Ok, lets first start off by getting some of the terminology out of the way. Some of this is confusing at best, and since we are striving for a little understanding here, I will do my best to shed some light. I must stress that these are my own understandings of these terms, and others may have different opinions about the way they are defined by me.
While no one likes labels that are put on them, in the Transgendered community there are 3 distinct categories:
Crossdresser (also known as Transvestite)
Transgendered (or Transgenderist)
A crossdresser is a man who enjoys dressing in female clothing, but has no intention of living as a woman. Crossdressers either find sexual pleasure from this, or they find comfort in being able to express outwardly their feminine side without having to commit to being female. They are able to put that part of them away while living on a day to day basis as a man. Usually, when dressed, the man will take on a female name to match the outward appearance of himself. The term Transvestite is one that has been viewed on the sexual, fetish side of crossdressing, and isn't used as widely as the term Crossdresser.
Someone who calls themselves Transgendered is a few steps up from a crossdresser. While this person still will use the concept of dressing as a female to make him feel more comfortable, there is some chemistry going on in his mind as to whether or not he is truly a woman trapped within a male's body. Transgendered folks are caught in sort of a limbo, they can't quite put a definitive finger on what they are. They know that when they are dressed and presenting as a female, they are more comfortable than as presenting as a male. They may experienment with being more of a female presence other than going out once in a while, wearing woman's undergarments, or sleeping in nightgowns, spending their away from the world time dressed up. They also may start growing their hair a bit longer, possibly piercing their ears, or experimenting with hormones "just to see what happens". They may also begin to live as a woman on a part-time basis, without wanting to have a sex change operation.
A Transsexual is someone who has come to the realization that they are a woman who has been cruelly deposited into a man's body. Their mind set is that of a woman, they are taking hormones to re-shape their masculine bodies, growing breasts, and as a result, their testicles shrink in size, their sexual drive diminishes. They most likely live as a woman full time, and some even seek out surgical intervention to complete the image of the female they are. In order for a Transsexual person to get the surgical aspect of this, they must live, in every way, as a woman for a period of time dictated to them from within the medical community. That means at work, at home, in public...covering every aspect of life living as a female. This can be hard when it comes to family, friends, co-workers and their bosses, as they stand a chance of loosing the people in their lives, and loosing their jobs as a result.
While there are these 3 very different categories within this community, there are many different levels on which Transgendered folks live their lives, and there is no "right way" to live it. It all comes down to how they feel in their own skin. I also must add that because of my own personal data bank, I am describing men as they travel through this journey. Woman are not exempt from this. There are woman who dress and live as men, for the same reasons as men dress and live as woman. The descriptions are the same, just 'flip flopped' to accommodate biological woman who are either crossdressers, transgenderists, or transsexuals.
There are other terms that are used when talking about Transgenderism:
GG: Genetic Girl, biological woman, a woman who is born female.
SO: Significant Other...also spouse, partner, lifemate, girlfriend, boyfriend, or whatever title the person you love and support and accept has given himself herself to describe what your relationship to him her is.
HRT(Hormone Replacement Therapy): When a genetic man takes hormones to change his body, it produces breasts, alters the muscle definition forming womanly' curves on the hips, shoulders, waist areas.
SRS (or GRS): Sexual Reassignment Surgery: when the genitals are surgically altered to give appearance of their mind sex (Birth males have their penis/scrotum reformed into a vagina, and Birth females have a penis/scrotum formed with skin grafts and prosthesis')
Orchectomy: The surgical removal of the testes to cease testosterone production in Males, usually done either just before SRS, or during SRS.
Gender Dysphoria: The confusion of "what gender am I?"
Gender Identity Disorder (or GID): the clinical diagnosis of Transgenderism when beginning the exploration of one's self...this diagnosis is usually given by a psychologist or psychiatrist.
HeShe, SheMale: Street slang for being transgendered...NOT a user friendly' term...actually quite an ignorant, misinformed categorization.
The "tuck": what a T* person does to hide their penis/scrotum while dressed...they tuck it back so it creates a smooth looking crotch area...more on this later...
Purging-a process that many in the Trans community experience when a T* person denies who they are to themselves, throwing away and getting rid of everything that has to do with the "other" side of themselves...very often does not last long, and a deep feeling of guilt follows this action...which renderes the T* person helpless to stay away from the dressing and the open expression of their feminine (or masculine, depending on what flavour of T* you are). This is a common practice for T* folks who are both new to this, or have many years under their belts. It also breeds a deep confusion of who they are, and where they need to go in respect of their lives as a whole.
There are many more ways of saying the same thing in this community. But, this is a sample of the most important ones. It is important here to realize that while society will try to put labels on what we are, labels are ones that are interchangeable, and not always cut and dried.