Let's define terms first. A transsexual is a person who, believing that they were born the wrong gender, goes through gender reassignment, including surgery, to what they believe is the correct gender. Someone who has no intention of undergoing surgery but otherwise lives life in the gender they were not born with is transgendered. Someone who enjoys dressing as a member of the opposite sex occasionally is a cross-dresser. A person born with genitals of both genders is intersexed. All of these people fall into the psychiatric category of "gender dysphoria" and are thus members of the gender community.
Being a part of the gender community does not mean that a person is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or heterosexual. Those deal with what gender a person is attracted to. Being transsexual, transgendered, cross-dresser, or intersexed is about our own bodies.
I define myself as a pre-operative transsexual. What this means is that I have undergone years of psychiatric therapy, years of hormone treatment, hours (and hours and hours) of electrolysis (still ongoing at this time), legal name change, and am living life full time as a female; I have not had gender reassignment surgery, but it is my intention to do so.
This is an expensive and time-consuming process. I have spent many thousands of dollars in psychiatric therapy, hundreds of dollars for hormone treatment (and this will rapidly be climbing into the thousands of dollars range - I will be on hormones for the rest of my life), already nearly a thousand dollars on electrolysis (I estimate the final dollar amount for this will be nearly ten thousand dollars), over three hundred dollars to change my name (Illinois is one of the most expensive states for a legal name change), and over a thousand dollars on a new wardrobe for my new life. Surgery will cost me another twenty thousand dollars. Most insurance policies, including mine, do not pay for surgery. It is considered "cosmetic".
I would rather have that "cosmetic" surgery than be so depressed that I commit suicide.
Our society teaches us to believe that you will stay the gender that you are born - "Once a boy, always a boy; once a girl, always a girl". But society ignores the area between the two polarities of "male" and "female" that hundreds of thousands of people traverse and populate. These people are happier than they ever were being forced to stay a gender they felt was not theirs. For those that never see the line and never travel along it, there is no relief from the depression of living a life that is not bearable. For some, the depression cuts so deep that they feel there is no way out except suicide.
No one can say for certain what causes gender dysphoria. The prevailing theory is that it is genetic. If this is so, then gender dysphoria is not a mental illness, but a physical problem, and should thus be covered under insurance policies. My own experience leads me to believe that gender dysphoria is, in fact, genetic. I did not learn to cross-dress or build a desire to be female by watching others. I was born this way.
There are some support groups on a local and national (and international) level to help a person suffering gender dysphoria. One such group (which I am a life member of) is the International Foundation for Gender Education. There are support groups for the friends and families of the gender community. One such group is Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. (Don't let the name fool you - their support extends to the friends and families of members of the gender community as well.)
All that we of the gender community ask is
that you treat us as equals. No one person is like any other person.
Our difference is more noticeable. But we are not doing anything
to harm you. All we ask is the same respect you would give anyone
else. Liking us is not a prerequisite. Just respect the fact
that we, too, are people, with the same rights as any other person - no
more, and no less.