There are some words you only really see in newspapers.
You’ve probably just thought of a couple. Things like “romp” for a bout of sexual activity, or “tot” for a child, along with plenty of others. People don’t really talk like that, but the massive headline fonts put limitations on the lengths of words that can fit on the page.
One word not appearing on that list is “tranny”, in the sense of a newspaper-friendly abbreviation of either “transvestite” or “transsexual”. (There’s a colossal difference between the two, which I’ve seen newspapers entirely fail to make before.) [Edit: “Transgender” may also be distinct from “transsexual”, in ways not obviously appreciable to everyone but which might well matter to those people who actually use them.]
Transvestites, transsexuals, and often anyone who crosses the strict gender lines in an unfamiliar way, can still fall under the category of “acceptable targets”. It’s tacitly recognised that it doesn’t really matter how you treat them, or what disparaging terms you use, because it’s all weird and scary and doesn’t deserve compassion or understanding. They’re just weird. Eugh.
Kinda like what was generally accepted about gay people not that long ago. And black people not that long before that.
Incidentally, I wonder whether it’s odd that deviating from the strict, heteronormative gender roles in perhaps the most significant way – having sex with people you wouldn’t traditionally be expected to – has gained such ground in terms of widespread tolerance, while relatively minor aberrations like being a bloke in a dress still attract such publicly acceptable ridicule.
The point is, it’s easy to look at stuff like this and think that it’s a bit of a non-story. She’s being a bit petty, and it’s really not worth getting this bothered about, and she should just let it go, and it’s not that big a deal, and it’s just a silly word.
It’s very easy to dismiss it like that. As easy as it was for previous generations to take the same attitude to fags and negroes, I imagine.
I’m not sure the exact nature of the parallel I should be drawing there. I’m the privileged white guy, and I don’t want to demean the history of black oppression by assuming I understand it well enough to use it as an appropriate comparison. Just how offensive is the word “tranny”? Is it as bad as “faggot”? Or “nigger”?
My guess is, it’s as bad as the people who have it hurled against as a term of abuse are made to feel.
I don’t think I need to recap the fact of violence and abuse toward people whose gender identity is anything other than perfectly straightforward and conventional and in line with the physical form they were born with. It needs active opposition and engagement, and will do for as long as we live in a culture where things like this happen:
A Long Island man fatally beat a 17-month-old infant he was babysitting because the child was acting like a girl, and not like a boy.
Authorities say Jones also told them, ‘I was trying to make him act like a boy instead of a little girl. I never struck that kid that hard before.’
A kid less than two years old got beaten to death because of some guy’s idea of how boys and girls “should” behave.
Now, this is an extreme case. If things really occurred as alleged in that article, then this guy’s extensive list of personal problems neither begins nor ends with some old-fashioned ideas about gender.
And I’m certainly not saying that this is where all instances of mild transphobia will inevitably lead. People who scoff at other people’s unfamiliar and unconventional decisions about gender identity are not as bad as child murderers.
But they’re also not helping.
The same attitude lies at the root of much of these problems. And every dismissive “tranny” headline does a little bit to just slightly reinforce the message: “It’s okay, everyone’s taking the piss out of them for being different and weird, they’re not really people, not like us normals, not like you and me – so there’s no need to remember all those things like courtesy and respect and decency and compassion that you have to grit your teeth and go along with for other people.”
I can sympathise with anyone for whom particular care and delicacy on this subject may not come naturally. Nobody was really noticing it until recently, and it might seem unsettling if you’re suddenly being told off for just having a bit of harmless fun with some weirdo. But your grandma might be equally bemused by the way black people don’t do what they’re told any more, and seem to have no respect for their betters these days, not like they used to, when they knew their place.
Whatever’s going on inside someone else’s head that you can’t relate to, they’re still people. And if they don’t mean anyone harm, they deserve better than to be made to feel bad because of careless abuses of language from the rest of us.
Hat-tip to The F-Word Blog for the links.