These words are dangerously strong but as I'll rely on that strength to make an important point, I'll need every letter, every meaning, and every intention. Every word has walked a journey and I, hereininmyway, pay tribute to that path. Ralph Waldo Emerson calls words "Fossil Poetry".
So where's the poetry in nigger? In Latin the word was niger or black, and used in Portuguese and Spanish as negro or black. Brown-colored African's were taken from their country and sold into slavery by peach-colored Colonial Americans, who called the brown-colored people black and in turn themselves white, used negar to neger to neggar and finally nigger. It was as neutral and commonplace as slavery. Nigger became negative in the early 1800s and then belittling and then condescending and then dehumanizing. Eventually, in more recent years, the word has been adopted and reclaimed by the once (or still?) oppressed, and today it's complexities of use and intentions are very wide indeed.
So where's the poetry in faggot? The truth of said poetry is hidden in obscurity. It's been used to mean "old or unpleasant woman" which seems direct enough to a homosexual male. Or perhaps a "bundle of sticks for burning" which is less likely because homosexuals are fireproof. Everyone knows that. But today, and at least for now, faggot is below nigger on the Shouldn't Say It scale, but still way above tranny. It too has been adopted and reclaimed by the once (or still?) oppressed, and today it's complexities of use and intention are very wide indeed.
So where's the poetry in tranny? A younger word by comparison, tranny comes from either Transgender or Transvestite. To clarify, "transgender is the state of one's 'gender identity' (self-identification as woman, man, neither or both) not matching one's 'assigned sex' (identification by others as male, female or intersex based on physical/genetic sex)" (Wikipedia, Transgender) and a transvestite is someone who cross-dresses. Transgender is a word that has become popularized in the last 40 years whereas transvestite has been around much longer and was even referred to in the bible.
But today? Christian Ciriano, of Project Runway fame used the word tranny very comfortably and often on TV. Even Fox's Glee used it casually - the character Mike Chang said that his parents didn't want him to play Dr. Frankenfurter in the school's production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show because they didn't want him "dressing up like a tranny."
But many Rank and File activists, particularly, transgender activists are leading the cause for the tranny word (or "T" Word) to be more recognized as dehumanizing, demeaning, and cruel.
So I spent a few weeks asking around. Do you use the word tranny? What does it mean to you? And even though my audience were, for the most part, well-informed members of the LGBT community, the responses were totally mixed. Some people knew of the more recent activist movement and have stopped saying it. Others had no idea there was a movement and truly believe the word is affectionate and continue to use it as such.
Matt Kane of GLAAD writes "Unfortunately the larger problem here is that the word 'tra**y' has become an easy punch line in popular culture, and many still don’t realize that using the term is hurtful, dehumanizing, and associated with violence, hatred, and derision against transgender people - a community that is nearly invisible in media today."
Only time will tell if the tranny will become the next faggot or nigger. Personally, believe it or not, I try not to offend people. (And when I do it's usually to also challenge them to think about the offense.) I have stopped using the word tranny so lightly. I use it as rarely as I do nigger and faggot, which means when I do speak those sounds that collectively become a word, I do it with careful intention and without hate or maliciousness. I don't believe in not saying words ever.
You know that old saying? Stick and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me. Even these. These words. Just sounds put together to communicate with one another. They give strength to our actions, but there's a saying for actions too. Actions speak louder than words. There are sayings about sayings, but even those are only words. This blog. Words. So is the pen mightier than the sword? Which words are right? And by whose words will I live and act?
I've no real answers, of course. It's me, Everyman, remember?
And with the following I take comfort in knowing that I am not alone in my quest for this truth. I question, however, everything else.