Sunday, April 30, 2006
I Ain't No She-Male
By Monica Roberts and Dawn Wilson
Originally Published in THE LETTER
We read Noah (Tina) Williams' `She-Males Need Love, Too' article
that was published in the August 2002 issue of The Letter. While
there's no disagreement with the premise of the story, we do have one major problem with it: Noah's advocation of the use of the term `she-male'.
Noah asked in the article what was wrong with the she-male label and
why it was disliked by transsexuals. Well, be careful what you wish
for, because we're about to tell you why.
Grab yourself something to eat and a comfortable seat, because school is now in session.
First, sit down at your computer and prepare to surf the Net using
your friendly neighborhood web browser. Select your favorite search
engine and type in `transsexual'. Note how many responses you get
for `transsexual' and the type. You'll have some X-rated content,
but for the most part the responses you'll get will be fairly
positive. Now let's clear your favorite search engine and type
in `she-male'. You'll notice two things: You'll get more hits when
you type in `she-male' and two, the she-male hits will be
predominately X-rated sites.
That is the major reason why many transsexuals have a severe problem
with being called she- males. But it goes far deeper than that. The
term was coined by one of the transgendered community's bitter
enemies, Janice Raymond. This nattering nabob of negativity
concocted the term when she wrote her infamous 1979 book, The
Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She- Male. This mean-spirited
book is to many transgendered people the equivalent of Mein Kampf in
terms of its Ann Coulteresque rant against transsexuals. It is doubly
insulting because these words are now inextricably tied to the sex
Besides, there's already a term in use coined by transsexuals to
describe someone in Noah's situation. Can you say non-operative
Say it with us. Non-operative transsexual.
Good, we know you can do it.
The beauty of the words `non-operative transsexual' is that it not
only accurately explains who you perceive that you are, it also
avoids the use of a phrase that is used in the sex industry.
With the growth of Internet adult web sites, the word has only
exploded in infamy in the transgendered community's eyes.
As persons of color we take exception to that phrase to describe us
because of its negative connotation. Thanks to Jerry Springer and
others we already have it tough enough in terms of our images.
I don't like going into GLBT clubs and having people walk up to me
and asking "How much?". I'm blessed to be born as an attractive and
intelligent African-American transperson, and so is Dawn. I get tired
of people assuming I'm a sex worker just because they saw another
attractive African-American sista showing all of her private parts on
Dawn and I have spent years perfecting and polishing our images to be
the African-American women that we were meant to be. Our families and
the African-American community expect us to live up to that.
The last thing either one of us want to hear is someone advocating
the use of `she-male' as a acceptable descriptive term. I can't
speak for Dawn, but call me a she-male and be prepared for the
verbal tongue lashing that will swiftly follow. Yes, I loathe it
One thing that you'll learn as a minority is that image is
everything. We've learned that painful lesson over 400 years of
history. Carolyn Gerard stated in 1971,"To manipulate an image is to
control a peoplehood. Zero image has for a long time meant the
repression of our peoplehood."
What that means is that you have to control the message. Submitting
to using the `she-male' epithet to describe us means that we have
given up control of our images to people who don't like us and
ultimately want to destroy our community.
That's how serious this is. That's why our people have gone from being called `Colored' to `Negro' to `Black' to `African-American'.
African-American is more descriptive of who we are, Americans who
trace our ancestry to the African continent. The other words are
ones that we used at various time in our history here in the United
States that we agreed as a community to call ourselves. The n-word is
what we are called by others who hate us. While some people within
the African-American community still use that word, it isn't
acceptable to many of us.
In the transgender community a majority of us have agreed that `she-
male' is not something that we wish to use as a descriptive term.
For a person who chooses not to have surgery, non operative
transsexual accomplishes the same thing as African-American does for
But you're right on one point. We need to have much love for non-
operative transsexuals, and we'll start with you. If we ever get the
opportunity to meet you, we'll be the first ones to give you a big
hug. There's the bell. Class dismissed.