Op-ed: This T-Word Fight Is About Respect

The fight over the use of a transgender slur is becoming a divisive topic — at what cost?

BY Rebecca Juro

May 28 2014 5:30 AM ET

I’m watching The Normal Heart, and it hits me from out of nowhere, like a bolt from the blue. The anger and frustration these men are displaying on-screen feels familiar.

It’s not about the cause, of course. The horror of AIDS is not comparable to any other context, but the emotions and attitudes displayed in this movie may feel to trans people like what we’re seeing today when standing up for our point of view in the LGBT community. Imagine, for example, how some trans women who have been speaking out about RuPaul might identify with the Ned Weeks character, screaming with urgency that people are being harmed. Meanwhile our peers denigrate us, in this case for the supposedly divisive and radical idea that every human being is entitled to the same level of respect.

Consider how trans women of all walks of life are coming together in this discussion and allies are presenting themselves to join us. Then we have those in the community who resent and seek to marginalize the voices of trans women, those who are more afraid of upsetting rich social and political elites than they are of the ongoing harm being done to their own community.

No, it’s not the same kind of life-and-death situation as AIDS. But it’s exactly the same when it comes to the demands for respect and simple human dignity every straight person — or in this case every cisgender person — takes for granted. It’s about wanting to scream at the top of your lungs, “What don’t you people get about why this is wrong?”

It’s about those who were once the oppressed now feeling entitled to take on the role of the oppressor themselves with a less politically potent minority. What’s more, it’s about how they’re doing it gleefully and with a big public middle finger to those they oppress. 

It’s about the perception of so many who say that those of us asking these questions are the real problem. Instead we should be focused on the reasons why these questions need to be asked in the first place, and why so many aren't listening.

Here’s the truth: When trans people get trampled on enough, we stand up and fight back. That’s what happened in 2007 when the provision for gender identity was scrapped from Congress's (eventually unsuccessful) Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and it’s what’s happening now. Is it time for a trans version of ACT UP? Must we come into direct and personal conflict with our LGB sisters and brothers over this and other issues? I hope not, and yet I see no other path to a resolution. 

It really doesn’t matter what RuPaul thinks anymore, not that it ever really did. What matters is that this may have started as a community squabble about word usage, but it’s evolved into a lot more. 

It’s about telling the rest of the community that trans women don’t consider you an ally when you’re OK with others treating us in ways that we — not RuPaul, nor anyone else who isn't one of us — find offensive and demeaning.

RuPaul is treating this like a fight and so people are taking sides. On our side, it’s about demanding to be seen as equals. That’s what we’re fighting for.

 

REBECCA JURO is a journalist, radio host, and writes about media for Advocate.com. Her work has been published by The Bilerico Project, Washington Blade, and Gay City News. The Rebecca Juro Show streams live Thursdays from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern.

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