In Black queer communities and in the broader queer community, it’s often assumed that men are always top, givers or dom(inant)s and that women or femmes are always bottom, receivers or sub(missive). People who are sexually versatile, however, are erased from these discourses. As a result, some Black gay men use their own slang to describe their partners and to talk about sex and sexual dynamics. One such slang word is trade.
Originally, the slang term trade referred to a young, sexually attractive gay man who probably engaged in casual gay sex for financial gain (gay for pay). Today, the term can mean any good-looking homosexual man and casual sexual encounters between men.
While participants have different definitions for trade, most participants agree that the term is a way to differentiate masculine men from those who aren’t. Joseph, for example, says that anyone who is “masculine” and asexual or who doesn’t identify as being either straight or gay is trade. He also notes that he can tell if someone is trade by looking at them and observing their body language.
Courtney, on the other hand, discusses a different kind of trade. She says that when she attends a kiki, she can sometimes tell by the way a person talks or moves whether they are trade or not. She suggests that this is an on-the-spot literacy that involves learning to read and throw shade based on context, rather than static knowledge of gender or sexuality.