Transsexual or transgender?

15 Jan

Today, just a quick resource-share: in “Working With Transgender Persons Answers to Frequently Asked Questions”

(, Paul Elizondo et al. discuss some basic questions about transgender identity,  experiences and community. You may have trouble accessing the whole article, unless you’re a member of Psychiatric Times (I have a request in to co-author Willy Wilkinson), but for now, I thought I’d share this simple but clarifying definition and visual for the terms: transsexual, transgender and gender nonconforming. (Note: this article is written for mental health professionals, thus the term “patient” is used.)


While I would propose that someone who is transsexual is living as a different sex from his/her sex at birth (to make the distinction between sex and gender), I appreciate how these definitions illustrate the relationships between gender and sex, and trans and nonconforming identities, and how they clarify some popular conceptions, i.e. that transsexual identity does not require surgical alteration, and none of these identities imply a particular sexual orientation.

All too often, identities get conflated–in addition to gender, sex and sexuality; race and ethnicity, and socioeconomics and class come to mind–and the reason I would argue for precision with our language isn’t political correctness, but the utility of having a broad and nuanced lexicon for talking about who we are and how others see us. To name how we can be cash poor and still identify with a privileged class, or how we can be heterosexual in a male body that doesn’t match our female self-concept.

While all the language of identities can feel overwhelming (like there’s a vocab test we’re going to fail), I encourage learning and practicing how to name both the identities we hold as integral to our sense of self and those we can’t fathom, as a fundamental skill of inclusion.

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