Meditations on the T-Word

Last week, The Link published an article on the annual Rocky Horror Picture Show Halloween Ball (“Welcome to Transsexual Transylvania” [Vol. 33, Iss. 11]) The article used the word ‘tr*nny’ to describe the back-up dancers in the performance that accompanied the film. This is a slur that has historically been used against transsexual women.

Opinions Editor Hilary Sinclair had emailed me about this subject the night before the paper came out. I got to read writer Elysha del Giusto-Enos’ original lead, which used to t-word. When I told them that it was offensive, they wrote a new lead that didn’t use it.

I think that she could have picked a different introductory sentence for her Rocky Horror article, but after being told by Hilary that I had solved an office debate about the word, I had vainly hoped that the article would not use the slur at all.

Hilary and I spoke a few days later and she acknowledged that she wasn’t sure how The Link would deal with other slurs if an interviewee used hurtful, intolerant language towards other groups.

While the word is used, to my understanding, with relative glee in Rocky Horror, I also cannot recall any transsexual characters. Actor Tim Curry plays Dr. Frank-N-Furter in the film. To my knowledge, Tim Curry is not a transsexual. In the movie, he plays a self-identified “sweet transvestite.”

Is it okay for a non-transsexual actor playing a transvestite to speak a slur that is still being reclaimed by some (but not all) trans* people? I am not sure how to answer this one.

However, Kate Bornstein, gender theorist and performer, has written in her blog, “No matter what ideas you might have about transsexuals or drag queens, if you were M headed toward F in any fashion at all, you moved into, through, up and out of the drag queen community.

“So there was always a bond between the drag queens and the MTF transsexuals in Sydney. The bond was so strong, they invented a name for the identity they shared: tranny. It was a name that said family.

“Tranny began as a uniting term amongst ourselves. Of course it’s going to be picked up and used as a denigrating term by mean people in the world. But even if we manage to get them to stop saying tranny like a thrown rock, mean people will come up with another word to wound us with. So, let’s get back to using tranny as a uniting term amongst ourselves.

“It’s our first own language word for ourselves that has no medical-legacy. Even if (like gay) hate-filled people try to make tranny into a bad word, our most positive response is to own the word—a word invented by the queerest of the queer of their day. We have the opportunity to re-create tranny as a positive in the world.”

There is a part of me who wants to agree with Bornstein, but there is also an uncomfortable little worm in me that says, ‘Hey, wait, I thought you hated that word!’ I am not sure how to resolve those two parts of me but at the same time, I also feel like I might have bigger things to worry about than a word—like the end of semester!

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