I’m a porn star asking the industry to stop using the term ‘shemale’

Using slurs against transgender women isn't just hateful in porn: It has real-world implications for the trans community.

Jun 15, 2020, 4:32 pm*

Internet Culture

Most people know of porn as a distant thing that can magically pop up when you want to masturbate—then just as quickly be X’ed out of when you’re done.

For most people porn isn’t more than an afterthought. If you’re slightly more enlightened, you may even have seen an interview of Sasha Grey or Stoya and thought, “Wow the ‘SNL’ porn star skit isn’t always true.”

For trans people, we don’t have that same disconnect from porn.

For most of us it’s our first exposure to what trans-ness is. The terms that accompany our first exposure to trans women’s bodies are terms like “Shemale,” “Tranny,” or “TS,” terms that pointedly shame those who have these bodies and those who are attracted to these bodies.

These terms affect trans women in all facets of life from dating to walking down the street to our careers.

These terms are less of a “porn issue” and more an example of a group having difficulty pushing for acceptance while there exists this source of hurtful slur-driven information and terminology pushed by mainstream trans porn against most of the trans community’s wishes.

When I was 18, like any girl fresh out of high school I decided to join OKCupid, hoping to put myself out there into the dating world.

I had just started hormones and was going full time. To that point within my transition, I never really had much of an issue with anyone refusing to respect my gender identity. The next day when I opened my laptop I was shocked to see I have received over 20 messages from various straight men who were asking me if I was some variation of a “Shemale,” “Tranny,” “Ladyboy,” or “He-She.”

This was my first taste of these truly offensive terms, not knowing even where the terms came from. I immediately deleted my account and stayed quiet about it, just thinking OKCupid was full of creeps. As time progressed, I started living with a number of other trans women who have shared similar dating experiences and men expecting trans women to perform like the trans women they see in porn.

They expected to see trans women with huge boners who want to trick men into bottoming for them. (This is also the actual plot of Kink.com’s site TS Seduction.) Truly most trans women have very little to do with their genitals (some do like to top but it’s extremely overrepresented within mainstream trans porn). In reality, over time HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) reduces your ability to get hard or ejaculate. But to write porn off as a fantasy that has no real life impact is extremely wrong, because it is de-facto trans sex education for both trans women and the people who are attracted to trans bodies.

Why am I so adamant about discussing the hurtful terms used for the trans community in porn?

Because every 36 hours a trans woman in murdered.

This is a reality that every trans woman has to live with every day. Every time I leave the house I can honestly say it crosses my mind: “What if?” or “Does my phone have enough battery that I could call for help?”

The same terms used by these companies to depict our sexualities are the same slurs many trans women hear when they are being attacked. Violence has disproportionately been used against trans women of color. As a white trans woman who has a place of privilege, I feel like it’s extremely important to speak up against this dehumanizing language.

If a trans woman wasn’t being murdered every 36 hours, I think the argument of “It’s just a word” could be valid, but when our sisters are being murdered, I believe that this language adds to the lack of worth society puts on trans bodies.

Let me put it this way: People are less likely to act out on someone violently if they can identify with that person. If you call trans women “women” you will see people identifying trans women with other women like their mothers, sisters, girlfriends, or friends. If you label trans women as “Shemales,” there is nothing to relate to, other than stereotypes portrayed in mainstream trans porn.

Right now you are seeing a turning point in the media for trans representation with people like Janet Mock and Laverne Cox being regulars on daytime talk shows like The View.

People are listening to trans voices for the first time ever in our society’s history. But I truly don’t believe we can really advance to a place of being viewed as equals until we rid ourselves of offensive slurs that a majority of the trans community hates.

I am entirely for encouraging members of an oppressed community to reclaim words, but in the case of words like “Shemale,” the widespread use in porn has nothing to do with trans women reclaiming it, and everything to do with the cis men running these sites. One example: The site Shemaleyum.com (Grooby Productions), where you see the term used 17 times alone on the main page.

Some company owners have sided with the trans community, including Sammy Mancici, who removed all the uses of “TS,” “Tranny,” and “Shemale” from his site. GLAAD has for over a decade labeled “Shemale” a slur. Other terms that GLAAD discourages for use when discussing trans people include “tranny,” “he/she,” “it,” and “shim.” The organization also argues against using language such as “deceptive,” “fooling,” “pretending,” “posing,” “trap,” or “masquerading,” all extremely common themes in mainstream trans porn.

Trans women have little to no voice when it comes to how we are depicted in mainstream trans porn. Owners of various sites have told me that little to none of their models have issues with the terms and that those who do shouldn’t shoot for their sites. In any other workplace situation, failing to respond to employee complaints by telling them “don’t work for me” is a workers’ rights violation.

Though there has been a lot of progress even within the last year with “The Tranny Awards” changing their name to “Transgender Erotica Awards” and the alt porn site God’s Girls opening their doors to trans women, we’re not there yet. No social movement is ever a simple task, particularly for oppressed groups who lack a lot of much needed visibility. I really truly believe that porn can be a tool that can help trans women’s fight for equality and de-stigmatization.

That’s why I started a petition to push for mainstream trans porn sites to get away from using the term “Shemale.” This is not just a word for anyone in the trans community. It is a hurtful slur, and its casual usage and acceptance needs to end right now.

Image via Chelsea Poe

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*First Published: Dec 18, 2014, 10:00 am