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Crossdreamer Sidebars is a support blog for Crossdreamers.com, a site devoted to crossdreamer and transgender issues.

Thursday, June 27, 2024

What does transgender mean?

Transgender is an umbrella term that encompasses a wide variety of  gender variant people, i.e. people who in some way or the other do not follow the traditional and stereotypical norms of what it means to a man or a woman, given the gender they were assigned at birth. Indeed, some transgender people do not feel at home in terms like "male" or "female" at all.

We can identify several categories of transgender people.

1. Transgender as a mismatch between assigned and experienced gender.

Transgender may refer to individuals whose gender identity differs from the gender they were assigned at birth.

This means that a person's internal sense of being male, female, or another gender does not align with  the gender assigned to them when they were born. 

For example, a transgender woman is someone who was assigned male at birth but identifies as female. Conversely, a transgender man was assigned female at birth but identifies as male

2. Transgender as being outside the gender binary of male and female.

Some transgender people may not identify exclusively as male or female, instead falling under nonbinary or genderqueer identities.

Some of them feel a need to express a mixture of traditional male and female characteristics, being those interests, expressions or behaviors. This need grows out a fundamental gender identity that transcends the male/female divide. 

Others would argue that they live completely outside the binary, and that words like "male" and "female" do not fit them at all. In any case being forced to present as either male or female is a stifling and invalidating experience for them.

Note that there are different shades of being nonbinary. In the world of trans people, variation is the norm.

3. Transgender as expressing gender traits associated with another gender

There are also transgender people who for the most part do identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, but who find themselves wired in a way that makes them want to express themselves as the "opposite" gender,  who want to present in a way that mixes gender traits, symbols and expressions or who simply do not want to live up to whatever cultural rules their society have for being seen as male or female.

Drag queen. Photo: pkripper503

Some drag queens  belong to this category. There are drag queens who identify as gay men, but who like to present or perform as a woman, exploring gender in the process. 

There are, however, also drag queens who are gender dysphoric and who identify as women.

Sexuality is not the same as gender identity

It's important to note that being transgender is about gender identity, not sexual orientation. Transgender individuals can be heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or any other sexual orientation.

Gender identity as a spectrum

It helps to understand gender identity as a specetrum (or even a multidimensional continuum). Over at Crosssdream Life Terrie Nova, a transgender woman, has explained this in the following way:

"If sexual orientation and gender identity are continuums, it becomes impossible to define an exact line between gay and straight, trans and cis."

We could add that this also applies to the divide between various transgender identities. Terrie uses the color or visible light spectrum to illustrate the relationship between categories that might seem clearly distinct in our minds, but who become more ambibious when you look closer at them:

"We have talked about the color spectrum before. We see distinct colors in the spectrum, even if the light spectrum itself does not contain these colors, only wavelengths. This is partly due to our RGB system for eyesight and partly cultural norms. 
This only becomes a problem if we have to decide on the exact wavelenght where yellow becomes green or we have to determine if  magenta is a 'real color'."

(Magenta is not found on the light spectrum.)

In everyday conversations terms like male, female and nonbinary or feminine, masculine and androgynous make sense, even if they do not capture the true complexity of gender identity or gender roles. The spectrum model is an imperfect, but helpful, analogy of gender variation. Indeed, the idea of a gender spectrum is also helpful when we address the psyche, personality and expressions of non-transgender people, who often present a mix of stereotypical male and female traits. 

Cis or cisgender are terms referring to those who are not transgender. When transphobes are complaining about trans people calling them "cis", they are basically protesting the idea that they are not transgender, which is a bit weird, to say the least. Their main problem is probably that the cis/trans couple of terms requires them to accept the existence of trans people. 

Gender dysphoria

Many transgender people experience gender dysphoria, a feeling of distress due to the mismatch between their gender identity and assigned sex. 

To alleviate this, some may choose to transition, which can involve social changes (like adopting a new name or pronouns), medical interventions (such as hormone therapy or gender-affirming surgeries), or both.

Gender as a journey

Many cis people, and in particular transphobic cis people, feel a strong need to put everyone into one of two boxes, male and female, and by connecting this box to whatever a random doctor or midwife decided at someone's birth, they think that they can remove amibuity about gender roles, ensuring that their preferred world order reigns supreme. 

This means that any concept of a transgender journey becomes impossible (which is probably one of their goals). The transgender journey is a metaphor for the process some trans people have to go through in order to free themselves from the expectations of those around them and come to terms with their real gender identity. 
Transgender memes are full of eggs.

Some trans people are aware of their gender variance from a very young age, but others try so hard to live up to the dogmas of their family, friends and peers, that they suppress their transgender identity. It is only by finding others like themselves, offline or online, and by adapting a new language that makes sense of their selves they can come to accept who they truly are. Their egg is hatching, to use a contemporary concept. 

This does not mean that people chose to become trans. They have been trans all the time. 

Note that the current medical concensus is that being trans is caused by a combination of biological, personal and cultural factors. You do not chose to be trans.

Illustration: Rumi Fujishima


  1. I'd like to point out that sex is assigned at birth not gender if it was there would be no men or women just girls and boys forever. There are actual definitions and medical books that all mostly agree with what's in the article except you should know that gender and sex are separate and independent abstract things. I say abstract because only general loose definitions fit. For example there is not 1 definition yet that totally includes all woman. There are definitions for female the are more inclusive but still leave out some non trans females. I hope this clears things up.

  2. It’s important to realize that just as LGBTQ+ is an umbrella group, so is transgender. Umbrellas can exist under one or more umbrellas. I think one of the things that confuses a lot of people is that they got rid of the term transsexual which was used to describe people who transition (or should) either completely or partially.

  3. "I'd like to point out that sex is assigned at birth not gender ". Yes, that is one valid way of looking at it. The doctors and the midwives do at least believe they are assigning biological sex on the basis of the baby's genitalia.

    Still, you could also say that they assigned gender, because the implicit assumption has been that gender (being that gender roles or gender identities) naturally follow from this assignment. This why the TERFs are so adamant that gender does not exist or that it can be reduced to biological sex.

  4. "I think one of the things that confuses a lot of people is that they got rid of the term transsexual which was used to describe people who transition (or should) either completely or partiall"

    I am still not convinced abandoning the term transsexual was a good idea, because this led to a use of the word "transgender" as a synonym to the word transsexual. Transmedicalists have even tried to use this interpretation to push the trans people they do not like out of the family.

  5. I think it's important to maintain an understanding of the differences inherent in expression and issues more related to identity. Transsexuals don't properly identify with birth sex which is why I think it's good to maintain it's use. I contrast this against more elective forms of expression that don't involve dysphoria. This is not discriminating but simply stating a fact. This is why I stick to using gender variance as the global term under which we can include both dysphoric and non-dysphoric people. Otherwise we end up with endless discussions about what trans means which is actually not that useful a pursuit.

    Yes ,there are transmedicalists who get hot and bothered about purity but that shouldn't be the aim of making a distinction. We just want to get the help to the people who might need it becsuse they might be struggling

    I contrast that against more elective forms of expression that don't involve dysphoria and hence likely less internal struggle of identity since there isn't a dissonance with birth sex and instead at worst shame and guilt over their variance which can be worked on.


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