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Don't go Down There!, Transgender versus Transsexualism, and what to do about them.

J.Yoo's picture

Don't go Down there!: Transsexual vs. Transgender

“The transsexual and transgender division is the same as the sex and gender division in that there are some differences, but nobody knows what they are.”

-Julia Regan-Fenelli


Transsexual (noun):

Pronunciation: /tran(s)ˈsekSHo͞oəl, træn(t)(s)ˈsɛkʃ(əw)əl/

a. a person who emotionally and psychologically feels that they belong to the opposite sex.

b. a person who has undergone treatment in order to acquire the physical characteristics of the opposite sex.

Transsexual (adjective):

of or relating to transsexuals.


Transgender (adjective):

Pronunciation: /tranzˈjendər, trans-, trænzˌʤɛndər/

(also transgendered)

identified with a gender other than the biological one


As far as I can tell, the Oxford Online Dictionary says that the difference between a transsexual individual and a transgendered one is that the later is either more accepting of their identity, or not seeking medical treatment to change their body to match their internal identity. Possibly both.


Meet Jazz Jennings (name changed), age six when the above picture was taken. Jazz was featured in a Barbara Walter's 20/20 special in 2007. Although born a boy with, as of yet, no female characteristics, Jazz proclaimed her femininity from an early age, trying to get her parents to let her use feminine pronouns and wear dresses. Her parents, Renee and Scott (names also changed), believed it to be a phase, and that the gender confusion would pass like it had for their other children. It never did; after associating the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel (DSM-IV), Jazz's pediatrician, and expert Dr. Marilyn Volker, Jazz was diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder. No one knows why some children develop this way, or why some of them feel so strongly about their gender. 

Jazz is now free to live her life as a girl, which to Jazz means dresses, long hair, and mermaids (most transgendered children have an affinity for mermaids, says Renee, because of their ambiguous genitalia), and luckily attends a school with unisex bathrooms and sports teams. Jazz's parents don't know how puberty will turn out for her, but they're willing to let Jazz take hormones and seek treatment to grow into the woman she wants to be. Still, they're leaving the door open, in case their daughter ever wants to present as male again. When asked, Jazz wondered, “But... why would I want to do that?” 

For now, Jazz is a transgender little girl, since she has not sought any medical treatments to help with her passing. For individuals who want to be transgender as opposed to transsexual, there are many passing technique. In Jazz's case, she will probably learn woman's grooming from her mother, including hair, skin, and general female maintenance. Her mother will probably also pass along her experience with clothing. Because Jazz is beginning so young, she probably won't have any problem learn to be a woman in western culture.


Children are fairly androgynous, so Jazz won't have to worry about things like shaving, makeup, and possibly stuffing a bra until she is older. Later, she may need to learn 'tucking,' or hiding the male genitals between the legs, using extra sets of woman's underwear, panty liners, and other techniques I won't go into. She will also need to learn how to pitch her voice, if she doesn't begin hormone replacement therapy before puberty. One of the most difficult things to learn, both beginner transwomen and transmen report, is the movement. In order to pass as a woman, you need to learn a woman's social cues; in western culture, most women sit with their legs together or crossed at the knee, some with their legs tucked under their bodies or cross-legged. Women tend to walk more with their hips instead of their knees.  


Transmen uninterested in medical procedures have to worry about binding their breasts; recommended methods include multiple sports bras, ace bandages (broad), and compression garments, traditionally used by men with gynecomastia. If interested, transmen can also 'pack,' a method of filling underwear to create a more masculine groin (packing methods include socks, rags, and specially created penis-like attachments). Transmen also need to learn to deepen their voices if they don't use hormone replacement therapy.

Similarly, the most difficult aspect of manhood for a new transman is how to act and move. Relearning life as a man is just as difficult as relearning life as a woman. Men tend to pull into themselves, not gesture as much.

As seems to be the way with most things in life, confidence is most important when presenting as the opposite gender; lack thereof may not out you, but it will alert people that something is wrong. A woman name Tami who helps transmen and transwomen practice passing reports,

“...I took a [male-to-female cross dresser] to this club and we sat for about 2 hours talking and drinking soda and I danced a few times and we left. I almost had to carry my client out, she was so nervous she could hardly walk.

"Another [male-to-female cross dresser] went with me to the same club, we sat and laughed and looked at other people and she even danced a couple of times with me (first time ever dancing, in male or female mode, she did great, no one cares how you dance!!)

"A comparison by the wait staff and my observations was the the second person I came in with was more relaxed (a very tough thing to do when first out) and actually acted like a woman, smiling and moving naturally.

"The first client was quiet (which is fine) but kept her head down, never made eye contact with anyone but me, and acted so nervous that she attracted more attention than she should have. She appeared to be a victim just waiting to be pounced upon. I held her hand and talked constantly to her to re-assure her and never pushed her into dancing, or trying to dance. She stood out for the wrong reasons, her dress, makeup, hair and appearance was perfect, it was the person inside that "outed" her.”


In contrast, the woman on the left is Heidi Krieger, age twenty-one when this picture was taken at the 1986 European Championships. Heidi took the gold in shot put, where put the shot (a 4 kg, 8.2 pound ball) over twenty-one meters (sixty-five feet). Unfortunately, her success was due to Oral-Turinabol, an experimental steroid unknowingly given to an estimated 10,000 East German men, women, and adolescences over a twenty year period during a series of human experiments in the late sixties. Heidi was later switched to STS 646, an anabolic steroid that caused male characteristics in women at a rate 16 times that of Oral-Turinabol, increasing her masculine features and characteristics beyond what her body could handle. In 1990, Heidi was forced to retire.

The man on the right is Andreas Krieger, age thirty-eight in 2004. Heidi, no longer able to live life as a woman, underwent gender reassignment to become Andreas in 1995. Though Heidi had experienced gender confusion before beginning her steroid regime, Andreas felt the drugs had taken his choice. “I had no sympathy with my body, it had changed beyond all recognition,” he has said, “It was as though they had killed Heidi. Becoming Andreas was the next logical step.” On May 2, 2000, Krieger appeared in court, along with 140 other East German athletes, against Manfred Höppner and Manfred Ewald, heads of the steroid testing.


There, Krieger met his future, wife, Ute Krause (shown right), a swimmer who was also caught in the experiments. Krause left the athletic world in 1983; because she had not had the same steroid exposure as Heidi, she did not suffer the same effects and did not have to change her gender. 

Transsexual men and women can seek hormone replacement therapy if they want to live, biologically, as the gender of their choice. For male-to-female, this includes taking estrogen, antiandrogens, and progesterone, if needed. For female-to-male, this usually means testosterone (colloquially referred to as 'T') or other androgens.

Transgendered individuals and transsexual individuals both identify with a gender they weren't born with, but find a way to mold their bodies into more comfortable forms.


SOURCES this one is slightly graphic, and details how to tuck and tape the male genitals to create a more feminine groin.



Jazz Jennings:

Heidi Krieger:

Andreas Krieger, holding a picture of Hedi:

Andreas Krieger and wife, Ute Krause:

T-kingdom woman posing in a white binder:



Brent Lorenz's picture

Jazz Jenning is a real female

When I look at Jazz Jennings I see someone who is all female to me and not transgender. I feel that she needs to love herself for who she is because I know I do.

Brent Earl Lorenz's picture

Transgender community

I am wondering that if one can at least better as Jazz Jennings be so wonderfully beautifully the best dressed female ever. So gets the award from my company for being the best dressed.

Anne Dalke's picture

Disordered bodies, or disordered social practices?

what a wealth of information you've gathered! You offer the start of a real education here for anyone wanting to explore these varieties of ways of positioning and performing ourselves in the world; thanks for all the rich research. Thanks, too, for exploiting some of the resources of the web to illustrate your essay w/ some images. Also: be sure to check out the posting merlin just did, about the "youngest ever sex-change patient."

There's more I want to know, of course, and not just about ways of passing. My questions are both personal and more largely social and intellectual. I'm curious, first, about what all you've reported means to you:  How do you position yourself in terms of androgynous or gender-specific presentation? Wherein lie your own investments, engagements, and interest in transgender and transsexualism? Are you sympathetic to the activities you describe, put off by them, feeling voyeuristic or excited or disturbed? I'd like to see you locate the material you present, in other words, in relation to yourself. I can't tell who is speaking here, or how or why you care about what you are saying.

Shifting from the micro to the macro: what are the implications of the stories you provide for the issues we've been discussing in class regarding normalizing the gender binary? Does the ways folks manage the transition seem to you examples of Haraway's cyborg-ness, or an avoidance of that state? A way of increasing or narrowing the spectrum of the rainbow Roughgarden describes? Do these forms of self-shaping presume, in Parens' language, that the folks involved have "disordered bodies," or that "we have disordered social practices"? What do you make, having done all this research, of his claim that "it is our responsibility to establish new norms" (by recognizing atypical anatomies), and so resolve the tension between the master narrative of the "scientific fix" and the need to affirm human variation? What do you make, now, knowing more about transexuality, of Housman's observations about the "paradox" of the condition: that " technological intervention is necessary to realize the being of the transsexual subject, not an intervention but the rectification of an unnatural situation"?