Today is the Transgender Day Of Visibility, a yearly day to show support for the trans community, to help speak to and empower those who are trans. While #TDOV is every day for most of us, for much of America (Ahem, *North Carolina*.) that is not the case.
I wanted to celebrate the day by highlighting some recent writing by my all time biggest girl crush—Laura Jane Grace—discussing the biggest bad word in the trans community: the T word, “tranny.” The word is very divisive and stands next to the F word for gay people (“faggot”), the D word for lesbians (“dyke”), and the N word for black people (“nigger”). The words are occasionally employed by those in the respective family as a means of reclaiming but, yes, these are definitely bad words. These are not words to use lightly (or ever).
Yet, that’s the name of Grace’s new book. Why did she pick it? It’s a very interesting story. She recently took to her Noisey column to talk about the T word. Similar to a recent debate of the word played out on I Am Cait, she unpacks it with both an embracing and repulsion.
She frames the story with a little background, of how she got introduced to the word in its lighter context.
The word has power, a lot of power. It’s a word most certainly used during murders of transgender people all over the world. It is a universal word of hate. It makes my skin crawl to hear it. I despise the fucking word, just as much as I despise the person I used to be. But I love art and I love free speech and I love words. In art, freedom of speech and expression must be complete and total.
When I came out as transgender in 2012, I was fully prepared for the word to be shouted at me in animosity. I even planned out in advance what my exact response would be when I finally did encounter it. I was just going to be super cool and calm about it, and let it slide right off my fucking shoulders and move on living. But, oddly enough, the first person to call me a “tranny” was not a raging transphobe, but another transgender person. The slur wasn’t said in hate, they weren’t angry with me, they were saying it conversationally. They were speaking “tranny to tranny,” they told me.
She continues, in and out of why it’s loved and hated, settling on something very important: how others who love her may react to the word being tossed at her, specifically her young daughter. That, she explains, gives her pause.
That’s what she’s trying to do: let people know that the word is loaded, that it is a curse. You cannot use it but we—the community she is apart of—can.
I’ve thought a lot about what my six-year-old daughter’s relationship with the word will be. I often wonder when and how she will first hear it. Who is going to say it to her? Another kid at school? No, fuck that. I’m going to be the one to say it. I want to be the one who sits down with her and lets her hear it.
Evelyn, there is this word, “tranny,” and it’s worse than any curse word you can say to some people, worse than “fuck” or “shit.” But darling, you also have to understand that some people—people I am even friends with and whom I love dearly—say the world freely and even in reference to themselves and they don’t have any problem with it, and that’s totally okay for them to do and there’s nothing wrong with it.”
I’ll then tell her that I personally don’t ever want to be called a tranny, that it would hurt my feelings. I’ll also have to explain to her that I wrote a book, and that I called that book TRANNY, and that inside that book are a lot of things about me that may be hard to understand. They may be sad or ugly, but I can’t change the past, I can only try and be the best version of myself today. After that, it will be up to her to decide her relationship to the word and how she would feel about using it and how she will react when she hears other people use it.
It’s an important discussion and something we can all dwell on: hate words have power, even when we strip them of said power.
I know this very well having grown up getting called “fag” and “gay” and any other purple poisoned word. At the start of college, before I even realized I was gay or even out, I decided to embrace it, to let the word wash over me and be me. People would call me those hate words and I chose confront it, asking them, “And? What?” and that would annoy them and they would walk away, relenting to the shock of having found the faggot they were searching for. I own the word, I let it stand on my head, to be as faggy as I can possibly be. Sometimes you have to be a visual representation of your minority! I came out of the closet one time and I never want to be questioned about how faggy I am. (Although, really, it’s funny when people confuse me for not-gay.)
Grace has a similar duality and, of course, many in minority communities wrestle with these words and their power. How do these words relate to us? Do they give us power or tear us down? Who do they belong to? It would be great if they could all disappear but, alas, they won’t be going anywhere for some time.
So, like Laura Jane Grace, let’s meditate on and try to both sage the hate from them and let people know that it is a no-no. Happy Transgender Day Of Visibility, y’all.