Transvestite / Transsexual or Crossdresser?

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Transvestite is derived from the word transvestism which was a Latin term created by Magnus Hirschfeld in Berlin, Germany in 1915.

Transvestism means trans “across” and vestere “to dress”.

The term described both men and women whether hetero-sexual, bi-sexual, homosexual or a-sexual. Hisrchfeld also promoted the ‘third gender’ which at the time was a ‘catch-all’ phrase for anyone outside the sexual norm. Third gender people were given a place in society by Hirschfeld to live the way they wanted to. Hirschfeld’s research ended with the coming to power of the Nazi party. This left a knowledge gap and all transvestites were considered homosexual until Harry Benjamin tried to put transvestism into a two gendered society giving them the choice of living as a man or a woman. In a nutshell if they wanted to dress as a woman they should undergo surgical gender reassignment. Anyone not conforming to Benjamin’s ideal was considered homosexual or fetishists.

The mid 70’s saw a change in terminology after the Stonewall Riots and a large proportion of Hirschfeld’s ‘transvestites’ were left with no word or phrase describing who and what they were; hetero-sexual males wearing female clothing. The term ‘cross-dresser was used by this group who in most cases were distanced from the gay community and transsexuals.

With fashion dictating that it become more and more acceptable for women to wear items of men’s clothing, the term Transvestite became applied exclusively to homo-sexual males with a tranvestic fetish, in other words a need to wear female clothing for the purpose of sexual arousal.

Transsexualism is a neurobiological condition where a person of a certain physical gender identifies themselves to the opposite gender.

This is caused by a difference in the Bed Nucleus of Stria Terminalis (BSTc). Transsexualism is also called Benjamin’s Syndrome after the pioneer of gender reassignment Harry Benjamin. Societies misunderstanding of this can lead to severe dysphoria and often suicide. Peggy Cohen-Kettenis found during her research that almost 50% of untreated transsexuals are institutionalised or die early. The solution is gender reassignment surgery and therapy, which comes through psycho-analysis and a diagnosis of gender identity disorder. The criteria for gender reassignment is to live as a member of the opposite gender for at least 12 months known as real-life experience.

In very simple terms a transvestite is regarded as a homosexual male who wears female clothing for sexual fetishism. A Transsexual is a person who has or who desires to undergo gender reassignment and finally, a cross-dresser is a hetero-sexual male who wears female clothing. Each group is very specific in what they are.

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