Even though I wrote this open letter four years ago, the content is still fresh and a reminder of how cruel the media can be when it comes to discrimination against transgender people.
Last week a beautiful young woman’s butchered remains were found dismembered in a very new apartment building in a well heeled suburb of Brisbane. Police found some of her remains boiling down in a pot of chemicals and the rest of her remains in garbage bags around the apartment. Her young husband fled the scene and his body was found shortly later after committing suicide.
The news riveted and shocked the nation. How could this happen in Australia? What is becoming of our country? How could a young woman, a human being be violated in such a grizzly and macabre way? We must do something about the growing domestic crimes against women in Australia.
The very next day, papers around Australia released front page news with headlines such as “The monster chef and the shemale”, “Cooked Shemale”, “Ladyboy cooked and eaten” -suddenly the beautiful woman was now a sex freak, killed by a pervert. Prostitutes and cannibals and sexual perversion.
The memory of beautiful Mayang, a human is reduced to dehumanizing headlines.
To many transgender people across Australia, the crime was greatly disturbing but the degrading labels of Mayang were sickening. The media does not care that to call a transwoman a shemale or ladyboy or tranny in Australia is like calling a black person the “N” word.
Even though the porn and sex industry use the word Shemale and Ladyboy in their product labeling to promote revenue, only a very small percentage of transwomen in Australia are in the sex industry. The media do not have the right to refer to us, a body people as shemales, or ladyboys. We are people, we are transgender women. We must be respected and accorded our human right to respect.
For too long we have suffered at the hands of men sexually exploiting us and sexualising our beauty for their own sexual perversion or sexual gratification. Men openly verbally abuse us in front of their friends to seem more manly. For this cycle to end we must stand up for ourselves and say we are not monsters, sexual freaks and porn stars we are human beings, we have a gender and you must respect us. We alone can say no, we alone can say we do not deserve this.
There is no specific federal law to protect us from gender vilification, which is what Mayang suffered in the media after her death. But we could change that, we could lobby to change the law so we are all protected across Australia, we have to start now, by saying “no” to being labelled so horrifically in the media. We must write in protest to newspapers, online blogs, politicians and rights lobbies, the change begins with us. It is our duty to contact friends who may be able to help or perhaps friend who have friends of influence. If we want the human right of protection from discrimination and vilification then we must ask for and demand it.
I urge you all my sisters to lay down your political differences and unite on this issue, what we do and achieve today lays the groundwork for a more just future not only for us but for the transgender community when we are gone. This could be our legacy for the future that we could all be proud of when we look back on our lives.
Let’s stand together and demand the respect due to us as human beings and refuse anything less of the media.
Transgender Day of Remembrance falls on November 20 this year, in Sydney it will be held between 6.30 and 8pm at Harmony Park in Surry Hills, all are welcome to join us as we remember Mayang and the many other Transgender People around Australia and the world who have been murdered through domestic violence and transphobia and neglect.
Facebook invite to event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/177722666499056/
*Trigger Warning* In advance I would like to apologise to any transpeople who are triggered by the word "tranny", I have had to use this word to make my case very clear and I would like to warn anyone that will be affected to not read the contents of this article.
This will be the very first and last Opinion Piece I will publicly write about the problem with the word “Tranny“.
On Friday I was sent a legal letter from a property lawyer acting as a defamation lawyer on behalf of his friend – a certain drag queen by the name of Penny Tration, aka Daniel Floyd, the owner of a business formerly known as Tranny Bingo.
The letter extolled a list of complaints the (misled but well intentioned) lawyer told me my actions to expose the word “tranny’ as an insulting and debasing word to transwomen had failed and the legal action I took (sending of legal letters to cease and desist using the word “Tranny”) wasn’t a legal action, “Tranny” was not insulting, also the former Human Rights Commissioner told Daniel he could legally use the word. I legally didn’t have a leg to stand on. The anti discrimination law didn’t protect me. The anti vilification laws didn’t protect me etc. And to remove the Facebook post shaming Mr Floyd.
This letter was in retaliation to my exposing Mr Daniel Floyd publicly on Facebook for his decision to degrade my person by calling me a man and making fun of my proud pacific island lineage on social media while being heavily intoxicated.
My interpretation of the question the legal letter posed to me was why should I be so angry? Who do I think I am? How dare I shame someone who disrespects and makes fun of me, a transgender woman on a public forum by shaming him in return? And why should I a transgender woman be surprised that he would disrespect me by calling me a man after running “Tranny Bingo” for 17 years and everything else he caused to debase and dehumanise the trans population? He who claims to “respect trans people”.
Of all his many years of cyber bullying others he has never been so insulted in all his life, the irony was not lost to me.
I fired a very rude letter back telling the lawyer that all I wanted was an apology. Daniel’s (property) lawyer (friend acting as a “defamation lawyer”) told me he advised his client that he could not apologise because that would be admitting guilt – he cannot apologise for calling me a man and making fun of my proud Fijian heritage because that would be an admission of his guilt. Even though he did it, and I have witnesses to prove it, interesting. And very bad advice.
The biased and ill informed lawyer also tried to point out that our disagreements were dividing the community and I was being selfish. And to stop it. I mean how dare I demand to be respected. How dare I show other trans people how to demand respect. How dare I upset the apple-cart by demanding equality?
It all goes back to that word “Tranny”, so I am going to spend the rest of this post explaining why the word “Tranny” is so incredibly insulting to most transwomen in Australia and abroad.
Unfortunately the general public is often confused between transpeople and drag queens, some people cannot see any difference at all, and here lies the problem.
Transgender/Transsexual: Someone who identifies and has transitioned physically to the gender which is opposite to their physical gender at birth. Trans people most often permanently live as the gender they identify with. Some transwomen do drag shows for artistic purposes, but generally they identify as showgirls, not drag queens. The most famous Australian trans showgirl is Carlotta.
Drag Queen: A man who dresses as a woman for entertainment purposes aka female impersonator, drag artist, theatrical or cabaret performer. Drag queens live and identify as men when not in drag. Drag is a traditional art form associated with gay culture globally. The most famous Australian drag queen is Courtney Act.
Female Impersonator: An actor who is male who takes on a female character for artistic purposes. Australia’s most famous female impersonator is Barry Humphreys and his alter-ego Dame Edna Everage. Some drag queens identify as female impersonators but not all.
Transvestite: a person, typically a man, who derives sexual pleasure from dressing in clothes primarily associated with the opposite sex. Often referred to as a kinky pleasure rather than an identity or art form. The best known transvestite would be Dr Frank N Furter from the musical The RockyHorror Show. It is very rare for a drag queen or female impersonator to also be a transvestite.
The Trans Umbrella: Since the amalgamation of T with LGB, Trans has come to represent far more than just binary trans-men and trans-women which was historically the case. Trans now includes non-binary (people who do not identify as either gender) and a very small percent of the transgender population are gender fluid and gender queer (people who identify as every gender and enjoy and vocally celebrate confrontational labels such as tranny as a part of their identity). The best known gender queer person in Australia is Norrie. Some drag queens identify themselves under the trans umbrella and occasionally eventually transition. It is mainly young transwomen and many transmen who find the term tranny offensive, because 1) Young trans-women are exposed daily to the slur as a form of abuse, and 2) Many trans-men remember the misogyny they experienced before transition so understand the connotations of the situation.
Origin of the word Tranny
The origin of the word Tranny is very simple, Transsexual was way too long to say in casual conversation so we abbreviated the word so it was quick and easy, it was never a word we would use outside of the trans community but it was a word we could use to identify each other in a most casual but non offensive way. Nobody outside the trans community used the word twenty years ago. Tranny was never short for transvestite.
The misappropriation of the word “Tranny” was not sudden, it was eventual. Drag queens found it hilarious and fun to say, in fact around 1999 I remember they started calling each other trannies in nightclubs and bars in Sydney, they found it extremely naughty, funny and catchy.
Some entrepreneurial drag queens, who were female impersonators or drag artists – but definitely not trans, decided it would be fantastic marketing for their drag bingo, two-up, and other events designed not for the lgbt community but the general public, after all, Tranny was so taboo and naughty. They were right, the branding did catch on. Their events gave the general public permission to not only use the word but also make fun of the drag queens on stage who were making fun of themselves – as trannies, not drag queens. For 17 years.
Permission for the general public to use the word was not given from the trans community, it came from the drag community.
Two decades on and Tranny is universally considered to be a word which is a derogatory slang towards Transgender Women in most English language dictionaries.
The reason it is considered a derogatory slang now is simple, non trans people will use the word to debase a transgender woman if they are angry with her or they don’t like her, it is also used during physical and verbal abuse as if to justify their hatred and violence towards her. It is often the last word a victim hears before she regains her consciousness in hospital.
The word Tranny is now used as a weapon of hate towards transgender women.
Language is important,and language can hurt, it has been used as a weapon to oppress others since the dawn of time.
Time and again trans people and trans organisations came forward to let Daniel know this was offensive to trans people, in public they would say “we are open to discussion” in private those requests fell on deaf ears.
Daniel and Tranny Bingo first gained media attention in 2014 because Indiana Edwards, a trans activist decided to take them on, she organised a picket protest and challenged them on TV and in the media – Even then, Daniel (dressed as his sparkly and fun alter ego Penny) said “we are happy todiscuss this”. Unsurprisingly when the cameras were off nothing happened.
The media were very unkind toward Indiana, who was just trying to do the right thing.
One Tranny Bingo hostess wrote to me last November “I hated standing up for Tranny Bingo whenever a trans person would come up and complain to me, because I hated having to stand behind something I didn’t support, and the thing is I know you’re fine using the word if its used amongst sisters, but using it the way Penny was it was not ok because non sisters were using it”
A former bingo hostess privately wrote in an email ” I have not been a part of those events for over 12 months and a lot of soul searching in that time has led me to the truth that if the word hurts so many it is not my right to use that word – its not ok”
Why I Took Legal Action Against Friends.
I entered Sydney’s drag community in 1995, I was a showgirl and did drag shows in clubs on Oxford Street, I have always loved and had the greatest respect for the drag community because it is somewhere I have always belonged and been welcomed. Most trans showgirls within the drag community don’t find the word Tranny offensive, even I didn’t until very recently.
In 2017 a young transwoman and member of the social group I was Admin for posted her outrage about a large sign saying “Tranny Bingo” outside a hotel in Balmain. She said she went in and asked to speak to the manager, she told the manager that the word Tranny was offensive, he replied it was ok because the drag queens hosting the event were “trannies”, she said no they are not, and she was trans and she was offended – to which the manager curtly said “The sign is staying up”.
Complaints continued to be pathologically ignored and the word that is so expressly insulting to many was displayed in public for all to see on a busy road. This may not seem outrageous to non trans people, but to transpeople who are regularly maligned and oppressed verbally by the word, this triggered not only bad memories but also sent a sense of dread and helpless outrage through a community who were already marginalized and defenceless. It was insensitive and insulting to people who had already made their feelings very clear and had been pathologically ignored. This sign stood for oppression to many transpeople.
A new admin to the page of the group I adminned also posted something about it on our public page, he cited his outrage and his partner’s rage who also confronted the manager, I told him he couldn’t do that on the page because as admin we had to remain neutral, he would not back down so I deleted his post. I was very uncomfortable being placed in that position without my consent, tranny was never a word I personally had a problem with. That is until just before this incident when I was verbally attacked on Oxford St by a group of men hurling a string of abuses at me which included “f___ing filthy tranny, nothing but a stupid tranny, disgusting tranny you should be ashamed of yourself”. Those thugs left me quite unsettled, never before had I heard the word “Tranny” being used with such hatred and violent fury.
Afterwards one of the senior hosts of Tranny Bingo and former friend privately messaged me and personally thanked me for defending them, I said it was something that needs to be discussed to which she replied “we are always open to discussion”.
I realised then, that I had heard this dialogue four years ago on television, in newspapers and on social media – they definitely were not open to discussion, otherwise the past complainants would have been heard.
It was the sheer arrogance of a non trans person telling transpeople where, when and if they would decide they were going to continue insulting them or not that I found most astounding.
The problem was none of the complainants were known to the LGBT Community so their complaints could quickly be swept under a carpet or they could just be called trouble makers and their complaints were soon forgotten. Change could only happen if someone with a voice from within our community came forward.
So, I decided to do something about it.
On my behalf, pro bono, three lawyers from Allens, a major commercial law firm sent legal letters to all businesses advertising and holding Tranny Bingo on their premises and the owner of Tranny Bingo to cease and desist using the word because it is offensive and hurtful.
I was not going to nicely ask a non trans person to stop using the word Tranny, because the establishments and Daniel Floyd had been asked very nicely for years to no avail. The other reason I did not ask was because the word did not belong to the drag community, it belonged to the trans population – because they were the tran(nie)s.
Some older transwomen are proud to call themselves a tranny, they fought very hard to exist in a time when they were not allowed to, and all power to them, but they generally wont accept strangers calling them that. I too am a stakeholder of the word as are all other transpeople, I don’t have issue with transwomen wanting to take ownership of the word, if it empowers them then fantastic. But it doesn’t empower all transpeople, only a few, and to my way of thinking , you cannot own a word until it is taken possession of it from those who had hijacked it.
When I talk about ownership of a word think about the “N” word. Some Afro Americans have decided to call each other “N”s – but they wont hear of anyone else using the word.
There is also a parallel to “blackface’, white people covered in black boot polish and dressing up as afro Americans and making fun of themselves – they are not making fun of white people, they are making fun of black people. So too was tranny bingo, they were men DRessed As Girls calling themselves Trannies and making fun of themselves.
What I was demanding was very simple. I was demanding respect, which is the equality everyone is spouting about.
Again Daniel used the opportunity to promote his events claiming he was a victim and 17 years of tradition was at stake and the Aussie Battler was under threat, lapping up the media attention with newspaper, online magazine and radio interviews. Attempting to confuse the public by claiming to be a transvestite. Even one of the hotels stated they would “fight on”.
A former Human Rights Commissioner told him he could legally use the word, that there was no law stopping him from holding the event, this is quite different to the Human Rights Commissioner telling him it wasn’t insulting or hurtful, or morally wrong.
There was definitely a furore on social media among our friends who didn’t, and shouldn’t have to take sides.
I had never been publicly called a troll, a bitch or a trouble maker before. I was called militant,a word Nazi and many other things from a piranha to a worm.
Quite Ironic considering for almost thirty years prior to this I was considered by the very same people to be kind, beautiful, understanding, genuinely nice and always coming from a good place.
By some I was misogynised, by others demonised but most importantly by most I was sympathised with – to them what I was saying made perfect sense.
The final Outcome
Whilst dealing with the stress of social media attacks and so many friends being furious with me for upsetting the apple cart, I remained strong and stood by my actions.
Gradually all the main organisations within the LGBT Community acknowledged that “Tranny” was indeed derogatory slang used to debase transwomen.
Everyone now knows this word is offensive, and when they use it they do so with the full knowledge that it is hurtful.
There are no longer any businesses in any state in Australia hosting events using the word “Tranny”.
The trash media persists in using the derogatory slang in their headlines and that is to sell more papers at the cost of persistently dehumanising women within the trans community. But one day very soon they too will have to stop. It is such a shame that it will be under force and not by their own volition.
Language changes, some words that were once acceptable in polite society are now considered awful and inconceivable to most young people that these words could ever have been found to be acceptable in the first place. That is evolution.
I gave a voice to those people within the trans community who did not have the courage or aptitude or public profile to stand up for themselves, I bought this issue to everyone’s attention which was previously swept under the carpet for nearly two decades.
That’s why I sleep well at night, because I did the right thing.
Daniel at the end of the day also did the right thing, he changed the name of his bingo event to Gender Bender Bingo.