Why I No Longer Use The Word “Tr**ny”

26May14

Misogyny – the hatred of femmes – runs deep in our culture. I’m not shocking anyone by stating the obvious here : for hundreds if not thousands of years, women have been bashed, judged, objectified, underpaid, under-recognized, discriminated against, raped, assaulted, and served all sorts of daily micro-aggressions. Trans women and effeminate men, as “traitors” to their assigned gender, get it even worse sometimes.

Queers can do better. Everyone can.

Maybe a year and a half ago I was called out on my own casual use of the word “tranny.” I resisted the criticism at first – the word was a source of love and pride for my own transgender identity, and a commonly-used term of affection amongst the gender-non-conforming gays in my life. I thought “tr**ny” was cute, and useful shorthand. I did not want to change, and felt like being asked to was totally unfair and kinda PC and came out of an academic-sort-of-queerness that I resisted. (I got called out for these attitudes as well.)

And yet, it is an irrefutable fact that for many women of trans experience, particularly women of color, “tr**ny” is a word that comes with a lot of complicated, often negative, and quite often traumatizing associations – many of them rooted in misogyny. It’s a slur spit at them during bashings and beatings. It is word entrenched in objectifying Jerry Springer and online sex contexts. It’s a headline associated with brutal videos like the one shot just last week, from an Atlanta train where two trans women of color were attacked, beaten and stripped nude – and kept fighting back.

Many of the women who live with that kind of culture on the daily do not choose to use this word in optional/community contexts, because it’s associated with so much pain and misogynist behavior. As a survivor of sexual assault I am totally sympathetic towards the personal choices you make in the process of recovery. I understand and accept that an entire culture cannot bend to the needs of the few.

And yet : queer culture is supposed to be a haven from that kind of bullshit. In the queer circles I run in, many of us work hard to make our spaces accessible to those with different abilities and sensitivities and dietary needs and economic situations.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that even though I could totally justify my use of this word, I didn’t want my own personal mouth to be contributing to someone else’s pain.

Think about it.

Do you want your own personal mouth to contribute to someone else’s pain?

And – even if you are not always sharing space with trans women when “tr**ny” comes out of your mouth – isn’t it better to just reform your habits so that, when your friends-who-might-feel-disheartened-or-triggered are present, you don’t have to change just for their benefit?

Do you value having trans women in your life? Do you want to risk making them feel unsafe or unwelcome?

And particularly if you are a public figure – don’t you want your influence to contribute to a less misogynist world for ALL queer and trans people?

There are a million empowering and historical and cultural reasons not to bend to pressure to lose “tr**ny” from queer language.  I hear them and respect (some of) them but ultimately they are not my personal choice.  As a fierce transfeminist accomplice to the trans women in my life, I no longer choose to use my mouth to trigger their pain.  To me, it feels disrespectful and unnecessary. And language is cool – there are lots of other words to communicate kinship and love. (sister and brista and tranimal all work great… I bet you’ve got some too.)

The project of undoing misogyny is a day-to-day endeavour. It begins with examining the ways in which women-hating agendas have wormed their way into our lives and our consciousness. As with all privileges – we are often not aware of them unless we are oppressed by them, or called out by someone who is. I would ask people who are not oppressed by the word “tr**ny” to take a moment to consider the perspective of the many women and queers who are.

I know it’s hard, we are puzzling through a lot of feelings right now in queer culture – but, I see all these “language wars” as a necessary step in the process of creating a more cohesive and powerful movement. And I believe it is the long-term work of our movement to systemically undo violence and misogyny, working towards racial and economic justice on personal, interpersonal, community, institutional, structural, global and environmental levels. We need to use our queer ingenuity to keep imagining and improving systems of behavior, including the language we use to address each other.

Working out “tr**ny” is up there right now, along with working towards acceptance of gender-neutral pronouns like they+them. Liberating our language from the oppression written into its very structure is not just a PC, academic queer project – it is deep cultural work that we ALL need to take part it. And by “all” I mean, not just queers but all human beings, for real. As a real-life androgynous person who doesn’t fit into any commonly-accepted notion of gender, there is a serious amount of structural change that I’m committed to working towards in my lifetime – bathrooms, passports, the list goes on. I prefer to do this work alongside others in a movement towards racial and economic justice in all of its forms, with concern for the health of the planet with live on.

Change at a structural level does not come without work, and sometimes the most important work needs to happen inside our own heads. Modifying our daily habits – including when it comes to language – and refusing to resist change, practicing our politics on the daily, actually signifies a massive leap forward in creating the world we would rather live in, rather than the crap we were born into.

Just think about it.

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One Response to “Why I No Longer Use The Word “Tr**ny””

  1. Instead of spelling out the T word, try replacing some of the letters with asterisks, i.e. ‘tr**ny’


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