Social transition

Social transition refers to a number of changes that can be made in a person’s social life such as change of name, pronouns, physical appearance (haircut, dressing style, etc.). The goals of social transition may vary for individuals. For some people the goal is to be comfortable in their gender expression and role, for others it may be exploration. Some people may feel they need to socially transition in order to access medical intervention.
For young people, social transition usually happens after a person comes out as trans or gender diverse, but there is no one or standard way of coming out or socially transitioning, and parents and carers we talked to had different experiences of the process.
In our interviews, people shared their experiences of supporting their children through their social transition. For the children of parents we spoke to who lived at home, social transition often started with changing the name and pronouns at home.
Depending on the child’s age, social transition might include having a conversation with the school. You can read more about transitioning at school here [link to TS18]. It might also lead to arranging a GP visit to discuss the possibility of a referral to the Gender Identity Development Services (GIDS).
In this section you can read about parents’ and carers’ experiences of their children’s social transition. Some of the things they talked about include:
  • Time and place, negotiating transition across different settings;
  • Parents’ and carers’ feelings about their children’s social transition; and
  • Living in stealth, choosing not to disclose one’s trans status.

Time and place, negotiating social transition across different settings

Georgina talks about supporting her son’s social transition and how they made a list of all the things that they needed to do when he came out to her.

Many parents we spoke to described how their child’s transition happened gradually across a number of settings, usually starting at home. Leigh said that her foster son ‘transitioned at home [and it] went fine. That lasted about four weeks. And then he just came out at a social club he was at and said, you know, My name is. And he gave his new name. So he transitioned there. And, at the Easter, he transitioned at school in primary.’ Social transition outside of the home was often carefully planned. One parent said that her daughter used to wear gender-neutral clothes for quite some time and that she had her own ‘timeframe’ to go back into school ‘as a girl.’
Transitioning may include formal changes such as changing of a young person’s passport and/or driving licence, and/or making a declaration of name change at school or university. Rights to make these changes are guaranteed under the Equality Act. People over 18 can also obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate. For people over the age of 16, names can be officially changed through Deed Poll. For younger people, everyone with parental responsibility for the child has to give their consent. Changing the official documents can be an important and affirming experience for the young person. For example, one parent shared about her daughter: ‘[our] GP, gave us a letter to get our passport updated, which the gender clinic had refused. The gender clinic had said We cant update passports till after puberty, because she might change her mind about her identity, which is just, I dont think they understand like even if she did feel differently in the future, why does she have to have a passport that makes her sad now, But the GP was like, Well obviously, shes a girl shes, her passport should say shes a girl and so the GP gave us a letter and we got her passport updated and she was really happy about that.’
For parents of adult children who live away from home, the experience of their child socially transitioning might be very different. See more on this below. E said her son’s social transition ‘came as something of a surprise’ to her.

E and D talk about their son’s social transition over time.

Socially transitioning does not mean that the young person will go on to take hormone blockers or hormones and have gender affirming surgery in the future. However, for some parents of older children, who chose to get hormones or have surgery, the medical transition was part of the overall transition process. Ross said that his child’s transition began when they were at secondary school, but that it isnt complete because ‘theres still surgery to go.’ He added that having started on ‘[a] testosterone programme… at 19 years old theyve finally started their journey where it all began at 13.’

Parents’ and carers’ feelings about their children’s social transition

Parents and carers we spoke to had different experiences and feelings around their children’s coming out and social transition.
For some parents we spoke to, supporting their child’s social transition was a difficult process. One parent shared how this process looked for her family. She observed that once her and her partner decided to support their daughter’s social transition it meant taking on ‘a daunting task’ of explaining ‘this to the world and making a world thats sort of safe enough for her.’

For Interview 1, supporting her daughter’s social transition started with not rejecting her gender diverse identity.

Some parents felt that their child’s social transition happened quite fast. This was particularly true for parents who don’t live with their child, or stepparents like Mel. Others, likeLeigh felt that their child would have liked things to happen much quicker.
Mel spoke about how the social transition might feel like a lot to process in a short time. In particular, as she felt her and her husband were ‘the last ones to know’ about her stepdaughters gender identity. Mel thought the social transition happened very fast. However, she also felt that now people are used to the fact that her stepdaughter is a girl and ‘is the person she was always meant to be’ and she observed that it just felt ‘right and she seemed happy.’ It is important to note that whilst transition might feel fast to outsiders it can feel extremely different for the individual dealing with those feelings.

Leigh felt her foster son’s social transition ‘could have gone quicker’ if it wasn’t for her insisting on slowing things down.

Mel felt her stepdaughter’s social transition ‘accelerated’ and she and her husband were way behind in terms of coming to grips’ with it.

Living in stealth, choosing not to disclose one’s trans status

No trans person is in any way expected to disclose their trans status.
The choice to live ‘stealth’ is a very personal one and can be made for a whole host of reasons. Some individuals may want to be stealth in some environments and not others, some may choose to live stealth for a period of time, then out, then stealth and so on, some may want to be stealth due to not identifying as trans or gender diverse. Many trans and gender diverse people are forced to hide who they are because of fear of rejection or discrimination.
Trans and gender diverse people can face exclusion, prejudice and at times direct violence. They often lack support from their families and are at risk of discrimination in education, employment and healthcare (Stonewall, 2018).
Having socially transitioned means that the young person is sometimes able to ‘pass’, meaning that they are perceived as the gender they wish to present as. At times, this means that people in their day-day life dont know their trans history, this is sometimes referred to as living in stealth. Some trans young people opt to live stealth as it might lessen the risk of bullying that many young trans people face. Living in stealth is not a way to stop harassment though, as harassment should be stopped at the source.
A few parents we spoke to shared their child’s experiences of living in stealth. Feeling that one is not able to share one’s trans history can be a difficult experience for a young person. Mel spoke about her stepdaughter not wanting to lie to people about it but also being anxious of being rejected if she shared that information with her peers.
Mel spoke about her stepdaughter having close friends who accepted her, but feels that the fear of being rejected for being trans was a lot to deal with for her young stepdaughter.
It is very important to be respectful of someone’s decision to live stealth or not. Lisa spoke about her son’s decision not to disclose his trans status at the new school and how that made her feel. She said: ‘I have every sympathy, because I’m really proud to be the mother of a transgender kid because I recognise, challenges that one has to overcome to, to be in that bracket. But I can’t shout it from the rooftops, because I have to be respectful of his wish to remain, you know, his identity to remain under wraps for the time being.’
Kate’s son was at school where some people knew about his trans status. She observed that ‘when he has to admit it [being trans], he admits it, if he can get away with not admitting it then he won’t.’ She also said her son was looking forward to getting ‘through it so that he can get out the other side and then actually start, you know, just no-one will know and he can just be him.’
A person can choose to remain in stealth in some spaces, whilst they are ‘out’ in others. This might also change over time. Ali said her daughter was very much ‘in stealth’ initially but she is now much more open and out socially.

Lisa talks about her son’s reasons to remain in stealth at his new school.

Ali talks about her daughter ‘not being out’ at school and how that made her feel.

Find out what parents and carers said about supporting their young person’s mental health and wellbeing.

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