Liz Liguori

Last night, I was talking with someone who is in their early 20s about the troubles developing around the use of the word "tranny," and they got very passionate, saying, "I HATE GENDER! Fuck gender!"

I asked, "How could gender change so that you wouldn't be so upset by it?" They said, "I don't know, I just wish I could set it on fire and get rid of it and make it go away! IT'S SO STUPID! I HATE IT!"

All I could say was: "I totally understand how you feel. So try to imagine feeling the way you feel right now for every day of your life until you're 50. Then see how that weighs on ya!"

Gender, as we know it, sucks? Okay! Let's try to come up with something else!

Why don't we start by addressing the recent controversy over the use of the word "tranny"?

Tranny was invented as a term of affection between those of us who wished to live outside the gender binary system, but now a new generation of trans activists finds that word to be deeply offensive and have sought to banish it entirely. For the record, I'm sorry the word we made up was overheard by mean people and has been used to cause so much pain to those who are experiencing transphobia in their young lives. It breaks my heart that transphobes from within and outside of our "community" have used that word to inflict pain on people. I am delighted that the word "queer," a word that continues to be loathed by a huge number of conservative, mostly bourgeois members of the LGBT community—a controversial and reclaimed umbrella term we fought hard for—has become a word that many conservative, state- and university-educated young "activists" seem to be able to cope with. For now.

You never know, though—next week, "queer" may once again become a forbidden word. But ultimately, we live in the present, and if it's not important to them how their level of comfort with the word "queer" came about, it really, truly doesn't matter.

Some of these young activists have been attacking self-identified trannies on the internet for using that word. I have felt the rage and anger they've directed at those of us who have different understandings of the words "queer" and "tranny." It hurts to a degree, but it's not a new pain. My greatest wish, and I mean this with my whole heart, is that the strategies they are using to combat transphobia now will lead to the better world they are hoping for. And it seems to me that there is room for both strategies (reappropriation and word-policing), because progress will most likely come about through trans visibility and dialogue around these issues, which will educate and illuminate, with the desired goal of ultimately making room in the world for an infinite variety of gender expressions.

But if by erasing the word "tranny," they hope to get rid of embarrassing associations with trans sex workers, drag performers, trashy gender fuckers, and other self- identified "freaks" who choose to live outside the binary gender system, they are in for a big disappointment, and in my opinion, they should be ashamed of themselves. Long before and even since Stonewall, the gay bourgeoisie has tried to hide the drag, leather, and trans subcultures away from the mainstream media to present a "positive" face in order to gain mainstream acceptance for the heteronormative LGBT people of their own class. This was also a strategy adopted by many feminists when they tried to purge lesbians from their ranks when feminism started to get a lot of mainstream attention. It didn't work for them, and it won't work for the (hopefully) well-intentioned trans "activists" who are getting a lot of mainstream media play and who have been have attacking other people who have more liberal and fluid notions of what gender can be.

This argument around word-policing has mistakenly been described as "a generational thing." It's not. It's about conservative tactics versus more progressive ones, and traditionally conservative media outlets like the Advocate as well as private and state-run academic institutions are more than happy to give them a platform. Before "Queer Studies" programs became institutionalized, there were loudmouthed, rebellious queers who were a threat to the status quo, and they were hated. Banning words is censorship, and censorship is a conservative tactic. Maybe you've heard this one? "I don't mind that you're gay, but do you have to talk about it all the time?"

Many people who wish to be seen as the men or women they are don't want to hear about, or be associated with, others who make them question their own strictly defined ideas of what it is to be "male" or "female" and how they should be treated as such. This applies to the desired acknowledgement of privilege exhibited by transphobes who yell "tranny" at people while physically attacking them, as well as those suffering from internalized transphobia who attack self-identified trannies on the internet for using that word. And then there are the people who grew up straight, white, and privileged, who transitioned without any meaningful, experiential knowledge of the queer community. Oftentimes they're the loudest, because they aren't used to being contradicted and are accustomed to having things their own way.

I have said many times that our consciousness around gender is evolving much more quickly than the language used to describe it. If these transgender activists wish to get rid of the word tranny because it's hurtful and offensive, I would like to know which other words they would rather use to describe people who inhabit the spaces between traditional gender representations. What are the acceptable words for those of us who refuse to identify as male or female? Please let us know. Because on most legal forms, we don't exist. If you were born male or female, or if you've transitioned to male or female physically and legally, and are able to live comfortably under one of those rubrics, then there is a box for you to check. But what about the rest of us? If there is no language, do we not exist? FYI, whether there are other words or not: We're here. We're Trannies. Get used to it! Instead of asking the world to banish certain words, we should be fighting for the inclusion of more, so that those of us who don't identify as male or female are no longer forced to lie about ourselves and what we are every time we fill out a form.

Hey, M and F! Give me a T!!!!

Personally, I believe we can continue working toward a better future for all the people around the world who identify as trans. While doing that, I also hope we can continue to hold a space where it's possible to share joyous moments with other members of our beloved trans community—laughing, playing around with gender, shredding the language of the dominant culture, and creating something new and wonderful that acknowledges the multiplicities of who we are. Over the years, we've been irreverent, obnoxious, defiant, rude, hysterical, cunty, fierce, bitchy, sometimes charming, often hilarious mxanthropes. I hope we always will be—if only to keep the thread going that we've inherited from those who have gone before us (my immediate trancestors have names like Kitty, Doris, Tippi, Chloe, Jerome, Christian, Gordon, Diet... the list goes back thousands of years).

These are MY people.

But this is OUR Pride day, and as the struggle for freedom and respect continues for trans people worldwide, we must strive to honor our collective past. But we cannot live there.

SO! Onward and upward.

For now, please don't call anyone "tranny" who wishes to be seen only as the man or woman they are, because it really, really upsets them. They are not trannies. They are men and women, and it's our job to respect, honor, and look after their wishes and to care for them as well as for each other. But whether you're someone who hates gender or one who delights in gender play, if you refuse to be defined by other people's notions of what you are or who you should be, and if you see me on the street or in one of the other real nice places I usually hang out, feel free to look me in the eye with pride and a little bit of mischief and say, "Hey, Tranny!" Just don't say it too loud. I don't want you to get in trouble—and I certainly don't want you to hurt anyone else's feelings!

Love,

Mx Bond recommended

Justin Vivian Bond is a Tony-nominated performer, singer-songwriter, visual artist, and winner of the Lambda Literary Award for transgender nonfiction for v's memoir Tango: My Childhood, Backwards and in High Heels.