What’s the Difference Between a Crossdresser and a Transsexual?

What's the difference between a crossdresser and a transsexual?

It’s an old joke in the transgender community that goes like this:
Q: “What’s the difference between a crossdresser and a transsexual?”
A: “Two years”

This provides some humorous levity while astutely implying a truth about transsexuals – many of them started out as crossdressers. Unfortunately, while it makes for a fun observation it doesn’t really provide any useful insights for those who are struggling with their gender identity, or for others who hear that someone they love is a crossdresser.

It’s also easy to describe the difference between a crossdresser and a transsexual by sharing the definition of each word and describing transgender terminology.

It’s more difficult to help those struggling with their gender identity determine whether they are a crossdresser or transsexual, though I’ve made such an attempt a few times.

Five days ago I had sex reassignment surgery. As someone who once considered themselves a crossdresser, and now considers herself a transsexual woman without question of doubt I feel I’m in a position to provide some valuable insight for those struggling with a similar question. It goes without saying that each person is different, and this question is best explored together with a qualified therapist, after all you’ll make life altering decisions based on what you discover.

How Do I Know if I’m a Transsexual?

    • You consider yourself a woman: Crossdressers enjoy being woman for a time, but still consider themselves to be a man. Many are even happy being a man, and indulging their feminine persona a few times a week or month is all they need. Even if they fantasize about being transformed into a woman, crossdressers never seriously consider this to be a long term way of life.
      Transsexuals feel an intense cognitive dissonance between the genders of their mind and body. For me this manifested itself in a constant ‘mind static’ that pervaded every moment. I couldn’t enjoy the fullness of life because of a birth defect that placed me in the wrong body. For some it gets so serious that they seriously consider suicide as the only solution.
    • It’s about who you are, not the clothes: For many crossdressers the infatuation with the feminine revolves around their appearance. The clothes, the makeup, the impossibly high heels. Even for crossdressers who strive to blend in, it’s about being feminine. Being feminine feels good and exciting.
      For transsexuals the entire experience doesn’t revolve around the accessories of gender expression. Another common refrain is, “How do you tell the transsexuals at a transgender conference?”, “They’re the ones wearing jeans”. It’s about who you are, not who you appear to be.
    • You take the good with the bad: Transsexuals realize that there is no escaping being a woman. No time off for good behavior. We can’t decide to be a man for a certain circumstance just because it would be easier. While we may lament the discrimination we face as women it doesn’t factor in to whether we are a woman.
    • Womanhood is messy reality, not an idealized fantasy: If your sole experience of womanhood is as a fantasy, then you don’t have enough information to say that you’re a transsexual. Many crossdressers only experience what they consider the ‘highlights’ of womanhood (It’s another post as to why I don’t believe these are the actual highlights). Nights out feeling sensual, or safe gatherings dressed in their finest feminine attire. The truth is that womanhood isn’t quite as clean or elegant. Many transsexual woman experienced and embraced the messy reality of womanhood before transitioning. If you’re wondering, seek out every day experiences as a woman.

Embrace Who You Are

Gender Identity isn’t a game that you win by being more feminine. The only way to win is to discover where you are on the spectrum, and accept yourself unconditionally. If you’re not a transsexual, that’s okay. If you are, that’s okay too.

I’ve shared my thoughts on how to determine whether you’re a crossdresser or transsexual. What insights have I missed? If you’re a crossdresser and firm in that knowledge, how did you come to this realization?

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  1. Profile photo of DawnOday
    DawnOday 3 weeks ago

    I have been this way since birth. I realized it about five when I would only play with the girls. Hop Scotch, jacks, tether ball, dress-up. In the fourth grade I started playing baseball. As I migrated into adulthood I would babysit for my sister, put the kids to bed and locked myself into my sisters bedroom. Then the desire to express myself outweighed the success of my marriage. I kept trying to find ways out. I finally did after two and a half years. Keep in mind Wen was beautiful and a nympho of sorts. No amount of hetero sex made a difference in fact sex was the last thing on my mind. I would carry out the act but I was detached and distant. I worked nights, she worked days, so I would dress up in the daytime. Then I concocted the story that Wen cheated on me. Which she did. But it was my fault. I drove her into the arms of another. When we split my focus was not on getting back together it was about the freedom to dress whenever I want. About three years later I met JoAnn. She found out early that I dressed up, and has never brought it up. I continued to dress for our 30 years together. Luckily JoAnn understands and knows the reason we have not had sexual relations in twenty five years. She also knows I love her very deeply. She has been my rock through good and bad. Undoubtedly the strongest women i have ever met. I have been to therapy at least five times each with the purpose of discussing my dysphoria, but I chickened out each time instead telling the Therapist I was stressed.
    This year was mine and Wen’s 40th anniversary and I decided to start investigating what really happened to our marriage. At the same time I was having a melt down at home. I had always been angry; which my wife JoAnn does not deserve. It’s driven away my love, my friends, my family. I used to pray to be miraculously transformed into the women I always felt I was. Now I don’t really have a fem bone in my body. But I know, deep down that something is not right. I finally was truthful to the Therapist and we began discussing my dysphoria. I also said I was searching for answers why Wen and I split. It was a kick to the gut, but the therapist said, that it was I who sabotaged our relationship. It immediately made sense. It was like the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders. Two sessions later Kristi asked if I would like HRT. She has written the letter and the administering Doc has asked the department head if my health problems would interfere. He called me back to make an appointment. So far so good.
    I had been studying the causes to be transgender and most what I’ve seen is it is not something we actually choose. It is a more like it chooses us. From an early age. I have been sick for a long time as my heart was defective at birth. As I grew older I had a Tia or mini stroke. Congestive heart failure, high cholesterol, defective aortic valve, diabetes. I also did not develop a normal penis and my testes did not drop until I was a senior in High School. In my research I came across some medical information that may have changed my life. DES or diethylstilbestrol is a synthetic female hormone given to pregnant women, from 1937 to 1972, to control miscarriages and stillbirths. My Mom had a history of miscarriages. I can’t prove it because Moms medical records are long gone. But certain indicators suggest she was given this drug. My heart disease, and it’s severity, the age when the heart could not be silent anymore was my very early 40’s. My genital timeline finally made sense. DES if administered in the week 10 timeframe does reduce the testosterone that formed my body and genitals and replaces it with massive doses of synthetic female hormones 3000 – 4000 times more than required to form the brain.. In fact studies led to the banning of DES in the early 70’s. This is fine except the testosterone present during the formation of my body was not present for the development of my brain I’ve finally had the breakthrough that I believe tells my life story.
    I told my therapist that, yes, I would indeed want to take female hormones. I hope it relieves the inner turmoil I have always suffered from. But alas, I can’t do much more than hormones at my age and the time it takes to fully transition and the costs are not possible at this time.
    I guess my point being don’t deny your feelings. Don’t wait 60 years to do something about it. There is easy to access help out there that was not available when I was in my twentys. Seek a therapist for starters and be honest. What you do is not perversion it is an inner urning to be who you were intended to be. Be confident as that is the biggest aid to transitioning. Don’t worry about passing. Be worried about being accepted for the person you have become and expect nothing less.
    If you want to read more on DES go to the DESACTION.ORG website

    Thanks for reading
    Dawn

    • Profile photo of Rhae
      Rhae 2 weeks ago

      hi Dawn loved your story i lived most of my life trying to figure out why i thougt and felt different then everybody else i have a very strong female side and i ve my male side i enjoy both sides but i used to surpress my female side and because of this i suffered from self doubt and no self esteem then 6 years ago i met my wife and with bher awsome suport i found me the word i use to describe my self is pangender i never had a problem with my male side but i was hideing and supressing my female side now thanks to people like you my wife and the rest of the new friends i have met on this site i am now becoming whole i’m no longer confuseded about my identity. yes it is very impotant to be true to who you are because if you don’t have your self you ha nothing but confusion and lonelyness i would love to chat with you more peace and hugs Rhae

  2. Profile photo of Danielle(Dani)
    Danielle(Dani) 2 months ago

    Patricia mentioned above several transgender identities and said “that’s okay.” Absolutely! I like to tell people that no matter where anyone identifies under the transgender umbrella, we’re like Baskin Robbins ice cream, 31 flavors chillin in the cooler together.

    I am very new to truly discovering myself. And I must yield to Vanessa’s wisdom and experience. But I once and and even still recently thought I was a crossdresser. I went through some very intense inward looking. I have in large part the wonderful environment this site provides to thank for a place with which to do that searching.

    I now know that I’m not a crossdresser. But here I don’t know if some would call me a true transsexual either. I don’t know where the road will lead. Currently I identify as gender fluid and plan on beginning HRT and more before too long. I guess my point would be that with all things transgender, it isn’t always going to be a clear either or. But, sometimes I’m sure it’s very clear cut for someone and I certainly would not tell them they are wrong. They would know best for themselves.

    But like I said, plenty of room in the cooler for another flavor to come in and chill.

  3. Kellie 2 months ago

    I love to dress up, unfortunately my spouse hates it, so I spend a lot of time “In the closet” I have often thought about suicide, but think that’s the coward in me. I don’t have anyone to confide in and have thought about joining a group like AA for cross dressers. But I don’t believe in a god that would make a “man” who abused me and made me hate men, especially myself so there you go. I guess I’m posting this looking for some help of some kind. I’m not sure if I’m trans but certainly a CD.
    I would appreciate any good feedback to lizzardman@Hotmail.ca

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