The different approaches to transitioning

Transitioning is defined as a process in which a transgender person begins to live according to their gender identity, rather than the sex they were assigned at birth. Contrary to popular belief, it does not always (or even typically) involve surgery or hormone treatment. Some people prefer the term affirmation to indicate that an individual is taking action to affirm their gender identity socially, legally and/or medically.

Social transitioning means a person makes changes in their name, pronouns, and/or appearance. For example, a child might shift to using a name and pronouns that align with their gender identity rather than their sex observed at birth. Trans women might grow their hair out and wear makeup; trans men may ‘bind’ or compress their breasts. A nonbinary transgender person might adopt androgynous clothing or shift what they wear from day to day, depending on how they feel. By transitioning socially, transgender people are able to express themselves and relate to others in ways that more closely align with their gender identity.

Legal transitioning includes changing names and/or sex/gender categories on legal documents. These documents can include an updated driver’s license, social security card, and birth certificate. Other changes might involve changing government, work, school, bank and other institutional records. This can be a time-consuming and daunting process, with procedures varying greatly from state to state. In many instances, a transgender person seeking to change their legal identity will have to visit multiple agencies, each time needing to explain their situation.

Those who choose to undertake a medical transition might begin with puberty blockers and hormone treatments (taking hormones of a different sex) during adolescence. In adulthood, some individuals choose to undergo gender affirmation surgery, which may involve modifying facial features, modifying the voice, augmenting or removing breast tissue and/or altering genitalia, and other procedures to bring a person's outward physical appearance in alignment with their gender identity.

A person’s gender identity does not depend on any particular transition. In other words, an individual does not need to transition in order to lay claim to being transgender. In fact, there are many transgender people who don’t transition at all, or who transition selectively—that is, they only express their gender identity openly in situations where they feel it is comfortable and safe to do so.

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Check out this article from GoodTherapy to learn more about the process that transgender persons go through to affirm their identities.

What does it mean for a transgender person to transition?


Raypole, Crystal. (2016, June 29). What does it mean for a Transgender person to transition? GoodTherapy.

Gender Identity Gender identity icon Our core sense of who we are as a man, a woman, a mixture of both, or neither.

Gender Expression Gender expression icon How we show up in the world through choices like clothing, hair style, mannerisms or tone of voice.

Attraction attraction icon How we feel toward others sexually, romantically and/or emotionally.

Biological Sex Biological sex icon Physical attributes such as reproductive organs and genitalia, chromosomes, genes and hormone levels.

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