4.24.14 Editor’s Desk

By : Steve Blanchard
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SteveBlanchardHeadshot_137x185I’m always fascinated by the war on words.

This word is offensive. That word has been reclaimed. And the other word is only okay if it’s used by someone within a certain group or community.

It’s confusing, and if you’re involved in the LGBT community at all, you’ve heard the discussion over LOGO’s decision to pull the “She-Mail” segment from future episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race. The tongue-in-cheek reference to the host’s communication with the cross-dressing contestants survived for five-and-a-half seasons. But when a “She-Male” titled challenge was thrown into the mix, it raised half-cocked eyebrows even further north.

When I first learned of the “She-Mail” controversy, I rolled my eyes. This was hypersensitivity to a play on words on a reality show. One friend I mentioned this to said he thought phrase was “cute.” I remember when “Hotmail” email accounts were so popular a decade ago. “Hot-Male” was referenced all the time.

I’m not saying the two attempts at humor have the same connotations. But the human tongue enjoys twisting words and their meaning to get a reaction.

As an outspoken ally to the transgender community, I was befuddled by the sudden (or, sudden to me, at least) grief thrown in RuPaul’s direction. This was, after all, the same star who had transgender contestants on her show and supported them when they announced plans for gender transition.

But no one is infallible. Just because I’m an ally to transgender people, for example, doesn’t mean I haven’t screwed up my fair share of transgender relations. Like many, I try to be too careful when referencing gender and end up just making things worse.

When that happens, all I can do is apologize, ask for direction and learn from the experience. That experience has taught me to ask rather than assume.

So when I read about this latest controversy, “What is the big deal?” was my question. She-Mail could simply mean mail for women—or gay men dressed as women. In my mind the language wasn’t the same as the despicable word “Tranny” or the differently-spelled yet offensive “She-Male.” The use of both words immediately gets under my skin. So I fully understand those offenses.

I tell everyone: don’t use those words—ever.

But this was a campy reference to communication from a drag icon to her underlings that I thought shouldn’t get more than a shoulder shrug.

I read numerous articles and columns about RuPaul’s transgression. I read Facebook pleas from transgender friends asking for the offenses to stop. I also read posts from gay friends talking about the “over-sensitive” in our community and the way-too-far-reaching effects of political correctness.

After much thought, I determined that “She-Mail” in the context of e-mail slang doesn’t offend me. But truth be told, that doesn’t matter at all.

What matters is that it does offend a growing and more vocal segment of our community. And as part of that arcing community, I support those emotions.

I don’t know what it’s like to be transgender, just like a straight person has no idea what it’s like to be gay. “Queer,” no matter how often I hear that it’s been “reclaimed” by us, still makes me uncomfortable. I don’t like the word and it’s derogatory. It’s barely a step up from “fag.” “Breeder” for our straight allies is another word that some find funny, but shouldn’t. It’s not exactly a compliment to heterosexuals.

My point is this: just because something doesn’t offend us directly doesn’t mean we can discount its effect on others. We should respect the emotions and reactions of others and engage in conversations with them to understand their perspective.

Over-reacting exists, true. But just because we don’t agree with someone who has been offended doesn’t give us the green light to claim their “over-sensitivity” is showing. Instead it’s an opportunity to ask questions and understand a new perspective.

The term “LGBT” is inclusive, but it’s also diverse. No one person understands the point of view of everyone else in the community, but it’s our job to support those points of view for the greater good.

Words can wound everyone in some way when wielded aggressively. But with a united front, we just might be able to deflect some of the damage and prevent future attacks.

 

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