Tranny

Of all the vocabulary quiz problems, the thorniest have got to be the slurs. Faggot. Dyke. Tranny. It’s that last one I’ll talk about here. Tranny is an interesting slur in that a lot of people don’t seem to understand how ugly it is. It’s the slur that dare not speak its name, as it were.

A good example of this happened in August of 2009, when Conan O’Brien ran a sketch called his Tabloid Moment. It featured him in various compromising positions, and ended with him getting caught in a strip club. He wondered out loud “if there was any way this could get more embarrassing.” Then two strippers with fake mustaches started giving him a lapdance and a cheerful graphic popped up on screen flashing “TRANNIES!” Imagine that with any other slur. It wouldn’t have been aired. Try imagining it with “FAGGOTS!” accompanied by simpering limp-wristed caricatures. Now imagine it with “NIGGERS!” and blackface. All to uproarious laughter from a live studio audience. Do you think that would even make it out of the writer’s room? (And this is why I’m secretly glad that Jay Leno stabbed him in the back. It comes around, asshole. It comes around.)

So we have this word, this word that is used freely in polite company, and which is most notable in my mind for being the catchphrase that is shouted out with disgust and horror just before one of us gets murdered. I do not like this word, but I do not think it should be banned. In fact, I use it myself. I only use it in a very specific context, for a very specific purpose.

I use this word to highlight and make explicit transmisogynist assumptions and prejudices contained within the actions or statements that groups or individuals make about trans women. I intentionally say trans women here, not trans people, because the term tranny is one that is most often used to  sexualize and dehumanize trans women in particular. I won’t go so far as to say that trans men aren’t “allowed” to use it (I don’t think it’s productive to declare that certain groups of people aren’t allowed to use certain words; only that certain groups of people better be pretty fucking careful about how they use a given word.), but I will say that it seems pretty odd to me for trans men to try and claim the word by virtue of a technicality when the wider culture seems in unanimous agreement that “tranny” means trans woman, and probably prostitute as well.

An example of using the word this way: Mich Fest, the Michigan Women’s Music Festival, has an infamous “Womyn-born-womyn” admittance policy. Despite this, it is not appropriate to call them transphobic, because trans men are allowed to attend. No, the policy is specifically designed to keep trans women out. Mich Fest is afraid of being overrun by trannies.

You see how that works?

There’s another way this can be handled: the reclamation argument. Similar to how lesbians have reclaimed dyke, the argument goes, we should reclaim tranny as an intra-community term of pride; It is empowering to attempt to recast the pejoratives as endearments. I can see where this argument is coming from, but I do not agree that this is always works. That being said, if other trans women want to claim the title for their own, I wouldn’t try to stop them. I will not, however, accept the term ever being used “affectionately” towards me. I find it too ugly for that.

I don’t want to claim it. I want to capture it. I’m not interested in using it as a term of affection. I’m interested in weaponizing it.

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