I Am A Porn Star Asking the Porn Industry To Stop Using The Term "Shemale"

If there wasn’t a trans woman being murdered every 36 hours, I think the argument of “it's just a word” could be valid.
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Chelsea Poe
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If there wasn’t a trans woman being murdered every 36 hours, I think the argument of “it's just a word” could be valid.
Chelsea Poe. Photo credit: Courtney Trouble.

Chelsea Poe. Photo credit: Courtney Trouble.

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 of 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 to 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 went full time. To that point within my transition I never really had much of an issue of 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. 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 everyday. 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 that are 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 these terms. 

If there wasn’t a trans woman 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 these terms which are further de-humanizing add 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 a “Shemale” there is nothing to relate that to other than stereotypes portrayed in mainstream trans porn.

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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 these offensive slurs that a majority of the trans community hates. 

I am entirely for people of an oppressed community to re-claim words but in the case of the term “Shemale” it has nothing to do with trans women reclaiming it but largely cis men running these sites with little regard for how trans communities view it. The biggest user of the term is on 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 against trans people include "tranny," "he/she," "it," "shim" and 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 in 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 employees complaints by telling them "don’t work for me" is a workers' right violation.

Truly there has been a lot of progress within the last year with “The Tranny Awards” changing their name to “Transgender Erotica Awards” and then alt porn site God’s Girls recently opening their doors to trans women. 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.

This is a petition I am currently promoting 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.