Dropping the T-bomb: Tackling our 'Tranny' problem

Poor Kelly Osbourne, losing her fiancé to a transsexual model. And poor Neal Patrick Harris, putting his foot in his mouth co-hosting Live with Kelly, uttering “Tranny” on national television, twice. NPH is a terrific poster child for gay men and Queer America (men had ceded that role to Ellen and Rosie, even Gaga). It seems Ms. Patrick Harris realized using the T-Bomb was in poor taste, and tweeted an apology, maybe because as a gay man he understands how people let hateful words fly absentmindedly. I really felt pity for the gentleman—for Kelly O, things happen.

Transsexuals and transgender people have been making a strong case for equality since the identity politics era of the 1990′s and received wider exposure in mainstream media during the past decade with films like BOYS DON’T CRY, NORMAL, and TRANSAMERICA reaching a general audience. Meanwhile, we witnessed Chastity Bono transition into Chaz (and sort of propose to his girlfriend). But Trans-Americans (if we may be as bold) have sought validation for decades, the earliest example being Christine Jorgensen, the first post-op, transsexual celebrity, making an appearance on The Dick Cavett Show (ironic) and radio programs. In fact, sex reassignment surgery is documented as early as the 1930′s in Germany.

As the Queer community becomes more visible and accepted in the mainstream, more of our cultural shorthand and memes are co-opted without encouraging a proper context or etymology. And we can’t say who used the T-term first, the bigot or the body in transition. Proprietary humor is a fine line. Chances are both came around the same time decades ago. Having a sense of humor about your social station is an effective coping mechanism in the LGBTQ community, while xenophobic pushback coupled with a pejorative is par the course for social progress. Sex reassignment and hormone therapy is a long and physical process that is difficult to hide, if one wishes to hide it at all; hence Neil’s sassy reference to “sounding like a tranny” when his voice changed after inhaling gas. It seemed funny because it reinforced a bad stereotype. But that’s a low blow against any person.

In the digital age we’ve re-appropriated slang and fringe words like “twitter,” and created alternative vowel-less spellings of others (tumblr, tmrw), inundating ourselves with idioms that quickly usurp classic definitions of words. Suddenly the T-word is cute shorthand for an aesthetic. Neil doesn’t hate the greater gay community, or transsexuals, at all. Kelly Osbourne became friends with Elle Schneider after the whole fiancé fiasco. And actress Olivia Wilde recently confessed to worrying her photogenic features appear severe in certain make up styles—she used the T-bomb, guess she missed the androgynous-chic boat.

Image credit: http://www.charlietuna.com/