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 Tranny-Alert.com. 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 tranny-alert.com 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:
THIS SITE IS IN NO WAY MEANT TO DISPARAGE OR BELITTLE ANY MEMBER OF THE LGBT COMMUNITY. WE HERE AT TRANNY ALERT ARE SIMPLY ADMIRERS OF THE BRAVERY AND UNIQUENESS OF THE ENTIRE TRANS-COMMUNITY. WHILE THERE IS A COMEDIC ELEMENT TO OUR SITE, UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCE DO WE CONDONE ANY MISTREATMENT OF ANY MEMBER OF THE LGBT COMMUNITY AND SUPPORT FULL AND EQUAL RIGHTS FOR ALL. FOR MORE INFORMATION PLEASE VISIT THE NATIONAL CENTER FOR TRANSGENDER EQUALITY AT HTTP://WWW.NCTEQUALITY.ORG/.
AND IF YOU ARE THINKING OF USING THIS SITE TO TRY TO LOCATE AND HARM ANY PERCIEVED TRANSGENDER INDIVIDUAL, JUST REMEMBER, THE GIRLS WILL COME FOR YOU. JUST ASK MIMI PLASTIQUE.
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.
- Trans Day of Action – Friday, June 27, NYC by Jack June 26, 2008
- “Women and Trans” Health Care Really Ought to Mean It by Holly June 27, 2009
- Remembrance and Action by Jack November 18, 2008
- Germaine Greer Paints a Portrait of Transphobic Feminism by Cara August 22, 2009
- Dr. Susan Stryker Tonight on Blogtalk Radio by Cara August 2, 2009