A few months ago, I was on a bus trip from NYC to DC and the two young collegiates next to me were having a really intelligent discussion about the current political atmosphere. While I don’t think they were LGBT, they were certainly progressive enough. I smiled as I listened to them banter on about the environment and the damage that some Republican candidates would do to our country. When all of a sudden, they started discussing a party they’d been to the night before and out popped the sentence “She looked like a tranny.” To me, this was jarring because as an activist, I’ve been trained that “tranny” is an offensive and downright unacceptable term to be using.
I interrupted the young men, apologized for eavesdropping for the past hour or so and let them know that the term they were using was hurtful towards transgender people. They immediately apologized and thanked me for letting them know.
At the beginning of this month on Huffington Post, the bastion of liberal blogs, there was a little survey entitled “Who looks more like a Tranny? Sofia Vergara or Blake Lively.” When it was brought to their attention that they were using an anti-trans slur, they immediately removed it and issued an apology.
And then just a few weeks ago, Kelly Osborn issued an apology for using the word in a Glamour UK interview, with regards to a transgender friend of hers. Kelly was under fire immediately and reached out to GLAAD for advice on how the word was offensive and education on how she could reach out to apologize for her gaffe. She wrote a wonderful piece, ironically enough, for Huffington Post titled “I’m retiring the word ‘Tranny’…will you join me?“
And then this morning, I was referred to a video of our very own Neil Patrick Harris co-hosting “LIVE with Kelly”. The two were inhaling a gas which was the opposite of helium, whose properties actually lower your voice in the same way helium raises it. Neil made the comment “I’ve never sounded more like a tranny in my life.”
I’ve met Neil on several occasions now and have worked with his partner David a few times, and I can tell you that if Neil had ever been informed that what he said might be offensive to some people, he never would have used it. If one of the most out, positive LGBT role models out there has not been educated on this issue, then we need to be doing better work.
I know among some, there will be the desire to break out the pitchforks and torches and make an example out of NPH. But the truth of the matter is, when even members of our own community don’t know about these things, or know and use them anyway, we should pivot to education, not attack. Each moment like this is a chance to move the ball forward. I urge people to avoid jumping to the conclusion that he is a “transphobe” or that he “doesn’t give two shits about trans women.” It comes off as not only extreme, but potentially counter productive. We make a lot of assumptions about the use of a word that many have not yet been trained to avoid.
Trans issues are happily, finally coming to the forefront. With Chaz Bono’s appearance on “Dancing with the Stars” and the doors that has opened, I’m hoping to see far more attention paid to the T of the LGBT – it’s about time. But in doing so, we must find as many opportunities as we can, to educate. If we start out by attacking people who honestly have not been told otherwise, we will lose potential allies.
I’ve reached out to Neil and it would surprise me if we don’t hear from him soon about this. But again, I can almost guarantee that he was not aware that his language was seen as offensive.
I would like to ask all who read this to take a little time and read this GLAAD Media Reference Guide and transgender glossary of terms. The education has to start somewhere.
As expected, NPH has come through with an apology for his use of the slur. Please continue to help educate others on potentially offensive language. Many responses to this post have been met with “I had no idea that we shouldn’t use that word” or “My friends use it all the time, I’ll ask them not to now.” All it takes is a little education.