On the whole RuPaul/tranny controversy

A few things I want you to know before we begin:

1. I respect however someone wants to live as long as they’re not intentionally hurting others.

2. I genuinely wish everyone could just be happy and treated well and live in peace.

3. I really hate the way people engage with each other/ignore and shout at each other when they don’t agree on something that is not that important in the big picture. Peaceful, respectful disagreements/debates are possible. Let’s have ’em that way if we need to at all!

4. I’m fine with not using the word “tranny” in my speech because I never really did before, and I’m open to not using a word if the most common way it is received is with pain, sadness, fear, anger or disappointment.

5. I believe that it’s not about the word itself but about the intention with which it’s used, the context, the person saying it, the people they’re saying it to, and the speaker’s personal views on whatever group or person he/she is using the word to refer to. It’s possible to use objectionable or offensive words as part of an expression of acceptable intention.

The thing that’s making me sad about this whole RuPaul/tranny controversy is that people who think they’re against RuPaul are missing the key point about what she’s saying. In her awesome WTF interview with Marc Maron, she basically talks about the fact that words have no power if you don’t allow them to define and affect you, and that we should all strive to get to the point where we can let words roll off our backs and focus on what’s really important. This is true! If you don’t give a shit what someone says, then it doesn’t matter what words they’re saying! It’s not about whether someone uses the word “tranny” or “transexual/transgender.” What’s important is whether they respect trans people’s right to be accepted, heard, seen and treated with respect.

A lot of people have said that the word “tranny” is hurtful because it’s a word that’s used when trans people are being beaten or killed. What’s important there is not the word that’s being said, but the fact that someone is being physically assaulted or killed. What’s important there is not the word that’s being said, but the underlying hatred and lack of respect and compassion for another human being. Would the situation be any better if the person beating or killing someone else called them “trans”? Would we then ban the term “trans”? 

If a trans person says, “I’m proud to be a tranny and I love my tranny brothers and sisters,” this is not an objectionable thing to say. Once again, the words the person is using are not important. What’s important is that he or she is expressing love and affection, which are things that help keep the world peaceful and happy.

If an anti-trans person says something mean to or about trans people, what hurts is the lack of respect and compassion and the intention to hurt, not the physical sounds of the letters t-r-a-n-n-y coming out of someone’s mouth.

It’s not the words that hurt, but the meaning we assign to them. So, the problem with banning a word is that it was never about the word in the first place. It’s about the intention and context of the speaker. If someone is spreading love and happiness, the words they use to do it are not that important. If someone is spreading hate and sadness, the words they use to do it are not important. It is the underlying intention that is causing the positive or negative effect.

RuPaul is saying we all need to get strong, believe in ourselves, not let other people’s negativity bring us down, and not sweat the small stuff. All of that is true.

I can’t speak for others, but I can say that as a woman, I am not bothered by words like “bitch,” “cunt,” and other words that people often use to hurt women, when they’re used by people that I think probably aren’t misogynistic in any threatening or harmful way. When someone who is misogynistic calls someone a “bitch” or a “cunt” or whatever else with the intent to hurt a woman because they hate women and don’t believe in their humanity or equality, I’m offended not by the words themselves, but by the intention to be hurtful. And I wouldn’t get caught up with trying to get a misogynist to stop saying “bitch” or “cunt.” I would instead try to convince him/her to accept and respect women in a deep, real and genuine way. That, after all, is the most important thing. And once that happens, he/she will probably stop using those words in a hurtful way as a byproduct of his/her evolution anyway.

If you hate a word and don’t want it used around you, you should definitely say something about it. But keep it about you and your personal experience, and keep your request reasonable and respectful. Say, “The word “tranny” bothers me personally and I would appreciate it if you didn’t use it around me.” There’s no need to demonize anyone who’s intention is not to hurt you. And if you can effectively convince someone whose intention IS to hurt you, to instead accept your humanity and equality and the fact that you deserve respect, you have done something great for the world.

In the mean time, working on yourself and getting yourself to the place where words don’t matter, but intentions do, will do a lot to help you stay sane. And that’s what RuPaul is saying!

1 Comment

  1. the problem I have with it is that a lot of it is about history and a lot is about context, and ultimately when it comes to reclaiming slurs it’s not up to anyone but the group to whom they refer. for instance the word “queer.” a lot of people, including myself, are in the process of reclaiming it, and are using as a descriptive term for how we identify. we have that right, because it refers specifically to us. if I tell someone I identify as queer, then that means I accept that label, because I’ve applied it to myself, and I have the right to do that. the same argument is often applied racially, with certain racial slurs.

    rupaul, however, does not have the right to reclaim the word “tranny”. he is a drag queen and a performance artist; he is not transgender and does not identify as such, and never has identified as such. he has no right to use the words “tranny” and “shemale” (he has done both), and his arguments don’t hold water (with me anyway) simply on the basis of that fact.

    I know people who have the same gender identity and sexual orientation as I do who aren’t comfortable with the word “queer” – and I respect that 100%. but the majority of individuals who share this identity are fine with the word queer, and that’s why it is at least somewhat acceptable in colloquial usage. it’s in the process of being redefined and reclaimed, by the individuals to whom it would have been applied as a slur. that is our choice.

    rupaul cannot make that choice for transgender people. I do not know any transgender people who use the words “tranny” or “shemale” to define themselves. those are still very much slurs; there is no movement currently to reclaim those words. if certain transgender individuals want to refer to themselves by those words, they have that right. no one else does.

    that’s how I see it, anyway. rupaul has been very disrespectful to transgender people. I recognize the point you’re making with this post, but I don’t find it to be a terribly valid one. or a relevant one, anyway. “tranny” and “shemale” are words which rupaul and other celebrities (and gay men – it seems to be a trend in the male gay community…) are trying to use as “affectionate” terms and I understand that they are trying to change the connotations behind the word (some of them are, anyway) and that they aren’t using it in a directly negative sense, but the fact remains that it isn’t their place to do that. they simply don’t have the right.

    anyway, sorry for intruding on your post, I just saw this and I know that a lot of people are of this opinion and simply don’t understand that “tranny” and “shemale” (and others) are loaded words, packed with the weight of ages of oppression, which is still going on to a great degree. the process of reclaiming slurs is a difficult and complicated one, and when carried out by the oppressors it has no effect (or an opposite one)

    I’ll quit rambling now, but just please consider this before using those words in your daily speech. they do more harm than you know.

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