A few transgender myths

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 those in the transgender community. These aren’t the only myths, but are a good starting point for reducing misunderstanding:

Myth 1: The transgender people 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). Transgender people 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 transgender people are not homosexual, in fact the vast majority of crossdressers are straight.

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Myth 2: All transgender people are all 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 transgender people want to get a sex change

This myth still causes controversy within the transgender 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 transgender 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 Transgender

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 transgender 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 to female transgendered person, though this applies equally to female to male as well.

Transgender: An umbrella term used to describe a person (male or female), who dresses, behaves or identifies in as a gender different from their birth gender.

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:

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Dedicated to creating a safe, supportive and welcoming environment for everyone in the transgender community.
  1. Lynn Jones 12 years ago

    > in fact the vast majority of
    > crossdressers are straight

    Which ‘tranny chasers’ just don’t seem to get. I hesitate to use the word ‘grasp’ 🙂 I don’t post pictures on Flickr, but I know folk who do and they do get a lot of dodgy comments from people trawling for action.

    “Hey, it’s a bloke in a skirt. He must be gagging for it.”

    Ummm. No, not really 🙂

    • Joanna Phipps 10 years ago

      Sad isnt it that if we dress the way we feel then we are instantly sex workers or weirdos. I live full time as my transitioned gender and have received some of the nastiest comments from the students at the middle school my wife works at.

      I do manage to ignore them, and wish the administration would do something about it, however at that school the inmates run the assylum.

  2. Vanessa Law 12 years ago

    Hehe 🙂 Yes, indeed. Though I’m hopeful that as more transgendered folks are visible in the community as ‘normal people’ this trend will slow down – at least to the level that any pretty girl would get unwelcome attention.

    • Joanna Phipps 10 years ago

      many a pretty girl does garner unwelcome attention already. I strive to be another woman on the sidewalk, to fit in and not stand out. Maybe that is counter productive in the greater light of bringing our cause to the attentition of the masses. I find I can do much more good by meeting the objections head on with love, information, and logical argument.

  3. Georgiegirl 11 years ago

    It doesn’t matter what we call ourselves, it will never be acceppted. I’m a into being real over fantasy ! I really can dream like the next guy but i’ve been fighting this since 1969. It will never change, the only thing we have is the internet. Sad but true, Love Georgiegirl !

    • Joanna Phipps 10 years ago

      Georgie, i tend to disagree the more open and out some of us are, the more that the world will see that in reality we are people with a birth defect. It will help once science can nail down some likely causes.

      Birth defects need management and the same with ours, yes there are many who slander us, put us down and despise us becuase we are different and they dont/cant/wont understand why. Nobody said this trail was easy, and I am glad that it isnt, for it enables me to apprecieate just what I do have and how much I had to fight to get it.

  4. Terri 9 years ago


    What one classify me as a transgender person or just a cross dresser that is afraid to leave the house because she is isolated?


  5. Elle Denton 4 years ago

    Good article. I’m against label some what but I guess it makes others comfortable knowing what to call you. I think it’s different for everybody and no two of us are exactly the same.

    • Author
      Vanessa Law 4 years ago

      Thanks Elle!
      No truer words than ‘no two of us are exactly the same’. We’re blessed to have a vocabulary to bond over shared experiences, but it doesn’t capture the nuances of each path, each person’s unique desires and challenges.

  6. Elizabeth Savage 4 years ago

    “Typically men will feel like a woman trapped in a man’s body,” reading that made me wonder who is the author, because as a transsexual woman your referring to us as men disturbed me. My body’s exterior maybe male, but I am not nor ever have been a man. And I don’t think the word transgender, which from my understanding is an adjective can or should be used in the past tense as transgendered which makes it a verb. A person is not transgendering. The person is simply transgender.

    Also I think you could have gone into more depth on the question of sexuality and provided more clarity. Other than those things I think the article was acceptable and should be informative for those who are uneducated in this subject matter.

    • Author
      Vanessa Law 4 years ago

      Elizabeth, I’m sorry for offending you, I didn’t mean to. Are you referring to a comment made in the video that was linked?
      I’ve received a few comments on suggestions for improvements, I’ve made some tweaks, but will likely post a more in depth article in the future. This was written many years ago before I fully understood the breadth of our beauty.

  7. Alex 4 years ago

    Crossdressers means dressing as the opposite gender (assuming one is under the misconception that clothes have genders), not specifically a man dressing as a woman. It had nothing to do with sexuality so making an assumption of any sort regarding that is impossible. A transsexual is not a person who wants to live is the opposite sex or a “man who feels like as woman”. A transsexual is a human being whose physically assigned sex does not match their true gender. There are mtf transsexuals, non-gender transsexuals and ftm transsexuals. Being transgender does not necessarily has anything to do with behaviour, interests or fashion preferences. It is about a state in a person’s heart and mind. A state where the mind, the heart and the person’s true gender either don’t match, is the opposite of or can’t be determined by one of the two gender roles of society. There are countless genders out there, apart from the ones we are assigned with.

    • Author
      Vanessa Law 4 years ago

      Well said Alex, thank you! I think it’s worth a revisit to share more in depth information than I have. Thanks for your comment!

  8. Blaze 4 years ago

    “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.”

    Um unfortunate? I’ve worked many professions and been an open loud and proud activist and only recently ditched a “wholesome” shot paying middle management job to enter into the sex industry where I get awesome sex everyday and make more money than a GP. What an outdated pile of pish!!!

    • Author
      Vanessa Law 4 years ago

      If it truly is a choice you made dear, then that’s great! Many aren’t as fortunate to have the choice.

  9. Debbie Ballard 4 years ago

    Harry Benjamin came up with a scale

    Essentially, there was a scale, or range, of gender identity from cisgender (0) to transvestites to cross-dressers to transsexuals who don’t want surgery, to those who are “do or die” transsexuals.

    Most transgender people live in “Stealth Mode”. Many keep their secrets even from their parents, wives, and children for years, even decades. Others can’t hide their gender conflict even when they try.

    A key element is persecution. Those born in the 1950s or 1960s were often horribly beaten by classmates, often with the encouragement of parents and teachers. Doctors treated what they called “Gender Identity Psychosis” with months of daily electro-shock, torture, and if that didn’t work, lobotomy.

    Those born in the 1970s were still persecuted and attacked but parents were more likely to engage in litigation so teachers would try not to encourage the brutal behavior. Doctors treated “Gender Identity Disorder” with high power drugs like high doses of Haldol to essentially function as a chemical straight-jacket. Even though feminism and gay pride movements were thriving, transgender people, especially MtF transgender and transsexuals were excluded and even shunned.

    Movies like “Freebie & The Bean”, and “Dressed to Kill” depicted transgender women as killers and very dangerous. Even in “Rocky Horror Picture Show”, Frankenfurter kills Teddy with a miner’s pick.

    Books on Gender issues were rare and most were banned from libraries and bookstores. Adult bookstores carried magazines where transgender themes were usually blended with bondage, S&M, and/or gay activities. Magazines used terms like “Petticoat Discipline”, “Forced Feminization”, and “Sissification”. Often, stories had themes of forcing a macho man to live as an emasculated woman.

    Those born in the 1980s, got a little bit more compassion. however, there was still often a lot of bullying. There was a bit more concern about the welfare of gays, but culture, especially the culture of teens, rarely made the distinction between homosexual and transgender.
    Magazines like Penthouse Variations began to cover transgender and cross-dressing themes in a small section of their magazine. Videos featuring pre-op transsexuals began to appear.
    Another key event was the AIDs Epidemic. Since transgender women couldn’t easily blend in, were often thrown out of their homes by their parents, and had no legal rights, even using ANY public restroom (men’s or womens) could result in charges and being branded a “sex offender”. In most smaller cities and towns, cross-dressing was still a crime. As a result, many transgender women were forced to become sex workers, deal drugs, or engage in con games such as blackmail and robbery.

    Many of these girls got AIDS, and doctors refused to treat them. Often, transgender women were at death’s door and were only “outed” and acknowledged when they needed hospice care for the last months or weeks of their lives.

    Those born in the 1990s grew up with the Internet, with mass communication, and with 50 or more cable channels. There was more open discussion of gay and lesbian issues, and after the death of Matthew Shepard, officials and lawmakers became acutely sensitive to the needs of the Gay and Lesbian community. However, when a national bill to protect the rights of gays, lesbians, and transgender people was introduced, the transgender protections were dropped because the law had no chance of being passed. It ended up failing to pass anyway, but by a much smaller margin.

    In the 1990s, the internet, search engines, and millions of web sites meant that people could find a LOT more information about almost anything. Unfortunately if you looked up transsexual, you usually found thousands of listings for adult sites, often girls looking to hook up as dates. Many sites started to use the term “cross-dresser” to or “Transgender” to identify sites that were there to address the emotional and social needs rather than just titillation.

    The term Transgender was originally coined in an Internet news group (net.motss) back in the mid 1980s as a term to describe the entire spectrum of gender identity and gender identity expression. Virginia Prince wanted a term that would include both cross-dressers, who were often married men and professionals, and transsexuals, especially since many cross-dressers would have liked to transition but had to keep their secrets.

    It wasn’t until about 2008 that the first large scale empirical studies of the transgender community were conducted. In the first study, about 5,000 transgender subjects, including everything from closeted cross-dressers to post-op transsexuals were interviewed. The results were quite shocking. Over half of those interviewed had tried to commit suicide at one point or another. Almost 2/3 had turned to drugs and alcohol to numb their pain. Many had suffered severe depression as well. However, 90% of those who had transitioned to their desired role, with or without surgery, were happier, more productive, financially successful, healthier, and in significantly better mental health. Later, larger studies, one with over 2 million English speaking respondents, showed almost the same distribution.

    Many insurance companies now cover transition therapy, including hormones, surgeries, and even the counselors. The insurance companies have realized as these patients self-identify (to get therapy) that there have been long and expensive medical histories, often including hospitalizations as children, drug addiction as teens, obesity as adults, heart problems in middle age, and strokes and cancer as they get older.

    Insurance companies have learned that providing transition services can save them thousands in other claims. My own theory and experience is that when you are forced to live in a body you hate, you don’t care what happens to it and you want to get a body you DO want – many of us have looked at reincarnation beliefs of Buddhists and Muslims, and wondered if this would be an option. Of course, there is the concern that suicide might cost us a “penalty” and we would end up in a place where women are severely abused, like some parts of Africa or the Middle East.

    On the other hand, when a transgender person transitions, and sees the real possibility of having a body they DO want, they are more inclined to do what it takes to take care of that body, including healthy diet, more exercise, and less anger and stress. We no longer have to maintain the struggle of trying to pretend to be something we never wanted to be in the first place.

    • Author
      Vanessa Law 4 years ago

      Debbie, thank you for a very informative and detailed comment on the history of the transgender experience!

    • Barbara Sine 4 years ago

      I love to crossdress because that’s all I can do at my age 66 my life as I know it is somewhat over, I can’t do anything because of my health or i’am on fixed income and that doesn’t go like a regular pay check did, so the little thrill I get from crossdressing in private gets me through my day and I will keep it up till I die.

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