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Shemale (also she-male) is a term used in sex work to describe trans women with male genitalia and augmented female breasts from breast augmentation and/or use of hormones.[1] According to Professors Laura Castañeda and Shannon Campbell at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School of Journalism, "Using the term she-male for a transsexual woman would be considered highly offensive, for it implies that she is working 'in the (sex) trade.'"[2]

The term she-male has been used since the mid-19th century, when it was a humorous colloquialism for female, especially an aggressive woman.


Academic use

Some biologists have used she-male to refer to male non-human animals displaying female traits or behaviors, such as female pheromones being given off by male reptiles.[3][4][5][6] Biologist Joan Roughgarden has criticised the use of the term in the reptile literature, "which she says is degrading and has been borrowed from the porn industry."[7] She writes that gynomorphic male and andromorphic female are preferred, adding, "I hope future work on these animals is carried out with more professionalism."[8]

The term is also used by some psychologists to refer specifically to male-to-female transsexuals who have transitioned to female at least cosmetically, such as with breast augmentation, but have not undergone genital surgery.[9][10][11][12]

Related terms

Other slang terms for she-male that emerged from sex work include tranny and ladyboy as well as a number of rhyming terms (not to be confused with rhyming slang), including chicks with dicks, sluts with nuts, dolls with balls, & dudes with boobs.[13]

Some mental health researchers consider attraction to transgender people to be a paraphilia. John Money and Margaret Lamacz proposed a series of terms along these lines.[14] Gynemimetophilia denotes sexual attraction to male-assigned people who look or act like women, including genetically male crossdressers.[15] It can also refer to an attraction to trans women. A related term is gynemimesis which refers to a homosexual male who engages in female impersonation without sex reassignment[16] or to describe the adoption of female characteristics by a male.[17] The terms were used by Money for classification purposes in his gender-transposition theory.[18] He also proposed gynandromorph and gynemimetomorph as technical terms for trans women.[15] A gynandromorph is an organism that contains both male and female characteristics. Gynandromorphy is a term of Greek etymology which means to have some of the body morphology and measurements of both an average woman and man.[19]

Psychologist Ray Blanchard and psychiatrist Peter Collins coined the term gynandromorphophilia.[9] Sociologist Richard Ekins writes that this attraction can include both identification and object choice in "fantasy femaling" masturbatory scripts.[20] Blanchard has proposed that this is "partial autogynephilia."[21] Psychiatrist Vernon Rosario has called labels like these "scientifically reifying" when applied to those attracted to trans women.[22]

As an alternative to a paraphilic model, sexologists Martin S. Weinberg and Colin J. Williams have used the term Men Sexually Interested in Transwomen (MSTW).[1] Slang terms for individuals with such preferences include transfans, tranny chasers and admirers.

Other usage

Since the mid-19th century, the term she-male has been applied to "almost anyone who appears to have bridged gender lines", including effeminate men and lesbians.[23] In the early 19th century, she-male was used as a colloquialism in American literature for female, often pejoratively.[24] Davy Crockett is quoted as using the term in regard to a shooting match, when his opponent challenges Davy Crockett to shoot near his opponent's wife, Davy Crockett is reported to have replied: "'No, No, Mike,' sez I, 'Davy Crockett's hand would be sure to shake, if his iron pointed within a hundred miles of a shemale, and I give up beat...'"[25] It was used through the 1920s to describe a woman, usually a feminist or an intellectual.[26] Flora Finch starred in The She-Male Sleuth[27] The term came to have a more negative connotation over time and been used to describe a "hateful woman" or "bitch."[28] Up through the mid-1970s, it was used to describe an assertive woman, "especially a disliked, distrusted woman; a bitch."[29]

The term later took on a tone that inferred a sexual overtone. In her 1990 book, From Masculine To Feminine And All points In Between, Jennifer Anne Stevens defined she-male as "usually a gay male who lives full time as a woman; a gay transgenderist."[24] The Oxford English Dictionary defines she-male as "a passive male homosexual or transvestite."[30] It has been used as gay slang for faggot.[31]


An artist's rendering of a person with female breasts and male genitalia.

In 1979, Janice Raymond employed the term as a derogatory descriptor for transsexual people in her controversial book, The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male.[32] Raymond and other cultural feminists like Mary Daly argue that a "she-male" or "male-to-constructed female" is still male and constitutes a patriarchal attack by males upon the female essence.[33] In some cultures it can also be used interchangeably with other terms referring to trans women.[citation needed]

The term has since become an unflattering term applied to male-to-female transsexuals.[23] Psychologists Dana Finnegan and Emily Mcnally write that the term "tends to have demeaning connotations."[34] French professor John Phillips writes that shemale is "a linguistic oxymoron that simultaneously reflects but, by its very impossibility, challenges [gender] binary thinking, collapsing the divide between the masculine and the feminine."[13] Trans author Leslie Feinberg writes, "'he-she' and 'she-male' describe the person's gender expression with the first pronoun and the birth sex with the second. The hyphenation signals a crisis of language and an apparent social contradiction, since sex and gender are 'supposed' to match."[35] The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has said the term is a "dehumanizing slur"[36] and should not be used "except in a direct quote that reveals the bias of the person quoted."[37]

Some have adopted the term as a self-descriptor but this is often in context of sex work.[11][23][38] Transsexual author Kate Bornstein wrote that a friend who self-identified as "she-male" described herself as "tits, big hair, lots of make-up, and a dick."[39] Sex researchers Mildred Brown and Chloe Rounsley said, "She-males are men, often involved in prostitution, pornography, or the adult entertainment business, who have undergone breast augmentation but have maintained their genitalia."[40] According to Professors Laura Castañeda and Shannon Campbell at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School of Journalism, "Using the term she-male for a transsexual woman would be considered highly offensive, for it implies that she is working 'in the [sex] trade.' It may be considered libelous."[2] Melissa Hope Ditmore, of the Trafficked Persons Rights Project, notes the term "is an invention of the sex industry, and most transwomen find the term abhorrent."[41] Biologist and transgender activist Julia Serano notes that it remains "derogatory or sensationalistic."[42] According to sex columnist Regina Lynn, "Porn marketers use 'she-male' for a very specific purpose — to sell porn to straight guys without triggering their homophobia — that has nothing to do with actual transgendered people (or helping men overcome their homophobia, either)."[43] According to sex columnist Sasha, "The term shemale is used in this setting to denote a fetishized sexual persona and is not typically used by transgendered women outside of sex work. Many transgendered women are offended by this categorization and call themselves T-girls or trans."[44]

In popular culture

In addition to its use in pornography, the term has been used as a punch line or for rhetorical effect. As part of the 42nd Street Art Project in 1994, designer Adelle Lutz turned a former shop in Times Square called American Male into "American She-Male", with brightly-colored mannequins and clothes made of condoms.[45] The 2004 Arrested Development episode "Sad Sack" had a gag where Maeby tricks Lindsay into wearing a shirt that says "Shémale", in order to convince a suitor Lindsay is transgender. Film critic Manohla Dargis has written about the lack of "real women" in summer blockbusters, claiming Judd Apatow comedies feature men who act more like leading ladies: "These aren't the she-males you find in the back pages of The Village Voice, mind you. The Apatow men hit the screen anatomically intact: they’re emasculated but not castrated, as the repeated images of the flopping genitals in Forgetting Sarah Marshall remind you."[46]

See also


  1. ^ a b Weinberg MS, Williams CJ (2009). Men Sexually Interested in Transwomen (MSTW): Gendered Embodiment and the Construction of Sexual Desire. J Sex Res. 2009 Jun 19:1-10. PMID 19544216
  2. ^ a b Castañeda, Laura and Shannon B. Campbell News and Sexuality: Media Portraits of Diversity. SAGE, ISBN 9781412909990
  3. ^ Shine, R., Phillips, B., & Waye, H., LeMaster, M., & Mason, R. T. (2001). Benefits of female mimicry in snakes: She-male garter snakes exploit the amorous attentions of other males to warm up. Nature, 414, 267.
  4. ^ Mason, R. T., & Crew, D. (1985). Female mimicry in garter snakes. Nature, 316, 59-60.
  5. ^ Rubenstein, D. I. (1985). Animal behaviour: The serpent's seductive scent. Nature, 316, 18-19.
  6. ^ Moore, M. C., & Lindsey, J. (1992). The physiological basis of sexual behavior in male reptiles. In C. Gans and D. Crews, Hormones, brain and behavior: Biology of the reptilia, vol. 13, physiology E, pp. 70-113.
  7. ^ Flam, Faye (2008).The Score: How the Quest for Sex Has Shaped the Modern Man. Avery, ISBN 9781583333129
  8. ^ Roughgarden, Joan (2005). Evolution's rainbow: diversity, gender, and sexuality in nature and people. University of California Press, ISBN 9780520246799
  9. ^ a b Blanchard, R., & Collins, P. I. (1993). Men with sexual interest in transvestites, transsexuals, and she males. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 181, 570–575.
  10. ^ Bailey, J. Michael (2003). The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism. Joseph Henry Press, ISBN 978-0309084185
  11. ^ a b Dixon, D., & Dixon, J. (1998). She-male prostitutes: Who are they, what do they do, and why do they do it. In J. Elias, V. Bullough, V. Elias, & G. Brewer (Eds.), Prostitution: On whores, hustlers, and johns (pp. 260-266). New York: Prometheus.
  12. ^ Olsson, S.-E., & Möller, A. (2006). Regret after sex reassignment surgery in a male-to-female transsexual: A long-term follow-up. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 35, 501-506.
  13. ^ a b Sigel, Lisa Z.; John Phillips (2005). "Walking on The Wild Side: Shemale Internet Pornography". International Exposure: Perspectives on Modern European Pornography, 1800-2000. Rutgers University Press. pp. 254–271. ISBN 0813535190, 9780813535197. Retrieved 2008-12-14. 
  14. ^ Money, J.; Lamacz, M. (1984). "Gynemimesis and gynemimetophilia: Individual and cross-cultural manifestations of a gender-coping strategy hitherto unnamed". Comprehensive Psychiatry 25 (4): 392–403. doi:10.1016/0010-440X(84)90074-9. PMID 6467919.  edit
  15. ^ a b Money, J. (1984). Paraphilias: Phenomenology and classification. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 38, 164-178.
  16. ^ Sexual deviance: theory, assessment ... - Google Books
  17. ^ The Illustrated Dictionary of Sex: Gynemimism
  18. ^ John Money, Gender-transposition theory and homosexual genesis, Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, Volume 10, Issue 2 Summer 1984 , pages 75 - 82
  19. ^ The Illustrated Dictionary of Sex: Gynandromorphy
  20. ^ Ekins, Richard (1996). Blending genders: social aspects of cross-dressing and sex-changing. Routledge, ISBN 9780415115513
  21. ^ "The she-male phenomenon and the concept of partial autogynephilia". R. Blanchard - Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 1993.
  22. ^ Rosario, Vernon (2004). "Quejotobonita!": Transgender Negotiations of Sex and Ethnicity. In Ubaldo Leli, Jack Drescher (eds.) Transgender Subjectivities: A Clinician's Guide. Routledge, ISBN 9780789025760
  23. ^ a b c Herbst, Philip H. (2001). Wimmin, Wimps & Wallflowers: An Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Gender and Sexual orientation Bias in The United States. Intercultural Press. pp. 252–3. ISBN 1877864803. Retrieved 2007-10-25 
  24. ^ a b Cassidy, Frederic Gomes; Joan Houston Hall (2002). Dictionary of American Regional English.. Harvard University Press. p. 901. ISBN 0674008847, 9780674008847. Retrieved 2008-12-22. 
  25. ^ Boorstin, Daniel J. (1965). "Part Seven: "Search for Symbols"". The Americans, vol. 2 The National Experience.. N.Y.: Vintage. p. 335f. ISBN 0394703588 
  26. ^ Green, Jonathon (2006). Cassell's Dictionary of Slang. Cassell. ISBN 9780304366361. 
  27. ^ Lowe, Denise (2005). An encyclopedic dictionary of women in early American films, 1895-1930. Routledge, ISBN 9780789018434
  28. ^ Spears, Richard A (1991). A Dictionary of Slang and Euphemism. Signet, ISBN 0451165543
  29. ^ Wentworth, Harold and Stuart Berg Flexner (1975). Dictionary of American Slang. Crowell, ISBN 9780690006704
  30. ^ Oxford English Dictionary. Cambridge, MA 02238: Oxford University Press, USA. 1989. ISBN 978-0198611868. 
  31. ^ Aman, Reinhold (1982). Maledicta, Volume 6, Issue 1, p. 144.
  32. ^ Raymond, J. (1994). The Transsexual Empire. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University. ISBN 0807762725 
  33. ^ Daly, Mary (1985). Beyond God the Father: toward a philosophy of women's liberation. Beacon Press, ISBN 9780807015032
  34. ^ Finnegan D, McNally E (2002). Counseling Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Substance Abusers: Dual Identities. Routledge, ISBN 9780789004031
  35. ^ Feinberg, Leslie (1997). Transgender Warriors. Beacon Press, ISBN 9780807079416
  36. ^ Staff report (October 05, 2007). GLAAD Condemns "Dehumanizing" Page Six New York Post Column. The Advocate
  37. ^ GLAAD GLAAD Media Reference Guide: Defamatory Language.
  38. ^ Carmichael, Amy (June 8, 2002). Rare 'shemales' seek respect and understanding. The Toronto Star
  39. ^ Bornstein, Kate (1994). Gender outlaw: on men, women, and the rest of us. Routledge, ISBN 9780415908979
  40. ^ Brown M, Rounsley C. (1996) True Selves: Understanding Transsexualism-For Families, Friends, Coworkers, and Helping Professionals. Jossey-Bass, ISBN 9780787902711
  41. ^ Ditmore, Melissa Hope (2006). Encyclopedia of Prostitution and Sex Work. Greenwood Publishing Group, ISBN 9780313329685
  42. ^ Serano, Julia (2007). Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity. Seal press, ISBN 9781580051545, p. 175.
  43. ^ Lynn, Regina (March 16, 2007). When Words Fail, So Do We. Wired
  44. ^ Sasha (October 9, 2008). Green sex toys. Montreal Mirror
  45. ^ Sagalyn, Lynne B. (2003). Times Square Roulette: Remaking the City Icon. MIT Press, ISBN 9780262692953
  46. ^ Dargis, Manola (May 4, 2008). Is There a Real Woman in This Multiplex? New York Times

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