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?

  1. Celeste Able 1 week ago

    I’ve been dressing since I was in my teens. As with most cross dressers I would buy cloths then after awhile throw them away but would always get the urge to dress again and start the cycle all over again. After a very long time I couldn’t hold back anymore. I came out to my wife finally. Over the years she had found stuff and thought I was having an affair. Now that she knows she is very supportive. We go shopping together and she picks out outfits for me. Life has never been better

  2. Lisbeth Lacy 4 weeks ago

    Many of once struggle with the question, “I’m I a cross dresser or I’m I transgender?”. There is no medical test available to objectively determine if a person is transgender. The current scientific studies indicate that your gender identity is form in the womb and gender identity cannot be changed after birth. It’s likely that a person is borne being transgender. And it’s unlikely that a person choose to be transgender. Scientist also speculate that there are degrees of transgenderism. Some people may experience strong overwhelming dysphoria and others may experience mild or no dysphoria. Based on the scientific studies its likely that that transgender is a genetic condition that begin during pre-natal stage of life where as cross dressing is behavior. However both crossdressers and transsexuals engage in transgender expression. Because cross dressers engage in transgender expression, cross dressing is included as part of the transgender umbrella.
    How do I know that I’m transgender and not a cross dresser. To answer this question will involve a journey of self discovery. self reflection, learning, experimentation. counseling or therapy. The answer may come quickly or may take a lot of time. Experiment with cross dressing. Learn how you feel about yourself when you cross dress. If you feel uncomfortable that may indicate that you’re not transgender or a cross dresser. I believe that there is no bright line that separates cross dressers from transgender folks. The main difference is what’s going on in the mind. Our true gender is hardwired in our brain. For most of us our gender clearly aligns with our biological sex. For some of us gender disconnect is clearly felt and for others we experience gender confusion.

  3. Veronica Raines 2 months ago

    I started wearing my mother’s clothes, when I was 13. I dressed as a woman, when I was 15, and went to a party at my high school. (It only had 52 kids, in the entire school). When I was 16, I left home, and even though I still had a lot of female feelings, I never cross dressed again. That was mostly, due to the Vietnam war, and being a private investigator for 35 years. In other words, I was too busy doing dangerous work, to allow myself to act on the female feelings, I still had. When I retired, I moved to Vegas, to become a pro poker player. However, even though, I became very good at poker, I couldn’t really concentrate on it, due to my feelings, arising again. I would spend, to much time, walking around the hot spots, where the women would go and party. Was it because of the women? No, it was the clothes they wore. I couldn’t keep my mind off, of thinking how good they would feel on me. When I was young, clothes, were clothes, even most of the girls clothes. In the past twenty years, women’s clothes, have become magnificently beautiful, and sexy. For the six years I was there, all I could think about was to wear their clothes. However, I was too busy, thinking I was a real man, due to the life, I’d lead. Coming back home, here in San Diego, I started getting away from that kind of thinking. I even made myself, stop wearing a gun. Then, about a month ago, I again, started feeling a great urge, to wear some of the clothes, women were wearing. Not knowing what I was doing, I started buying lingerie on the net. Most of the clothes, were to small. The one’s that wasn’t, I started wearing, and boy, do I feel good. I didn’t know anything about, transgenders, and actual cross dressers, until I come across this site, on the internet. However, before that, I started watching porn. I hadn’t watched it for over 20 years. At first, I watched the beautiful women, and then, I found myself, watching the men, more than the women. Man, was that a shock to the nervous system. Was I gay? Am I gay? I’m 76 years old, and I couldn’t believe, what was going through my mind. I’ve never had anything against, gay people, in fact, I have a few friends in the gay community. I love wearing women’s clothing. It makes me feel whole, but I couldn’t fathom, me, being gay. After reading what the lady wrote about the difference, between transexuals, and crossdressers, only helped me to understand, that I’m too old, to go through any kind of operations, to be a real girl, even if I wanted to be one, and—– I do. So, I guess, I’m just a crossdresser, that loves to wear womans clothes, and feel a lot like one. Plus, I may also be a bit gay. I know one thing for sure. I need a lot of help, learning how to buy women’s clothes, and learning how to buy the right makeup, and learning how to put in on correctly, because nothing is going to stop me, from dressing as a girl.

    • mel 2 weeks ago

      Very interesting what you wrote and i would love to interview you on my podcast and also assist you. Get back to me please

  4. Lindy Roe 4 months ago

    This is very informative, and helped to partially clear up where I am on that colorful spectrum. Since I started CD, I find myself happier, open to expressing my thoughts, full of life, and yes, even more emotional. At first when I dressed it was for short periods of time, and when I went back to my man clothes I started to revert to my old unhappy self. I am now dressing as a lady more all of the time, resulting in a happier person. I am now partly of fully cross dressed 1/2 of the week. Unfortunately, that is as far as it can go.

  5. HARRYFRANCESWALKER 4 months ago

    Hi everyone nice evening I hope everyone is happy tonight I think that i will go out for a while and come home and play girl

  6. Lisbeth Lacy 4 months ago

    Thank you for the post about the differences between crossdressers and transgender woman. I had underlying feminine feelings and behaviors most of my life but I never Identity myself as being transgender or a crossdresser. Later in life I felt an overwhelming urge to crossdress as a woman. I never crossdressed but my urge felt familiar.I gave in to my urge and purchased some lingerie. My first time wearing a full set lingerie corset, panties, garter belt and nylons felt awesome and very sexually pleasing. Over short period of time dressing up in women clothes including wearing dresses, make up and wig begin to change from a sexual experience to me identifying as a woman in my mind. Identifying as a woman became an obsession. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I felt confusion and even fear. Eventually I went on YouTube and found a lot of information about being transgender and I realized how much that I had in common. I had my testosterone tested and it was low. My checked me for klinefelter which is a chromosome disorder that only effects males. Males are born having XY chromosomes but if a male has klinefelter he has XXY chromosomes which considered a inter-sex condition. Having this condition the male is usually assigned male gender at birth. However with klinefelter the male has secondary physical features that are more feminine than masculine such as having smaller bone structure, less muscle development, less body hair, wider hips, narrower shoulders, and less testosterone than the average male. My doctor diagnosis was that I have a high probability having klinefelter and scheduled me for genetic testing for confirmation. Now I identify myself as bi-gender. More feminine than masculine. And I do wear my skinny jeans mo often than a dress. But I do love wearing a dress too.

  7. Erich 5 months ago

    Never has someone cleared up in a few paragraphs more than I have in 10 years. Thank you and thank you for your eloquent words and kind full thoughts.

  8. Zoba 6 months ago

    My bf is a cross dresser . I love him and I’m trying to accept this fact it’s very hard I didn’t see it coming at all. We broke up before he informed me and when we decided to meet up and talk he told me he dresses like a woman twice a week. I was shocked he’s very manly no one would ever expect such thing from him. He told me he had slept with men before and he didn’t feel comfortable . He likes woman and he wants a normal relationship with a woman who would accept the cross dressing part. Help me is it normal for a straight man to be a cross dresser?

    • Shanna gurl 6 months ago

      Hello I am Shanna a CD and was in that same thing my fiancé didn’t kno about my fem side when we lived together I put that part of me away but it always comes back she didn’t want a bi cross dresser for a hubby so we broke up it was better for both of us and good for me to not have to hide it now we are great friends she tells me about the guys she dates and so do I since I’ve decided not to hide my CD ways I’ve found so many great close friends of both sexes I don’t publicize my fem side but nice to not hide it

      • Zoba 6 months ago

        Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me about this! I don’t mind my bf crossdressing and he doesn’t want it public but what I need to know if he would in the feature be gay or transsexual or bi. He said he wants a normal relationship with a woman but wants to dress when no ones around I told him I’ll help him dress I’m supporting him but my biggest fear is him finding out later in life that he’s not straight he’s gay or bi

    • Lisbeth Lacy 4 months ago

      Zoba, most male crossdressers are not gay. Mostly they are married and have a families. It is estimated that 4 out 10 men engage in crossdressing.

  9. Kelliann Tgurl 7 months ago

    WoW….Thanks for helping me to somewhat understand my situation…..Mentally I AM 90% Female, 100% attracted to Women. I Want to Transition into a non-op Female……I AM KELLIANN!!!!!

    • Lisbeth Lacy 4 months ago

      Kellann, most transwoman do not have gender re-assignment surgery because of the high cost or for medical or personal reasons. And many cannot do HRT because of existing medical conditions. Most transgender people transition socially. Social transition includes wearing clothes that matches your gender identification, voice feminization, hair removal, cosmetic surgery, official name change, growing your hair out or wearing wigs,or hair transplant and most importantly learning to live life as a female. Dedicated crossdresser usually do all the above except for living life as an authentic woman.

  10. Saunie 7 months ago

    After reading this article I am more inclined then ever to believe that Bruce/Caitlin Jenner was in fact a cross dresser and pressured by some in the glbt community to come out as transgender. Watching KUWTK & I am Cait just didnt seem or feel authentic to me. Especially when Caitlins friends started talking reassignment surgery. I for one don’t by the story that reassignment surgery was done. No one goes from being that skeptical and at that age to boom i had my penis removed 6 months later.

  11. kelly mayes 8 months ago

    excellent article… I have a cross dresser that is wondering if he is a tranny.. lol… I think after he plays in clothes and entertains someone who truely appreciates treating him like a woman and he enjoys being submissive and feeling man handled and dominated.. then for a few sprung days or weeks he may feel his feminine side is stronger .. but as the sprungness wears off.. he is happy being the man he has always been and does not feel trapped or misunderstood.. he is fine with having a feminine version of himself and enjoys the clothes and makeup and perfume and the direct sexual hands on attention it brings from his male playmates that enjoy him with the girl stuff on.. its a turn on for both of them.. so whats the harm.. we have been together for 30 years and have a grown adult daughter. I am a female… I love him either way and find it fun to see him enjoy opening his mind and body up to a world of satisfaction that I could never truely give him. We are the BEST of friends and parents and totally in love with each other. We discuss the mental aspects of all of this with open minds trying to figure out why it is he is turned on by it and I am just a tom boy type of girl.. always have been.. but love men or love bisexual men as we have all played together over the years too.. but he loves playing with men that only like gay men and only like crossdresser men or like transsexuals… he has tried being with feminine transexuals dressed up.. but it is more the role he wants to play.. and he ends up wanting them to dominate him still.. lol… so it seems to be mental role play with dressup and smells to carry the imagination and excitement further.. just a bunch of adults having fun.. no victims here… everyone basically NO strings attached fun… it works for us and his playmates..
    we enjoyed your article and think he is more of a cross dresser.. but as the years go by the enjoyment of the feminine side of him makes him more feminine in his “straight male role”.. even if he does not see it as much.. i do.. I love him no matter how he feels forever. and he loves me unconditionally.. I tell him some day he may get super sprung and fall in love with one of his playmates .. especially repeated with same person off and on for months if not years.. but he says no.. time will tell.. haha… I think we are buddies for life no matter what happens… 😉

    • Wendy L L 4 months ago

      I found your article wonderful. I hope that I can find a lady as understanding as you in my life someday soon.

  12. Well put Vanessa. I am a crossdresser through and through, although I’m definitely not in to the impossible to walk in 5″ heels category! I love “playing” a woman at times, but for me it is a part time thing – almost a hobby. I really respect those who have and are going through transition. I can’t imagine the difficulties involved.

    Anyway, vive la difference!


  13. Robin Twain 10 months ago

    Dani I can so relate. I “just came out” recently, and instead of just enjoying the ride I’m fixated on CD or Transsexual? Maybe its both? Maybe I’m “two years away?” I love your advice – we’re all different flavors; born with complexities most people don’t have and all at different places on the female – male spectrum. One thing I bless now instead of curse is our “gift” albeit misunderstood, many times by ourselves. Every day now is a precious gift I will no longer take for granted. xxxooo Robin

  14. jennie jaye 10 months ago

    Over the years it seems to come and go. Right now I am in the throes of being jennie jaye…dressing most everyday…definitely panties and tops….started herbals (too scared of hormones just yet) ….I recently came to grips my sexuality with sexuality and realized that I have been gay for years. It’s very complicated because I am married to a straight vanilla lady and we have basically become roommates’. I respect her and love her like a good friend, but we have not been ‘active’ (if you know what I mean) for over 10 years . I’d love to go full time and embrace the woman I know I am inside…but she does not approve and she is still very important in my life.

  15. Lola Subm 1 year ago

    Thanks for your insight.

  16. DawnOday 1 year 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

    • Rhae 1 year 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

  17. Danielle(Dani) 1 year 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.

  18. Kellie 1 year 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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