First of all, there is a big difference between being transgendered and being a transsexual. Transgender folk feel like the opposite sex mentally. Transsexuals desire to change their bodies to become the opposite sex physically.
You might think these always go hand and hand, but they don't have to. I met a transsexual once who went from male to female physically, but continued to live as a male. He was completely happy with his identity as a male, but plain and simply couldn't tolerate his male physical self.
I also know a transgendered person who lives and works as a woman with complete success, but absolutely never wants to have sex reassignment surgery. She was born male and loves her male sexuality but feels completely female of mind.
I bring these examples up to illustrate a well-known psychological distinction - the difference between gender dysphoria and genital dysphoria.
In plain language, "dysphoria" means "can't tolerate." In the real world, it means you are so unhappy with the way things are that you are nervous, anxious, and may even consider suicide to end the mental anguish.
"Gender" is not about what's between your legs. It refers to your gender identity, and that is best described not as male or female but as masculine or feminine. In the real world the term "gender" is bandied about as if it were a synonym for "physical sex." You see it when filling out applications -"Gender - M or F."
But gender is really all about your emotions (and, as we shall later see, also about the way you think logically too!) In short, are you happy and satisfied with the way society treats you on the basis of gender or are you not?
If you like some parts the role society lays out for you, but don't like others, or even if you like all of the role you are assigned, but yearn to experience some aspects of the other, you are not alone!
In fact, there are very few people who are one hundred percent of one gender and nothing of the other. Laying it out flat: everyone is transgender to some degree or other.
It is when that degree is very large that the feelings of dysphoria become very strong, and that is when people begin to question their gender identity.
If society allowed and completely supported any individual acting and dressing any way he or she wanted, there would still be two genders but they wouldn't be based on physical sex. But society isn't like that. Even today, society expects men to act like men and women to act like women. And so, since just about everyone has some degree of transgenderism, just about everyone feels at least a little constrained in their assigned gender role.
Think of gender not as a binary choice of one thing or another, but as a spectrum or range with "Masculine" on one end of the line and "Feminine" on the other. If you had to class any given person on that scale, you would place them somewhere along the line between the two.
But in reality, that just sums up all of a person's traits, averages them together like making a smoothie in a blender, and then describes what the whole thing tastes like.
A better way to think about gender is as a collection of distinct traits, each of which has a range from masculine to feminine. For example, does liking to watch football mean a person is masculine gendered? Of course not. Like me, you probably know a lot of women who enjoy football, though most, it is true, do not.
Does enjoying knitting prove someone is of a feminine gender? Nope. My daughter is an award-winning knitter, and her fiancée has taken up the craft with great enthusiasm. He's a masculine dude, but finds it a relaxing hobby.
Still, do real men not eat quiche, as the book title states? Society would have you think so. Just look at television commercials and you'll see that 98% of them cast men and women in masculine and feminine roles based on their physical sex, as if the two attributes were tied to each other.
How did it get like this? Simple, really. Society is like a living machine. It doesn't care if you are happy; it just cares if you do your job. It assigns jobs to those best equipped to handle them - that's how society keeps itself strong.
Due to differences in the brains of men and women and also due to the effects of testosterone vs. estrogen, adult men and women are not equally equipped, mentally and physically.
For example, if have a need for big strong people to help lift heavy loads, you'll find more men than women. There aren't a lot of women working on moving vans, for example. Men, in general, are just physically bigger and stronger than women.
But, when it comes to handling electronic components on an assembly line, you'll find almost only women. Women's brains (and hormones) make them far more patient with repetitive tasks then men for whom it is almost torture.
So, society keeps itself efficient by creating unspoken boundaries between the sexes that guide men and women into activities for which they will be most efficient overall.
Though just about everybody is transgender in at least a few small ways, there are so many different kinds of jobs, activities, and lifestyles available that nearly everyone can find a niche in society where they perform a function and fit in with others who are attracted to that niche.
Think of all the stereotypes - the computer geek, the debutante, the football player, the housewife. There's a job, activity, or role for just about everyone - just about. But for some of us, no matter which niche we tried, we found the fit a little too tight, like a pair of jeans a size too small.
Can you still squeeze into them? Sure. But are you comfortable? Not hardly.
Suppose the jeans were two sizes too small? Or three? What if they were so small you couldn't get into them at all? Well, this describes the varying degrees of gender dsyphoria.
Most people have such a mild case of gender dysphoria that they can forge a happy life, even if the jeans don't exactly fit in all areas. After all, how many of us can't buy off the rack and need tailored clothes instead?
But if the role is too tight, we live uncomfortably. The worse the fit, the more we chaff and fidget. Eventually, we may become so uncomfortable that we think perhaps a different role would fit better.
But how can we tell without actually trying it on? And therein lies the rub, as it were. How can we go about sampling the other role without destroying everything we've built in our current role - relationships, seniority, perhaps career recognition?
For males seeking to explore the female society role, the first step is often cross-dressing. For women , the tendency is to explore being a tomboy. Why the difference? In society, the male role is a lot more restrictive. So, any outward expression of feminine traits brings immediate ridicule. In addition, men are not "allowed" by society to wear anything pertaining to the opposite sex. So, alone, at home, men exploring their gender identity will try on female clothing as an aid to imagining themselves as women, so they can act, move, and even practice speaking as a woman.
Now there's an important differentiation here. So far, we've said nothing about sexual stimulation, essentially, what turns you on? Does cross-dressing turn you on? If it does, does it mean you are a transvestite rather than a transsexual. Naw. Not that simple.
What turns us on is as unconnected to any other traits as gender dysphoria is independent of genital dysphoria. For example, gay men come in a whole range of varieties from very feminine to very masculine. But, they all like other men. Some like women too. And some are auto erotic.
Some who like women also are really bisexual. Some straight men to also like men a bit are bisexual. But like everything else, it is a matter of degree - do you find both sexes equally attractive? Do you find one more than the other? Are you attracted to one of the sexes but also to just one attribute of another?
Many gay men who would never want to make love to a woman find themselves oddly titillated by female breasts. Go figger. In a phrase, anything goes. So, when trying to figure yourself out, don't box yourself in.
If you are turned on by cross-dressing, you might just be a cross-dresser who gets off on the experience. Nothing wrong with that at all. As we used to say in the 70's, "Whatever turns you on."
But, a lot of true, majorly dysphoric transsexuals also started by cross-dressing and were also stimulated by it. I can tell you for a fact that a little known secret is that many 'true" transsexuals who started out men but whose minds are totally female still get turned on by wearing women's clothes everyday, even decades after having sex reassignment surgery. What's more, a lot of born women get turned on by their clothes as well. Why do you think lingerie is so popular? You think women do it just for the guys?
Any time anyone enjoys some kind of activity sexually, it is a normal reaction. When a lot of people do the same thing, society either condones it or looks the other way. For example, men and women can kiss in public, but look what happens if two people of the same sex kiss in a shopping mall in most parts of the world.
Whenever less than a majority of people engage in a particular form of sexual gratification, it is branded a fetish by society, which frowns on "aberration" because it threatens the efficient operation of the social machine. But there's really nothing wrong with it per se - it just gums up the works of the Great Engine of Society.
Not all transgendered or transsexual folk start by cross-dressing. Some bypass it completely. Those are the ones for whom gender dysphoria is really strong but genital dysphoria is weak. In other words, they like their bodies but want to express themselves femininely.
So what about this "genital dysphoria" anyway? Some clever person described genital dysphoria in born males as "venus envy." In short, they want to swap their genitalia for the other kind.
Again, this can simply be a comfort thing where you feel as if you have some sort of alien growth between your legs, feel unclean, and have to change it to the other kind. Or, it can be a sexual thing where you have no particular attachment to what you've got, but would really enjoy wearing the other sex as your body.
Once more, a lot more women than men get off on their own bodies. Women's brains and hormones tend to make them feel more like the bait wiggling on the hook than the fish looking for a quick lunch. Who do you think enjoys mirrored ceilings more? (And speaking of mirrors, how often do you see women checking out their reflections? In men it is seen as vanity, in women, well, "Woman, thy name is vanity." In other words, its normal for girls.
Okay, I've dumped a lot of information on you, especially if you are a beginner just trying to understand yourself.
So how can you find the answer to the question, "Am I a transsexual?"
While there is no single test you can take or single activity you can do to answer this question objectively, I've listed a number of smaller questions and tasks below that will enable you to answer this question for yourself with confidence.