Halifax
13 min

The discussion continues: language and the trans community

Debate is good for the soul, the heart and the mind. 

In the case of the recent situation surrounding RuPaul’s Drag Race and the use of the term “she-male,” online spaces — from social media to blogs to mainstream journalism — have gone on to discuss the role and use of language as it applies to communities that often feel they are misrepresented.

In the case of this story, it has brought about everything from discussion of freedom of speech to the politics of drag and gender politics. 

Case in point: RPDR cast member Ben DeLa Creme recently posted a video entry where they spoke about the recent controversy, as well as their own feelings about the language used around gender and identity. It’s interesting to hear from someone who participated in the event that triggered all this discussion. Check it out below at the 5:41 mark.

However, some of the most interesting thoughts on this have been in the op-eds posted on such sites as The Huffington Post.  

Performer, musician and occasional Drag Race aide Our Lady J speaks of their own experience around the use of terms such as “she-male.”

Tranny, sissy, sex change, and she-male are self-identifying slang words used by gender-nonconforming people — mostly performers, artists, sex workers, and others considered to be living on the fringe of our queer community. Although we use these words playfully to relate, empower, and communicate, these words, like the word gay, are sometimes used to disrespect us.

. . .

Psychologists have long recognized the importance of play in childhood development of identity, and as people who have had the formation of queer identities delayed by social suppression, we need to remember the importance of play in our adult lives. The current class war within our community and its overpolicing of language threatens the core of our creative abundance. Are we really willing to sacrifice the heartbeat of our queer identities in order to calm the hissing ego of fanaticism?

On the other side of the coin, Brynn Tannehill, a semi-regular columnist for HP and a blogger on mental health, posted that:

[W]hen RuPaul and his supporters defend the use of the words tranny and she-male, it gives the power of those words to those who would castrate or put us on an island and drop an H-bomb on us. Defending those words is tacit permission to others to use those words as weapons, to openly manifest their hate, against people who lack the ability to fight back. We police words, because they have the power to drive us to despair when we live under an unending torrent of hate.

. . .

The excuse that theyre reclaiming the language does not hold water: you cant reclaim it while its still actively being used against you, and especially if the words are being used against some other group than your own. I cant accept the excuse that policing language is somehow a greater moral wrong than the harm of that language on the people it is being used against.

What are your thoughts on all of this? Leave your notes in the comments below.