U of C students incensed that word “tranny” was used in discussion about word “tranny”

Some transgender students and allies at the University of Chicago are outraged that a word they consider a slur was used in a guest-speaker discussion about the controversy over the word itself.

At the risk of inspiring another petition, the word is “tranny,” which is longtime slang for transgender. It’s been used both positively and negatively in the past (and present).

The guest speaker was gay writer and activist Dan Savage, who is arguably America’s most effective spokesman on gay (and quite possibly trans) civil rights. Savage was one of the masterminds behind the widely-acclaimed “It Gets Better” campaign, and behind last year’s boycott of Russian vodka that put the issue of Russia’s intolerance towards its gay and trans citizens on the map.

Savage was declared public enemy #1 a few years back by a fringe coterie of vocal activists; mostly for things he allegedly said, but that when you go back to the original sources you find he didn’t actually say at all. The same activists have also attacked Savage for being an advocate of marriage equality.

I interviewed Dan Savage last year about his new book, and about his secret Mai Tai recipe.

I interviewed Dan Savage last year about his new book, and about his secret Mai Tai recipe.

The word “tranny” has been in the news of late, as some trans activists, but certainly not all, find the word offensive. It was a word that has long been used by pro-trans gays and straights alike. (I never used it, though I have younger friends who have and still do, and not with any animus — it’s the simply the word they use for trans people.)

Back to the University of Chicago. The pro-trans activists say the discussion that Savage had with moderator Ana Marie Cox about the controversy over the word “tranny” put them “in a state of distress,” made them “feel unsafe,” and that the discussion “made [a] trans student so distressed that they had to run out of the room in tears.”

The basic argument here is that the word “tranny” is “hate speech,” and that even in a discussion about the controversy surrounding the word “tranny,” the word cannot be used.

The latest and most famous brouhaha over the word revolves around drag superstar RuPaul, who has been attacked by some trans activists for using the word to describe himself, among others.  RuPaul says he considers himself “a tranny,” so he has the right to own the word and use it proudly. Some top trans activists have come to RuPaul’s defense, such as Mx Justin Vivian Bond:

In lieu of standing up to the haters who seek to diminish us and our accomplishments and standing UNITED IN PRIDE IN OUR DIVERSITY, these thoughtless “word police” instead go on the attack and achieve easy victories by harassing, silencing and shaming members of their own community and the allies who are thoughtful and sensitive enough to the reasons and feelings behind their anger that they are willing to listen and -as usual, blame themselves and make the changes because it’s just EASIER to “evolve” back into silent, bullied shame.



What they fail to recognize is that by banishing the use of the word TRANNY they will not be getting rid of the transphobia of those who use it in a negative way. What it does do is steal a joyous and hard-won identity from those of us who are and have been perfectly comfortable, if not delighted to BE TRANNIES, but the fact is WE ARE NOT GOING AWAY. In case you didn’t know it WE’RE TOUGH! A reality check, if people think you are a tranny it’s because you are perceived as one. OWN IT!

….It is not shameful to be a tranny, a she-male, or any other word used to describe a gender variant individual. It’s shameful to harass people for being comfortable with who they are and the words they choose to use to describe themselves when you aren’t. That is my opinion on this ridiculous subject.

As you can tell I’m angered by this trifling bullsh*t. We should be working on unifying our community and getting ourselves basic protections under the law. If everyone who is expending so much time and energy harassing their sisters about this word would harass their elected officials with the same amount of verve and fervor we’d be on the way to a much more trans-inclusive society.

This reminds me of the recent post I did about the new fad of having “trigger warnings” at colleges, and elsewhere.

I worry that at some point some topics are going to become so laden with minefields that our allies (not our enemies, even our allies) will simply stop discussing them all together.  And when your goal is visibility and education, creating this kind of culture, especially among friends, would seem counterproductive.

What do you think?

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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