by: Lindsey Dietzler
So why exactly did Dan Savage deserve to join the ranks of Michelle Bachman, Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich in getting glitterbombed — not just once, but twice? While purportedly answering a student question about her boyfriend’s desire to watch porn featuring trans women at the University of California Irvine on Monday, “Savage suggested that her boyfriend was a freak, while freely using the terms ‘shemale’ and ‘freaky tranny porn,’” according to an articleposted on Bilerico.Savage, however, has a different version. In a statement released on his blog Tuesday, Savage said, “I did say ‘shemale.’ I read the question as-written, repeated the term in my response, and then used ‘transexual” in place of ‘shemale’ (‘transexual sex-worker,’ ‘transexual porn’), modeling the use of less offensive terms, before circling back to ‘shemale’ in order to unpack why some find it offensive.” He does not offer a transcription of this unpacking but goes on to claim he is “rabidly pro-trans.”
With no actual transcript of the event published on the internet as of yet and opposing accounts of the actual language used aside (I’ll even err to Savage’s account of the event), here are the reasons Dan Savage deserved to get glitterbomed, starting with his most recent offense:
1. If Dan Savage were as “rabidly pro-trans” as he claims to be, he would have not only addressed the transphobia in the original question, he would have used language concurrent with the transgender lexicon. In situations where transphobia is that abrasive, it is not enough to simply model “less offensive terms” because yes, Savage, your terms are still offensive and ignoring bigotry is the same as perpetuating it.
The term transsexual is an outdated, often misunderstood and pathologizing medical term that many trans folks find offensive or off-putting for it’s association with Gender Identity Disorder (GID). There are still some folks who identify as transsexual and I am in no way saying that they should not or do not have the right to identify however they see fit, but the appropriate language a trans ally would use in this context is transgender.
Furthermore, a “rabidly pro-trans” ally might have taken that question as an opportunity to address not only the problematic use of the word “shemale” but the problem of transphobia on the whole. Savage could have even offered a brief Trans 101 for folks in the audience who may know nothing about the community. Because as a “rabidly pro-trans” activist, you know Dan, that the more educated people are about trans issues, the less likely they are to be transphobic.
2. In a misguided attempt to upset Rob McKenna and call him out on his bad LGBTQ policy, Savage claimed McKenna was transgender and criticized him for his “cruel disregard for his low-income transgendered brothers and sisters.” This stunt is problematic for a few reasons, the first being that Savage’s previous transphobic remarks makes his audience read being transgender as an insult in this context. Second, he refers to his “life saving sex-reassignment surgery that allowed Rob to become the man he is today.” This infers that Savage a) either knows or assumes that McKenna had any number of surgeries and has the right to out him as a transman and b) that surgery is necessary to become a man. Finally, Savage flaunts his privilege, prioritizing surgery as one of the most important needs of low-income trans folks when those needs are often access to food, shelter, employment and healthcare. For shame, Dan.
3. In June 2003, Savage posted the offensively distasteful Bad Tranny on his blog. In the space allowed here I cannot even scratch the surface of how horrific, inappropriate and misguided the advice he offers “Heartsore and Saddened” is (stay tuned for a future piece). This is a mother looking for some real advice about how to guide her son through his father’s transition in a transphobic society and instead of giving compassionate advice, offering up some positive reading by Kate Bornstein or defending a persons right to pursue happiness to become a better person and parent, he calls the father a “selfish tranny” and a “stupid tranny.” Great advice Dan, the trans community definitely needs to feel more shame, especially coming from the gay community.
Last month, Savage told The New Civil Rights Movement, “When I started writing Savage Love 20 years ago, and you can yank quotes 15, 18 years ago and flat them up today and say, ‘You know, that’s transphobic,’ I’d probably agree with you. 15 years ago I didn’t know as much as I know now — nor did anybody.”
If using offensive language, using transgender as an insult, and flat out disregarding the need for the freedom to express your gender is what Savage has come to know over the last several years, I am horrified to imagine where he started on trans issues 20 years ago. As one of the most famous “LGBT rights advocates” in the country, it is Savage’s responsibility (whether he likes it or not) to educate himself on the most pressing issues and up to date lexicon being used by the community. If he is not willing to take on that responsibility, he should step down and let someone else who is ready be the face of queer rights advocacy.
Lindsey Dietzler is a trans/queer rights activist and community organizer. He is a co-founder of Video Action League and founder of CAMP: A Queer Sports League. Dietzler received his Bachelor of Arts in Cultural Studies from Columbia College Chicago. He is currently working on organizing a new queer/philanthropic dance night in Logan Square. Dietzler enjoys dancing, riding his bike and snuggling with his cat.