What Is the Difference Between “Transgender” and “Transsexual?”

What Is the Difference Between “Transgender” and “Transsexual?”

By Stefano Grossi  |   Submitted On August 06, 2012

Expert Author Stefano Grossi
Stefano Grossi

There can be confusion about the definitions of transgender and transsexual, as both terms have historically been used interchangeably. In many cases “transgender” is used as an umbrella term for all trans people. And, depending on who you talk to, this is still accurate. Although, some people are now preferring “trans” as the actual umbrella term. This article will give a brief overview of the terminology for better clarification.

Gender v. Sex

A main way to clarify the trans terminology boils down to understanding that “gender” and “sex” are not the same things. “Gender” refers to the societal identity of male or female. This is an anthropological definition based on the individual’s societal “norms” for a gender. But “sex” refers to the actual reproductive organs/genitals. “Sex” is a biological definition that does not waiver from society to society. Some think of “sex” as meaning “intercourse,” but this is not what the terminology is referring to.


The majority of people are born as one sex, and identify with that same gender. Such as a male born with a penis identifies as a male in societal norms. For the most part, those who are “transgender” are those who are born as one sex, but identify as the opposite gender. Break down the word “transgender.” Trans means “change” while gender means a “societal definition of sex.” These individuals do not have a drive to change their sex. They are content with their physical bodies, they just prefer to behave, dress or otherwise identify as the opposite gender publically.

This is not to be confused with “cross-dressers” or “transvestites.” Cross-dressers enjoy wearing the clothing or altering their physical appearance to that of the opposite gender for pleasure or entertainment (as in Drag Queens). This is a fine line, and even in the trans community the definitions are still up for discussion. But, generally, cross-dressers only alter their gender appearance on specific occasions, while transgender individuals cultivate the opposite gender identity on a constant basis. It should also be noted, that “transvestite” has become a derogatory term as it has been lumped in with poor assessments of transgender as a mental disorder.


So, to go back to the break down of the terms, “trans” means “change” and “sexual” means “physical genitalia.” Therefore, those who are transsexual are those that have been born with one type of sexual organs and wish to change them to the opposite sexual organs. This is most easily explained as people who feel they were “born into the wrong body.” Transsexuals seek out hormonal and/or surgical assistance to physically change their bodies to become the opposite sex of what they were born as. There are different “levels” of transsexuals based on where they are in the transformation process from pre-operation to post. The main difference here is that transsexuals are not happy with the bodies they were born with and strive to physically change themselves to the opposite sex. This is beyond merely identifying as the opposite gender.

Gay or Lesbian

When discussing the trans community and its definitions, a mention should be made about gays and lesbians. Remember, “trans” means change. Gays and lesbians are born with male or female genitalia and identify with their gender along the lines of societal norms. So a gay man is born with a penis, and also indentifies himself in society as a man. He is not trying to change anything about himself. The difference is that he is sexually attracted to males. Although some may say, then, this is not a society “norm.” However, the point being made here is that none of these definitions have anything to do with sexual intercourse. The terminology refers to the physical sexual identity and the outward gender identity.

For more information about transgender health, contact a specialist near you. If you are in Georgia, Atlanta transgender doctor may be able to answer your questions.

Intown Primary Care
Atlanta, Georgia

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