Transgender vs. Transsexual: What’s the Difference?

  1. Home
  2. Life
By Gabriel Bell | 9:26 am, January 6, 2017

Caitlyn Jenner is transgender. But is she also a transsexual?

People often use the two words interchangeably, but they’re not the same. For starters, it’s important to understand that a person’s “sex” and a person’s “gender” are different. “Sex” is a scientific descriptor of one’s physical form and reproductive role. In humans (and most animal species), they come in three basic varieties: male, female and intersex. The third covers any person who has both male and female physical characteristics (“hermaphrodites,” for example).

Gender, however, is an identity, something tied more to social convention than biology. While there are three basic sexes, there are dozens of genders. You’ll be familiar with the most popular two, “man” and “woman.” Here’s a list of just the ones Facebook uses. There are many more floating out there.

While for most people “gender” and “sex” are correlated, they don’t necessarily depend on each other.

Being transgender means you do not identify with the gender assigned to you at birth or do not express your gender in a conventional way. There are many flavors of this—like “gender fluid,” “androgynous” or “transfeminine.”

RuPaul, to take one well-known example, is transgender: someone who dresses and often behaves in a fashion not considered “man” but who happily lives in a male bod.

Transsexual people, on the other hand, don’t just feel a disconnect with the gender they were assigned at birth, but with their assigned sex as well. While most transgender people may feel perfectly at home in the body genetics gave them (just like RuPaul), a transsexual person may seek to change their body through medical means to conform with their inner understanding of themselves. Some have called it a neurological condition, though others doubt or deny this.

An easy way to think of the two is this: A transgendered woman could be someone born male who dresses as a woman. A transsexual woman can be someone born male who wishes to have both the appearance of a woman and the body of a female.

Celebs who’ve undergone transexual transitions include media darlings like Jenner, Laverne Cox and Chaz Bono. But here lies the last confusing ripple of this whole transexual vs. transgender deal: All these celebs still choose to call themselves “transgender,” not “transsexual.”

As for who these people—transsexual or transgender—hook up with. Well, that’s a whole other thing. There are no rules: Just ask this woman who stayed with her wife after transitioning from a man.