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Transgender Definitions

| Jul 17, 2017
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(Recent dialog between Dana and a Transgender Teen)

Dana: The WPATH guidelines say that age 16 you can start taking sex hormones and begin transsexual transition.

Trans teenager: What is a transsexual?

Dana: A transsexual is a person who changes their body to make it more consistent with what people expect from a person in that gender category.

Trans teenager: We don’t use that word anymore.

Of late, I have received several inquiries regarding “transsexual,” “transgender” and related words and their past and current meanings. If you think you know all about this, you may be wrong because things are changing fast.

First, I need to point out that there is only one word used to describe transgender behavior did not start out as a pathological term. (As we will see below, the word “transgender” itself started out as a pathological term for transsexuals). The only word not to start out as a psychiatric pathological term is “crossdresser.” It is a good, home-grown English word. It avoids Latin and Greek roots that mental health people use to sound more scientific and mysterious and beyond the understanding of “ordinary” people. Most dictionary definitions say that crossdressing is the act of presenting as people of the opposite sex but these definitions are wrong. Crossdressing is the act of presenting as people (e.g. dress, comportment) of the opposite gender category to which a person is assigned at birth. This definition error is due to the current conflation of the terms sex and gender.

We can thank John Money for repurposing the word gender from language declensions to mean assignment to one of the two Western gender behavior categories. In Western culture, people are automatically assigned to one of two gender categories according to birth sex.

People crossdress for a wide variety of reasons. Some crossdress for work, political demonstrations or entertainment while others crossdress because behaving in a particular gender category is more natural and authentic (current transgender definition). History tells us of people who crossdressed to fulfill their work ambitions such as playing music or becoming a soldier or working as a spy. In many cases we do not know whether they crossdressed for just their vocation or whether they did it because they felt more natural and authentic. Drag Queens and Kings still entertain us. The word drag is believed to come from English theater in which males “dressed as a girl” in times when it was illegal for a female to perform. But most drag queens are gay men and do not crossdress or display transgender behavior when they are not performing. No doubt some are transgender but most are non-transgender gay males and some are even non-transgender females.

The term transsexual has retained its meaning for those who change their bodies to conform to cultural expectations of presentation in a congruent gender category. However, it has lost the connotation that transsexuals crossdress for sexual arousal. WPATH provides mental health and medical Standards of Care for transgender people. The current WPATH definition of transsexual is:

Transsexual: Adjective (often applied by the medical profession) to describe individuals who seek to change or who have changed their primary and/or secondary sex characteristics through feminizing or masculinizing medical interventions (hormones and/or surgery), typically accompanied by a permanent change in gender role.

Notice from this definition that it does not specify which sex organs have to be changed for a person to be considered transsexual. Sex organs include not just external and internal genitalia but also breasts, the nervous system and brain, hair and the skin. All are involved in sex and/or reproduction.

The definition also does it specify how the changes are made. Neither hormone therapy (HT) mastectomy, electrolysis, breast implants, facial surgery, or transsexual genital plastic surgery (GPS) are specified. The WPATH term is hormone therapy, not hormone replacement therapy because this latter term applies to people who have lost their ability to form certain hormones. Transsexual genital plastic surgery is my replacement term for GRS, GCS, or SRS. I consider all other terms I have heard to be misnomers. Some transsexuals have medical conditions that preclude having transition procedures for example an MTF with a history of blood clots may want to forgo HT with endocrinologist advice. Some transsexuals do not get hormone therapy and instead go directly to breast implants because they believe that their genetic heritage precludes adequate breast growth or because they do not want to take drugs that might affect their brain. Only about 15-25% of transsexuals get genital plastic surgery. Name change was once required but is no longer. Transsexual transition is not a competition in which one has to reach the GPS mountaintop to win, it is a series of choices about changing one’s body. When they decide that they are done with changes, they have completed transition. Transsexuals tend to live full time in their congruent gender category but some move back and forth to avoid rejection from family, business, or the public.

We have gravitated away from using the word “crossdressing” for those who do it to feel more authentic and natural in their congruent gender behavior category. Instead we now using the word transgender.” Transgender was defined by the psychiatrist John Oliven in 1965 as a word for transsexuals with the belief that they were not motivated to change their bodies for sexual arousal. Up until that time, transsexuals and crossdressers were thought to crossdress to get sexual thrills and might be called transvestites. Today transgender is an umbrella term that includes transsexuals and, more recently, “genderqueer” and gender non-conforming people. Some also include drag kings and queens, although I do not unless they exhibit transgender behavior while not entertaining. A transgender person crossdresses to behave in a gender behavior category that is congruent with their biological gender predisposition, not with their assigned gender behavior category based on natal sex. Genderqueer pertains to those who do not feel comfortable in either gender behavior category. It is increasingly popular with current transgender children and teenagers as a temporary category and is included under the transgender umbrella. Another recent term, gender non-conforming is mainly used for children who crossdress but are too young to actually label themselves as either transgender or genderqueer. It is used primarily by mental health professionals as a pathological term.

There are some non-transsexual transgender people who also change their bodies. Although Virginia Prince (VP) was opposed to transsexualism, she did take hormones for breast growth.  And there are some transgender people who live full or part time without changing their bodies.  VP also was bicoastal. In the East VP was in the masculine gender (managing her business) and on the West Coast in the feminine gender.

Your second takeaway from this discussion is that transgender people are adept at repurposing pathological terms and turning them into neutral or even positive terms. In turn, the mental health community responds by making up new pathological terms. The word transgender is a prime example of this. But there are others currently in the process of being repurposed.

Some relatively new terms are now in use that are derived from pathological terms and are in the process of being repurposed. The term gender identity was developed in the tradition of psychiatrists Freud and Erikson. Richard Green (famous for his book The Sissyboy Syndrome,” added the word disorder to form gender identity disorder in time for the DSM-3 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Version 3, 1980) list of mental disorders or diseases. The DSM is used by mental health and medical people to claim payments for treating transgender and other people. After it was realized that being transgender was not a disorder, and after the word had been repurposed, the DSM was changed in DSM-5 to delete gender identity disorder and instead start a new category using the term gender dysphoria. Dysphoria is derived from the Greek meaning dislike (euphoria means the opposite in Greek). The term gender dysphoria had been kicking around psychiatric circles for many years. As of November 2016, the International Classification of Diseases list is currently in use instead of the DSM for billing. Many practitioners do not know this because DSM categories are automatically converted to ICD categories by computer. The conversion from DSM gender dysphoria goes to gender identity disorder in the ICD. So, gender dysphoria is still a pathological term. There is a movement to delete any transgender-related pathological term in the DSM and ICD but to include a separate normal medical treatment category to allow for medical treatment of transsexuals, much as normal pregnancy is included in a separate category in the ICD.

Transgender people undoubtedly got the newer terms gender identity and gender dysphoria from the mental health community and have been busily converting them into non-pathological terms. Transgender people are now using “I identify as feminine/masculine” as a circumlocution for objective behavior as in “I crossdress and present as a woman/man.” Just say what gender you are—masculine/feminine/other. No need to use the term gender identity.

One problem with gender identity is that identity and identify has different meaning in sociology. It has no permanent, objective referent as in “I identify as a Georgian” or identify as an Atlanta Braves fan.” When I move to Colorado, “I will become a Coloradan” and “I will probably become a Colorado Rockies soccer fan.” The problem is that transgender attacks now take the form of “That person identifies as Santa Claus or Napoleon or a dog” with the implication that being transgender is a delusion. The delusion explanation comes from psychiatrists Paul McHugh and Keith Ablow and the like; politicians have picked it up.

I hope teens do not think that being a transsexual is something bad. As for the word transsexual going away, that is fine by me as long as my grandchildren refer to me with a non-pathological word. By then we will probably have a new repurposed word for transgender.

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Category: Transgender Body & Soul


About the Author ()

Dana Jennett Bevan holds a Ph.D. from Princeton University and a Bachelors degree from Dartmouth College both in experimental psychology. She is the author of The Transsexual Scientist which combines biology with autobiography as she came to learn about transgenderism throughout her life. Her second book The Psychobiology of Transsexualism and Transgenderism is a comprehensive analysis of TSTG research and was published in 2014 by Praeger under the pen name Thomas E. Bevan. Her third book Being Transgender was released by Praeger in November 2016. She can be reached at

Comments (11)

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  1. danabevan danabevan says:

    Conway’s 1% transgender frequency estimate was based on transgender people in support groups. Since not all transgender people are members, the estimate is probably low.

    Williams estimates are based on reinterpretation of surveys which were not designed for the purpose but they are gradually approaching Conway’s estimates.

    Other surveys have estimated the number as 4-6% of the population.

    Studies indicate that transgender people dress for authenticity and relaxation, not for sexual arousal. Initial sexual arousal fades quickly.

    Identical twin pairs with one transgender twin are all of the same sex.

    • says:

      4-6% – seriously, that’s absurd, unless you count all the men who have various feminine clothing fetishes as transgender. I don’t mean full-on crossdressers, just the single item compulsion, like high heels.

      “Initial sexual arousal fades quickly.” Since transsexuals are not fetishists, they don’t have that sexual arousal in the first place. Transvestites, who by your own and Conway’s admission, make up close to 90% of the transgender population, are created and motivated by sexual arousal.

      If you think it ‘goes away’, I’m here to tell you otherwise. Ask Angela, she acknowledges the reality of the sexual nature of crossdressing.

      Why do you think there’s an interest in columns by Mistress Samantha on the Forum? You think only 20 year old hyper-horny budding transvestites are the audience for such things? Let’s ask Angela what her readers’ demographic is.

      Even Tasi in a comment on your ‘cherry picking’ article admitted that 60% of her readers at Sister House are “…are still in the closet, so more than half are candidates for strong sexual arousal which makes sense from my own personal experience.” Are her readers younger or older?

      I can point you to literally thousands of websites – not the commercial porn sites – that are erotic in nature, aimed at the ordinary transvestite who remains, even in their later years, turned on by everything about femininity.

      Here’s just one, a site that has gotten literally millions of pageviews: Nikki Jenkins’ Feminization Station blog. She’s been producing free content for years, mostly erotic and aimed at the typical transvestite. Recently she opened a Patreon account and now has close to 200 supporters, each paying at least $10 a month. Think of that – one of us and she’s earning nearly $2000 a month for high-quality erotica.

      There’s also Fictionmania that has thousands of TG stories, most erotically charged in one sense or another.

      And on and on and on. Tumblr, Pinterest, Blogspot – thousands aimed at the ‘non-existent’ adult crossdresser who supposedly gave up his fetish interest as soon as he stepped out of his closet and into support groups.

      I understand your motivation – it’s the same as those who blacklisted the very term ‘transvestite’, and it’s the same as Virginia Prince’s desire to ‘take the sex out of crossdressing’.

      Good luck with that!

      The objective is to make ‘us’ respectable to the wider society. A laudable goal – we all would like social acceptance, but I’m not about to let anyone erase me from reality without a pushback: “…Both during a session and over several sessions, those responses become extinguished.”

      Sorry, Not. Gonna. Happen!

      • danabevan danabevan says:

        From the moment Magnus Herschfeld invented the term transvestite, it has had the connotation that crossdressing is motivated by sexual arousal.

        I think you are mixing up sex organs, sexual determination, sexual arousal and sexual behavior. They have nothing to do with being transgender except that transgender people get initially sexually aroused and that transsexuals change their sex organs because of their gender predisposition. . I am a transsexual and I know it was true for me.

        There is no data that I know of but I strongly suspect than cisgender people look at trans porn too. And I suspect that some BDSM people are turned on by it too, judging from my experiences with them.

        I am not an apologist for transgender people. I just report the science. If you disagree with the science, do your own or support funding for those who can.

  2. says:

    Graham, well said!

    I especially love this: “I wasn’t assigned a “gender category” at birth. I was assigned a sex … it says so on my birth certificate.”

    It’s irritating to keep hearing this PC nonsense endlessly repeated. Even in the introduction to this season’s episodes of “I Am Jazz”, Jazz says, “15 years ago I was assigned male at birth, but inside I always knew I was a girl.” Then 7 year old Jazz (what a cutie!) says, pointing to her head, “I have a girl brain, and a boy body”.

    I have no problem with the latter statement, but being ‘assigned’ to a sex at birth (by the obstetrician, NOT society at large) that is not what your genitals show literally NEVER HAPPENS. Which means it wasn’t an ‘assignment’, just an obvious observation of what is down there.

  3. Graham Graham says:

    “Crossdressing is the act of presenting as people (e.g. dress, comportment) of the opposite gender category to which a person is assigned at birth”.

    I realise that the trans-people of all flavours love indulging in the dangerous sport of extreme semantics, so in that spirit, I throw down the proverbial towel, and state that I disagree with your definition! I wasn’t assigned a “gender category” at birth. I was assigned a sex … it says so on my birth certificate.

    It’s certainly true that being a member of a particular sex carries with it a package of expectations of appearance, behaviour, mannerisms, and so on, which we collectively label “gender”, and consequently, membership of a particular “gender category” is automatic and predefined once a person’s sex has been stated; in that sense, sex and gender may be said to be “connected”. In reality, of course, that “connection” is so strong and so heavily policed that sex and gender can be – and are – easily confused and misused; on that point we certainly agree.

    But who could confidently predict, at the moment when the doctor in charge formally pronounced that I was a boy, whether or not I was going to conform to my gender expectations? I had no concept of sex or gender at least until the time when gender norms began to be forced on me several months later. Now, 59 years on, I’m expected to behave in a “masculine” way – short hair, no make-up, trousers, etc. – because my birth certificate records what’s apparently my single most important feature … namely that I was born with a penis. Laid out starkly, this chain of “logic” is nothing short of bizarre.

    As an aside, while I expect the mass media to misunderstand the difference between sex and gender, I expect better of the medical profession. Can a surgeon really change a person’s gender by reshaping bits of their body? Of course not – so why refer to it as “gender re-assignment surgery”? It could be argued with some justification that changing the appearance of one’s genitalia will change their gender by default (since gender is about expectations based on (perceived) sex), but to state that one is changing gender WITHOUT a nod to the driving process is inaccurate.

    It’s worth explicitly pointing out the sequitur / conclusion to my argument, which is that none of gender – be it roles, expectations, behaviours, dress codes, presentations, or what you’ve defined as gender categories – can exist without sex. So I’m afraid I shall continue to state that I dress in clothes “designed for the opposite sex”, since sex is the fundamental parameter on which all of gender is built.

    • danabevan danabevan says:

      Culture automatically assigns gender category at birth based on sex. This is the cisgender rule of Western culture. Yes, this is bizarre. Other cultures have been more in tune with people’s biological predispositions.

      A surgeon and endocrinologist can change sex organs but not a person’s predisposition for gender and not the gender category they were assigned at birth. . How many sex organ changes do you need to change sex categories? I do not refer to GRS but instead used the objective term: transsexual gender plastic surgery. I believe that it is more accurate. People who get this operation already know their congruent gender behavior category. No change of gender is involved.

      The existence of transgender people shows that sex and gender predisposition are dissociated. Given their gender predisposition, people have to determine how they fit (or not) into the prevailing gender system.

      • says:

        “The existence of transgender people shows that sex and gender predisposition are dissociated.”

        When 99.9% of Americans have no conflict between their body and their mind, I’d say the two are associated about as strongly as possible.

        That .1% subset does not contradict the reality for the rest of the population any more than the 2% gay population contradicts the reality that heterosexuality is the statistical norm.

  4. says:

    Trans teenager: What is a transsexual?

    Dana: A transsexual is a person who changes their body to make it more consistent with what people expect from a person in that gender category.

    Trans teenager: We don’t use that word anymore.


    So the trans teen focuses on the use of a word but is oblivious to the fact that the transsexual in question is changing sex based not on their own needs but on the ‘expectations’ of the larger society?

    This is a perfect illustration of the triumph of the tyranny of language over clear, concise thought.

    But what can we expect from the intersection of our education system and popular culture other than young minds full of mush.

    I wish I could say that ‘they’ will grow out of it, but I look around…

    • danabevan danabevan says:

      Mental health professionals are major contributors to the confusion. They are supposed to be educating their clients. They may not be telling teens that if they move on to take sex hormones that they have actually started transsexual transition.

    • danabevan danabevan says:

      At least 1-2% of the Western population is transgender. That is not insignificant. The numbers would probably be higher except for rejection of transgender behavior.

      • says:

        Source please?

        The Williams Institute, which is very LGBT friendly, estimates .7% and your reply to me in your August 29, 2016 article – “Cherry Picking is Not Science” – says, “Conway estimated the frequency of transsexualism as being at least .1% of the population or 10% of transgender people.”

        So if we use the loosest definition of ‘transgender’ to get to the 1% Conway number, that’s still way under a doubling to 2%.

        The idea that there are as many, or close to as many, TG’s as gays is a stretch, a big stretch.

        And note also that Conway says that only 10% of transgenders are transsexual, the other 90% are crossdressers, the vast majority of whom are transvestites.

        Your garden-variety transvestite does not have a severe gender-identity conflict. In fact, not that long ago – say back in the ’80s and ’90s – TV’s were criticized by TS’s for not being ‘committed enough’ to gender rebellion – transvestites mostly wanted to occasionally visit Feminine Island’, play at being girls, then return to their safe male privilege lives; transsexuals were not playing a role, they were living their reality, which included (and still does, of course) a lot of discrimination and other forms of society’s disapproval.

        That’s where I get that 99.9% number; that and simply looking around at the behavior of my fellow Americans.

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