Here is the best way I can think of to help a non-transgender person understand gender dysphoria and transitioning.
I am going to challenge you to use your imagination for a few moments. Picture in your mind an alternate version of our world where people are born without any outward signs of anatomical differences in sex. In this world, as a baby is delivered the doctor gently lifts the child up and declares "Your child is a healthy newborn!"
As the healthy child begins to happily grow, they soon reach the stage in life where they will be "processed." The process involves receiving an advanced biochemical suit that permanently molds to the body of the wearer. Each child approaches the massive Forcefully Regulated Characteristics machine and is told to either enter the blue door or the pink door. Upon entering the door, the child is fitted with their new suit. This suit, if left on the wearer long enough, will produce differentiated anatomical body parts and eventually sprout pre-programmed clothing to match the new body parts. Somehow, the Forcefully Regulated Characteristics machine always applies the right suit to the right child. At least, that is what everyone is taught while they are growing up.
The cold, hard truth of this alternate world is that the Forcefully Relegated Characteristics machine often makes horrible mistakes. Children are given the wrong suits and are forced into owning both the wrong body and the societal roles that supposedly fit that body. The minds of these children are not wrong because they conflict with the will of the Forcefully Relegated Characteristics machine. The FRC machine was incorrectly designed from the start to not take into account the brain's far superior function and design, specifically the micro-structures that contribute to a persons gender identity (x). The designers know this now, it has been proven by even their own scientists. However, the system that has been established "works well enough" in their opinion and it "would be too difficult to change it." Others on the governing panel of the FRC are prepared to go to any lengths to make sure their system stays in place.
In this world, however, there is one amazing child with a fiery bow and arrow that will lead a revolution; they have discovered a way to remove or even alter their suit and they will show the whole world how to do the same. They befriend a child who managed to avoid the FRC machine and never had to enter the blue or pink door. Together they will change the world! Later, there will also be a love triangle!
I would watch that movie. Wachowski sisters -- let's talk screenplay!
Wasn't that fun? Does it sound like a scary world? Indeed, it does.
If you were able to imagine what it would feel like to be fitted with the incorrect suit, then you may have captured a glimpse of what gender dysphoria feels like in this world. You see, for a transgender person who suffers from gender dysphoria.. our very body is like that incorrect biochemical suit forced on the children by the FRC. Along with that out-of-place body, we get a bonus prize of built-in expectations and roles that society and our families expect us to fill. However, the imprint we have of our very sense of self contains the opposite gender of the one we were assigned at birth. It feels intensely awkward and wrong to be in our own skin. We know it from a very young age too. For some, this does not become a noticeable issue until puberty, and we may or may not share our struggle with anyone because of fear.
Imagine feeling that way every moment of your life. I intentionally said "every" moment there, because it even affects our dreams as we sleep. We may see ourselves as our true gender in our dreams, but others around us in our dreams still tell us "no, you are wrong." Imagine never feeling at peace, even when you dream.
Enter hormone therapy and the act of transitioning...
With hormone replacement therapy (HRT), our shell starts to change and begins to fit nearly perfectly with the person. The awkwardness begins to fade. Finally we start to find peace, at least within ourselves. The medical community has it right. Providing transgender healthcare and the opportunity to transition is not some left-wing agenda. It is a medically necessary, life giving treatment and is seen as such by the medical, mental health, and legal communities.
When a person transitions, it can be disruptive to families. It definitely can. Guess what, though -- so is the death of a family member. I am not just talking about suicide, although the number of transgender people that attempt suicide due to familial rejection and quality of life is terrifying. I am also talking about the degradation of the health of transgender people over time if they are not able to obtain proper care or do not feel safe seeking that care due to societal and familial pressure. The degradation of their health can lead to life-threatening health conditions. Meanwhile, the downward spiral of their health drastically affects those around them and most importantly, the people who love them.
Non-transgender people who are trying to understand this, please just shift your thinking a little. Try to realize that as we transition and finally present to the world as our true selves, you are seeing a whole person with the right covering to match. We are not "starting to publicly cross-dress." We were in fact stuck "cross-dressing" as the wrong gender our whole lives until we were able to break free of the societal and familial pressure to conform to a gender that was inaccurately assigned to us, even with the best of intentions. Gender is not simply a synonym for biological sex.
We are not confused, we are not being misled, and we are not trying to mislead you. When a person transitions and comes out to you and shares that with you, what you are seeing is a person being absolutely and painfully truthful with you. If you reject them, you are simply rejecting truth.
Be better than that.
This post is part of HuffPost's Journey Beyond the Binary blog series, an editorial effort to bring diverse trans and gender non-conforming voices to the HuffPost Blog during and after Pride month. As the LGBTQIA community celebrates great strides forward this June, it's important to acknowledge the struggles still pertinent to trans and gender variant members of the community. Please email any pitches to firstname.lastname@example.org