Op-ed: What We’ve Failed to Remember With the T Word

By Cyd Zeigler

Originally published on Advocate.com June 06 2014 7:00 AM ET

Left: Cyd Zeigler

I used to use the word “tranny.” I was so proud of it. I didn’t have to succumb to the “political correctness” pressures of a bunch of overly sensitive, well, trannies. I could do my own thing. I was a rebel.

Back then, 10 years ago, I didn’t know any trans people. Not only did I not understand them, but what’s worse, I didn’t want to.

Over the last decade, I’ve been fortunate to call a number of trans people my friends. I stopped using the word, even if I didn’t think it was a big deal. I just didn’t want to “offend” those people.

Then I met Fallon Fox. Fallon’s a professional MMA fighter who came out publicly last year as transgender. I’ve seen a lot of athletes come out, but never have I seen a reaction quite like the one the sports world spewed toward Fallon.

It was horrific.

That’s when it hit me: As hard as it might be sometimes to be gay in America, it is unfathomably more difficult to be trans.

Using words like “tranny” isn’t about offending trans people, it’s about hurting them. So when people like Fallon and Carmen Carrera and Christina Kahrl tell me not to use the word “tranny,” I listen.

Yet lately I’ve heard this word being used more and more. Like me 10 years ago, it’s become some misdirected badge of honor for gay men. I know one gay guy who changed his last name on Facebook to “Tranny” in protest of the backlash from the trans community. That’s really messed up.

It’s bad enough to see it splashed across my Facebook page and tossed casually around the pool on a warm Sunday afternoon, but the most disturbing part is that it’s gay men splashing it. As trans people have asked us with louder and louder voices to stop using this word, gay men everywhere are embracing it.

These gay men feel it’s their right to use that word. They’re wrong.

Gay men have become the livestock of Animal Farm. For years we as a community have railed against the use of slurs like “faggot” that have buried so many gay youth — that buried so many of us. In the sports world, language like that is quite possibly the biggest barrier to more gay athletes coming out, creating a culture they believe won’t accept them.

Yet when presented with the opportunity to listen to our trans brothers and sisters about the power of words that hurt them, we call them “overly sensitive” and tell them to get over it.

We are all equal, but some LGBT people, it seems, are more equal than others.

This issue is an opportunity for gay men to listen to someone else for a change. We’ve been yelling a lot lately, and for good reason. That yelling has paid off. Now it’s our chance to be someone else’s champion, to make the world just a little less hostile for a group of people who face hostility every day at a level we will never know for just walking down the street.

We’re blowing that chance. We scold “the black community” for supporting Prop. 8 and other forms of institutionalized prejudice against our community, yet we turn around and marginalize trans people all the same.

Are there trans people who don’t mind the word? Sure. That’s awesome. I’m so happy for anyone who can bury the power of words in her mind.

Yet at the end of the day, that word is like a punch to the heart of so many trans people I know. Every time they see or hear it, they cringe. We can criticize them for allowing words to have power of them, but it’s not our place to decide the feelings of someone else — particularly a class of people so disenfranchised and persecuted, that it makes the treatment of gays and lesbians look like that of royalty.

Some gay men point to the origin of “tranny,” that it first described cross-dressers in London or some such history. I’m not interested in the long evolution of the word. I don’t really care that it started as a word to identify guys in dresses 50 years ago. Back then, that’s all trans people were to us: Guys in dresses. It’s 2014. We’ve evolved. We understand trans people slightly better now. Just like we’ve evolved past perfectly appropriate words in the 1950s like “negro” and “colored,” we’ve got to move past this one too.

Besides, let’s get real. We use “tranny” a lot like we use “faggot”: To demean people. We can couch it as friendly banter, but we never talk about “tranny heroes.” It’s always “tranny hooker,” “tranny mess,” or “tranny trainwreck.” You can’t tell me the word is full of sunshine and rainbows when the words we associate with it are hooker, mess, and trainwreck.

For the record, Fallon Fox is my hero.

I struggled to come out as a gay man for many years. Yet no matter how tough my coming out may have been for me, I can never know the pain so many trans people feel their entire lives.

Why would we try to tell trans people how they should and should not feel about a word that clearly makes so many of them feel quite literally subhuman?

The last couple years have been amazing for our community. Breakthroughs in marriage, entertainment and sports have helped transform the place of gay people in our culture. Yet I can’t help but be so disappointed in us as gay men when it comes to this issue. It’s not OK to use that word any more as long there is a group of people in our community who are hurt by it.

I don’t want to see or hear that word ever again because now, after falling in love with so many of my wonderful trans friends, that word hurts me too.

CYD ZEIGLER is the cofounder of Outsports.com and contributes to The Huffington Post, Out magazine, Playboy and The Advocate. He has also appeared on CNN, ESPN and in Sports Illustrated and The New York Times. Follow him on Twitter @CydZeigler.  
 

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