MidwestGenderQueer_purplevelvet2sm

Tranny Talks: Pop Culture’s Ricochet Response to Trans Visibility

You all may know me to be a little on the… aggressive side when it comes to calling media and celebrities out on transphobic ignorance. Recently, I’ve been trying to go the more relaxed route, not because I didn’t crave to throw fits about every slur, but since the gigantic influx of transphobic actions in mainstream, I was getting exhausted. But exhaustion aside, once again I’m saying “I’ve had enough.” What broke the camel’s back this time? Last week on Access Hollywood, former N’Sync star Lance Bass (who does look strikingly similar to a fish) pulled out the “T word,” the growing nomenclature for tranny, and this episode of ignorance says more about transphobia than one word can handle.

(starts at 2:20 minutes – UPDATE the video on the site may be taken down)

What’s so different about Lance Bass from Kelly Osborne or Neil Patrick Harris using the word? Nothing. It’s all the same, and though this event is very similar to Neil Patrick Harris’ usage, I find it much more insulting. In addition to the use of the word, those involved also found it necessary to mock our entire community’s plight against our oppressors. Comedian Billy Eichner, whose talent seems to be primarily based on yelling, comments on how tranny isn’t in fashion anymore, and I would give him props for that, but his statement of “really, really gay” being the replacement kinda ruined it. It is a fascinating scene really, watching three adults giggle like ten year olds who accidentally used a dirty word. And, like any ten year olds, their solution to their misbehavior was to laugh at it and blame someone else for their inability to say it. “Oops! we’ve made a mistake, those people don’t like that word, but who understands those trannies, anyway?!” Thanks, TV personalities, good save. Obviously, your public image is all that matters here, not the fact that you are a oppressive idiots with bad hair (WTF is with hair gel city you’re building over there?). Oh, and PS: Lance, I wouldn’t suggest you attempt to rock purple velvet, you’re not glam enough for it.

Now, all you Lance fans out there may be thinking, “Hey, he apologized! It’s all ok now!” And I appreciate all six of you pointing that out, but it is not all ok. The apology is good to have, but before we accept the apology we have to analyze the mistake, otherwise we can’t learn from it. I think the most interesting, and important, part of this case of transphobia is the exemplary performance of oppressors trying to deal with ignorance. When you watch the clip, listen to the language being used: trans* folks are just “they,” not the transgender community. Why? Well it is because they didn’t even KNOW what else to call us. Hi there, cookie-cutter TV personality lady, did you really just ask “What’s the new word?” It is “A Transgender Person” and Lance, I can see why you all missed the “memo,” the word has only been around for about THIRTY YEARS or in the case of the word Transsexual almost ONE HUNDRED years. But you know, it takes time to learn. it’s not like you’re a member of the “LGBT” community or anything. Oh, wait, you are. I guess you always thought that T stood for Tranny. You do “love a good o’l tranny.”

The exploding use of tranny in mainstream isn’t a coincidence. It is happening because trans* visibility is getting higher, and (consciously or not) non-trans* society is starting to panic. The use of slurs and other public forms of oppression (like political wedge issues) is society trying to deal with our communities’ push for rights and recognition. Pop culture is politics dripping down into the mainstream masses, and that is why it is so dangerous. In the big picture, I guess we should be somewhat excited about it. The growing visibility of tranny is a result of our trans* communities’ sucessful visibility; we’ve gone from being mostly invisible to the hot-topic butt of jokes, and we have been for a couple years now. So, under this idea, all this transphobia on TV could be seen as a ‘growing pain’ for the trans* communities’ arduous climb up the cliff of civil rights. If television had been prominent in the early 20th century, we can be sure that racial slurs would have been all over it. And even though direct, verbal prejudice was lower in TV and movies before and during the civil rights movement, racism itself was very prevalent and it hasn’t gone away yet. It is just lessening  over time as society lazily gets its act together. What has to happen for media to move into a less-oppressive space? First, people start to use the slurs because it is topical; “Haha!  I get the joke! I feel cool because I know who I’m oppressing!” (That is what oppressors think, right?)  Then the accountability starts. All three celebrities (Harris, Osborne, and Bass) have issued public apologies for using the word tranny, and even go as far as to advocate others not to use it. When it comes to public accountability, an education-promoting apology is about as good as it gets. But, and you know there has to be a but, these apologies don’t really make me feel better – they usually just irritate me more. Can we take a look at Lance Bass’ apology? It is full of gender essentialism and stereotypes, including the widely recognized un-PC term transvestite and the wrong body myth. Then, he talks about how it was really ok that he said tranny because he knows trans* people – yeah, rationalization and excuses for why the mistake is ok are awesome elements in any apology. He also pretends to be smart by discussing how people of color and gay people debate about using the n-word and f-word (respectively). It’s “just words,” no big deal, why can’t he use it?  Um, for starters, you’re not fucking trans*, Lance. Your gay card of doesn’t get you in. Despite his claimed “education” from GLAAD, this guy clearly has no clue about the trans* community or our struggles. Many people say I’m being too critical and I should be grateful for a well-meant apology. GLAAD was all too happy to bend over for Neil Patrick Harris’ “heartening” TWO LINE twitter apology, acting like sycophants to fame… Some queers go into activism saying “beggars can’t be choosers.” Well, I’m not begging for my rights, I’m fighting for them. I refuse to take less than what a human being deserves, and we deserve the best. And though these apologies aren’t the best, they are extremely important. Without them Billy No-Talent-Comedian would never of mentioned that tranny wasn’t ok and, despite the insulting follow up, it was acknowledged to be offensive. That is a big first step for society – the awareness that there is another voice. Of course, some celebrities  make zero attempts to be accountable, and unless we keep fighting, that is going to continue to happen for a very long time. Society isn’t going to change on its own, we have to chisel our way in through activist feedback and forced accountability.

I’ve said it once if I’ve said it a million times, that mainstream media, needs to shut the fuck up on trans* issues, but maybe I should rethink that. Maybe I should sit back and enjoy the squirming celebrity mistakes and think of society’s failures as a tool for our revolution. The downside is that while we are waiting for society to get it’s act together, how many people will be misinformed, adding to the mass of oppression and miseducation? And how many trans* folks have to be injured by these oppressions before it enough is enough? The saying goes “You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.” In that, societal rights and recognition for the future’s trans* people are the omelet, today’s trans* people are the eggs. But I refuse to be broken. The future’s just going to have to learn to make civil rights tofu scrambles.

 

 

7 comments

  • There is another side, if you keep attacking people for a mistake it can make it harder for them to actually learn from it or to actually empathize with us trans people. And sometimes it is unfair to keep on attacking someone for an honest mistake. I know in my own experience I have had a few allies and other trans people make mistakes, but they offered a quick apology and it was done.

    I’m not saying an apology should always be taken at face value. But I do think it is important to recognize that there is a fine balancing act between fighting and forgiving.

    • I couldn’t agree more – it is important for us to always look forward, and encourage accountability through positive outlets. I also think that this can be done without rolling over and excusing oppressive behavior – in other words, encouraging people to be well rounded in their education, and in their apologies. I don’t consider criticism to be an attack, it is feedback, which is something we all need in order to improve ourselves and society. Honest mistakes are hard to define, and while intent of the individual is very important, we can’t over look the systematic influences. By pushing back with love and education, I think we can promote a constructive back and forth between old mentalities and new learning. And, I think there is something to say about not taking ourselves too seriously. Sometimes we have to joke about our position in order to survive it, and that jovial fun can help us push past the hurt and become friends.

  • Really good article, thoughtfully written. Lance Bass should’ve known better and acted more responsibly.

    I would just like to say that tranny isn’t a word that affects the entire trans* community like you say it does. Lance Bass was clearly talking about trans women working the corner and the wordstill functions as a transmisogynistic slur. Trans guys and trans people who were gendered female at birth, while they still face a huge amount of discrimination, hardly ever get called trannies. Popular culture makes fun of trans women much more often. Just thought I’d like to point it out because I feel like this article misses this really important point when talking about the tranny slur.

    • I totally agree that tranny is primarily used to refer to trans women and non-conforming/variant MAAB spectrum folks – and that (from what I’ve seen) every time it is used in mainstream it is directed at that population. You are very right to point that out. I do feel that tranny as a word is relevant to the entire trans* community though, and for several reasons. First, though it is primarily directed at trans women and MAAB folks, it is used against other people too. It has been used against me many times in really negative ways and I am not MAAB. In the city I live in, tranny is commonly used against all kinds of trans* folks. That does not negate or lessen the extreme levels of oppression the word brings to the MAAB community, it just adds to the levels in which if influences our community. Secondly, even if tranny was NEVER applied to anyone other than MAAB folks, they are members of the trans* community and, the way I see it, that makes it a trans* community issue. If it hurts them it hurts us all. It can not be seen as only a transwoman/MAAB issue because there is more to it than discrimination of transwomen/MAAB folks; it is a commentary on gender normalcy, and trans women and MAAB folks bear a huge brunt of that. It doesn’t hit me the same way, but it does hit me, both personally in my experiences and as an activist where I must use whatever privileges and protections I’ve been granted by society to stand up against it. I think we must recognize systems of oppression intersectionally, seeing constructs of privilege and oppression overlapping and interacting on micro and macro levels. I’m not saying we can assume the oppression of others because of its potential adjacency to our own, I am saying that we must recognize the direct and indirection results of oppression and account for the flexibility of slurs in varying spaces where the word is used against many sorts of people, even it if isn’t the majority of the time. Thanks for your thoughts, and I’d love to hear more if you have them!

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  • wow, jac, this is not only super thorough– it is really real. i actually googled “tranny celebrity apology” as i was looking to link to one of them you noted above and this post came up as 2nd or 3rd. i’m really glad it did :)

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