Language is fluid, and the labels LGBTI people empower themselves with can change over time. Jesse Jones talks identity, slurs, and reclamation.


Cis people, especially in the queer community, should know by now not to use the term ‘tranny’.

It may sound like an abbreviation of transgender, but it’s so much more loaded than that, having long been used as a slur against us.

Even when I hear trans people using the term themselves I tend to recoil a bit, though I admittedly still have a lot of queer history to learn. I only recently read that tranny was our word before it fell into use as a derogatory term.

Respecting self-identification is so important for our community.

While it’s not okay for other people to call trans people trannies, those who choose to use it for themselves are of course well within their rights.

The word ‘transsexual’ is another one that didn’t start out as a derogatory term, but it’s become so associated with the pathologisation of trans people that a lot of younger people consider it negative and don’t use it.

I used to find it somewhat jarring to hear other trans folks, mostly older people, refer to themselves as transsexual. But I heard a very good argument that people shouldn’t have their own words taken away from them.

The analogy someone used was around the words ‘queer’ and ‘gay’.

Imagine, this trans person said, if the younger people who are beginning to use queer as an umbrella term decided that we couldn’t refer to them as gay anymore.

That made sense to me. I can see language shifting, and I could easily enough imagine gay falling out of fashion someday.

I primarily refer to myself as gay, and I wouldn’t like it if other queer people told me it wasn’t okay to say anymore. So I get it.

People who have grown up using a term for themselves should certainly be able to keep identifying with whatever language they prefer. I’m coming around to people using transsexual and even tranny to describe themselves.

There are even a handful of people who have gone through gender transition who choose, for one reason or another, not to call themselves trans. It’s just as important to respect this even if you don’t get it.

I use queer a lot to describe the broader LGBTI community. Like tranny, it’s another word that’s being reclaimed. Queer history and queer theory are well-established terms for the study of our culture, community, and politics.

While a lot of younger LGBTI people have grown up using queer as a positive term, older folks remember it being a slur.

I try to be conscious of this when I’m writing, and while I often use the word to describe the community, I never call an individual queer unless they’ve told me they would like me to.

Within the LGBTI community, many trans and intersex folks are straight, and don’t want to be called queer for that reason alone.

Language around identity is an intensely personal thing, and what we call ourselves isn’t always okay for others to say.

I’ve been known to refer to myself as a fag, for instance, but there’s only a few other people I would let call me that, and God help any straight person who did.

I still flinch when I hear other trans people refer to themselves as trannies, but I’m starting to understand it more.

Just don’t think you can say it, cis people.

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