Penny's Story

A cute little drummer living her dream.

“Bad” words

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of things written by transgendered folks about the word “tranny.” It’s made me think about “bad” words and political correctness and the context of language and ideas and how we conduct ourselves in a polite society.

First a disclaimer: I don’t mind the word “tranny” when applied to transgendered folks (and specifically me), it’s always struck me as cute and playful (and anyone who knows me knows that I’m cute and playful). I use the term “tranny” fairly often myself, though less often than I once did. And yet I certainly don’t approve of hateful language directed at transgendered folks (or any group, for that matter).

So where’s the line?

I often like to say that context is more important than specific words, but there are words that I find offensive in any context [“she-male;” “he-she;” and “chicks with dicks,” for example], so there must be more than just context. Or perhaps there are words that simply carry so much baggage that they bring such a specific meaning as to have their own context that is difficult or impossible to alter. Words must have meanings, after all, or communication becomes impossible.

Should we “outlaw” certain words? If not by law, then by social contract? That’s how we ended up with the “n-word.” Is that really a good idea? I don’t think so. I’ve even heard people say that “tranny” is transgendered people’s “n-word.” I don’t want an “n-word;” I don’t think that’s helpful in any way.

What seems to make the most sense to me is to encourage people to use a careful heart when choosing their words. Words are powerful and they should be chosen deliberately. I don’t think it’s a good idea to jump on someone just for using a certain word, but by the same token I think people have a responsibility to use emotionally-charged words in a way that is consistent with what they mean. There are people who want to say provocative things, even people who choose to knowingly say patently offensive things; I’m not saying that these things shouldn’t be allowed, but I am saying that you should be aware of what you’re saying, and use those emotionally-charged words carefully.

Perhaps the philosophy that I find the most troubling is that “trannies” are allowed to use the word “tranny,” but “non-trannies” aren’t allowed to use the word “tranny.” I think that is absolutely ridiculous; talk about the very definition of segregation. I’ve been around transgendered folks who have used words in ways that I have found incredibly reprehensible, and I have been around cisgendered folks who have used supposedly “us-only” words in ways that were respectful and made perfect sense given their context. I find the entire concept of words that only the members of a group are “allowed” to use as completely antithetical to any sort of community-building; we’re either all in this together or we’re not. I’ve always hated any sort of “us vs. them” mind-set, this is no different.

So, don’t chastise people for using specific words, ask them to clarify their thoughts. Be patient with each other. Be careful with each other.

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