Exploring Gender Identity: Social Transitioning
Transitioning looks different for everyone. Some people will navigate through a social transition to feel affirmed in their identity, while others will also navigate through a medical transition. There is no right or wrong way to explore one’s gender identity. Finding what works for you and what helps you feel affirmed in your identity is what is most important.
Social transition: This includes changes such as: changing your name or pronouns, coming out to family and friends, dressing or grooming in a different way, and/or wearing gender affirming gear.
Medical transition: This includes changes such as: starting medically supportive treatments such as hormone therapy and/or undergoing surgery such as top or bottom surgery.
In this article, we will be focusing on considerations for a social transition. (Don’t worry: information about navigating a medical transition will be coming out in a future article!)
Reminder: You do not have to transition physically for your identity to be valid!
Some considerations for a social transition can include:
- Changing your name (socially and/or legally)
- Changing your pronouns
- Coming out to important people in your life
- Gender expression changes
- Gender affirming gear
Changing your name and pronouns/gender markers
Many people navigating a social transition will opt to change their name and pronouns. This can be done both socially, as well as legally by updating government and schooling documentation.
It can feel intimidating to commit to a new name and/or pronouns for yourself. It might be helpful to test out different names/pronouns in a safe and supportive setting to see how it feels and help you figure out what you prefer.
Some people may choose to have different pronouns for family, friends and co-workers based on their comfort levels, and to allow them to feel safe. Additionally, some people navigating a transition may feel more comfortable going without a label at first, rather than committing to one right away. Labels can also change over time. Honouring your own process and having multiple sets of pronouns (or going without chosen pronouns for a time should you so choose) does not invalidate your identity.
Should you be looking to change your name or gender marker on legal documents, you may consider updating: your passport, SIN card, OHIP card, birth certificate and driver’s license. When changing your name on legal documents, you will not require a letter from a medical professional. However, when changing your gender marker on legal documents, you will require a letter from a medical professional.
Should you be looking to update your name or gender marker at McMaster, you have a few options:
- Making an appointment to speak with the Registrar to change any and all McMaster documentation: The Registrar will help you in navigating updating your McMaster related documents. For more information about this process, visit this link: Name change – Office of the Registrar | McMaster University
- Note: If you are choosing this route, ensure that the same name is also displayed on any student loans.
- Changing your preferred name on Mosaic: This will not update the legal name on your file but will inform instructors of your preferred name.
- Changing your name on your Outlook account/signature.
Note: Trans identifying students are not required to present legal documentation to change their name shown on their transcript or diploma.
Coming out to important people in your life
This is a very personal decision, and it will look different for everyone. Something to remind yourself of when deciding to come out to people in your life is that you don’t have to have it all figured out! You may choose to come out to some loved ones at the early stages of your transition- while you are exploring different pronouns, gender expression and gender affirming gear- or you may choose to come out to others once you have made decisions around these areas of your life. There is no right or wrong answer! If you are worried about answering questions that your family or friends might have, consider doing some research to help you feel mentally prepared. Additionally, you could consider speaking with a counsellor on how to best navigate a coming out conversation.
Gender expression changes
Some gender expression changes you may consider include:
- Dressing in a different way
- Changing the way you talk
- Adjusting your mannerisms
- Changing your body through exercise
- Changing your hair or wearing a wig
- Using make-up
- Hair removal
Gender affirming gear
Options for gender affirming gear include:
- Binders: used to flatten breast tissue
- Packers: a prosthetic penis or smooth bulge that creates the appearance of a penis. Some can be used for sex, and/or to allow the user to stand to pee.
- Gaff/Tucking Panties: a tight pair of underwear used to compress and conceal the user’s penis and testicles.
- Tucking Tape: tape used to reduce the visual appearance of one’s penis by tucking and taping the genitals between the legs.
For more information and resources for finding gender affirming gear, visit:
Navigating the social transition can be exhilarating, freeing, confusing and scary. It can also sometimes be difficult to find the right resources for you. If you have any questions about your transition, consider speaking with a healthcare provider, such as Dr. Mary Fletcher at the Student Wellness Centre (905-525- 9140 ext. 27700).
And stay tuned for a future article around considerations for a medical transition. In the meantime, check out our conversation with Dr. Fletcher where she answers important questions about navigating a medical transition: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XLijbk4XMGE