[I]f you’re offended by someone calling you a “tranny,” it was only because you believe you are a “tranny!” So then, the solution is: Change your mind about yourself being a “tranny.”


The first principle of non-violent action is that of non-cooperation with everything humiliating.

~Cesar Chavez

Image: Autumn SandeenI’m not happy at all with RuPaul and his recent statements regarding use of the word “tranny” (which for the rest of this article I’m going to write as tr***y because so many trans people — including me — find the term to often be a pejorative). He wants those of us trans people who object to use of the term as a demeaning pejorative to define ourselves by the demeaning pejorative. He apparently wants all of us to cooperate with being humiliated with deriding, dehumanizing, humiliating words — whether that word be the n-word, the c-word, the antigay f-word epithet, and antitrans terms such as tranny, shim, shemale, it, and thing because those terms are just words.

I’m not exaggerating. For those who haven’t read the Huffington Post: Gay Voices interview of RuPaul by Michelangelo Signorile, here’s an excerpt of the interview:

Michelangelo Signorile: [Tr***y is] something that a lot of activists feel though is used against them in a negative way. But, I mean, lesbians, a lot of them call themselves dyke too, right? So, you can call yourself these words.

RuPaul: Right, because they’ve earned the right to do it. And in the ACT UP age we called ourselves queers because we earned the right, we took the word back. But in reality, once you go even deeper, you know, you have to come from intent. And black folks call themselves the n-word all the time. It’s because the intent is coming from a place of love. If the intent is coming from a place of hatred, that’s different. But you can’t legislate intent. You can’t — there’s no way to do it. So, the truth is, you have to fix that individually on a one by one basis. If somebody calls you a green [M]artian, would you be offended by it? No, you wouldn’t be. Why? Because you know you’re not a green martian. But if you’re offended by someone calling you a “tr***y,” it was only because you believe you are a “tr***y!” [laughter.] So then, the solution is: Change your mind about yourself being a “tr***y.”

As well as this excerpt:

Michelangelo Signorile: On this idea of how people identify, what they call themselves, a lot of controversy too, lately, over the word “tr***y”–

RuPaul: Yes.

Michelangelo Signorile: Lance Bass just apologized for using the word “tr***y.” What do you think of all that?

RuPaul: [Laughter] It’s ridiculous! It’s ridiculous! Words — it goes back to grade school: Sticks and stones, you know the rest. The thing is you have to look at the ego, you have to follow the money, and the payoff. And the payoff is that the ego wants attention no matter what. It will try to get it wherever the hell it can, whether it’s positive or negative. So you have to ignore it basically — you have to starve it out. And unfortunately in our culture one person can write a letter to the network and they shut something down. It’s unfortunate. But I love the word “tr***y.”

And no one has ever said the word “tr***y” in a derogatory sense. In fact, you have to go to the intent of the person saying it. Of course Lance Bass, his intent would never be to be derogatory. Never. So, you know, that’s really ridiculous. And I hate the fact that he’s apologized. I wish he would have said, “F-you, you tr***y jerk!”

So in other words, if I (or any other trans community member) called for RuPaul to apologize for his embracing of the term tr***y for all trans people, he’s said he’d tell me to f*** off — then call me the term I just would have told him is one I find a pejorative. Nice.

RuPaul is a public figure. He has a reality show entitled RuPaul’s Drag Race on LOGO, and the show is starting up a new season. RuPaul won the GLAAD Media Award for Best Reality Program in 2010 for that show:

GLAAD’s tag line is “Words and images matter.” This in notable because in January of 2009 — before RuPaul won that GLAAD Award — he commented on tr***y for the Dallas Voice.

What occured was that the Dallas Voice sometimes employed the producer of Ticked Off Tr***ies With Knives, Israel Luna. The publication glowingly reported about that film and the producer Luna, but when trans people objected to the premise of the film, and objected to how the film and the Voice used tr***y when a significant number of trans people object to the term, the Dallas Voice‘s Life and Style editor Daniel A. Kusner interviewed RuPaul and got his take on tr***y. The article by Kusner was entitled RuPaul approves ‘tr***y’, and quoting from the article:

[More below the fold.]

“Okay, Let me put on my Judge Judy robe,” RuPaul says. “People really need to get a life. And quit taking every opportunity to be offended by the world. Years ago, political correctness made it unbearable for anyone to have a laugh or be free. You can’t make the whole world ‘baby safe.’ That’s really the uneducated approach to dealing with issues.

“There are more things to do in this life than to try to correct people with how they should refer to you. That’s your problem. That’s not their problem,” she continues.

…”We are obsessed with trying find areas where we get offended,” RuPaul says. “And people who identify as being victims have a hard time accepting a new identity. They hold their ‘victim identity’ in place. And they continue to look for people or organizations where they can point their finger at and, in essence, confirm their victimhood.”

…”When we say ‘tr***y,’ 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.”

So RuPaul espoused essentially the same view to the Dallas Voice in 2009 as the one he espoused to the Huffington Post in 2012.

Personally, I sat through the Angie Zapata Hate Crime Murder Trial in Greeley, Colorado in early spring of 2009, and listened to Angie’s killer refer to Angie as “it” and “thing.” I’ve personally had “it,” “thing,” “shim,” and “tr***y” used among other terms as epithets against me. In one case I was called tr***y by a white supremacist, and in another case was referred to as Pam’s House Blend’s “house tr***y” by an antitransgender activist.

And in one case, I had a Federal Marshal refer to me as a “shim.” Many of us in LGBT community are personally aware that societal authority figures sometimes refer to us by pejoratives.

In the latest interview of RuPaul by Michelangelo Signorile, RuPaul stated:

…And no one has ever said the word “tr***y” in a derogatory sense. In fact, you have to go to the intent of the person saying it.

RuPaul is apparently willfully ignorant of how pejoratives such as tr***y are used; RuPaul is utterly wrong in his assertion that tr***y is never used in a derogatory sense.

In the old 2009 interview RuPaul said “There are more things to do in this life than to try to correct people with how they should refer to you. That’s your problem. That’s not their problem.” In the new 2012 interview RuPaul said “And listen, if you’re offended by a name that somebody calls you, or something, whatever, you gotta take that up with your therapist, kiddo…”

Well, it’s not just my trans peers’ and my “problem” when epithets and pejoratives are used to refer to us. It’s also the problem of the people who use the terms when they know people are offended by the terms — it’s and issue of sensitivitiy to the concerns of others. And well, some of us in community don’t want to reclaim particualar words that have been used against us as epithets.

Donna Rose wrote a letter to the Dallas Voice about that 2009 article excerpted above, and she wrote this in response to Kusner and RuPaul:

Words matter. Labels matter. As a writer you, better than anyone, should know that. Those of us who advocate for “marriage” over “civil unions” for same-sex couples are well aware of the social and cultural weight that words can carry and the strong emotions that they can generate.

You don’t hear transpeople telling others to get over their sensitivities and grow up, or of dismissing the importance of these things to others. Many of us respect these sensitivities simply because we recognize the importance. I’d urge that you demonstrate that same level of respect in how you handle sensitive issues about the transgender community. The way you handled it this time smacks of disrespect.

Contrary to what some would believe, those of us who self-identify as transgender are not simply a collection of confused victims, loud whiners and needy complainers. Our voice and our sense of dignity is no less worthy of respect simply because we’re a minority within other minorities or that some would identify us as historically easy targets.

Transgender is a community of communities with a wide variety of opinions, ideas, comforts, discomforts, needs, goals and labels we use to describe ourselves. Our diversity is not something any of us need to apologize for. Indeed, it’s something about which many of us are proud. I recommend that you to make an effort to actually get to know us before you try to define us.

In 2009 to now, I feel like I’m experiencing RuPaul Derailing For Dummies You’re Just Oversensitive/You Just Enjoy Being Offended/Being Offended Is Great For You moments. Paraphrasing a bit:

You’re disowning your own responsibility, and this is absolutely the crux of any derailment – you just can’t repeat or reinforce it often enough. No matter what, none of this is your fault – nothing you said that was hurtful, offensive, bigoted or discriminatory is really to blame here, because you said it in all innocence! After all, what reason have you ever had to examine your ingrained prejudices? Why should you start now?

So you want the marginalized person to know this is how you feel and that you really believe the responsibility is all theirs – if they weren’t looking so hard for offence, everything would be a lot more pleasant…for you.

GLAAD’s tag line is “Words and images matter.” I will hope GLAAD takes this issue of RuPaul’s insensitivity to those of us trans people in LGBT community by publicly commenting on it because…well, RuPaul’s words matter.

I will also hope people in LGBT community take the use of a term that a significant number of trans people find offensive seriously as well; I will hope that LGBT community members take it seriously when a public figure in LGBT community is embracing and advocating insensitivity towards the significant number of trans people who find the term “tr***y” to be an offensive, demeaning, and dehumanizing.

And, LOGO should look at this too. LOGO needs to own that one of their reality show stars has made long running comments about terminology a significant number of trans people find offensive, and to us in trans community who object to being characterized as tr***ies…well, he’s told us he will tell us to f***-off, and that he will call us the very pejorative we object to.

Is that the kind speech LOGO wants to embrace? I’m personally not going to cooperate with humiliating and demeaning labeling — we’re going to see if LOGO is going to cooperate with one of their reality show stars using which a significant number of trans people find to be humiliating and demeaning speech to define the trans people in LGBT community.

Further reading:
* Transadvocate: RuPaul: F*** You, You Silly F****t! (A much harsher take than mine on the controversy – with four-letter and antigay language. ~A).

Autumn Sandeen

Autumn Sandeen