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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Dedicated to creating a safe, supportive and welcoming environment for everyone in the transgender community.

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61 Comments
  1. Shelley Snapdragon 7 days ago

    I dislike the word crossdresser.from my point of view when im dressed im 100% woman. I feel my innerself projecting out.wanting to be the real me. Recently diagnosed transgender female ,ive got direction finally. My body and brain will soon be united !!

  2. Lara Cross 1 week ago

    For what it’s worth, I have to agree with Faille and Lynne in this discussion, but I think the heart of the matter is the fact that all of us have something personal and unique driving our sexual identity… either our family background, our DNA, or our own experiences in life. So what can we learn from the experiences of others? I believe it is simply to respect and accept ourselves and others’ unique paths to their gender identity. I don’t believe there is a formula for the way I feel when I dress as Lara or another for how I feel when I am Larry. I do accept the fact that each of us has to walk in our chosen shoes (high heels, or loafers) as we journey through our lives. The complications come from those who watch us as we live.

  3. Faille Fascetinea 2 months ago

    After spending 25 years or more wondering and debating the issue with only myself for support I have to say I probably should be TS. But after reading this and many other articles and very personal stories from both male and female perspective that it is the “me” in the mirror that, for my part, needs to be on the other side. To clarify I mean what I see and not what anyone else sees in the same mirror. I am comfortable as male or female but I dont see myself as sensual or even sexy but instead I see that me I always saw smiling back at me. The clothing and makeup are only a part of why I CD and I love spending hours getting ready to go food shopping and picking my outfit whether it is jeans and a sweater or a dress and boots. Above all it isn’t for anyone else that I transform myself but for the smile it puts on me. I could go on for miles but will end it instead by saying me smiling back at me as a woman in the mirror is incredibly wonderful.

  4. Miss P 2 months ago

    Thanks for your helpful and insightful word born of experience and thought.

  5. Rachel Sometime 3 months ago

    Hi Sister,
    I don’t see where there is a problem, as lots of girls are either bi or lesbian. I’m a feel that Rach is definitely a lesbian.
    hugs Rach

  6. Kandy Licious 3 months ago

    I’ve always considered myself as a crossdresser but I’m abit confused as I’m not happy in a man’s body I want to be a woman with all the female parts this is where I’m confused I’m not interested in dating a guy I still like women or crossdressers should I speak with a professional as this sometimes tears me apart especially when I’m not dressed as a female. I feel like I’m lying to myself when I’m a guy I sure would love some feed back thanks xx

  7. Peggy Ann Culpepper 3 months ago

    It is amazing what two years of Harmone treatment for Prostate Cancer can do for you. No. 1 it most likely saved mylife and two, it changed how i now look at life. I have been an on and off cross dresser for about 75 years. Never had a thought of being a full time woman. I really felt like a woman when , if only in panties or as in the Full underdress mode. After about 6 mons. of the harmone treatment i begin to feel different and told my wife and daughter in ahalf kidding way that i didn’t know whether i was a girl or boy any more. After a year i wasn,t kidding any more. I thank god every day for all that has happened to me. Due to age and physical constraints i will never be able to have the full benefits or as you say hazards of being a woman. i just try every day to try living as ME to the fullest. Thanks for all the support i’ve received from CDH.

  8. Gracie 4 months ago

    I think this is where i might be the most confused with myself bc i dont dress much, I fact i hardly ever dress other maybe some eye liner and nail polish but i don’t Necessarily feel l need to. I always feel like i should have been born a girl and yes I do put in the male fisade and portray myself that way but on the outside but I know its just not me. Being a father if 5 can have that affect i guess lol. I know ill never chose to live my life as a female or even go as far to go out in public dressed as on but i know in my soul who I should have been. Wow, I can’t believe im even admitting any of this. I guess this is a big first step for truly loving the perosn i am.
    This article has been very helpful
    Thanks

  9. Lynne Wilson 4 months ago

    Oh wow, even though this article is over 2 years old, it resonated within me. I’m a CD, but in the past couple weeks I’ve been researching this intensely as I have come out to a supportive wife. However, it’s been humbling to learn that I’m in fact somewhere along the transgender spectrum. It initially scared me to think that I migh in fact be TS. But upon reflection and research, I have discovered that although I do have a hidden female within myself, I am completely happy with my normal male role, particularly as a husband and father, and don’t feel the slightest bit disconnected from my male body. For me though, I’m 5% girl, and that 5% of the time I want to be 100% woman. However, my desired level of feminity is fairly narrowly defined in terms of dresses, heels, body shaping, wigs, and makeup. I have zero desire to live as an “everyday” woman in yoga pants or hair in a pony tail.

    It’s reassuring to hear that I’m not the only person going through this.

  10. […] จริงๆแล้วเส้นแบ่งระหว่างการแต่งหญิง (Crossdressing) กับการเป็นคนข้ามเพศ (Transsexuality) อยู่ตรงไหนกันแน่ เพื่อความไม่เยิ่นเย้อ ขอเขียนเฉพาะเจาะจงไปในกรณี ผู้ชายแต่งหญิง vs ผู้หญิงข้ามเพศ แต่งหญิง แต่งไปเพื่ออะไร ก่อนอื่นต้องขออธิบายก่อนว่าการแต่งตัวข้ามเพศไม่ได้เป็นสิ่งที่มีแต่ในการ์ตูนหรือสังคมญี่ปุ่น มีผู้คนในประเทศอื่นๆทั่วโลกที่มีความสุขและสนุกกับการแต่งตัวข้ามเพศ ในบางกรณี การแต่งตัวข้ามเพศเป็นพฤติกรรมสะท้อนปัญหาภายในใจ (อย่างเวลาเป็นผู้ชายไม่ได้รับความสนใจ แต่พอแต่งหญิงก็มีคนเข้ามาชมว่าน่ารัก) แต่ในหลายๆกรณี การแต่งตัวข้ามเพศเป็นเพียงแค่-ความชอบส่วนตัว-ในระดับเดียวกับงานอดิเรก เป็นความชอบส่วนตัวที่อาจไม่ได้มีจุดเริ่มต้นมาจากปัจจัยอย่างหน้าตาที่ค่อนไปทางผู้หญิงมากกว่า หรือการที่แต่งหญิงออกมาแล้วน่ารัก อย่างในแฟนฟิคชั่นตะวันตก แง่มุมที่เราพบอยู่เรื่อยๆคือการแต่งหญิงในแง่ของการเพิ่มความตื่นเต้นในเรื่องเพศสัมพันธ์ หรืออารมณ์ทางเพศที่มากขึ้นเมื่อถูกทรีทเหมือนผู้หญิง (feminitization) ทีนี้มาถึงเรื่องคนข้ามเพศ (Transsexuality) ในประเทศไทยเราเห็นคนข้ามเพศกันทุกวัน เราเรียกคนเหล่านั้นว่า ตุ๊ด กะเทย ทอม เรามีมุมมองและความคิดเห็นต่างต่อคนเหล่านั้นที่ถูกหล่อหลอมมาด้วยสังคม แต่คนเหล่านั้นคือใครกันแน่ คนข้ามเพศหรือ trans คือกลุ่มคนที่มีจิตใจและความรู้สึกตรงข้ามกับเพศสภาพของตัวเอง เช่นเกิดมาเป็นผู้หญิงแต่จิตใจเป็นชาย เมื่อความรู้สึกนี้เติบโตขึ้นจึงเกิดเป็นความรู้สึกอยากให้คนรอบข้างมองว่าตนเป็นผู้ชาย และปฏิบัติเหมือนกับที่ปฏิบัติกับผู้ชายทั่วไป กลับมาที่คำถามของเรา ผู้ชายอยากแต่งหญิงกับผู้หญิงข้ามเพศจริงๆแล้วเหมือนกันหรือไม่ คำตอบคือ ไม่เหมือน แต่ไม่ได้แยกออกจากกันโดยสมบูรณ์ การที่ชอบหรืออยากแต่งหญิงอาจจะเป็นความรู้สึกโดดๆ หรืออาจจะเป็นความรู้สึกที่มีรากฐานมาจากความอยากเป็นผู้หญิงในใจ ผู้ชายคนหนึ่งอาจชอบแต่งหญิงโดยไม่อยากเป็นผู้หญิงก็ได้ และในทางเดียวกันผู้ชายคนหนึ่งอาจชอบแต่งหญิงเพราะลึกๆแล้วมีจิตใจเป็นหญิงก็ได้ เว็บ Crossdresserheaven ได้ให้คำแนะนำสำหรับกรณีนี้อย่างน่าสนใจว่า การจะพิจารณาว่าตัวเองเป็นคนข้ามเพศหรือไม่นั้น ให้สังเกตง่ายๆว่า     1. คิดว่าตัวเองเป็นผู้หญิงและอยากให้สังคมมองว่าเป็นผู้หญิง     2. อยากเป็นผู้หญิงด้วย ไม่ใช่แค่อยากแต่งหญิง     3. เมื่อเรียกตัวเองว่าเป็นผู้หญิงข้ามเพศแล้วก็พร้อมที่จะยอมรับผล(และความอยุติธรรม)ที่ตามมา จะไม่กลับไปเป็นชายเพราะเป็นเพศที่ง่ายกว่า     4. อยากเป็นผู้หญิงแม้การเป็นผู้หญิงจะมีความยุ่งยากในการใช้ชีวิต แม้ว่าการเป็นผู้หญิงจะไม่ได้แปลว่าจะได้ใส่ชุดสวยๆแต่งหน้าสวยๆตลอดเวลา […]

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