Jun 1, 2014

[Technicolor Musings] Escaping The Power Of Words

Laverne Cox is on the cover of TIME Magazine. Sure, she didn't make it into this year's TIME 100 list of Most Influential People, at least she has become the face of TIME's issue focused on the transgender community and their fight for equal rights.

The quick summary above reflects the fight for LGBT rights as a whole, when you really think about it. We make a few advances here and there - that's worth celebrating. But at the same time there are still instances where we're not doing too well, and thus we are reminded of how much further we have to go.

But as much as we have a long way to go in terms of equal rights in the global community at large, the amount of internal homophobia that continues on is rather frustrating. And what's worse is how we can't even agree when the homophobia begins - the LGBT community is actually a rough effort to tie together so many different groups whose only common ground is the fact that we don't easily fit into the "traditional" male and female gender roles.

So let's talk about the supposed discrimination related to language.

Words have power - I'll concede that point. But that power is based specifically in terms of your personal context and understanding of the term. You give the word power in terms of how you receive it.

Recently the word war related to the use of terms like "tranny" has been making the circles in queer circles. When the Logo channel decided to apologize for the "Female or Shemale" segment on the show since the term "shemale" is considered by many to be transphobic. And with this season finally over, RuPaul went public with his thoughts on the matter when it comes to the term "tranny" not being too bad. Of course many others disagree, and thus the debate continues.

The argument is that "tranny" is akin to "nigger" - somehow negative, discriminatory, and just not politically correct. Locally some people feel the same way about the term "bakla" - it just means gay, but for some it also has negative connotations. And thus we distance ourselves from these terms at times.

But within the community, we also feel free to use these terms when we feel like it. Like how we see African Americans willing to refer to their friends as "niggers", we also see gay men in Manila call one another bakla. So when the term is used by someone outside the community, then it becomes an insult?

I'd generally side with RuPaul here in terms of the importance of context, meaning and intention. What did the person mean when they used the term? What message were they trying to convey? Were they being sarcastic or directly insulting? Or was it just a term used in passing?

Why do we hold words hostage in this fashion? Words are just words! Their meaning is derived from the culture that has adopted the term. And that meaning is a fluid thing - one that changes with each new generation and the popularity of alternate usage. In the same way that science is neutral until human beings put said science to use, so too with language.

Take back the words that you feel send a message of hate. Give them new meaning. Don't focus solely on the negative. Again, intention still matters. Even the most benevolent word or even the nicest compliment can be twisted to be vile and painful when used in the wrong way by a person determined to make you feel worse about yourself. But you can minimize the impact of such words on your emotional well-being by focusing on what matters worse and dismissing words for what they are - just words.

You can feel bad once - that's the human experience. Beyond that, evaluate your life and expand your horizons. There's more to life than obsessing over something you heard on TV.
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