Although terminology is very important to transgender people, meanings are fluid and often change over time, leading to frequent misunderstandings. Here is the current lexicon as we understand it:
Transgender is the umbrella term encompassing everyone who finds they need to express themselves in the opposite gender or outside the expected norms of their birth-assigned gender.
A transvestite is a Male-to-Female transgender person who does not wish to transition, i.e. wishes to remain “dual–role”. Most transvestites observe the gender binary i.e. present as completely female or completely male, rather than a mixture of the two.
The term crossdresser was coined in America because people thought transvestite sounded like a pathology. It is less used on this side of the Atlantic.
The verb "to crossdress, crossdressing" has an altogether looser meaning, simply meaning putting on the clothes of the opposite sex for any reason or motive.
In Ireland, the term Drag Queen normally refers to an exaggerated feminine persona performed by a gay man as a vehicle for social commentary, artistic expression and/or comedy. Drag Queens can have transgender aspects, but do not usually identify as Transgender.
Tranny is the established and affectionate name that the transvestite community in Ireland (and the UK) call themselves.
However, transitioned transgender people have issues with the word, saying that it is regularly thrown at them as an insult. And, as their circumstances put them on the frontline of transgender engagement with the public on a 24/7 basis, they unfortunately experience frequent hostility. We acknowledge that and we sympathise.
However, people throw insults because they know they are hurtful. If the insult fails to wound, a new insult will be found. The reason why tranny hurts is that many transitioned people don't want to be associated with transvestites. Transvestites are people with both a male and a female side whereas transitioned MtF transgender people usually regard themselves as women. To be called a tranny or a transvestite can therefore feel demeaning to someone who wants to be fully accepted as a woman.
That's as may be. But we trannies are not second class citizens. We are worthy of respect too. We hope that the transitioned transgender community will find a way of living with our existence and living with being mistaken for one of us from time to time. Anything less would be a complete failure of solidarity.
As currently used, trans can be a very misleading word. It sounds like a shortening of transgender, but is often used when referring to transitioned transgender.
Trans came about as a response to pathologisation. The old term transsexual was detested by those it was applied to, not least because of the “sexual” part. So that community adopted the short form trans as an identity they could live with. And now that transsexual is falling into disuse, trans is increasingly being used simply as a short form of transgender.
However, this evolution in usage has had the effect of appearing to exclude non-transitioned transgender people like transvestites from the transgender family.
Sí feels strongly that public usage of the word trans needs to be addressed. Trans should never used to exclusively mean transitioning and transitioned transgender, but only when referring to everybody who is transgender. We have received assurances from TENI that they agree with us and that they will try to use trans inclusively, but we would also call on everybody who uses trans in public discourse to be careful how they use it.
The gender binary is the traditional cultural assumption that gender comprises two opposite poles, each with defining characteristics. Most transvestites accept the gender binary, expressing gender completely and traditionally. But some transvestites don't - Eddie Izzard probably being the best known example.
In fact, quite a few on the transgender spectrum don't accept the binary, but instead assert their right to mix the traditional characteristics. These non-binary people use terms like Gender-Fluid, Gender-Queer and Agender to describe themselves, while generally remaining under the Transgender umbrella.
Some people are born with some physical characteristics of both sexes, generally as a result of unusual biological variation such as having chromosomes that are not exclusively XX or XY. Sometimes the characteristics are externally manifested, for example with both forms of genitalia being visible, but they can also be hidden and indeed sometimes a person's intersex nature remains undiscovered. Intersex people do not generally regard themselves as transgender.
Transition is the abandonment of one's birth-assigned gender, to live full-time in one's real / preferred gender. Transition is not necessarily accompanied by gender reassignment surgery.
Please contact us if you want to republish any of the content of this site elsewhere.