Many people use the term “shemale” in a derogatory way, as a put down of men who have made a specific choice as an individual to become extremely female, but still retain their male genitalia. The word has also been used to describe men who are going through the process of becoming transgendered into a full female; this process can take years, and the correct, polite term to use is “trans-woman.”
Many people will also use the word “tranny,” which, again, is considered insulting, while other people will refer to trans-women as hermaphrodites. Both of these words are completely incorrect.
A hermaphrodite is a person who has indeterminate genitalia, a bit of both male and female, either from birth or from early on in puberty. Less than .02 of the general population are born this way. The term was coined from the supposed child of Hermes and Aphrodite, as a god/goddess who contained both male and female genitalia. More commonly used today is the word inter-sexed. Unlike what people portray in fiction and sex movies, inter-sexed people are often hard to define regarding their exact gender, and will usually, at some point, decide to go with being male or female, and take hormones or have surgery to determine their sex.
Regarding the misuse of the term “tranny,” some people think the word is short for transvestite, while others think it’s short for trans-gendered people. On the contrary, transvestites are people who like to dress up in clothes for the opposite sex, and despite popular opinion, many transvestites are actually heterosexual, while others are gay or lesbian.
When a person is going through the transgender process, they usually need to take hormone supplements of the sex they wish to become for quite a while before surgery is performed. Thus, a man who wishes to become a woman will take female hormones that will help him develop breasts, which he may choose to have augmented, lessen facial and body hair, change his voice, and create the feminine features he wishes to have. Until they actually go through with the operation that will change their genitalia from male to female, they may walk around as a “trans-woman” until they undergo their final surgery.
Other people, for their own private reasons, will choose to develop female breasts and have plastic surgery to look more female, but, for their own reasons, keep their male genitalia. In today’s world, where racism, religious fanaticism, and other judgmental choices are in the transition of becoming unimportant, the next steps in recognizing the humanity in all of us is to realize that people can now choose to become the opposite sex or, in the case of trans-women, they have chosen to be come a bit of both.