Transgender is generally used as a catch-all umbrella term for a variety of individuals, behaviours and groups centred around the full or partial reversal of gender roles.
The term remains in flux, but the most accepted definition is currently:
- People who were assigned a gender at birth, based on their genitals, but who feel that this is a false or incomplete description of themselves.
Another one is: Non-identification with, or non-presentation as, the gender one was assigned at birth.
Transgendered people may or may not have had medical gender reassignment therapy, and may or may not have any interest in such a procedure.
When referring to the two basic "directions" of transgender, the terms Transman for female-to-male (which may be further abbreviated to FtM) transgendered people and Transwoman for male-to-female (which may be further abbreviated to MtF) transgendered people may be used. In the past it had always been assumed that there were considerably more transwomen than transmen. However, the ratio is approaching 1:1.
Transgender can include a number of sub-categories, which, among others, include transsexuals, cross-dressers, transvestites, consciously androgynous people, drag kings and drag queens. Usually not included, because in most cases it is not a gender issue (although in practice the line can be hard to draw) are transvestic fetishists.
Many people also identify as plainly transgender, although they may fit the definition of any of the previously mentioned categories as well.
The opposite of transgender is cisgender.
The terms gender dysphoria and "gender identity disorder" are used in the medical community to explain these tendencies as a psychological condition and the reaction to its social consequences.
The extent of how intersex people are included in the transgender category is often debated. Not all intersex people have a problem with the gender role they were assigned at birth, nor do all intersex people have any problems with gender identity. Those who have, though, are sometimes included in transgender.
Originally, the term transgender was coined in the 1970s by Virginia Prince in the USA, as a contrast with the term "transsexual," to refer to someone who does not desire surgical intervention to "change sex," and/or who considers that they fall "between" genders, not identifying strictly to one gender or the other, identifying themselves as neither fully male, nor female.
Often in older writings (pre ~1990s), but rarely today, the term transgender is used to refer to these "non-op transsexuals" or "non-op transpeople" - transpeople or transsexuals who live as the gender opposite to their birth gender and, though sexual reassignment surgery is possible, have chosen not to undergo it; sometimes they also choose not have other medical gender reassignment therapy. 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 such an umbrella term.
This group is also sometimes known as Transgenderists or non-op transsexual.
Transgender as "in between"
Transgender is sometimes also used specifically in an "in-between" sense, rather than as an umbrella term.
A newer related term is genderqueer, which refers to the mixing of qualities traditionally associated with "male" and "female," and can also refer to the "in-between" sense sometimes associated with transgender or transgenderism.
- Main article: Transsexual
Transsexual people are people who desire to have, or have achieved, a different physical sex from that which they were assigned at birth. One typical (though oversimplified) explanation is of a "woman trapped in a man's body" or vice versa; many transsexual women state that they were in fact always of the female gender, but were assigned the male gender as a child on the basis of their genitals, and having realized that they are female, wish to change their bodies to match; transmen, of course, feel exactly the opposite.
The process of physical transition for transsexuals usually includes hormone replacement therapy, and may include sexual reassignment surgery.
Some spell the term transexual with one s in order to reduce the association of their identity with psychiatry and medicine.
Transsexual "vs." Transgender
Transgender is often used as a euphemistic synonym for transsexual people by some. One set of reasoning for this is that it removes the conceptual image "sex" in "transsexual" that implies transsexuality is sexually motivated, which it is not. This usage is problematic because it can cause transgender people who do not identify as transsexual to be confused with them.
Furthermore, many transsexuals reject the term "transgender" as an identification for themselves - either as a synonym or as an umbrella term. They advance a number of arguments for this. One argument is that the use of the umbrella term inaccurately subsumes them and causes their identity, history, and existence to be marginalized. Another is that they perceive transgender to be the breaking down of gender barriers, whereas transsexual people themselves usually identify as men or as women - just not as they were assigned at birth. A third occasionally mentioned is that they did not change gender at any point - they have always had their gender (identity), and the difficulty is their sex, which they desire to change. However, others point out that transsexual people do change their gender role at some point, and that most non-transsexual transgendered people always had their gender identity, too.
A more problematic dispute with the use of the term "transsexual" is that it refers to processes of chemical and/or anatomical modification that do not actually render an individual reproductively viable after transition processes, nor change sex chromosomes. Particularly, criticism of transsexual women by some feminists includes the contention that their transition is cosmetic rather than fundamental, and they are thus not "really" changing their sex at all (thus the use of transgender) - these critics claim that the presumption of reproductive viability is what distinguishes "women" from "men". This argument is used to discount the rights of identification and association with other women that transsexual women might claim. However, many arguments that link whether someone is a "woman" or a "man" based on reproductive capability, or chromosomes, fall apart when considering non-transsexual people who are infertile or non-transsexual men or women who have a chromosomal configuration contrary to other men and women in the general population.
Probably many of these problems are associated with the history of the term "transgender" and its other definitions; see above.
To respect the identity of those transsexual people who do not identify as transgender, the constructions trans, trans*, or transgender and transsexual sometimes are used to describe all transpeople.
A cross-dresser is any person who wears the clothing of a gender other than that to which they were assigned at birth, for any reason. Cross-dressers may have no desire or intention of adopting other behaviours 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 people from the female-to-male side of the transgender spectrum who do not see themselves as exclusively male identified, therefore covering a much wider ground than Drag Queen.
"Transvestic fetishism" is a term used in the medical community to refer to one who has a fetish for wearing the clothing of the opposite gender. This is considered a derogatory term by some, as it implies a hierarchy of value in which the sexual element of transgender behaviour is of low social value. 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-categories, 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.
In some societies, notably in Thailand, some people who present as female, but with male genitalia may have been born intersexual but may also be transsexual or transgender, who do transition (taking estrogens and so on) to achieve some desired secondary sex characteristics, but not sexual reassignment surgery. Sometimes these individuals are referred to as ladyboy or shemale, but these terms are considered derogatory by many, including most transgender or transsexual people not working in the sex industry.
(Trans-)gender identity is different from, though related to, sexual orientation. Sexual orientations among transgender people vary just as much as they do among cisgender 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, transwomen are more likely to be attracted to other women, and transmen are more likely to be attracted to other men. Many transgender people who are attracted to others of the same gender will identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual.
Note that in the professional literature homosexual and heterosexual are very often used respective to clients' birth sex, instead of their desired sex. Transgender people may feel misunderstood by caregivers because of this practice.; it is also quite confusing when a relationship that is considered gay or lesbian by both partners is labeled heterosexual, or a relationship that consists, as far as the partners are concerned, of a man and a women is labeled homosexual.
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 transgender 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 transgender people, often have to face considerable prejudice.
- Legal aspects of transsexualism on Wikipedia