Tranny IS Just a Word

February 5th, 2009

By Monica F. Helms

(for those who have read this on The Bilerico Project, I added a new paragraph toward the end.)

I know that by expressing my opinion about this word in an article, I will make a lot of my trans friends angry. Seems that the quarterly label issue is brewing yet again and right on time. This article of mine came about because of an article my friend Donna Rose wrote on her blog called, “Tranny: Just a Word?” Please note that Donna happens to be one of my closest sisters, but like family, we can disagree on things. This is one of those times.

Human beings have a propensity for figuring out ways to verbally put down other people. Americans are absolute experts in this “field,” especially during a war with another country. In Wikipedia, you can find hundreds of words used for just ethnic slurs alone. It’s more fun for American to burn bridges rather than build them. If ethnic slurs are so prevalent, then it stands to reason that slurs directed at the LGBT community would be also in abundance. The questions now become, “Are some of these words actually worth getting upset about?” and “How do we neutralize them?”

(Break)

I tried to look up the “tranny,” or my favorite spelling, “trannie” and found out that it isn’t in Dictionary.com. However, they showed all of the various usages for the word that we find in the English language, which are also listed in the Wikipedia entry for “tranny.”

Tranny/Trannie is a term with multiple meanings:

Seems it is used for much more things than to describe us. Maybe we should be a bit more careful in getting upset with someone when we hear it being used, especially if it comes from a skateboarder, an auto mechanic or an electrician. I also found the words “trannie” and “tranny” in the Urban Dictionary, and even in there, automobile transmissions were mentioned.

Many in the trans community show outrage in the use of the words trannie or tranny. Sometimes I see this outrage as baseless at best. I hear people evoke the “N-word” as an analogy and how it outrages African Americans, even if some of them use the word in conversation. I find it not only ridiculous to say our outrage is similar to this, but downright disrespectful to the African American community and their struggles for even suggesting it’s anywhere on the same level.

The “N-word” has over four hundred years of hateful history behind it. It has over four hundred years of struggles behind it. It has over four hundred of blood and pain behind it. And, it has over three hundred years of slavery behind it. Can we even come close to that? Most of us were alive when the word “tranny” was coined, so it has very little history. Maybe we can start complaining about its usage in the year 2350. Until then, let’s put this into perspective, shall we?

Another source of outrage for the word “tranny” is the fact that it’s used on internet porn sites. Should we be surprised? If the site is used to make money, then it makes good marketing sense to use this word, because the word “transsexual” is too cumbersome. Doing a Google search, I found 2.6 million links for “tranny, porn,” as compared to 19 million for “gay, porn,” or 13.5 million for “lesbian, porn,” and 262 million for “porn.”

But, “tranny” isn’t the only word you can find porn associated with us. You can also pull up porn links using the words “transsexual, transgender, trans, transvestite” and “shemale.” The words “shemale, porn” brought up 3.58 million links. Let’s face it folks, regardless of how you want to label us, we are a category in the internet porn industry, and a rather small one at that. If you want to use online porn as an excuse for not wanting to embrace the word “tranny,” I find it to be rather poor reasoning. You would have to include all those other words in your outrage as well.

Part of this discussion also gravitates to the usage of the words “queer” and “dyke,” two words that have been successfully neutralized, and “faggot,” a word that may never be neutralized. At one time, both “queer” and “dyke” were considered highly derogatory and offensive. Even today, the people who hate try to use them, thinking it will somehow make a queer person or dykes upset. The LGB and T communities have done a good job in embracing and reclaiming these words and now they have become part of the acceptable culture we live in.

The word “faggot” has not made the transition to being acceptable to the LGBT community. It is a term directed to ALL members of the LGBT community, even heterosexual trans people. Its origin dates back to the late 16th century, meaning “old or unpleasant woman,” and the modern use may well derive from this. The word is a shortening version of the term “faggot-gatherer,” applied in the 19th century to people, especially older widows, who made a meager living by gathering and selling firewood. The word “faggot” means a “bundle of sticks for burning.” The modern usage of “fag” and “faggot” are primarily used in English speaking countries. Of course, the word “faggot” is a British term for cigarettes, because they are also a “bundle of sticks for burning.” If a British person asks you for a faggot, they’re not looking for a gay man.

The word “faggot” shows its usage to date back 500 years, most of the time having an offensive meaning. It has a well establish history as a derogatory word, but it didn’t get attached to effeminate men until the late 19th, early 20th Centuries. Some people in the LGBT community are trying to neutralize this word, but with no success. But, please take note of this one major difference between “faggot” and the “N-word.” Most of society, and even LGBT people, have not yet accepted or even considered changing “faggot” to the “F-word.” With that long of a history for this word, maybe we should.

Hate words are nothing more than one person using language to take control over another’s emotions. When the person uses them to be offensive on purpose, they succeed in taking control when the other person actually takes offense. Hate language can provoke some people to violence. We have proof that the word “tranny” has been used in violent acts toward trans people, along with “shemale, it, abomination” and “faggot.” Reclaiming the word will not stop the violence, but the word doesn’t cause the violence. Violent people cause the violence. We cannot blame violence toward trans people on one word.

People used to take offense with the words “queer” and “dyke,” both of which predates the words “trannie” and “tranny.” The word “dyke” is the shorten version of the word “bulldyke,” first seen in 1920 novels. “Queer” is much older, coming from the English language in the 16th century, meaning “strange, unusual,” or “out of alignment.” These words were used to denote LGBT people for a long time, yet they have been successfully reclaimed to neutralize their emotional affect. However, they are still heard during violent acts toward LGBT people.

Many trans people are reclaiming the words “trannie” and “tranny,” and they appear to be mostly the younger people in our community. They seem to understand the need to neutralize the affect that others have in wanting to offend us. Younger LGBT people also accept “queer” and “dyke” more than older LGBT people and may actually become the ones who will successfully neutralize the “F-word.”

This is purely an emotional issue, without logic. I put words in the category of affecting our psych in the same way foods and smells do. Depending on our life experiences when it comes to words, foods or smells is how we react to them. Those three categories cover four of our five senses (words can cover hearing and sight) and our five senses are powerful “input ports” to our emotions. If people wish to say they don’t like a word, then just admit it is an emotional thing and not try to justify it with outside issues that would exist even if the word didn’t.

For me, I refuse to allow anyone to take control of my emotions by allowing them to think that the word “trannie” will offend me. Yes, I have other words that push my buttons and many who read this can easily attest to that. My faith has helped me smooth some of them out as well. We have no reason to let a relatively young and weak word take control of our emotions, when so many stronger ones out there can easily upset us. Let’s eliminate this one first.

“Tranny” is such an easy word to reclaim, because it has far less baggage and history attached to it then the others I have mentioned. This is something trans people have to do themselves, so non-trans people cannot help the reclaiming by using the word right now. It’s an issue we have to take care of ourselves. And, if the older generation doesn’t wish to reclaim the word, we don’t need to. The younger generation will reclaim it for us, whether we want them to or not. It’s the natural order of things.

One Response to “Tranny IS Just a Word”

  1. Brielle Chittim Says:

    This is well written and totally relevant. Thanks for putting some rationailty into the rhetoric. Honestly, the thing that bothers me the most about this issue is what I learned reading the comments by gay men. It really opened my eyes up to how we are just another weak group for men to ostracize, belittle etc. I know the syndrome, it’s a thread that runs through the whole pack of men, gay or straight – same, same, and it’s one of the main reasons I gave up my claim to masculinity so long ago.

    I just thought of the song; Everybody Wants To Change The World. Thanks again for your feedback on Bilerico, cuz I was just feeling like shite tonite… B.

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