Civil Liberties

Dan Savage Stands Up to the Speech Police, Defends His Use of 'Tranny'

Savage: "False accusations of engaging in hate speech are themselves a form of hate speech..."


Dan Savage

Popular sex columnist Dan Savage finally gave a response to critics who had attacked him for using the word tranny in the context of a discussion about whether tranny was a hateful word.

During a moderated discussion at the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics (IOP) last month, Savage had explained why he stopped using the word tranny, which he viewed as offensive to some in the LGBT community. He had to actually say the word to make his point, however, and that triggered a transgender person in the audience—a person named Hex who identifies as an "it." Hex interrupted the discussion and demanded that Savage stop saying tranny, a word that made it feel unsafe.

Numerous free speech enthusiasts and civil libertarians defended Savage. He has now given a defense of his own. He began by summarizing what happened, from his perspective:

I asked the student who objected if it was okay for me to use the words "dyke" and "sissy." After a moment's thought the student said I could use those words—permission granted—and that struck me a funny because I am not a lesbian nor am I particularly effeminate. (And, really, this is college now? Professors, fellows, and guest lecturers need to clear their vocabulary with first-year students?) By the not-your-word-to-use standard, I shouldn't be able to use dyke or sissy either—or breeder, for that matter, as that's a hate term for straight people. (Or maybe it's an acknowledgment of their utility? Anyway…)

This student became so incensed by our refusal to say "How high?" when this student said "Jump!" that this student stormed out of the seminar. In tears. As one does when one doesn't get one's way. In college.

Savage saluted IOP for refusing to play speech police and censor future speakers—something trans activists demanded after the kerfuffle. He also demanded an apology from Hex and its friends, who have accused Savage of hate speech against trans people.

And as I've written previously: "False accusations of engaging in hate speech are themselves a form of hate speech—particularly in the hothouse environment of LGBT activism." It and its compatriot and [Queers United in Power] owe me, Ana Marie Cox, IOP, and all the students at U of C an apology.

At a time when more and more students are asking administrators to protect their delicate ears from overhearing anything that bothers them, it is more necessary than ever to push back against the muzzlers. Bravo to Savage for doing so.