Definition of Terms
The first thing to note is that these terms are defined differently by different people. Furthermore, as our culture is changing, these terms are changing in their definitions. To make matters even more complicated, as culture changes some of these terms become outdated or viewed as offensive, and new terms are continually developed. Thus it is very hard to stay up to date on everyone’s preferred terminology. Let me try to keep it simple. I will just explain the terms I use and how I understand them myself.
- Crossdressing – This is dressing in the clothing or accouterments normally worn by the opposite sex. But specifically, for our purposes, crossdressing is dressing purposefully as the opposite sex for the sake of looking like someone of the opposite sex, or for the purpose of experiencing certain feelings when wearing clothing that is supposed to be for the opposite sex. A crossdresser is usually viewed as someone who does not wish to change their sex or try to live as the opposite sex. (But this is not always the case).
- Transvestism / Autogynephilia / Fetish / Paraphilia – Transvestism is now an outdated word that some find offensive. But it refers to crossdressing for the sake of sexual gratification or emotional comforts or both. A person who does this is called a transvestite. A man who is sexually turned on by this experience and lusts after himself who now looks like a woman, we would say is a man with autogynephilia. The term itself is quite loaded and leads to many debates. But it’s a good term and theory to be familiar with – autogynephilia. From wikipedia – “Autogynephilia (/ˌɔːtoʊˌɡaɪnəˈfɪliə/; from Greek αὐτό- (“self”), γυνή (“woman”) and φιλία (“love”) — “love of oneself as a woman”) is a term coined in 1989 by Ray Blanchard, to refer to “a man’s paraphilic tendency to be sexually aroused by the thought or image of himself as a woman.” See this post for more on autogynephilia. Or some would refer to this man as having a sexual fetish, or a paraphilia (a mental disorder involving unusual or harmful sexual preferences such as sadism, exhibitionism or masochism).
- Gender Dysphoria – I refer to gender dysphoria as emotional distress and psychological pain due to a person feeling a disconnect between their body and their identity. In other words, it is when a man feels like he should have been born a woman, or when he feels like he actually is a woman, but experiences pain because his body doesn’t match how he feels. Today, those pushing transgender ideology disagree with me and now refer to it more specifically as emotional distress due to a lack of congruence between sex “assigned” at birth and “gender identity.”
- Gender – I use gender to refer to the social and cultural manifestations of a person’s biological sex. In other words, gender and sex are intimately connected. I don’t believe people are born with genders that do not match their sex. But the manifestation of our sexual differences plays out differently in different cultures. The transgender ideology of our modern time says that a person could be born with or come to have a real “gender identity” that does not match their biological sex. There are those in the transgender world who say this gender identity is innate and biologically caused, and there are those that argue that it is completely disconnected from biology and a conscious identity choice.
- Transgender – A term encompassing a wide group of people, often even encompassing transvestites. In my usage, I use transgender for those who are trying to live as the opposite sex. In other words, a transgendered person has started to act upon their gender dysphoria. They might be dressing all the time as the opposite sex, or they have taken on an identity as the opposite sex. A person living this way may have taken hormones and undergone surgeries or they may not. Those pushing transgender ideology are starting to take offense even at this term, and some would say that every person who experiences gender dysphoria could be called a transgendered person. The whole phenomena of people acting out these alternate sexual identities I call transgenderism (another term that our culture has come to see as outdated).
- Transsexual – This is a term that is viewed as outdated and offensive by many in our culture today. I still find it helpful. I use it to refer to those transgendered people who have undergone hormone or surgery treatments in order to live out an identity as the opposite sex.
- Homosexual / Same-sex Attraction – A homosexual is someone who is sexually attracted to people of their same sex. For men we would say that they are “gay” and for women we would say they are “lesbian.” Sometimes “gay” is used to describe both men and women who experience same-sex attraction. Christians who experience same-sex attraction often do not want to attach the word “gay” or “homosexual” to their identity, but prefer to speak of themselves as a person who experiences same-sex attractions. Note that in all of the above definitions, there is no mention of homosexuality or same-sex attraction. Most (probably all) transvestites are heterosexual. When it comes to transsexuals, some are still sexually attracted to the sex opposite of their biological sex (a man who starts to live as a woman can still be sexually attracted to women). Other transsexuals are attracted to people of their same sex (a man who starts to live as a woman can be sexually attracted to men). For more on these various types of transsexuals see this post – The Man who would be Queen.
- Intersex – (From Wikipedia) “Intersex people are born with any of several variations in sex characteristics including chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals that, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “do not fit the typical definitions for male or female bodies“.” Intersexual conditions cover a wide ranger of different bodily abnormalities or disorders. For some of these conditions people were called hermaphrodites, but that term is now outdated and viewed as offensive. People with these conditions try to seek medical help and then they live as best they can according to their biological sex. In cases where the biological sex is difficult to determine, they and the doctors try their best to determine their true sex based on how they feel and based on the specific medical condition. Unfortunately people with painful intersex conditions have been used by transgender activists as supposed evidence that there are a whole range of genders and not only the binary two genders. But rather, the existence of people with these conditions prove the norm of the binary, and in the vast majority of cases, their sex is clear. Their body has a defect; they do not constitute a new type of gender.
Other terms that you should be aware of, terms I do not use:
- Cisgender / Cis – This is used to describe a person whose gender identity is the same as the sex they were “assigned” at birth. I do not use this term as I think everyone’s gender matches their biological sex. And their sex is not “assigned” but it is a biological reality. They have the sex they were born with, or if you are a Christian, they have the sex that God created them to have.
- Gender Reassignment – The terminology is constantly changing, but this refers to a person transitioning to live as a person of the opposite sex, which can include changing their clothing, their name, their pronouns, and taking hormones or getting medical surgeries. It used to be called SRS – sex reassignment surgery, but that has become offensive language. And before that the common lingo would have been that a person got a “sex change.” I don’t use “sex change” as it’s too informal and crass. But I also reject the idea of someone being “assigned” a sex at birth. So I do not use the term “gender reassignment.” I just say that some people undergo surgery to appear more like the opposite sex.
The only thing I would add to the definitions is that in many people there is great overlap between the many issues involved: sexual orientation, sexual/gender identity and dysphoria, transgenderism, and crossdressing as sexual addiction. Most people don’t fit cleanly into the categories. It takes many crossdressers years just to figure themselves out, and for many of us, we have both the sexual aspect of crossdressing as well as some gender dysphoria. In others still, it could begin as a sexual fetish (being attracted to the fake woman in the mirror), but over time become less sexual and turn into a desire to live full-time as a woman. Such a person would then start taking hormones and undertake surgeries.