Notes on Gender Role Transition


T-Note #12



Transsexualism: An Expanded Definition

Anne Vitale PhD


March 27, 2006

Although it is a complex and only partially understood phenomenon, transsexualism is generally defined in simplistic terms. For example: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition defines a transsexual as:

1. One who wishes to be considered by society as a member of the opposite sex.
2. One who has undergone a sex change.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary defines it this way:

1. The state of being a transsexual.
2. The desire to change one's anatomic sexual characteristics to conform physically with one's perception of self as a member of the opposite sex.

WordNet, an online lexical reference system expands the definition somewhat: Transsexualism--n : condition in which a person assumes the identity and permanently acts the part of the gender opposite to his or her biological sex

The medical definition comes from an earlier edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders III (DSM III) (APA, 1987). (See Note 1)

Transsexualism 302.5x
The essential features of this heterogeneous disorder are a persistent sense of discomfort and inappropriateness about one’s anatomic sex and a persistent wish to be rid one’s genitals and to live as a member of the other sex. The diagnosis is made only if the disturbance has been continuous (not limited to periods of stress) for at least two years, is not due to another mental disorder, such as Schizophrenia and is not associated with physical intersex or genetic abnormality.

Although stinted and decidedly psychopathological in its tone, it does an accurate job describing only a portion of what it means to be transsexual. What it and the preceeding definitions lack is the more meaningful, life defining, implication being transsexual entails. It is similar to describing married life by only describing the courtship and the wedding ceremony. Clearly we know that there is more to being married than just wanting and then getting married.

An expanded definition might go something like this. Transsexualism is a state of existence in which one’s sense of gender identity differs markedly from that assigned at birth. As a consequence, transsexual individuals exist, from the very beginning of life, outside the standard, male/female binary gendering system. They can more accurately be described as being gender variant. Transsexualism is usually treated by a combination of psychological, hormonal and surgical means. Even though treatment enjoys an exceptionally high success rate, being gender variant is as permanent to transsexuals as being unambiguously male or female is to the general population. Transsexualism colors every aspect of the individual’s life from the cradle to the grave.

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Note 1, Transsexualism was replaced in DSM IV (1994) with the term Gender Identity Disorder.

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The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition,Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

WordNet, an online lexical reference system ® 2.0, © 2003 Princeton University

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders III . 3th ed- (1987), Washington, D.C. : American Psychiatric Association.

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV. 4th ed. (1994), Washington, D.C. : American Psychiatric Association.


Copyright 2006 Anne Vitale PhD All Rights reserved.

Disclaimer: Nothing on this site should be viewed as providing therapeutic advice. No formation of a client/therapist relationship with Dr. Vitale or the D Street Counseling Group is intended or to be implied or inferred. The information provided in this site is for educational purposes only. I attempt to keep the information current but make no representation or warranties in that regard. You should not rely upon this information as a substitute for consul with a qualified mental health professional.