Determining the impact of community terminologyBottom Highlights, Trans Progressive Thursday, June 5th, 2014
Commentary: Trans Progressive
In the past week, respected drag performer Lady Bunny weighed in on a topic that seems to still be ongoing in social media. It’s terminology still; it’s over their perception that trans women are trying to ban use of terms such as “tranny” and “shemale.”
“Tranny is an abbreviation for transvestite and transsexual, so I’m free to use it since I fall within that category,” stated Lady Bunny in an interview with Mickey Boardman of papermag.com. “Much as blacks can use the N-word. I know tranny from London, where they abbreviate everything – breakfast is brekkie, biscuit is biccie. Tranny is used affectionately on the club scene … I can understand how the word “shemale” in RuPaul’s ‘Female or Shemale’ game could be more offensive, because shemale is mainly a porn term which stresses the male parts. But Ru’s use of shemail [as a play on mail or email] is fine. I’ve used ‘shemail’ on my own site as my contact info for over a decade. It’s a silly play on words to indicate that since I’m a drag queen, my e-communications are going to be more feminine. In no way is it derogatory to trans women. I think there are a few militant trans women who have started this mudslinging and I’m sorry that Ru backed down.”
I wish it were so easy and simple.
In April of 2010, I was called “it” and “shim” by a federal marshal when I went to jail for the repeal of DADT. (“Shim,” for the uninitiated, is a term with literally the same connotation as “shemale.”) A park ranger during that same trip to jail referred to me as a “female impersonator” – that’s what the Park Service instructions and forms referred to trans women as. I know what it’s like to be demeaned by law enforcement officials.
I’m not a trans woman of color, but I do understand that there is at least sometimes a racial component tied into the use of the term “tranny” – I’ve experienced it personally. When I blogged at Pam’s House Blend, I was called the “house tranny” on more than one occasion by people who didn’t agree with my points of view. That rattled me.
In 2009 I sat, in a Greeley, Colo. courtroom, through the Angie Zapata hate crime murder trial. Though I don’t recall Angie being referred to as “tranny” or “shemale” during the proceedings, I do remember listening to recorded jailhouse calls between the man who was later convicted of her bias crime murder – Allen Ray Andrade – and his girlfriend referring to Angie as “it” and “that thing.”
I personally had been called “that thing” by my next door neighbor in 2008, and hearing those terms in the courtroom, well, I silently wept in the gallery of that courtroom seconds after I heard “that thing,” and in a flash I had a deep understanding of how hate speech can trigger people who belong to minority populations.
My personal experience tells me how hate speech and hate terms can escalate to, or be a part of, hate action. There is a broader family of related terms and phrases that also play into this discussion that we’re not discussing.
I can’t speak for all trans people, but there are trans women like me that have very real world reasons why we find the use of some antitrans terms and phrases to be upsetting and/or triggering.
What I don’t understand about some drag performers is the lack of empathy for those whose life experiences tell them “tranny” and “shemale” are painful pejoratives. What’s painful to me about this whole discussion is that I see so much opinion put forward by people in the LGBT community who aren’t the people who these terms impact most in their daily lives.
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