Crossdressing Glossary1

Authenticity: In existentialist philosophy and its various offshoots, “authenticity” means being true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character, despite external pressures to do otherwise. Authenticity is highly relevant to issues of gender and sexuality, because very few people are purely masculine or purely feminine; and few if any are 100% heterosexual or 100% homosexual.

Baklâ: A Filipino term referring to a genetic male who is exclusively attracted to men and dresses as a woman. In the US there is not a specific term for referring to persons who are both homosexual and transgender (as opposed to some other combination of sexual orientation and gender identity); however, the Republic of the Philippines and many other South Asian and Southeast Asian societies do have such terms, whose significance is that some — but not all — transgender persons have romantic and sexual preferences for others of their own genetic sex. Baklâs sometimes are thought of as a third gender, not as transsexuals of the most characteristic types (see below).

Bisexuality: In the most abstract sense, this simply means being sexually attracted in significant degree to both women and men; however, there are several distinctive types of bisexuality, which tend to be fairly structured. People may engage in homosexual behavior in certain settings or on certain occasions, but not in their day-to-day lives.

CD-Admirer: CD-admirers are masculine men, heterosexual in appearance, who are sexually attracted to male-to-female crossdressers. CD admirers do not pursue other masculine men for sex, and thus they ordinarily do not self-identify as gay. Men who self-identify as gay ordinarily do not seek out male-to-female crossdressers, preferring masculine men over genetic males who look like women. CD admirers thus have a distinctive pattern of romantic and sexual preferences that does not fall neatly into the conventional straight—bisexual—gay classification.

Chromosome Structure: The importance of this for crossdressers is that their feminine presentations typically are incongruent with their chromosome structure. Regarding the latter, every normal cell of a human being contains 23 pairs of chromosomes, for a total of 46 chromosomes. Each linked-pair includes one from the mother and one from the father. Each of the 46 chromosomes is made of protein and a single molecule of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). Twenty-two of the chromosome-pairs contain genetic information that is independent of the person’s sex, female or male; the 23th pair (usually denoted XY male or XX female) contains genetic information that is sex-specific. The importance of chromosomes (and the genes they contain) is that these play important roles in the appearance and behavior of the persons in question. Related to the first, natal sex (the assignment of “boy” or “girl” by a doctor or midwife at birth) usually conforms to chromosome structure.

Cisgender Person: This term refers to a gender identity in which a person’s experiences of their own gender match the sex they were assigned at birth. For instance, someone who feels that she is female and was labeled “girl” by the surgeon or mid-wife who delivered her at birth is a cisgender person. This term usually is used in relation to “transgender,” which refers to gender feelings that differ from the sex the person was assigned at birth. This term describes people who identify with the sex they were assigned at birth. When natal sex and gender identity agree, the person in question is cisgender.

Crossdresser: A crossdresser is someone who wears clothing commonly associated in her or his culture with the other sex, regardless of her or his motivation for doing so. Most persons who dress across traditional gender lines, whether only occasionally or quite often, prefer this relatively neutral term to “transvestite” (historically a psychiatric term with connotations widely disputed today).

Drag or In Drag: Wearing clothing considered most appropriate for someone of another gender.

Drag Kings and Drag Queens: Female-bodied crossdressers (typically lesbians) and male-bodied crossdressers (typically gay men), respectively, who present in public, often for entertainment purposes.

DSM-5: This is a mnemonic for the Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which was officially released at the American Psychiatric Association’s Annual Meeting in May 2013. It featured revised criteria for the diagnosis and classification of mental disorders. Ordinary part-time crossdressing and full-time transsexualism no longer are considered mental disorders, but some kinds of behavior involving other-sex clothing still are (see, for instance, “Transvestic Fetishism” below).

Dyke: Traditionally this has been a pejorative term applied to lesbian women; however, it has been reclaimed by many lesbian women to describe themselves.

Effeminate Gay Men: Effeminacy is the manifestation of traits in a boy or man that are most often associated with a feminine nature, behavior, mannerisms, style, or gender role. Some crossdressers — perhap 25% or 30% of all crossdressers — could reasonably be called effeminate gay men. They wear feminine clothing, and they are physically attracted to masculine men.

ENDA: The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) was a proposed federal law, parts of which have become law, which would prohibit discrimination in hiring and treatment in work settings based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity. It would not apply to employment by religious organizations or to employment by privately owned and operated small businesses, where the word “small” means fewer than 15 non-family employees. The effect of the law on transgender persons would depend on their category of trans persons. Full-time transsexuals would be protected from discrimination based on anything other than the criteria of job performance applied to others. Part-time crossdressers would be largely unaffected, as most do not mix crossdressing with employment (more).

En Femme: A term in male crossdressing communities for expressing a more “feminine” personality and displaying more “feminine” gender behavior while crossdressing.

FTM Individuals: Female-to-female transgender persons who were categorized at birth as female, but who identify partially or fully as male.

Gender: The social construction of masculinity and femininity in a specific culture. It involves gender assignment (the gender designation of someone at birth), gender roles (the expectations imposed on someone based on their gender), gender attribution (how others perceive someone’s gender), and gender identity (how someone defines their own gender).

Genderism: The societal, institutional, and individual beliefs and practices that privilege cisgender (i.e., gender-typical) people and subordinate and disparage transgender and gender-diverse people.

Gender Binary

Gender Binary: The so-called “gender binary” is a classification of human beings using two rigid categories. Those categories integrate or merge genetic sex, gender identity, aspects of personality, and sexual attraction. A male is presumed to self-identify as a man, to have masculine personality characteristics, and to be sexually attracted only to women. A female is presumed to self-identify as a women, to have feminine personality characteristics, and to be sexually attracted only to men. This conception has been associated with the three major Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — although not all adherents of those faiths consider it binding. Most scholars who have written about the gender binary in recent decades have concluded that it should be rejected (see, e.g., Anne Fausto-Sterling. 1993. “The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female Are Not Enough” The Sciences. Volume 33. Issue 2. Pages 20-24, March / April 1993).

Gender Expression: This is an external manifestation of gender. (1) In the most ordinary cases, it is how one chooses to express one’s gender identity through activities, behavior, clothing, hairstyle, voice, body characteristics, jewelry, other accessories, or other visible indicators. (2) In relatively rare cases, it expresses unusual sexual feelings (e.g., fetishism or transvestic disorder) or a desire for economic rewards (e.g., drag kings and queens).

Gender Identity: An individual’s sense of being male, female, or some kind of transgender. Since gender identity is internal, one’s gender identity is not necessarily visible to others, even though it may be keenly felt.

Gender Incongruity: This refers to dissimilarity between a persistently experienced gender identity and a person’s natal sex. For instance, a person who was assigned the label “boy” at birth, but feels privately that they have some feminine gender attributes has at least some degree of gender incongruity, as does a person who was assigned the label “girl” at birth and feels privately that they have some masculine gender attributes. Whenever gender identity does not conform perfectly to natal sex, there is a degree of gender incongruity. That degree may range among persons between very small and very large.

Gender Reassignment Surgery (GRS): Surgical procedures that change a person’s body to better match her or his gender identity. Some transsexuals (see the definition below) have GRS, but many do not. These procedures may include breast augmentation or removal, genital alterations, trachea shave (reducing the size of the Adam’s apple), and bone restructuring to produce a more “feminine” face, among several others.

Gender Variant, Gender Diverse, or Gender Non-Conforming: Alternative Terms for alternative kinds of transgender, meaning one who varies from traditional “masculine” or “feminine” gender identitites and/or roles.

Genderqueer Individuals: People who identify as neither male nor female, as both, or as somewhere in between, and who often seek to blur gender lines. This term is most widely used by transgender youth.

Hir: A personal pronoun that is non-specific regarding gender. It sometimes is used instead of “her” or “him” especially by genderqueer persons who do not identify as female or male.


Homosexuality: Sexual desire or behavior directed toward a person or persons of one’s own sex. Very few crossdressers think of themselves as homosexual; however, a non-trivial percentage think of themselves as bisexual. I would estimate that 25% to 30% of all crossdressers have at least occational sex with genetic males.

Intersex Individual: A general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male. In genetic terms, an XX chromosome structure characterizes a typical female; an XY structure characterizes a typical male; and various others such as XXX and XXY characterize intersex individuals. These are no longer considered to be diseases or disorders. They simply are part of human variability. An intersex person is a normal part of the human mosaic.

MSM: This is a mnemonic for men who have sex with men. This term is used, particularly in research, to describe actual sexual behavior rather than sexual self-identities. Self-labeling correlates only weakly with actual behavior in a culture where homosexuality is widely disapproved. In a society with widespread disapproval of homosexuality, many people predictably will fudge their sexual orientations, either deliberately or unconsciously. Crossdressers may or may not be MSM.

MTF Individuals: Male-to-female transgender persons who were categorized at birth as male, but who identify partially or fully as female.

Psychological Victimization: Victimization is the process of “making a victim of….” Prejudice and discrimination against a category of persons fosters a social climate in which such persons are more likely than most others to be victims of physical, sexual, and verbal assaults. Some victims (even some merely potential victims) may suffer additional consequences such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress. Psychological victimization refers to secondary mental or emotional consequences such as depression and anxiety that may result from being immersed in a hostile social climate.

Reparative Therapy: A type of psychological counseling (also called “conversion therapy”) that aims to change gender identity and/or sexual orientation. Reparative therapy has been a source of strong controversy in the US and other countries. Both the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association have condemned treatment that is based upon the assumption that a variant gender identity and/or homosexuality is a mental disorder and thus that a patient should change her or his gender identity or sexual orientation to achieve better mental health.

Second Self: A term in the MTF crossdressing community for an individual’s alternative gender preference, that is, a secondary gender identity. Male crossdressers express their second self through wearing “feminine” clothing and expressing “feminine” characteristics.

Shemale: A slang term for male-to-female transgender persons having male genitalia together with a very feminine appearance otherwise, the latter usually augmented by surgeries and/or other procedures. Breast augmentation, permanent hair removal (e.g. electrolysis to remove facial hair and shape eyebrows), feminizing facial surgeries, and feminine hairstyles and makeup are among the steps sometimes taken. Many transsexual women in the US consider this term offensive, because they believe that it has connotations of prostitution or other sex-work.

Trans (or Transgender) Person: Most commonly used as an umbrella term for individuals whose gender identity and/or expression is sometimes or always different from the gender assigned to them at birth. Transgender persons include transsexuals (see below), crossdressers, genderqueers, and others whose gender feelings cross traditional gender lines.

Transitioning: The period during which a person begins to live as their new gender. It may include changing one’s name, taking hormones, having surgery, and altering legal documents.

Transphobia: A persistent unreasoning fear of, or antipathy toward, transgender persons and/or cross-gender expression. It has been used to help explain hate crimes against transgender persons and/or the secondary consequences of hateful expression (see “psychological victimization” above). It is analogous to homophobia, but refers to transgender persons and transgender expression rather than to homosexual persons and behavior.

Although Adolph Hitler never personally killed anyone, he helped create a social environment through his writings and verbal expressions in which millions of Communists, Social Democrats, trade unionists, male homosexuals, Jews, and others lost their lives. Portraying a group of human beings as inferior or harmful may indirectly hurt or even kill some of its members by emboldening others who feel antipathy towards that group. The “secondary effects of transphobia” are those believed to result from dangerous social climates fueled by hostile writings and/or hateful, provocative verbal expressions. ☐

Transphobic Victimization: Insofar as transphobia motivates discrimination in the workplace, at school, or elsewhere, its victims become at greater risk of suffering the primary and secondary effects of such discrimination (see “psychological victimization” above). Additional consequences often are poor performance, greater rates of failure, and even suicide. Responsible counseling of teenage trans persons seeks to help them cope with social prejudices, resolve issues associated with any internal conflicts they may feel, and lead happy and satisfying lives.

Transsexualism: Transsexuals are persons who were categorized at birth as being of one sex (female or male) but experience themselves as being of the other sex. Transsexuals may (but many do not) seek hormone and surgical solutions to the mismatch between their genetic sex and what they feel to be their actual sex. Their inner gender compass tells them that they are of the other sex from what a doctor decided in the delivery room. While some medical organizations consider this to be a mental disorder, the American Psychiatric Association now (i.e., as of DSM5, May 2013) considers it to be part of normal variation within the human race. It entails a mismatch between gender identity and natal sex; but that is not a disease.

Transvestic Fetishism. This is a psychiatric term. “Transvestic disorder” is a synonym used in the most recent American Psychiatric Association manual (DSM-5). Most people to whom it could be applied do not call themselves “transvestic fetishists.” Most simply call themselves “crossdressers.” Nonetheless, their motivation is erotic rather than to express a transgender identity via hair, makeup, clothing, and feminine accessories. According to the American Psychiatric Association, there are two criteria for a correct diagnosis of “transvestic fetishism” (or “transvestic disorder”):

  1. The patient has recurrent, intense, sexually arousing fantasies, urges, or behavior involving items of women’s clothing; and
  2. Those cause the patient clinically significant distress or impairment in his social relations at home, his functioning on the job, or his functioning in other important areas of his life.

Regular crossdressers of the most common kinds rarely if ever meet those two criteria, although, like almost all other normal human beings, they may have periodic sexual fantasies of one sort or another.

Two-Spirited Persons: A Native American term for people who blend the masculine and the feminine. It was commonly used to describe anatomical women who took on the roles and/or dress of men and anatomical men who took on the roles and/or dress of women in the past. Antropologists of earlier generations used the term “berdache” in referring to such individuals, but Native Americans prefer the term “two-spirited person.” In the twenty-first century, many LGBT persons have adopted this term to refer to individuals with both feminine and masculine feelings within their own core selves. Many (but not all) crossdressers are two-spirited, at least to some degree, in that sense.

Validation: In the broadest sense, to validate means to substantiate or confirm. The special usage of the term “validation” among male-to-female transgender persons is to substantiate or confirm one’s femininity. Receiving attention from an attractive, masculine-appearing man may provide a sense of validation. That attention may include sexual attention (see “bisexuality” above).

WSW: This is a mnemonic for women who have sex with women. This term is used, particularly in research, to describe actual sexual behavior rather than sexual self-identities. Self-labeling correlates only weakly with actual behavior in a culture where homosexuality is widely disapproved. In a society with widespread disapproval of homosexuality, many people predictably will fudge their sexual orientations, either deliberately or unconsciously.




1Acknowledgement: This glossary is indebted to the work of Genny Beemyn, Professor of Gender Studies at the University of Massachusetts (Amherst, Massachusetts, USA). Professor Beemyn currently directs the Stonewall Center, a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) educational resource center at the University of Massachusetts.


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