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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14 Comments
  1. Tasi 2 weeks ago

    With all due respect to my many transsexual friends, you beg the question with this constant barrage that it’s all about the clothes for the crossdresser. For some it may be admittedly, but for many of us, it’s just an expression of femininity and that doesn’t mean overtly sexual or just blending in either. Of course feeling feminine is good and exciting, but in case you haven’t noticed, what the heck do you think genetic women are doing. Some of the outfits they wear are hardly meant to blend in and in fact, I don’t think that should be our objective either. Check out my Stylish Crossdressers on Sister House http://www.sisterhouse.net/dressingroom/ These women are style icons of our community because their outfits are put together. They take the time to be womanly, not sexual, in their appearance, although I would argue that a stylish woman is very sexy too.

    I have a good TS friend that has been female for 20 years now and she loves to dress sexy, for work, for her boyfriend, and in everyday life. So differentiating yourself from crossdressers based on the clothes you wear holds little water unless you enjoy looking dowdy or like a slob. In fact, psychology tells us that we are most often judged by first appearances. and we get treated accordingly. I dress well and am treated well. What about you?

  2. Profile photo of Patricia Marie Allen
    Patricia Marie Allen 3 weeks ago

    If you’re transsexual, that OK. If you’re a cross-dresser, that’s OK.

    If you’re an androgyne, that’s OK too.

    The thing I hear trans women say is that they were born in the wrong body. Some say they reached a point where it was transition or die, they just couldn’t go on living as they were.

    I don’t believe there’s a cross-dresser in the world who would get that radical about how the feel about cross-dressing. But what about those who reach a point of not being able to go through a single day without expressing the feminine nature within, but still maintain a heterosexual male body? What about the males who have no issues with the body, only with the lifestyle?

    That me, an androgyne. Having nearly equal parts masculine and feminine within the psyche. Here I am, driven to express my feminine nature, and unwilling or not desiring to give up my male body. That leaves me in a never-never land of genders. Never fully feminine and never fully masculine.

    According to two well know tests, one scientific and one not so much though still mostly accepted in the trans community I have nearly equal parts masculine and feminine parts to my psyche with only a slight edge toward feminine.

    As a result I dress nearly 90% of my time feminine and the time I’m dressed masculine, I do so in masculine cut women’s clothes.

    How do I know if I’m a transsexual? I’m not because the idea of sexual reassignment surgery is totally foreign to me. That said, I’m also not a cross-dresser, because I dress to blend in and just do thing any other woman would do. Did I just say “any other woman” and include myself with those women? I guess I did. But dealing with this in my life for the better part of 70 years (I didn’t start really dealing with it until I was 25) I don’t think another two years is likely to put me in the TS camp, especially not since I like it right where I am now.

  3. Tristan 1 month ago

    Honestly, I am a crossdresser.I don’t do it 24/7,because for me it is just sexual. I’m actually dating a mtf transexual, so I can understand the difference.

  4. Profile photo of Jennifer Hopkins
    Jennifer Hopkins 2 months ago

    I have always felt that i should have been a girl. And the need to dress has always been there but i want to be blending in not stand out like a beacon. I like to dress my age and yes when i have sex i am always the submissive female but its not only for sex. I want to be female in all daily aspects good and bad.

  5. moli 3 months ago

    How true luv feeling fem as a crossdresser, a little on the gay side like making out with men,hard to find men to make out with as a gurl though.

  6. Profile photo of Dianne Baldwin
    Dianne Baldwin 5 months ago

    Very good article enjoyed . I feel I fit somewhere in between feel much more comfortable dressed as woman and it’s not really sexual. If I been from different decade would have had surgery but wasn’t acceptable in the sixties

  7. Lora 7 months ago

    Very interesting article. I am a mother of a cross dresser. He started when he was very young, three years old. I had concerns and he attempted to hide it for years. I saw his struggles first hand. He has since decided to embrace his cross dressing and is completely open about it. Which is refreshing, as we discussed when he was in his teenage years, be who you are and never live in shame. Anyways, he has explained to me that for him and many other cross dressers he knows, cross dressing is like playing dress up, in a way. He says that the best way to describe his experience is that just like a preschooler dressing up like their favorite super hero a cross dresser dresses up like a woman. He also says that cross dressers have a heightened appreciation for women. He identifies himself as 100% male, never does he feel as though he is a woman, even in dress. He also considers himself heterosexual and has no interest in gay sex. He loves women, very much in every way.
    I feel as though with all the interest in transgender, trans sexual, gay rights etc. Cross dressers, like my son, have a lot of preconceived ideas, as the joke implies and it’s just not true. Just because a man puts on women’s clothes does not mean he is gay, bisexual, transgender, trans sexual or feel as though their identity is female. He doesn’t feel the desire to change his name or anything like that.
    I did recognize the part Beckie brings out regarding the sexually overt attire. He does wear short tight skirts, dresses and would never wear jeans.

    • Profile photo of Vanessa Law Author
      Vanessa Law 7 months ago

      Hey Lora,

      Thanks for sharing your experience, it’s such a blessing to have you join our community. I’d love to hear more of your experiences as a mother, and perhaps feature your experiences for others on the site – I think you’d be an encouragement to many. Drop me a quick email here – I’d love to hear from you!

  8. carryli servina 10 months ago

    I think the difference is different for everyone. While I have been a cross dresser and bi-sexual since I was 15 and prefer to be dressed I have never had the feeling that some transgendered have explained to me they have about feeling trapped in the wrong body.

    I enjoy the feminine feeling when dressed but I don’t have the feeling I should go any further then dressing.

    I respect those who have those feelings and support what they decide to do. Just as my transgendered friends support that I won’t take it farther then I do.

  9. Jenna 1 year ago

    Thank you so much for the article, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, I have always questioned my gender these last few years, and where I fit in.

    Even from the very start with cross-dressing, it had to be perfect . I had to be perfect. I wasn’t going down this path because I wanted to be some guy dressed up in ladys clothes, there was always so much more. while some dressed to go out to sex on premsises at night I didn’t, dressing cheap wasn’t what it was about/ I was becoming a woman,

    Most things in my life have revolved around this part of me. at the time though it wasn’t something even thought about, though little things through life are so obvious now,

    Im deff more fem on the inside than male, though does this change things with my gender and how I look at things, will no doubt work everthing out in time

    Love

    Jenna xx

  10. rickey 4 years ago

    I been cross dress forever and as time goes on I want to get closer to being a woman but there one thing when i get high it bring the girl out of me big time and then i dont ever want to going back to be man so i say in joy what you have and have fun

  11. Beckie Cannons 4 years ago

    I really love this article (not sure about the joke though LOL) – I realized I was just a transvestite/crossdresser on my first night dressed out having spent it with two transsexuals. I was just so different. But for me the difference it’s quite simple – the desire and need to dress up is mainly a sexual one for transvestites/crossdressers – if you just look at the type of clothes transevitites/crossdressers wear as they tend to be more sexually overt (short skirts/dresses etc) even when they are too old for the look – and for transsexuals try and blend with what they wear.

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