The T Word

I was about to board a 6-hour flight from Montreal, and I picked up an easy read at the bookstore (they still have paper books, fortunately!), Louise Penny’s Kingdom of the Blind. I won’t give it a review, but I literally hit turbulence in the chapter where the action is vaguely located in the area of Montreal that used to host sex workers and drug dealers. In recent years it has become hardly visible, due to extensive construction. I stumbled upon “the junkies and whores and trannies” and I was reminded of the first time I’d heard the word, supposedly to designate sex workers who are transgender.

I was in a gay writers group a while ago (when I tried to fit in the gay male world, but that’s another story), where I mentioned a monthly reading event that I thought was very good. But then someone explained “it’s this event at the back of a bar led by a tranny.” This was not so many years ago, but at the time nobody was aware of respecting others with language, but as I had great respect and admiration for the organizer of the event, who is transgender, I took offense. As I am the introvert who will not say anything out loud, I lost respect for the speaker of those words.

Fast forward to today, when white people are shocked they’re accused of offending by uttering the N word. There is a subtlety they don’t get. They hear rap songs with the N word in them, or hear it in movies, and take it as license to say it. We have a similar issue with the T word, in that it has been used extensively to insult and diminish the transgender people who do sex work. There’s a whole can of worms to be opened to explain why being transgender doesn’t automatically make you a sex worker, but when I read “the junkies and whores and trannies” (which is repeated several times by the author, for emphasis), I sense there is an intent to bunch all sorts of problematic low life together. And then I find myself wanting to defend the low life. I guess now that the high life is experiencing the wonderful world of opioid drug addiction, they may even start avoiding the word “junkie,” but continue to call sex workers “whores and trannies.”

To their credit, the protagonist corrects the medical examiners when they insult the corpse of a transgender woman, although you would think the civil servants would have had some sensitivity training…

End of rant…

1 Comment

  1. Alex Logan says:

    I just love unexpectedly coming across a slur in my reading…
    You are so right that people hear an in-group person use a term and think it’s OK for them to use too – they don’t get the nuance/context. If you’re not the one the word has been weaponized against, you don’t get to decide when it hurts and when it’s harmless

    Liked by 1 person

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