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Transgender vs Transsexual

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Sorry, this is quite possibly a really silly question, but can someone please define, in simple terms, the difference between "transgender" and "transsexual"? ??? It's just that even though I've looked both of them up on The Great W, I still don't understand the difference between them (or, I think I know until I really think about it, at which point the distinction between the two seems to go poof!).

Ta muchly,


The Dread Pirate Rita:
I've always understood "transgender" to be more of an umbrella term.  It includes all the more specific variations: crossdresser, androgyne, transsexual, gender confused, genderqueer, non-gendered, pan-gendered, antigender, genderless, disengendered, and jenderfer lopez.

"transsexual", on the other hand, refers to someone who has one anatomical/genetic sex, but identifies as the other.  It's one of the many subcategories of "transgender".

Alternatively, some people would consider a "transsexual" to be a person who undergoes a physical "sex change" (with HRT and/or surgery, depending on who you ask), regardless of the person's psychological identification (i.e. Hedwig and the Angry Inch).  Personally, I disagree with this description.  I'm TS today, and if the world fell apart tonight and it became impossible for me to ever transition, I would still be TS tomorrow.  And I would be miserable, so let's cross our fingers that doesn't happen ;)

Anyway, no category perfectly describes a person.  The more specific they get, the less applicable they become, so often the broader categories are the most sensible ones.  Which is partly the reason why "transgender" is often used instead of a more specific label.  I think.  Hope that helps!


There are two (or more) 'parallel universes' (for want of a better description,) where the two words have different meaning.

In the academic universe, where the definitions are precise and free of positive or negative connotations, Transgender is the umbrella term encompassing everything from occasional crossdressing to post-SRS people who have also had FFS, body contouring, laser and or electrolysis hair removal from other than the face, surgical voice feminization and other extreme surgical intervention. 

"Transgender" may also denote a sub category usually in between crossdresser and transsexual, meaning someone who lives mostly or fully in a gender role other than what society believes is appropriate for the body they were born with.  Usually this means male-birth-sex individuals living as female, and vice versa, but can also mean genderqueer and gender ___k individuals.

Transsexual is a subgrouping under the Transgender umbrella that denotes those who are pursuing or have achieved post-SRS status and changing legal status to that of the other group on the gender binary than they were born into.  Transsexual can also apply to those who desire SRS but are medically unqualified to undergo it.

Now for the other universe:

In a world that contains bigoted homophobes and transphobes, words carry connotations, either good or bad.  Consider the word group, pee | piss | urinate.  They all mean exactly the same thing, but each has a different connotation.  'Pee' connotes innocence and a certain naturalness and inevitability.  'Piss' is aggressive, raunchy and negative.  'Urinate' is academic, and used when these matters involving bodily function must be discussed in polite company.

Connotation is why there is such a thing as 'politically correct' speech.  'Colored' had bad connotations, so it was replaced by 'negro', but that acquired bad connotations so along came 'afro-american' which sounded ridiculous and was replaced with 'black' which over the years accumulated bad connotations and was replaced with 'African American', which will be replaced by the by...

Because of connotation, you will never find homophobic websites use the word 'gay' to refer to men who are sexually oriented to other men.  That word doesn't carry a connotation of condemnation.  The people who maintain these sites would probably like to use the word f____t or f_g.  It's aggressive and condemning, but then they would be exposing themselves as bigots.  So they settle for 'homosexual', with the connotation that it is their duty to speak of such vile, disgusting things, but they'll use the academic word so as not to offend (too much.)

Also, swear words and oaths are processed in a different part of the brain from normal conversation.  Indeed there are stroke sufferers who have lost the ability to converse, because that area was damaged.  But because the area of the brain that processes swearing was untouched, they can still curse up a storm.  Also for a percentage of the population, hearing curse words produces a physical reaction, the way that the sound of a metal rake on the sidewalk or fingernails on a blackboard produce a physical feeling in some people.

Now on to Transsexual and Transgender.  In a universe of connotations, the preferred words change.  The word 'transsexual' has the word SEXUAL in it.  And some people react badly to that word.

So, even though it's academically wrong to refer to a post-op transsexual [ACADEMIC] as a transgender, it has some real world advantages in our quest to not be treated badly just because some Leviticus-spouting FundeVangelist can't stop thinking about sweaty, meaningless, deviant, sinful SEX whenever they contemplate the idea of transsexuals.  The word 'transgender' is somewhat less likely to invoke such a reaction, and more likely to allow such individuals the opportunity to see us as, perhaps, almost human.


Thank you everyone so very very much!!! ;D

The problem was (/is) that I was (/am) contemplating telling Mum, but no-one in my family (as far as I know, anyway) identifies as anything other than the traditional binary either-or. I was scared of trying to tell Mum and have her turn around and either ask "what does transgender mean? Is it like transsexual?", or think she already knows and be convinced that they're one and the same, both of which would result in me having to try to define and differentiate between them. I just didn't want to try to explain the difference at the same time as trying to explain myself and get it wrong (although that could help me earn my fortune, writing the definitive How Not To Come Out For Dummies :P). Before I tell Mum (if, indeed, I do...still not sure yet..."Hey Mum, what would you say if I said I was transgender?" :embarrassed:) I want to be crystal clear as to what is what, that I'm X but not Y...  Does that make sense? I'm fairly sure Mum wouldn't mind (she might even have figured things out for herself, but not have a name for it. She's smart, my Mum :)), but given the impact it would have (having your only daughter say she feels more like the elder (bi-->gay) brother of your 15-year-old son than his big sister is hardly on the same level as talking about the weather), I don't want to bungle it if I *do* decide to spill the magic beans.

But let me try to get this straight (please?) I still feel like the female-bodied person I am about 10% of the time, and completely androgynous about 15-20%, I don't identify *solely* as the opposite of my birth sex - which means I'm not transsexual? Given that 1) a transsexual "is mentally one gender, but has the body of the other", and desires "to live and be accepted as a member of the mental gender", and 2) that I *don't* identify with this 100% of the time...that's transgender, but not transsexuality, aye? I know when I first joined, people suggested "gender fluid", which struck a chord. Gender fluid ≠ transsexual...right? (Not that I have anything wrong with transsexuals. I just really need to get my head around it :-\ :icon_dizzy:).

Anyway, sorry for ranting. Thanks again for everyone's help, you've all been wonderful. :icon_hug:



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