Hi! I know that 'transsexual' and 'transvestite' are innapropriate words to use, but i've never been told why. I hope its okay for me to ask why, and if not i'm so sorry. (Disclaimer- i never use those words, im just trying to learn more about this)
No problem! A lot of the issue comes from the fact that those two words were both used before people really understood sex and gender. They thought they were the same thing, that gender was just an expression of sex.
Just yesterday I read a blogger who prefers transsexual over transgender for themself, so for anyone that embraces these labels, you’ve got my support 100%! I’m just answering the question of why some people don’t like these terms.
- Transvestite. Literally, “wearing the clothes of the other.” Some cis-people like to dress in the clothes of the other sex/gender, so they are not transgender, they just like wearing the clothes.
Psychologists used to consider this a fetish, a psychological problem, and that’s why the word transvestite doesn’t have a great history. It doesn’t recognize gender at all, historically it focuses on the sexualization of clothes.
Also, drag queens have in the past been labeled transvestites, which further confuses the word. Some drag queens are trans, some are gay or bi men who are just putting on a show, and while some queens may be technically transvestites, you can see how the word isn’t really accurate for transpeople who dress as they do because of their gender identity, not because of a clothing fetish.
- Transsexual. Many people feel that this term puts too much focus on surgery, genitalia and transition, vs. the authentic person and their gender identity. Laverne Cox brings this up when interviewers ask her about “the surgery” or “down there.”
Janet Mock and Carmen Carrera have brought up the exact same point in interviews.
Hope this helps! My recommendation is to follow cues and see how a person refers to themself.