"All over a few words."
Yesterday, transgender icon Jayne County — rock's first gender variant singer and a fixture at Andy Warhol's Factory — was temporarily banned from Facebook for including the words "tranny" and "shemale" in a post to her Timeline.
Many of her followers commented on County's Timeline in outrage that she had been banned from Facebook for using common self-identifying transgender slang. Today, Jayne County has made a brand new status in reaction to the censorship, "What a sad day this is for the poor LGBT Community. All over a few words that have been made even more powerful and evil by those that seek to erase them! If this is what you are going to do with your rights then you don't deserve to even have them!"
When I reached out to Facebook for comment, they said that someone within County's Facebook community had reported her status for "containing slurs," and her account had been temporarily suspended for a 24-hour period. (It's currently back up.) This is an across-the-board policy. Facebook says that if they receive a report for a violation of their hate speech policy, they remove the hate speech and don't spend time "interpreting what people mean." Facebook doesn't have a specific list of terms people get banned for, with over a billion users, they rely on fellow users to report when violations have been made.
This censorship is part of a larger conversation dividing the transgender community about policing community-specific language. Over the past several weeks, popular Logo staple RuPaul's Drag Race has been under fire for its use of what some trans activists have declared transphobic and offensive language. During one challenge on the show, contestants were asked to look at a cropped portion of a photo and identify whether the photo depicted a cisgender woman or a Drag Race contestant. The controversial title of this segment was "Female or She-male."
Logo responded to the backlash by pulling the episode, issuing a public statement of apology, and removing the recurring "You've got She-mail!" segment from future episodes. During the controversy, former Drag Race contestant and transgender woman Carmen Carrera made comments on her Facebook that "Drag Race should be more conscious of the words they use and shouldn't further objectify transwomen with a game that obviously hurt a lot of the shows fans in the first place." Others were less subtle. Transwoman and journalist Parker Marie Molloy caused a stir when she tweeted, "I fucking hate RuPaul," noting that the word "she-male" was actually first used to describe transgender porn. She then clarified to Dame Magazine, "I'd just like to clear up that I don't actually hate RuPaul. Does his dismissal of trans people and our identities frustrate me? Absolutely."
Others in the transgender community are wary of the push against free speech, something they see as taboo-breaking, and a part of the historic push against gender norms. Transgender artist Our Lady J speaks out against trans language censorship on a blog post on The Huffington Post.
As an artist, I love language, and I cherish free speech. RuPaul has been the number-one defender of these, and at the same time he continues to support every shade of queerness within our community, no matter the class. Drag is punk and should never be subjected to politically correct ideals. The moment it stops provoking is the moment it fails as an art form. Trans people are forever indebted to drag for the mainstream explosion of gender as we see it today.
She goes on to say, "Drag is punk and should never be subjected to politically correct ideals." Longtime performers and LGBT advocates like Jayne County and Penny Arcade are outspoken about the fact that they find the campaign of the Twitter-happy and mainly younger generation to control inter-community language extremely problematic. Arcade claims the right to call herself and her community anything she wants, saying on her Facebook, "If words could stop us than nothing would have changed in gay rights or gender rights." For Jayne County, being suspended from Facebook was yet another reminder of this struggle. Some may call this raging war over transgender specific language just semantics or growing pains, but for a community striving for increased recognition in a hostile world, the various modes of representation mean everything.
Image via Facebook.