but this also leads me to think that the representation you see of transgenderism on blogs, for example, is actually pretty distinct from the actual lives of transgender people
For sure yeah, we're a highly underrepresented group subject to all kinds of statistical representation biases.
but in the blogosphere "trans" and "cis" get thrown around a lot in reference to personal identity
I think this stems from three sources: legitimate feeling of an "identity", awkwardly trying to be inclusive and politically correct, and a conditioning factor where many trans individuals just simply think that's the way it is because that's how it's always been. When I walk into my doctor's office, which offers numerous services to LGBT clients, they have plenty of posters and pamphlets around the place. Even in the doctor's office there are plenty of references to "identity" and so forth.
A lot of trans people spend a large portion of their lives very confused. It's not a well known concept as an identity or a medical condition. Dysphoria is a very interesting feeling, many don't understand it's a medical issue. Many trans people describe a point in their lives where they found out being transsexual was a thing, they saw some website or (likely a rather awful) documentary and went "holy shit. this explains things, and I can fix this. I had no idea." The problem with this (besides just the obvious waiting so long for care) is that their very first exposure to the problem is one promoted as an identity. A lot of trans people learn they're trans and can seek treatment from some pretty poor sources.
Gender identity was a big deal.
I just wrote about 250 words on my a topic that goes through a not very popular opinion in the community, but I ended up deleting it because I cannot articulate it in a way I'm satisfied with. However, I sometimes think there is a difference between being transgender and being transsexual. I think people get scrambled together in one big group due to the previously described unfortunate nature of this medical condition being tied into so many societal concepts and conditioning.
Perhaps what is going on here is that I'm seeing flamboyant, vocal figures in transgenderism that are drowning out the already small population of more typical transgender individuals. I can already see how people that would call transgenderism an "identity" would overshadow those who think of it as a medical condition.
For sure yeah. I've been in quite a few large trans communities and almost all of the non-activist types (I'd like to note here that I'm NOT demonizing the more vocal folk) really just see being trans as a pretty large inconvenience and don't really identify as anything. They "identify" simply as male or female like the vast majority of the cis population does.
Another quick interesting note: When people say cis, the connotation is very often an individual who's brain matches their body, they don't have any concerns about congruency in this aspect of life. When people say trans it tends to open up a whole can of worms. Really - cis is just the opposite of trans, trans is just the opposite of cis. It's a very simple prefix that in this case refers to congruency in sexual dimorphic traits.
Many transgender folk don't want to be activists. They don't want to be vocal. They don't like the internal disagreement in the community and they don't like how people outside the community treat them. The stigma behind whether this is right or wrong is similar to the stigma placed on women who have not yet "woken up" to feminism and don't play a personal activist roles - this is a whole other issue though. Vocal figures tend to be the ones who are (rightfully so) angry, (rightfully so) opinionated, (rightfully so) feel a need to defend themselves and fight back against society's image of transsexuals. Many transgender people, including myself for the most part, simply don't want to deal with this. There have been plenty of instances in everyday life where I could've educated someone IRL on trans matters (or even just LGBT issues in general), but you know what? This makes my life complicated. I've just spent a two figure percentage of my life trying to get through a lot of hardship, right now I'm in a stage of my life where I'm trying to simplify and just be happy. A lot of trans people are the same way. There's a very common phenomenon of people who hit a couple years into their transition and just sort of disappear from trans communities.
edit: Another quick note. I think one example of people "identifying as trans" being a kind of "this is how we were told to behave" is the matter of the word "transsexual." Many people are scared of this word. It's pretty rare to find it in the community frankly. It's like we've tried to adopt this softer, more approachable term that can hop onto the more positive images the homosexual community is starting to receive. We frequently represent ourselves in ways that help us overcome the large amount of stigma against us.
edit 2: This is wild speculation. I think another biasing factor in the matter of "identifying as trans" is most people's perception of trans individuals. If you look at the stereotypical media image of a trans woman don't think of them as a woman. There's often humour revolving around "lol! Look at that guy trying to girl! haha." People look at me, a trans woman who passes very very well and have no trouble accepting me purely as a woman. I think some people push the identifying concept as a particular mechanism to separate trans individuals from cis individuals. As after all, many people are uncomfortable with the idea of a trans woman who doesn't pass well being a woman. For me, someone who had the privilege of receiving medical care at a good age and started with a fairly androgynous base of features and structure - people have no issue thinking of me as any other woman. Hell even my medical care is biased because of this. When it comes time for surgery candidacy, I've already essentially been told my process will be a lot easier due to how my transition has gone. There's no issue of questioning identity. This is a fairly large halo effect
edit 3: Actually, when I did my first intake appointment at my health clinic (which is somewhat of a special clinic as they are one of very few in my area that will give hormones via informed consent) they of course have you fill out an intake form. The intake form they gave me was not specific to transsexuals, however because this clinic offers many LGBT services they had a section on the paperwork for your orientation and gender identity. Under gender identity (and these were checkmarks not radio style "choose one" buttons) you could choose to identify as trans woman and woman (and various other gender options, but again, that's a whole other topic). My first thought was kind of like "Why the hell would I 'identify' as being trans? What does that even mean?"