Social Transition What's It All About Then!?
We hear a great deal about the process many Trans people undertake as regards medical transition.
The courage to change your body, to feel right in your own skin & identity, is not for the faint hearted.
Some Trans Non-Binary people opt to begin HRT, whilst others choose surgical options with all the pain, discomfort & recovery time that entails.
This process is lengthy, despite what the mainstream media would have us believe. Essentially years on waiting lists for even a first appointment. Then follow up appointments, assessments, tests, surgical consultations, endless gatekeeping & so on.
I have the upmost respect for Trans & Non- Binary folx who undertake such a immense battle to fight for themselves.
However this article is focused on a different kind of transition, the social one.
It has differing but equivilant waiting times, consultations, tests & recovery periods.
Social Transition is when a Transgender or Non-Binary person undertakes to change their appearance/presentation, often their name or a new variant of their birth name, their pronouns & the legalities associated with these factors, to align with their gender identity.
Usually the appearance of a Non-Binary or Trans person, may shift considerably during this process. For many prior to this part of their transition, they have had a cisgender passing presentation & been incorrectly assumed to be, the gender they were assigned at birth. This is most often accompanied by the assumed pronouns he/him she/her Mr/Mrs etc.
As a Transgender or NB person embarks on the Social Transition process, their appearance may significantly shift. Either over a period of time or seemingly quite suddenly, undoubtedly after a lengthy period of pre contemplation.
This may include changes to their hairstyle, clothing choices, accessories, make up or lack of, to align their gender expression in a way that feels more fitting for them.
Many Trans/NB people may experience a great deal of relief or even a sense of euphoria, when they begin to recognise themselves, seeing how they feel inside reflected on the outside.
However what often gets missed is how many Trans people are also emotionally & physically vulnerable during this process, and need allies more than ever.
It's almost an equivilant of carrying a billboard naming your most vulnerable issue to the world on your back & front. Then being expected to carry that around with you as you go about your day to day business at work, the school run, walking down the street, visiting family or friends etc.
This is how Social Transition can be experienced by Trans people. The world looks on perplexed by the changes, whilst the person is at their most vulnerable, under the intense gaze & scrutiny of society.
It is a choice of course, one of those no choice kind of choices!! The angst pain & discomfort of dysphoria, often produces a compelling pressure cooker, to finally just look how we feel.
This inner conflict can create difficulties around experiencing levels of fear & shame (due to internalised homophobia & transphobia) which require a great deal of support for the Trans person to navigate, whilst maintaining their wellbeing. Having a well informed LGBTQ Therapist, to support you through this process, can be invaluable.
These type of outward changes can also compromise physical safety & the exposure can contribute greatly to emotional distress & mental health issues.
The waiting times considering what can feel like a drastic course of action, vary for those transitioning socially . For some it's months, for others it's years, for many it's decades.
Eventually the person society has assumed to be one gender, gradually evolves into a more neutral or often binary gender expression, to align with the gender they know themselves to be (gender identity.)
Often though not exclusively, Trans people will adopt a new name or variation, of their birth name.
This is a highly personal process and again requires great vulnerability to request to the world that has known you by one name, to now address you by your name of choice.
This in societies eyes is a bold request to make with varying responses.
Some people will get on board & celebrate your name choice, others will sadly weaponise your birth name (deadname) as an act of prejudice.
Most try really hard to remember & occasionally genuinely slip up, which is understandable when it's new. And some simply refuse to use either name at all to address you!! 🤔
Culturally we are conditioned to be named as babies, in our first few hours or days of life. A painstaking choice by our parents, which we inherit & grow into.
It would be lovely if our society honoured peoples chosen names as a right of passage. So we can later decide, if our original name fits the identity, we evolve into.
Trans/NB people are trailblazers in the painstaking process of finding a name that fits who we currently are. As we shed our birth names, often called deadnames, in favour of our chosen name.
In terms of society that seems at odds with our norms & values.
However across wider cultures, this is encouraged as a coming of age process. I wonder what we could learn from that & how all people may benefit from that whether they be Cis or Trans?
In terms of legality to make name changes official, there is a legal process to negotiate, with some differences between the UK & the USA.
In the UK a Statutory declaration in front of an official for a nominal fee. Or more commonly a deed poll application witnessed & signed for a nominal fee, will confirm the change.
Within a day or two the name change takes effect & your certified copy of your deed poll arrives through your letterbox. Congratulations vouila!! you have your chosen name legally recognised 😊
This then requires a plethora of admin to wade through. Essentially weeks of letters & emails, visits to change other forms of ID passport, driving licence, bank accounts etc.
Most institutions are familiar with surname changes re marriage, divorce, adoption as opposed to first name changes; here in lies another level of Social Transition discomfort.
The head scratching with a quizzical expression, has in my experience been the response more often than not, to a first name change.
Online or by phone the voice of the other person, can adopt almost an accusatory tone, implying identity theft or fraud.
In a way there may be a grain of truth in that, as regards the shift from an identity that didn't fit, into a more authentic one. Essentially a form of identity theft in reverse!! Where you are returning the name you were given that didn't feel like a good fit & replacing it with a much more authentic identity.
These are just a few of the challenges posed by Social Transition & repeated hundreds of times, throughout the process of months & years.
The changes in appearance to align to a more neutral or binary gender that fits, a new name usually though not exclusively, leads into establishing new pronouns.
Pronouns are a cause of much debate!!🤔 The use of the singular they, perhaps being the most controversial.
However as a singular pronoun in its own right, it was recognised by the Dictionary as word of the year in 2019.
Moreover high profile celebs use of singular they as a pronoun, has raised awareness immeasurably: despite ongoing hostility evident in mainstream media & social media. Nonetheless people are being educated that singular they, like it or not, is a thing.
The use of neo pronouns ze/hir/hirs & xe/xem/xyr is a step further on, perhaps one day we will see them in common usage, but I think that is some way off.
Finally & sadly bathrooms are still the final frontier of Social Transition at this time.
This is a very controversial concept in mainstream cishet society.
All I can add to this is that Trans/NB folx have been using bathrooms, that align with their gender identity, daily for decades, with little to no consequence!
So there you go a quick jaunt through some of the key stages that Transgender & Non-binary people navigate daily, throughout their Social Transitions.
If you have a loved one, family member or friend, a colleague or even a boss going through this process....
Please spare a thought for the billboard metaphor & be kind, be an ally, you could be making all the difference in the world.
If you are a Trans or Non-binary person going through this process. Please seek out a strong support network, an LGBTQ informed therapist, exercise lots of self care, & share & process your experiences in safe spaces.
Most of all #beyougowell ❤️🏳️🌈
Therapist, Writer & Content Creator