- Social transition is a type of gender transition that involves changing the way you publicly express your gender.
- The process for social transition can look different for each person.
- Common steps toward social transition include changing your name, sharing your pronouns, and changing the way you dress or groom yourself.
- Research shows that social transition promotes better mental health and quality of life outcomes for youth and adults.
- Barriers to social transition include discrimination, harassment, limited social support, and legal challenges.
- Learn more about gender identity and supporting gender-diverse loved ones with the resources available at eDrugstore.com.
Gender transition is a complex and personal process involving a variety of potential steps and decisions that are unique to each person. There isn’t a specific set of steps or checklist used to undergo transition. Social transition is one of several areas a person might explore to help affirm their gender.
What Is Social Transition?
Social transition describes the process a gender-diverse person may use to present or express themselves in a way that matches their gender identity. This is an umbrella term that encompasses steps like changing your name, sharing your pronouns, or changing the way you groom or dress. This is a common process for people who are transgender, nonbinary, or gender-diverse.
Social transition can help people to achieve gender congruence, or the feeling of harmony in their gender. This can also help to reduce gender dysphoria.
Example Steps Toward Social Transition
There are many potential steps a person might take during social transition. These are traditionally non-medical approaches to changing your social identifiers. You can choose the steps that make you feel most aligned with your gender.
- “Coming out.” This might include disclosing your gender identity and asking for support from friends and family.
- Changing your name. You may choose to use a different name with friends, family, classmates, or colleagues. You may also legally change your name.
- Sharing your pronouns. You might share your pronouns publicly or even change your gender markers on government and medical records.
- Changing the way you groom or dress. You may make as many or as few changes to your appearance as you wish. This might include changing the way you dress, cut or style your hair, or groom body hair. This might also include binding, tucking, packing, or padding to make temporary changes to your figure.
- Trying new social activities. You might wish to join new clubs, athletic teams, or social groups that align with your gender or group you with people of your same gender. For example, a transgender man might choose to play soccer with a local men’s club.
- Using a different public restroom. You might start using public restrooms that align with your gender.
When Do Most People Socially Transition?
Many people undergo social transition before beginning legal or medical transition. However, this isn’t always the case. There isn’t a “right” or a “wrong” way to transition.
For example, someone might decide to legally change their name while undergoing social transition. Some people may transition socially but never undergo medical transition. Some people may undergo different aspects of medical transition without or before transitioning socially.
Any approach is valid. If you wish to undergo transition, you can choose the timing and the steps that feel right to you.
How Long Does Social Transition Take?
Though it doesn’t require medical procedures, social transition doesn’t happen overnight. It may take several months or years to explore which steps feel right for you. You can set the pace that feels best for you.
Social Transition for Transgender Women
There are several potential steps to social transition that are unique to transgender women. Some people refer to this as “feminizing” transition. Transgender women may use all of the approaches described below, or they may use none at all.
Potential approaches include:
- Cosmetics. You can learn cosmetic techniques to emphasize or to conceal certain facial features.
- Hair removal. You might wish to start grooming or removing body hair.
- Hair styling. You may try growing out your hair or styling it to achieve new looks. This could also be achieved using wigs or hair extensions.
- Padding. Padding can be used to make your hips and buttocks appear fuller.
- Stuffing. Stuffing or similar products can be used to mimic breasts.
- Tucking. Tucking is the process of hiding your penis or scrotum to make your groin appear flatter. Some people use special products, like a gaff, to achieve a flatter look.
Social Transition for Transgender Men
There are several potential steps to social transition that are unique to transgender men. Some people refer to this as “masculinizing” transition. Transgender men may use all of the approaches described below, or they may use none at all.
Potential approaches include:
- Binding. Binding involves wearing a binder or another garment to flatten the appearance of your chest.
- Facial and body hair grooming. If you have facial hair, you might start dying it or grooming it to make it appear thicker. You might also choose to change how you grow or groom your body hair.
- Hair styling. You may try a new haircut or style.
- Packing. Packing involves wearing a prosthetic penis or using items to give the appearance of a bulge in your underwear. There are also packers that can be used to urinate standing up or for use in penetrative sex.
Barriers to Social Transition
Gender-diverse people are more visible than ever in popular culture. Despite this, gender-diverse people continue to face social stigma, discrimination, and harassment. Transgender people are at an even higher risk for experiencing violence than their gender-conforming peers.
Gender-diverse people experience unique barriers in seeking both routine healthcare and gender-affirming care. For example, a recent report from the LGBTQ Task Force revealed that transgender people in the United States experience high rates of discrimination by health professionals.
Facing such discrimination, harassment, and violence negatively impacts your mental health. These threats can make it challenging to transition publicly, especially when they show up in many places, like:
- In public
- Healthcare systems
Benefits of Social Transition
The gender spectrum has been studied for many years. The impact of social transition is only one small corner of the strong evidence base supporting gender-affirming care.
Gender-affirming care, which typically includes support for social transition, is promoted as life-saving care. A growing evidence base demonstrates that social transition and access to gender-affirming care is linked to better mental health outcomes. This evidence base also suggests that limited access to social support and gender-affirming care is linked to higher rates of depression and self-harm.
A study published in Pediatrics compared the mental health status of transgender youth to their gender-conforming peers. Historically, transgender youth have reported extraordinarily high rates of anxiety and depression. However, this study found that the mental health status of transgender youth who had socially transitioned was on par with their gender-conforming peers.
Additional studies have found that early social transition benefits development and mental health. For example, a recent study demonstrated that transgender youth who were supported in early transition reported improvements in their mood, self-esteem, and social and family relationships. Families and youth provided with social support and access to specialists showed higher rates of resiliency.
Much of the recently published social transition research has focused on youth, but adults also report tremendous benefits from social transition.
For example, a recent study of American transgender adults found that transgender adults who had experienced social transition and social affirmation reported lower rates of anxiety, depression, and stress symptoms. The authors suggested that both social and medical transition may serve as protective factors against poor mental health outcomes and self-harm.
Detransition is Rare
Opponents of gender transition often pose the question, “What if someone changes their mind about their gender after they’ve transitioned?” The process they are referring to is known as “detransition” or “retransition.” This process is extremely rare.
Research supports the fact that most people do not decide to detransition. These findings have been consistent for people who transitioned early in life and for those who transitioned in adulthood.
A study recently published in Pediatrics demonstrated that the majority of transgender youth maintained their gender identity five years after their initial social transition. Researchers followed transgender youth for approximately five years into transition and found that 94 percent continued to identify as transgender, while 3.5 percent identified as nonbinary, and only 2.5 percent identified as cisgender. Retransition was infrequent among youth in the study.
Why Might Someone Detransition?
The majority of people who undergo detransition report doing so due to external pressure. This is supported by a study examining the factors leading to detransition in transgender adults living in the United States. Researchers found that more than 80 percent of adults who had detransitioned attributed this to pressure from family, non-affirming school environments, or increased vulnerability to violence.
The National Center for Transgender Equality’s 2015 United States Transgender Survey also supports these findings. Participants who had detransitioned reported being influenced by a variety of external factors. These factors included pressure from a parent (36 percent), facing too much harassment or discrimination (31 percent), having trouble getting a job (29 percent), pressure from other family members (26 percent), or pressure from a spouse (18 percent).
Support During Social Transition
Social transition may seem overwhelming, but support is available for people considering or undergoing transition. There are a variety of organizations, community groups, and support groups to help you and your family throughout this process. Many people also benefit from individual gender transition counseling to work through their feelings about the process.
At eDrugstore, we work to provide people of all genders with the resources they need to enjoy happier and healthier relationships. Our blog offers a wealth of free resources on topics like gender identity, sexual health, and intimacy.
Shelby is a public health professional with research and field experience in sexual and reproductive health. She holds a Master of Public Health (MPH) and is a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES).