Transgender VS Transsexual.. The REAL Differences

In today's world, there exists a diverse spectrum of gender identities and expressions. People who fall outside the traditional male/female binary may use a variety of labels to describe themselves. Two terms that are often conflated are "transgender" and "transsexual." 

While sometimes used interchangeably in mainstream media, these words have distinct meanings in the LGBTQ+ community. To understand the nuances and use accurate terminology, it is helpful to explore the history and evolution of these trans labels. 

This article will clarify the key differences between transgender Vs transsexual, providing context around these important identity markers. By grasping the subtle but significant distinctions, we can build greater awareness and linguistic sensitivity when discussing gender-diverse people.


The Origins of "Transvestite"

The first known term to describe transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals was "transvestite."

This word was coined in 1910 by German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld. He combined the Latin prefix "trans-" meaning "across" or "beyond" with the word "vestite" meaning "dressed." Together, these terms literally meant "cross-dressed."

Hirschfeld used transvestite to describe people who enjoyed dressing in attire traditionally associated with the opposite sex, often for sexual pleasure or erotic entertainment. At the time, cross-dressing was seen as a deviant sexual behavior rather than a gender identity.

Today, transvestite is an outdated and offensive term. It should not be used when referring to transgender individuals. The word reduces an identity to a sexual fetish or behavior rather than a deeply felt internal sense of self.


The Emergence of "Transsexual"

In 1949, "transsexual" entered mainstream vocabulary. Like transvestite, it contains the Latin prefix "trans-," this time combined with "-sexual." Transsexual was coined to define those who permanently changed or wished to change their bodies through medical interventions.

During the mid-20th century, medical advancements enabled more effective transition-related healthcare like hormone therapy and gender-affirming surgeries. 

As a result, a distinction emerged between those who crossdressed and those who sought physical transition. The term transsexual reflected this desire to align one's body with their inner identity.

While still used in some settings today, transsexual is increasingly seen as offensive. Critics argue it inappropriately focuses on biological sex rather than gender. It also reduces someone's identity to their medical choices.

The Popularization of "Transgender"

Unlike earlier terminology, "transgender" focuses less on sexuality and more on gender identity. The term has been in limited use since the 1960s. However, it didn't gain widespread popularity until the 1990s thanks to Virginia Prince.

Prince was an American author and pioneering transgender activist. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, she began exclusively identifying as transgender rather than transsexual. Her writings and advocacy helped introduce the term to mainstream society.

Additionally, transgender had an advantage over transsexual - it was more easily turned into an adjective. For instance, one could now identify as a transgender person, transgender man, transgender woman, etc. This improved its flexibility and applicability as an identity label.

Today, transgender is widely accepted as the preferred umbrella term referring to people whose gender differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. It encompasses identities like trans man, trans woman, nonbinary, genderfluid, and more.


Global Terminology

Just as transgender terminology has evolved over time, different cultures worldwide use their own language to describe gender diversity. For example:

  • Fa'afafine - A third gender in Polynesian culture
  • Takatāpui - Individuals who are Sogie diverse in New Zealand
  • Hijra - A third gender in India
  • Ladyboy - Terms used in Thailand to describe transfeminine individuals

These words should never be used outside of their cultural context. Despite having a long history in their native societies, they are often seen as offensive slurs in Western countries.

The takeaway is that we must avoid making assumptions about how people identify based on their appearance. If unsure what terms someone prefers, simply using their name is the most respectful option.


The Importance of Respect

The evolution of trans and gender-nonconforming terminology reveals an important lesson - language changes.

Terms that were once commonly used can quickly become outdated or inappropriate, while new words emerge that better capture people's lived experiences.

By learning this history, we can build greater awareness of how to speak respectfully about marginalized communities. While the language continues to shift, the respect and dignity we grant others remain timeless.

Transgender VS Transsexual: Summary

In conclusion, the terms "transgender" and "transsexual" have distinct meanings and histories, and it is crucial to recognize and respect the nuances between them.

It is essential to be aware of the language and terminology used in different cultures and to approach conversations about gender diversity with sensitivity and respect.

Ultimately, it is important to be open-minded and empathetic towards individuals who may not conform to traditional gender norms and to strive for greater understanding and inclusivity in their language and interactions.

By doing so, we can create a more welcoming and accepting environment for all individuals, regardless of their gender identity.