Many people have difficulty understanding and differentiating between who a transvestite, transsexual, or transgender is. This can be a huge problem, considering that it is a daily reality for some people. You may even unknowingly fit into one of these categories, or perhaps categorise yourself in the wrong group.
The rest of the population should also recognise and pay attention to the different “trans” terms as they may affect their lives – directly or indirectly – at some point.
This term is usually grouped together with “crossdresser,” and is used to refer to individuals who like to dress in what would conventionally be worn by the opposite gender, and act in that manner, as well. For instance, you can have heterosexual males wearing traditionally feminine clothing and acquiring feminine mannerisms.
Cross-dressers don’t regard themselves as anything but straight or heterosexual, and so they don’t associate with the LGBTQ community. Drag queens (men who dress up in female clothes and personify female gender stereotypes) and drag kings (women who dress in masculine drag and personify male gender stereotypes) are generally not considered transvestites or crossdressers. This is because people who dress in drag are usually gay, yet crossdressers are straight.
This term is used to refer to individuals who refuse to accept the gender they were assigned at birth, and even take medical steps to change different aspects of their body to match the gender that they believe they are.
For instance, a person whom you perceive to be male because of his outwardly appearance, with male sex organs, and conforms to male gender roles may actually believe that he is not male, and wants to become female (or vice versa). The person’s believe is so strong that they seek a “sex change” operation, or what is better known as a gender confirmation or gender reassignment surgery and hormone therapy.
This is an all-inclusive term used by people who feel their assigned sex does not match up to their gender identity, behaviour, expression, or general sense of self, including non-binary individuals. So, transgender men (trans men) are people who were assigned female at birth but identify and opt to live as men; while transgender women (trans women) were assigned the male gender at birth but identify and live as women.
Transgender and transsexual should not be used interchangeably, since they do not mean the same. While transsexual people transition from one sex to the other, transgender people only associate with their identity.
Despite the different terms for the transsexual people, you should not assume that you know a person’s orientation based on their physical appearance or gender identity. You should also not try to fit a person into a certain category. Allow the person to identify themselves – it is their process of self discovery and self identification.