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.