Trans existence: what does it mean to be transsexual, transgender or transvestite?

a transsexual putting on lipstick

The term transsexual was created in the first half of the 20th century as a medical word to describe people who did not identify with their biological sex.

Since then, the trans movement has emerged, which has expanded this debate, starting to fight for the recognition and rights of different existences outside of gender conformity.

Read the full text to learn more about this community and clear your doubts about different words you may be hearing around.

What is it to be cis?

To explain what it is to be trans, let us first understand what it means to be cis. First, a cisgender person lives under gender conformity. In other words: he is the one who identifies with the gender assigned to him at birth.

For example, if at birth someone is identified as a girl and, throughout her life, this gender makes sense to her and reflects her identity, then that person is cis.

What is being trans?

Therefore, being trans, transgender, transsexual is when there is no gender conformity. When the designated gender does not match the way, the person identifies himself.

Still, in the previous example: if at birth someone is identified as a girl, but that person over time realizes that she does not identify as a girl, she is a trans person.

That’s why there’s so much talk about gender identity. All people have their identity, whether cis or trans, male or female, or even other gender manifestations (as we will explain further below).

However, we must not confuse gender identity and sexual orientation. The second concerns an individual’s sexuality. To better understand this difference, click here and read our post on gender identity and sexual orientation.

What is the difference between biological sex and gender?

If the above concepts are confusing to you, it might be interesting to understand the difference between biological sex and gender.

The trans community does not deny biological sex, which is the physical manifestation of a person’s sex (not to be confused with sexuality).

Through a combination of genes, genitalia and gonads, it is possible to identify the biological sex. And it is from this reading, we know if someone is biologically male, female, or intersex.

On the other hand, gender is a distinct quality of sex, not defined by a physical condition. And it is precisely this understanding of each person’s gender that indicates whether or not there is conformity with biological sex – that is, whether the person is or is not trans.

See here Why do transsexuals become escorts?

What is the difference between transsexual, transgender and transvestite?

As mentioned earlier, the word transsexual came up a few decades ago to recognize people who have always existed. However, over the years, other terms have gained ground in the LGBTI+ community, giving visibility to all forms of being.

For example, do you know the difference from transsexual to transgender? And the transvestites? And terms like non-binary? Below, we take these questions for you.


At first, this was the only recognized term for people to identify themselves as trans women or trans men. Today, however, we use the word more exclusively for trans people undergoing gender transition surgery.

In other words, it is transsexuals who make changes in their own bodies due to the so-called gender dysphoria – which is the discomfort of not recognizing their true gender manifestations in their physical form.

However, there is much questioning whether the term transsexual should continue to be used. For example, it is discussed whether we should use the word “sexual” only for definitions of sexuality (for example, homosexual, bisexual, heterosexual, pansexual and asexual).

In addition, part of the trans community argues that linking transsexuality to medical interventions may underestimate the experiences of those who deal with their own bodies in a different way. They call this trend transmedicalism.

As such, other terms have become focal points in debates over gender identity.


The word transgender seeks to be an umbrella that brings together all the plurality of what it means to be trans. That is, every person who does not live as a cis, who does not have gender conformity, is transgender.

In this way, this understanding already expands the range of what it is to live the expression of gender. In addition to being a transgender man or woman, it is possible to recognize that gender is a spectrum that should not be restricted by social conventions.

Based on this understanding, terms such as non-binary were created, often written and said as non-binary, so as not to give a neither masculine nor feminine connotation.

Non-binary people are those who or do not identify with the agreed genders. This means that they either see themselves between the two, or transit between them, or even exist in other forms of expression.


There are also transvestites – and here, it is essential to point out that transvestites are always female. Sometimes conceptually grouped as transvestites.

The term transvestite encompasses people who have a female gender identity but who do not understand themselves as trans women. It is a typically Latin manifestation of people who had the male gender designated at birth but discovered this feminine strength that forms their identity.

Sometimes, the definition of transvestite is to promote aesthetic changes in the body in order to feminize it without choosing to transition the genitalia. However, more contemporary debates question whether this is still the best way to define what it is to live transvestite gender.

It is worth mentioning that other regional terms help in this social construction of gender plurality. Before name-calling, words like “faggot” were not only appropriated by the gay community; they also serve as feminine and masculine gender expressions out of binarity – although they are still used in a pejorative way by prejudiced people.

In the United States, the word queer has a similar history. Offensive, it has become a term that both sums up the entire LGBTI+ community and qualifies for more fluid gender identity.

But pay attention

Assimilating all these terms can be difficult. Be patient and try to keep yourself open to the different debates. More than that, and above all, respect the way a person speaks that they identify. Remember: discussions about the uses of different words are up to the trans community.

What is a drag queen/king?

Dragging has nothing to do with gender or sexuality. Cis and trans people can do drag art and have it as a profession and gays, lesbians, bisexuals, heterosexuals, etc.

With drag art, the intention is to experiment with the limits of gender, be it female, male (drag king) or neutral. By the way, there is no need to play with the opposite gender to be a drag (for example, a cis woman can be a drag queen).

What is it to be intersex?

Although being transsexual is a central issue of gender, there are trans people who have biological compositions that are not just male or female: they are the intersex.

Before, called hermaphrodite (a word that has fallen into disuse because of its negative connotation), intersex people carry characteristics of the two biological sexes, whether in genes, genitalia and gonads.

Talking about intersex is a topic that requires care. This is because they are people who tend to suffer from different types of medical violence and who are still poorly understood.

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