For the past few weeks the Internet, specifically the social media activity of the queer community, has been sickening – and not all of it in a good way. Anyone who is active on social media has likely stumbled through, or into, the RuPaul tranny debate. The basis of the debate rests on the question of whether or not the word tranny is offensive and/or transphobic, and the key players for the opposing sides have become American icon RuPaul and RuPaul’s Drag Race alum Carmen Carerra. The problem with the debate is not the argument itself, because we as a community are growing and need to have these types of conversations about language. The problem is that the debate has participants that are uninformed, biased, and privileged.
The two figureheads in the debate have received the brunt of the punishment and rage of this free-for-all, with Carmen arguably getting the most hate. The pro-tranny team is so focused on staying true to their fandom and idolization of RuPaul and RuPaul’s Drag Race, that they are incapable of looking at this debate with an open-mind. We as a society that is forever plugged in, and constantly sharing our thoughts, need to do what generations before us did, and actually read, research, and go out into the world to gain experience on the topics we’re talking about.
Facebook and Twitter, as two primary examples, allow people to share thoughts freely. There is no criteria for those that can share their thoughts; anyone can do it. The result of these unmoderated forums for discussion lead to folks sharing their thoughts en masse based off of their love for either RuPaul or Carmen Carerra, or perhaps just as often, people commenting without any knowledge on the topic at all. RuPaul, on her end, shared a New York Times article amidst the chaos, which could explain the behavior on both sides. The article, “Faking Cultural Literacy,” discusses the tendency of folks to talk about things they have no real knowledge on.
“What was Solange Knowles’s elevator attack on Jay-Z about? I didn’t watch the security-camera video on TMZ – it would have taken too long – but I scrolled through enough chatter to know that Solange scrubbed her Instagram feed of photos of her sister, Beyoncé.” This passage explains a huge problem with this current debate. Our generation is so flooded with news that we often derive our information from headlines, summaries, and comment threads, none of which offer a full, unbiased view of the real issue at hand.
I may be seen as a traitor to the gay community, but truth be told the gay community and its allies are more guilty of this fake cultural literacy than the transgender community and its allies. As gay men the word tranny is not, and was never a term used primarily against us. The same guiding principal that says white people can’t reclaim the N-word applies to the gay community and the word tranny.
To continue my traitorous admittance, I believe my fellow gays need to understand that the G in LGBT has much more media representation and support than the T. How often do you see an empowered, three-dimensional transgender main character who isn’t named Laverne Cox? When we receive transgender news it is hauntingly similar – attacks and violence. As gay people we are so used to being oppressed that is hard to see ourselves as oppressors, but that is exactly what we do to the transgender community when we act like this. It’s up to us to own up to this and make a change, and learn to listen instead of talk when an issue directly affects another part of our community.
We, the queer community as a whole, are too bullied and oppressed to be hurting one another. This is not to suggest that things can be perfect, because every community has its faults, but we live in a time when people in our community still do not have equal access to healthcare, are harassed in-person and online, attacked in schools and on the streets, and can’t marry the one that they love. When we divide ourselves it simply makes it easier for our opposition to revitalize their bigoted movement.
I wish for nothing more than a united queer community, which is why I have not participated in this debate. I am comfortable admitting that I am not educated enough in the transgender movement to take part in the debate. Plus, who am I to speak for what other people should or shouldn’t be offended by? Let’s just lose the pride for a moment, and step back when we don’t know enough or when it’s not our place to speak. Otherwise you’re just stating ignorant thoughts and fueling the fire for no reason.
I proudly admit that I don’t know what should happen with the word tranny, and that I don’t believe either RuPaul or Carmen Carerra are completely right or wrong. Only time can tell how this will end, but for now we as a community need to let those that feel oppressed talk and express themselves without fear of being spammed and attacked. Most importantly, we need to become a true queer community and erase the lines between gay and transgender.