What’s Transitioning?


What’s Transitioning?

Transitioning is when someone changes things to feel closer to their gender identity. When someone is transgender, non-binary, or both, their gender isn’t what people said it was when they were born. Because of this, they might want to change their name and their pronouns. Pronouns are words that refer to them, like he, she or they. Some trans and non-binary people also want to change their gender expression. Gender expression is how they show their gender. Some change their behavior, appearance, or body to get closer to how they see themselves.

People can choose from these changes and more when they transition. A lot of people transition to lower their gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is the uncomfortable feeling that your body or the gender people see you as doesn’t match your gender.

How do people transition?

There’s lots of ways to transition! Many people talk about social transitioning and medical transitioning separately. Medical transitioning is changing your body with things like hormones and surgery. It’s sometimes called physical transitioning. Social transitioning is everything else, like names, pronouns, and clothes.

There aren’t any required steps to transition. Transitioning in certain ways doesn’t make anyone more or less trans or non-binary. Many trans and non-binary choose to wait before they transition. Some prefer waiting. Others need to wait because of issues like safety, cost, and trouble accessing care.

Most people who transition won’t make all the changes we mention. A lot don’t make any medical changes like taking hormones.

Social transitioning: name and pronouns

Some people change the name or pronouns they use every day. They might choose to:

  • Ask family or friends to use their name and pronouns
  • Tell your school or work to use their name or pronouns
  • Change their name and gender on official documents and IDs

In some countries, non-binary people can choose not to show their gender on official documents. Canada’s federal governmentand some provinces let people put an X for their gender. When we’re writing this in September 2021, Quebec doesn’t let people do either. But the government is working to change that!

Social transitioning: appearance and behavior

Some trans and non-binary people change their behavior or appearance. This is sometimes called their gender expression. Some of these changes can help people feel more comfortable:

  • People can change their voice to sound more masculine, feminine, or non-binary
  • Hair removal or growing out face and body hair can lower some people’s gender dysphoria
  • People can choose clothes and haircuts that better express their gender

Some trans and non-binary people use gender expression gear to change how parts of their bodies look. For example, some people wear a bra with an insert that gives them bigger breasts. Gender expression gear can also help people bind their chest or tuck, or pack their private parts.

Medical transitioning: hormones and surgery

Some trans and non-binary people medically change their bodies. They can talk about these options with a doctor.

Some people take hormones to change their body. Hormones can help them grow things like body hair or breasts. There are two main hormones related to transitioning: estrogen, testosterone. Taking hormones is also known as hormone replacement therapy or HRT.

Puberty blockers help people slow down or stop puberty. They can let people can grow in ways that feel right for them.

There are many types of gender-affirming surgeries for different needs! Some more common ones are:

  • Top surgery to change how someone’s chest looks
  • Bottom surgery to make a vagina or a penis
  • Reproductive organ surgery to remove organs that make hormones and let people have kids


Some trans people choose to transition because they want to pass. Passing means that people assume a trans person is cisgender. This can make it easier for trans and non-binary people to get a job, healthcare, or a place to live. It’s one way they might face less discrimination.

Not every trans and non-binary person wants to pass. Passing can sometimes tie into stereotypes and assumptions about gender identity. A lot of the time, these assumptions ignore non-binary people, like when people assume someone with facial hair is a man. People can want to pass or not for complicated personal reasons.

More info

Transgender Glossary of Terms

GLAAD’s reference guide of general and transgender-specific words and phrases. Also describes common derogatory words and what terms should be used instead. –

A Sex & Gender Primer

Discusses the concept of gender, defines some terms for people who do not identify as traditional gender roles, and offers tips for being trans-friendly. –


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