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Shemale (also she-male) is a term primarily used in sex work to describe a trans woman with male genitalia combined with female secondary sex characteristics, usually including augmented female breasts, from breast augmentation and/or use of hormones. Many transgender people regard the term shemale as offensive, arguing that it mocks or shows a lack of respect towards the gender identity and gender expression of transgender individuals; in this view, the term emphasizes the biological sex of a person and neglects their gender. Using the term shemale for a transsexual woman often implies that she is working in the sex trade. The phrase is commonly found on porn sites.
The term shemale has been used since the mid-19th century, when it was a humorous colloquialism for female, especially an aggressive woman.
Some biologists have used shemale to refer to male non-human animals displaying female traits or behaviors, such as female pheromones being given off by male reptiles. 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." She writes that gynomorphic male and andromorphic female are preferred in scientific literature, adding, "I hope future work on these animals is carried out with more professionalism."
Other slang terms for she-male that emerged from sex work include tranny, ladyboy, and a number of rhyming terms (not to be confused with rhyming slang), including chicks with dicks, sluts with nuts, dolls with balls, and dudes with boobs.
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. Gynemimetophilia denotes sexual attraction to male-assigned people who look or act like women, including genetically male crossdressers. 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 or to describe the adoption of female characteristics by a male. The terms were used by Money for classification purposes in his gender-transposition theory. He also proposed gynandromorph and gynemimetomorph as technical terms for trans women. 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.
Psychologist Ray Blanchard and psychiatrist Peter Collins coined the term gynandromorphophilia. Sociologist Richard Ekins writes that this attraction can include both identification and object choice in "fantasy femaling" masturbatory scripts. Blanchard has proposed that this is "partial autogynephilia." Psychiatrist Vernon Rosario has called labels like these "scientifically reifying" when applied to those attracted to trans women.
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). Slang terms for individuals with such preferences include transfans, tranny chasers and admirers.
In Japan, the term "New Half" is used for trans people. It is a variation on the familiar term "hafu" （half or ハーフ） that is commonly used for people of mixed Japanese decent, signifying that transgender people are a new type of "half".
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. In the early 19th century, she-male was used as a colloquialism in American literature for female, often pejoratively. 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...'" It was used through the 1920s to describe a woman, usually a feminist or an intellectual. Flora Finch starred in The She-Male Sleuth, a 1920 film comedy. The term came to have a more negative connotation over time and been used to describe a "hateful woman" or "bitch." Up through the mid-1970s, it was used to describe an assertive woman, "especially a disliked, distrusted woman; a bitch."
The term later took on an implicit 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." The Oxford English Dictionary defines she-male as "a passive male homosexual or transvestite." It has been used as gay slang for faggot.
In 1979, Janice Raymond employed the term as a derogatory descriptor for transsexual women in her controversial book, The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male. 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. In some cultures it can also be used interchangeably with other terms referring to trans women.
The term has since become an unflattering term applied to male-to-female transsexual people. Psychologists Dana Finnegan and Emily Mcnally write that the term "tends to have demeaning connotations." 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." 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." The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has said the term is a "dehumanizing slur" and should not be used "except in a direct quote that reveals the bias of the person quoted."
Some have adopted the term as a self-descriptor but this is often in context of sex work. 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." 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." 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." 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." Biologist and transgender activist Julia Serano notes that it remains "derogatory or sensationalistic." 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)." 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."
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. 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."
The word came under extreme criticism when it was used during episode four of RuPaul's Drag Race Season 6. Logo TV, the show's broadcast station, released a statement on April 14, 2014 saying: "We wanted to thank the community for sharing their concerns around a recent segment and the use of the term 'she-mail' on Drag Race. Logo has pulled the episode from all of our platforms and that challenge will not appear again. Furthermore, we are removing the 'You've got she-mail' intro from new episodes of the series. We did not intend to cause any offense, but in retrospect we realize that it was insensitive. We sincerely apologize."
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