On Trans Men and the Word “Tranny,” or: Cut Your Entitled Bullshit Out
“Tranny” is a word that a lot of people think is subversive, cool, and theirs to use. Interestingly, many of those who most ardently defend their right to use it are those least connected to its violent history as a slur used against transgender women. The word is deeply bound to regulating and insulting femininity and womanhood, and has historically been used as a slur against people who were assigned male at birth or are read as men, but who present in ways that are read as female or feminine. In popular culture, it is often used by gay cis men and cis women via terms like “hottrannymess,” a descriptor of disheveled and failing femininity. Plug the T word into an image search engine. Call me when the results are overwhelmingly masculine presenting individuals. I will be sitting in a corner holding my breath and counting the seconds.
Now, being transgender is never a walk in the park, unless it’s a walk in the park that involves verbal harassment. But, please, let’s not pretend everyone is on equal ground. We’re not. Vectors of access based on race, class, citizenship status, ability, ETCETERA, all have a huge impact on a person’s ability to, like, not get incarcerated and murdered and shit. But let’s not forget that thing those annoying old feminists (Boo! Hiss!) always bring up: gender. Here’s the thing about identity: walking down the street, or in the club, or pretty much anywhere but your radical queer vegan potluck, no one gives a shit about ~how you identify~. Interpellation don’t give a fuck, broskis, if you’re read as a man you have male privilege and not amount of “but I’m trans!” or “I’ve never experienced male privilege!” is going to get you out of that.
AND LET’S JUST GET SOMETHING GAY: Being told you have a privilege is not the same as being judged, condemned, or rejected, at least not if you are talking to rational humans. What it actually means is that the world is easier for you to navigate than it is for other folks and that you might have some blind spots with regards to understanding where these folks are coming from. And when someone tells you “hey, you’re being hurtful,” it IS NOT the time for you to repetitively bark out “But that’s just like, your opinion, man.” Don’t be surprised if shit gets real when you respond aggressively to being called out. (And to be clear, telling people to “suck your dick,” and “shut the fuck up,” and calling them “lying little shits,” then complaining that they’re acting aggressive and being critical? That’s hella bullshit.)
Let me say again, privilege often is about how others read you, not what you have to say about yourself. In many cases it is conditional, it is dependent on your trans status being concealed and if you aren’t super masculine you might get read as a gay and therefore experience homophobia. But ask yourself some real questions: Are you white? Are you relatively economically stable? Do you have health insurance? Do you live in an urban area? Do you have a place to live? Do you engage in criminalized activities (such as drug sales and sex work [which is where the T word became popularized]) in order to survive? What is your citizenship status? On the street, are you read as a man or a woman? Look at the stats on whose names are read on the Trans Day of Remembrance. How many of them are white men? How many are women of color?
BECAUSE OH RIGHT, MISOGYNY IS STILL A THING AND BEING TRANS IS SUBJECT TO DISCOURSES OF POWER OUTSIDE OF TRANSPHOBIA. Just because you’re trans does not exempt you from the patriarchal binary gender system. You’re still a dude in a very dude-positive/lady-negative culture, and the queer community is no more immune to that than you are. It’s not to say that you don’t face oppression as a trans man. Health insurance that covers medical interventions, changing government documentation, employment discrimination, and yes, harassment and violence, can still be terrible realities for you. But your oppression is CATEGORICALLY different from trans women’s. They deal with not only transphobia but misogyny as well, and are more often criminalized and harassed by the police. Keep in mind, due to relatively lower levels of visibility in U.S. culture, trans men are often perceived as either cis gay men or cis lesbians, and discriminated against as such (for example I have often been called a fag and a dyke, but never a tranny). Whereas trans women are often explicitly read as TRANS, and are typically discriminated against for being trans with the contentious word at hand. This difference in trans visibility is influenced by the hatred of women and the hatred of femininity in our culture. Generally speaking, for a body marked as female to embody masculinity is less shameful than for a body marked as male to have a feminine or embodiment. See the relative acceptance of tomboys (until a certain age, at least) versus the intolerance of boys who are “sissies,” for example. For a “woman” to embody masculinity in male supremacist culture is, while still frowned upon, more readily understood. But if a “man” does not claim “his” historically mandated privilege of masculinity and manhood, it is confounding. It is dangerous. It must be stopped.
Look at the difference between portrayals of trans men vs. trans women. Trans men might have less visibility, but in both the mainstream and in queer communities, we are seen as radical, desirable, brave, and cool. Even the media gives us Thomas Beatie, a dad, and Chaz Bono, a regular dudebro with a prime time special about how much of a regular dudebro he is, misogyny and all. And trans women? In radical queer spaces they are often accused of being backwards and conservative, of “reifying the gender binary.” In popular culture they are at best jokes and at worst deceitful and dangerous. While trans men complain about visibility, many trans women live lives that are barely conceived of as life at all; they are inherently precarious and therefore violence against them is of little consequence and is often encouraged. Precarity: think about that word before claiming you are “equally marginalized.”
Technically, yes, people can ~identify~ however they want. Technically, yes, people can use whatever language they want. But the wild thing about free speech, is that you can say however many hurtful things you want and I can say that language doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and people should be able to let you know you’re being hurtful without being told to suck in dick in reply. (Which, is such a cartoonishly masculinist response to being called out for misogyny, I could cry. But then I’d probably get told to man up.) The word “tranny” is about so much more than transphobia, and it’s blatantly ignorant not to acknowledge its ties to the regulation of femininity and the objectification of trans women.
Some trans women like the word! But that’s their choice to make. Why Not Listen To What They Have To Say About It. It’s a powerful, painful word, and at the end of the day, take a step back from your desire to be subversive and look at how using that word makes you complicit in the hurt it causes. The word is about a lot more than bruised feelings; I’m talking about trauma. As a man in a male supremacist society, trans or not, you really don’t get to say what is and isn’t sexist, and claiming and identifying with a word that is used to dehumanize and justify violence against women is a pretty fucked up thing for a dude to do. You can’t just say you’re a trans activist and then throw the other half of your community under the bus.