‘Tranny Thursdays’ debate exposes culture divide

A new play party is facing criticism for its characterization of trans women, but host Sasha Scarlett describes the response as positive.
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A new play party is facing criticism for its characterization of trans women, but host Sasha Scarlett describes the response as positive.

By Erin Rook, PQ Monthly

Criticism of a new Portland play (read: sex) party called “Tranny Thursdays” is exposing tensions in the trans community over language, identity, and public image.

Promotional materials for the monthly event promising “private, intimate, discrete time with Trannys” have sparked confusion regarding the intended audience, objections to the use of a word considered a slur by many, and concern with the “Ladies Night Out” take on gender dynamics.

“Tranny Thursdays” was scheduled to launch on the Aug. 15 — this issue’s publication date — at the Velvet Rope (formerly Angel’s Social Club), a Southeast Portland club equipped with hot tubs, a “gang bang area,” a dungeon, and private rooms, as well as a social space with pool tables and food. Admission is free for “gurls” and $35 per event for non-trans attendees (or $100 for an annual membership).

“[N]o more grubby bookstores or seedy adult theaters!” writes promoter and host Sasha Scarlett (aka Joshua Ryan, who identifies as a drag queen/gender illusionist).

Scarlett, who also produces the Portland Erotic Ball and runs a media company, says she launched the play party after some of the “‘straight’ men” she’s dated asked her to do more “trans/gender-flexible events.”

“I have been exploring my sexuality and have met other trans-identifying gurls and their admirers,” Scarlett tells PQ. The party is “intended to allow people interested in talking, mingling, becoming acquainted, and — yes — fucking to have a safe, clean, pleasant place to do so.”

Some critics expressed confusion over the target audience — the announcement mentioned “trannys [sic],” “gurls,” and “non-trans” paying members — and speculated it was for occasional cross-dressers, drag queens, effeminate men, or trans women who don’t identify as queer.

“This sounds like a buffet that is being offered to men,” Antoinette Sparkles, a Portland trans woman, says. “This may be the most objectifying piece of garbage I have read in a long time.”

While some have argued that objectification is inherent, and even desired, in the play party scene, others have expressed concern that the event seems to exploit women for men’s benefit.

“The dehumanizing way that trans … presumably women are being talked about here is fucking disgusting,” Sparkles says.

She objects to the implication that trans women could previously only be found in a “seedy or repulsive place,” the idea that “women are primarily sex objects,” and “the way that trans women are totally stripped of any personal respect for identity.”

Scarlett says the party is for everyone — including trans men and drag queens – and that “several” trans women are “attending and participating.” She declined to connect PQ with any of them until after the first event.

“The response has been great — you are the second person asking about the use of the word tranny and some say it is ‘offensive,’” Scarlett says. “From those of us that cross dress and practice a TS/TV [transsexual/transvestite] and CD [cross dresser] lifestyle, I have had no complaints. If people are offended — they should not attend.”

This more specific language seems to be clarifying for some of those concerned.

“This party doesn’t seem to be coming from, or aimed at, the trans communities I know and love,” Em Jameson Douglas, who identifies as trans and queer, tells PQ in response to coverage of the event. “I think Sasha Scarlett solved the problem for herself.… Describe the party using TS/TV and CD. That seems like a more accurate description, and those terms seem to stem from self-identification rather than derogatory name-calling.”

Douglas isn’t the only trans-identified Portlander trying to pushing back against the event’s word choice.

“The key word here is transvestite. A transvestite is a person who dresses as the other gender for the pure joy of a sexual experience,” says “proud transsexual woman” Sarah Minifie, who blames the confusion on the co-mingling of identities under the trans umbrella.

“Why should people who wake up every day and live their life in accordance with their own sense of identity and are making every possible physical and psychological change that they can afford to make, just to be more congruent in life, be grouped with the same group of people who play dress up for sex? Or a show?”

While Minifie also described play party participants as “perverts,” most of the critics say they are sex-positive, and are primarily concerned with the way they party is being set up and promoted.

“I think Ms. Scarlett could have used ‘Trans’ vs. ‘Tranny,’” Kimberley McNelis says. “The fact that ‘gurls’ are free smacks of sexism; it implies men are the pursuers of gurls as objects, and must pay for that privilege. I have no problem with consenting adult play, and I feel that this party could be advertised in a less exploitative and offensive way.”

Scarlett says she “hope[s] to create an event people connect with and embrace” and is open to input if the event she’s created doesn’t resonate. She can be reached at sashascarlett@msn.com.

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