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.
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.
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.