At the end of last year, I shared my report back on my first ever pedicure. As you may know the title of the piece was ‘TGirl Bucket Listing’. I chose the title as I wanted to convey a light and fun tone. It was also chosen as I wanted to convey the fact that this was a first-hand account of my experiences. I was also (slightly) embarrassed that at my ripe old age, I had never been for a pedicure and I was being a little self-deprecating.
It may also be worth noting that when I first developed a public persona, a few years ago I looked long and hard at all the various descriptors that were out there. I did some research and found that ‘tranny‘ was somewhat divisive, to say the least. At the time I felt that describing myself as a ‘transgender woman’ was a little too earnest and could have been confusing as I am not on hormones, I am certainly not full time and at the time I wasn’t even sure that that is what I was. I also felt that ‘crossdresser’ on its own was perhaps a little too limiting and could give people the wrong idea. I discovered the term ‘t-girl’ and decided that it was light enough without being flippant or offensive. I looked it up on a number of different resources and found that on Wikipedia -t-girl’ is considered to be synonymous with the umbrella term ‘transgender woman’ (in its broadest sense) and that according to the Urban Dictionary, t-girl is a ‘generally accepted “polite” way of referring to transgender’ people. It was thus a term that I believed accurately described me and that I was comfortable using in relation to myself.
The article was generally well received by those who read it and it was shared on many different groups and quite widely read. One group I shared it with was a group for transgender women and their cisgender allies. As my blog post was a light-hearted post about going for a pedicure, with some advice on what to expect at the pedicure, I thought it would be of interest to the group. Unfortunately, two members of the group took exception to my use of the term ‘t-girl’. I was told that I should refrain from using the word in a public forum. When I queried this, I was told that the word was offensive and made some people feel uncomfortable. I was also told that using the word in the title of the post either excluded everyone who did not use the term as an identifier or misgendered those same people. Given the lengths I went to in finding a word that I was comfortable with in the first place, I was genuinely surprised by this reaction. I was also finding it hard to follow the logic of the arguments, so contrary to my usual practice, I engaged in some debate.
I pointed out that by this logic, if I used the word ‘transwoman’ in a group for trans and cisgender woman, I would be excluding everyone who did not use that term for themselves or I would be guilty of misgendering them. Given that this was a group for cisgender, transgender, gender fluid and allied women, using the word ‘transgender’ would presumably exclude and or misgender as much as two thirds of the people in the group. I then pointed out that in our community it is quite common for words and definitions to change.
I was then told that ‘T-Girl’ is a commonly used word in transwoman pornography. In the interests of research (and as directed by the person making this assertion) I then went to a number of sites to see what words were being used. I was a little surprised to see that ‘T-Girl’ was indeed a common descriptor for the various videos on offer. I am far more familiar with words like ‘shemale’ and ‘tranny’ being used in this context. I therefore widened my search term sample and saw that in addition to ‘T-Girl’, ‘tranny’, and ‘shemale’ were also being used widely. I then searched ‘transgender’, ‘transwomen’ and ‘transsexual’. I got a lot of hits for all these words. Indeed, it seems that the pornography industry use all of these terms almost interchangeably. I am not sure what my critic was saying by pointing out that ‘T-Girl’ is used by pornographers, but if her assertion was that being used by a pornographer invalidates a word or makes it offensive, then I am afraid we will all be looking for a whole new range of words very soon. Wherever the usage is, the pornographer follows. However, I simply cannot agree that a word being used by a pornographer invalidates other uses of that word. It is simply a nonsensical argument. Using obscenities in polite society does not raise their register. Using high register words to describe obscenity does not destroy the meaning of the word.
I found this exchange more than a little confusing, but it did give me some pause for thought. Clearly these people did not appreciate my use of the word and I started to think about how we react to language. I try to be as sensitive to others as I can, and I would never deliberately seek to upset people. For this reason, I do not use the word ‘tranny’ unless absolutely necessary (for example in the context of this essay). At the same time, we must be aware that words can have radically different meanings depending on where and when they are used. A few years ago, ‘tranny’ was an acceptable word. Many people of an older generation are happy to use the word to describe themselves and it is also an acceptable word in some parts of the world. However, a twenty-something transgender person in the USA (for example) will find this word deeply offensive.
Our community must be vigilant. We have won many freedoms, we still have many prejudices to overcome and there are those who would seek to destroy what we have already achieved. However, we are also a community that is often considered to be ‘easily offended’. There are certainly instances where people seek to harm us, and we absolutely need to challenge those who would do so. However, when we challenge the imagined or perceived insult we simply alienate those who could be allies and damage our cause and hinder us in achieving our collective goals. For this reason, I believe we should all be careful to take context and intent into account when assessing the language people use as well as their actions.
Only by first seeking to understand the other can we take the conversation forward productively. If the person’s intent was benign, there is no need to take offense. If their intent was to aid and assist perhaps we should seek to understand why we are reacting negatively, before voicing our displeasure. We should absolutely consider that we do not all share the same histories, nor do we share the same cultures. Our experiences are very different and therefore the manner in which we express ourselves will be different. If we understand each other better, we can save our energy for those that truly deserve our ire and we will have a far better reception in the wider world than we may have right now. If we come across as rational and reasonable cisgender society is more likely to take note of our legitimate concerns than they are if they believe us to be looking to take offense at the slightest provocation. Words matter, language matters and we must use this to fight for rights, defeat bigotry and improve our lives. So, let’s all do that!
I am still bemused at the negative reaction to the term ‘T-Girl’. Have I missed something? Has it indeed slipped away from being a ‘positive’ word to being offensive? Have you ever found someone using the word in a derogatory fashion? Much like my research into the word ‘tranny’, I suspect that if it has been used offensively, the number of times it has been used offensively is inversely proportionate to the hurt it has caused. But apart from this isolated case, I honestly have never come across someone who has reacted badly to the term. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments.