A night out at Tranny Bingo Photo: Carmen Cita
A night out at Tranny Bingo Photo: Carmen Cita

Posted by & filed under City Hub.

If you thought bingo was just a game for your grandparents, think again.

Since 2006, a team of local drag personalities have hosted a series of Tranny Bingo nights in Sydney. Unlike the bingo nights in RSL clubs around the country, Tranny Bingo is a camp, colourful and irreverent affair that draws a diverse and lively crowd.

Event host and organiser, Penny Tration said: “Tranny Bingo has taken the art of transvestism into many straight venues in Sydney, breaking down barriers and giving access to people who would not otherwise get to see this art form in an inclusive and non-threatening way.”

The events have wide appeal, but for some in the LGBTI community, the use of the word ‘tranny’ has caused concern. Penny Tration was recently petitioned by local trans* activist Indiana Edwards, with demands to cease using the term ‘tranny’ and rename the event.

Board member of the international advocacy group, Wipe Out Transphobia, Ms Edwards claims that the term ‘tranny’ is a transphobic slur, commonly used to objectify and humiliate transgender people.

“The words ‘tranny’ or ‘she-male’ are often the last thing transgender people hear before we are attacked or assaulted by transphobic, cis-gender people. I have experienced this, as have many of my friends,” she said.

A recent study by Transgender Europe revealed that 75 reported murders of trans* people were registered internationally between January and March this year. The circumstances of the killings were not all fully investigated and reported. Many of the documented cases included reports of extreme aggression, torture and mutilation.

For a community threatened by bigotry and transphobic hate crime, mainstream use of the T-word sparks cultural cringe. Ms Edwards explains: “We realise that we can’t control what people say, think and do. But we can foster better understanding of trans* cultural norms, by teaching the wider community what terms we are comfortable, or in this case, not comfortable with.”

From its origins in the ’80s gay party culture, the term ‘tranny’ entered the drag community lexicon in the ’90s. In its lifetime, the word has evolved into an umbrella term used to describe transgender people, transvestites, drag queens, gender-fluid and intersex people.

Penny Tration explains: “I understand that the word ‘tranny’ has negative connotations in other countries, but here in Australia, we have reclaimed it. It is a label that we wear with pride. As a transvestite, it’s my word to use. I use it respectfully and without negativity. In fact, by using the word, I take any negativity out of it.”

The term’s adoption by the sex industry in the ’90s has tainted its social status, igniting protest from transgender advocacy groups.

Ms Edwards said: “We don’t get to de-wig and revert back to a male-privileged persona. We face transphobia daily. We are subjected to obvious displays of hate, including direct violence and verbal harassment, with derogatory terms like ‘tranny’, and more passive forms of workplace discrimination and social exclusion.”

Penny Tration argues that Tranny Bingo creates a broader understanding and acceptance of gender plurality in the wider community.

“When you look at places like Russia and Uganda, there is so much gender-based hatred and violence in society. The LGBTI community must choose its battles wisely,” she said.

“An attack on Tranny Bingo is counterproductive. We don’t promote transphobia, we are too busy building bridges.”