I can still remember the day I met the Tranny Granny.
The name made me giggle inside, but there was also a wince. Is it funny, affectionate, or offensive?
After talking with Jacquie Grant, and getting to know her legendary status, I realised it was definitely the first two.
I was interviewing her for a TV show in New Zealand, Queer Nation, when civil union legislation was before Parliament. The evangelical Destiny Church, led by pastor of muppets Brian Tamaki, marched 5,000 black-shirted men through the streets of Wellington chanting “enough is enough” to protest against it.
It culminated in a mass gathering in Parliament grounds, where I interviewed many people who seemed to have little idea what they were doing there. “Someone has to stand up against the evildoers,” said one woman.
“Who are the evildoers?” I asked.
She didn’t know, but another man leant so far into the microphone I thought he was going to lick it during a long speech about the seed of Satan.
Jacquie Grant had seen it all before. She remembered being among hordes of Christian teenagers who thought it was a good idea to “kill a queer for Christ”.
Queer’s a funny word. I’ve never liked it. Many gay men who grew up with it hurled at them as an insult don’t like it either, but it’s been reclaimed by some: a hodgepodge of activists and misguided theorists, mainly, but needless to say it remains a divisive moniker.
As does tranny.
A petition has been started to stop a season of the pantomime “trAnnie” (a parody of “Annie” if you hadn’t guessed) at the Sydney Opera House in December. Those upset by the show are upset at its title and its content.
Show creator Trevor Ashley is sticking firmly with the reclaiming argument. He told SameSame.com.au:
“Although I appreciate that the word may brush some transgendered people up the wrong way, the intent is not to harm, but take the sting out of what I’m sure could be a painful word for some.
“Being a part of the GLBTQI community for many years, we are people who can reclaim words that have been used in harmful ways towards us in the past.”
I’m skeptical about the reclaiming argument, and I can understand the feeling of some transgender people that the word “tranny” is as offensive to them as “faggot” is to some gay men, including me.
It doesn’t sit well with petition organiser Savannah Jackson either:
Gays must stop exploiting their association with transsexuals and cease excusing this gross injustice perpetrated against trans people by claiming this absurd proprietary right to the “T” word.
My friend Craig, who despises the idea of the play, had this to say on the weekend with regard to labels:
Now that the gay community is no longer allowed to use the word ‘trannie’, can we please, PLEASE, kill the word ‘queer’; which I find terribly insulting having been raised by people that called me a filthy queer for 20 years. While we’re at it, can we please kill off bear, cub, chubby, dyke, boi, silver daddy, panda bear, polar bear, fanny, gay, sodomite, poof, fag, lipstick lezzo, femme, butch and pansy. Also, rally against any party or event that refers to us as filthy, dirty, extra dirty, dogs, perverts, kinky, bad, nasty, bent or dark. We may have been fighting as a community for decades to be granted respect, and I think that should be universal. Death to labels.
A heated Facebook discussion ensued.
It’s often said that labels are for clothes, not for people – but we still need clothes just as much as we need labels.
They help us to define, draw boundaries, create movements and communities to which we feel we belong. That doesn’t mean the boundaries can never be changed, or that someone should be forced to accept a label they don’t want.
But labels serve an important function, whether they be as loaded as “conservative”, friendly as “bear”, or geeky as “Trekkie”.
They’re an essential part of human interaction and creativity. Without them, we’d be boring. And we’d spend an inordinate amount of time using the phrase “that thing” in conversations.