First of all, they are not at all the same. To understand these terms, we must first understand the difference between biological sex and gender identity. Biological sex is a physical condition, identified at birth by one’s primary sex characteristics (penis and scrotum for males and vulva, labia, clitoris, and vagina for females). Gender identity is a combination of one’s personal internal recognition of the gender that is one’s own, the degree to which that internal recognition conforms or fails to conform to one’s biological sex, and how one desires to be recognised by others: as male, female, or genderqueer. Transgender, transsexual, and crossdressing people may have any sexual orientation.
- Transgender is an umbrella term referring to people whose gender identity differs from the social expectations for the biological sex identified as theirs at birth (using primary sex characteristics). Since these social expectations include gender roles (feminine women and masculine men), people who do not conform to prescribed gender roles may be considered part of the transgender community. A transgender person may or may not ever choose to become transsexual.
- Transsexual refers to a person who experiences a mismatch of the body and the brain and sometimes undergoes medical treatment, including hormone therapy and sexual reassignment surgery, to change physical sex to match gender identity.
- Crossdressers (formerly known as transvestites) are people who like to dress in the clothing of the gender identity opposite to that considered socially appropriate to their biological sex. Most crossdressers are content with their own biological sex and gender identity. Most crossdressers do not want to be the other biological sex or to be another gender.