I have thus far stayed-out of the controversy in the trans-sphere over allegedly-notable drag queen RuPaul’s constant use of transmisogynistic slurs. The truth is that I have never much cared about reality television, drag culture has always bored me, and if I started reacting every time some d-list celebrity said something transmisogynistic, I would never get anything done*. But this particular controversy has been notable only in that it has exposed the fault lines that have long existed between the LGB and T parts of the LGBT community.
The latest article along these lines was written in Slate by J. Bryan Lowder. The whole thing is, basically, an irredeemable sack of offal, but the gist of it is that trans women who object to being called “tranny” and “shemale” on international television by gay men are inherently conservative, because… I don’t know… binary trans people are all inherently conservative, except for the ones who like being derided in public by gay men. And somehow, being conservative makes them politically correct.
Anyways, here’s the money quote:
As a non-trans gay man, I don’t feel it’s my place to declare either side of this debate “right” or “wrong,” because tranny is not an identity I would claim for myself, I am not a part of the drag community beyond fandom, and I am sensitive to the fact that too many ignorant gay men throw the word around in ways that are not welcome nor totally benign. That said, I think at least one helpful thing to emerge from this uproar is a reminder that it is possible to be physically queer and culturally conservative. Indeed, it does not seem inaccurate to me to interpret some transgender people’s insistence on transitioning seamlessly from one gender to the other—to reinforce the gender binary, in effect, by eschewing the conceptual friction that third-way terms liketranny and even she-male engender—as a conservative impulse.
O, Mr. Lowder! If only you had stopped at the part about how it’s not your place to declare either side of this debate right or wrong. You could have just written a single sentence: “I don’t know shit about trans women,” and it would have been a much stronger article that this! But alas. Instead, you dust off the old canard about trans women reifying the gender binary**.
Now, of course, it’s pretty obvious that if you’re going to attack trans women for ‘reifying the gender binary,’ then you’d better bloody well be prepared to attack every single binary-identified person on Earth, whether cis or trans, man or woman, for doing the same thing; otherwise, it just comes across a paper-thin ideological veneer that otherwise progressive folks put up so they don’t have to feel bad about being bigots***. What’s original about this quote, though, is how the author thinks that we ought to be celebrating terms like “tranny” and “shemale” as if they were “third way” terms. Even if I were to accept the premise that these words are not slurs****, quite frankly, I have absolutely no interest in taking a “third way.” I am a woman, plain and simple, and I reject, in the strongest possible terms, the author’s attempts to shoehorn me into a “third gender” because my existence as a woman does too much violence to his ill-conceived and reactionary preconceptions about how the world works.
But of course, he doesn’t stop there: Lowder decides to pretend as if this whole matter is actually a controversy between those mean, privileged, passing trans women and those of us who do not:
Bond seems to recognize this as conservatism in disguise and has little patience for it:
If you don’t wish to own [tranny] or any other word used to describe you other than “male” or “female” then I hope you are privileged enough to have been born with an appearance that will allow you to disappear into the passing world or that you or your generous, supportive family are able to afford the procedures which will make it possible for you to pass within the gender binary system you are catering your demands to. If you’re capable of doing that then GO ON AND DISAPPEAR INTO THE PASSING WORLD!
While it’s entirely possible that a person could “pass” for their chosen gender and remain queer in their approach to the concept of gender in general, I can’t help but find much of the anti-tranny rhetoric to be supported by a curiously conservative set of assumptions. That does not necessarily invalidate the anti-tranny point of view, of course, but I do think that many taking up the cause might reconsider whether they are standing as close to the cutting edge of queer civil rights as they might have imagined—dismissing the deeply felt identities, histories, and understandings of others as “offensive” somehow doesn’t exactly feel progressive.
While it’s certainly nice of Mr. Lowder to allow for the existence of passing trans women who “remain queer in their approach,” I do wish that he had taken the time to cut out some space for those of us, such as yours truly, who are decidedly non-passing trans women and who still think that he and RuPaul are completely full of shit.
Frankly, this whole line of argument is not only insulting, it is plainly illogical. As a non-passing trans woman, I am regularly taunted in the streets with the exact same slurs that the author clearly loves so well. So, having been frequently harassed in this manner, the author now expects that I should celebrate the normalization of these dehumanizing slurs in the media, and, indeed embrace them as a “third-way” because I am, in his estimation, not a real woman anyways? Sorry, Mr. Lowder; I think not.
Finally, I would argue that there is something positively perverse in claiming that an oppressed minority, whose very Human Rights are regularly ground into dust by conservative politicians, are themselves inherently conservative because they insist upon the right to exist as the women that they are without being dehumanized every day by their so-called “allies.”
It is clear that this article is garbage of the rankest sort, and it is insulting not only to trans women, but to the intelligence of any thinking Human Being. In summary and in conclusion: Fuck you, J. Bryan Lowder.
*One day soon, transphobic humour will no longer be considered “socially acceptable,” and so comedians will spontaneously go from openly making jokes at the expense of trans women to “ironically” making jokes at the expense of the trans women. What a glorious day that will be!
**A theory most famously laid out by Janice Raymond in a book appropriately subtitled “The Making of the She-Male.” Oh, but I’m sure that she was using that slur “playfully” as well.
***This, of course, being exactly what it is.
****I do not.