March 25, 2014

A Creative Transgender Vocabulary - from Butch to Woodworking

Photo by Jayfish, Thinkstock
Here is the final post in my Crossdreamer Vocabulary. In this post I include the remaining letters of the alphabet (W and beyond) as well as entries that have been suggested by others (and me) since the first post.

Remember that these entries are not so much dictionary definitions as mini blog posts on topics of relevance to crossdreamers and transgender people.


A butch is a lesbian woman who expresses a strong masculine identity.Her masculinity is real, and her butch appearance is her way of expressing that identity.

In spite of what many people believe, she is not necessarily  imitating men, although she will often make use of clothing of symbols associated with male masculinity. She may also express some of the personality traits associated with men. Many butches will, for instance, stress the role of being their lover's protector.

Butches may often hook up with more feminine "femme" lesbians, but butch/butch relationships are not unheard of. If you are searching for simple models of sex and gender, this is not the place to look.

Photo by Scott Griessel, Thinkstock
The reason crossdreamers should study the loves of butches is found in the similarity between some female to male crossdreamers and lesbian butches. Some (but in no way all) FTM crossdreamers express a masculinity similar to the one of butches, the main difference being their sexual attraction to men as opposed to the lesbian desire for women. This tells me that sexual orientation is not the only way of approaching the mysteries of sex and gender.

Note also the similarities between the butch/FTM trans man debate and the discussion of the relationship between crossdressers/crossdreamers and transsexuals on the other. There is no clear border between being butch and being a female to male trans man. Many trans men starts out as butches. In the same way many  trans women start out as crossdreamers. In spite of this, transsexuals and non-transsexual gender variant people spend a lot of time distancing themselves from the other group, most likely because they fear that the other group implicitly threaten their sex identity.

Many butches crossdream, in the sense of getting aroused by taking on the traditional male role in seduction and love making. The art of "packing" strap-on dildos as part of the ritual tells me that this crossdreaming also includes the bodily aspect.

Cultural dissonance

My friend Natalie from Thailand suggested that I include the term "cultural dissonance" in the transgender vocabulary. She writes:

 "This one I feel refers to how many enlightened and educated transgender and other gender-variant folks and even homosexuals/bisexuals suddenly feel a sense of total alienation/isolation in the respective cultures they are brought up in after they learn about their condition either from internet or from other sources. 

"Not because of the fact that they are different from the norm (which they anyways have felt forever) but because of the simple realization that their society is not aligned along the way they feel it should be to accommodate such a huge gender and sexual diversity, and also the awareness that such a massive change may not even take place for long unless a huge cultural war takes place soon.

"I have been observing this trend among many MTFs, FTMs and even the non-dysphoric crossdreamers who sometimes say: 'I am more unhappy after being educated about the natural reality than I was when I was ignorant about everything. Because after I have known all this, what can I do to create the ideal society that is close to nature? My society is nowhere matured enough to deal with this!'"

But we are working on it!

Double Bind

Crossdreamers are facing a lot of "double binds", (conflicting messages, in which one message negates the other). Here are some I have found when discussing this with  crossdreamers.

1. Some  crossdreamers have no wish to be the opposite sex (relative to their birth sex). Still, their bodies and minds tell them that an important part of them is -- in one sense -- of the opposite sex. They find no language to express this conflict.

2. Many MTF crossdreamers are not attracted to men sexually, but they may fantasize about affirmed as a woman by a man in bed, all the same. In the same way FTM crossdreamers may be attracted to men, sexually, but they fall for  feminine or gay men, which gives them a role that is undefined in our societies.

3. Crossdreamers most often fear the social stigma that is attached to being transgender/gender queer/gender variant. Nevertheless: they do understand that they are different in some way, and they may also realize their crossdreaming will not go away.

4. Many crossdreamers experience crossdreaming as something positive and life affirming. The society around them, however, ridicule men who identify with women, as well as "mannish" women. They have faced a medical system that has done everything in its power to stigmatize them as mentally ill. It takes stamina and courage to defend your true self in the face of such an onslaught.

Facing all these seemingly impossible dilemmas, some crossdreamers close off their sexual desire in desperation. "If I cannot have a sex life in harmony with what I feel, it is much better to feel nothing at all." For others the libido is channeled into depression or hyperactivity. Others live with the tensions between these seemingly irreconcilable opposites on a daily basis.

Inner Closet 

The term "inner closet" was coined by Jonathan Rauch in the book Denial, My 25 Years Without a Soul.  Rauch is a gay man, but the term also fits well with the experience of many transgender persons, whether they are transsexual or not.
Cover of Rauch's book about living in denial.

In the outer closet one is trying to maintain a false front to the world. In the inner closet, however, one is trying to fool oneself.

Rauch  puts it this way:

"In the inner closet, the delusion ensnares its weaver, at least to an extent. One tells oneself white lies and makes excuses to explain away the obvious. 'Not homosexual -- bisexual, maybe.' 'Just randy those nights and feeling lonely.' 'Just a phase.'"

But there is even a third place, Rauch argues, a closet beyond the inner closet called "the alien landscape of inversion".

"In this place, it is a dead certainty that one is not homosexual; and instead of turning oneself upside-down to fool the world, one turn the world upside-down. This third zone, in which confusion and evasion are so pervasive as to create a self-contained world of rational lunacy, is all but impenetrable."

Rauch compares this place to a photographic negative. Things are in proper proportions and relation to each other, and you can live in this world for a long time. But if you for some reason manage to see the positive -- your real nature -- the negative's unreal nature becomes painfully clear.

Inner Gender 

Natalie also suggested the term "inner gender" to accompany the terms gynephilic (loving women) and androphilic (loving men).

She says:

"The definition [of an androphilic, man-loving, or gynephilic, woman-loving, sexual orientation] should ideally pertain to the inner gender the person is attracted to rather than the outer physical sex. 

"In case of transgendered people, it refers to their inner gender as much as for non-transgendered people. For transsexual people, this inner gender does not change but it is the outer sex that is changed to match this inner gender. So it is the inner gender that should always assume a greater significance.

"This makes it also significant in non-transgender attractions because a masculine-man<->effeminate male sexuality is not same as masculine-male<->masculine-male sexuality. In various cultures including traditional Thai society, while the former is referred to as 'gay', the latter is accommodated silently within the mainstream 'straight' category without giving it any social marker or identification at all!"

In other words: In some contexts and in some cultures people are able to see past the biological sex and affirm the inner identity of another person even if this identity is different from the one found in his or her passport.

Masculinity and Femininity

The terms of masculinity and femininity pose some serious problems for crossdreamers trying to understand themselves, not because there is no such things as masculinity and femininity --  there clearly are -- but because the concepts are so hard to pin down.
Yin and yang. Illustration by
nickylarson974, Thinkstock.

The main problem is that the words are associated with biological sex. Masculine comes from Latin mas, a word meaning "male person", while feminine comes from femina, meaning female.

This means that we immediately classify those traits, abilities and temperaments that are assigned to men in our culture as masculine, and those that are assigned to women as feminine. Such gender roles and expectations will, however, change from culture to culture as well as over time, which makes it impossible to give the terms a clear and precise meaning.

Furthermore, the link to biological sex makes it hard to understand female masculinity and male femininity as something normal. Instead it becomes redefined as something abnormal and wrong -- something to be avoided. Hence maxims like "boys don't cry" and "women do not ride motorcycles", even if we all know that most men are born to cry and women can be excellent bikers.

I wish we had words for femininity and masculinity that were gender neutral and unbiased as regards worth and value. Maybe the Asian concepts of yin and yang comes closer to what we need, as the two phenomena are understood as complementary and equally important. Moreover yin contains a bit of yang, and yang contains a bit of yin, telling us that these are not absolute categories.

The fluidity of the concepts of masculine and feminine have made some post-modern philosopher conclude that they are nothing but a social construction forcing people to perform according to gender normative scripts of behavior. A butch is not really masculine. She only plays the role of a man. Everything would be much easier, if that was true. But the deep-felt masculine identity of butches and the gender dysphoria of many trans people tells me that this goes far deeper than mere role playing. In other words, there is something deeper that instills some (but not all) to make use of culturally defined gender symbols to express their inner selves.


M/M romance fiction is a sub-genre of so-called slash fiction (hence the / in Male Slash Male). Slash fiction was originally understood as fan fiction about same-sex relationships between known characters from books and movies. M/M romance novels, on the other hand, are erotic stories about original male characters written by women for women. The novels are now being sold by regular publishers in large quantities.
M/M romance by Running Press

An interview with female M/M authors done by OUT indicates that some of them are gender variant themselves -- if not transsexual, at least gender bending girlfags.

One of them puts it this way:

"For a long time, I thought I was transgender [from the context it is clear that she means transsexual]. I thought I literally was a gay man trapped in a woman's body. Now I'm just confused. I don't really identify with either gender. But it's taken me 40 years to get to this point."

It seems to me that both authors and readers are crossdreamers in the sense that they find these gay male sex fantasies arousing. Implicitly they identify with one of the male characters. 

A parallel to M/M erotica is found in the yaoi comic culture, with gay male erotic stories written by women for women.

It is also interesting to see that also lesbians may make use of gay male porn as a stimulant, which tells me that this type of fascination is not a product of a specific sexual orientation.


Whiplash is the feeling of exhaustion, sadness and shame that may follow after a strong surge that is accompanied by an orgasm. This release of pent up crossdreaming may lead to a kind of emotional vacuum  some crossdreamers think resembles normalcy.
(Hat tip to Sean)


There are crossdreamers who transition and who are never seen again. They might have been active participants in online transgender forums, but as soon as they have become their target sex in the eyes of the world they leave the transgender community. They have a lot of catching up to do, so it is hard to blame them for this. They should be allowed to go on with their lives. Still, I wish more of them visited us once in a while and shared some of their life experience.

I suspect that some woodworking is caused by the fact that the surrounding society either resent  transsexuals, or it insists that they should blend in, never to challenge the given gender roles again.

Words that do not belong in a crossdreamer vocabulary


This is a quasi-scientific term used to describe female to male crossdreamers. Dr. Ray Blanchard actually suggested that the term should be included in the latest edition of the American Psychiatric manual as a paraphilia comparable to "autogynephilia" for male to female crossdreamers. It later turned out he did this in order to placate angry feminists. He does not really believe female to male crossdreamers exist.

This argument was so bizarre that the proposal was dismissed. The millions of female to male crossdreamers out there may now sleep soundly knowing that they are not perverts in the eyes of American psychiatry. They may find the "fact" that they do not actually exist a bit harder to digest, though.


These days many male to female crossdreamers discover that they are not alone by reading about Dr. Ray Blanchard's autogynephilia theory. Blanchard does, indeed, describe male to female crossdreamers, and some crossdreamers therefore mistakenly believe that this is a neutral, descriptive, scientific term for who they are. It is not.

The word itself (love of oneself as a woman) does in fact include a deeply sexist and misleading understanding of what crossdreaming is. Moreover, the theory has been thoroughly debunked. The term should therefore only be used to describe the theory, and never as a term for crossdreamers.


"I may be a crossdresser, but at least I am not gay!" From time to time I hear statements like this one, and I find them utterly bewildering.  I guess this points to some kind of underlying hierarchy of sexual offenses, and men having sex with men is the biggest no no.

This homophobia may be strengthened by same-sex feelings among male to female crossdreamers. Many of them do actually fantasize about having sex with a man, as a woman. The more I learn about crossdreaming, the clearer it becomes that our binary understanding of sexual orientation is completely inadequate.


Many crossdreamers are transphobic, in the sense that they express strong negative feelings about transgender and transsexual people.  This may come as a surprise to outsiders, as it is pretty clear that crossdreamers  themselves are transgender (in the wide sense of being gender variant). Some are even transsexual.

The explanation for this paradox is found is normally found in their upbringing and social conditioning. They have been brought up to believe trans equals perversion. Now they try to dismiss any doubts about their own sexuality and identity by dismissing all those who may undermine their self image.

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