To the Life+Style Editor of a gay newspaper petulantly defending his right to call people "trannies"
Now I know you won't be offended by me -- a hetero crossdresser who also does drag -- calling you that, since after all we're all about reclaiming terms, right? Just like you getting RuPaul to "rule" that it's OK to call trans people "trannies." The thing is, as far as I know, RuPaul identifies as a gay man, so asking his/her opinion on this issue is a bit like asking a white person whether it's OK for other white people call black people... well you know the term I mean.
The thing is, reclaiming an epithet is something that only gets to be done by the people who've been targeted by it. There's a big difference between members of a stigmatized group reclaiming a term as a way of saying "yeah I am a [insert derogatory term here], wanna make something of it" -- and quite another when someone outside that group decides to fling that term around carelessly. And no, we're not "already there" in reclaiming tranny as a cuddly term of endearment -- Christian Siriano's catchphrase "hot tranny mess" was clearly meant as a putdown in exactly the same way as clueless straight kids use "that's so gay."
As far as using "drag queen," I've got no problem with using that term to describe people who are actually drag queens -- i.e. people who are crossdressing for performance. Some of whom may also be trans. But using it to describe trans people off the stage is implying their gender identity is just for show, akin to straight people who tell you that you're not really gay, you just haven't found the right woman yet. Think I'm kidding? I've seen gay men tell transwoman: "No really, what's your real (i.e. male) name."
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 accusing 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 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 -- and I think RuPaul might also have something to say about the folly of getting on the wrong side of an angry drag queen.
Just to be absolutely clear, since the use of irony can go over people's heads...
"Faggot" is a vile, hateful term -- and it's one that I'm all too familiar with. I was taunted with it as a boy who wasn't sufficiently manly for the school bullies. I've heard it muttered at me when I've been out en femme and in drag. I've had it screamed at me by potential gay bashers.
Which is why I didn't use it lightly. In fact it's the first time I've used it in more than 30 years (the last time was back when I was a school kid who didn't know any better). Why? Because I've lost patience with (some) gay and lesbian writers and editors who, when asked stop using a term that a number of trans people find equally problematic when used by non-trans people, not only continue to use it, but then go on to arrogantly proclaim their right to decide what's offensive to others, and belittle those who asked them to stop as being "overly sensitive."
My use of the term was a shock tactic intended to goad these folks into thinking about what they're saying, using a stark example that's close to home for them, since they've been utterly unwilling to put themselves in other people's shoes. I.e. "how would you like it if I took it upon myself to call you a faggot in the same way that you take it upon yourself to call trans people 'trannies'." Perhaps I could've more clearly posed it as a hypothetical, i.e. "how would you like it if I called you a..." But unfortunately, the experience of myself and others is that subtler arguments made in the past have just been blown off by these folks. So sometimes it takes a 2x4 between the eyes to get people's attention.
Those in question, including this particular editor, come across as being willfully oblivious. As someone aptly put it elsewhere -- in the case of the "pro-gay" radio DJ defending his right to call gays "fags":
When someone says you're doing something that hurts them, you could either a) stop doing it, or b) continue. Why would you continue? If you accidentally step on someone's foot in a crowd, and they say "Ouch!" would you apologize, or would you try to convince them that it really didn't hurt because you didn't mean any harm?
I understand if you're angered by my use of the term. But I hope you understand why I feel angered by those who insist on using a term they know that a number of trans people feel hurt by.
Incidently, I also meant the title of the piece ironically, inspired by the title of this article about hypocrisy.