First and foremost: I’m sorry. I don’t want to bury the lede here.
But let me back up for people who don’t know what I’m talking about..
A few days ago on Twitter, I posted these two things in quick succession:
(The above was 100% true. But then in a minute, I followed up with:)
I got an avalanche of very angry messages immediately after that, saying that the term “tranny” is a super-offensive term to trans people. And that I was a [many expletives].
Let me admit it upfront: I had no idea. I thought the term was a shorthand for more accepted terms — maybe not the most reverent, but certainly not all that offensive. I assumed it became offensive only in context, when used with malicious and even violent intent — when clearly meant to hurt and belittle. In those two tweets above, the first seemed like an amusing bit of reportage of what my kid actually said. In my mind, the second one was mostly a slam on Michael Bay. But the more I look at the second one, the more I see how it’s not that simple.
I was surprised by the reaction. Some of the stuff coming my way was nasty, but hey, it’s the Internet. The much more important point is: I did a bad job responding. I apologize. Even though I stand by my general analysis about the dilemma of offensiveness in comedy in “part one,” well… man, a lot of that was disingenuous in its details. I conveniently conflated this incident with a much more minor one on Twitter a few days before (an incident which I might follow up about sometime soon, but really, the comparison was not appropriate, like apples-and-aircraft carriers). Also, my analysis was shot through with snottiness that I wince at, reading now. That little bunny seems like a real jerk now.
I was puzzled and angry when I wrote it. (I’m not, anymore.) I’m leaving it up there as an honest record, but I wish I’d taken a few deep breaths first. Maybe a few days’ worth of deep breaths.
Now I have. And I took this seriously enough to ask some trusted friends about this — friends whose values I admire, whose sense of humanity is pretty unerring, and who I knew would be dead honest with me. They were, damn it. My heartfelt thanks to them and everyone else who gave me a gentle lesson in what the hell was going on here.
I also did a lot of research, not only about the nomenclature but about the science (my old friend!) of it all, and about the appalling level of violence against trans people. I understand a LOT more than I did a week ago. Still a relative noob, but much, much more informed than a few days back.
I won’t use the word again.
It can be challenging for people in comedy and art to find better ways to do what we do, and avoid hurting people who don’t deserve to be hurt. But that’s my problem to solve, not anyone else’s.
I want to make people laugh, and occasionally think, and maybe — wow! — both at once. I want to have fun doing it. It may always mean being irreverent, skeptical, absurd, even indulging quite a bit of cynicism and sarcasm. But I never want to depend on continually kicking people who are already down to do what I do. I’d rather find another line of work entirely. (Bowling alley attendant comes to mind, since that might have been my last honest job before getting all artsy-fartsy and comedyish.)
I want to stand on the side of humanity. I want to be humane, even when being a goddamned wise-ass. There’s no tried and true path through this, but it’s really worth trying to find it. I want to make people laugh, not feel shitty about life. ”Leave the world a better place than you found it.” A twisty task for someone in comedy, but others have shown that its not impossible.
I’m not sure why I had no idea that term was so red-alert powerful. The best answers I can muster: it might be generational, and that people 20 years younger than me are much more aware. Maybe this is like watching MY parents face gay and lesbian issues, or my grandparents fumble their way through racial stuff, saying awful things all the while. (Though I should say that some of the other feedback I got on my two tweets, from people significantly younger than me, makes me wonder about that.)
An equally likely answer is that I really don’t know any trans people — no close friends, no family members that I know of. The one and only trans person who I knew well was someone at a regular AA meeting I used to attend. We are both there to recover from addiction, and [no name: anonymous, y’know*] was an inspiration: she’d been physically abused by family for years, was pulling herself out of drug and alcohol addiction, and was doing it with an amazing amount of dignity and cheer, considering what she’d been through. She was a person vital to helping ME recover. We no longer live in the same city, and so have lost touch… But the thought of causing her further pain in life breaks my heart.
In apology, and to honor my friend, I am donating $100.00 to the Anti-Violence Project in New York, where I grew up.
Thank you for your time.
[* Re AA: in case people outside the program don’t know, “anonymous” only means you don’t betray the anonymity of others. You’re allowed to say whatever the hell you want about yourself! Maybe the subject of a future post for me, but first a whole bunch of my normal goofy junk. Thanks.]