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university of arizona responds [Nov. 10th, 2009|12:01 pm]
I got a response to my letter to the Univerity of Arizona's Dean of Students office that objected to their title of "Ask a Tranny Anything" as the name of a public, educational event. Here's the response:

Kynn Bartlett,

Let me begin by introducing myself, my name is Jennifer Hoefle and I am the new Program Director for LGBTQ Affairs through the Dean of Students Office at the University of Arizona. Let me also thank you for your email and for the time you have taken to express your concern. I can see that the title of the panel is very upsetting to you.

You address many important points in your email and really capture the complex debate about the use of the term “tranny.” I want to begin by acknowledging that the committee planning Transgender Awareness Week brought up similar concerns and spent time debating about the use of the term. As you so clearly describe, the term "tranny" is problematic for a variety of reasons. It is also a term that is unfortunately still used. Our intention is not to condone or sanction this use of language, but rather to expose and educate. This title is shocking and it grabs people’s attention and becomes a starting point for conversations and educational opportunities, where we are then able to help our university students recognize discrimination, dehumanization and in some horrific cases, the murder of transgender people. It is always a challenge to expose the reality of hate and bias in a way that is respectful to all people impacted, and in a way that engages our college students.

In closing, I am always interested in feedback and again thank you for yours. If you have suggestions for another title to use in the future, please let me know. We can use all the support we can get.

We will certainly keep this feedback in mind in the planning of future events.

Jennifer Hoefle

Here's my letter, for reference:

Subject: Upcoming "Ask a Tr---y Anything" event

Dear Dean of Students office,

I'm an LGBTQ member of the broader Tucson community who has long approved of the University of Arizona's commitment to diversity, especially when it comes to inclusion of, and support for, LGBTQ students, faculty, and staff.

However, as part of Transgender Awareness Week this year, the Dean of Students office is sponsoring events called "Ask a Tranny Anything" -- and that causes me serious concern.

The word "tranny" is not a hip, cool way to say "transgender person" -- it is a slur that is regularly used to hurt, insult, dehumanize transgender women. Nearly all of the victims of anti-trans violence -- whose deaths we will be mourning on November 20 as part of the Transgender Day of Remembrance -- were trans women and nearly all of them died hearing that word. "Tranny" is a hate slur that is used when assaulting transgender women.

I do understand that some transgender women want to reclaim the word -- in the same way that other offensive terms such as "c-nt" or "n----r" might be reclaimed. However, in an academic setting such as an event sponsored by the Dean of Students, those words probably wouldn't be used as the titles of public events.

I am also aware that the Southern Arizona Gender Alliance, a partner on this event, endorses the word "tranny" as used in the title. At least, the leadership of SAGA does; many members of SAGA have expressed their concerns about the use of hate language in a public, educational program sponsored by the university, but the SAGA leadership is not responsive to those complaints.

It's not enough for the Dean of Students office to simply hide behind the SAGA leadership's blessing and ignore the needs of the community, both off- and on-campus, as well as the university's own standards for behavior of campus groups. Would a "Tranny Dance Party" held at a fraternity or sorority, or by a student group on campus, be considered acceptable?

By using the word "tranny" in an official event sponsored by the Dean of Students, you sanction the use of the word "tranny" -- a word which is used to dehumanize and murder people like me. I'd really like it if you could reconsider the title of this event and not use language that serves to hurt and alienate some of the very people who you're claiming to champion during Transgender Awareness Week.

Thank you,

Kynn Bartlett

It feels like a non-answer to me. Is it a non-answer?

Should I write back and say "How about 'Ask a Trans Person Anything' as a title?" or is this just a lost cause?

[User Picture]From: masscooper
2009-11-10 08:54 pm (UTC)
I think part of the issue is that it's not a particularly shocking title for cis folks. The term "tranny" has been normalized in the LGBTQ community for "fun" event titles and descriptions. It's slangy and informal, and used in mixed company so that supposedly well meaning cis LGBQ folks who want to do good but don't get it see it as a way of being friendly. Transgender and transexual come across as clinical and cold, and people who have rejected homosexual for similar reasons look for "affectionate" terminology. Panels like this, that endorse the use of "tranny" without giving any context or explanation for that use reinforce the impression that when used by a friendly, well-meaning person, "tranny" is harmless.
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[User Picture]From: kynn
2009-11-10 09:07 pm (UTC)
...reinforce the impression that when used by a friendly, well-meaning person, "tranny" is harmless.

So I guess that prompts the question of whether or not "tranny" is harmless when used by a friendly, well-meaning person.

I don't think so. But some people might; perhaps that's at the core of all this, in addition to issues of "reclaiming" and appropriation?
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[User Picture]From: masscooper
2009-11-11 12:55 am (UTC)
I agree with you, but I think a lot of people believe that their intent is all that matters. It's very frustrating, and very privilege-centric.
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[User Picture]From: icecreamempress
2009-11-10 11:31 pm (UTC)
I thought your response was good.

However, "n*gger" is "still used," and they would never have approved (quite rightly, in my view) an "Ask a N*gger Anything" promotion as part of Black History Month.
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[User Picture]From: icecreamempress
2009-11-10 11:32 pm (UTC)
The "however" was not a follow-on to your response or your original letter, but to this person's letter.

Would they have had "Ask a Faggot Anything"? I doubt it, yet I know lots of people who self-identify as "faggots" (in addition to lots more people who find that a very problematic and triggering word).
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