I was at Epoch last night playing chess with a very good friend of mine. He was beating my ass soundly and I was thoroughly enjoying myself. However, as he was positioning his queen to put me in checkmate our game was intruded by two people, who I read as white gay men, bray “I saw a lazy tranny on the bike trail today!”. This was a start of a 15 minute conversation about “lazy trannys” and with each passing word I was getting angrier and angrier.
I felt unsafe and unwelcome. I felt angry. This is not only because they used an offensive word flippantly but also because of the erroneous assumption that transpeople need to put “proper” effort into their appearance in order to have their identities respected. Lets unpack these issues one at a time.
First, the use of a word with a history of being used to oppress others. Some of these words have been reclaimed by the community that they were first used to harm, for example queer. Queer used to be, and is sometimes still is, used to oppress and hurt those in the LGBTQQISA community. Many in that said community have reclaimed the word queer and use it to empower themselves and safely use it to refer to one another. However, that’s not to say that people outside of the community don’t use that word to harm anymore. Far from the opposite, it is often times used to harm.
The word tranny, however, has not yet been reclaimed by all of those who the word refers to. Some transpeople like it, some don’t. I happen to like it because like queer I feel that if we reclaim a word and refuse to let it harm us than we are taking that negative power out of the word and putting into it the power of pride.
I use the word tranny to refer to myself sometimes and I would feel comfortable with those in my community to refer to me as such. However, that doesn’t give permission for other people outside the community to use it and it never gives anyone permission to use it derogatorily. So when those gay boys were throwing around the word tranny they were being offensive not only because they were using it derogatorily (which already disqualifies them) but also because, as far as I could tell, they are not a part of the community.
This issue about whether one is in the community brings up another issue. For all I know they could be the staunchest trans* allies and were there planning a grassroots campaign to further trans* equality. The fact of the matter is that I don’t know. So when using words that can be derogatory its critical that you ask all individuals present whether or not it bothers them and refrain from saying it if it bothers even one person. This is especially true if one isn’t trans*. Obviously this is impractical in a public setting like Epoch so my final recommendation would be this.
DON’T FUCKING SAY IT.
Now if you are gonna whine at me and say, “But Mooorgan! If you can use it, why can’t I? Why are you restricting my free speech? Its not fair!”, then you better stop right there. You, in the theoretical cisgender individual sense, are a person with privilege because you are cisgender. You don’t have to worry about being beaten because you are wearing clothes that don’t match up with what society says is your gender. You don’t have to worry about not being hired because you are a “man in a dress”. You don’t have the “responsibility” to educate every person you meet about being trans. You don’t have to worry about romantic partners rejecting you because you have the “wrong” genitalia or have it be “expected” that you reveal your trans status to everyone you meet. So don’t come at me with this bullshit that its so hard to not say a word. Just don’t say it.Do I sound pissed? Its because I am.
The second thing to unpack here is this assumption that trans* identities should only be respected if they “pass” as the gender that they are perceived to be aiming towards. Passing in and of itself is a long complicated discussion but suffice to say that the assumption is that if you don’t pass than you are lazy and ugly and that you aren’t who you say you are. That if you don’t pass than you are just a “man in a dress” or just a “butch dyke”. That if you don’t pass, or even if you do pass, you aren’t a “real” man or a “real” woman.
I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with passing. If you can pass and want to pass than I encourage you to do so. However, don’t invalidate trans* identities if they don’t look the way they “should”.
Trans* don’t have an responsibility to look like what cissexist society tells them. They can look like whatever they want and they can transition however they want. And regardless of anything, they must be respected.