Social transitioning is when a trans person changes how they express their gender to others. This could include using a new name, adopting different pronouns, or changing their appearance.

However, social transitioning does not have to include all of these things. People can choose which elements matter to them and which do not.

Social transitioning is a nonmedical, reversible form of gender transition. For some people, it is the only type they want. For others, social transitioning is the first step toward legal recognition or medical gender affirming care.

Keep reading to learn more about social transitioning, including what happens, the benefits, whether there are risks, and how it compares to other types of transitioning.

A trans teenager getting ready in front of a mirror.Share on Pinterest
Ana Luz Crespi/Stocksy

Social transitioning is when a person begins expressing themselves in a way that matches their gender. For example, they may tell others they are transgender or nonbinary. They may also begin presenting their gender differently in everyday life.

There is no one correct way to do this. Different aspects of gender matter more or less to different people. Some people may find it helpful to change their name or pronouns, while others may focus more on appearance or how they use their voice.

The process of transitioning socially helps affirm a person’s gender identity. It may reduce gender dysphoria, which is the discomfort people can feel when their outward gender identity or expression does not match who they are inside.

However, not all trans people experience gender dysphoria. For some, social transitioning may increase gender euphoria instead. This is the feeling of comfort, certainty, satisfaction, or joy that people can experience when they feel their gender is “right” for them.

Gender presentation is incredibly diverse, so there is no “correct” way to be any specific gender. For this reason, there is also no universal approach to socially transitioning. Trans people choose what happens.

In general, social transitioning involves telling others about being trans or expressing one’s gender differently in front of others. This is what makes the transition “social.”

Measures that are not public, such as changes in how a person thinks of themselves or how they dress when they are alone, are part of an “internal” transition. There is no pressure to move from internal to public transitioning if a person does not feel safe, comfortable, or ready for this.

If they do, some examples of things a person might do include:

  • going by a different name
  • using different pronouns
  • wearing different clothing
  • changing hairstyle or grooming habits
  • adopting different ways of moving or speaking
  • experimenting with different gender presentations
  • telling others they are trans

Not everyone takes all these steps. The process can also be as fast or gradual as a person wants. For example, some people may tell their family about being trans long before they tell co-workers.

Social transition is the public expression of who a trans person knows themselves to be. By the time a person socially transitions, they may have known they are trans for a long time. As such, it can help a person feel happier and more authentically themselves.

Social transitioning can also help manage gender dysphoria, which is crucial for reducing the risk of mental health conditions and suicide in trans and nonbinary people.

For example, in a 2019 study, students being able to use their chosen name at school and at home correlated with large reductions in the risk of negative mental and physical health outcomes. Successful social transition was a protective factor against suicide and self-harm.

Not all studies have found substantial reductions in gender dysphoria, though. A large 2023 study in the United Kingdom did not find significant changes in self-reported mental health.

However, researchers point out the study did not consider external factors, such as discrimination or lack of support.

No high quality scientific evidence suggests any inherent risk to socially transitioning, even if a person later transitions to another gender, including their previous gender.

If a person decides to transition to a different gender, there is a chance they may have lost money spent on clothes or other aspects of their transition, but evidence suggests the likelihood of this is very low.

Of 317 children surveyed in a 2022 study, only 1.3% transitioned and then later re-transitioned within a 5-year period.

The main risks of transitioning come from external sources, such as discrimination, rather than the social transitioning process itself. This is known as transphobia, or cissexism. It is a threat to trans and gender diverse people.

Some examples of how transphobia or cissexism can manifest include:

  • bullying
  • rejection from loved ones
  • threatened or actual physical violence
  • difficulties in getting institutions and individuals to acknowledge their gender
  • difficulties accessing appropriate medical care
  • employment discrimination

This, in turn, can impair mental and physical health.

As long as it is safe to do so, adults can socially transition at any age. For children and teens, the process can start at different ages depending on their circumstances.

For example, a child who attends a school that punishes students for wearing masculine or feminine clothing may struggle more with their transition.

Similarly, teens who have begun puberty may find the process more complicated, as the physical changes during puberty may interfere with the changes they want to make.

Some factors a person might consider when deciding whether and when to transition include:

  • when and where transitioning is likely to be safe
  • which aspects of social transitioning are possible right now
  • which friends and family are likely to be supportive
  • in what situations they feel gender dysphoria and how intense it is
  • what causes feelings of gender euphoria

All forms of gender transition begin with an internal transition. This occurs as a person recognizes they are trans and that their assigned sex is inconsistent with their gender.

From there, the steps people take while transitioning generally fall into one of three categories:

  • Social transition: This is the transition to a new gender identity in a person’s relationships, behavior, or appearance.
  • Legal transition: This is the process of becoming legally recognized as a different gender to the one doctors or caregivers assigned at birth. Sometimes, a legal transition is necessary for a person to have their gender fully affirmed at work or school. The process varies but can involve getting a new birth certificate and driver’s license.
  • Medical transition: Medically transitioning, or obtaining gender affirming care, includes a range of medications and procedures. It might include hormone medications, surgeries to alter specific body parts, or procedures to change physical appearance.

Transitioning can involve myriad changes, but the specific changes are unique to each individual. For example, one person might pursue all three types, while another might choose only some.

Social transitioning is when a trans person begins expressing their gender or tells others about their gender identity. It is not a compulsory part of being trans, and there is no one way to do it.

People who do socially transition may change their name, pronouns, clothing, or behavior in various ways.

Socially transitioning can have mental health benefits for trans children, teenagers, and adults. It has little to no inherent risk.

It is important for the friends, family, and allies of trans people to affirm their gender and allow them to explore it in their own way.