Dear Love Doctor Celina,
What is the difference between transgender and transsexual? Do I call them him or her if it’s a man becoming a woman?
Love Doctor eh? Well I’m flattered, to say the least, and I hope I can correctly answer what I consider to be a complicated yet immensely important question.
Admittedly, this is a topic I try not to broach for many reasons. I would never want to come across as insensitive or ill-informed when it comes to the struggle of a chunk of the population that I fully stand behind and support. LGBTQ issues are issues I have never personally dealt with but people I hold very dear to my heart have had to fight tooth and nail to have their experiences taken “seriously” (whatever that means — for real), so I will do my best and tread carefully.
It is my understanding that transgender is an umbrella term for many, many different things while transsexual is pretty solidly defined. So, let’s start with that.
Transsexuals are people who transition from one sex to another through the use of hormones and/or surgery. A male can effectively become recognizably female, and vice versa, but they cannot change their reproductive abilities to match the sex they’ve transitioned to. Sex is assigned at birth and refers to a person’s biological features, namely: chromosomes, hormones and internal/external anatomy. With the rare exception of those born intersex, who display characteristics of both sexes at birth, we are all born into one sex, fitting neatly into the F or M box on our birth certificates.
Transgender, on the other hand, refers to people whose identity, behaviour and/or sense of self doesn’t conform to what people usually associate with the sex they were born into. Binary terms like masculine and feminine are often used to describe gender the same way they are used to describe sex. But gender, unlike sex, encompasses more than just two possibilites. Among them: gender nonconforming, multigendered, third gender, androgynous and, most interesting to me, ‘two-spirit’ people. The definitions of these varies from person to person. It’s interesting to note the blending of the binary concepts of masculinity and feminity, or the exclusion of them altogether.
To put it very basically, sex is a matter of the body while gender is a matter of the mind. So if a man elects to have surgical procedures done to become a woman, and He has/is visibly transitioned/transitioning to She, I would think it not only insensitive but rude to continue referring to Her as he. Do you know what I mean?
I don’t necessarily identify with any particular gender. I’ve never given much thought to the possibility of identifying as transgender. One very small example would be that my gender on Facebook is set to ‘male’ and it annoys me when people freak out and point that out to me because I just feel like, so what? That’s how I feel or once felt, why does that bother you? If someone ever mistook me for a male I can’t say that I would be offended. Then again, I’m not the one who has spent probably well over my life savings so that I can look on the outside how I feel on the inside.
It’s tricky and it’s a real injustice to feel betrayed by your own body and mind — for any reason — so I think it’s just a matter of respecting a person’s choices and helping them celebrate who they want to be, who they’re supposed to be.
I hope this helped!
Don’t be confused. Ask your questions about love, sex, sexuality, or anything at all to Celina at firstname.lastname@example.org