Thats like saying Gay is an offensive word because some people call things that are bad Gay.

But trans is used substantially in the sex industry... hey! I have friends who've been in the sex industry! It's legal to be a sex worker in Australia. Those are real people with real feellings facing real prejudice and thats not ok either. To say all Transgender people are sex workers is wrong but to oppress and villify sex workers is also very very wrong.

Let me return to the term Transvestite. This is a bad word, connected to sex and the assumption that it is nothing more than a sexual fetish so the polite term is crossdresser right? No! As in the U.K. for example this is not such a demonised term. They both translate as the same thing anyway.. and for many the reason to reject Transvestite is the Trans bit. The association with Transsexual! There has been plenty of transphobic hate bettween transsexuals and crossdressers, between binary transsexuals and non binary transsexuals, between crossdressers who dont live full-time or modify their bodies and those who do either or both. And in some places and communities it's the word Crossdresser thats the dirty word connected with sexual fetish rather than internal gender identity.

And when i'm told Tranny is offensive because it started out as a shorthand for transvestite well that itself is offensive because there is nothing wrong with being a transvestite! Being mislabeled is wrong but objecting to a term for someone elses valid identity being used at all is also wrong. It'd be like a straight person sick of being called Gay wanting the word Gay banned as offensive. (And i'm sooo sick of a few het crossdressers whining about people thinking they are Gay and so making homophobic remarks!)

And it's not just some countries where the language use differs. Different places in a country, different social groups, different classes all may vary between which is the good term and which the bad. And often hatred of another part of S&GD people is part of the motivation.

And the bias against things sexual is often part of this. I've had Transsexuals tell me that Crossdressers are to blame for social stigma. I've had Crossdressers tell me that it's unconventional dressers that are at fault for dressing too sexy. I've seen non-binary Transsexuals blamed. Goth Crossdressers blamed. Drag blamed. Genderqueers blamed. Cos-players blamed. What a load of bovine manure.

And of course the sex industry gets blamed. Now of course there is massive exploitation issues in much of that industry. But there is also a large trans-attracted population in the world who are closetted too. They too are often derided for finding people attractive? Yes. And yes there are problems amongst many who are trans-attracted but then thats hardly surprising for a deeply clossetted population now isn't that? Sex workers are people. The people who visit sex workers are people. With feellings, desires, aspirations and fears. While it is a shamefull thing to find Trans attractive people will slink off in secret to purchase trans-erotica and to visit trans sex workers. Sex workers who are from under more than one part of the Sex and Gender Diverse umbrella.

Yes the constant assumption that Trans is all about having sex must be stopped but the villification of Trans sex workers and Trans-attracted people must also be stopped.

And the Internet is International. Not only that but American media in particular is spread worldwide filling TV and Cable and DVD stores worldwide. And so these cross-country language issues have serious consequences worldwide.

I have had a friend since my teens who is a transsexual. She always uses the term Tranny. She rarely ever says Transexual or Transgender. Thats been the case the whole time I've known her. And she's not the only Australian Transsexual that uses the term.

If a term is someones identity, like Tranny and like Gay then attacking the term itself as offensive is oppressing the people who validly have claim over the term. That doesn't mean the misuse of the term cannot or should not be condemned and decried. Of course they should be. Demanding the term only be used for those with a valid claim to it? In a non-offensive manner? Absolutely. But it's not ok to attack the term itself. Especially in ways that support the idea that being non-binary gender, being third sex, being a sex-worker, being gay, being transsexual, being a transvestite etc are themslves bad or wrong. That merely contributes to the oppression of those people.

That people, is clearly Transphobic.

12 comments:

Lisa Harney said...

This post.

Done now.

Sophie said...

Overall I'd agree with the principle behind this post, but I'd take issue with some of the minor points.
When I've encountered the word it's always been from a gay male. Yes, it's used a lot in the sex industry, but mainly in those parts also associated with gay men ; it's almost unheard of in, say, the BDSM community.
Is transvestite rehabilitated ? Not so much in the UK to my knowledge. And I do think there's an important distinction between an identity that incorporates cross dressing as something serious and personal, and something which is simply a descriptor for a sexual habit.
Sure, these shouldn't be grounds for banning the use of the word, but given that it does have so many drag associations, which most trans people tend to distance themselves from, it's use as a label by those outside the community for the community is necessarily problematic.
My own opinion is that trans is perfectly ok,and that this movie could perfectly well use trans girls instead of trannies in the title.
Far and away the major reason for not using it though, is simply that many in our community associate it with a name they're called as an insult, often accompanied by physical aggression. It's triggering. It's hurtful. And whilst in principle this shouldn't mean prescriptive banning, that doesn't mean that it isn't wise to avoid it. Not because it is a dirty word, but because cis uses have dirtied it so.

Battybattybats said...

Hi Lisa, glad you commented.

Well that is an interesting post, certainly the point about ways the writer uses the term and why has value.

But it addresses nearly none of my serious and genuine concerns.

Especially regarding issues of conflict for dominance for either a binary or non-binary representation of Transgender as valid.

We have to be mindful of all these issues so that when we call the usage of the term oppressive and object to it we have to do so in a way that doesn't hurt others and for reasons that are good reasons.

Too often i'm seeing it done badly and for bad reasons which is not only wrong but it furthers the divide in the international S&GD community as others leap to its defence even when it's being missused and also cis people missusing it then see that as justifying their missuse of it.

Speaking of villification you might want to look at my other post on government hate ads as while not directly Trans (though some aspects of anti-Emo prejudice has been because of gender expression aspects of Emo culture) its important by itself and also a very disturbing precedant if allowed to occur sufficiently unoppossed.

Battybattybats said...

Sophie, indeed many Gay males use it, often problematicly or offensively, but as i said i've known a transsexual since my teens who always uses the term. It's her preferred term. And I've met quite a few others thats true for too. The demonisation of the word is not universal, and degree to which it has occured varies in different communities and countries and subgroups.

As for the term Transvestite in the U.K. I can only go by the word of the people in the U.K. who could claim either crossdresser or transvestite who tell me they don't find it offensive or demonised or so strongly attached to fetoshism as it is in the U.S.A. The documantary Transvestite Wives is one example of how that word has been used publicly without to my knowledge any substantial objection from the community over it's title.

As for an identity that is serious and personal and doing so for purely sexual purposes well I'm not sure the latter truly exists. It may exist of course, but all too often people I have met and/or know who claimed they only do it for the kicks have then progressed enough in their self-acceptance to admit that it was always more than that.

And indeed many in the trans community do distance themselves from Drag.. and crossdressers, and genderqueers, and third-sex and bi-gender, and gay and/or lesbian and/or bisexual... and the same is true of many in all those other groups related to all the other ones too. And all of that is problematic as while trying to have peoples own identity accepted far too often they join support and even encourage bigotry towards others.. like the kid with glasses tripping the overweight kid over at school so the bullies will accept them.

Thats a very big issue our community needs to start fully identifying and admitting and dealling with.

The movie in question outraged me with its exploitation of real hate-crimes in it's trailer. A far bigger issue IMO than the name even if i didn't have these concerns with the Tranny terms offence.

And while I understand the issue of triggering and that many have suffered severe traumatising villification because of the missuse of this word it has not been a universal experience and as such it's problematic for peoples identities to be generally avoided because another group of people in another country had been more verbally harassed with that word.

If we did that then the term Gay could be so avoided because of the number of effeminate straight people, especially MtF CDs, teased for being Gay when they weren't.

I also know bisexual women and lesbians for whom the term Dyke is upsetting and a Dyke who was teased as a teen with the word Lesbian and so identifies with Dyke and hates Lesbian.

I know, this is a complex issue. But at least when someone is being disrespectful in tone thats usually pretty clear whichever word they use.

Ellie d'Yckgirl said...

I don't have the impression that there have been attempt to "ban" the word or say it's really bad in itself. Actually most of the problems raised concerning the word tranny were that it was reclaimed by people who were not targeted by it, that is, people other than MtF crossdressers and trans women.

Personally I use the term tranny to describe myself, just like I use the term dyke. But it would really piss me off if a guy would make a misogynist movie using "dyke" in the title.

I have no problem with people targeted by an insult reclaiming it, but I have issues when people use it to play "cool" while they were never targeted by it, or apply it nonconsensually to other people. And it's the same thing for "tranny" than it is for, say, dyke, bitch, or anything.

Ellie d'Yckgirl said...

«And it's the same thing for "tranny" than it is for, say, dyke»

Actually it's not really comparable to "dyke" because this one has mostly been reclaimed by, well, dykes, while I understand there are issues on the reclaiming of "tranny" by people who were not the primary target of it (e.g. trans men).

But still, I think that the fact that it's used by someone who doesn't live the oppression is the determining factor.

And I wouldn't say it's completely black or white either, it depends on how it's used, but when a privileged guy choses to discard criticism coming from people of the concerned group, I think there's a real problem.

Battybattybats said...

Ellie those are good points you raise.

I agree that those who are targets should usually be the ones to reclaim a term but i see some possible problems even with that.

For example if a term is used as a slur for someone it would not otherwise cover, slurring them with the bias against someone else. For example the calling of effeminate males and MtF crossdressers or Emos or anyone else called Gay as a slur when they are not same-sex attracted. If then only straight people labelled Gay as a slur could reclaim the term it's really resulting in term ownership transferance.

This is where one claim made in a comment at Bilerico that Tranny was offensive to Trans-women because it originally referred to Transvestites, if true, would mean that in theory it would belong rightly to only Crossdressers/Transvestites.

On the other hand we could view it as an extension of the prefix trans whereby all Trans-labels could claim a language based validity to the term which would allow transvestites to reclaim it and trans-women and trans-men to all claim it.

All assuming that comment about transvestites was accurrate, but of course they do have a valid claim along with trans-women to the term based upon being it's target if we look at it that way.

I also see this as emblemic of the conflicts between S&GD subgroups where we allow far too much hate hostility and bias between MtF and FtM as well as between TS and CD/TV.

If for example we let the FtMs claim the term as we don't want it then in time it will mean Transman and not Transwoman. I'm not sure that i have an issue with that or see it as harmful other than i know Transwomen who use the term still for their identity.

And it all connects to the dangerous territory of who are the owners of and gatekeepers of a self-identification! Something that connects to recent discussions on Genderqueer, appropriation etc.

Of course when privileged folk use it in an offensive manner thats plain wrong.

Though in this case it could very well be that he had two groups saying different things to him, those who found it offensive and those who see it as acceptable. The film has had it's defenders and had willing TG participants who may have been some of those who said it was ok to use the term which they themselves may identify with.

In which case we cannot so easilly view that film as just evil cis guy vs good trans women but must face that it may also be about conflicting views of legitimate trans-women with a cis man on one side, and even if those who supported the film and it's use of the term are a microscopic minority thats a far less cut-and-dry issue.

That trailer though makes me furious enough to spit.

Ellie d'Yckgirl said...

"This is where one claim made in a comment at Bilerico that Tranny was offensive to Trans-women because it originally referred to Transvestites, if true, would mean that in theory it would belong rightly to only Crossdressers/Transvestites."

I have a bit of trouble with "orginally". Originally, I think shemale was a term designing women. Now it's used specifically on non-op trans women (and more specifically in porn).

English is not my native tongue but I have the impression that "tranny" is used by cis people to designate trans women (again, you see that a lot in porn) as much as crossdressers.

And it's a bit different of your exemple of gay for straight people, because I don't think people who use the term "tranny" to designate trans women consider they are insulting them because they are calling them "transvestites". For me this example would fit better with a cis woman called a "tranny".

(And tranny would more be like "fag" than "gay")

Now actually I'd tend to think that I would have no much problem with a cis woman who is repeatedly called "tranny" using the term for herself.

The problem is just admitting that it's a slur and not using it nonconsensually for other people or when you are not concerned. I define as dyke but if a lesbian don't like the term I won't use it for her, so I don't see why it's so much of a problem with "tranny".

"I also see this as emblemic of the conflicts between S&GD subgroups"

Sorry, but I don't know what "S&GD" mean.

"Though in this case it could very well be that he had two groups saying different things to him, those who found it offensive and those who see it as acceptable. The film has had it's defenders and had willing TG participants who may have been some of those who said it was ok to use the term which they themselves may identify with."

Yeah, but for every misogynist movie there have been women willing to play in them and usually to defend it. I don't think that means they are less misogynist, it simply means an oppressed group is not one voice only either.

The thing is I don't have the impression that the line of division is a question of identity and separates between "binary" and "non-binary" (if that means something) people.

That doesn't mean that there hasn't been bad arguments against this movie, but I don't see the "pro" and "against" side divided by a question of identity among trans-identities.

Battybattybats said...

Ellie it was indeed the claim on Bilerico that Tranny was insulting because it originally referred to Transvestites. So my arguments along thos lines are essentially If/Then arguments following considering that premise.

It's not the first time I've seen transsexuals railing against being at all related to transvestites in any way. There's been a lot of that out there. And vice versa, one of the arguments for Transvestite being the offensive word compared to Crossdresser has been the Trans making people associate them with Transsexuals. Some crossdressers are transphobic about Transsexuals it's true but also some are themselves fine with them but support excluding them from full membership from groups like Tri-Ess etc even if they formerly self-identified as crossdressers specifically to protect cis wives from having their fears their CDing husband may transition confirmed.

This is also true for bisexual and gay/lesbian exclusion form many CDing groups from Cis wives fears their CDing husband is really Gay.

And believe me many straight CDs have suffered substantially with the word Faggot and Poofta but also most assuredly with Gay. Gay has been used as a harmful slur to them.

S&GD means Sex and Gender Diverse. It's a term i first encountered in public Human Rights Consultations with the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Comission. It's far less problematic than TransGender for many gender-binary-identifying Transsexuals and for many Intersex people enabling better cooperation between these groups on Human Rights issues that effects all S&GD people (after of course we argued down the haters who wanted everyone not an HBS Transsexual excluded from the consultation because we would try and 'take over' even though we were calling for their needs to be covered and they actually opppossed many of ours!

I agree that misogynistic films can easilly get women to star and defend but in this case we must not assume those women in this film were not a part of the decisions which led to it being made or assume they were, untill we have the data we must consider both possibilities.

Battybattybats said...

I agree that not all debates on this film are split between binary-gender and non-binary folk. But some is. According to one blog mentioned in the comments on Questioning Transphobia the film includes a third-sex speech. There there were comments about 'real women'. And this is not the only place i've seen this divide. The GLAAD comments on the film themselves are very binary=valid non-binary=offensive. And on many and nearly most S&GD issues this conflict simmers under the surface or reaches open conflict.

Certainly the conflict over this film is much more than over binary/non-binary. I myself while non-binary am furious over the trailor at the least and doubt the rest of the film is any better.

But part of the conflict over this film and many other aspects of representation of S&GD folk IS about which is the legitimate representation.

Heck quite a few TG films include a TG character claiming validity for themselves while condemning another class of TG! Example: Kinky Boots criticising Crossdressers while validating Drag Queens.

Most representations are bereft of diversity each presenting one facet of the S&GD population as the legitimate and sole image of S&GD. And so most movies get labelled as Transphobic by one side or another.

When there is a representation of a conservative binary identified person like TransAmerica many non-binary less conservative people disparage it and are angry for it.

When theres a more non-binary representation like Priscilla or Kinky Boots etc there is usually disparagement and anger from the other side.

Lets face it, many members of these two groups are outraged and offended by representations of the other as they fear they will be defined by it.

And GLAAD is stuck right between these two! The answer is simple in principle, diverse representation, more representation, more acceptance within S&GD of the many diverse groups within that umbrella.

Sophie said...

Actually that blog mentioned was quite eye opening for me. The blogger is an actress who'd appeared before with the gay actor who stars in TOTWK.She'd got an advance copy from him and made a fairly anodyne post supporting the film and talking of it being particularly empowering through some speech about 3rd sex. After some reactions that were less than supportive of her she comments again saying that all m2f's are 3rd gender and can't ever be 'real women'. I was part of trying to give this the reaction it deserved but then there was a really interesting comment from a friend of the actress that indicated that actually she had somewhat different views normally, eg talking about being educated by her about tranny being a terrible perjorative.
Given that the gay actor in question was doing a whole round of blog sites, with comments from purported friends of his also common, I conceived of the no doubt foolish and misguided idea that perhaps a degree of over-persuasion had been used in the social interactions preceding the OP. On further consideration of the degree of sensitivity shown by this particular entertainment and the actor in question, obviously I completely abandoned that idea.
And the further notion that the mentions of Angie Zapata were designed to get an inflamed reaction that would helpfully publicise the film, whilst damage limitation strategies were in place and an easy fall back position ready; one would have to be truly paranoid to think in that way.

Battybattybats said...

Sophie a State government of a state next to mine just released 'viral' road safety ads exploiting prejudice against an inherited pigmentation and a subculture. Ie Red hair, which my aunt has and which used to naturally streak through my dark brown hair where the grey is now and against Emo which is a stones throw from Goth which i am. Groups suffering substantial bullying and villification. All to tell young people online not to use their mobile while driving!

Setting a truly horrific precedant!

After that no i don't think that hypothesis is a paranoid one. It would be paranoid to hold it as a firm conclusion without firect evidence, but considering it as a possibility is very much not paranoid.

Their are other possibilities of course, for some realising a third way exists if they want it and is valid is liberating if it suits them. Plenty have repressed aspects of themselves to fit in a binary only to regret it later. But her comments about others were way out of line just like those consyantly disparaging non-binaries have been.

But paranoid? Rationally all possibilities should be entertained and none considered completely certain, just differant probabilities based on available evidence.