Let’s Learn The Nine Anti-Trans Slurs We Should All Avoid

Inspired by the Special Olympics campaign against the word “retard”, several associates of transgender-activist Monica Helms got together to make a PSA against trans slurs. So what words should we avoid when talking about our trans brothers and sisters?

It’s rude to call a trans person a “tranny, he-she, it, shemale, transvestite, man in a dress, hermaphrodite, or a freak.” It’s also rude to call them by the wrong gender pronoun—if you’re not sure, just ask which they prefer. And while we’re at it please don’t ask a trans person what their name “used to be” or questions about their genitals. What? Were you raised by goblins?

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  • Mike in Asheville

    Certainly context makes all the difference: transvestite and hermaphrodite are also technical terms describing specific human conditions — and are not derogatory when used to describe those conditions.

    The one I don’t get, though, is “tranny.”

    Indeed, gays CAN and DO use “fag” among ourselves similarly as blacks use the “N” word among themselves.

    But “fag” and “N-word” are not used by the gays/blacks, respectively, for general public usage nor reference.

    Tranny, however, is regularly used by transsexuals among themselves and the general public. For example, Google “tranny” and all sorts of business references come up, including the well known “Trannyshack” bars. Google “fag” and “N-word” and not one business will show up that includes “fag” or “N-word”.

    I think it is very fair to say that a significant portion of the transsexual community embrace the use of tranny — of course not when used specifically in a derogatory manner.

  • Riker

    I disagree with barring use of the word “tranny” since most of my trans friends embrace the term themselves and use it as a term of endearment, like I embrace the term “queer”. Of course, it should never be used in a hateful or dismissive way.

    Also, my cis friends talk about each other’s genitals all the time, so why is it bad for a transperson? Their genitalia just have a more interesting story than most of ours.

  • Miss Understood

    I think cis people, like transgender people, may see fit to talk about their genitals with people they choose to discuss them with. But strangers seem to think it’s perfectly ok to ask about a transgender persons genitals. They seem to think that’s that’s what it’s all about. A better rule is to simply respect the way people present themselves. It’s not my business as to whether a woman has a vagina.

    As for the “tranny thing: It’s a slang word but not necessarily a slur. Until a few years ago I never even heard it out outside of transgender circles. Obviously it’s inappropriate to use the term if you are a journalist or in any formal situation. But that’s because it’s slang, not because it’s a slur. Introducing a speaker at a conference with a slang term is belittling. You wouldn’t introduce a woman as a chick.That doesn’t make it a bad word to use socially.

    We need to stop trying to over-demonize things. My tranny friends use the term tranny all the time. Guys who hurl bottles at them from cars call them a “fucking dude”, not a tranny.

  • Fitz

    Aside from a few folks here– most people know the difference between a slur and a endearment. (Hi Gina, yes that was about you). My friend uses the word Tranny, and I have asked about it, and he likes it… and so I will continue to, just as he calls me a fag– it’s very playful. See.. people whose skin isn’t so thin can be playful. So Tranny bany fo fanny, me my mo manny, TRANNY!

    And asking strangers about genitals is seldom ok– any more than it’s ok to ask someone how big their dick is. I did look at his chest, post surgery, because he was bragging about how well it came out. (and it did!). We have respect and admiration for each other, and we can communicate when something isn’t right. (except for partner choices.. .)

  • Rbayse

    I have a trans friend that we both always say tranny, but one day she was talking about her hormone pills and I said, “tranny pills”, and that upset her. I don’t know why. I can say, “hey tranny”, but not tranny-pill. We even say things like tranny-dress, tranny-shoes, tranny-whatever. I did of course tell her I meant no harm and pointed out that we both say tranny all the time and I asked, isn’t that what those pills are for, “hormone therapy”? She understood and I wont say that again, not because I think it is politically incorect or not, but because I care about her and don’t want to hurt her feelings. I actually never would say tranny or tranny-pills in a public situation. It is from a sense of decorum and respect that I would never say anything that may be demeaning to others in any kind of public forum.

  • Ganondorf

    Phew! Casserole of nonsense down there is still acceptable in lieu of tranny.

  • Elloreigh

    @Mike in Asheville: Just to be clear: As “hermaphrodite” is chiefly a clinical term related to intersex conditions, it doesn’t apply to a transgender person unless that person is also intersex.

    Regardless, it’s generally regarded as a slur to call a person a “hermaphrodite” outside the medical context.

    As for transvestite, the likelihood of it being used as a slur instead of in a ‘technical’ sense likewise makes it a word to avoid.

  • MonicaHelms

    So, I see there is a lot of discussion about this video and the choice of words. The reason “tranny” was included is that in recent years, many people, especially gay men in the media, have used “tranny” in a derogatory way. They have use it when they want to express very unflattering traits about trans people. There has begun a backlash on the word, so that’s why I included. Many trans people use it, but like other slur words, it’s more okay for a person to use it about themselves than any non-trans person using it, a bit like how some African Americans use the N-word, but white people should avoid it. The best bet, if you are not trans, then don’t use “tranny.”

    As far as “transvestite” and “hermaphrodite,” yes they are clinical terms, but the Religious Right has taken to use these words in the most negative way in their press releases and rants. Hermaphrodite is not a transgender slur, but intersex, and even some of them use it all the time. There is no consensus in the intersex community on the proper terms. I included it because of the hate people who want to beat all of us up with it.

  • Ginasf

    @Mike in Asheville: No, in point of fact, if you Google tranny you will come up with page after page of porn sites which exploit mostly impoverished young trans women from Brazil and Thailand.

    Enough with using Trannyshack as an example. All the people who run that are gay men who do drag once in a while. None of them are even remotely 24/7 trans people. Moreover, there have been next to no trans women who do drag who’ve regularly performed there.

  • Ginasf


    Please read what I wrote about trans men using the word tranny in the “9 words” thread. Tranny is never used to third gender, insult or sex market trans men. Many of them are attempting to reclaim a term which wasn’t theirs to begin with and, as such, aren’t entitled to reclaim. It would be like a straight man saying it’s okay to call a gay man a ‘fag’ because they’re also men (and might have also been called fag). As I said, I have no issue with individual trans people referring to their trans friends either ironically or “affectionately” (if that’s what they want) as tranny. I have a big issues with referring to groups of trans people as trannies, using it in the media, using it for comic easy hits, using it to denigrate non-trans women, to third gender trans women or when people who aren’t from the trans community think they’re somehow entitled to use it either because they’re gay or pathetic wannabe hipsters. And if you or your co-worker went through half the shit that trans women go through, then we’d see how thick your skin really is.

  • missanthrope

    I consider “tranny” derogatory and I don’t care how many of people’s trans friends use it, it doesn’t hurt any less when people use it around me. Quite frankly, I don’t know why so many people feel so invested in the word that they’ve got to use it even though they know it hurts other people’s feelings.

  • missanthrope

    Fitz, who constantly brags that he fights so hard for trans people here and at Joe My God, tells a trans person go fuck off when they tell him that he’s hurting them. What a class act he is.

  • Daniel Villarreal

    @Fitz: Hey, watch it. Using a slur against a trans-commenter in a post about those very words is pretty uncool. Such needless abuse discourages conversation and other commenters from
    Adding their thoughts. Consider yourself warned.

  • Bortnik

    Why bother with a warning? The express intent was to hurt, if you can’t be an adult go sit at the kiddy table

  • Ganondorf

    Yeah, censorship is always a good idea. Just ban thoughtlessly like the minders on other blogs that manage the message. Of course, some control is necessary to constrain comments to the relevant subject, but many other blogs are all about managing that message into an irrelevant chorus of yes and/or idiocy.

  • Ginasf

    @Fitz: Fitz, the new Oscar Wilde— master of the witty riposte.

  • Shannon1981

    @Daniel Villarreal: What happened to my picture!

    At any rate, IMO, if someone is trans and dislikes the word, be respectful and don’t use it around said person. Same goes for fag, dyke, et al.

    Now, on my own blog in a self deprecating fashion, the word dyke is used in humor. But the blog is aimed at butch lesbians. If I were anything but that, I would never try to have an opinion on using that word in any context and profess that it is as valid as that of anyone in the group. The same should go for any word that is potentially offensive.

  • Jeffree

    I heard the word “tryke” not long ago & I wasn’t 100% sure what it meant. I asked, got a couple semi-different answers, but I realized:
    a) I’m more sheltered than I realized. and

    b) That’s a word to know but not for me to use
    — unless it refers to that lime green three wheel thing I was forced to ride till I was like 5 (okay; I was a sophomore…get over it).

  • Laughriotgirl

    I’m a trans woman, and I use the word “tranny’. It is not, however, without its own baggage – particularly being used by gay men. I think it is a pretty entitled position to take to use the word as if it is some neutral term of endearment totally without its own history and context.

    I do appreciate the unfettered use of the word in public and in social spaces (even formal and political gatherings) by some gay men. It allows me to identify in a few minutes who I should avoid and who is most likely to undermine my political work. The same goes for trans guys and their (largely cis lesbian) partners.

  • avictor

    Words only hurt if you are ashamed of yourself.
    AT the paint very label become hurtful over a given time.

    Why did the word retarded became un-PC?
    The meaning was the same as handicapped, then disabled, then..

    Being called white has barely been touched throughout generations.
    Minus the few attention whores who insist on Caucasian.

    There will always be assholes who scream whatever label you chose in a horrible tone and way. Don’t give them that power.

    If someone calls out freak or tranny – shake-it. Show everyone at least you have the bravery to be who you are.

    Now I don’t know what to tell my son when we indulge in Ru Puals Drag race.
    He thinks Ru Paul is awesome, he calls him a chameleon.
    I am not going to tell him he is a woman.
    I told him he was a transvestite a gay man who dresses in woman’s clothing. Unlike a cross dresser which is a hetro man who likes putting on woman’s clothing.
    Sorry lost the memo when that become incorrect.

    I wont tell him men dressed as women are women that is not correct.
    There is a difference.

    But I wouldn’t want to say anything hurtful especially since it is too soon know if he is gay.

    Oversensitivity makes it seem shameful.

  • avictor


    What do I call you? What do I tell my son 8 year old son the proper term is?
    I told him transvestite, my bad I thought that was the latest and greatest.

    He thinks Ru Paul is awesome. That doesn’t mean he is gay, I find Ru intriguing and am straight (who doesn’t love the enthusiasm, it is refreshing) but I have always raised my son not knowing if he is gay or not.

    I wouldn’t want him to ever look back on his childhood and feel bad about who he is, gay or straight. Either way is equally ok in my book.

  • Laughriotgirl


    let’s start by clarifying that there is a difference between Ru Paul, who very clearly states that he is a man who does drag for entertainment, and a transsexual woman. My life is not for entertainment and I do not make a living begging dollars from gay men.

    You can call my by my name, or failing that, I am a woman. I think it is great that you are open to your child’s sexuality and that you are exposing him to a variety of different things. However, gay men and not trans women. While there may be some areas of overlap, confusing the two or making them the same thing is not good for either group.

    One question, why is it so important to you that you be allowed to use terms that you now know are a problem for many trans people? Or is it just trans women you feel the need to name against their expressed wishes?

  • Monica Helms

    It’s pretty simple. If a person considers a word a slur to them, then you don’t get to argue with them about it or decide they’re wrong. If a trans person uses the word “tranny,” it doesn’t mean they have given you permission to use it any time you wish.

    And the line, “Words only hurt if you are ashamed of yourself.” is total BS. I know MANY gay men who have a wonderful life and are completely comfortable with who they are but would get pissed if someone uses the F-word. I have a good job for 21 years, living as Monica for 14, have a great family and a partner. I’m the president of a national trans organization that just had a big win with the VA. I could not be more happy with my life. But, call me a transvestite and I’ll go Voltamort on you. So, the statement holds as much water as a hammer.

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