Complexities of gender non-conformity
August 13, 2023 Brianna Nicole Austin no responses

Navigating the Complexities of Gender Identity and its Subcategories

The complexities of gender identity and its subcategories can be difficult to navigate. These categories include, but are not limited to, Transsexuals, Crossdressers, Shemales, Drag Queens, and Sissies! In this blog post, we delve beyond simplistic labels and stereotypes, embarking on an exploration that challenges preconceived notions. Join us as we uncover stories that defy societal norms and celebrate the beauty of self-expression.

What is Gender Identity?

There are many different ways to identify one’s gender. For some people, their gender identity is in alignment with their biological sex; for others, it is not. Transgender people may identify as male, female, both, or neither. Cross-dressers usually identify with their birth sex and dress in the clothing of the opposite gender for fun, relaxation, or sexual purposes. “Shemales” are transgender women who may or may not undergo hormone therapy or sex reassignment surgery. Drag queens are men who dress up as women for entertainment purposes. This is why navigating the complexities of gender identity and its subcategories can be challenging. Visualize a rainbow and all the different hues there are. The same is true with gender identity.

Gender identity is a complex and nuanced thing that exists on a spectrum. It is different from sexual orientation, which refers to who someone is attracted to sexually. Gender identity is about how someone sees themselves and what gender they identify with. It is important to remember that gender identity is not a choice; it is something that a person discovers about themselves.

If you are questioning your own gender identity, it is important to explore your feelings and talk to someone who can support you through this process. There are many resources available to help you navigate your gender identity journey. Whatever path you choose, know that you are valid and loved just as you are.

The Complexities of Gender Identity and its Subcategories

Understanding the Differences between Transsexuals, Crossdressers, Shemales, and Drag Queens

When it comes to gender identity, there are a lot of labels out there. And while some people identify strongly with one label or another, for many people, the lines between these labels are blurred.  There has often been a long-raging debate among members of the LGBTQ community about whether “labels” are a good or bad thing. Some advocates put everyone under one umbrella, while others argue that the different sub-groups are all very different, and thus don’t belong grouped together. This is why the complexities of gender identity and its subcategories create so much debate. For example, post-operative transsexuals often argue that have nothing in common with crossdresses or drag queens.

I personally befriended a group of cross-dressers early in my own journey, but began to notice that while they seemed like me they weren’t of me. The more I listened to their points of view, it wasn’t that they were wrong but rather that what they were experiencing was different from my own. Would clear labels have been productive to steer me into the proper “like me” safe harbor? It certainly would have gotten me to my self-realizations quicker, but the counterpoint would be that I needed to stumble along the path to find the right one for me. Whether that is a better or worse thing is unknown. But if we’re going to categorize, at least in summary, then here are the broad — but very different — sub-groups in the transgender spectrum.

Types of Transgender Sub-groups

Transsexuals (also now known as trans-women) are individuals who feel that they were born in the wrong body. For transsexuals, their primary goal is to transition into the opposite sex through hormone therapy with surgery (Post-Op), or without surgery (Non-Op). During the past decade, there are many more transsexual women rising to prominence in entertainment, media, politics, and modeling.

Trans model Valentina Sampaio

Trans model Valentina Sampaio

Crossdressers are individuals who dress in clothing typically associated with the opposite sex. While some crossdressers may do this for sexual gratification, others do it simply for the enjoyment of dressing up. Most don’t identify as women, they just like to role-play and dress as women. During an interview, I had done a decade ago, a cross-dresser told me:

“It’s just something I like to do, no further exploration or understanding is needed.”

However, I would be remiss not to mention that there are trans-women that don’t yet know they’re trans-women, that may for a time — incorrectly — identify as cross-dressers, as was the case for me.  I know, the life of trans people is confusing and challenging.

Shemales is a term that was coined back in the 196os, referring to those who may or may not choose to undergo surgery to correct this condition. As such the term was loosely used for both post-op and non-op transsexuals; for the former they began life as men becoming women (or as close to women as aesthetically and chemically possible) while the latter did the same but retained their penis. The term is no longer often used, except for those presented in porn videos.

Coccinelle of France


Drag queens are individuals (typically gay men) who dress up as exaggerated versions of women for entertainment purposes. Drag queens typically perform in nightclubs or other venues where they can lip-sync and dance for an audience. However, through the decades they have evolved. Where at one time it was all about over-the-top glam and lipsyncing, a new crop of drag queens emerged. Randy Roberts took Las Vegas by storm by throwing out the over-the-top glam impersonation and replacing wit with a convincing presentation of a beautiful woman singing live. Jesse Volt turned to drag on its head when she began doing life-like versions (albeit still lipsync) of Pat Benetar and Cher, and also one of the best Joan Rivers impersonators, for which she won the Glammy Living Legend  Award in 2007. And suddenly a new form of trans-entertainers began to emerge in the early 2000s who were all live singers such as Bianca Leigh, or singer-songwriters, such s Lisa Jackson.  Many of today’s “drag” performers, could be considered trans-women, as they’ve grown breasts (or had implants) and live full-time as women. RuPaul another famous drag queen launched the Drag Race.

Rupaul's Drag Race

Sissies are another subgroup of transgender and have even more subsets within it. But in its simplest form, a sissy is not a girl, they are effeminate men that present as women. Typically they will never undergo genital surgery, as a small penis — usually caged in chastity  — is as much a symbol of their identity as is getting female breasts,  and having sex with men. Sissies are submissives, in that they tend to have a strong woman or man influencing their actions. Many are feminized, then sissified men who serve as housewives for strong women in female-led relationships (FLR).

Sissy life

Types of Sissies

While transsexual women — and even some cross-dressers — tend to dress very mainstream female, the fashion style for sissies can range widely.  They can dress in female clothing that ranges from pants or shorts showing off their pantyhose in very feminine shoes, to very frilly feminine dresses, to bimbo wear, petticoats, and maids outfits to 1950s housewives. This only scratches the surface.

You can find sissies engaged in the adult baby community, the B&D community, or the sissy maid in the servitude community. This category of sissies is defined more by the psychology of than the “femaleness”, though they strive endlessly to be as feminine as possible. Many evolve psychically (i.e. hormones, surgery, etc) the same way any trans-women (i.e. transsexual) would, always pushing the limits to achieve the most feminine presentation possible — but without sex reassignment surgery (though some will undergo castration).

FOOTNOTE: While the classic “drag queen” has far more in common with gay men, trans-women tend to have more in common with cis women.

Mental Health Needs of Gender Nonconforming Individuals

The complexities of gender identity and its subcategories make gender-nonconforming individuals a unique challenge to mental health professionals. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to understanding and addressing the needs of this population, as each individual’s experience is unique. However, there are some common themes and challenges that many gender-nonconforming individuals face.

Gender-nonconforming individuals often experience anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems at higher rates than the general population. It is why the suicide rate is high in this community. While many anti-trans people will conclude that trans people suffer because they are defiling human nature, I often opined that they suffer not from knowing who they are, but from society at large not willing to accept who they are. This may be less impactful for those that transition young, or those with naturally feminine attributes and are thereby undetectable by society at large.

Trans-people may also struggle with issues related to body image, sexuality, and social isolation. Many gender-nonconforming individuals suffer from feelings of shame and low self-worth due to the stigma and discrimination they face on a daily basis.

It is crucial for mental health professionals to be respectful and open-minded when working with gender-nonconforming clients. It is also essential to avoid making assumptions about an individual’s identity or experiences. Each person’s journey is different, and it is vital to meet them where they are in their process. By providing support and understanding, we can help gender-nonconforming individuals live healthy and fulfilling lives.

How to Support Gender Nonconforming People

Gender-nonconforming people are those who do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. This includes people who identify as transgender, crossdressers, shemales, and drag queens. There are many ways to support gender nonconforming people. Here are some things you can do:

Educate yourself about gender identity. This will help you better understand and support the person in your life who is gender nonconforming.

Be an ally. This means being an advocate for gender nonconforming people and standing up against discrimination. Trans rights are human rights and equal rights.

Respect the person’s pronouns and chosen name. Use the pronouns and name that the person has told you they prefer. It’s just common courtesy. If your name was Robert but you asked me to call you Bob, I’d call you Bob.

Listen and support the person’s journey. Each person’s experience with their gender identity is unique. Be there for them as they figure out what is right for them.

Common Misconceptions about Gender Nonconforming People

There are many misconceptions about gender nonconforming people. One common misconception is that they are all transgender. This is not the case. Gender-nonconforming people can be cisgender, meaning they identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. The actress Ruby Rose was born a woman, and often dresses as one, But she is equally as likely to dress more masculine. She is gender-nonconforming because she identifies as gender-fluid.

Another misconception is that gender-nonconforming people are all gay or lesbian. This is also not the case. Gender-nonconforming people can be straight, bisexual, pansexual, or any other sexuality.

Another common misconception is that gender-nonconforming people are all drag queens or crossdressers. Again, this is not the case. Drag queens and crossdressers are a subset of gender-nonconforming people, but there are many other gender-nonconforming people who do not dress in drag or cross-dress.

A common misconception is that all gender-nonconforming people must transition to another gender through hormones or surgery. This is not true! Some gender-nonconforming people do transition, but many do not and live happy and healthy lives without transitioning.

Tips for Navigating the Complexities of Gender Identity

There are a lot of different terms that fall under the umbrella of “gender identity.” Transsexuals, crossdressers, shemales, sissies, trans-women, trans-men,  drag queens and drag kings are all people who identify as and/or present as something other than their assigned gender. This can be a confusing and overwhelming topic for many people. People uneducated on the topic often assume gender non-conforming people are mentally ill, using talking points such as “I could feel like a dig, it doesn’t mean I am or could ever be one.” There is nothing necessarily wrong with being uneducated on a topic, we are all uneducated on one topic or another. However, when you are uneducated on a topic, refuse to get educated, yet still offer opinions as fact, with no possibility you can be wrong, you’ve then gone from uneducated to ignorant — many Americans (and other countries too) fall into this definition.

Here are some tips for navigating the complexities of gender identity:

1. Educate yourself on the different terms and what they mean. It’s important to understand the differences between these terms so that you can better understand the person you’re talking to.

2. Ask questions! If you’re unsure about something, don’t be afraid to ask questions. People who are comfortable with their gender identity are usually happy to answer questions and help educate others.

3. Be respectful. Remember that everyone’s experience with gender identity is unique and valid. Avoid making assumptions or judgments about someone’s gender identity based on your own limited understanding.


The complexities of gender identity and its subcategories are often a misunderstood concept that has only recently begun to be explored, despite the flurry of research in the 1960s. Harry Benjamin developed the Standards of Care, which are still used today for gender transition.  Transsexuals, crossdressers, shemales, and drag queens are all examples of individuals who explore and express their gender identity in different ways. Sissydom is a more hidden subset of the transgender community so it is not openly discussed.

It is important for us to remember that our labels are not the totality of our identities; they should instead act as tools for understanding ourselves better while allowing us to find solace among those with similar experiences. By embracing a fluid approach to gender identity, we can move past labels and celebrate the unique beauty found within each individual’s experience.

Research materials on Transsexualism include:

  • Benjamin, H (1950). “Endocrine gerontotherapy. The use of steroid hormone combinations in male patients”. J Insur Med6 (1): 12–7. PMID 14803776.
  • Benjamin, H (April 1954). “Transsexualism and transvestism as psychosomatic and somatopsychic syndromes”. Am J Psychother8 (2): 219–30. doi:10.1176/appi.psychotherapy.1954.8.2.219PMID 13148376.
  • Benjamin, H (1964). “Nature and management of transsexualism, with a report on thirty-one operated cases”. West J Surg Obstet Gynecol72: 105–11. PMID 14128591.
  • Benjamin, H (July 1964). “Clinical aspects of transsexualism in the male and female”. Am J Psychother18 (3): 458–69. doi:10.1176/appi.psychotherapy.1964.18.3.458PMID 14173773.
  • Benjamin, H (November 1964). “Transsexualism, ITS Nature and Therapy”. Nervenarzt35: 499–500. PMID 14320022.

Read more about my gender journey here.

As always, be happy, and always feel pretty!

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Brianna Nicole Austin is an author, writer, columnist and journalist and editor of from New York City, now living abroad.
Brianna Nicole Austin