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    To bring Kate to your school or town for a performance, workshop, lecture, or all of the above, please send an email to the following address. PLEASE do not use this email for personal correspondence. It will not be answered. This address is only for booking touring engagements: katebornstein at earthlink dot net. Twitter is still the best way to reach Kate for any personal reason.

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    « My Tranny Hippie Girl College 40th Reunion at Brown | Main | Has Germaine Greer Become A Ghastly Parody? »

    July 12, 2009

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    julian

    you're amazing kate. thanks for that.

    mia

    Dear Kate,
    Consider me part of the "postmodern fan base"--a fan of yours on whom the shit hit. I really do respect what you're trying to do here and in general, but I don't think you're representing the shat-upon accurately. Part of that may be my fault. On that comment thread, I suggested that the better analogue to "t-----," instead of "queer," which most people think of first, is "n-----." Perhaps that makes it seem like an issue about who gets to say what--something like, black people can say the n word (not what I think, just outlining a train of thought) but white people can't, so trans women can say the t word but trans men can't. That's not what I meant at all, and it's not what a lot of other people in the fan base mean. My argument wouldn't be what you say "our" argument is:
    >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.
    It's an issue of sensitivity, not who gets to say what. As in, people of all colours who are in the slightest way sensitive should not be refraining from spelling out, saying aloud the n word just because they're not allowed to, or that it's politically incorrect, but because they're sensitive that the word is deeply hurtful to many people. Likewise, people of all genders should be sensitive to how deeply hurtful the t word is to many trans folk, and not just trans women.

    Here's my response to your and Bear's four points:
    >1. Tranny began as a uniting term amongst ourselves.
    There was nothing derogatory about the n word when it was first used in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and it only started to be used derogatorily in the late eighteenth century. On the other hand, it has been "used by blacks as a neutral or favourable term" since the mid-nineteenth century. The history of a word is important, but what counts is how its used right now, and, more importantly, how it's *heard*.
    >2. It's our first own language word for ourselves that has no medical-legacy.
    What's wrong with trans folk? It's well-established, has as much of a medical legacy, and has far less of a hate-speech 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.
    Perhaps it's *your* most positive response, but it's not mine. And I doubt that "we" have the "purchasing power" to own the word, in any case. (All of this stuff fits too well, imho, with a consumerist mode of thinking--i.e. good political behavior amounts to consumer choices, sometimes literally--but that's another can of worms.) For individuals, I can definitely respect that reclaiming the word is a tremendously positive step for them--but we shouldn't force that step on people. (Likewise, while it might be good for a rape survivor to talk about h/er experience, we ought not to force them to talk about it, claim that if they don't, they're doing something politically regressive, etc.)
    >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.
    Here I'm with you totally. You can use whatever word you want. And I'm sure it's useful for community-building, tribe-uniting--but be aware that it's excluding a lot of trans folk from your community.

    Or think about it this way. If you want to unite trans folk of all genders with that word, and thus fight against an us-versus-them mentality, you'll only be creating another binary between those who identify as "t------" or "gender outlaws," and those many trans folk who don't. Dualism's a bitch.

    Kate Bornstein

    Mia,
    You've obviously thought and felt very deeply about this... as have I. And we've come to different conclusions. I don't have anything to add to what either of us have written here. I'll just leave it to readers of this blog to compare and contrast our points of view. Be well, hon.
    Kate

    Bear

    Tranny is also a word (as you and I have discussed) that we choose with the belief that claiming the word tranny means naming one's self as a sex worker or an ally to sex workers, many of whom use and/or reclaim that word. I continue to believe that some of the difficulty around the word tranny is the same old whore-phobic bullshit the macroculture pushes on us - we feel compelled to distinguish our selves not just as "I'm a real woman/man," but also "I'm a nice girl/boy."

    Kate Bornstein

    I'd forgotten we spoke about that, Bear. Thanks. Yep, sex casts pretty much everyone in a bad cultural light. I look forward to the day when a gender and sex positive movement includes sex workers, adult entertainers, sex educators, pornographers, and any sort of sexual leaning that's safe, sane and consensual. These are out tribe.

    mia

    @Bear,
    Thanks for bringing up that aspect of it. I think of myself as pro-ho, although I'd hesitate before calling myself a sex worker. Don't you need to, um, have sex in order to qualify? Anyway, if I want to show that I'm all for sex worker destigmatization, legalization, unionization, etc. I just talk about that stuff.

    @Kate
    Thanks for the kind response. As for sex casting pretty much everyone in a bad light, I'm not sure, or, I'm interested in the people who aren't included inthat pretty much everybody category. One of the most "interesting" (i.e. sick-making) things I've come across lately is Sasha Grey being interviewed on Tyra Banks' show.
    http://therumpus.net/2009/06/barely-legal-whores-get-gang-fed/
    How is it that somebody who's certainly been associated with sex gets to completely disrespect and objectify a sex worker worse than any pornographer could, and get away with it?

    Sorry if I'm hijacking the comments thread. I'll shut up now. Best of luck with anthology!

    Grace

    "Tranny began as a uniting term amongst ourselves."

    I'm curious -- source?

    (Yes, I'm actually curious, not being snarky...I want to know this so I have an understanding of the term, even if I personally only use it in a self-deprecating sarcastic sense. >.> )

    Kate Bornstein

    Hi Grace,

    I was told about tranny being used as an umbrella (ie uniting) word by Doris Fish. Beyond that, no other info. Does that help?

    ryan

    Hey Kate--

    This is totally unrelated to your awesome post, for which I apologize. However, I'm working on a project that I thought you -might- have some interest in, or at least might know some people who could benefit from it, even if you're not into it yourself.

    You may (?) have heard of a site called transter, which was a surgery results photosharing site specifically geared toward ftms. It disappeared a few months ago, and my partner and I have been working to build a similar site, but with the entire trans community in mind, and not just ftms.

    If you know anyone who is interested in/curious about/who wants to share their trans-related surgery results, we would love your assistance in directing them to http://www.transbucket.com (if it gets any kind of kate seal of approval, of course.). We just launched a week ago, and therefore are very much in need of people to upload in order to form the database, but we hope that it can become a useful resource for the online trans community.

    anyway, thank you for your support and continued advocacy for queers everywhere. i've seen you speak twice (at tic both times, i think?) and have enjoyed it every time.

    cheers,
    ryan

    em connell

    i just started reading your book GENDER OUTLAW and i am loving it. you make so much sense & have such a good heart--it is very refreshing. though ive been on the road for a long time, i just started my journey as a bisexual feminist.
    im so glad i found your voice!

    Robyn

    Hi Kate! Very interesting post.

    I'm an Aussie MtF. I've been reading up on queer and trans history - in fact one of the books on late twentieth century queer Sydney has Doris Fish on the cover!

    I have been quite unable to find any evidence of where or when the word tranny was coined to refer to us. Some people have told me that the word came from the porn industry, but the timeline makes that seem unlikely, so that might possibly be an urban myth.

    I believe the word tranny came into usage in the Australian trans community some time between the 70s and when you met Doris Fish in the 80s (in Sydney in the 60s, we weren't trannies, we were drags - drag was a noun, and it included people who took hormones as well as people who didn't). Tranny had definitely become very widespread in the Australian trans community by the end of the 90s.

    I think tranny came into general use in the British trans community by the mid 90s.

    Over there in America, you guys had the word transgender as an umbrella term long before we did - possibly before you had the word tranny, I'm not sure. Tranny came into use here before transgender did, and I think both words reached the British community at roughly the same time.

    For some years now, Brits and Aussies who used the word tranny tended to get told off a lot by angry Americans! I organised an event once that had "tranny" in the name, and I didn't get a single complaint from an Australian although I had sent messages to all the largest Aussie online trans communities, but some Americans got very angry at me. Some friends I know had a similar experience with another event with the word tranny in the name, they kept getting complaints and they were quite concerned until they realised that not one of the people who were complaining would turn up even if they did change the name because they were all on the other side of the planet!

    Linguistic differences may be relevant to this issue: American English has relatively few nouns that end in the "ie" sound, and most of them are diminutive; I think British English has more; Australian English has buckets of them and many are not diminutive at all. Eg "biker" vs "bikie", "trucker" vs "truckie", "postman" vs "postie", etc. Strine has such a strong tendency to produce casual versions of words that if the word "tranny" didn't exist already, we probably would have started calling ourselves "trannies" or "trannos" sooner or later.

    Most older trans women here in Australia have no problem with the word tranny, but some young Australian trans women do seem to have a problem with it (I don't BTW). A peculiar generational gap, perhaps?

    Very few people, transsexual or crossdresser, who have regular contact with the "crossdresser" scene here in Australia (which does include a lot of older transsexuals) have a major problem with the word, but some of the transsexuals who wouldn't be caught dead talking to crossdressers don't like it. So on the one hand the very fact that it is an umbrella term, and therefore doesn't clearly distinguish between TSes and TVs, probably makes it unpopular with some. On the other hand, the major crossdresser groups here are the only continuous link into the history of the Australian trans community, and in most areas the largest (or only) trans organisations who actually have physical meetings, so people who avoid them and learn about trans culture from the US-centric parts of the internet are less likely to pick up on the cultural differences between the Australian and American communities.

    Then again, I hear rumours that Americans who are active in the trans community IRL are less likely to be offended by the word tranny than Americans who spend a lot of time online, which to an extent parallels the situation I see here. I have no direct way of knowing what the American IRL trans community is like, but if that were true then the fight over the word tranny could be more an issue of "internet culture" than of international cultural differences.

    Rane

    Kate,

    Mostly off topic, but seemed as good a place as any to comment.

    Five years ago you changed my life. Well, not you personally, that's sort of foolish as we've never met, but you the writer of My Gender Workbook, and therefore your work, I suppose.

    I had spent a lot of time before reading MGW trying to fit myself into a box (and I've spent some time since then trying, but I tend to catch myself more easily nowadays.) I've tried to be so many things, a butch dyke, a femmey-boi, a sub, an FTM, polyamorous, each of these were identities I thought that I might want to "fit" or that I might be able to "fit." Forever attempting to tuck all of my parts neatly away in a single descriptor.

    I felt so awkward, like walking with toes missing, or typing without a left middle finger. Not horribly incapacitated, but noticeably hindered. And everyone could see it, or that's how it felt when I tried to "pass" as these personas.

    I will forever be grateful for your notion of no gender, and its leading to a notion of true fluidity, of an identity of no identity, of all identities. These days I'm not trying to be anything, except me, whomever that person is when I get out of bed. I don't try to pass anymore, and when people look at me like I don't fit, I know why I'm confusing them, and it makes me smile.

    I've also tried to share your work with everyone I can, and I know that more than one person in my acquaintance has learned something from you as well.

    We force children and adolescents to read all manner of things in school. We learn through these books archetypes of all kinds, reading about all manner of people we could become. My Gender Workbook is the only place where I've learned how to embrace a disinclination to choose. I hope that one day such an option will become accepted and available. I know it will be everso with myself and all of those close to me, and to that I credit you.

    Yours with all affection and gratitude, Rane

    Rane

    Oh... why I posted here. I had dearly wanted to submit something for Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation, but I find it so difficult to devote large spaces of text to my thoughts. I have written so many blurbs on gender, given so many lectures to friends, had so many conversations, but when the time came to write an essay I fell mute, somehow. I felt too silent saying nothing, though, and so I at least wanted to thank you, if I can find words to do nothing else.

    Rane

    alruuna

    To form a tribe you wish? Isn't there a problem from the animistic point of view? We gender outlaws used to be the shamans of tribal communities. Who will preserve the coherence of the community of outsiders? Maybe an exceptional insider.

    Kate Bornstein

    alrunna,

    That I've *helped* form a tribe, I wish to say by the end of my life, yes.

    That's a real good point about our role as shaman in the larger community. I think we can manage both. The tribe of outlaws would be akin to Vulcan chess: more dimensions. That's how we continue to act as shaman/Fool today: we put our neither/nor into play into an either/or world... in whatever form most suits our life's path. At that intersection—neither/no meets either/or—we're shamanistic. And at other times, we can continue to build community.

    What would the community look like? I still keep going back to Starhawk's Dreaming the Dark, but I'm an old hippie. Which is why I should be "forming a community." But I'd like to help.

    Exceptional insider? Pomo version of "Righteous Among Nations?"

    K

    Steph

    I think tranny comes from TRANsgender and TRANssexual, if only a different term could be used byus and of course the media who use these terms to rubbish m2f's then maybe people would stop caling us trannies, which imho, is a derogatory term to use against those ith GID. it is a recognised medical condition after all.

    Kate Bornstein

    Dear Steph,

    "Tranny" is a word that pre-dates transgender, and—as I wrote in this blog—came about as a loving compromise term that united transsexuals and transvestites in Australia. It is NOT a derogatory term unless you want it to be one. Honest. Really, I'm not making this up. As to transsexuality being a "recognized medical condition," that's only because we allow it to continue to be that until health care plans change. Really. Nothing wrong with the word. Nothing wrong with you. Honest.

    genderbitch

    I gotta say, I agree with Mia.

    The word is definitely wounding to me personally and using it as representative of all trans folk, a word of unity if you will, is intensely damaging to folk like me, who are hurt by that word.

    As much as I understand reclamation and wanting a word to have positive power despite negative usages, you can't expect everyone to be on board with that right away. Reclamation is such a slow and personal process and you really make it impossible to do so when you push the word on folk, either through direct application or even indirect common application (like say SAGA's use of "Ask A Tranny Anything" in Arizona). Trans folk as a community are not entirely ready for this word to become a positive thing and trying to push it will make it impossible for the word to ever become positive for many of us.

    And I think a higher priority than unity is not harming one another. We get wounded enough from all other directions, don't we?

    On FtM's using the word: It's something I'm still working out in my head.

    On one hand: Appropriation as an accusation is something that sounds similar to what the lesbians told you but they also operated based on cissexism and transphobia (which was what preventing your claim to the word woman was entirely about), engaging in a power dynamic in which they oppressed you.

    It's a lot like white people trying to take the word "gypsy" which is a very very nasty slur for the Rroma people. It's very much appropriation, as the word had always been used for them (due to their features and people deciding they were from Egypt) and had been turned into dangerous derivatives like "gypped" (a word for stealing or cheating someone in a deal). All of the attempts to appropriate were made by individuals with privilege in comparison, who had never been attacked using the slur. White folk mostly, although some other races (who still had privilege over Rroma) where redefining it as nomadic and using it despite the wounding nature.

    So FtM's arguably have not been the target of the word as a slur and do not face the compound effects of transmisogyny (a combination of transphobia, which they do face, and misogyny, which they don't) and ergo have some level of privilege in relation to how the word is currently used.

    On the other hand: There is currently an evolution of the word in play. A lot of them are attaching positive aspects to it that are actually filtering into common usage and defanging the slur, if you will, in some contexts. The level of privilege between FtM's and MtF's by difference of facing misogyny isn't ridiculous (although it is certainly a distinct difference) and overall, in terms of trans hate alone, we all face fairly similar levels of shit. The privilege levels may simply not be enough to justify the idea that FtM's are actually oppressing MtF's by using the word (in a general sense) or even worsening the situation to any noticeable degree (also in a general sense, none of this is taking into account personal harm from hearing a trigger word).

    So... I'm torn. I do think that the use of the word "tranny" in many contexts is a bad idea because it is a triggering word (like shemale) for many. And I especially know that someone using the word tranny, shemale or any of the other slurs to refer to all trans women, all trans folk in general or myself is a huge triggering bullshit move in all ways possible.

    So I guess what I'd say now is, avoid using it in company that is hurt by it and use it sparingly but positively as it evolves (for MtF's) and use it even more sparingly but positively as it evolves, or not at all if you can avoid it (for FtM's).

    Cuz like I said before, unity is great and all but it's fairly useless if we're hurting each other.

    twitter.com/DDog

    My blog host doesn't do pings apparently, and workarounds I try are getting blocked as spam (maybe you have trackbacks turned off), so here's a manual one:

    I linked to this post on my podcast's blog, Ask a Tranny, here: http://askatranny.libsyn.com/index.php?post_id=548119

    Thanks!

    Female Shemale

    You cannot really compare the two MtF/FtM - completely different psychologically. Now you might think I'm talking out my ass but I've done quite a bit of research with some very smart professors.

    istanbul travestileri

    Hi Grace,

    I was told about tranny being used as an umbrella (ie uniting) word by Doris Fish. Beyond that, no other info. Does that help????

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