GLAAD vs. 'Glee': Is 'tranny' a bad word?

the-Situation-Mike-ChangImage Credit: MTV; Miranda Penn Turin/FoxGlee and Jersey Shore don’t have much in common. One show features peppy outcasts with a song in their heart. The other features gym-freak beach bums dancing on the grave of western civilization. But both have come under fire recently from GLAAD for the same offense: making fun of transsexuals. The Jersey Shore outcry makes some sense — when the gang talked about The Situation’s dalliance with a transgender woman, their cultural sensitivity level hovered somewhere between “Drunk Winston Churchill” and “Drunk Fifth-Grader” — but the organization’s stance against Glee is a bit more complex.

On last week’s Rocky Horror-themed episode, Mike Chang had a throwaway line about how his parents didn’t want him “dressing like a tranny.” GLAAD responded to the line on their blog: “The casual manner in which the word was used is jarring … many still don’t realize that using the term is hurtful, dehumanizing and associated with violence.” GLAAD notes other uses of the term — on How I Met Your Mother, on The A-List: New York, and as Christian Siriano’s catchphrase on Project Runway. All of which leads me to ask: Is “tranny” a bad word?

I always thought that “tranny” was similar to “gay,” a word that was okay to use unless it was wielded in some sort of pejorative sense. (“That’s so gay!” is offensive, but just saying the word “gay” is not necessarily offensive). However, GLAAD seems to be saying that “tranny” is more like the f-word-that-also-means-”cigarette”-in-England, a term that is offensive no matter what the context.

The other twist, of course, is that the same episode of Glee also featured a key lyric change from “transsexual” to “sensational.” So, in summation: major media corporations think “transsexual” is a bad word, and activist groups think that “tranny” is a bad word. PopWatchers, can we meet in the middle somewhere? Do you think that “tranny” is a bad word? More to the point, do you think that Glee‘s use of the word was offensive?

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Comments (116 total) Add your comment
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  • John

    Well if it shuts down that bastion of homophobia Glee then I will be happy

  • Ryan

    Good lord, can GLADD just die already? I hate all these groups that make a huge fuss about minor things. In my eyes it does more to hurt the cause they are supposed to be helping than it helps. PETA is another group I feel this way about.

    • Other Ryan

      I was under the impression, in the context of the show, that his parents didn’t “want him playing a Tranny”…..which the character he was going to play is described as. I think this is a case of GLAAD really overreacting. Of any show on TV, Glee is by far one of the most tolerant of all people. I don’t understand this crazy controversy.

      • darclyte

        Apparently tranny has become a derogatory word in the gay community, but is still seen as a descriptive term to everyone else. At the end of the day, it all depends on how the word is used. If used in a negative connotation, then sure, it’s bad. But the character on Glee used it as an abbreviated descriptive word and no derision was intended. Heck, I know a few Transgendered people (I went to high school with a guy now known for his Transexual Personae) and they call each other that constantly. And it’s not in the way people who are black use the N-word. Also, it was not used as a pejorative like “that’s so gay” so I really don’t think any slight was intended. I think perhaps in this case they are being too sensitive, but considering how they’ve been historically depicted and treated, I can’t say that it isn’t fully without cause.

      • bob

        i sort of thought this was glaad over reacting, until i read this comment. which sort of proves their point. it’s pretty iffy when folks outside of a community start saying things like don’t be too sensitive while they prove they don’t necessarily know what a word actually mean. ‘tranny’ is not just an abbreviation for transgender.or at least not a neutral one.

  • Daw Johnson

    Neither use was offensive, but “Jersey Shore”‘s use was far less offensive.

    With Jersey Shore, you had a straight male getting grossed out by the fact that he was on the verge of hooking up with a transvestite. I don’t care how socially tolerant you are and what your perspective on gays, bis and transgenders/transvestites is, if you’re a straight male, you have NO OBLIGATION to be okay with a sexual encounter with another man (or anyone, for that matter).

    There’s a difference between bullying someone because they’re gay or a transvestite and not wanting to be gay yourself. The latter is PERFECTLY fine. You shouldn’t have to pretend you’re not grossed out by the prospect of making out with a dude for political-correctness.

    • pastafarian

      and yet he was fully attracted to him/her before he knew about the transgendered-ness of his near hookup target.

      • Liz

        Yep. The end. I think the Jersey Shore usage was was more offensive because it was used as a vulgarity, to express a negative.

      • Daw Johnson

        Yes…? But finding out someone has a penis can go a long way in changing your opinion.

        As for Glee’s usage, how was it any less negative? To me, “my parents don’t want me to look like a tranny” is far more demeaning, since it assumes “looking like a tranny” is a bad thing.

        I’d argue you have more reason to be upset about “hooking up with a tranny” than “looking like a tranny.”

      • C

        Daw, the line was “Dressing like a tranny” not “looking like a tranny”

      • Laura K.

        Actually, no. It assumes “looking like a tranny” is a bad thing to Mike Chang’s parents. Who, as we already know, are very traditional and conservative.

    • Charlie

      The problem with Jersey Shore is one you’ve inadvertently pointed out. The person who Mike was close to hooking up with isn’t a transvestite or a man. She’s a transsexual woman. While it is completely fine for someone to not be comfortable to have sex with a transsexual, it is not fine to treat them as a man. You aren’t gay for sleeping with a transsexual. It is belittling and demeaning to someone who has done so much to change their outer appearance to fit in to then completely deny them of their gender and everything they’ve been through.

      That being said, I have absolutely no problem with the word tranny or how it was used on Glee. Maybe I should?

    • Caitlyn Rose

      Excuse you, Daw Johnson? Mike on Jersey Shore was making fun of a transsexual woman, not a man in drag (or transvestite). There’s a difference, and it don’t make a dude gay for being attracted to or sleeping with a (MtF) trans woman. Because he’s attracted to her feminine qualities, something that is opposite of his own being. Therefore it’d be straight sexual relations.

      Us trans women are women first, transsexual second. But society doesn’t get that. Non-trans people use the word “tranny” to label us as a 3rd gender, when we’re already man or woman.

      A MtF trans woman is a type of woman, a FtM trans man is a type of man. You go by OUR gender identity, how we walk, talk, look, dress, etc. Us trans men & women already know who we are on the inside. But we break our backs just to make it known to the world, in hope that others see what we do, and treat us accordingly.

      When cis gender (non trans) people think of “tranny”, in their mind it’s another word for “sub-human”. It’s degrading, and the very thought of this infuriates me.

      That’s why we trans men & women get upset. That’s why cis gender people have no business using our terminology, y’all don’t use it right. You’re either ignorant when using it, or outright disrespectful. Well, not all of you. But most. OMG, I’m heated right now. LoL

  • Alex

    Is it our place to say? Most of us, including myself, aren’t transgender, and all the transgender sources I’ve read generally consider it offensive. I don’t think it’s my place to vote on whether transgender people should take offense at a term, much like I believe that the n-word and f-word were offense to black and gay Americans long before a majority of white and straight Americans agreed. I defer to the opinion of those represented by the term.

    • Znachki

      Agree Alex.

    • Felix

      I think Gladd is alienating one their best supporters, Glee. Glee has gone out of their to show the complications of a gay lifestyle, and have done so with grace. It appears that some members in Gladd need to come out of their glass house and see whats going on in the real world.

      • Alex

        I agree that Glee has done notably well with Kurt’s storyline. However, I (respectfully) disagree that GLAAD will alienate Glee. I don’t think Ryan Murphy is going to stop featuring Kurt or turn write homophobic scripts just because GLAAD raised (reasonable) criticisms of the show’s treatment of transgenderism and, more specifically, transexualism. As an anti-defamation group, GLAAD’s purpose is to point out statements that are offensive to GLBT people, and their comment was perfectly within their scope.

        Your last sentence confuses me. A glass house implies hypocricy, which I don’t see GLAAD demonstrating. I think you meant to say that they need to come down from their ivory tower. One doesn’t need to exit a glass house to see the real world; one can just look through the glass walls. Still, I think that people use ‘tr***y’ in ‘the real world’ doesn’t make it any less offensive.

        You know what — this is an entertainment website, so I’m going to disengage from this debate. Does anyone else like Vampire Diaries?

      • AzureKat

        What is a “gay lifestyle?” Seriously, there’s no one thing that gay people have in common other than being sexually attracted to members of their own sex. You can be a celibate virgin homophobe and still be gay. You can be an out gay man and dislike anal sex.

    • Joe

      I think perhaps Daw Johnson should read Alex’s post. There’s something to be said for an eloquent response. Daw, you come off less informed. Well done, Alex

      • Daw Johnson

        I did. To quote Georges St. Pierre, “I’m not impressed by [his] performance.”

        Not saying my point was especially well-written; I’m sneaking message board comments in while at work. But at least I took a side–”is it our place to say” is the lamest copout every for a comment board. If you don’t want to take a side, why comment?

    • KellyC

      EXACTLY!!! That is what I was going to write. I’d actually like to hear from some transgender folks about how they view and use the word. I know transgender people who use the word to describe themselves. I think there is also a bit of a class and race issue here because I have heard the term used much more in the Black community and it is no big deal.

  • nodnarb

    Lots of trans people use that word. Most of the ones I know are pretty campy and have a sense of humor about life. In fact, there’s a movie coming out called Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives. Team Tranny!

    • nodnarb

      Ok, I googled to make sure I wasn’t talking outta my ass… Amanda Lepore has her own Swatch watch called “Time Tranny.” That settles it.

      • AzureKat

        I’m trans, and it’s a slur. Do I cancel out Amanda Lepore? If not, what does that say about you?

    • laughriotgirl

      A movie made by a gay man (who isn’t trans)… not a good example really.

    • Rheoryn

      Yes and the director is bisexual, hired mostly if not all drag queens for it, NOT transsexuals and did not consult the trans community before making it and blew it off when they complained about the title.

      • Mark

        Actually, 3 of the 5 main women were trans. Get your facts straight. And they discussed concerns with him throughout filming.

    • Rainbow Girl

      To nodnarb…your comments are insulting on all levels. You clearly lack sensitivity for others and the plight of the dehumanization of transsexuals. People like you justify your actions and never get it. You lack the skills to see.

  • Really?

    *eyeroll* I’m starting to think GLADD just looks for things to get pissed off about.I know transgendered people and homosexuals who refer to each other as “tranny”. Is this going to be a thing like the N-Word where only transgendered and homosexuals can use it, but everyone else can’t? Tranny Please!! Get over yourself GLADD!!

  • Bebe

    RuPaul uses the word “tranny” all the time, as in her latest song “Tranny Chaser.” The word in and of itself is not hateful.

    • Scott

      I was just about to bring up Tranny Chaser by RuPaul! So does Ru’s song offend GLAAD too? That’s a pretty casual use of the word, I think.

    • Kathy

      Ru Paul has very clearly stated several times that he is not transgender. His using the word is of no more significance than any other person who isn’t transgender or transsexual. And no lesser offense.

      He gets to take of his make up, remove his fallsies & wig – cash that check – and not worry his sweet little head over how he portrays trans people effects their lives. We have to deal with going to job interviews and walking home at night with others having his “tranny” image in their minds.

      Thanks Dude!

      • Pinky

        To clarify, though, “trans” or “tranny” could be referring to transvestite, not just transgender.

  • Diana

    Speaking as a transsexual woman myself, I do find the term to be tacky and insensitive. I don’t use the word myself, and dislike it when others use it. But, that said, it’s a minor annoyance, and I don’t spend much time worrying about it.

    • ALittleConfused

      Sorry, I need clarification. Transsexual means that you have/are going through a gender reassignment, right? Transvestite means a man who dresses as a woman but doesn’t always live as one/isn’t going to gender reassign? I’m asking because to me, these are two vastly different groups. I thought in the show that tranny definitely meant transvestite. Please correct me if I’m wrong. I’m not saying it makes a difference but there does seem to be some intermingling of the two and I’m not sure they are actually the same thing.

      • Jeannette

        Well, Frank is a transvestite and Mike Chang did make the comment towards Frank’s costuming.
        Personally I have a lot of gay and transvestite friends and they don’t seem to mind. I’m all about tolerance but seriously,everything is so PC now. And you didn’t see people flipping out over the Asian stereotypes in the show OR the calling of Mike Chang “Other Asian.”

  • Todd T

    “There are no bad words.” — L. Cohen

  • parkr

    UUUHHHH… can we please have some official book of terms where we can figure out which words are:
    - not acceptable (can’t be used by anyone, including person in question),
    - can be used in correct context (with clear definition of what is correct context and what is not)
    - what can be used in any context (that you can use w/o any PC repurcussions)
    I’m getting really tired of this

    • pastafarian

      you need to get on with your life if EW blogs are stressing you out this much.

      • Tally

        I don’t think parkr is stressed about the EW blogs. He (she?) is basically remarking on how difficult it is to keep up with what’s appropriate for everyone and what’s not. Some things are pretty obvious – others are not. And when it’s OK for one group of people to use a word, but not another group, it can get confusing especially when it involves a population most of us aren’t exposed to on a regular basis. Plus, even within these populations, there doesn’t seem to be a consensus.

      • Caramia

        Tally, are you calling parkr a he(she)? Just because of a gender neutral name? That is really offensive. I’m going to turn you in to GLAAD.

    • lee

      I’m sure marginalized people are equally tired of 1. the use of offensive, marginalizing terms and 2. always having to explain why precisely these terms are hurtful.

      • AzureKat

        This. A thousand times this. :)

    • maime

      parkr — The answer is to be like me – I flat out REFUSE to be PC. PC is one of the biggest downfalls in this country and is dragging us down to a total disaster! No matter what anyone says is offensive to someone according to the PC nonsense so I just gave up. Don’t like what I say? Ignore it..but I refuse to be PC and according to the first ammendment, that is my right. Just as it is anyone’s right here. No one can demand that anyone be PC. People like the GLAAD are a major pain in the butt who LOOK for someone to say what to them is a “bad word” which is always something that millions of us have said for decades, yet because of the PC nonsense is now a so called wrong word to say. It’s ALL nonsense and pretty gay if you ask me!

      • Laura K.

        People can demand it all they want. No one has to comply. The First Amendment protects you from government action against you because of speech, not GLAAD, not other people on message boards. You can say what you want. Other people can call you on it, if they find it offensive or misinformed. That’s not so much the First Amendment as it is how society works.

      • Kriss

        parkr, if you get beat up by a African-American man for using the n-word, don’t expect me or anyone else to step in and save you. You will be getting what you deserve!! Claiming your “right to free speech” does not give you the right to be offensive because I have the “right” to be offended. An it’s still wrong to yell “fire!!” in a crowded theater!!

      • Kriss

        Sorry, parkr, that comment was meant for maime.

    • Peython

      Well, speaking as a genuine transman here, I think, at least for the word tranny, it’s okay as long as it’s not used in a purposely pejorative manner, as with many words. Or at least, that’s my take on it. Not trying to force my opinion on anyone here, and please don’t take a sample size of one. I’m not attempting to represent the trans* community, just sharing my take.

      • Rainbow Girl

        As a transwoman, I find the word insulting and dehumanizing. It has a porn tie to it.

  • Chris

    I think that the use of Tranny could be overlooked if they hadn’t changed Transsexual. What they did is akin to using the word f-g but bleeping homosexual; it’s offensive because it seems to say that the proper term (and the people it represents) are somehow not safe to talk about on TV, while the derogatory term is totally kosher. When taken in that light, I find it absolutely offensive.
    On it’s own, i don’t find the term particularly offensive, but I’m not Transsexual, so I don’t really think I’m the right one to ask.

  • Clara

    Tranny is absolutely offensive. Anyone who doesn’t think so obviously isn’t trans.

    • Kat

      But…why is it offensive? People who aren’t transexuals have no idea, and it would be so helpful if we could understand why it’s offensive. I don’t want to hurt anybody. But I want to understand the reason when I am asked to stop using a word I thought was acceptable. If people are like me, they always just thought “tranny” was sort of an abbreviated form of “transexual.” Sometimes it’s used in a tacky way, like Christian’s Siriano’s “hot tranny mess”, but I too thought it was just like “gay” – the context made the difference. Why is it a “dehumanizing” word? In what ways has it been associated with violence? I see that these are GLAAD’s complaints, but GLAAD does not explain them. I don’t think GLAAD understands that people aren’t just going to want to stop using a word because one organization says so. That’s not realistic. There needs to be some sort of education about this if they want it to be a real, resolved issue.

      • ugh

        When I think tranny, I think over-sexualized and fetishized symbols of transsexual/transgendered/transvestite. To me, the term is all about essentializing a person in a single image, and in this case a not-very-positive one.
        Its not the worst thing you could do. But its also not about being PC, its about having a modicum of respect for the humanity and wholeness of the people with whom we interact. Its about being sensitive and caring in the words we choose. Its not about policing or being policed. GLAAD is not being the bad guy, but someone has to call these things out or it becomes normalized.
        I don’t care if RuPaul uses words like tranny. She is not a representative for the community as a whole, just like I don’t want Snooki to be viewed as a representative of me as a woman. There is nothing positive about the term tranny–at its best, it is inoffensive, at its worst, it is violent and derogatory. Why use it?

      • Heidi

        It’s offensive because it’s erasing. The terms transsexual and transgender are both adjectives – they’re meant to describe the gender, not the person, so the correct use is transsexual man, transgender woman, trans* man, etc. People do not say “tranny woman”, they say “tranny”, and thus erase the gender and humanity of the person being talked about.

      • Chuck Mielke

        @ Kat: I think the central thing is that some transexual people find the term abusive. I can understand how, in an attack upon a transgendered person, an attacker might throw the word “tranny” in a dehumanizing way, since it also is an abbreviation for “transistor,” “transmission,” and “transparency.” Just as we shouldn’t question why “f—t” is hurtful (though many know it is and why), it’s wrong to ask transgendered folk “why is this abusive.” It’s abusive because it hurts. Does it depend on context? Sometimes. But for some transexual people, “tranny” will always be hurtful.

  • katzamboni

    RuPaul uses it. Is RuPaul not trans?

    • Stickler

      2 points:

      1) It’s actually unclear. RuPaul is a drag queen, which is under the broad umbrella of transgender. However, ‘tranny’ often time refers to transvestites or transexual persons (also subgroups of transgenderism), which RuPaul is not.

      2) Some gay people have reclaimed ‘f*g’ and some black people have reclaimed the ‘n word.’ Just because people within the groups use it doesn’t mean it’s not offensive generally, as Dr. Laura recently discovered.

      • nodnarb

        This is why tranny has become such a popular word… transgendered, transexual, drag queen, cross-dresser. It’s sorta hard to keep up with each of them, so tranny is a simple catch-all word. I don’t use it disparagingly, but I use it. Although Diana’s comment above makes me reconsider using it at all.

      • TOS

        How is a drag queen NOT a transvestite? (Your point 1 states that Ru Paul is a drag queen but is not a transvestite or transexual.)

      • California

        TOS, I believe transvestites are heterosexual. Eddie Izzard is a comic who is a transvestite, rather famous, and this is how he distinguishes transvestites from drag queens because men who dress in drag are homosexual.

    • Penny Marie Sautereau

      No RuPaul is NOT trans. Not even a little. He has himself expressed many times he is a cis gay male who happens to enjoy doing Drag. And he has NO Business AT ALL telling ANYONE tranny is an okay word and we all should just suck it up.

  • Lyla Novak

    Does no one remember that she sings “Sweet Transvesite…from Sensational” It made sense for Mercedes to tweak it for her own use in the song, but they obviously make use of the word transvestite as it’s not anything offensive, but a normal song lyric.

    • AT

      It’s actually SIN-sational. The EW staff keeps getting it wrong and it’s driving me batty.

      SIN-Sational!! SIN-Sational!!

      There were at least half a dozen people that pointed this out in the last EW article about the song. Get it right, EW!!

  • Gleek

    All that really matters is that EW has another GLEE related article.

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