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Further information: Cross-dressing

Transvestism is the practice of dressing in a manner traditionally or stereotypically associated with a different gender.

The terms transvestism and transvestite were coined by Magnus Hirschfeld in 1910. In the early 20th century, transvestite referred to cross-dressers, and also a variety of people who would now be considered transgender.

The term transvestite is now considered outdated and derogatory, and has been replaced with the more neutral word cross-dresser.[1]


Though the term was coined as late as the 1910s by Magnus Hirschfeld, the phenomenon is not new. It was referred to in the Hebrew Bible.[2] Being part of the homosexual movement of Weimar Germany in the beginning, a first transvestite movement of its own started to form since the mid-1920s, resulting in founding first organizations and the first transvestite magazine, Das 3. Geschlecht. The rise of National Socialism stopped this movement from 1933 onwards.[3]


Magnus Hirschfeld coined the word transvestite (from Latin trans-, "across, over" and vestitus, "dressed") in his 1910 book Die Transvestiten (Transvestites) to refer to the sexual interest in cross-dressing.[4] 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.[5]

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.[4] In fact, Hirschfeld helped people to achieve the first name changes (legal given names were 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.[4]

Hirschfeld also noticed that sexual arousal was often associated with transvestism.[4] In more recent terminology, this is sometimes called transvestic fetishism.[6] 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.[4]

The use of the term travesti meaning cross-dresser was already common in French in the early 19th century,[7] from where it was imported into Portuguese, with the same meaning.[8]


Today, the term transvestite is commonly considered outdated and derogatory, with the term cross-dresser used as a more appropriate replacement.[1][9][10][11]

The term transvestite was historically used to diagnose medical disorders, including mental health disorders, and transvestism was viewed as a disorder, while the term cross-dresser was coined by the trans community.[1][12]

In some cases, the term transvestite is seen as more appropriate for use by members of the trans community instead of by those outside of the trans community, and some have reclaimed the word.[13]

Transvestism as a “disorder”[]

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.[14]

The International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD) listed dual-role transvestism (non-sexual cross-dressing) and fetishistic transvestism (cross-dressing for sexual pleasure) as disorders in ICD-10 (1994).[15][16] Both items were removed for ICD-11 (2022).[17]

See also[]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 (2011) Safe Spaces: Making Schools and Communities Welcoming to LGBT Youth, ABC-CLIO. "Cross-dresser/cross-dressing. (1) The most neutral word to describe a person who dresses, at least partially or part of the time, and for any number of reasons, in clothing associated with another gender within a particular society. Carries no implications of 'usual' gender appearance, or sexual orientation. Has replaced transvestite, which is outdated, problematic, and generally offensive since it was historically used to diagnose medical/mental health disorders."
  2. Aggrawal, Anil. (April 2009). References to the paraphilias and sexual crimes in the Bible. J Forensic Leg Med 16 (3): 109–14.
  3. Rainer Herrn: Die Zeitschrift Das 3. Geschlecht in: Rainer Herrn (ed.): Das 3. Geschlecht – Reprint der 1930 – 1932 erschienenen Zeitschrift für Transvestiten, 2016, ISBN 9783863002176, p. 231 ff.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 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.
  5. Hirschfeld, Magnus. Geschlechtsverirrungen, 10th Ed. 1992, page 142 ff.
  6. American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5, Fifth, 685–705, Arlington, Virginia: American Psychiatric Publishing.
  7. Template:Cite Q, Volume II, p. 896
  8. Porto Editora – travesti no Dicionário Infopédia da Língua Portuguesa [em linha]. Porto: Porto Editora. Accessed on 2024-05-02 20:58:24.
  9. (2015) Transgender Communication Studies: Histories, Trends, and Trajectories, Lexington Books. "Eventually, the transvestite label fell out of favor because it was deemed to be derogatory; cross-dresser has emerged as a more suitable replacement (GLAAD, 2014b)."
  10. Zastrow, Charles (2016). Empowerment Series: Introduction to Social Work and Social Welfare: Empowering People, Cengage Learning. "The term transvestite is often considered an offensive term."
  11. (2021) "Glossary" Social Work and Health Care Practice With Transgender and Nonbinary Individuals and Communities: Voices for Equity, Inclusion, and Resilience, 1st, New York, NY: Routledge. "Transvestite: Outdated term previously used to describe a cross-dresser. Now considered pejorative."
  12. David A. Gerstner (2006). Routledge International Encyclopedia of Queer Culture, Routledge. "A variety of derogatory terms are still used to describe any aspect of the transgender condition. [...] The term transvestite being older [than cross-dresser] and associated with the medical community's negative view of the practice, has come to be seen as a derogatory term. [...] The term cross-dresser, in contrast, having come from the transgender community itself, is a term seen as not possessing these negative connotations."
  13. (2013) Sexuality and Gender for Mental Health Professionals: A Practical Guide, SAGE Publications. "The term transvestite should not be considered to be a safe term, and should certainly not be used as a noun, as in 'a transvestite'. Instead, and only when relevant, the term trans person should be used. [...] There are some people who have reclaimed the word transvestite and may also use the word tranny or TV to refer to themselves and others. [...] The term cross-dressing too is somewhat outdated and problematic as not only do many fashions allow any gender to wear them -- at least in many contemporary Western societies -- but it also suggests a strict dichotomy being reinforced by the person who uses it."
  14. DSM-V. The DSM Diagnostic Criteria for Transvestic Fetishism. American Psychiatric Association.
  15. ICD-10 Version:2016.
  16. ICD-10 Version:2016.
  17. Bollinger, Alex The World Health Organization will no longer classify being transgender as a 'mental disorder'.
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