I'm writing a short summary of LGBTQ+ history focusing on the lead up to the Stonewall Uprising, the event itself, and the first Pride march. I understand how to respectfully discuss LGBTQ+ people today. However, this sometimes clashes with historical self-classifications.

Two examples:

  • As I understand it, terms like transvestite were more commonly used, even by the people themselves, in the 1960s and 1970s. Is it more appropriate to project a more modern term like transgender onto some who might have identified as transvestite in the 1960s, or should I use the language they used at the time? I know transgender and transvestite are not the same but if the latter isn’t used any more, which word do I use?

  • The word gay was also used more broadly to cover all LGBTQ+ people during that time as well. So while specific groups like Mattachine Society would be referred to as gay rights irrespectively, the broader movement of that time is often also called gay rights. If I’m writing about the broader movement of that time, is it okay to call it the LGBTQ+ Rights Movement?

Part of the reason I ask is one of my sources is Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution by David Carter and, while that book was published in 2010, it still uses the language of the 1960s.

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    Transvestite refers to a person who likes to wear clothing of the opposite sex. Typically it meant a man dressing as a woman. These could be men happily married with kids so it wasn't the same as what trans means today. It would be helpful for you to at least get a dictionary printed in say the 1990s to understand how terms were used.
    – Damion Keeling
    May 26, 2023 at 20:28
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    @DamionKeeling I understand the differences, but I also know that its not really a term that is used today. But that's my problem: transvestite is not really a term used today, but there isn't really an exact equivalent to what is used and so what word do I use?
    – Rozgonyi
    May 26, 2023 at 23:33
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    What is your audience: academic historians, interested lay people, etc.? Also, does the book by David Carter say anything about its use of terminology?
    – Wrzlprmft
    May 27, 2023 at 19:11
  • @Rozgonyi I don't pretend to be an expert, but isn't "cross-dresser" a term used today that would describe what transvestite was used for at the time?
    – terdon
    May 27, 2023 at 20:37
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    @wetcircuit: How do I or the asker reveal our ignorance? We both clearly state that we are aware that these terms aren’t used nowadays. Also, I don’t see the asker suggesting anything; they are merely asking what to do. Anyway, if your answer to the question is to always use modern terms, you should probably write that as an answer, and ideally explain how you would address problems as described by me or in the question when modern terms don’t map one-to-one to historically used terms.
    – Wrzlprmft
    May 28, 2023 at 14:32


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