A transgender individual has a gender identity which is inconsistent with the assigned gender. Meaning, for example, someone may look like a man physically, but they feel and prefer to be female or vice versa.
An individual’s gender identity is their perceived gender: what they recognize and feel themselves as. Transsexual individuals are generally the most known type of transgender individuals. A transsexual goes through surgery and hormone replacement to reassign their gender. After a few years, the transsexual individual will physically look like their chosen gender and feel more comfortable in their body.
A cross-dresser is often considered as a transgender individual. They explore another gender through crossing the traditionally drawn lines of dress, make-up, and behavior. But they generally accept and perceive their assigned gender as their true gender. Accepting the assigned gender technically does not make them truly transgendered.
Transgender individuals often struggle with their gender identity. This is why therapy, support groups and advocacy organizations are important for them. They often live in fear of discrimination and prejudice, so they often keep silent about their identities, and thus increase their emotional turmoil.
It is probable that you interact with a transgender individual without knowing it. Many are able to transition quietly into different communities after successfully medically reassigning their gender. This is why you must never be judgmental, as you could be judging your best friend. If you do know a transgender individual, be respectful of their privacy and avoid intrusive questions. Avoid the offensive term ‘trannie’ but if you must, only use the term ‘trans’.