A label is such a funny thing. It can provide an identity, lend legitimacy to who we are, and create a community . Whether you’re a fan of a sports team, from a certain university or enjoy a particular hobby you have a label. Along with that label you are also granted a set of characteristics common to that group. Even before someone meets you, they already “know” who you are – A skydiver is a daring thrill seeker and a librarian is a stern intellectual. You’re stereotyped, for good or ill, regardless of whether the stereotype is apt.
Given the power of a stereotype, I’m hesitant to categorize those within the transgender community. The gender spectrum is so varied that I would be naive to think that I could provide an adequate description for all points along the spectrum, or even that I had identified the most interesting points. Yet in spite of this, I know that an article attempting to describe the gender spectrum can be a godsend for those who are just beginning their journey in gender diversity. Often, as I was starting out, you feel confused and alone. You may not even be aware that you’re struggling with gender identity.
Am I alone in my love for women’s clothing? Does this mean I’ll get a sex change? Am I gay?
I can’t answer all your questions in one article, or even a full publication – two author’s have tried in excellent books I highly recommend (My Husband Wears My Clothes and My Husband Betty). My goal is to share a few of the terms we use within the transgender community to describe ourselves – and to hear from the veterans what they think and where I may have misspoken.
So with that in mind…
Wikipedia has a good article on the transgender definition, but unfortunately I’ve found many other suspect answers on the Internet so be careful who you listen to. There are also some transgender myths you should avoid.
Transgender: Myself (and others) use this term as a broad umbrella term to encompass all people who have feelings of gender dysphoria, from the part time crossdresser to someone who has transitioned. In recent literature on the topic the term “cisgender” has been coined to be the opposite of transgender – where the inner and outer gender identity are consistent.
Crossdresser: A crossdresser is someone who dresses in clothes of the opposite gender for pleasure. This may be sexual or a desire to appear as the other gender (see: why do men crossdress). Many crossdressers I’ve spoken with describe the feeling associated with wearing clothes of the opposite gender as natural and relaxing.
Transsexual: A person who lives as a gender opposite that of their birth gender. They may or may not have had “the operation” to alter their genitals. Pre-op (before the operation), Post-op (after the operation) and no-op (Opting not to have the operation). It is considered quite rude to refer to a transsexual by their birth gender – whether or not they “pass”.
Drag Queen/King: A performer who appears as the opposite gender, typically for theatrical effect, whether dramatic or comedic. It’s a myth that all drag queens are gay.
Intersexed: Someone who is born with ambiguous genitals. More often than not the “mistake of nature” is “fixed” shortly after birth when the doctor or parents choose a gender for the baby. This can result in a lifetime of struggle and shame (see the Intersex Society of North America for more details).
Genderqueer: Defying even the more liberal gender categorizations I’ve provided above, those who identify as gender queer typically break all stereotypes associated with gender and display the gender identity and gender expression they feel most suits them.
Have I missed anyone? Mischaracterized anyone? Let me know, I’m eager for your comments and feedback.
What’s your gender identity?