Andrew Sullivan to the rescue.
Recently, at the University of Chicago, columnist and gay activist Dan Savage was called out for using the word “tranny.”
If the thought police can take out after a Dan Savage, anyone can be next.
Responding to the confrontation/conflagration, Sullivan posted a vigorous, traditionally liberal defense of free speech. He accompanied it with advice to gays and trannies: being thin-skinned makes you look weak. It reminds us of the old principle our parents used to tell us: Sticks and stones….
In Sullivan’s words:
Policing language is something no gay person should ever countenance – if only because our language and our speech, as tiny minorities, could be the first to be policed in that brave new world. And what does it say about someone’s self-esteem that they run crying out of a seminar because they cannot handle a simple fricking word (and that they do that, while preferring to be referred to as “it”!). I know life as a member of a sexual minority is not exactly an easy one. But what happened to self-empowerment? Whatever happened to the proud, fearless trans people fighting back against the cops at Stonewall? Whatever happened to the great tradition of flouting all sorts of public norms and parading down main street in full Pride regalia? Or the tradition of bawdy outrage perfected by generations of drag queens, gay satirists, cultural provocateurs, and performance artists whose goals often include the salutary impact of – precisely – offense?
We have now moved beyond he/she pronominal forms, beyond the newly invented generic “she,” even beyond the singular “they.” Transgendered individuals want to be called “it.” Even Sullivan cannot resist ridiculing the notion.
However strong people feel for making a scene and shutting down someone’s speech, all the whining about language is pathetic. Sullivan is not the first to denounce it, but in certain circles his words have a great deal of weight:
All of this is to be buried in a ghastly, quivering, defensive crouch of affirming claptrap, with trans people whining to teacher that someone said a naughty word, and incapable of taking in even a completely benign discussion without collapsing into trauma and tears. There is only one word for this and it is pathetic. I’m all in favor of avoiding words that some people find distressing if at all possible. It can get in the way of an argument, or simple manners. But I am more in favor of free, bold and fearless speech and argument, in which every t and l and g and b can give as good as they get, and in which this sad and pathetic recourse to fathomless victimology is called out for the disgrace it is. It is entirely self-defeating. No one else can give you the self-respect you may want. No one else’s words have any more power over you than you decide to give to them.