November 4, 2010


Three news stories caught my eye lately. I'll explain why in a sec.

Vince Vaughn's "electric cars are gay" joke may have been cut from the trailer for "The Dilemma," but director Ron Howard says it's staying in the movie. Despite public outcry from both GLAAD and CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, who declared the words insensitive and harmful, Howard told the Los Angeles Times, "I believe in sensitivity but not censorship."
After the Parents Television Council gave them heat for that racy GQ photo shoot, "Glee" has come under fire once again: New York magazine's Vulture reports that GLAAD is upset that the hit Fox series featured the word "tra**y" in its "Rocky Horror"-themed show.
On October 26, during the show's "Rocky Horror" episode, “tra**y” was used as “an easy punch line," according to GLAAD. Then, days later, the alliance said the "Jersey Shore" reunion special took an offensive turn, as well. While revisiting some of the season’s most memorable moments, the special - which first aired on October 28 - flashed back to an instance at a Miami nightclub. Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino was flirting with a blonde club-goer who his cast mates later referred to as a “tra**y.

Is it me or are we all getting a little overly sensitive?

The old saying stick and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me is fundamentally untrue. In fact, words can hurt worse than physical pain. The invisible scars from verbal disfiguration last longer and run deeper than a lot of physical injuries. And we should be sensitive to that. But growing up, the word gay had absolutely nothing to do with sexuality. And while the word tranny surely existed, it wasn't in my vocabulary. I don't condone the use of slurs or derogatory comments - what's termed hate speech these days - but we can take sensitivity and political correctness too far. To extreme levels of stupidity. And that's what these examples highlight.

It would also seem that, in our increasing sensitivity, we've decided that asterisks are letters. They are not. They are a cop out. If you mean to say tranny say tranny. I'm a boy - I have a penis not a p**is. When I'm rude I'm an asshole, not an a**hole. It floors me that a news organization (each of these stories was from CNN) would shy away from printing a word that, I'd argue, is potentially offensive to a very limited group of people.

Choose your words wisely, say what you mean and mean what you say. But don't hide behind political correctness or rogue punctuation.

Are we too sensitive? Too politically correct? Where's the line between hate speech and just being rude?

Posted by Chris at November 4, 2010 7:12 AM

We're too sensitive! The word tranny is used in the Rocky Horror Glee Show because one of the main characters of the original is a self proclaimed "sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania". It's not as if they made that up to stir things up.

And you're right about the word gay. It usually doesn't have anything to do with sexuality but the over reaction to the use of the word has made it a "bad word".

Posted by: Meemo at November 4, 2010 7:32 AM

Well said.

Posted by: 3jaysmom at November 4, 2010 7:57 AM

Maybe I am insensitive to the sensitive people but I feel like if you're the type who cringes at these words, well then, remove yourself from the situation. Don't read the article, don't watch the news show. Don't watch Glee if it may offend you. But don't think for a second that the people who aren't bothered by these things are going to take you into consideration. You know what I mean?

(Of course the "you" I use here is the general "you". :) )

Posted by: Claire at November 4, 2010 8:41 AM

I absolutely agree with you about the asterisk replacement phenomenon. If your tact or decorum prevents you from writing the actual word you mean, come up with another one for the situation.

As for television censorship, I hate any kind of mandatory censorship. And, certainly, commercial programming must be sensitive, but I just really don't know where I weigh in on the use of "tranny". Was it used as a slur.

As for the word "gay", honestly, I think we have to look at the history of its etymology and note that it may just have become, ironically, a heteronym.

I enjoy your writing so much. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

Posted by: Kristen Brock at November 4, 2010 8:54 AM

Well I am glad you explained tra*** because I didn't know what the hell it stood for. I also thought we lived in a free country and free speech etc. I don't agree with hate crimes but I do believe that political correctness is nit picking here.

Posted by: Trish at November 4, 2010 9:15 AM

People are just way too sensitive. Granted there are some words that just shouldn't be used in polite company, but pretty soon we will be left with nothing but a pile of **** (read into that what you will :)

Posted by: Elizabeth at November 4, 2010 9:16 AM

Yeah, too sensitive. Everyone has a button though, and it seems no one can say anything without at least one person's button being pushed. I have buttons too, but damn, I also understand context and inflection.

Posted by: Brad at November 4, 2010 9:47 AM

It's scary sometimes how much we think alike.

Posted by: Heather at November 4, 2010 10:17 AM

I think you ask a very valid question: at what point does free speech become hate speech. Without doing the appropriate research and just doing a gut check, I think that the idea is that it is contextual.

I think at the core of what GLADD and CNN are arguing ( although not very well ) is that when we use a word like "tranny" or "gay", we are stereotyping. A stereotype is a social shortcut: I'm explaining to someone who you are via a label, and through that label you can infer things about you. And just like in history we've had moments where stereotypes were used to justify horrible acts, we must be vigilant when we see it happening.

There really are two separate things here:
Why did Vince Vaughn use the word "gay" to describe an electric car? What is the context that he is implying? That an electric car is physically and emotionally attracted to other electric cars of it's same gender? Or is there an implication that if something is gay, we can imply a bunch of ( in this case ) negative things about it without having to go into more detail?

To allow that implication to go unchallenged is to say "Yes, that is a fair stereotype" in much the same way as if someone in pre-war Germany ( or in many places today ) were to make an ethnic slur to justify an action.

The other issue is the "tranny". Here I think there is a different dynamic at work. I did not see either episode, but based on the descriptions, it seems in both cases the word was being used as a slang to describe someone who is, in fact, a transvestite. I don't know how that word is perceived by people who are transvestites, but I can think of another culture that has a word that is offensive, and that we would not think twice about _not_ using. If the transvestite culture feels the same way about "tranny", then it should be off the table. If however, it's use and meaning is generally empowering or in good humor, then I think it is OK.

As with all things, the devil is in the details. The point of a free speech society is not that I can say whatever I want, and you can't say anything about it.

The point is that I can say what I want, you can say what you want, and we can discuss and come to some sort of understanding about things. But that takes a dialog, and if we censor the words outright in the name of "protecting" someone, we make it impossible to have the critical conversation that we need to have to move past the stereotype in the first place.

Posted by: metawizard at November 4, 2010 10:53 AM

I think people are a little oversensitive. A lot depends on context. I had no problem with the only episode of Glee (Rocky Horror) I've seen. If I remember, the kid was repeating what his dad had said and sending a message about bigotry. Much different than if he had called another kid a name and even then it depends on context.

I generally use asterisks in print for two reasons.

1. I'm a guest on another person's blog, in which case I don't want to offend unless there's a good reason.

2. I don't need the kind of c**p that results from people searching by key words. When I was still writing my blog, I got some very strange requests just because of the blog name - rocrebelgranny. I wonder what people thought I was.

I use the real words when I'm writing about bigotry of any kind. Asterisks take the feeling of hate out of the word ni**er or f*g. I want the hate to be totally visible.

Posted by: Ann Elizabeth Adams at November 4, 2010 11:12 AM

Cunt, wetback, nigger, nazi firewood, retard, redskin, fish, faggot, dago, camel jockey, injun, whore, chink, feeb, pussy, jungle bunny, cripple, fairy, spic, gook, kike, towel-head, darkie, zipperhead, dyke...

If any of those made you uncomfortable, and you're not even of the group that it's aimed at, imagine being in that group. Some folks are fine with language as it is, but again, most people have a line. When it's on the other side of your line, it's ok. Imagine if your child was one of these. Then decide if it's ok to say.

From a spic cunt.

P.S. - The media can't quote the word a lot of the times because otherwise they have to pay the FCC a huge fine and/or advertisers will pull $$$.

Posted by: alektra at November 4, 2010 12:15 PM

Thanks, Alektra; you said what I was thinking too. I think people outside the group being joked about are not the ones who can decide if the group is being "too sensitive" to object to that use of the word. A few times in my life, I've been told "Oh, don't be so sensitive" in similar situations. That comment always enrages me--who are they to judge how I feel, or how I should feel? They can't have any idea how it feels to be a member of that group.

And what about teenagers in that group who may be struggling with coming to terms with their own identity and to feel it's "okay" to be that way? Is it okay for us to argue "free speech" in the face of their pain?

Posted by: JW at November 4, 2010 12:38 PM

I think it's a fine line. Sadly, I'm just not exactly sure where the line is.

Maybe it's an invisible line?

Posted by: Issa at November 4, 2010 1:44 PM

American culture today glorifies being a victim. Combine that with our need for constant instant gratification, self-entitlement, and extreme narcissism and it's a mess.

So, everyone is very quick to find excuses and people LOVE getting offended. Truly love and enjoy it. I think it makes them feel good, it feeds the ego like nothing else does, and it makes them aggressive and justified in expressing hate towards others through their own indignant attitude. No one can do anything or say anything without someone, somewhere getting upset.

It is completely out of control. Religion, race, politics, whatever... people need to seriously GET THE FUCK OVER THEMSELVES. How did we get to a point socially in this country where we give this behavior any validation? People act like petulant whiny toddlers who throw tantrums to get what they want. It perpetuates hate.

Posted by: jessica at November 4, 2010 1:49 PM

"That's so gay" is not allowed in my house. Whenever that is said - "gay" has a negative conotation. My boys don't see a really cool car and say "that's so gay." No, they see a kid being a louse or a pink scooter or a pair of tennis shoes with velcro or a kid with a bad haircut and call it gay. And gay is bad. And I don't like that. My kids won't see the movie - while I personally love Vince Vaughn - it's just not for them. Not at this age, when they have no diplomacy or discernment.

To say "tranny" about anything Rocky Horror Picture related is just fine. I can't figure out how you wouldn't say it.

To say a woman looks like a tranny? Dude. HUGE insult - que "Dude Looks Like a Lady!" music here. It's a fine insult, though.

Posted by: Mindy at November 4, 2010 1:54 PM

It took me quite a while to figure out what tr**y stood for - I kept thinking it was trashy and I was confused! I am bothered, though, by the people who so flippantly say, "That's so gay!" or "That's retarded." I find it disrespectful and unnecessary - not to mention the sign of an underdeveloped vocabulary. The first phrase implies that there is something stupid and/or wrong about being gay, and the second demeans so many people, with so many different levels of understanding, but is hurtful nonetheless.
I believe leaving the "that's so gay" comment in the movie is not a wise decision because whether consciously or not, the tacit approval given by putting it up on the bigscreen to be seen and heard by millions of people IS reflected in the viewing audience and from there everyone who has contact with them. It is quite simply, NOT OKAY.

Posted by: Heather at November 4, 2010 2:05 PM

I think people are a little on the sensitive side. Can language like that be offensive and inappropriate? Yes. Would I want my kids talking like that? No. But I also wouldn't want my kids to swear or make lewd jokes and there is all kinds of THAT stuff on TV and in the movies.

My feeling is that as long as the comment is not directed at an individual in a derogatory way, then it's not hate speech. It's ugly, but it's how people talk. If someone is offended by it, they can simply not watch it. If they don't want their kids picking that stuff up, then they can either not let their kids watch it or talk to their kids about what is and isn't inappropriate language. I quite frankly think that the fact that this getting coverage on CNN is a little ridiculous - I'm SURE there are bigger things happening in the world somewhere. Also, CNN needs to man up and just spell the words out or come up with a way to tell the story without using direct quotes. Their reading audience is mostly adults and/or mature people. We can handle a bad word here and there.

Posted by: Dawn at November 4, 2010 2:29 PM

Is tranny a bad word? News to me. I've always considered it merely descriptive, not derogatory.

I find calling something "gay" childish, akin to "retarded." I always wonder, when an adult uses these terms to imply something is undesirable, if they got stuck in 8th grade, developmentally.

I wouldn't consider any of these words hate speech because they are so innocuous. If someone is gay they are gay, if someone is retarded they are retarded. There's no universal negative connotation with these words. Unlike the n-word, which recalls centuries of violence and oppression.

So yes, we are too sensitive.

Posted by: Laura Gato at November 4, 2010 3:14 PM

You go ahead on with your bada** self, Chr*s C*c*us!!

Posted by: at November 4, 2010 4:14 PM

My boss and I were just talking today about how it would be nigh on impossible to make the movie "Blazing Saddles" today. Could you imagine someone in a movie today using the line "Well, we'll take the niggers and the chinks, but not the Irish." I don't think so. I hate the term "n-word" because it lessens the impact and turns it into a softball. It makes it acceptable to use. It should grate on your nerves.

Words only have the power you give them.

Posted by: Foggy Dew at November 4, 2010 4:37 PM


Words that have been used in an ugly way in the past have a way of becoming mainstream and (dare I say it?) funny. At least, to those of us who aren't hell-bent on being offended. Maybe society is trying to take the ugly out.

Posted by: Bah at November 4, 2010 7:57 PM

Just wish we could do a poll of the folks (much like Jon Stewart's count during his rally ;) ) who rang in and were not LGBT or a minority. No one touched my gender-based comments.

Posted by: alektra at November 4, 2010 9:44 PM

I would just like to put this out there: there are two acceptable meanings to the word gay. One is used to refer to a (generally male) homosexual, and the other is to describe something happy, lively, funny, and/or joyful. The word gay should never, in my opinion, as long as those other meanings are still in use, be used to describe something as bad or negative. We would never, ever use the word "black" or the term "Asian" to refer to something we thought was weird and uncool, and most people realize calling something "retarded" is just wrong. I'm generally okay with words being used in whatever way one wants them to be used, but I draw the line at using words that refer to a particular demographic as slurs or to make something seem weird/our of place.

Posted by: at November 5, 2010 1:04 AM

People are way too sensitive.
I agree with the person who commented about the N-word. They can call each other that, why can't we? The only thing out there that really offends me is people who joke around about suicide. I think it just hits too close to home because I had friends growing up who attempted and to me it wasn't a laughing matter. Other than that - people need to grow up and quit whining about everything!!

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