Laura Jane Grace and Reclaiming Slurs

Against Me! frontwoman Laura Jane Grace recently announced that her memoir will be released in November under the title Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout. As soon as she posted the announcement, Twitter blew up with opinions about this use of a slur that is frequently directed at transgender women. Many fellow transgender folk argue that using such a loaded word in the title of a highly publicized book only creates a situation where cisgender people feel they can use it without consequence. Others support Laura Jane Grace in reclaiming a word that has hurt her. Grace herself has implored her critics to wait until they’ve read the book before judging her usage of the word, saying that it’s a word she hates and the decision to use it in the title of her book was not taken lightly.

Before I continue, I’d like to say that I’ve been lucky enough, so far anyway, that this particular slur has not been directed at me. I came out as genderqueer very very recently, and I present just femme enough that most people I encounter tend to assume I’m just an androgynous looking cis woman. So while it hurts a lot that my gender identity is completely ignored in a mainstream context, at least I don’t have people screaming the T word at me as I walk down the street.

When I saw Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers in Boston last month, I was able to hear a few excerpts from Grace’s journals, which she said served as a base for much of her book. The stories she told outlined a struggle that spanned decades. She talked about relationships that were destroyed by her dysphoria and her reactions to it, and “selling out” when her friends made fun of trans women while she was still closeted and too scared to confront them. The vibe I got wasn’t like the Caitlin Jenner, “I came out in Vanity Fair and now I’m the voice of the entire trans community! Yay for being a tranny!” crap. This isn’t the ignorant, rich lady idea of trans struggles. Laura Jane Grace isn’t trying to be the voice of the entire trans community, she’s just trying to tell her own stories after being silenced for so long.

That’s why I support her reclamation of the word. As someone who identifies as “queer” in both sexual orientation and gender identity, I know how important it can be to take away the power of a derogatory word. While I don’t expect the T word to ever come into common usage the way that “queer” has, allowing trans people to reclaim it in order to preempt the pain it can cause is incredibly important. As Grace quipped on Twitter: “Now when I’m walking down the street with my kid and someone yells ‘Tranny!’ I’ll just tell her ‘They read my book!”

This doesn’t mean that I expect every single trans person to be comfortable with it, just like I wouldn’t expect every member of the LGBT community to be comfortable with the word “queer”. These terms are backed by a long history of pain and abuse, and no one should ever be forced to identify with a word that has hurt them. All I’m saying here is that we should respect the choice that Grace has made with her memoir. If calling her book “Tranny” is what allows her to take her power back from those who have hurled the word at her on the street, who are we to deny her that?

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