why “trannies” shouldn’t apologise

Now here’s a chilling thought, as the trans community prepares to commemorate our not inconsiderable roll call of dead – murdered, mostly, by fuckwits who can’ t see beyond the label – on our own day of remembrance: the very last word a victim will have heard, out of all the words in the dictionary, is more likely to have been “tranny” than any other.

Can I “prove” that? Of course not! It just happens that early in my transition, when I was so much more obviously trans, the word i heard most often as ordinary everyday term of abuse was “tranny”. On about half the occasions when the threat level escalated to the point where i felt in real danger of violence, the ‘bon mot’ of choice by the aggressor was “tranny”.

Talking to trans friends in the UK the picture is much the same. It may be “just a word” for 99% of the population: but for us it is something else. I don’t think it exaggeration to suggest it is to the trans community what the swastika is to Jews, the uniform of the KKK to the black American community.

That’s why we object to it. More: that’s why there is a sense of community “ownership” of the word. Why, to the irritation of not a few non-trans commenters, we both condemn its use…then spray it around on programmes like trans summer.

Worse: when called on our supposed inconsistency, we bloody trannies have the effrontery to assert that its “our” word. That only WE get to decide when to use it, when its offensive.

Huh? Unreasonable? Much. But very understandable. There is a very real sense that we have paid – many times over – in blood for that word.

It’s a bit like…oh, imagine if u will, a bunch of town planners wanting to relocate a battlefield war monument. They may have every reasonable reason for doing so. But I suspect all the reasonableness in the world wouldn’t go far to impress the vets who fought there, whose comrades died there…

It’s a shame. Without the history, “tranny” is quite a nice word: rhythmically light, ever so slightly cuddly. That’s why many trans folk still use it, with friends, when they can be sure its not abuse, threat or harbinger of danger.

Which is why it confuses the broader public. Why, in general, we fight and fight to exclude it from disrespectful media headlines…then go home and laugh about it. Why, too, its use continues to divide.

That’s a pity. As Sarah from TMW said yesterday: surely we have better things to argue about? Er, yes. And no.

As hate token, it remains something worth fighting against. But for all that, I suspect the battle is lost and – unexpected consequence of trans summer – we will have to accept now its wider use?

why? Because the terms of debate have shifted. Subtly. But shifted all the same. The perspective has changed, the focus on a different question, which is not “why use the t-word, when it causes so much grief”, but “why can’t we use the word when you do all the time?”

The answer, as above, is pretty clear. But I think now its distraction. Sometimes, the mark of the good strategist is to know when to abandon a particular fight as not worth the aggro.

We may just have reached that point over “tranny”.



11 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    misswonderly said,

    Sarah from TMW did not say that it was Paris Lees! We are not the same person though I have been taken for her mother by a group of business blokes and invited up for an assignation in a room in a posh hotel with her. We both declined.

    I think it is a very good thing to discuss why the T word proves so contentious. There are reasons which expose a lot about our prevailing culture … but I’m talking about discussion and not sitting in judgement.

  2. 2

    Shirley Anne said,

    In my experience ‘Tranny’ has always been used as a skit but there are other words just as bad, like ‘Ladyboy’ (which I got called once by some youth……who was immediately put into his place by yours truly). It isn’t only the word either, it’s the giggles and pointing fingers that probably do more harm.

    Shirley Anne xxx

  3. 3

    Rebecca Shaw said,

    This isn’t something that is unique to our community. Some black people love Chris Rock, others hate him for his use of the word “n*gger” in his stand-up routines. The gay community is divided over the use of the word “queer” and other associated terms. Some people of Pakistani origin will associate with the word “P*ki” and others will not.

    I think the public response to the outburst of hairdresser James Brown to Ben Douglas at the Bafta awards says something. I think the issue here is not that we use the word among ourselves, but that people don’t see the parallels between “n*gger” and “tranny”. Of course the fact that people don’t see it as being as offensive is one of the reasons why we really need TDOR.

    (I don’t know if there is a profanity filter here but I don’t want to get barred from wordpress hence the asterisks)

  4. 4

    I’ve always seen it like you, Rebecca. As I’m not black, trans or Asian,those are not my words to reclaim but I ill defend to the hilt the reclamation of those words by the people they are uimd against.

  5. 5

    Sarah said,

    Personally I despise the term, and I think the MTS housemates have done us all a real disservice by using it on national television. I hope it won’t lead to an escalation of hatred as members of the public think it’s now ok to use. How can we persuade the police to take hate crime seriously when we appear to be sanctioning the use of this awful word? What’s next? Are we going to say the atrocious “he-she” is ok as well? (i’ve been called this in the street and it’s VERY threatening.

    I don’t think it’s too late to oppose the use of ‘tranny’ (which used to exclusively be applied to transvestites by the way). We just need a critical mass of people to object whenever thay see it being used. Watch for an increasing use in newspapers as a result of this series.


  6. 6

    Rebecca Shaw said,

    Ironically within slightly more than 24 hours of the programme appearing on television, I found myself reporting a hate crime to local police after someone used that particular term while standing outside my bedroom window and throwing stones at it! I’ve said elsewhere that when we lay claim to spaces and agendas, there is often a counter-reaction, but I suspect in this case it was purely a coincidence.

    I am not advocating the use of the word; personally I find it offensive. I apply it to myself rarely and only when challenging people who I feel have stereotyped me in that manner. I do not apply it to anyone else. However it is not for me to tell anyone else that they cannot self-identify as they see fit.

  7. 7

    Nicola said,

    I would not even use that word on my worst enemy, let alone a trans brother or sister. But then having started my transition in the USA my perspectives and attiudes are maybe coloured by the terms usage over there.

    • 8

      janefae said,

      oh…tis bad enough within the one national community, let alone comparing notes between.

      In the UK, the position is that whilst a significant part of the trans community shares your views, Nicola, there is also a chunk that, for one reason or other, does not. So we are permissive within our own ranks. Can’t really be anything else.

      I am told – though have no experience of this – that the t-word is genuine term of affection in Australia: can anyone confirm or deny this?

      Meanwhile, i have no direct knowledge of the US so will take your word for it.


  8. 9

    Elanor said,

    I love the word Tranny, and I really don’t see a problem with “other” people using the word to describe us.
    I think we have other things to worry about.

    While I am here, I prefer Transvestite to Cross Dresser, CD sounds too “wishy washy namby pamby” and PC for my liking. But that is my personal opinion!

    Love Elanor

    • 10

      Rebecca Shaw said,

      Elanor, in the context of your post, and the fact that you feel “we have other things to worry about”, I’m curious to know about your lived experiences of oppression as a transgender person.

      You identify yourself as transvestite and as such presumably you can choose the environments in which you can identify as a transgender person. That is not an option some people and, speaking for myself, not one I would necessarily want. However on international transgender day of remembrance, we are reminded of the consequences of being openly transgendered. In the last 12 months over 200 people in the world were killed because they were transgendered. Those are the cases we know about. The absence of reports from countries from which we would expect to receive reports, none at all from any African countries for example.

      There is a casual attitude towards violence against transgender people, which society connives at when it allows discriminatory behaviour and language to flourish without challenge. The word “tranny” or its translation, may be the last word those people ever heard.

    • 11

      Rebecca Shaw said,

      Sorry: “none at all from any African countries for example” should read “none at all from any African countries for example, suggests that many deaths tragically pass unnoticed.”

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