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more on "ask a tranny anything" [Nov. 8th, 2009|12:44 pm]
It appears this is a current topic of debate on the SAGAchat mailing list, which I haven't been reading lately.

A trans man who organized SAGA for years (and a personal friend of mine) sent this to the list, which he says he wrote in 2006 to explain the title of the panel:

As part of our education and advocacy efforts, the Southern Arizona Gender Alliance (SAGA) created the “Ask a Tranny Anything” forum in 2003 to increase awareness about SAGA and our community from a different angle. We subsequently found it to be one of our best-attended and most talked-about SAGA events. The 40 or more people who attended the first forum (standing room only in the old Wingspan space) learned a whole lot about gender-diverse people, the issues we face, and how they can be better allies.

The forum concept and the name actually came from a non-trans Wingspan board member who was also the partner of a trans person at the time. The SAGA Board of Directors (prior to Wingspan merge) jointly agreed on the title. At the last SAGA Advisory Committee meeting in October 2006, the group unanimously supported keeping the name as is.

To create change in society, sometimes you have to meet people where they are and draw them toward a new way of thinking, rather than stand on a soap box and hope someone hears you from the distance. The general population at least understands the term “tranny” in one context. While it is not a word we generally use in educational presentations, this is a different kind of outreach than our standard approach. This particular event is intended as a no-holds-barred, open, direct, often irreverent, yet light-hearted approach to educating the less enlightened. Being a little edgy and maybe a bit controversial is exactly the point. It’s not for everyone—either as panelists or audience members.

This strategy is not about being self-deprecating, but empowering. By using and owning words like “tranny” or “queer” as positive, affirming descriptors, we diminish the stigma, the “charge”, and the negative impact those words have when used against us.

If someone is drawn in by this somewhat controversial title and leaves with understanding of transgender people as living, breathing, human beings who face overwhelming obstacles and still come out strong, resilient, “normal” folks just like themselves, then I see that as a positive result.

If you have additional concerns and wish to discuss them with the SAGA leadership, I invite you to contact me at [old] or email me at [old] and request time on the agenda of the next SAGA Advisory Committee meeting.

It's so fucking easy for trans men and successful, professional, white trans women (the type who are usually on the SAGA advisory committee) to claim that the term "tranny" fosters an environment that is "open, direct, often irreverent, yet light-hearted." Because they aren't the ones we're going to remember.

Here's a statement from one of the current organizers:

There is a bit of a flap over the choice of name for our "Ask A Tranny Anything" panels.


Having said that, let me introduce the following statement into the fray.

From November 16 through November 20m the southern Arizona Gender Alliance and the University Of Arizona Office Of LGBT Affairs will be hosting our FOURTH Annual Transgender Awareness WEEK. We are the first, and I believe still only, trans-awareness week in the world. And it is the fourth year in a row for us. This is not a fly-by-night, guess-and-by-golly event. A lot of discussion and planning go into every part of the schedule.

As in the past three years, we will be conducting two panels titled, "Ask A Tranny Anything". As in the past three years, we have discussed this choice of title. We are VERY aware of the controversial nature of the title. It is precisely that reason that we choose to use it, and precisely the reason we keep it as it is.

The target audience for these panels is those people who are not politically correct, and who would ignore a title that is less in your face.

We deliver approximately 25-35 presentations per year to audiences who are favorably disposed to hear what we have to say. We title these presentations and tailor the content to meet the needs for audiences from community college sociology classes to UofA Medical School required curriculum content. We also speak to RBHAs, corporations, business alliances, and community groups of many types and sizes. In none of these do we use the word "Tranny". For these audiences the word would be inappropriate, and yes, derogatory.

But for the audience we hope to attract in these two panels, the word "tranny" has a special impact and a special purpose. It is a tool in our tool box to educate the world around us. One of the points we make in this panel discussion is that there are certain terms that are considered derogatory, "tranny" among them.

We are trying to rebuild a house in which we are welcome. Some of the work requires removal of old walls, and erecting new ones. For this particular part of the project, we believe this to be the best and most appropriate tool. A crow bar well applied is better than a screw driver misapplied.

We get more people volunteering to be part of these panels than any other we do. And it is usually one of our biggest events in this week long celebration of being transgender, which ends with our Day Of Remembrance vigil.

The genesis of the title has its roots in very liberal queer activists in our local community. But the logic behind the use of the title has been ratified by the more "conservative" members of our leadership. We feel that for THIS moment, and THIS purpose, this is the most appropriate title for THIS public forum. Those making this decision are long time, well known members of the community, who continue to devote many hours each week to our community, and whose sole objective is to change the world for the better.

The discussion on this thread closely matches our own discussions over the past, now, four years. We ask you to trust that (A)we are not going off half cocked, nor (B) are we misguided in our efforts. Time is the only true judge of effectiveness, and we must make decisions without the benefit of hindsight, but the past indicates that this may be an effective tool for our use.

Alison Davison, SAGA Coordinator, adds some additional perspective:

"It is an effort to reclaim a term that is known to be difficult and even painful. I own this term for myself. I appreciate it's completely un-PC qualities, much as I appreciate those qualities in myself. It pushes buttons.
It is difficult. It is not what I want to be called by any but someone I love and trust. . . . and it immediately distinguishes me from those with a more traditional history.

When I use it, it does not sting.

When we originally decided to use the term for a similar panel six years ago we wanted to have members of our larger community come and ask the questions they often thought about but felt constrained to speak. It was a way of nudging folks to not worry so much about being polite" [or politically correct].

A couple years ago, I (Erin) gave up looking for terms that fit everyone and made everyone happy. This happened when, after telling about 100 audiences that "IT" was a bad word, I met an individual who requested that people use the personal pronoun "IT" when referring to, well, it.

After that I realized that if we are championing self-identify, we need to allow people to self identify.

And now I will run and hide before the firestorm really starts.


In neither of these responses do I find the logic compelling.

Another SAGA organizer writes:

However, I would like to note for the others on this list, that this is not a matter of someone else calling us trannies. If that were to happen, they would be fighting words. But it's not. It is us calling ourselves trannies, which is a whole nother situation entirely. To make an analogy, as a person of Irish descent I might take pride in calling myself a Mick. But if someone else of another heritage were to call me that, they might swiftly find themselves horizontal on the sidewalk.

Context is everything.

However, Miki -- who has never, to my knowledge, self-identified herself individually as either a "Mick" or a "tranny" -- isn't just calling HERSELF a "tranny" here. She is calling ALL OF US "trannies," in the most public event that we ever have in Tucson, when she labels (and approves of labeling) the event "Ask A Tranny Anything."

PS: Someone named "Miki" trying to compare the very tepid and obsolete slur "Mick" against those poor Irish people to the term "tranny" which is still used when killing people is pretty fucking white of you, Miki.

Update: The use of the term "tranny" in the title of the session gives the general public the idea that "tranny" is an acceptable term for what "they call themselves." Many, many more people will read the announcement than will attend a session.

And beyond that, the fact is that such a title is divisive and filtering -- only those trans people who are willing to be publicly identified as "a tranny" and are okay with the panel's title will participate. This means that you will have a very strong weighting toward trans men, genderqueer FAABs, and (frankly, rather naive and/or "anti-PC") trans women who are okay enough with the word. Those who will hold the position "hey, this is fucked up, and it's an explicitly anti-trans-woman slur" won't be represented, because such a person won't sit on a panel with the name "tranny" in it.

It's already happening; one parent with a trans child won't participate because she can't conceive of referring to her daughter as "a tranny." Good for her; no one should find it acceptable for this to be the name of event held during Trans Awareness Week in Tucson.

[User Picture]From: iphisol
2009-11-09 12:53 am (UTC)
Yeah, there is no way in hell I'd go to anything like that, and I'm exactly the kind of person you want there: somebody intelligent who refuses to take this kind of shit, and can explain why. It's like setting up an infinite hall of mirrors to live in. GROSS.
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[User Picture]From: terry_terrible
2009-11-09 02:28 am (UTC)

The target audience for these panels is those people who are not politically correct, and who would ignore a title that is less in your face.

Well shit, then the best possible way to each out and teach them about the humanity of trans people is to encourage them and to be complicit in the adaptation of transphobic slurs. Perfect logic!!

Where do they dig these brilliant people up?

But "liberal queer members of the community" deciding it's okay must certainly make all kosher.
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[User Picture]From: kynn
2009-11-09 03:16 am (UTC)
Hopefully SAGA will soon be organizing transphobic riots to go and drag some "trannies" into the street and beat their heads in. What better way to reach out to the uneducated, after all? They could make it a TDoR event.
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[User Picture]From: terry_terrible
2009-11-09 04:23 am (UTC)
It's too bad that SAGA's budget is so small or else they could fund forcible detransition of trans people.
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