“Tranny-tastic”

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Living in the South, I’ve met more than one person who sincerely believes the rebel flag can be used by a state government or university without any racism, and they don’t understand why the blacks have to “take it that way.”

Mostly it’s kneejerk defiance: Nothing they do could possibly be racist because they’re not racist, ipso facto, Q.E.D.

They’re too defensive about being accused of racism to acknowledge the larger issues of culture and history. It’s the overly sensitive critics who need to pipe down and get over it. So what if those critics have faced discrimination and abuse and even violence from other people? What does that have to do with me?!

Which brings us to John Barrowman, hero of Torchwood and villain of Arrow.

“Tranny-tastic”

Although Mr. Barrowman did live for a while in my hometown of Nashville, he has—to my knowledge—no connection to the rebel flag whatsoever. But when I heard his defense of the word “tranny-tastic,” I couldn’t help but recognize his kneejerk defiance.

Back in October, John used the word to describe himself in a behind-the-scenes video he posted from the set of Arrow. After complaints arose, he answered them in a flippant and mocking manner at a Q&A at Fantasticon 2014, to the laughter of the crowd.

Is the word “tranny” a slur? Yes. Is it the type of slur that can sometimes be uttered in an affectionate and non-offensive manner? That’s something I’m not in a position to judge. However, it is a legitimate question worthy of honest debate. Barrowman’s reaction to the controversy, on the other hand, was insulting, damaging, and ill timed.

“We have a term of endearment in our trailer that we call each other, right? I’m going to say it because we don’t mean it in a negative way, absolutely, and I don’t think it is either. We call each other ‘tranny-tastic.’ You know what I’m saying. And we call each other that and we don’t mean any malice to it,” he explains.

Any word that requires that much of a preamble probably isn’t a word you should be defending, but go on.

“It was all fun, and we were, you know, it was a compliment to each other…” he says. “For those of you who watch [the video], you know, and you see the fun that we’re having, there’s no way we could have meant anything bad.”

I don’t think anyone is suggesting you meant anything bad by it. You’re intentions are not in question.

“I’m the last one who’s going to say anything negative about the gay, lesbian, and transgender community,” he concludes.

And there you have it: nothing he does can be transphobic because he is not transphobic, ipso facto, Q.E.D.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I29C-3w2CJA

Skip to 2:57 for the relevant soundbites.

Barrowman is treating the issue like it’s isolated to himself and this one particular incident. That’s a natural reaction: he was attacked personally, and he’s reacting defensively. But he’s divorcing the issue from any larger cultural context, just like someone defending their personal use of the rebel flag. In doing so, he’s unintentionally hurting the cause of equal rights.

At this moment in American history, transgender rights are starting to take the spotlight. In no small part, this is happening because the success of a gay rights movement (especially on marriage equality) is forcing the bigots to take on smaller, more vulnerable groups.

Look at the Family Rights Council floating the idea of a Constitutional amendment to define gender under the law by genetic sex. Look at Michelle Duggar making robocalls to accuse all transgender women of being convicted child molesters. If mainstream America is no longer creeped out by dudes marrying dudes, then let’s go after those freaks changing gender.

At the same time, not all the news is negative. Transparent was nominated for “Best Comedy” by the Writers Guild of America and ABC Family is launching My Transparent Life, a reality show about a teenage boy whose father is transitioning to a woman.

I can understand and forgive John Barrowman for being dismissive when critics accused him of being insulting to transgender people, especially considering his personal involvement in equal rights issues. Still, he was wrong. The abuse faced by transgender individuals is a serious issue. It takes courage and awareness to address it when the opportunity is before us, and Barrowman failed on both counts.

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  • CP Method

    Absolutely wrong. Words are never automatically good or bad–usage and context always define whether a word is a slur or not. Just as many black people use the n-word amongst themselves, and gays use the f-word, etc, in a familiar, friendly manner, the trans community often use “tranny” when they are together. Barrowman has played transgendered characters and feels a certain comradery with them. Knee-jerk sensitivity does not help anyone.