Individuals who are transgender and transsexual do not identify with the sex and/or gender constructs they were born into. People who are transgender feel a disconnect between their own internal concept of their gender and the gender roles made by their society. For example, someone born male may not feel much, if any, connection to what his culture has defined as being "masculine" and may instead strongly identify with what is typically defined as being "feminine."
Some transgender people's sense of difference is so strong that they identify as transsexual and believe their assigned sex at birth was wrong and that their correct sex is one that aligns with their internal feelings. They often have a deep desire to alter their physical appearance until it better matches their gender identity; two common methods of doing this include sex reassignment therapy and/or surgery.
In general, transgender is an umbrella term than can include transsexual, as well as other related terms, such as transvestite.
Is There a Difference Between Transgender and Transsexual?
One of the more well-thought out and nuanced explanations was written by Julia Serano, author of Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity:
The distinction (and lack thereof) between transgender and transsexual
The word transgender historically (as well as within the context of this essay) refers to people who defy societal expectations regarding gender. Trans activists of the 1990s who championed the term left it purposely open-ended — it may refer to transsexuals (i.e., people who transition, who I’ll get to in a minute), people who identify outside of the gender binary, crossdressers (i.e., people who identify with their birth-assigned gender, but sometimes dress and/or express themselves as the other gender), people whose gender expression is non-conforming (e.g., feminine men, masculine women, people who are androgynous, etc.), and possibly others. Not everyone who falls under this umbrella will self-identify as “transgender,” but are all viewed by society as defying gender norms in some significant way.
Unfortunately, in mainstream discussions (as well as within certain segments of the trans community), the word “transgender” is increasingly (mis)used to specifically refer to people who identify and live as members of the gender other than the one they were assigned at birth — that is, people who have historically been described as transsexual. Some people who fall under this category don’t like the label “transsexual” (just as some don’t like “transgender”), but I will be using it here because the distinction between people who socially and/or physically transition (i.e., transsexuals), and those transgender-spectrum individuals who don’t transition, is germane to this conversation.
Differences in Sexual Orientation
Transgender people of all kinds, including transsexual people, can be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or asexual. Sexual orientation is not linked to gender identity. A transsexual person who undergoes gender reassignment surgery may be perceived as having an orientation change if they go from being interested in the "same" gender to the "opposite" gender or vice versa because of their own transition.
In the following video, a trans woman clearly explains the terms transgender, transsexual, drag queen, drag king and transvestite:
The definition of transgender is very ambiguous and may fall into overlapping categories like cross-dressers/transvestites (an outdated term considered offensive by some), androgynes and genderqueers.
Transsexual condition is very well defined and can be diagnosed medically. There is medical help available, if the individual is eager to change one’s physical appearance.
Community or Symbol
The transgender community is symbolized by a pride flag which consists of pink and blue horizontal stripes on both ends, symbolizing transition. Another symbol for transgender people is the butterfly symbolizing metamorphosis. There is, however, no separate symbol for transsexuals.
Some transgender individuals opt for medical intervention to change their appearance. Those that fall within the transsexual subsection of the transgender community are more likely to opt for such changes. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is available for both trans men and trans women to promote masculine and feminine attributes respectively.
Surgical procedures are also available to remove ovaries, Fallopian tubes, the uterus in trans men and make adequate changes in the chest and genitalia. Similarly, in trans women, appropriate changes are made to the face, throat, chest, waist, buttocks and genitalia along with excess hair removal.
Depending on the person's state or country of residence, a legal change of name or gender change may be allowed only if the individual is diagnosed with gender identity disorder (GIS) indicating distress. Prior to making these legal changes, a letter from the physician to confirm the diagnosis may be required. Some jurisdictions require full surgical reassignment before a change of gender is allowed on official documents, while others less restrictive rules. Some do not allow a change in legal documents at any time.
Transsexuals who undergo surgery may face discrimination at work and health insurance issues after the change.
Some people do not identify as male or female; they believe neither gender fits them. In an historic legal ruling in June 2016, a judge in Oregon granted a petition allowing a person to legally choose neither sex and be classified as nonbinary.
The etiquette of talking with transgender people isn't really different from talking with cis-gendered people. In What Not to Say to a Transgender Person, novelist T. Cooper offers the following advice:
- Do not ask a transgender person about their private parts.
- Do not compliment them on being or looking "real" or "normal".
- Do not ask them about surgeries they may have had or hormones they may take.
- Do not presume their sexual orientation. Transgender people do not identify with the gender identity assigned to them at birth. That is orthogonal to their sexual orientation i.e., the gender that they are attracted to.
Trans people can be gay, straight, asexual, bisexual, pansexual, really into gym socks -- basically any sexuality a nontrans person can express.
Different religions have their own views about transgender and transsexual individuals, and not all religions are tolerant toward this community. There is no clear distinction of the two terms in religious texts, and, though most religions have condemned trans behavior, there are cultures and traditions that promote acceptance in some parts of the world, religion notwithstanding.
- Detransition, Desistance, and Disinformation: A Guide for Understanding Transgender Children Debates - Julia Serano
- wikipedia:Religious views on transgender people
- What Not to Say to a Transgender Person - CNN
- Oregon Court Allows a Person to Choose Neither Sex - New York Times