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New (gay) rules: why it’s OK to say “queer” but not “tranny”

Why it’s OK to say “queer”

Your parents probably equate the word “queer” with a nasty name like “faggot.” But you likely don’t.

A funny thing happened over the last 30 years: Straights largely stopped calling people of the LGBT community queers, and the latter group largely accepted and even identified as being queer. That’s mostly because gay people reclaimed the one-time epithet and began using it as a source of pride during a political movement in the late 1980s and early 1990s against right-wing efforts to disenfranchise or oppress homosexuals.

But another funny thing happened: Some members of the LGBT community — and even some heterosexuals who occasionally wandered over to the other side — rejected clear-cut labels like gay, lesbian, straight and even transgender, and used the designation of queer due to its versatility. It became an umbrella term for all varieties of nonmainstream sexual orientations and practices (including BDSM, polyamory and asexuality) and gender identifications (intersexual).

As such, the movement was as much a sociocultural statement as it was sociopolitical, especially against gays and lesbians seen as seeking too much assimilation with a heteronormative culture. Though that inter-community rebellion isn’t as reactionary as it was 20 years ago, there’s still evidence of herd-straying. Queer parties, for instance, are usually called that to identify an edgier alternative to the standard gay club experience.

Mind you, if you’re straight and using it to insult someone who’s gay, it’s still a no-no. But that’s also sooo 1985. We’re here, we’re queer, get … with the program.

Why it’s not OK to say “tranny”

It’s hard to find someone who hasn’t said “tranny” — except maybe within the transgender community itself. That’s probably because they’ll likely hear that word when being taunted or attacked, or in reference to pornography — or when flippantly uttered by a fellow queer who isn’t transgender themselves. However it’s used, it’s bad form.

We may not hear about cases of transphobia like we do homophobia or other hate crimes, but it’s a starker reality for a transgender person than homophobia is for the average gay or lesbian. S/he is misunderstood. Treated like a freak. Remains part of a constituency that still suffers from low visibility in mainstream culture. And enjoys few civil liberties that protects their rights and considers their safety. So why would anyone think twice about using the word “tranny,” whether they mean to slander transgender people or not, given that kind of low-empathy environment?

It doesn’t help that use of the word “tranny” is common parlance — especially in the gay community. It’s thought to be a word much like “queer” or “dyke,” where the maligned constituency reclaims the word. But that’s not the consensus among trans people. Recently, famous drag performer Rupaul made waves by defending use of the word. But he’s a gay man who dresses up like a woman for the stage, and does not identify as a woman at all times. So how can he relate?

Furthermore, here’s the elephant in the argument: The general use of “tranny” is neither affectionate nor respectful. In fact, it’s almost always condescending and dismissive, or worse. A drunken or wildly dressed gay man might be called a hot mess, but one who’s more flamboyant or effeminate is more likely to be called a hot tranny mess. It’s not flattering.

Imagine straight people calling others hot gay messes. That shit wouldn’t fly, right? The same standard should be applied to our trans sisters and brothers. MIKE PREVATT