Social Transitioning

Social transitioning for transgender young people and their families module - Introduction

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this module, you should be able to:

  1. Use the appropriate names/pronouns when talking to, with or about your trans family member
  2. Identify potential key issues related to the appearance of your trans family member
  3. Identify potentially important social issues for your trans family member
  4. Communicate with others about your trans family member

Part 1. Changing names and pronouns

Part 1. Personal stories

In this part, take some time to read stories from other families about their experiences with name and pronoun changes.

It’s really hard to call him [preferred name]. It is getting easier though. He doesn't belong correcting us if we call him by his female name though.
Mother of a 16-year old trans young person
Oh my god, this was so hard at the beginning…I found it very confusing to stick to their male pronoun and name since I've been using a female pronoun to describe them for the past 15 years! I had to recondition myself into using their new name and male pronouns. As the weeks progressed we all got the hang of it and we told our four year old son that their new name was a nickname that they prefer to be called from now on, and they got it! He thought it was cool and fun! Then we corrected our four year old gently when they used female pronouns. With my husband there was a lot more work to be done there as he is 'old school' and very innocent to this new world he was being flung into.
Mother of an 18-year old trans young person
For me the hardest part was the name change, my daughter picked a name that I really disliked and wouldn't change it, so that was hard. It's also hard to just to try and forget the birth name, the one that you had chosen for your child. The pronouns are a little easier than the name and there was lots of mistakes the first few weeks, but it does get easier, and our youngest child is always around to correct us.
Mother of a 20-year old trans young person
I am not looking forward to name change but I am sure it will get easier with time. The child is thinking of picking the name we were going to use if she was a boy, I think she is just trying to make things easier on us.
Mother of an 11-year old trans child
Wasn’t an issue as it was a variation of the original name.
Father of a 24-year old trans young person
This took quite some time to deal with. We dropped birth name almost immediately, then used a nickname and then moved on to new name. I managed to construct sentences without pronouns until I became comfortable with new pronoun. This was difficult for all of the family.
Mother of a 20-year old trans young person
Oh my, it was very difficult, I thought about doing it for a very long time - perhaps a year before I actually did it and I felt that once I started or even gave it a try I would have to continue it regardless. It felt very, very strange. I hated the name he had chosen but I love it now. The name is not the hardest part to get used to but the pronoun is almost impossible because it is something we do innately and don't really think about. It was probably 18 months or so before I really got used to it…
Mother of a 20-year old trans young person

Part 1. Summary

Part 2. Changing appearances

Part 2. Summary

Part 3. Social issues

Part 4. Coming out to others

Part 4. Personal stories

In this part, take some time to read stories from other families about their experiences with coming out.

It was one of the things that I dreaded most. I was so worried about what other people would say, but actually they were all great. Most said, "as long as the child is happy." I think that once the most important people to me and my child knew and were willing to support us, it didn't really matter what anyone else thought. The more people we told, the easier it got each time. Everyone was really respectful, full of questions and if I didn't know the answer, I would tell them.
Mother of a 20-year old trans young person
Well we go with what [names son] wants and he wants us to keep it quiet for now.
Mother of a 16-year old trans young person
Not half as bad as I thought, it seemed to make sense to most people as he had always been a 'Tomboy'. You can tell when people are having a hard time understanding so I learnt not to elaborate or go on about it with those people, although when those people are some of your closest friends it can be hurtful. For the most part, people do get it and come around, it just takes some longer than others. I told different people in different ways depending on how well I knew them or their age bracket. I found that if I was very honest in telling people how I was struggling with it that they were most likely to be positive and supportive.
Mother of a 20-year old trans young person
Found it [coming out to others] very hard.
Father of a 24-year old trans young person
…we have told the school and close friends and family. We have not encountered any negativity. Everybody is being very supportive, no matter what their age. It felt better after we had told people and we realised that we were not going to be ostracised.
Mother of an 11-year old trans child
It was a very gradual process, once I told one or two people it was easy to share with everybody. My husband found this process almost impossible so I told his family.
Mother of a 20-year old trans young person
We just started telling people as we met them. As word travels fast in a relatively small community and the speed of texting and the Internet, we felt it better to tell people and give them permission to tell people…They [parents] both took it really well…The first Christmas I sent out all our Christmas cards with my son’s new name and my phone number. I didn't get any calls back! We have since met our extended family at weddings, funerals and christenings and have been accepted without fuss.
Mother of a 18-year old trans young person

Activity 1

Ask your family member if you can speak to them for a few minutes about social transitioning. Ask whether they have any issues related to social transitioning? Do they have concerns about expressing their gender in social situations? Ask specifically about name/pronouns and appearances. Discuss the pace of a social transition: Should it occur all at once or is it more suitable for things to happen in stages? Discuss how you can address any of these concerns.

Activity 2

Ask your family member if you can speak to them for a few minutes about coming out.

  • Do they have concerns or questions about coming out as transgender? If so, to whom or in what situations?
  • Discuss how your family member wishes to come out – do they want you to tell others? Do they want to do it themselves? Do they want to tell at all? Through what method?
  • How would your family member feel if they were outed, without permission, by others such as friends?
  • Discuss how you might deal with questions and any negative reactions.

Brainstorm a strategy with your family member related to coming out. Consider the who, when/where, how, and what of the plan. Review some of the strategies presented in this module and discuss which might work for your family and community. Write a plan of action for how you want to move forward.

Tip: Review the ‘brainstorming’ links at the end of this section for advice on brainstorming.

Activity 3

Reflective journal. How do you feel about the different aspects of social transitioning? Write a reflection on this topic (in your journal or log if you’re keeping one).

Consider the following questions (if relevant to your situation):

  • How do you feel about potentially calling your family member by a different name or using different pronouns? Are there any situations where it might be difficult to use their preferred terms?
  • Do any aspects of the social transitioning process feel challenging to you? Are there any aspects you are looking forward to either for yourself or your trans family member?
  • When you think about telling others about your family member’s transgender identity, how does this make you feel? Are there situations where this might be easier or harder?

Key messages summary

The social aspects of transitioning are an important part of not only your transgender family member’s life and wellbeing, but also the entire family. There is no one size fits all path for social transitioning. It is often a process of the young person and the family figuring things out as they go. It will likely take time and patience on everyone’s part to work through this process. As long as you are all coming from a place of respect and support, it is hoped you can successfully navigate these processes.

Further resources related to this module

***RECOMMENDED*** Brill, S. and Pepper, R. (2008). Chapter 6: Disclosure: Whom to tell, how, why, and when in ‘The transgender child: A handbook for families and professional’ by Brill, S. and Pepper, R.

Brill, S. and Pepper, R. (2016). ‘The transgender teen: A handbook for parents and professionals supporting transgender and non-binary teens.’ Jersey City, NJ, USA: Cleis Press.

Jai, L., Strachan, S., Griffin, S., and Easton, A. Coming out as transgender: A guide for young people. Glasgow, Scotland, UK: LGBT Youth Scotland.

Ryan, C. (2009) 'Helping Families Support Their Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Children'. Available from: http://nccc.georgetown.edu.

Ryan, C. (2009) Supportive families, healthy children: Helping families with lesbian, gay, bisexual & transgender children. San Francisco, CA: Family Acceptance Project, Marian Wright Edelman Institute, San Francisco State University. Available from: http://familyproject.sfsu.edu.

PDF Commonly asked questions.

To learn more about brainstorming and how it can help in discussions, please visit the websites below:

Mind Tools Editorial Team. ‘Brainstorming’. Available at: https://www.mindtools.com.

Hansen, B. ‘7 Techniques for more effective brainstorming’ on the Wrike Blog. 16 November 2016. Available at: https://www.wrike.com.

Sources used in developing this module:

Brill, S. and Pepper, R. (2008). Chapter 6: Disclosure: Whom to tell, how, why, and when in ‘The transgender child: A handbook for families and professional’ by Brill, S. and Pepper, R.

Ryan, C., Huebner, D., Diaz, R. M., & Sanchez, J. (2009). Family rejection as a predictor of negative health outcomes in white and Latino lesbian, gay and bisexual young adults. Pediatrics, 123(1): 346-352

Subject Matters Experts (SMEs) in Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI).