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Transsexual: Definition & Meaning

Instructor: Diane Davis
Studying the transgender condition referred to as 'transsexual' can help you understand the complex internal struggle many of these persons face before, during and after transitioning. Explore this condition and test yourself with a quiz.

Definition

Persons whose gender identity, expression, or behavior that does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth are classified under the category of transgender. A person's internal sense of being male, female, or something else is called their gender identity. People whose gender identity is different from their assigned sex are referred to as transsexual.

Transsexual Identity

Transsexual people alter or wish to alter their bodies through hormones, surgery, and other means to make their bodies as congruent as possible with their gender identities. This process of transition through medical intervention is often referred to as sex or gender reassignment, but more recently is also referred to as 'gender affirmation.' People who were assigned female, but identify and live as male and alter or wish to alter their bodies through medical intervention to more closely resemble their gender identity are known as transsexual men or transmen (also known as female-to-male or FTM). Conversely, people who were assigned male but identify and live as female and alter or wish to alter their bodies through medical intervention to more closely resemble their gender identity are known as transsexual women or transwomen (also known as male-to-female or MTF). Some individuals who transition from one gender to another prefer to be referred to as a man or a woman, rather than as transgender.

There is no explanation for why some people are transgender. Many experts believe that biological factors such as genetic influences and prenatal hormone levels, early experiences, and experiences later in adolescence or adulthood may all contribute to the development of transgender identities.

Transgender people may become aware of their transgender identity at any age. Some can trace their transgender identities and feelings back to their earliest memories. They may have feelings of 'not fitting in' with people of their assigned sex or specific wishes to be something other than their assigned sex. Others become aware of their transgender identities or begin to explore and experience gender-nonconforming attitudes and behaviors during adolescence or much later in life. Some embrace their transgender feelings, while others struggle with feelings of shame or confusion.

Those who transition later in life may have struggled to fit in adequately as their assigned sex only to later face dissatisfaction with their lives. Some transsexual people experience intense dissatisfaction with their sex assigned at birth, physical sex characteristics, or the gender role associated with that sex. These individuals often seek gender-affirming treatments.

Gender Transitioning

Transitioning from one gender to another is a complex process and may involve transition to a gender that is neither traditionally male nor female. People who transition often start by expressing their preferred gender in situations in which they feel safe. They typically work up to living full time as members of their preferred gender by making many changes a little at a time. While there is no 'right' way to transition genders, there are some common social changes transgender people experience that may involve one or more of the following:

  • Adopting the appearance of the desired sex through changes in clothing and grooming
  • Adopting a new name, changing sex designation on identity documents (if possible)
  • Using hormone therapy treatment, and/or undergoing medical procedures that modify their body to conform with their gender identity

Every transgender person's process or transition differs. Because of this, many factors may determine how the individual wishes to live and express gender identity.

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