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A Sicilian boy cross-dressing as a Spanish woman, photographed by Wilhelm von Gloeden in the late 19th century.

Transvestism (also called transvestitism) is the practice of dressing and acting in a style or manner traditionally associated with the other sex.


Coined as late as the 1910s, the phenomenon is not new. It was referred to in the Hebrew Bible.[1] The word has undergone several changes of meaning since it was first coined and is still used in a variety of senses. According to some sources, the term transvestite today is considered outdated and derogatory.[2]

Origin of the term[edit]

Magnus Hirschfeld coined the word transvestism (from Latin trans-, "across, over" and vestitus, "dressed") to refer to the sexual interest in cross-dressing.[3] He used it to describe persons who habitually and voluntarily wore clothes of the opposite sex. Hirschfeld's group of transvestites consisted of both males and females, with heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, and asexual orientations.[4]

Hirschfeld himself was not happy with the term: He believed that clothing was only an outward symbol chosen on the basis of various internal psychological situations.[3] In fact, Hirschfeld helped people to achieve the very first name changes (legal given names were and are required to be gender-specific in Germany) and performed the first reported sexual reassignment surgery. Hirschfeld's transvestites therefore were, in today's terms, not only transvestites, but a variety of people from the transgender spectrum.[3]

Hirschfeld also noticed that sexual arousal was often associated with transvestism. In more recent terminology, this is sometimes called autogynephilia. Hirschfeld also clearly distinguished between transvestism as an expression of a person's "contra-sexual" (transgender) feelings and fetishistic behavior, even if the latter involved wearing clothes of the other sex.[3] When speaking of to or about an individual who identifies as transgender, the term transvestite is typically seen as derogatory.


Main article: Cross-dressing
Yakkun Sakurazuka cross-dressing as a schoolgirl

After all the changes that took place during the 1970s, a large group was left without a word to describe themselves: heterosexual males (that is, male-bodied, male-identified, gynephilic persons) who wear traditionally feminine clothing. This group was not particularly happy with the term "transvestism", therefore the term "cross-dresser" was coined. [5] Cross-dressers are men who wear female clothing and often both admire and imitate women, but self-identify as different from both gay men and transsexuals, and generally deny having fetishistic intentions.

When cross-dressing occurs for erotic purposes over a period of at least six months and also causes significant distress or impairment, the behavior is considered a mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and the psychiatric diagnosis "transvestic fetishism" is applied.[6]


In some cultures, transvestism is practiced for religious, traditional or ceremonial reasons. For example, in India some male devotees of the Hindu god Krishna, especially in Mathura and Vrindavan, dress in female attire to pose as his consort, the goddess Radha, as an act of devotion.[7] In Italy, the Neapolitan femminielli (feminine males) wear wedding dresses, called the matrimonio dei femminielli (marriage of the femminielli), a procession takes place through the streets, a tradition that apparently has pagan origins.[8]

Image gallery[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Aggrawal, Anil. (April 2009). "References to the paraphilias and sexual crimes in the Bible". J Forensic Leg Med 16 (3): 109–14. doi:10.1016/j.jflm.2008.07.006. PMID 19239958. 
  2. ^ Thompson, Sarah. "Gender and Transgender in Modern Paganism page 118". 
  3. ^ a b c d Hirschfeld, Magnus: Die Transvestiten. Berlin 1910: Alfred Pulvermacher
    Hirschfeld, Magnus. (1910/1991). Transvestites: The erotic drive to cross dress. (M. A. Lombardi-Nash, Trans.) Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books.
  4. ^ Hirschfeld, Magnus. Geschlechtsverirrungen, 10th Ed. 1992, page 142 ff.
  5. ^ Bullough, Vern L. Cross Dressing, Sex, and Gender. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993. ISBN 0812214315
  6. ^ "DSM-V" (PDF). The DSM Diagnostic Criteria for Transvestic Fetishism. American Psychiatric Association. 2009. Retrieved February 4, 2013. 
  7. ^ Meet the crossdresser saints of UP. CNN-IBN. Retrieved 21 January 2013
  8. ^ Il mondo del "femminiello", cultura e tradizione. Retrieved 21 January 2013


External links[edit]

The dictionary definition of transvestite at Wiktionary