I am writing in response to the article entitled “Kiki Balls – the Teen Drag Scene,” written by contributor Zachary Kussin and posted to the Brooklyn Based listserv on December 6th, 2011. Although on the one hand I appreciate Mr. Kussin’s attempt to depict for BB readers the vibrant, community-oriented nature of New York City’s ballroom scene, I was especially disappointed to note his choice to include the word “tranny” – a divisive and culturally loaded term – in the piece.
[Ed. Note: While Zach did read through a final edit of the piece containing the phrase “tranny glam” to be exact, I added it in editing to describe the aesthetic of the kiki ballroom scene. –AG]
While it may be true that some members of the transgender community have reclaimed the term “tranny” in order to try and take back a fraction of the power that this word – along with myriad other transphobic slurs – has historically been used to diminish, I do not believe that this gives people not of a transgender experience the right to wield it casually. Given that Mr. Kussin did not explicitly position himself as a member of the trans community (or the ballroom scene) in his article, readers are left to understand that he writes from the perspective of an informed observer, a role that carries with it a great responsibility to the group being written about. Even if some of the individuals Mr. Kussin interviewed and interacted with for his article used the term “tranny” to refer to themselves or to name a particular style of dress or expression, Mr. Kussin’s position as an outsider looking in necessitates that he work to find ways to share what he learned about ballroom culture without appropriating what he saw or perpetuating the oppression of the people that make up this community through the use of labels or hurtful language. It is upsetting to me that Mr. Kussin chose to undermine his own opportunity to demonstrate true ally-ship to the members of the ballroom scene by including a word that carries such a history of violence and hate.
In light of the complexity of this issue, and my own position as a non-trans ally, I’m including below a link to a blog post written by a trans person about the troublesome nature of the recent proliferation of the term “tranny” as well as some ideas about who should be using this word and when.