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Recently, a furor developed over an application available in Apple's app store. Dubbed Peek-a-Boo Tranny, this camera app allowed you to add in one of a stable of "fierce tranny bitches" that the app developers included for your use. It was a cheesy, kitschy program. It was also offensive to many who voiced their displeasure on Twitter and other social media sites. Eventually, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and others picked it up, and Apple removed the application.
The app itself appears to have been created out of the drag community, where some of the language and representations presented to promote the app are stereotypically commonplace. While I am speculating here, I can only assume that the app manufacturers are, at the very least, familiar and comfortable in drag circles, and saw this as a fun, if silly, way to make a few extra bucks.
There is a battleground, however, centered on the word "tranny." While it is viewed as a positive term in drag circles â€" as well as among some other transgender people â€" others in the transgender community find it offensive and a form of hate speech. Some feel that these same transgender people are themselves being offensive, taking a term born out of the drag community and co-opting it, while displaying a form of "dragphobia" via their outrage. To be honest, I think both sides have their points, and I don't see this issue getting resolved in either a quick or a pleasant manner.
I find myself wrestling over the issue. Knowing that it was likely made by members of the drag community, to me, does shed a different light on it versus, say, the furor over the "Tranny Watch" website of a bit more than a year ago. In that instance, it was geared for presumably straight males, to allow for the mocking of transgender people, and to "protect" them from accidentally befriending a transperson. Clearly, that's something far beyond an app that allows you to photo-bomb your own photos with drag queens.
Within the same time frame as Peek-a-Boo Tranny's release and subsequently dumping from the app store, the popular Fox program Glee did a Rocky Horror -themed episode. Dubbed the Rocky Horror Glee Show, the episode centered around a production of the Rocky Horror Picture Show on the high school campus. There were some issues, however.
For one, the part of Dr. Frank-N-Furter, the "sweet transvestite" who created the title character is played by a female. This is explained away in the Glee episode, with two male actors not ending up with the part for various reasons â€" but one also has to wonder what sort of give-and-take was happening between Glee 's producers and Fox executives. A male Frank would have likely been a bit more than the network felt like doing, given that doing a Rocky Horror-based episode is a challenge already.
There were also several lyric changes, some of which made more sense than others. I'm not going to worry much about the rather odd replacement of "seat wetting" with "bad fretting," but I do wonder about the replacement of "transsexual" in the song "Sweet Transvestite" with "sensational." Was the word "transsexual" deemed too offensive? Did the fact that the word has S-E-X in the middle increase the pulse of the network censors? We simply do not know.
Perhaps ironically, I also find myself wondering how people might have reacted to the inclusion of a male Frank-N-Furter in the episode, let alone the inclusion of "transsexual" in his big number. Given that many in the transgender community do view the character as more than a little problematic in the 35 years since he was created, I wonder if there would be any way the episode could have pleased everyone.
Fox did not pull the episode, which aired October 26, nor have Glee's producers made any comment about this. The episode is what it is, and any frustrations over who played what or which words were altered are not going very far.
Now, after all I've said about the Rocky Horror Glee Show and Peek-a-Boo Tranny, let me address something else.
In the same week as these issues, a transgender woman in San Francisco received a letter from the California Department of Motor Vehicles employee who recently processed her name and gender change for her driver's license. In the letter, the DMV employee calls Amber Yust an abomination, says she has made "a very evil decision" by going through a gender change, and urges her to go to a Catholic website for "salvation."
Amidst all this, there are several brave transgender women in election bids this week: Theresa Sparks and Victoria Kolakowski in San Francisco and Alameda County, California, respectively; Brittany Novotny in Oklahoma; Stu Rasmussen in Oregon; and Kim Coco Iwamoto in Hawaii.
We've seen transgender people murdered and assaulted last week, including Sonia Burgess getting pushed under a Tube train in London and a 25-year-old transwoman being assaulted by five suspects in West Hollywood, California.
I'm not saying that Peek-a-Boo Tranny and the Rocky Horror Glee Show did not have their issues, and maybe we should be critical of these products. I'm not saying they're not important on their own â€" but let's take a moment and look at the bigger issues. Let's look at real, big, obvious examples of anti-transgender discrimination and prejudice. Let's also look at the places where we may well succeed in very big, substantive ways.
At the Rally to Restore Sanity last Saturday, host Jon Stewart quipped, "If we amplify everything, we hear nothing." We should take something from that, too.
Gwen Smith will gleefully play peek-a-boo. You can find her online at http://www.gwensmith.com.