Since I started wearing skirts in public, I have become a connoisseur of strange looks from straight people. Here are my favorites.
The Silent Walleye
The “I’m Not Staring”
The “I’m Confused”
The Eager Ally
The Abrupt Silence
The Nervous Smile
Today is the Trans Day of Remembrance, the day we remember our dead. Not honor them. Not mourn. Remember.
Because nobody else does.
A few days ago, a trans woman was brutally beaten in a Baltimore McDonald’s. The video at this link isn’t so much graphic as it is viscerally disturbing. There’s no blood, but the victim does start to have a seizure at towards the end. The victim has been identified as a trans woman named Chrissy Lee Polis. I haven’t been able to find out more about her condition, other than no death announcement has been made, so she presumably is still alive.
When I first saw the video, it horrified me in a way I didn’t expect. I’ve never been triggered before. I wonder if that’s what it feels like. After I finished crying, I felt numb and empty. While watching the video I kept thinking Why doesn’t she fight back? Please fight back. Please get up. But she can’t, because she’s scared, and hurt, outnumbered, and for most of the ordeal, alone.
And that’s what really gets me. She shouldn’t have been alone. This happened in a room full of people. Two women viciously beat another to within an inch of her life, and in a room full of spectators, the only help that Chrissy got was a brief, half-hearted intervention by what appears to be the store manager (who may have retreated to call in the police), and a brave yet ineffectual stand made by an old woman. In a room full of people, the only two who decided to help were the man with a profit motive, and a woman who was so old she couldn’t do more than say “stop” in a firm tone of voice.
This is why I haven’t cross-dressed in public yet. The furthest I’ve gone was a walk around the block in my ladyboots at 3 AM, to be sure that nobody would see me. I should feel safe in San Francisco, and I’ve seen plenty of trans people out and about. But last week, a trans woman got severely beaten at the 16th street BART stop, a stop that I pass through regularly. So when I see this video of what happened in Baltimore, and I read about what happened right here in San Francisco, I get scared. If I was on the ground, getting kicked, would it be any different for me?
I told my cis friend about this video when she came home. She’s usually pretty good. But this time it felt like she immediately tried to minimize it, saying that the cameraman taking pictures and putting it online could help find the perpetrators, that the bystanders didn’t want to get hurt and we can’t blame them for that, and so on. She says I shouldn’t demonize them until I have more info.
But I’m not angry yet. I’m in shock. I’m freaked out. I haven’t gotten to anger because I’m still coming to grips with the fact that this happened in a room full of people.
People who, individually, may have had their reasons. People who, individually, might be able to make a good excuse. People who, if they tried hard enough, could explain why an old lady had more guts and compassion than they did.
It happened in a room full of people.
UPDATE: Chrissy speaks to the Baltimore Sun about the attack. She appears to be in good health and recovering well. It appears that the seizures were a problem she had experience with before and was anticipating after she got hit a few times. This is not meant to excuse the girls for beating her into a seizure, or in any way minimize the severity of the attack. She mentions coughing up blood on the McDonald’s glass door. She says she is afraid of going outside now. (h/t to my lovely commenter Alexa who posts the link below)
UPDATE 2: The cis friend I mentioned saw the video for the first time. She wasn’t able to finish it. I think it may be unfair of me to act like she was blowing the whole thing off now. When I first told her about it, my description of the video was a bit hazy and vague; I was still reeling from the shock. Now that she’s seen it, she is just as horrified as I am, which, in a sick kind of way, is reassuring.
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.