The Trouble With Tranny

11.11.2010

By Kate Bornstein

Years earlier, when I went through my gender change from male to female, I glided through life under the commonly accepted assumption: I was finally a real woman! That worked for me until I ran into a group of politically smart lesbians who told me that I wasn't allowed to co-opt the word "woman." Woman was not a family word that included me. My answer to this exclusion was to call myself a gender outlaw: I wasn't a man, I wasn't a woman. By calling myself a gender outlaw, I had unknowingly reclaimed the right to name myself outside the language generated by the bi-polar gender system. Under that system, each of us needed to fit neatly into a pre-fab sex/gender identity.

Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and The Rest of Us was first published in hardcover by Routledge in 1994, just over 15 years ago. The book hit the world of academics, feminists, and sex and gender activists at a critical time'feminists were getting tired of being alone as gender's only activists. Gender Outlaw made it okay for more and more people to name themselves outside of a system that would rather see them dead for disobeying its rigid binary rules. The people who stepped outside their lines early on added a new energy to feminism by giving feminists allies and resources to tear down the sex and gender system that was'and still is -- oppressing all of us.

Over the past decade and a half, people have been using Gender Outlaw as a stepping-off point on their personal gender odysseys. People of all sorts of birth-assigned genders have been naming themselves, and they've been getting together with groups of people who've done the same sort of self-naming. And now we've arrived at a time when the next generation of gender outlaws get to call the shots. To that aim, Seal Press has commissioned what we hope will be a ground-breaking new book: Gender Outlaws, the Next Generation, edited by S. Bear Bergman and yours truly, the older generation.

[When we were looking for submissions for Gender Outlaws, the Next Generation], Bear posted a call for submissions on his blog. In the interests of keeping the call as open as possible, we agreed to include as many trans-identities as we knew, so we used the word "tranny." And that's where the activist shit hit the postmodern fan base. People have been pissed. Here's their argument: FTMs are co-opting a word that belongs to MTFs. The word "tranny" belongs to MTFs, reason those who were hurt by our use of the word, because it was a denigrating term reclaimed by MTFs -- ergo, only MTFs could be known as trannies. I spoke with Bear, and we agree that's wrong on several counts:

1. Tranny began as a uniting term amongst ourselves. Of course it's going to be picked up and used as a denigrating term by mean people in the world. But even if we manage to get them to stop saying tranny like a thrown rock, mean people will come up with another word to wound us with. So, let's get back to using tranny as a uniting term amongst ourselves. That would make Doris Fish very happy.

2. It's our first own language word for ourselves that has no medical-legacy.

3. Even if (like gay) hate-filled people try to make tranny into a bad word, our most positive response is to own the word (a word invented by the queerest of the queer of their day). We have the opportunity to re-create tranny as a positive in the world.

4. Saying that FTMs can't call themselves trannies eerily echoes the 1980s lesbians who said I couldn't use the word woman to identify myself, and the 1990s lesbians who said I couldn't use the word dyke.

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