The transition process of changing genders is riddled with potholes. At every turn there is always going to be a new stress or demand, and while most of the time these are personal or emotional issues, the one common thread we all share is money. Let's face it, without money and plenty of it full transition of the physical being just isn't possible.
Not everyone is graced with the financial means to finance full transition on their own which is where this guide comes in. This is written primarily for people starting from scratch with a low income and unestablished credit history. Furthermore this is aimed at male to female transsexuals purely on the basis of process and cost analysis, but many of it's components can equally be used by female to male transsexuals as well.
In the beginning there was the medical industry. If you've come this far you already know doctors from at least four different fields will be necessary to help guide you through this process. Your first step will be psychiatry where you will undergo no less than ten sessions over approximately a six month period. Upon the conclusion of this you will be referred to an MD that can give you physical clearance to continue on to endocrinology. The endocrinologist is pivotal as this is the person that will set and monitor your hormone replacement therapy (HRT). This is important because there is no way around this step and trying to administer a self devised regimen is akin to playing with a loaded gun. Sometime while on HRT you will need to see an MSW or higher therapist that concludes along with you psychiatrist you are mentally sound to continue on your final step which is gender reassignment surgery or GRS.
Sounds pricey you say? You bet it is. There are however ways to pare down the cost significantly if you are willing to do a little leg work. The best thing you can do is get involved in your local LGBT (Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender) organizations and network. Gather information from everyone, as every bit of knowledge is valuable. Almost every chapter can guide you to doctors in your area not only possessing the knowledge needed to help you but the willingness, and by that I mean willing to work on a sliding fee scale. In some cases I have even seen doctors sympathetic to the low income trans person that are even willing to donate their services (Aside from lab costs as appropriate) for free. The key here is that if you don't ask you won't receive. When asking about fee schedules always be polite and treat it like the professional transaction it is. At the very least I have found almost all doctors are willing to at least allow for deferred payments on the cost to help alleviate the immediate financial crunch transition presents. This has been true in all cases but those of the surgeons actually performing the GRS, to this point I've yet to find a doctor willing to do that.
You will likely need four procedures over the course of transition which are: Electrolysis, breast augmentation, tracheal shave (Reduction of the Adam's apple), and the GRS. The lowest I have ever seen all this accomplished for was around fifteen thousand dollars which was performed on a person whom had gone to Thailand for all but their electrolysis. This does not include the airfare and costs incurred while there which were approximately another two thousand dollars for a total of approximately seventeen thousand dollars.
You will also be subject to the legal system. You will need to in most cases change your name, but in all cases change your gender. This incurs court costs, and document and identification replacement fees on your birth certificate, social security card, license, passport, diplomas, bank accounts, etc... Again however if you ask at the courthouse when filing and bring proof of low income you can get the filing fees waived which will save some money. You will often times need a lawyer and their use is highly suggested. There is nothing sadder than spending money only to be denied because you filled in a form wrong and will have to repeat the process. In terms of time and money the extra expense is worth it. Again like doctors, there are lawyers your local LGBT chapter can point you to who will work for a lesser fee in almost all cases for rather simple tasks as this. Expect all this to run no less than one thousand dollars.
Now you're wondering how do I finance all this when I have next to nothing? The answer is simple, network, be creative, and be frugal.
Networking will allow you to find people that can and are willing to help you through this, and trust me there are many people who will if you just ask. This doesn't mean they will just give you money, but they will help you make more of it. Where I live it has now become standard practice for one of the local clubs to sponsor a trans person and hold a benefit for once per quarter (However for each person this is only done once)which usually adds around two thousand dollars to the persons transition fund. On one occasion it actually topped four thousand dollars! If there aren't clubs where you live doing this, ask if they will. Asking won't hurt and may help not just you but someone else immensely.
Get creative! There are countless ways to make money and yes even nickels and dimes help. One person began asking neighbors and co-workers to save their bottles and cans for her. By religiously collecting and turning these in for deposit in two years time she made over fifteen hundred dollars. This same person also traded her skills for services and created and maintained a website for her electrologist in exchange for ten hours work per year. The estimated savings she reaped from this was nearly thirteen hundred dollars. I have even seen someone that collected promotional exchange items like soda caps from friends and coworkers to sell on ebay for extra money here and there. Almost everywhere you look there is the potential to make a dollar if you are willing to seize it. I have even seen a girl that asked local businesses she frequented if she could place a jar on their counters asking for change for "Ms. (Fill in your name) medical fund." Some said yes and some said no, but still it was something extra coming in and helping out.
Being frugal doesn't mean being cheap and living like a hermit. It means making your dollars stretch farther. Assess your lifestyle and see what you can do without. Easy cost cutters are things like learning to use coupons when shopping, taking advantage of free community services you qualify for and can use, and most of all learn to tone down your spending. Before buying things like clothes or electronics, etc... ask yourself if you need them or just want them. There is a difference. If it is a want then perhaps you can do without awhile longer or all together. Sometimes there is a middle ground like buying an off or generic brand rather than the designer label, or going with used rather than new items. Before you spend always remember to keep your eye on your main goal, but don't deny yourself everything, especially some fun!
This is a very bare bones guide to help you understand some of the costs and means of reducing or financing those costs associated to gender transition. Some of these may be ideas you can use and some may not, but hopefully they will get you thinking and give you hope that it can be done even if you aren't flush with cash and credit enough to go that route. Take what you can use and apply it to your process. Most of all be willing to ask for help. Asking for help won't be viewed as weakness, but rather bravery and net you more support than you ever imagined.