For your typical heterosexual man or woman the transgender world can seem quite perplexing. Not only is the whole concept difficult to grasp (‘you’re a man, why do you want to be a woman?’), but even within transgendered there is great diversity.
None of this is helped by the myths that have become widely voiced within society. To begin with I will first dispel some of the most common myths about the transgendered:
Myth 1: The transgendered are homosexual
This is probably the most common misunderstanding. There is a difference between sexual orientation (straight, gay, bisexual) and gender identity (self identify as a man or a woman). The transgendered identify or express themselves as a gender that is different from one in which they were born. This video gives a good overview of the differences between sexual orientation and gender identity. Most transgendered are not homosexual, in fact the vast majority of crossdressers are straight.
Myth 2: All transgendered are sex workers, adult entertainers or freaks seeking attention
Thank you Jerry Springer for perpetuating this myth! Most of us live normal lives – we go to school / work, spend time with our families and friends and engage in other hobbies just like the rest of society. In fact, being treated as a normal woman is often a sufficient motivation that many of us endure long hours practicing and perfecting our femininity. It is unfortunate that discrimination has forced some transgendered people out of their jobs, and they feel they must turn to less wholesome professions in order to survive.
Myth 3: All transgendered want to get a sex change
This myth still causes controversy within the transgendered community, as some who have undergone sex reassignment surgery (SRS) struggle to understand why someone would act and dress as someone of the opposite sex without wanting a sex change. The truth is that the transgendered experience is a spectrum, from those who only occasionally wear clothes of the opposite sex, to those who undergo SRS and live full time as the opposite sex.
The Truth about Transgendered
I’m always weary of creating nice, neat categories, and then sorting people into these categories. This ignores the natural diversity, and by showcasing the differences can also increase discrimination and instill an ‘us vs them’ mentality. However, even with these pitfalls, I think describing the commonly used categorizations within the transgendered world we are able to have a better conversation about what it means to be transgendered. As you’re reading this, please do not try to define a person by the category, but keep in mind that while people may identify with a particular group it is only a small window into who they are as a human.
I mentioned earlier that transgendered is a spectrum. I’m going to define and discuss some points along this spectrum. For the purposes of brevity I’m going to talk about the male transgendered, though there are female to male transgendered as well.
Transgender: An umbrella term used to describe a person (male or female), who dresses or behaves in a way that is different from their sex at birth.
Cross dresser: A man who dresses in woman’s clothes either part time or full time. Often taking on the mannerisms and appearance of woman. Most crossdressers are straight, and many are in a relationship with a person of the opposite sex. Cross dressers normally do not want to feminize their body, or undergo SRS.
Transvestite: A person who cross dresses. The term cross dresser is preferred, as sometimes the term transvestite is (wrongly) associated with a transvestic fetish (which are those who occasionally use clothing of the opposite gender for fetish purposes).
Drag Queen (and King): A stage artist, host or performer who wears makeup and woman’s clothing with the purpose of entertaining or highlighting transgender issues. If only done for the performance, these people are not considered cross dressers.
Transsexual: A person who has the desire to live and be accepted as the opposite sex. Typically men will feel like ‘a woman trapped in a man’s body’. Having undergone SRS (or post operative transsexual) is not a requirement for being a transsexual. Often times a transsexual will take steps to feminize their bodies (e.g. through hormones)
Intersexed: A person who is born with sexual anatomy that does not fit the typical definitions of male or female. There are many different varieties of this difference, e.g. being born with genitals that seem in between male and female, or male on the outside, female on the inside, or even having both XX and XY chromosomes.
Some valuable resources for continued reading are: