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Transgender is generally used as a catch-all term for a variety of individuals, behaviors and groups centered around the full or partial reversal of gender roles. This includes a number of sub-categories, which, among others, include transsexuals, cross-dressers, transvestites, consciously androgynous people, drag queens and drag kings. Usually not included, because it is usually not a gender issue, although in practice the line can be hard to draw, are transvestic fetishists. The opposite of transgender is cisgender.

Occasionally the term gender dysphoria is used to describe these tendencies, and the reaction to its social consequences, as a psychological condition.

More recently, the term transgender can also mean someone who considers that they fall "between" genders, and identify themselves as neither fully male, nor fully female.

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Transsexual Main article: Transsexual

A transsexual is a person who desires to have, or has, a different sex than s/he had at birth. One typical (though oversimplified) explanation is of a "man trapped in a woman's body" or vice versa. A transsexual makes or desires to make a transition from their birth sex to another, by medical means, normally this process is usually hormonally induced, and may include sexual reassignment surgery.

Often in older writings (pre ~1990s), but rarely today, the term transgender is used to refer to "non-op transsexuals" or "non-op transpeople" - transpeople or transsexuals who live as the gender opposite to their birth gender and, though genital reassignment surgery is possible, have chosen not to undergo it. For this group the term transgenderist is usually used. However, sometimes, for example in the Netherlands (but not in the rest of Europe) the term transgender is still in use for this particular group instead of being used as an umbrella term.

Cross-dresser Main articles: cross-dresser, transvestitism, drag king, drag queen, transvestic fetishism

A cross-dresser is any person who wears the clothing of the opposite gender, for any reason. Cross-dressers may have no desire or intention of adopting other behaviors or practices common to that gender, and particularly does (currently) not wish to undergo medical procedures to facilitate physical changes. Contrary to common belief, most male-bodied cross-dressers prefer female partners.

Many non-Western cultures legitimize cross dressing, often with a ritual background. The so-called berdache in many Native American groups is recognized as a separate gender, a woman-living-man, not as a man who wants to be a woman. In reality, different Native American groups had different names for the 'berdache'. The husband of a berdache is not viewed as a berdache, but as a 'normal' male. In some societies there is a corresponding gender for man-living-women (amazons).

Drag involves wearing highly exaggerated and outrageous costumes or imitating movie and music stars of the opposite sex. It is a form of performing art practiced by drag queens and kings. Drag is often found in a gay or lesbian context. The term Drag King can also apply to everybody from the female-to-male side of the transgender spectrum who do not see themselves as exclusively male identified.

A transvestic fetishist has a fetish for wearing the clothing of the opposite gender. It is often difficult to distinguish between fetishism that happens to have female clothing as an object and transgender behaviour that includes sexual play. Some people feel that transvestic fetishism does not count as cross-dressing.


Transgender is also used to describe behaviour or feelings that cannot be categorised into these older sub-cathegories, for example, people living in a gender role that is different from the one they were assigned at birth, but who do not wish to undergo any or all of the available medical options, or people who do not wish to identify themselves as transsexuals, men or women, and consider that they fall between genders, or transcend gender.


Transgender identity has nothing to do with sexual orientation. Sexual orientations among transgendered people varies just as much as they do among cisgendered people. Although few studies have been done, transgender groups almost always report that their members are more likely to be attracted to those with the same gender identity, compared to the population as a whole; that is, transgendered women are more likely to be attracted to other women, and vice versa. Most transgendered people who are attracted to others of the same gender will identify as gay or lesbian.
Note that in the professional literature homosexual and heterosexual are used respective to clients' birth sex, instead of their desired sex. Transgendered people may feel misunderstood by caregivers because of this practice.

Many Western societies today have some sort of procedure whereby an individual can change their name, sometimes also their legal gender, to reflect their gender identity. Medical procedures for transgendered people are also available in most Western and many non-western countries. However, because gender roles are an important part of many cultures, those engaged in strong challenges to the prevalence of these roles, such as many transgendered people, often have to face considerable prejudice.

See also: intersexual, autogynephilia, two-spirit[?]

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