Gay celebrities and hateful language

I was intrigued by an article penned by Lance Bass recently, in response to a controversial comment he made on Access Hollywood Live last week. Apparently he used the word “tranny” on the air, and all manner of righteous indignation came down on him.

I was impressed not only by Bass’s detailed apology and explanation, but also his call for more thoughtful responses to media controversy.

Bass begins his article, entitled “Why We Shouldn’t Use the Word ‘Tranny’” with a very straightforward and sincere-sounding apology:

Let me start this off with two very important words that I truly mean from the bottom of my heart: I’m sorry. I’m sorry to anyone who was offended or hurt by my use of the word “trannies” while appearing earlier this week on Access Hollywood Live.

Let me share what I have learned in the last 24 hours. I have learned, thanks to Glaad.org’s website, that the term “tranny” is used as a dehumanizing slur to describe transgender individuals and is oftentimes the last word someone hears before they are brutally attacked. Similar to the anti-gay F-word, the term “tranny” is commonly used to humiliate and degrade transgender individuals.

As with any misdeed, intentional or accidental, it’s important to start off with a direct apology and an acknowledgment of both the error and the potential impact. So, kudos to Lance for his mea culpa.

He went on to describe how he had learned the word “tranny” and why he thought it was appropriate to use:

I often hear the term used on Logo’s RuPaul’s Drag Race and spent an entire summer listening to Christian Siriano use the phrase “hot tranny mess” on Lifetime’s Project Runway. In my definition, I was referring to the flamboyant and hilarious drag queens and transvestites who play on Christopher Street in New York City, some of whom I even call friends. When I use the word “tranny,” I am picturing Tim Curry’s Frank-N-Furter character in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, or the wildly hilarious Eddie Izzard. I certainly don’t think of Chaz Bono or someone questioning the body they were born into.

It is a word that I have always associated with overly made-up men in garish costumes and dramatic makeup and have always considered it a term of endearment. It had never crossed my mind that it was a slur against those who are transgender and fighting for their identity.

Just in case we weren’t clear that he was sorry, he adds a bit to emphasize that he understands just how hurtful his words may have been, immediately after his explanation:

I am incredibly sensitive to anyone’s feelings, especially anyone who has been made to feel less than or humiliated. I have nothing but respect and empathy for anyone struggling with, or who has had to struggle with, finding peace in the body they were born into. I know my own struggles that I had to go through just to find peace with my sexuality; theirs is one I could never imagine.

But then the article takes an interesting twist… Nestled among a few more apologetic statements, he takes a few moments to chastise the “gay media” for their reaction to the whole scenario:

I am extremely disappointed with the gay media, which has chosen to turn this into a headline that will garner more attention for their websites and help sell more of their magazines and disregard the irresponsible effect they are having on our community.

Whoa! Is Bass turning his apology into an attack on his accusers? Actually, I don’t think so… I liked what he had to say when he continued:

Yesterday, The Advocate wrote, “Lance Bass Uses Transgender Slur On Air.” Regardless of the article that followed the headline, guess what the mainstream media will pick up and turn into the public’s perception in the process? Lance Bass hates transgender people. …

I never see a headline in The Advcoate that reads, “Lance Bass Wants You To Join Him At The Russian Consulate In New York City To Help Protest Anti-Gay Propaganda Laws Being Passed In St. Petersburg.” But you can check my Twitter feed back on Nov. 28 and you will find that I posted just that and did indeed go speak to the Russian consulate. But I bet if I had written, “Hey, fag lovers, come join me,” it would have been picked up by everyone. Who knows, maybe we could have actually had enough people to make a difference?

I think he’s got a point, but I don’t think it’s limited to just the gay media and gay celebrities. After all, sensational headlines about outrageous and offensive things get people to click through to the full article, or to buy a newspaper or magazine (for the old fashioned.) Granted, in this case it was the gay media (perhaps because they are so sensitive to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues) that jumped on it. And yes, perhaps there’s a better way to approach situations like this:

The first people to report on the story were The Advocate, Instinct, and Queerty, not any mainstream media. My community were the first ones to attack me. The Huffington Post is the only outlet that reached out immediately and suggested I write something to help educate. That to me is responsible journalism, and everyone should follow suit. I just believe there are better ways to handle the distribution of press and would appreciate it if the media, especially the gay media, could be more responsible in how they report a story.

Good call. Although frankly, I think Bass could have dished a little more of his retrospective grumblings at the LGBT people that use words like “fag” and “tranny” in everyday conversation. When a public LGBT figure routinely says “hot tranny mess” and young, impressionable LGBT viewers start repeating the phrase ad nauseum, those public figures are just adding to the use of divisive and hateful language by people who may not realize just how hurtful the words can be.

It’s bad enough that we have bigots out there using hateful language and in some cases violent behavior against LGBT people… Let’s stop prompting our own people to join them, shall we?

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