Since the release of my latest book, Dungeons & Drag Queens, I’ve seen a lot of different terms used to describe the main character, Sleazella LaRuse: transvestite, crossdresser, tranny, shemale, etc. These terms are not interchangeable! To help readers get their vocab in line, I offer the following glossary of gender jargon:
Drag queen: Typically (but not always) gay men who don over-the-top female gear. Drag is an amazing, subversive form of self-expression that is also an intensely multifaceted form of art. Not only are these girls fucking with gender norms, they’re doing makeup, choreography, fashion design, music, comedy. Sleazella LaRuse from Dungeons & Drag Queens is a drag queen!
Female impersonator: Someone who impersonates females, often professionally. Kinda, sorta the same as a drag queen. I’ve noticed that this term was preferred by professional drag queens of years past.
Transvestite: Guys, often hetero, who dress like women. The clothes are usually closer to a genetic female’s average day-to-day wardrobe than a drag queen’s. There usually isn’t a performance aspect. These ladies are often in the closet. Not the same as a drag queen, really.
Crossdresser: More or less the same as transvestites. This term tends to be preferred by some in that crowd, as it’s less clinical. Within this community, people tend to refer to crossdressing as just dressing.
Trans, transgender and transsexual: Okay, so there are distinctions between these terms, and the terms seem to be evolving. Trans and transgender are umbrella terms that cover transsexuals and more. Transsexuals are people born one gender but identify psychologically and emotionally with the other, and often use medical means to realign. Getting into the details on this is way out of scope for my silly blog, but it’s important to understand the basics. Know that these terms are not interchangeable with drag queen.
Tranny and shemale: Tranny may seem like a cute, short version of transsexual, but it’s not. Many consider it derogatory. Shemale is totally a porn word and seems unwelcome by most. My thinking is this: Life is fucking hard. If you can make it a touch more comfortable for someone else just by changing up your vocab a little and not saying “tranny” or “shemale,” it seems like a no brainer to me.
This is by no means an all-encompassing list. And also, I’m no expert. I can almost guarantee I’ve fucked something up in the above definitions. I’m just hoping to get people pointed in the right direction. Watch interviews with RuPaul. Read Kate Bornstein. Read the books Topside Press is putting out. Laverne Cox has been making the talk show rounds giving some interviews that will make your brain expand super fast. Youtube that shit.