Changing names, gender expression and appearance

Many young people we spoke to decided to make changes to their name, pronouns, appearance and how they express their gender. They talked about the decisions they made around their appearance and how it made them feel. These decisions were often described as important steps in young people’s journey, with one young person describing feelings of joy and euphoria.  Changes to names and appearance were talked about in the following ways:

  • Diverse experiences
  • Transmasculine experiences

– Clothes

– Chest binding

– Making changes to hair

– Working on voice

  • Transfeminine experiences

-Clothes and make-up

-Making changes to hair

-Working on voice

  • Changing names and pronouns

Diverse experiences

Young people highlighted how individual choices were important and all experiences of being trans and gender diverse are valid. Some described feeling joy in changing and breaking gender stereotypes. Choices were made according to personal feelings and style. Bailey said he was quite confident with his style as a trans man. He said, ‘I’ll wear whatever I want’. June described himself as ‘very playful in terms of how I’d express myself, I had a lot of gender iterations’. Begam described her struggle with changing her appearance. She said, ‘it’s very difficult to get…the balance of these [gender] concepts’ often finding an ‘overlap’.

Eel says he’s gonna dress however I want. He says it’s my masculinity and I can do whatever I want with it.

Age at interview 17

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G talks about their expression of mixing trans masculinity, femininity and experimenting with their appearance.

Age at interview 23

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Transmasculine experiences

Clothes

Trans men and transmasculine young people described making changes to their appearance as a positive and affirming experience. Some felt it was scary. Cas described it as ‘terrifying’. He explained ‘you don’t know how people are gonna react. You can’t really predict what a person is gonna do.’

Young people described choosing to wear masculine clothing, experiences of chest binding, making changes to hair and working on voice. M said ‘allowing myself to do things that affirmed how I felt, like buying more masculine clothes and presenting myself in a way that I felt comfortable with’. Jacob said ‘I immediately got rid of any clothes that weren’t masculine and replaced my wardrobe’. Declan said, ‘A lot of the time I have a couple of staple clothes that I just like to wear and that make me feel good’.

Young people raised some issues with buying clothes. M talked about the segregation between men’s and women’s items in clothing shops. They said ‘I used to think “oh like men’s section that’s just off limits to me” so I’d try and buy like the most masculine things in like the women’s aisle’. Theo shared some struggles he had buying masculine clothes; ‘I’ve looked at sizing and men’s trousers will be too long and boy’s trousers would have too narrow hips.’ Bailey also commented on sizing difficulties for buying clothes feeling that he had wider hips than cisgender men.

Ari talks about buying clothes and getting an understanding about what worked for them.

Age at interview 23

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Patrick talks about cutting his hair, buying new clothes and wearing a binder.

Age at interview 20

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Chest binding

A frequently mentioned way of changing appearance for transmasculine young people was binding*1. – Always seek the advice of a health or medical professionalCas said his ‘first step was binding.’ Henry said he ‘started off by wearing a binder a couple of times a week, just in my room.’ He felt that he ‘wanted to take it slowly… experimenting safely with things’.

Many young people spoke about wearing a binder as an important experience. Ari said ‘it was just astonishing being able to kind of look in the mirror at my drastically flattened chest and kind of be like, ‘oh, this works’. This is what I wanted’, describing it as ‘so affirming’. Jack said ‘I borrowed a binder off a friend and the moment I tried it on [and] saw my chest flat I felt just a surge of like joy, yeah euphoria, it just felt right’. He continued ‘I think I actually probably cried thinking about it, I was just so happy to see that’.

Loges talks about the dos and don’ts of binding, there’s a lot of misinformation about the different ways to bind.

Age at interview 16

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Young people also talked about how  binders came with some caution and potential drawbacks. Jay said, ‘I like having a flat chest, it definitely makes me feel a lot better about myself. But also, it is uncomfortable and it’s not something that you can wear for an extended period of time’. Ezio described it feeling like ‘an anchor on your chest sort of weighing you down’. Bailey said, ‘It’s like carrying a little child stood on your chest 24/7’. Jack explained how he has  ‘fibromyalgia which makes it quite painful to bind sometimes so often I skip out on binding because it’s too painful or restricts my ability to kind of move around’ (see Experiences of autism, neurodiversity and disablism in healthcare).

Max said he felt ‘relieved’ after he started binding though he said ‘[I] always have to stop myself from binding too much, even though I’m really uncomfortable not binding.’ It made his ribs hurt so he doesn’t do it ‘as much anymore.’ H said that ‘wearing a chest binder in [hot] weather is awful.’

Cas talks about his experience of wearing a binder I didn’t know how at first.

Age at interview 16

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Eel wore a sports bra as an alternative to wearing a binder. He said, ‘I just ended up letting go and just kind of not worrying about the fact that, you know, people are gonna see me and they’re gonna think I’m a girl’. Other changes to appearance that transmasculine people spoke about were tattoos and piercing and using packers*2. Loges said ‘I definitely want tattoos and more piercings because they make me feel a lot more comfortable because I have my own identity instead of just like being someone who nobody really notices.’

Finn gives advice about wearing a binder don’t do it for extended periods of time.

Age at interview 16

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Jacob talks about Stand to Pee (STP) devices and packers that some trans men and transmasculine people use.

Age at interview 17

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Making changes to hair

Many young people talked about changing their hair. Bailey described having his haircut aged 12 as ‘the best feeling ever’. Declan said, ‘I’d always had long hair but I’d never look after it. I got it cut off before I came out and I felt so much better. Tom also said ‘it just made me feel a bit better about myself’.

Ezio cut all his hair off when he was 15 years old. He said ‘my cousin saw it for the first time just kept saying “You look like a boy, your haircut makes you look like a boy” and in my head I was like, that’s the idea, that’s what it’s meant to do.’ Bee liked having a shaved head. They explained ‘[I] really like having shed all of the kind of things that are tied up with hair that can become part of that performance of femininity’.

Some transmasculine young people regretted some hairstyle choices. Eel said, ‘I got a really bad haircut ‘cos I had long, shoulder length hair and I decided to shave the sides. I ended up looking like a really horrible Skrillex parody or something.’’

Working on voice

Some transmasculine young people talked about the effects that taking testosterone had on their voice and a few talked about making the decision to work on their voice. This often meant trying to lower it in pitch and tone. However, this choice didn’t suit some. PJ talked about how a friend was first to notice the changes. He said ‘I didn’t even know that I’d lowered my voice until I met up with a friend who I’d known before, and they were like, “Are you on hormones, because your voice is deeper?”. He said, ‘I think as I’m more connected with being male I subconsciously did it myself.’ Jay used YouTube as a useful resource for getting tips.

Ezio talks about the issues he faces working with his voice as a trans guy and being a singer.

Age at interview 23

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Bailey talks about his feelings about his voice.

Age at interview 18

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Transfeminine experiences

Clothes and make-up

The trans women and transfeminine young people interviewed often described wearing feminine clothes as a positive and joyful experience. Sophie said ‘getting, buying and then wearing more feminine clothes was the first step’. She described it as ‘really liberating, really, really nice and enjoyable.’ She said ‘it was being able to not feel as though I was hiding behind a wall.’ Cassie said, ‘I went to look at myself in the mirror and I burst into tears. I [finally] looked right’. She described feeling ‘happy with the girl in the mirror.’  Noelle said initial positive feelings encouraged her ‘into experimenting more with feminine clothing, feminine expression’ and she ‘bought wigs and make-up.’

Choosing different clothes and styles could help some young people to understand more about their identity. Charke said, ‘I remember at the time having a lot of discomfort over buying [male] clothes and stuff like this. I hate[d] shopping for male clothes, I get a discomfort at that and I hate that clothes were so like segregated in a way’. Noelle described how positive feelings from wearing feminine clothes and wearing make-up gave her an insight into her identity. She said ‘the more I did it the more I realised that cross-dressing just wouldn’t be enough, that there were things that I couldn’t do just with clothes and make-up alone.’

Rosa describes not wearing make-up due to having sensory issues with how it feels on her face.

Age at interview 19

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Sally shares her experience of buying clothes and the benefits of online shopping.

Age at interview 25

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Summer talks about her satisfying’ first steps into femininity with the support of her friend.

Age at interview 25

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Some transfeminine young people talked about regretting early clothing choices. Freya said she remembered ‘going and just sort of buying tons of really horrible fashion choice clothes, but they were just girl’s clothes and I was loving it.’ However afterwards she said ‘I’ve got all these fucking horrible horrendous clothes. I can’t wear them out.’

Buying and wearing feminine clothes wasn’t always easy or a positive experience.  Begam described how she ‘tried cross-dressing and all of that but it just hasn’t been my scene. It just hasn’t fit for me’. There were also important issues regarding safety. Begam described the cultural ‘stigma’ within her community that made her feel unsafe. She said ‘I get dressed, I do go out but…I keep myself to myself’.

Shash describes buying clothes, getting her hair cut and changing her name and pronouns.

Age at interview 23

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Making changes to hair

A number of transfeminine people talked about making changes to hair. Tori said that growing her hair was ‘a huge part’ of her appearance. A few young people tried different ways of trying to remove body hair safely and effectively. Some described positive experiences with professional laser hair removal clinics*3. Sally said her appointment at a laser hair removal clinic [after being seen by the gender identity clinic (GIC)] was ‘really good’, her practitioner was ‘really understanding’ and ‘had experience treating trans people’. ‘It never felt particularly awkward there.’

Professional laser hair removal wasn’t an affordable option for some. Freya tried intense pulsed light (IPL) an alternative option for laser hair removal. She said ‘it works on [her] legs [but] it doesn’t work on like really course hair like moustache and beard hair’, she spends ‘a meticulous amount of time plucking’.

Noelle talks about hair removal and her experience of laser hair removal blasts it out of existence.

Age at interview 33

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Working on voice

Some young people shared their experiences of speech and language therapy as well as the resources and techniques they have found useful if choosing to feminise their voice.

Freya talks about working on her voice and practicing exercises.

Age at interview 21

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Sally talks her experience of voice therapy and the shares the exercises she learnt.

Age at interview 25

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Noelle talks about her experience of voice therapy learning about it on the internet through forums.

Age at interview 23

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Changing names and pronouns

Another important step for the young people we spoke to was making changes to their names and pronouns. Jay said the first step was changing his pronouns and picking a name. People described how they went about changing their name through getting a deed poll*4. Kat said that ‘picking a new name was fun’. She went by it online but then later decided to get a ‘legal name change via deed poll’. H described spending ‘a whole year weighing up the names’. He said ‘the day that I changed my name we done like a little event where I had my witnesses to sign my deed poll and everything like that’.

Ari shares how they chose a new name through looking at baby name websites.

Age at interview 23

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Freya said ‘change your name, change your gender marker, [make] a list of every person who has your name at the moment who you want to send a Deed Poll to.’ Sally said, ‘if you’re going to change your name as you transition, my advice would be to pick a name that is kind of far away from your original name in terms of like phonetics and spelling and everything’. She said that break is important.

Jack talks about the process of changing your name via Deed Poll.

Age at interview 22

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PJ talks about his experience of coming out at university and the support provided by changing details and the wellbeing service.

Age at interview 21

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Young people described the difference changing their name and pronouns meant to them. Declan said, ‘having all my documents as male meant I could go through my adult life without ever having to come out to someone, I could like apply to University without having to worry about like my name and my gender not matching. He said, it just made my life a lot easier. M said, ‘telling people I like to use these pronouns and then hearing the pronouns back just being like ‘yo that’s lit’, like ‘that’s me.’

Some talked about applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate*5and were frustrated with this process and the lack of information. Noelle talked about how she wished ‘there was more information about updating your government records. She explained how she had difficulty changing her name and gender with HMRC because she didn’t have a Gender Recognition Certificate. She also commented on how it would useful to have online information about how to update [government records] with new gender markers for trans people. Jessica talked about how she was frustrated with the delays to the Gender Recognition Act.

Evelyn’s mum talks about the issues she’s had changing her name.

Age at interview 14

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Theo talks about the issues he’s had with changing his name.

Age at interview 23

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Some of the young people we spoke to talked about pressure from healthcare services to change their name before offering any physical intervention. Sally said that her healthcare practitioner told her ‘Next time you come get your legal name change sorted so we can get you onto hormones,” cos they wanted you to have changed your name by that point.’ Hear more about people’s experiences of changing their name and pronouns with GP surgeries.

Tori talks about making changes to her name and appearance and dipping my toes in the water.

Age at interview 34

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See also:

Journeys to identifying as trans and gender diverse

Hormones

Experiences of GP surgeries

Experiences of Gender Identity Clinics (GIC)

Diverse journeys and pathways

*1 Mermaids describe binding as “used by some (but not all) trans masculine people to compress their chests and create a more conventionally masculine shape.”

Mermaids (2021). Glossary.

Gendered Intelligence say “binding is a way to make your chest look flatter. But it’s not for everyone”. (Trans Guys, 2010).

Gendered Intelligence (2021). How to gain the appearance of a flat chest: binding.

*2 A packer is described as a phallic object worn in the underwear to give the appearance of having a penis (Underwood, 2016)

Underwood, T. (2016, May). A Guide to Packers for Transmen. FTM Guide.

*3 “Laser hair removal is a cosmetic procedure that uses a powerful laser or intense pulsed light (IPL) to remove unwanted hair” (NHS, 2021). It does not work well for people with dark skin or light hair, which means it, is not suitable for many.

*4 More information on changes to names through deed poll can be found at freedeedpoll.org.uk. The deed poll should be printed and signed by two witnesses.

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