The “tranny” language argument between RuPaul and Carmen Carerra has been an aimless bickering match that needs to end.
The dispute over the use of certain words describing the trans* community, such as “tranny” and “shemale/she-male,” has gained extra spotlight over the past few weeks, coinciding with the end of the sixth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, a reality show competition for drag queens. Earlier in the season, Logo TV, the channel that produces Drag Race, decided to permanently edit out the word “she-mail” from a segment of the show called “You’ve Got She-Mail,” in which RuPaul communicates with the contestants via a recorded video.
RuPaul, legendary drag queen and host of the show, did not approve of the edit, saying, “It’s just words. Yeah, words do hurt…you need to get stronger. You really do, because you know what…if you’re upset by something I said, you have bigger problems than you think.” RuPaul has spoken in favor of using the word before, stating, “I love the word ‘tranny’” and citing the history of the word as an identifier for transgender individuals before the term “transgender” existed.
Carmen Carrera, trans* actress, model and former contestant on the show, has argued against the word and against RuPaul publicly, saying, “Tranny/Shemale are offensive. Period. Whether you want to grow up and accept it or not. All the girls I’ve seen come out and defend these words are girls that either work in or are part of nightlife extensively.”
The problem with this debate is that it fails to address the actual problem and take into consideration the complexity of language. It’s not nearly as simple as keep using the word or stop using the word.
Many of the individuals participating in the conversation seem to be taking sides in the debate out of personal loyalties. Many of those from the drag community who are backing RuPaul have implied that since RuPaul helped start Carrera’s mainstream career, she shouldn’t speak out against him.
Criticism for Logo TV, where RuPaul’s Drag Race is easily the biggest, most successful original program on the channel, has centered around the same concept. As a response to the clear lack of agreement over “You’ve Got She-Mail,” RuPaul tweeted, “Trust! LogoTV hasn’t ‘distanced’ itself from me, not while I’m still payin’ the f%kin’ light bill over there.” LOGO’s edit of the segment does seems to be more appeasement than agreement.
Ru argues a good point; however, that argument isn’t good enough.
“Tranny” began as a word used to describe transsexual individuals. Over time, it developed into a slur in some circles, while other circles used the term affectionately. Words carry history and symbolism with them, meaning that people need to listen to each other on this issue, especially since the argument is happening within the trans* community.
It’s important to remember that the experience of a drag performer is different than the experience of a trans* person. I’ve noticed that many of the voices weighing in on this discussion lately have been drag performers who have a lot of contact with the trans* community, which is understandable but does not give drag individuals the right to make generalizations. Ideally, the community would open up a dialogue about language, but in the meantime, can individuals respect the wishes of another group? A person’s reaction to a word with the history behind it like “tranny,” shemale,” or other trans* slurs cannot be dismissed as a weakness because that reaction reflects who that person is and his/her history.
The irony of all this arguing is that it’s not opening communication up — it’s boxing people in. Tiptoeing around the issue has done nothing but make a lot of noteworthy trans* and drag figures look immature. Language, like individuals, changes and evolves with time. A group of people (a generation, a regional group, etc.) has their own slang that stems from who they are, the period they’re living in, the specific life experiences they are dealing with and many other factors. We personally may not share those experiences, but they are just as valid as ours. The danger in policing terms like “tranny” is that it risks dismissing whole groups of people.
Tags: Carmen Carerra, drag, drag performer, RuPaul, RuPaul Charles, trans