Never forget who you are

I wrote yesterday about some University of Chicago students who were upset at Dan Savage, and his host for a talk at the school, Ana Marie Cox. During the public discussion at U of C, Dan and Ana Marie used the word “tranny” – slang for transgender — in discussing a number of recent brouhahas over the use of the word “tranny.”

The student, who allegedly left the event in tears because the word was uttered, claimed that the word was an absolute slur, forbidden in every context, including the context of a discussion about a controversy over the word itself.

In comments to that story, a reader posted a video. You can find it below.

The clip is from the hit HBO series, “Game of Thrones.” It shows Tyrion Lannister — the brother of the Queen, and a dwarf who is unjustly blamed by his sister and his father for his mother having died while birthing him – meeting Jon Snow, the “bastard” son of the lord of the north. Jon’s last name is “Snow,” and not his father’s name, “Stark,” as Snow is the name given to all bastards.

Tyrion, who is one of the few actually likable characters among his rather nasty family, initially offends Jon, then offers him a lesson:

Jon Snow: You’re Tyrion Lannister? The Queen’s brother?

Tyrion Lannister: My greatest accomplishment. And you, you’re Ned Stark’s bastard, aren’t you?

[Jon walks away]

Tyrion Lannister: Did I offend you? Sorry. You are the bastard, though.

Tyrion Lannister

Tyrion Lannister

Jon Snow: Lord Eddard Stark is my father.

Tyrion Lannister: And Lady Stark is not your mother, making you… the bastard. Let me give you some advice, bastard: Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor, and it can never be used to hurt you.

Jon Snow: What the hell do you know about being a bastard?

Tyrion Lannister: All dwarfs are bastards in their father’s eyes.

It’s a powerful scene, and is probably more of a window into Tyrion’s soul than Jon’s.  And it raises a number of interesting questions about language and identity. While I don’t necessary agree that all insults should be overlooked, there is something to be said for owning it proudly rather than recoiling in fear and anger. Though I have to admit, I’m really only good at accepting insults that don’t apply to me.

jon-snow

Jon Snow

I was at a party a few years back, and some guy I met thought that suggesting that I was dumb would be a novel way of coming-on to me. It was novel; and not terribly effective. The thing is, I have as many hang-ups as the next guy, but my intellect isn’t one of them. So his jabs weren’t particularly stinging, they were just odd. Had he been a straight guy calling me “f-g,” I’d have probably been a lot more incensed. And that’s really Tyrion’s point, to a degree. You get angry because they’re hitting a sore spot.

At another point in the book, Tyrion and Jon converse again about the same topic:

“Don’t call me Lord Snow.”
The dwarf lifted an eyebrow. “Would you rather be called the Imp? Let them see that their words can cut you and you’ll never be free of the mockery. If they want to give you a name take it make it your own. Then they can’t hurt you with it anymore.”

Life is sadly a tad more complicated.  I really do believe that when we let people use slurs as slurs we reinforce a culture of bigotry. So while I agree that it’s good advice to not let the bastards get you down (as it were), turning the other cheek sometimes fails to address the larger cultural problem, and the fact that kids learn prejudice from somewhere, and it’s usually their family and the culture at large.

Of course, one might question whether that larger problem has much to do with two allies sitting at the University of Chicago mentioning the word “tranny” when discussing the controversy over the word “tranny.” I know I’ve had discussions with many a friend, and in the comments of this blog, about whether the gay community should embrace the word “f-g” (which I only don’t print because it tends to auto-kill the ads) or “queer.”  And I most certainly have no problem with anyone using the words in an honest discussion about whether the words should be 100% verboten.

The lesson, Tyrion might tell you, isn’t just to own the slur, and not let them see you wince, but it’s also to learn how to recognize what is and isn’t a slur, both absolutely and contextually.

Peter Dinklage, who plays Tyrion, is just wonderful in the role, but he’d be nowhere without such great writing.  I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of the books the series is based on, and have found the first book to drag a bit so far, but I suspect the dialogue must be taken from the book — I’d be curious if you book aficionados could weigh in on that one.

Here’s the scene. It’s only a minute long, but powerful.


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  • Indigo

    I’m good with that.

  • Butch1

    It is redundant to make up another name disregarding our opinions or just ignoring them when we already have a name that describes what type of man I am; a gay man. I do not need another one describing me especially when I and many others have made it understood that it offends me to hear that word used by any community. Yet, we are ignored and the transgendered community continues to use it. They want everyone to respect their wishes and feelings about the use of “tran*y” when it is used even in a discussion and not as a pejorative. It is disrespectful for them to ignore our request. I do not want excuses why they like to use it; I have a word that describes me, start using it instead.

  • Indigo

    The Vocabulary Wars are a signal, I fear, that we’re attempting to create an umbrella term that covers more alternative sexualities than is sensible. Explaining opposite vs same sex attraction is one topic, I think. Introducing the varieties of trans-behaviors raises an entirely separate set of questions and theoretical constructs that do not resonate for me as an openly gay man. I don’t fully understand why I need to participate in the construction of those meanings any more than that I would lie down with a woman just to experiment with that variation of sexual behavior.

  • Butch1

    As much as this bothers many of us to be called “cis” anything, why does the transgendered community still ignore our obvious feelings about it and insist on using this term regardless about what we say or care? They think they know better about our feelings but get totally bent out of shape when friendly people such as Dan Savage discusses this word it in a friendly environment?

    It cannot be a one way street in my opinion. I have always hated to be labeled “cis.”

  • Butch1

    Used jokingly, it can be funny, though as a pejorative from an obvious homophobe trying to inflict verbal pain, I resent it along with the other gay expletives. It shows the depth of their hatred of us.

  • Butch1

    I gobbled them all up and found that there are places where a book will leave off and it seems the author forgets what he has written. ;- Surprising that the last book has not ended this megas-libra event he undertook. I await for the next book like all of his faithful readers.

    I do like that he goes into depth into many of these main characters and you have to be patient with the author as he reveals the story.

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  • Jade

    “And you keep insisting that transvestism and transgender are the same thing”

    WilmRoget really didn’t say or imply that at all.

  • Jade

    Maybe it should be?

  • Jade

    I agree that the umbrella approach is doomed to failure.

  • Jade

    I would say, not so much eliminate them, but simply ignore them.

  • Jade

    It is a very thoughtful–and correct–comment. But it won’t change a thing.

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    This would be a good opportunity for you to explain transvestism.

    There are many forms of gender nonconformity. I’ve always dressed as a male, and I’m quite happy remaining a male. However, the moment I gave my first blow job, I stopped conforming to 95% of my gender.

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    Not the agenda again!

  • jayjonson

    Transvestism and transgender are not the same thing, but they are both forms of gender nonconformity. The idea that transvestites get sexual gratification by dressing up in clothes of the opposite gender is a very broad and inaccurate generalization. To make it in this discussion reveals ignorance about transvestism.

  • timncguy

    the term transvestite, which is not the same as transgender, and tranny as slang for transvestite, have both existed longer than the term transgender.

  • Monophylos Fortikos

    Your tells are so obvious
    Shoulders too broad for a girl
    Keeps you reminded
    Helps you to remember where you come from

    Yeah, so true.

    Bye.

  • Indigo

    The thing is, I don’t actually agree that everyone has to agree. The umbrella approach is inherently a diversity approach, that includes the level of agreement or dissent. We trivialize ourselves with these kinds of quibble.

  • Swami_Binkinanda

    Made me think of El Vez and his song, “Not Hispanic”

  • WilmRoget

    Sorry, but the agenda requires that such an election be unanimous, and it wasn’t.

  • WilmRoget

    “And you keep insisting that transvestism and transgender are the same thing, when they are not.”

    No, I have not. But that false accusation sure comes across as malice.

    “And you really ought to lighten up.”

    Now that’s ironic, in light of your remark “simply men wanting to wear dresses in public for the purpose of sexual gratification” about so many diverse people.

  • MyrddinWilt

    The term is rather parochial as well. I know a lot of people who would never call themselves African American because they are British, not American. So its not a term that comes to mind because I don’t assume that people are American.

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    I could live with A.S., but everyone would have to agree. There’s the rub. I guess we’ll have to live with LGBTTQQIA.

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    We voted, so Becca wasn’t appointed. She won the election.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    And you keep insisting that transvestism and transgender are the same thing, when they are not.

    That’s not ‘malice’. It’s disagreement. And you really ought to lighten up.

  • WilmRoget

    The word transvestite, and the diminutive tranny, are older than the word transgender.

    “Is the transgender community trying to eliminate them”

    It sure looks that way.

  • WilmRoget

    It is an attempt by some people to force a word on everyone else. Ironically, the same people who are forcing this term on everyone, demand their right to label themselves, and of course, act as the word police when it comes to the term under discussion here.

  • WilmRoget

    “Gender dysphoria and transvestism are two entirely different things. And
    the “T” in LGBT was never intended to include the latter.”

    Nice malice there. I’m curious, though, you appointed you Imperator of the GLBTQ community, deciding that drag queens and other people who cross-dress are excluded.

    Between your trivializing of transvestites – a show of such contempt and spite that it makes your criticism of my use of the word “malice” hilarious, and your exclusionary command from on high, and the intrinsic bigotry involved

    clearly, the problem is not people who use a certain word.

    Makes your post above a little odd as well.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Dinklage is simply awesome. There’s not been a single scene in TGOT with him in it that I didn’t love.

  • Indigo

    or as my realtor of many years ago liked to say, “We know who we are.”

  • Indigo

    Therein lies the problem, so many people feel disrespected. I, for one, am entirely satisfied to say Gay and be done with it. Then, at a slightly more inclusive level, Gay and Lesbian. But somehow I have the idea that gay is not exclusively male, it includes both men and women. Ah, but then there are the séparatistes. Then the plot thickens even more and suddenly we have a significant proportion of the alphabet lined up in a catalog of options. I don’t see an urgent need to catalog every variation of alternative sexuality toan acronym. Even the Kama Sutra with alln its variations is not entirely inclusive. Maybe we should redesign our logo, as so many groups are doing these days, and be satisfied with A.S. [standing for Alternative Sexuality] and, as impatient folks enjoy saying, move on.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Like I said the other day, the best advice: “Grow a thicker skin. And look for reasons not to be offended.”

    Lately I’ve been thinking about Harvey Milk and how much he was a man ahead of his time. His number one exhortation was how gays and lesbians should not hide, should not stay closeted. To never forget (or hide) who we are. And now, all these years later, we’re seeing the resulting benefits of LGBTs refusing to be invisible: More progress on gay rights in the last five to ten years than in the previous fifty or more.

    I’ve always felt that being both ordinary and LGBT at the same time, and being visible about it, are the most powerful weapons in our fight for civil rights. Why? Because it makes the bigots’ arguments ever more irrational and illogical.

    Going back to Game of Thrones, it’s interesting how this “be who you are” theme is contrasted as well with the outcomes both for Jon Snow and Eddard Stark’s other ward, Theon Greyjoy. Jon does basically take Tyrion’s advice and accepts being a bastard. Theon, on the other hand, constantly runs away from who he really is, tries repeatedly to be someone he’s not — and ultimately has his entire identity stripped away. (No spoilers.)

    BTW, ‘Snow’ is the surname given to bastards connected to nobility in the north. The name varies according to the region in which the child was born, and only applies to the kids of nobles (usually men, but not always), and only if the parent acknowledges the child. Here’s a list of the usual surnames:

    Flowers: The Reach
    Hill: The Westerlands
    Pyke: Iron Islands
    Rivers: The Riverlands
    Sand: Dorne
    Snow: The North
    Stone: The Vale of Arryn
    Storm: The Stormlands
    Waters: The Crownlands

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    ‘Malice’? That’s a rather pejorative term. Maybe the resentment is because their situation is constantly conflated by bigots as simply men wanting to wear dresses in public for the purpose of sexual gratification.

    Gender dysphoria and transvestism are two entirely different things. And the “T” in LGBT was never intended to include the latter.

  • emjayay

    Very interesting and thoughtful comment.

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    You needed to have joined the discussion about two years ago. Many transgendered activists made their malice for gay males quite plain. At the same time, they began to insist that we were cismales. That’s where many of us became quite disillusioned. You will now see many gay males saying we should eliminate the T from GLBT. This blowup with Dan Savage is sort of part of it. Everyone feels disrespected.

  • WilmRoget

    “Ana Marie used the word “tranny” – slang for transgender”

    And transvestites. The attempt to purge them from the issue is dishonest.

    To resolve this, we really need to get to the heart of the malice that some trans folk have for transvestites.

  • Indigo

    I hadn’t heard of “cis” before so I went The Google where I learned that a cisgendered man is a man who has male genitals and thinks of himself as a man. Now I don’t understand why we need a system of terminology that as compliximicated as that.

  • cole3244

    i prefer it when people use their own words to describe something or someone, that usually tells me all i need to know about them without having to invest the time necessary to discover the obvious.

  • pappyvet

    If you forget who you are there are more than enough people who will be quite willing to define you.

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    I said that names do not bother me, but I totally lost it once when I was called “spic”. It’s odd that I’m not bothered about words referring to my sexuality, but I’m bothered by words referring to my ethnicity.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    You could just go Olandp’s route, below, and say you’re “FABULOUS” ;-)

  • keirmeister

    I’m a black man in America, so this topic hits home as well. I don’t generally refer to myself as “African American,” mainly because I know nothing of Africa and, quite frankly, too many syllables.

    But saying “black” is not in fashion. I don’t care. I can tell the difference when someone uses it as a negative or not. It takes a lot more than calling me a name to get a rise out of me, and such behavior is a reflection of the offender, not his target.

    Never forget who you are. That requires you to know who (and what) you are and OWN it.

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    I really think I have a thing for Peter Dinklage. It dates back to the first “Death at a Funeral”.

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    Other than “cis”, most words don’t bother me. My husband hated the word “c*cksucker”. It never bothered me, because it was accurate.

  • Demosthenes

    I always thought all labels are nothing more than simplistic stereotyping for those too intellectually flaccid to make a detailed and thoughtful point.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    He was even hotter as Ronen :)

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    It might be.

  • Stev84

    Certainly didn’t work for me. I wasn’t bullied about being gay, but about other stuff, some of which I still don’t understand. A lot of people became less hostile as they got older, but with others the name calling and bullying never really stopped, no matter what I did.

  • timncguy

    I always thought that “tranny” was slang for transvestite, not for transgender. Transvestites do exist, right? Is the transgender community trying to eliminate them or force them to re-identify themselves?

  • dcinsider

    Transgender people have the right to get upset at word usage when it is used in a deliberately offensive manner. They do not, however, have the right to police the planet on word choice. Being able to say simply “we prefer the word transgender to tranny” would suffice. Throwing a hissy fit and feigning the vapors over its use in appropriate dialogue is nothing less than attention seeking, and not worthy of recognition.

    This, of course, raises the larger point, which is the aggressive manner in which transgender people have attached themselves to the gay rights movement, demanded that we change our political course to suit their needs, and created an atmosphere of hyper-sensitivity on every topic involving gender identity.

    I have given up the battle that gender identity has nothing to do with sexual orientation, not because I was wrong, but because that train left the station and we are stuck with the gender identity police whether we like it or not. So we must focus on a way to co-exist. The current way is not working. It seems that a very vocal (minority or majority I don’t know) of transgendered people are spending more of their time criticizing gays and lesbians and our collective insensitivity to their issues than they are focusing on winning the external battle.

    The new mantra is that gays and lesbians are not permitted to seek any legal right without the weighty anchor of gender identity attached to that effort. The most egregious example of this occurred in New Hampshire, and was utterly ignored by this blog and other gay media, probably for fear that the gender identity police would attack.

    The bill would have added “sexual orientation” to the New Hampshire Constitution, offering the first in the nation constitutional level protection for gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. It passed the New Hampshire Senate in March of this year, BUT WAS KILLED in the House, not because of opposition to the bill from religious conservatives, but by the transgender community.

    “A proposed amendment to New Hampshire’s constitution that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation divided gay activists Wednesday because it does not cover transgender individuals.” http://www.boston.com/news/local/new-hampshire/2014/04/02/measure-would-bar-discrimination-against-gays/2rrbLQEoBfcfg5EeWXVM0L/story.html

    This is the same attitude that killed ENDA because its protections were not extended specifically to transgender individuals.

    However, this does not work both ways. Transgender activists were successful in a federal proceeding by extending gender protections of Title VII to transgender individuals. Gays and lesbians have no such Title VII protection, but did not intervene to appeal the pro-transgender ruling, even though it did not include our protections.

    I find it appalling and unforgivable that we would deny ourselves the protections of the New Hampshire Constitution because some people felt it was not “inclusive” enough. What kind of friend holds back another friend in their advance? What type of ally opposes a measure as groundbreaking as this for purely selfish reasons?

    If transgender people are truly part of our community as I am frequently told, I suggest they begin acting like that. Enough whining, enough finger-pointing, and enough selfish back-stabbing. Right now, given that two major pieces of legislation were effectively killed by our so called allies, I think it is high time we had a very frank, very open, and very difficult discussion about the level of support we receive from transgender individuals, and whether this continued “partnership” has any value at all.

  • Elijah Shalis

    Tyrion is right though. You should own who you are.

  • MyrddinWilt

    I think a lot of the arguments of this type are really about who is going to be ‘in charge’.

    I remember back in the day when Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon refused to share a platform with Erica Jong because she wrote ‘pornography’. Well we know the folk leading the feminist movement today and its not the pair chosen by Edwin Meese for his panty-sniffing commission.

    It is also a matter of context. If you go to Oxford University Sheldonian theater you might be surprised that it appears to be decorated with NAZI insignia. But the reason is of course that the Sheldonian was built centuries before the NAZIs and the decoration is based on Roman insignia later appropriated by the NAZIs.

    So the Sheldonian decorations aren’t a problem. But if someone decorated their house the same way you probably would not want them to be your Senator or your boss.

  • bkmn

    The minute you let them see that it hurt you is the moment they gain power over you. Once that happens they are going to keep going to that well to get another drink.

  • Elijah Shalis

    I love GOT, my boyfriend and I recently went to a ComicCon and had our photo taken with Jason Momoa. I would love to get Peter Dinklage’s.

  • olandp

    I’m not just “here”, I’m FABULOUS!

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    I really try to not be insensitive about such things, but I was never called any name until I was called f*ggot at age 28. I’m certain a lot of folks in my hometown said some words I never heard. That was when they heard I was living with a man. I’m glad you were able to keep your spine rigid and your head upright. It must have been very hard, but you’re still here. That’s what’s important.

  • olandp

    I don’t like to talk about it, but school was hell. Not a day went by that I wasn’t called “f-g” at least once, usually more. I walked with my back straight and my head held high, right down the middle of the hall and ignored it all. Never let them see that it hurts, eventually they will stop when they don’t get a reaction.

  • Indigo

    100% !

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