March a Mile in My Shoes

It’s Gay Pride time here in New York City. Specifically, did you know that today is the 5th Annual Trans Day of Action? It’s a tradition we started / revived in the queer/trans people-of-color community around here for several reasons.

First, because we felt the need for another annual landmark to celebrate the lives and struggles of living trans people, in contrast to the somber, autumnal Trans Day of Remembrance. Second, because of an old tradition from decades past: gay pride parades that wanted to be “respectable” forbade trans people from marching on Sunday, so trans folks started their own march-in-exile on the Friday before. Third, because every year there is a lot of bullshit going down that threatens the lives and well-being of trans people, especially those who are marginalized and endangered by poverty, racism, disabilities, criminalization, unjust incarceration, homelessness, immigrant status, and much more. You can read the current list here, which is what the TDOA march was about today.

Here on the internet, there are a bunch of much more symbolic, less immediately-material issues bubbling up that have really been annoying me. Not as much as the city government here discriminating against trans people applying for welfare, but still very annoying in that internet way. Since I’ve built up a backlog, I thought I’d share them with you. An overview first, and more thoughts further down.

First of all,t the (now-defunct) websit That’s right, Tranny Alert. Let me just quote their mission statement.

Your site for all things tranny. Tranny spottings. Tranny news. Tranny everything! We are all trannies, all the time. Our site cannot survive without your submissions! Spot a tranny or suspected tranny around town? See a hot tranny mess? Observe a guidette in New Jersey with tranny style? Notice trannies on TV/Radio/Billboards? Find yourself at a Lady Gaga concert? WE WANT TO KNOW!

So it’s like a celebrity-spotting blog, except they take pictures of random trans women on the subway and publish them. Guess what they just Twittered this afternoon? “omg trannies are marching in union square right now is anyone with a camera in the area?” That’s right, it was the Trans Day of Action march that I mentioned earlier. Seriously, I hope some cameras explode in some trans-stalking faces.

UPDATE: The protest against the idiotic transphobic spew of seems to have resulted in their Facebook page being deleted, and their website either being taken down by Blogger, or removed by the owners. Congratulations, online agitators!

Second, the incredibly bigoted failure of this stand-up comedy bit by Iliza Shlesinger, the first woman (and most recent person) to win the Last Comic Standing reality series.

And finally, the increasingly common trend of everyone under the sun using the word “tranny” all the time. We’ve already talked about what’s most obvious: how it’s not OK for Christian Siriano and other non-trans to toss this term around for cred, especially with negative connotations. It’s a slur, folks. More recently, I came across a couple brilliant pieces of writing by iphisol and cedar (part 1 and part 2) about why it’s not really OK for anyone but trans women, who have been historically slurred with this term, to appropriate and throw it around like it’s hilarious hoppin’ party time. I agree with them.

More on “Tranny Alert”
I shouldn’t need to point out that this kind of website endangers the lives of trans women. It also contains more of the same jokes about how some women look like trans women that we’ve already pointed out (over and over) as massively misogynist and transphobic. Even when you do it to Ann Coulter. It’s not really “appreciation” or “admiration” at all. It’s like creepy birdwatching… of human beings. Human beings who are targeted for violence.

I don’t care whether the motivation is about how exotic trans folks are, or exposure of “suspected trannies,” or trying to get some fabulous fierceness rubbed off, or mockery, or fetishization. Unless you are actually informing people that they’re being photographed to go on a “Spot the Tranny” website and getting their consent, this kind of activity is totally immoral on top of threatening. In some cases, it’s actually illegal.

Even if you did get informed consent from people whose photograph you take, making a collection of “trannies and suspected trannies” online is deeply, deeply creepy and disgusting. If I were going to be extremely charitable, I would assume that this website is the product of dizzy-headed immaturity, an unhealthy wannabe / chaser obsession with trans women, or both.

A friend at the LGBT Community Center here in New York noticed this website this morning and we decided to start tweeting about it (check out #trannyalertfail if you want to retweet). Thanks for everyone who picked this up, especially my good friend and mentor gudbuytjane who started a call to action; their Facebook page has already been taken down. Why start a website like this and promote it so extensively on Facebook and Twitter, anyway? They’re issuing a statement some time tomorrow about the “backlash” to their site. That should be real fun to watch, especially since their defense so far has consisted of a tweet saying “Wow people really need to get a fucking sense of humor.” No, you need to get a functioning brain so you can comprehend how you’re disrespecting, slurring, and endangering people.

UPDATE: GLAAD has also gotten involved following gudbuytjane’s call to action, and is reaching out to the bloggers. They got Christian Siriano to apologize, and they’re generally better at being firm but nice to ignorant jerks than other people… like say, me. Go GLAAD, thanks for taking this on. Also, if you want to contact Blogger to get them to follow their own hate speech policy and take the blog down, report Tranny-Alert here.

The most hilarious thing on their site is the disclaimer, which they obviously think will excuse the fact that they’re spewing bigoted bile all over a blog:



And then they’ve got a video of Mimi Plastique defending herself on public transit from an asshole. Hey jerks — do you know why Ms. Plastique and so many other trans women HAVE to be so fucking fierce and ready to fight? It doesn’t just come with the heels and the makeup, do you know that? It’s because transphobia is everywhere. And you are spreading it. By taking photos of women on the subway or at parties and publishing them as “suspected trannies” on the internet, by posting personal ads from other sites that you think are “trannies,” by making fun of trans people’s clothes and bodies with your “comedic element,” you are pretty much just as bad as that guy who was foolishly messing with Mimi Plastique on the train. I don’t care if you support the biggest federal lobbying group for trans rights that you could find. That doesn’t excuse the bullshit you’re perpetrating on individual women.

And yeah, thanks for telling us that if anyone uses your site to try and locate and harm any trans people, the trans women will take care of them. Right. You’re not going to take responsibility for that action, and maybe you realize that the cops generally don’t try to solve the murders and assaults on trans people. So it’s up to trans women to take care of ourselves. Thanks a lot. You’re a great help to a population that’s still getting killed off at a rate 30 times higher than average. You and your cameras and your hilarious blog.

And you know what? “The girls will come” for you too. I’m glad you think you have to be so braaaave to go up and talk to trans women. Because you know what? You should be scared. If most trans women out there knew what you were doing, you would burst into flames from the looks you’d get, because it’s dangerous and wrong. And that’s just if you were lucky.

Everyone else: please help educate these people about their ignorance, and find ways to hold them responsible if they refuse to listen. I want that site gone. I don’t want any more women’s pictures on it.

More on Iliza Shlesinger
Hey, remember Last Comic Standing? That’s ok, I barely remember either. It’s a NBC reality show where rising-star stand-up comics compete with each other. A woman finally won last year, which was exciting. Oh wait, except it turns out she’s a totally bigoted jerk. Not only were there rumors about her being fatphobic towards Mo’nique (apparently since deleted from her Myspace), but apparently she thinks it’s a great idea to do stand-up comedy about how smelly old Russian people and homeless trans people are.

At this point, some of you might be thinking, come on Holly — do you expect anything better from stand-up comedy? Well, I try to. I have been getting a little spoiled by Sarah Haskins or even by 30 Rock, which includes “whoa being trans is so weird” jokes every so often, but at least in a way that often reflects on the characters’ on quirkiness or cluelessness. I have gotten used to the occasional jerk moment from guys like Jon Stewart, who seems like he basically tries to express good left-wing politics, but occasionally slips up and says something really gross about women, trans people, or other “still OK to make fun of” groups. It’s disappointing, but you get inured to it. And maybe I try to hope for a little better from female stand-up comics.

The stand-up bit I posted above, however, is like getting slapped in the face with a glove that has “you people are trash and I don’t even care” written all over it. It’s so unbelievably callous and ignorant that even with my cynical view of humanity, it’s hard to believe anyone would think it wasn’t rampant bigotry of the most callous sort.

You don’t want to leave your apartment because you’re scared of the smelly homeless trans women, Iliza? Why do you think trans women are so disproportionately homeless? It’s in large part due to attitudes like yours. You can’t understand how someone can put a feminine outfit together, but can’t get a job? Is that supposed to be a joke? Given how rampant discrimination is against trans people? “Huh huh, why don’t you get a job, loser. What’s stopping you?”

The worst part was when she jokes that trans women with five-o’clock shadow aren’t “committed” enough and are “half-assing their jobs, and should be fired.” I wish that Iliza Shlesinger could, for even one day, experience what it’s like to try and pass as a trans woman with facial hair that keeps growing in as stubble. It’s one of the hardest things for many trans women to deal with, in terms of appearance and safety and feelings of bodily integrity. Women spend thousands of dollars to try and deal with it, and a lot of people can’t afford that and spend even more money over a lifetime on expensive concealer. She doesn’t have even the slightest clue about what trans women go through, about what commitment is. About how people risk their lives, and get killed, because they are being authentic to themselves. It’s just a ripe subject for mockery.

Say what you will about how comedy’s noble goal is to skewer sacred cows, but this is deliberately and callously skewering some of the most marginalized and endangered women in our society, for cruelty kicks. It’s finding an “easy target” to beat on, to practice your neophyte comedy skills on. It’s not OK.

More on who should reclaim “tranny”
I don’t have much to add to what iphisol and cedar wrote. I agree with them, and I agree with a lot of the commenters. You know what else is telling? That most trans women I’ve seen offering opinions on the subject do agree with iphisol and cedar, and that it’s mostly transmasculine people who are complaining about how they want to say “tranny.” That should tell you something.

I know that things are different from town to town, community to community. I bet that there are cases where trans men, trans-masculine genderqueer folks, and other people on that “spectrum” have been slurred with that word. But by and large, that’s not my experience in the media culture, in incidents I’ve seen. Until relatively recently, when trans men became more of a media phenomenon (Thomas Beatie, Chaz Bono…), the word “tranny” was only ever used as a slur or an “inside slang” term that referred to trans women, or drag queens.

The reason some hipsters were able to pick the word up as “inside slang” was because yes, some trans women have always claimed this word for themselves. And my experience is that this is usually done either when you’re referring to yourself, or between friends. You don’t just call some girl you’ve never met before and who’s not part of your crowd a “tranny” out of the blue. So it’s no wonder that some cred-seeking hipsters, especially gay dudes, started adopting the same term to seem like they’re “down with the trannies.” But that’s not how the word got used in the rest of popular culture; hence, “eww, you have tranny hands” and “oh my god, I look like a tranny in that photo shoot!” and “Ann Coulter is totally a tranny.” Thanks, assholes.

None of those usages ever referred to trans men. But the playful “hip gay party” vibe combined with the fact that yes, it does seem to make sense on the surface that trans people in general ought to be able to use this term, started a wave of trans guys slinging “tranny” around constantly. This is what’s so disturbing: most trans women are NOT comfortable with this term outside certain contexts, because it does still have a slur connotation that has to do with “looking too masculine, being detectably ‘male’ somehow.” So when I see it, over and over again, in queer & trans communities around NYC an online, it’s always in relation to guys. Maybe that’s just my experience, the kinds of things I see in my communities. But it should be fairly obvious that something smells horribly wrong with that skew.

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25 comments for “March a Mile in My Shoes

  1. Sam
    June 26, 2009 at 10:05 pm

    I want to throw up on that site.

  2. June 26, 2009 at 10:13 pm

    Please do, maybe the server will short out.

  3. Nicole
    June 26, 2009 at 10:17 pm

    Thanks for the great post. Gods if it hasn’t felt like there has been a lot of trans fail on the interwebz lately and not just in places you expect.

    If you linked to this I missed it, so sorry! But you can report the site for hate speech here:

  4. June 26, 2009 at 10:22 pm

    Thanks Nicole! Forgot that people had found that.

  5. June 26, 2009 at 11:02 pm

    AWESOME UPDATE: GLAAD has gotten involved and is reaching out to Tranny-Alert, which is a good thing. Thanks GLAAD! Thanks gudbuytjane!

    I am thrilled this has been happening so fast after we discovered the site this morning.

  6. Mo
    June 26, 2009 at 11:58 pm

    I recently had a problem with this word. Being a larger woman, there are certain blogs I like reading. One until just now was “Manolo for the Big Girl”, which is about plus-sized fashion. A few days ago, I was disturbed by one of the blog authors describing getting ready for a summer wedding and telling the girl who does her eyelashes (does what? someone puts on mascara for her??) to “take it out to Tranny then come back a step”. While I was trying to figure out why that bothered me so much, she wrote a couple days later about an interview article she did. In the article, she talks about how plus sized gals should dress as well as they can afford, and a comment on the second page was about how she didn’t want to look cheap and she used the word Tranny again. That did it, I had to unsubscribe from the blog. BTW, I emailed about this to feministing. Guess I should have copied you guys, as you posted on the topic first. :) I just realized that her use of Tranny as equating looking tacky, overdone, and cheap was extremely insulting and degrading to an entire group of people. And honestly, that’s a bit hypocritical of someone who’s fighting for better treatment, even if it’s just from clothing designers.

  7. AbBa
    June 27, 2009 at 12:13 am

    What I hate most about the video is that she thinks being a transvestite is like a job. Like a clown or something, existing only to make people giggle behind their backs. I don’t have to commit myself to my gender, why should anyone else?…

  8. Nicole
    June 27, 2009 at 12:16 am

    I hope Sarah Haskins never gets into trans jokes. Would kill my faith in comedy.

  9. Amanda in the South Bay
    June 27, 2009 at 12:35 am

    I’m pretty uncomfortable with even trans women using it amongst ourselves. I only use it to myself in a very self deprecating manner, and even then I sorta cringe inwardly. I think reclaiming it is going to take a long time, if ever.

  10. June 27, 2009 at 12:56 am


    A few years ago a really good friend of mine (who is trans) was complaining about how she was having a bad hair day. She said something like “ugh. I just look like a tranny today.”

    And I mean, I think a lot of us just say or think that all the time. Of course she meant that she didn’t think she could pass, that she was afraid she was visibly identifiable as trans, that she was fitting some stereotype of what people think trans women look like (many of which are negative). I can’t imagine that many other groups of marginalized, oppressed people using a word that way in this day and age — “oh how awful, today I look like a [group I belong to].” Or at least, it’s understood by anyone with a shred of political awareness that this is a form of self-hatred that we hope to overcome. I don’t think that exists for trans folks, especially not for trans women. The majority of us don’t want to look like who we are, don’t even want to be who we are. I can’t really blame us, I often feel that way too, even if I understand it as self-hatred. We’d rather have been born different, non-trans, but with the same gender. It’s really hard to change that through political consciousness alone. Some people have embraced being recognized as trans as a positive, powerful thing, but for those of us who can pass at least part of the time, or simply can’t afford NOT to for safety reasons, it’s difficult to fully embrace.

    I said to her, “You know… if I were to tell you that you look like a tranny, if and when I ever say that, I’ll mean you look really fucking hot. Holy shit, you look like such a tranny today! Amazing! That’s what I want to mean by it.”

    We looked at each other and sighed. It was a nice thought. It was hard to sustain. That’s not what anyone really means by “tranny.” It’s always a little tragic, and trapped, and reveling in the self-deprecating humor of despair, or the manic glee of dancing and drinking and fucking the pain away.

  11. Jadelyn
    June 27, 2009 at 1:19 am

    I posted about the Tranny Alert bullshit earlier today at my blog, and reported them to Blogger. That is just one big flaming pile of what-the-fuck right there. I’m glad GLAAD is getting in on it, they usually get good results when they step in.

  12. June 27, 2009 at 1:37 am

    “We’d rather have been born different, non-trans, but with the same gender.” Or, perhaps being born trans, but having the “perfect” transition, where everything goes right, no passing issues whatsoever…

    Really, what will it take to get rid of the pervasive bigotry that Iliza Shlesinger is such a perfect example of? I don’t seriously expect her to physically assault someone who is trans, but hers is the more subtle, more widespread fear and loathing of trans people that usually results in denial of medical services, unemployment, blah blah blah we all know the depressing list. Maybe a bit of self loathing is to be expected after all.

  13. June 27, 2009 at 1:59 am

    Yeah, and for a potential example of that kind of “perfect transition,” see the next post up. Kids like that (raised in a 100% supportive environment) might not even have trans experiences in the ways that we might think of when we talk about dealing with being trans. If not for having to learn about society’s prejudices.

    As for Shlesinger, maybe I am just intersectional 2 the Xtreme, but I think that kind of callousness is just another example of widespread privilege-asshole ignorance of what anyone with less privilege is dealing with. Acting like homeless trans women turning tricks to survive somehow have a choice to just go and get a job, snap like that, is part and parcel of the same attitude that lets people say stuff like “well why don’t you just ignore the racism, instead of making a big deal about it” or “well, they must be choosing to be homeless, right? Why don’t they just go take a shower and get a job like everyone else, then they could live somewhere. There are plenty of places to rent around here and I can afford it.”

    It’s the same “let them eat cake” shit — having no idea what anyone else has to deal with and acting like anything less normal, less ideal, must be a choice. It reminds me of people I met when I first went to college who thought it must be so cool to be homeless and destitute, because you could just do whatever you wanted instead of being tied down. It’s the same with the five o’clock shadow joke; there’s no awareness, even in humor, that it’s not just a deliberate choice or “oops, you made a mistake and missed that” kind of thing. That it’s actually horribly difficult. How would she know? She’s privilege-blinded by her relative abundance of agency, feelings of freedom, feeling (kind of illusorily) that she gets to decide who she is and be an individual.

    Well, the same way I knew that being homeless was not a walk in the park when I was a teenager; my parents taught me stuff. And taught me, to some degree, that there were things outside my experience that I shouldn’t be quick to judge about, especially if something seemed strange or like a “dumb choice” to me. That there are lots of kinds of people in this world, and just because I might have some choices, not everyone does. Awareness of privilege, which has to be followed by some ideas of what to do with your privilege.

    Of course, this is also tied in with why people think it’s fine to discriminate against trans people in many other ways — because obviously you must be “choosing” to look like that. Feh.

  14. Medea
    June 27, 2009 at 6:38 am

    Jon Stewart does fail, and he’s been disappointing me more lately, but watching Iliza Shlesinger’s clip made me realize the depths to which a comedian can sink. There’s no humor, just meanness. I hope her career doesn’t go far.

  15. June 27, 2009 at 10:21 am

    BREAKING UPDATE: The Tranny Alert blog has been removed. Not clear whether it’s Blogger that did it, or if the owners finally gave up on what was always a TERRIBLE idea. They removed most of the non-celebrity photos earlier today.

  16. June 27, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    The simple fact that the murder rate for trans people is around 1 in 12 should be enough to make anyone with a heart shiver.

    That’s 8.3%. To compare, the overall US homicide rate is 5.5 in 100,000, or 0.0055%.

    One in fucking twelve. And you’re sitting there joking about how pathetic and scary and non-human they are — or even encouraging people to hunt them down?

    I hope you’re fucking proud.

  17. Jadey
    June 27, 2009 at 12:51 pm

    Thanks for blogging about this, Holly. Signal boosted on my facebook, fwiw.

  18. Napalm Nacey
    June 27, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    Good to know, Holly. Great news!

  19. Harumph
    June 27, 2009 at 9:43 pm

    UGH that comedian went to Emerson College here in Boston, and the Emerson radio station has been making congrats to itself announcements about graduating an-award winning comic. Figures she’s hateful and not even that funny otherwise…

  20. June 28, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    Hey Holly,

    Thanks again for bringing the whole #trannyalertfail mess to my attention on Friday. I’m glad I was able to play a part in raising awareness of the site and its sickening and dehumanizing disregard for trans women’s safety.

    I’ve since exposed the creator (or one of the creators) of the site. Despite doing so in a safe, respectful manner (although I found his name and photo, I didn’t post either publicly).

    The loud, vocal defenders of the site (mostly Twitter user @MARYNUGGS) are now accusing me of threatening minors (huh?), and are generally pissed off that their privacy is potentially compromised. How’s that for a truckload of irony?

    Unfortunately, this highlights a disturbing tendency for entitlement among certain more-privileged LGB’s to pick and choose any queer identity and feel they have rights to use it as they see fit. That the site creator was a white, gay cisgender man really saddens me, but it shows how genuine these people’s “love” and care for trans women is.

    Ironically,‘s ridiculous disclaimer got one point right: Don’t mess with trans women, or we’ll kick your ass.

    Oh, and Iliza Shlesinger, when I wrote about that video a few weeks ago a friend of mine messaged her MySpace about it, and got an incredibly incoherent, defensive reply. I should forward that to you, Holly, it is full of “Wait, did you just say that?” moments (such as the assertion that prostitiutes are and always will be fair game for comedians). I think Shlesinger’s lack of talent will scuttle her career, or at most she’ll be a D-list satellite of the Howard Stern/Jay Mohr dude-iverse.

    It’s sad that women are forced to being agents of sexism to find a voice in some areas of comedy, but there are other places she could choose to do her art. She’s consciously decided to be transphobic, sexist, and fatphobic, and is thus worthy of our criticism.

    – A.

  21. Butch Fatale
    June 29, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    Thanks for posting this, Holly. I don’t have a lot to add right now, but I wanted to say I’m glad that awful site has been taken down.

  22. UnFit
    June 29, 2009 at 8:22 pm

    Somehow I fail at blockquotes

    “Second, because of an old tradition from decades past: gay pride parades that wanted to be “respectable” forbade trans people from marching on Sunday, so trans folks started their own march-in-exile on the Friday before.”

    Wow. I did not know that. That’s pretty screwed up.

    Over here (Germany) we have a tendency for queer folks to become a lot more mainstream and focus heavily on the differences that still exist between the sort-of-civil union thing we have as opposed to fully equal gay marriage. But I’m not aware of trans people being explicitly excluded from any public action, ever. (There’s the odd old school women-only joint that will at least frown at trans women joining, but I think that tendency is waning, too.)

  23. July 1, 2009 at 3:36 am

    Thanks Nicole! Good to do!

Comments are closed.