Through the Looking Glass, Column 3

The Two Types of Trans People

Yes, you heard it right, ladies. I and many other people in the know believe there are two types of MTF trans people, not the traditional triumvirate of crossdressers, transsexuals, and drag queens, but a dynamic duo based on two rather distinct groups of transsexuals. I admire Prof. Ray Blanchard for recognizing this but sincerely regret the labels he and others use. Terms like ‘autogynephilia’ and the tone that often accompanies them are so menacing that they have caused most of us t-people to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

So, let me propose better names for the two types of trans people, describe us, and then tell you why most of us will still prefer the traditional trichotomy, or a nihilistic no-chotomy, to this more objective dichotomy. Then, as long as I’m being politically incorrect, next month I’ll take it a step further.

In my eye, we MTFs come in two varieties: love-to-be-femme and act-femme. Love-to-be-femme MTFs include crossdressers and most late-transitioning transsexuals, and our hallmarks are 1) We enjoy being women (and are deeply satisfied by anything that tells us that that’s what we’re doing). 2) We aren’t naturally effeminate (and certainly weren’t so as kids). 3) We’re attracted to women (whether we develop a fondness for men later on or not). 4) We gravitate toward business or technical careers.

Act-femme MTFs include drag queens and most early-transitioning (say before 30) transsexuals. Their hallmarks are 1) They act like women and were spontaneously effeminate even as children. 2) They don’t automatically love being women. If they’re well-received en femme, they seek it out. If not, they may be content to live more as drag queens or conventional gay men. 3) Most I’ve met will laugh off the idea of ever being attracted to a woman. 4) They gravitate toward people-oriented or creative careers.

So for Blanchard and others more astute than me, T is divisible by 2, not by three. It seems the t-world consists of love-to-be-femme folks and act-femme folks, and we all face the difficult decision of whether to pursue a full-time or part-time life as a woman or to somehow sublimate it all. Wow, does that explain a lot of what I’ve lived, seen, and heard about. That’s the baby’without the bathwater. I wish I had given birth to it myself.

Still, even couched in these terms, many in our community may find this distinction offensive, contest its validity’or both, as I might have at a more tender stage of my development. Why? I believe it’s because of the pull we humans feel between self-preservation and pursuit of truth, between what-seems-to-be and what-works-for-me. For instance, the love-to-be-femme/act-femme dichotomy links crossdressers with late-transitioning transsexuals, something that might not work so well for crossdressers or transsexuals. Most CDs fight hard to win their wives’ acceptance of their crossdressing without losing their marriages and families in the process. It’s much easier to win your wife’s approval if you see yourself as ‘just a kinky guy, nothing at all like a transsexual.’

On the other side, older transsexuals may find their kinship with crossdressers even more threatening as they struggle to keep their jobs and be accepted by their families. True or not, anything that suggests you might be in the slightest way similar to a CD may be damaging and demoralizing. So if a patient I’m working with assumes there’s only one kind of woman-trapped-in-the-body-of-a-man transsexual, I generally don’t mess with it. Moreover, past mental health practitioners have given such preferential treatment to act-femme TSs that love-to-be-femme types fear that they might be rejected for surgery. I apologize for my professional predecessors and assure you that most of us these days are either oblivious to the distinction or see both types as equally legitimate and likely to flourish.

So, my dear readers, you see why the hard line between crossdressers and transsexuals works so well for so many of us. And much as I believe in the scientific method, for beleaguered folks like us self-preservation must come first. Hopefully someday the world will be a safer place and each of us will have the luxury of a more objective outlook.

Tune in next month as I take the love-to-be-femme/act-femme distinction further and give it a surprising place in the GLBT universe. Life’s rich, complex, and full of possibilities. Be careful and enjoy!

Alice Novic, M.D.

To learn more about me than you’d ever dare to ask, please see my smart, sexy memoir, Alice in Genderland: A Crossdresser Comes of Age.

Also, if you wish to eMail Alice with Questions, Comments or Topics for Future Through the Looking Glass Articles, feel free to send her an eMail at or to Post any Comments below.