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[Commentary] [USA] Problematic terminology

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  • Stephanie Stevens
    San Diego LGBT Weekly, CA, USA Commentary: Trans Progressive by Autumn Sandeen Problematic terminology Posted by LGBT Weekly in Bottom Highlights, Latest
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 11, 2013
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      San Diego LGBT Weekly, CA, USA

      Commentary: Trans Progressive

      by Autumn Sandeen

      Problematic terminology

      Posted by LGBT Weekly in Bottom Highlights, Latest Issue, Trans
      Progressive on Thursday, March 7th, 2013

      I would never refer to African Americans by the terms “colored” or
      “negro” even though Martin Luther King Jr. used those terms
      frequently. Times have changed, and the terms we use for the African
      American community and its members have changed. Many, if not most,
      African Americans now consider those terms to be offensive, although
      as I read during the past census there are still a number of older
      African Americans that still identify with the term “negro.”

      I would never call a woman “bitch” either, although there are women
      who embrace the term for themselves – some women are even attempting
      to reclaim that word as a positive term.

      I would never call a member of the LGBTQIA community “queer” unless a
      person individually identified themselves as queer. Even though I
      personally identify my sexuality as queer, I’m so aware that many in
      the LGBT community – especially those who lived as out gays and
      lesbians in the ‘70s and ‘80s – had the term “queer” regularly hurled
      at them as a pejorative. Calling someone “queer” when an individual
      doesn’t identify as queer can be highly offensive, and yet at the same
      time many LGBTQIA community members are reclaiming the word as a
      positive term.

      I call those who identify as queer “queer,” and don’t call those who
      don’t identify as queer by the term. Reclaiming the term for those who
      don’t want the term reclaimed for them seems to me to be pretty

      Just as “queer” is one of those terms people should be sensitive about
      using, so is the term “tra**y.”

      A few years ago while writing for the blog Pam’s House Blend, a woman
      who disliked my point of view referred to me as a “house tranny.” The
      woman who referred to me as tra**y meant it as a derogatory term, and
      connecting it to the term “house” was meant to evoke the racist
      meaning attached to the term “house negro.” That’s because the blog
      mistress of Pam’s House Blend is Pam Spaulding, and she’s an African
      American lesbian. I’m especially sensitive to the term “tra**y” and
      that’s just the worst example of many where the term was hurled at me
      as a pejorative.

      In 2009, the Dallas Voice experienced blowback from trans community
      members over their positive take on Brad Luna, the producer and
      director of the film Ticked Off Trannies With Knives. The Voice came
      under fire by a number of trans people for using the term tra**y and
      supporting a filmmaker that used the term in the title of his film.
      The Voice interviewed RuPaul during the clamor; at that time he told
      the publication it was OK to use the term:

      “When we say ‘tranny,’ or ‘drag queen’ or ‘queer,’ we’ve taken the
      word back and owned it again. And that it’s coming from a place of
      love and respect.”

      I don’t feel love and respect when someone uses that term to describe
      my community peers and me who find the term offensive.

      In a letter to the Voice’s editor, former HRC board member Donna Rose
      responded to the Voice’s embracing of the term tra**y by RuPaul and
      the publication:

      “To limit those who object to both the tone and the content of your
      story to transgender ‘activists’ would also be wrong and highlights
      why so many in the trans community feel so distant from our LGB
      brothers and sisters. For many of us, this is personal. It’s about
      respect and dignity. The “N” word is still forbidden for African
      Americans unless you’re African American and talking about other
      African Americans. ‘Faggot’ is not appropriate in any context. And
      ‘tranny’ is no different.”


      “A far more sensitive way to handle this would have been to
      acknowledge that these terms are considered offensive to many as
      pejorative, degrading and dehumanizing, and to have elicited a broad
      range of opinions rather than to treat it in such an off-handed,
      mocking way based on one person’s opinion.”

      Lena Dahlstrom added this in another letter to the editor on that same subject:

      “I do agree with RuPaul that one does need to take intent into
      account. I’ve got gay friends who’ve thrown around ‘tranny.’ But when
      I’ve gently mentioned that it’s a term that a lot of trans people find
      problematic when used by people who aren’t trans (or friends and
      allies), guess what. They stopped using it. But no, you had to go
      pissily justify your right to use the term and accuse people who
      complain of ‘Nazi-like’ rigidity. That’s hardly ‘coming from a place
      of love and respect,’ now is it? The place that comes to mind is:
      asshat-ism. Because bottom-line, if you have to ask yourself whether a
      term you’re using is offensive, that’s a pretty good clue that it’s
      not a good idea to use it. Words may never hurt me, but they can piss
      me off.”

      To be sure, there are some trans folk who are attempting to reclaim
      the term. For example, there is a support and social group of trans
      youth in Los Angeles who call themselves “Tranny Rockstars.” They,
      like those who are reclaiming the term “queer,” are reclaiming the
      term for themselves as a positive term.

      But the embracing of the term tra**y isn’t universal, and RuPaul isn’t
      trans. He doesn’t get to reclaim the term tra**y for a subcommunity of
      the LGBTQIA community where a significant number of that
      subcommunity’s members find the term offensive.

      I’m sure RuPaul wouldn’t wish to be referred to by the n-word by
      someone who isn’t African American; he probably wouldn’t want to be
      called “fa**ot” by someone who isn’t gay. Respecting him as a human
      being means not referring to him by those terms.

      I deeply respect Commissioner Ramirez, and it’s certainly not my place
      to school such a community icon on any LGBT community matter. And, he
      is right that the term tra**y has to be looked at in context, and in a
      lot of contexts the term isn’t a negative. But with all due respect
      too, it’s not OK for Commissioner Ramirez to say it isn’t a trans
      negative for RuPaul to use a term that he knows a significant number
      of trans people find offensive. That’s especially true considering he
      doesn’t identify as trans himself; that’s especially true when, as a
      media figure, he’s teaching people outside of the LGBTQIA community
      that it’s OK to use that term for trans people that a significant
      number of trans people find degrading and dehumanizing.

      When it’s appropriate for a non-gay person to call all gay people
      queer it’ll be about the time when it’s appropriate for a
      non-transgender person to call all trans people tra**ies.

      I agree with GLAAD when they labeled the term tra**y as “problematic.”
      I also agree with GLAAD’s take on words and images when they say
      “Words and images matter. With those two thoughts in mind, I just
      can’t “chill out” over language that a significant number of trans
      people find problematic.

      © 2013 LGBT Weekly. All Rights Reserved.

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