Editor’s Note: Please welcome a new contributor, Jamie. She starts off her work with Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents with a post introducing herself and delving right into a frontburner issue. – Sue
The quote from Upton Sinclair that: “it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it” serves as a constant reminder of my predicament of surviving on a daily basis as a transgender woman whenever RuPaul is defaming me in the media. While I must walk the streets and participate in society in the light of day, RuPaul gets to pretend to be a woman as a drag queen for brief periods of time in the safety and dark shadows of LGBT friendly spaces, and then scrub off his makeup and get back to being a gay man.
No one is going to defame, harass, beat, or murder RuPaul on the set of Drag Race at Logo while he earns his living denigrating trans women with the use of words like “tranny and she-male.” People cannot look at RuPaul on the streets of America and see his sexual orientation in the same way they can spot my gender-identity. RuPaul can pass as an ordinary male, I cannot pass as a woman, despite legally being one. And people do not hold signs up that say “GAY MALE” when RuPaul walks past them.
Despite the uproar, media battles, activism, unrest, and divisions in the trans community that RuPaul has caused by his transphobic actions, he refuses to take responsibility for the harm, or even acknowledge the damage that he is doing to the community itself, and to transgender women like me. At a time when he should be expressing humility for his actions, he is instead continuing to lash out at transgender women; criticizing those that dare speak out against his transphobic ways by labeling us as “fringe elements” of the trans community.
RuPaul is a gay man. He is no more part of the trans community than I am of the gay male community as a transgender woman. But the difference between us is RuPaul advocates and teaches others to call me a tranny or she-male, while I dare not speak the word faggot out of respect for gay men.
A few weeks ago, I walked into a fast-food restaurant with my cisgender spouse to grab a quick sandwich. As we were waiting on our food to be prepared, I overheard a cisgender couple at one of the tables discussing me. The male half of the couple had referred to me as a drag queen, and the female with him was trying to explain the difference between a transgender woman and a drag queen. RuPaul and drag are responsible for that confusion. I am not responsible because I cannot pass very well as a transgender woman, although I live my life everyday as one. My name and gender are both legally changed.
I make no secret of the fact that I am not only a transgender woman, but also an Army retiree. I don’t bring this up in reference to the fact that transgender people still cannot serve in the military while gays and lesbians can, instead I bring this up for a completely different reason; because of the stigma of what it used to mean to be transgender. It
took me until I was 49 years old to face up to the fact that I am a transgender woman, despite being one all of my life.
Why did it take me so long to accept and acknowledge that I am in fact a transgender woman?
It took that many years because of what it used to mean to be transgender. If you’re confused by that statement, then I would urge you to watch the film Silence of the Lambs. Or go on YouTube and search for “Jerry Springer Tranny.”
Several times in life while I was much younger and still on active-duty as a soldier in the Army, I searched for information as it became available on the Internet to try to learn why I had no sense of identity as a male.
I could easily pass as a male. I would answer questions as yes, I am a male, when required, but I only did so because I had a penis. And that was supposed to make me a male. In truth, I recoiled in horror each time the word male was used to describe me. I couldn’t be a man, because I never was one.
One of the things I quickly came across in my Internet searches was the United States Military’s regulations on issues such as cross-dressing, transvestism, and gender disorders. At that time, I didn’t know what the word transgender was, or what it even meant. I was just as ignorant about the word transsexual, but if it had sexual in it, then it clearly sounded like something I would be in trouble for in the military also.
Opening the door to this information was at the time was like opening Pandora’s Box; it was beyond evil in the context of trying to serve honorably in the armed forces and while living under military regulations and law. It was clear by my research that if I had some sort of gender problem or sexual fetish that the military considered me as being in the paraphilia class. I didn’t know what that was at first either, but I soon figured out that it’s the same classification the military gives to pedophiles.
Those hideous classifications of what I was feeling inside because of the mismatch between my male physical body and my internal female gender-identity were enough for me to slam-shut this equivalent of Pandora’s Box that I had opened, and bury my gender crisis for another couple of decades. I gave up thinking about being the woman that I actually am, and started thinking about suicide instead.
Suicidal thoughts became a daily part of my life as a result of being deprived the right and ability to express of my true gender. Suicide became my backup plan. I decided that if the military ever figured out whatever it was that was causing me to believe I was female instead of male, that I would just shoot myself in the head before they could ever formally punish me. Death over dishonor was my decided choice.
I wasn’t going to be dishonorably discharged and sent back home in humiliation for being a transvestite or cross-dresser, which at the time is what I thought I was, because back then I had no understanding of gender, or the fact that I was really neither a cross-dresser or transvestite, but instead a transgender woman.
It wasn’t like I could go ask the base shrink to help me figure out my gender-identity issue. Nor could I afford to be seen in LGBT places because I served most of my career during “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” In the end, I may have suffered tremendously mentally by keeping my deepest, darkest secret about my gender crisis, but by doing so, and by never telling a soul that could betray me, I survived long enough to retire from the military.
Having spent so many years in the military, and even after retiring, living in fear that anyone would ever find out that I am in fact a transgender woman, suicidal thoughts literally became an integral part of my psyche, and personality. It’s something that I still wrestle with to this very day because of living in such intense fear and confusion for that long.
In 2013, at the age of 49, I was suffering from extreme gender dysphoria. My mental health situation was a train-wreck. So once again I opened up Pandora’s Box of gender on the Internet. To my surprise, instead of horrors, I quickly found hope and role models. Kristin Beck, a highly decorated Navy Seal had come out as transgender. The media was regularly telling the stories of transgender people in a favorable light. Politicians were beginning to fight for our rights. Towns, cities, and states were giving us legal status and protections so that we wouldn’t lose our jobs or homes. The psychiatric community was removing GID (Gender Identity Disorder) as a mental health disorder. And even the Veterans Administration had a transgender care program. Things had truly changed for the better.
I was so stunned by all of these positive changes taking place for the transgender community that it not only gave me the courage to admit that I am in fact a transgender woman, but to start hormones and actually transition. As an integral part of that transition, I moved to Pittsburgh, and the city not only embraced and welcomed me as a transgender woman, but also provided me with all of the necessary resources that I needed for a successful transition.
Within a year, with the help and kindness of the Reed Smith law firm and the Transgender Name Change Project, I legally changed my name to one that matched my female gender-identity. The Metro Family Practice medical clinic treated me with respect and dignity as they administered my transgender care and hormone therapy. They billed the Army’s Tricare insurance company for my care and hormones, and they paid the bill without question. My body slowly began to match my female identity. My doctor at Metro Family Practice signed a sworn statement that I was and would continue to be a female. I legally changed my gender with the state of Pennsylvania. I had become empowered. I had become a transgender woman. But I had also become what RuPaul likes to call a tranny and I didn’t even know who he was yet.
I soon realized that RuPaul was disempowering not only myself, but many female members of the transgender community for his own gain.
But in a short-time, I quickly found myself at odds, or in some cases war with fringe elements of the trans community that thought it was okay to use the word tranny because of their ties to the drag community. RuPaul had divided me from trans women that I thought were my sisters.
Drama and transphobia sell, and RuPaul is entertainment company Logo’s equivalent of a gay Jerry Springer.
Let’s be clear, I am not a tranny. I am a transgender woman. And it is not acceptable, or a right of free-speech to yell fire in a crowded movie theater, or to call people trannies. Both excite disorder, unrest, and when not true raise the temper of those affected.
The transgender community is at a critical and fragile juncture, and I will not let RuPaul or other drag queens that lay claim to transphobic slurs disempower me. And furthermore, I urge all of my trans brothers and sisters to do the same. I am transgender. We are transgender. There cannot and should not be any shame in that. There should be no disrespect because of that. We cannot change who we are or the fact that we are transgender, nor should we have to, but RuPaul and those like him can certainly agree to change their behavior. Or, we can continue to unite and stand against these despicable, atrocious slurs against us, and work to stop him and others from using them. I urge you to be strong, to not flinch, to not bend, to not waiver, to not be divided, to have dignity and self respect for yourself, and to refuse to be disempowered by RuPaul and transphobic slurs. We are not trannies.
A lot of the argument around the word “tranny” from people like RuPaul and the drag community is that a “fringe element” of the trans community is trying to ban the word from being used. It’s just a word, they claim. Words cannot hurt you, they further claim. I will offer the counterpoint that this is clearly not the case at all. And I will explain in very simple terms why this is not so.
For my first point, I will use the comparison of the word tranny to the infamous “N” word. For me, there is no acceptable use of the “N” word in any conversation or context (other than historical), ever. The “N” word is so dark, so evil, and so heinous that it should never be dared spoken by anyone.
I will also argue that this should become the same standard for the word “tranny.” No one should dare speak it for any reason other than to make a historical reference when necessary. Tranny should become the equivalent of the “N” word in a movie to depict the repression of trans women in the same way that the “N” word is used to depict slavery, racism, and oppression in films.
Tranny should only be used to show where trans women were when they had no rights and were oppressed. And while that is somewhat no longer the case, and while things are not perfect, transgender women have achieved enough rights and advanced far enough that we can rightfully and justly refuse to be referred to by slurs such as tranny. As women, we have the right to identify who we are, and what we are not.
The second part of my argument, and one that should be so primitive and so basic that any member of the LGBT community can understand, is that the word tranny is like the word faggot.
Despite my loathing for his transphobic actions, I will not call RuPaul, a gay man, a faggot. But yet he not only continues to advocate for the right to use the word tranny, he also continues to loudly and publicly argue to anyone who will still listen for the right to call myself and other trans women “tranny or trannies.” RuPaul does so because his salary depends upon him not understanding the harm he inflicts upon trans women in society when he does so. RuPaul’s actions embody Upton Sinclair’s famous quote.
If anyone should understand this simple premise of acceptable word usage, then it should be RuPaul as a gay man. He should clearly “get it” that gay men are just now getting past the point of being called faggots when they walk down the street. Society has learned, or is at least learning (in all but the case of a few homophobic hold-outs), that faggot is no more acceptable than the “N” word. I hope I live long enough and we come far enough very soon that faggot will become the “F” word instead of faggot, and dare not ever be spoken either, unless for historical references.
The last part of my argument over the use of the word “tranny” is to compare the use of it by the fringe elements of the trans and drag communities to the use of the “N” word in the black community and entertainment industry; most notably the music industry.
Despite the vileness of the “N” word, there is still an unfortunate number of black people who use it.Why is that so? Who taught and encouraged them to do so? Worse, who profited from doing so?
I will argue that rap music and the entertainment industries are the main culprits, but the main profiteers are the rap music artists.
You can sing songs about the drug crack, or about guns like the 9 millimeters or the legendary MAC 10, about killing people, about treating women like whores, and about filling a bottle with piss and then shattering it across somebody’s lips, or every other imaginable rap lyric and topic, but these lyrics are not reality; they’re just lyrics and songs. Such music presents a false reality about real-life in the same manner that drag queens present a false reality that they are actually women.
The listeners and fans that actually tried to live the lifestyle that rap songs portray are for the most part already dead, in jail, or have criminal records. Even some of the artists themselves are dead or in jail. The truth is that the rap artists who sing these songs and glamorize this false and unobtainable lifestyle are in fact laughing all the way to the bank, as they motor there in their Ferrari or Porsche. My opinion is RuPaul is doing the same thing. But in this case it’s not the listener of the song that’s trying to act it out that’s the victim, it’s the trans woman who’s being harassed and hated on by one of RuPaul’s television watchers that is the victim.
The public does not yet understand that trans woman are not trannies, but they clearly understand that black people are not the “N” word and that gay males are not the “F” word. Again, people like RuPaul are responsible for that confusion.
Let’s be clear on something. I am not against rap. I am not against black people. I’m not going to tell you about how I have black friends. I own rap music. I play rap music. I can prove I own rap music. My favorite rap song is American Psycho II by D12. That song captures the anger that I used to feel when testosterone was coursing through my body and people would mistake me for being a gay male and harass me for that in the military before I transitioned. That song embodied the anxiety that I felt when I was forced to live as a male and suppress my gender-identity, because I was scared to admit that I was really a transgender woman.
I will also wholeheartedly tell you that I agree that trans women of color suffer more than anyone else on this planet. As a person of color, RuPaul should get that more than anybody else and stop harming them as well with his use and advocacy for the usage of transphobic slurs.
The critical difference however between rap artists using the “N” word and the drag community using the word “tranny” is the black community has obtained enough civil rights and strength that the negative effects of these rap artists using the “N” word as a form of entertainment does not cause everyday people of other races to equate black people with the “N” word, or call them that.
The trans community however lacks that maturity. Our civil rights are still in their infancy. Although we are maturing, we are not strong enough yet. And RuPaul and some members of the drag community are doing the same thing to the trans community that rap does to the black community. The difference is their actions are in fact not only harming us, but slowing our advancement.
When a black (person of color) person walks down the street, the public for the most part (other than the psychos like the ones that attacked CeCe McDonald and her friends) identifies and relates to them exactly as that: a person of color. The black community has achieved that level of understanding and perception. They are not slaves. They are no less intelligent. While poverty exists, as it does in every race, often times members of the black community are no less affluent. And, most important, they are no less of an American than other citizen.
The trans community has not achieved the same status as other minorities. When I walk down the street as a transgender woman there is a lot of confusion to the public about who I actually am. Some people think I am a drag queen. Some think I am a prostitute. Others think I am violation of biblical proportions that threatens their religious beliefs. Some believe that I deserve to be beaten or killed, and that they should suffer no consequences by doing so, because I am less than human. Some are not able to comprehend that I am a lesbian and that I am actually attracted solely to women. Some think I am a porn star. Cops will think I deserve to be stopped and frisked to see if I am carrying condoms. And some men will look at me and think it would be great to screw me, but they would never want anyone to know about it, nor would they be willing to take me home to meet their family, or publicly identify me as their girlfriend. As a transgender woman, I am clearly perceived in a much different manner when I walk down the street than any other minority.
This is why RuPaul, members of the drag community that like to use the word tranny, the adult entertainment industry and sex workers that endorse and use of the word tranny, and those that support this group of people are my oppressors. Worse, they are blind to that fact. They are blinded by the profits for self-enrichment in the same way that one trans woman would inject Home Depot carpentry silicone into another transgender woman’s butt to make a buck. And that transgender woman with a silicone filled body will often die just like I can when a man decides to beat me to death because he thinks I’m a tranny, and not a real woman, and he’s calling me that as he’s beating me to my last breath.
To protect their profits, RuPaul and those like him argue that I am trying to ban a simple word. But tranny is not simply a word. It is just as vile and evil as the “N” word and the “F” word. And the transgender community is still too youthful in their quest to obtain civil rights to withstand the use of it, especially on cable television and similar venues.
If a group of people were to show up at a public celebration for Martin Luther King’s birthday and began to scream the “N” word at the participants, the cops would haul them away in handcuffs and figure out what to charge them with later. But if persons were to show up at a large gathering of trans women and call us trannies, there would most likely would be no consequence; it would be considered free-speech. The cops might even agree that we are trannies, because they are sick of all the prostitution from trans women standing on corners and selling their bodies to try and support themselves.
Like the minorities that have come before me here in America, as a transgender woman, I am not yet truly free or equal. And I will not be truly free and equal until I can walk down the streets of any town or city, without drawing any attention, and be thought of and identified as nothing more than a transgender woman. I deserve that. Every other transgender woman deserves that. The transgender community deserves that. And we, as transgender women, deserve that because we are just as good as anyone else. We are just as smart as anyone else. We are just as creative as anyone else. We are just as beautiful as our cisgender counterparts. We work just as hard as anyone else. We shed blood in the military like everyone else. And we can be loved and love back just like anyone else.
I am not a tranny. We are not trannies. I am a transgender woman. And the word tranny needs to become a vile historical reference to my oppression and past struggles for equality instead of an active part of the American vocabulary.
To all of my trans sisters out there: You are beautiful! Never forget that. And do not forget to tell yourself that each day. I am a woman. You are a woman. And we need to roar loudly like women, to tell the world that we are not trannies.