The term “transgender” (TG) as used in the United States can mean many things. At its minimum, it refers to people or groups of people whose lifestyles vary from traditional gender roles. In legal and political spheres, transgendered people are generally associated with the gay rights movement, but the quality of being transgendered does not necessarily connote sexual orientation. Transgender people may be heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual or asexual. What they have in common is that in some way they are not comfortable with the gender into which they are born. The oft-use rubric “Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender (LGBT) community” seems to tack on transgender at the end, for understandable pragmatic reasons, but not every transgendered individual identifies with the practice.
The 50 American states differ on the legal status of transgendered people. Some states have passed legislation to protect these people from discrimination in healthcare, employment, and public services, but the federal government has not.
The term “transsexual” refers to a person, male or female, with a strong desire to become a member of the opposite gender, one who often desires or resorts to sex reassignment surgery and other means of gender transition. A transsexual is, by definition, transgendered, but not all transgendered people are transsexuals.
The term “transvestite” refers to persons of one gender who dress as persons of the other. The term “cross-dresser” is now more widely used. Although cross-dressing can occur in either gender direction, most cross-dressers are biologically male. They may be heterosexual or homosexual. They enjoy dressing as women for erotic, aesthetic, emotional or other reasons. Occasional cross-dressers are not truly transgendered, although they may identify with the issues of the transgendered community. In the world of entertainment, “drag queens” and “drag kings” are performers who specialize in mimicking the appearance of their opposite genders, sometimes with great precision, often as broad caricatures.
The term “she-male” generally refers to a male who works in the sex trade, who has undergone hormone therapy, breast augmentation or other procedures, who may appear in all outward respects female, but who retains male sexual organs. An entire subculture of pornography and theatrical performance revolves around these she-males. The term “tranny,” which is usually pejorative, is more general but does tend to connote a subculture devoted to female impersonation. Transgendered people who live lives that are less oriented toward sex and exhibitionism understandably distance themselves from these lifestyles, and resent being linked with them.
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