All posts in the language category

Snarks And Reclamation

Published October 28, 2012 by Sez

Disclaimer 1: In order to talk about homophobic and transphobic slurs, you kind of have to use homophobic and transphobic slurs. I’m not asterisking things out; I feel like that gives the words in question a “he who must not be named” type power.
So if reading slurs in this context is likely to upset you, now’s a good time to stop reading.

Disclaimer 2, This post is, in part, about the difficulties a trans ally can face. I know, I know. The poor, oppressed ickle cis girl. Privilege-o-rama. I’m not for a second forgetting that.

This is something I see from both ends. As a queer woman (some might say lesbian but “queer” is my preferred label if I’m wearing one) I don’t like hearing gay, queer, etc thrown around as negative slang.
As part of my job I talk to teenagers about why homophobia is bad, m’kay? One thing I talk about is how using gay to mean bad is homophobic even if you DON’T MEAN IT TO BE. Because if you know that “gay” means “same sex attraction”, that it hurts people for you to use their identity as an insult, and you STILL can’t be bothered finding a better way to express yourself, then you’re being homophobic.
At this point people often bring up reclamation – black people using the word “nigger/nigga” being a favourite example. Is it ok for white people who are part of a social group that includes black people who use “nigga” affectionately to join in with that? If so, the convoluted teenage logic goes, it’s ok for people who don’t regard themselves as homophobic to fling “gay” around like a verbal hand grenade. I can usually debunk that one in a matter of seconds, but it does raise an interesting point. As a kid said to me the other day “Say all my mates are gay, and we’re meeting at a gay pub, and I go in and say “Hello, you gayboys!”, and we ALL know it’s a big joke, I think that would be OK”
I had to agree with him. Not that it would be OK, but that, depending on the people there, it might be. But that generally, reclaiming was reserved for the people who were affected by the slurs in the first place (at which point another little smartase pointed out that I’d said that homophobia affects everyone. D’oh!)
Why this long and confusing preamble?
Tranny is why.
The word “tranny” and I have a complicated relationship.

It’s a slur. It’s used, horribly, against transgender people. It’s not ok for me to use “tranny”. Just like a white person saying “what up my niggaaas!?” I’m probably going to come off as unbelievably crass at best, nastily prejudiced at worst.

Here’s the thing, though. I would say that a slight majority of the trans people I am aware of in my not-online social and work circles sometimes choose to reclaim it. One or two of them choose “tranny” as the main word they identify as, gender wise. I also know people in the transgender community who hate the word regardless of context, who feel that there’s never a context when anyone can use it ever, regardless of what their gender identity might be. It’s been suggested to me that tranny is just too triggering to reclaim, and that the right of some not to hear the word trumps the right of others to identify themselves that way.

So I, as a cisgender person, have friends whose gender identity I fail to respect if I refuse to use “tranny” and friends whose history of oppression I fail to acknowledge if I agree to use it. It’s a weird head space to occupy.

Also, as someone who identifies as queer, I’m aware that I make some people who have had that word used against them uncomfortable.
But that’s the thing about reclaiming. It’s prickly. It hurts to pull words used in hate back and make them a source of strength. And for LGBT people, there’s the issue that all the words we use for ourselves are also used as slurs, or as pathologising diagnoses. ALL our words have to be reclaimed, and ALL our words have the potential to hurt us.
Like I said at the top of this post, I don’t believe in asterisking words out. I don’t believe in giving slurs the power that censoring lends them. I’m with (cis, white, rich, hetero male) George Carlin on this. There are no bad words. It’s context that makes them good or bad .
So I’m going to come down on the side of my trans friends who DO identify as “tranny”, and defend their right to do so even if that offends other trans people.

Which leaves me in the position of sometimes, just sometimes, saying, and defending “tranny”.
Which I have absolutely no right to do.
Ho hum.