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See Inside May / June 2010

The Third Gender

Transsexuals are illuminating the biology and psychology of sex--and revealing just how diverse the human species really is

The reigning queen of Belfast, Northern Ireland, is the “Baroness” Titti Von Tramp, a deeply bronzed, thoroughly waxed and statuesque figure approaching seven feet tall in stiletto heels, wearing tinted couture glasses and crowned with a perfect platinum mane. On any given night, you can find the bosomy Von Tramp at one of the local nightclubs, pursing her strawberry-colored lips in a photo-op for one of her many fans or perhaps making an Ulster businessman turn bright red by deviously running one long, manly finger down the man’s cheek and judging, “That’s a good year.”

For many people, the term “transvestite” is synonymous with such larger-than-life characters, an entertaining coterie of mostly gay men and their oversexed female alter egos. But as with any human demographic, transvestites are a very diverse bunch, and it is only a select few who can turn their minority status into such a lucrative career in drag theatrics. For more modest individuals, the limelight is hardly a desirable place to be. Furthermore, the psychological motivation to dress or act as the opposite sex varies widely—transvestism is but one of the many manifestations of cross-gender behavior in the human species.

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