I’ve been a fan of Supernatural since the show first started airing, and eleven years is a long time to be watching something. Luckily Supernatural has been mostly entertaining and engaging throughout, despite some problems with the format. Their inability to stop killing off side characters (especially strong female side characters) has become a frustrating joke, and Dean can come across as a womaniser at times, but these are small gripes in a largely positive show.
Last night’s episode of Supernatural (Season 11 Episode 15 ‘Beyond The Mat’) saw the shows main characters going up against a demon who is collecting souls for them self, describing the process and ‘building a nest egg’. The demon tells the lead characters that since the devil returned to hell ‘it’s every demon for him, her, shim self.’
The inclusion of this one tiny word ruined this entire episode for me. Suddenly my enjoyable viewing experience felt like a punch to the chest.
It might not seem like a lot to some people, and like whenever any other trans woman writes about the inappropriate and hurtful use of negative and transphobic language I’m sure that I’m going to have a lot of hate thrown my way, but I feel it’s important to call out the use of these kinds of words whenever they happen.
For those unaware shim is a highly offencive word, often used to insult and degrade transgender and gender non-conforming people. It is used to insult people. It’s casual inclusion in this episode as a demon’s way of listing genders is ridiculous in its execution and insulting in its inclusion. Using the word shim is no different from using the word tranny, shemale or chick-with-a-dick.
I know some people might instantly come to the defense of the show or to John Bring and Andrew Dabb (the writers of this particular episode) and say that no offense was intended, or even use the ‘I know several trans people who use this term or refer to themselves that way’ argument, but you cannot and should not use either of those reasons to try and justify the use of slurs.
Whether offence was intended or not, you know certain words are going to cause offence when they are used. If you referred to gay people as faggots you would expect that the term would offend someone. Even if you are the most open and accepting pro-LGBT+ person around, you wouldn’t expect that phrase not to offend. If you believe in gender equality you wouldn’t refer to women as bitches or sluts and not expect to cause offence.
We are all aware that certain words will offend people, however they are used. To turn around and say that because you meant no offence none should ever be taken from anyone is a ridiculous statement reeking of privilege. You as a cis person might be able to hear transphobic words and shake them off as nothing, but trans people can’t. We don’t have that privilege like you do.
As for the ‘trans people say that’ argument, yes, you might know someone trans or gender non-conforming who has no problem with using or hearing those kind of words, and that’s great for that person. It doesn’t mean that no one in that community will be able to listen to those words and not be offended by them though.
It’s also an especially flawed argument for why cis people should be able to use that word too. You’re not a part of that community, so even if everyone in that community is comfortable using a word that was at one time used to oppress them, it in no way gives you the right to say it. The N word is used frequently by members of the black community, but that doesn’t mean that me, as a white person, can suddenly go out and use that word whenever I like. It doesn’t matter how often you see black people use that word in person, in film or television or even in music, as a white person you would not go and say it. So why would you feel that you can do the same as a cis person?
Another excuse that I’m expecting to hear used to justify the use of the word shim in yesterday’s Supernatural is that the word is trying to be ‘reclaimed’, that because it’s not being used in a directly derogatory way towards a non-cis person it’s somehow being empowering.
No. I’m sorry, but again as a cis person, or cis people, you have no right to even attempt to do that. Unless you are a member of the group that has had that word used against them as a slur it’s not yours to reclaim. Only someone within that group has the right or the capacity to reclaim it. The N word cannot be reclaimed by someone who isn’t black, faggot cannot be reclaimed by straight people and tranny, shim, shemale or ladyboy (or other terms used to put trans people down) can’t be reclaimed by cisgender people.
Slurs might not effect you in your day to day life, they might be things that you can just shrug off because they mean nothing to you, but to those people who live with these insults every single day they can be massively damaging.
I’ve been called a faggot, a tranny, a shim, a shemale, a heshe, a thing and a freak to name just a few. I’ve been stared at in the street, I’ve had people point at me and laugh at me when I leave my home. I’ve been spat on and told to kill myself. These words are painful to hear, even when not being used as a direct insult.
Hearing the use of the word shim on Supernatural took something that was supposed to be enjoyable and made it painful. I was suddenly reminded of every time I’ve been treated like an animal, where I’ve been made to feel less of a human.
I’m sure it’s easy of you to turn around and say that I’m being overly sensitive, or that I’m pushing some kind of ‘PC agenda’ or censorship, and I’m happy that you have the ability to say that. To be able to turn around and say things like shim, faggot or the N word can’t hurt people because they’re just words means that you’re an incredibly lucky person, it means that you don’t have to live your life being made to think that you’re worth less than other people. You aren’t made to feel worthless and wretched by the use of a simple word.
I envy your ability to walk through life and have words bounce off you, because for me, and a lot of people, words have the power to completely destroy me. Your words can break me. Your words can kill me. And to throw these words around without any care or understanding for the damage they cause is reckless and irresponsible.
I’m not sure how I feel about Supernatural right now, I’m not sure if I hate the show or simply pity it for stooping to that level. What I do know is that I’m eleven years into watching it but don’t know if I can bring myself to carry on. One tiny word did that, one word broke something I loved.
Words have power, they can be amazingly good and they can be destructively bad. Writers have an obligation to recognise this and make sure that they aren’t proliferating the use of destructive and hurtful language. I hope that Supernatural learns from this mistake, but judging from history I’m sure this won’t be the last time I hear these kind of slurs on television I love.