Dear Mr. Charles and your alter ego Ms. RuPaul,
My letter may be different in tone to other critiques on your segments, because I am asking not for you to stop using these words all together, but I am asking for a little empathy towards people you are supposedly publicly claiming to be an ally.
I am going to preface this by saying… the word “shemale” used to describe me would put me into a near murderous rage. I find the term extremely offensive and it calls into question my “realness”, it has been used to bully me in the past and can many times still be used to try and bully me (though these days I know how to fight back, but it means I have empathy for those who are bullied this way and haven’t developed the thick psychological skin that I have.)
I also have ties to the adult industry through communities I have been a part of, and I know “Shemale” is used as a categorization or marketing term, I don’t think its right, or accurate, but OK… people who do adult films and don’t mind that self-identification for marketing purposes, I get that.
I don’t think you being a member of the over-arching loose confederation of the “T” communities makes you any less responsible for the effect your use of these terms (of which GLAAD considers defamatory) has on the perception of cisgender communities who don’t understand the difference between transgender performative art (“Drag”) and my experience as a trans woman who has lost some pretty important things to the covert and overt discrimination in this world against us, and can’t turn off the performance and appear as another identity. It just isn’t me.
I don’t want to take away anyone’s right to self-identification, if you identify as a “tranny” and are proud of it… please by all means… be proud, even be loud… but please educate people that its not OK to identify all of us as “trannies”. You are in a unique position to do this, and change things for the better for people you claim as your own and as allies.
The “Female or She-Male” segment (as opposed to the She-Mail segment, which I find a cute play on words reducing the slur to a cute pun, and like all queer people, I like puns (look at my sweeping generalization!)) was to me, very offensive… because it gives the cis-public not only the idea that its OK to describe all trans people that way, but it also implies that trans people aren’t real women either.
It may not have been your intent, but sometimes intent isn’t the issue, its the final result, and I haven’t seen you really take into account the reality of trans people outside the Drag communities. I could be wrong, I don’t know you personally, and I don’t want to assume.. but from observation this is what I see.
Please be empathetic to those of us offended, instead of implying that gender queer people (of which I am not, I identify as firmly in the female gender identity) who speak up are not really trans people, and have no right to weigh in. They are gender variant and have every right to say exactly what I am saying, even if they seem angry and condescending. Maybe there are good reasons to feel angry. Maybe they’ve been bullied with these words? Maybe many of us after being bullied have PTSD or have even committed suicide… Maybe these words not used to self-identify do more harm than good now? Instead of being a unifying word, they are not anymore, and what would it really take to stop using them? Its not hard… I change my language all the time to try and be less offensive and understanding and empathetic, you can too, especially since you have an audience who will listen.
I know you feel attacked and what you are doing after this, especially with producers and networks up your arse about this whole thing, is counterproductive. You are supposed to be better than this, the EXAMPLE to the cis-community, and instead, you’ve decided to dig in your heels and close your ears.
Please open them again, and have a dialogue with those of us who have real concerns about these words being used on international television. They are in fact hurtful to some, and just that understanding will go a long way into mending fences.
-Siobhán Patricia Lynch
lesbian autistic disabled intersex trans woman (see, I label myself, not others :))