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Transitioning is the process of changing one's gender presentation permanently to accord with one's internal sense of one's gender - the idea of what it means to be a man or a woman, or in-between. For transsexual people, this process typically involves sex reassignment therapy (which may include hormone replacement therapy and sex reassignment surgery), and their new sex is "opposite" that of their birth-assigned sex. For intersex people, it is different from how they were raised. For genderqueer people, it is neither solely female nor male. Cross-dressers, drag queens, & drag kings tend not to transition, since their variant gender presentations are (usually) only adopted temporarily.
Transition must begin with a personal decision to transition, prompted by the feeling that one's gender identity does not match the gender that one was assigned at birth. One of the most significant parts of transitioning for many transgender people is coming out for the first time. Transitioning is a process, not an event, that takes anywhere between several months and several years. Some people, especially genderqueer people, may spend their whole life transitioning as they redefine and re-interpret their gender as time passes. Transitioning generally begins where the person feels comfortable: for some, this begins with their family with whom they are intimate and reaches to friends later or may begin with friends first and family later. Sometimes transitioning is at different levels between different spheres of life. For example, someone may transition far with family and friends before even coming out at work.
Transitioning is sometimes confused with sex reassignment surgery (SRS), but that is only one possible element of transitioning. Many people who transition choose not to have SRS, or do not have the means to do so. Whereas SRS is a surgical procedure, transitioning is more holistic and usually includes physical, psychological, social, and emotional changes. Some genderqueer and intersex people have little or no desire to undergo surgery to change their body but will transition in other ways.
Passing refers to being perceived and accepted by other people as a desired gender identity. This can be one aspect of transitioning, though genderqueer people may choose to purposely not pass. Someone observing, for example, a trans woman passing may know of her trans status but still consider her a woman.
Going full-time refers to a person living one's everyday life as the gender one identifies with. One's passing can be limited by safety, legal or bodily restraints. For instance, someone who has worked at a job as female may feel they cannot safely present as male and may switch jobs instead. Mental health professionals who go by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) Standards of Care for the Health of Transsexual, Transgender, and Gender Nonconforming People will normally require a patient to go full-time for at least a year (a period of time generally referred to as the "Real-Life Experience" or "Real-Life Test") before recommending surgery.
Going stealth means to live as a gender without other people realising a person is transgender. Trans people often go stealth in public but not with family, partners, or intimate friends. There have been many cases of people who have lived and worked as a gender identity opposite of their birth gender. See Category:Transgender and transsexual people for some examples.
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Transitioning is a complicated process that involves any or all of the gendered aspects of a person's life. Below are some common parts of transitioning. People may choose elements based on their own gender identity, body image, personality, finances, and sometimes the attitudes of others. A degree of experimentation is used to know what changes best fit them. Transitioning also varies between cultures and subcultures according to differences in the societies' views of gender.
- Social, psychological, and legal
- Coming out
- Gender role changes
- Passing or going stealth
- Legally and/or socially changing their name to something consistent with their gender identity
- Asking others to use a set of pronouns different from before; for example, a trans man would ask to be referred to as he rather than she, or a genderqueer/non-binary person might ask to be referred to as they or by a pronoun like ze
- Having one's legal gender changed on their driver's license, ID, birth certificate, etc.
- Personal relationships take on different dynamics in accordance with gender
- Altering objects worn to better represent gender identity
- Adopting mannerisms consistent with the new gender role
- Adopting a new sexual role and/or performing new sexual acts, especially if the body's sex organs have changed
- A person's ideas about gender in general may change which may affect their religious, philosophical and/or political beliefs
- Brown, M.L. & Rounsley, C.A. (1996) True Selves: Understanding Transsexualism - For Families, Friends, Coworkers, and Helping Professionals Jossey-Bass: San Francisco ISBN 0-7879-6702-5
- World Professional Association for Transgender Health (September 2011). "Standards of Care for the Health of Transsexual, Transgender, and Gender Nonconforming People, Seventh Version" (PDF). http://www.tssurgeryguide.com/gender-therapists.html
- Jerry J. Bigner, Joseph L. Wetchler, Handbook of LGBT-affirmative Couple and Family Therapy (2012, ISBN 0415883598), page 207: "gender transition can be achieved through the use of clothing, hairstyle, preferred name and pronouns, ..."
- "Sie Hir, Now: Terms for Gender Variant People". Retrieved 2012-05-13.