It’s time to celebrate your story.
Being trans is so many conflicting things at once. It can be beautiful, ugly, joyous, sorrowful, and anything in between. It can feel as easy as breathing even while being made increasingly difficult by the world around us. With all that in mind, figuring out how to affirm your gender can be pretty complicated.
Unsurprisingly, affirming your gender can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. At the simplest level, affirming your gender describes any act or experience that makes you feel more aligned with your gender expression. Do it right and you get to experience that sweet, sweet hit of gender euphoria. As a trans person, there is nothing else like that hard-fought feeling of being at home in my gender after a lifetime of feeling out of place.
That said, you don’t need to be trans to affirm your gender. Just imagine those stereotypical big, tough cis guys who love getting super ripped at the gym and overcompensating for their Napoleon complexes by driving really, really big trucks. I may not be a cis dude, but those all sound like ways of affirming masculinity to me — a trans dude.
Exploring gender is for everyone! It’s an amazingly powerful way to support and get to know yourself no matter who you are or what you make you feel affirmed. It may be as minor as painting your toenails or as significant as undergoing surgery, but you’re the only one who gets to decide what gender-affirming means to you. With that in mind, here are 16 ideas for how to affirm your gender no matter how you identify.
How To Affirm Your Internal Experience of Gender
1. Figure out what feeling affirmed in your gender means to you personally.
OK, this is a lot easier said than done. After a lifetime of hiding and being taught not to trust your natural instincts, it can be incredibly hard to get to know your actual self as a trans person. Figuring out the fact that you’re trans is hard enough as it is, and that’s only the beginning. It can be scary facing down what feels like uncharted territory, and sometimes, that uncertainty leads newly out trans folks back down a path of performing cis-heteronormativity — just in a different direction this time.
Transitioning is about claiming the freedom to find out what makes you feel your best. In the words of best-selling author and nonbinary LGBTQ+ advocate Jeffrey Marsh, “We’re not living our lives for cis people’s narratives anymore.” They are a firm believer that there’s no one “right” way to be trans and encourage folks to let go of some “perfect image” of transness that, in reality, may be holding them back from embodying their truest selves.
Especially for nonbinary folks, you might be surprised about what feels affirming. For example, as a nonbinary, transmasculine person, I actually find that doing certain “feminine” things, like painting my nails or wearing jewelry, can be very affirming for my masculinity, especially after I started hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Being trans is all about creating a new way to be, so don’t be afraid to think outside of the box and find what feels good for you.
2. Get to know your inner child.
If you’re not quite sure where to start with affirming your own gender, it’s best to start at the very beginning. Gender as we know it is a social construct, and the beautiful thing about kids is that they haven’t yet learned to accept social constructs as indisputable facts. And, at some point in your life, neither had you.
Can you remember any earlier experiences of childhood when you chafed against the gender you were assigned at birth? What did you want as a kid that you weren’t allowed to have because of arbitrary gender “rules?” Maybe you spent your Little League games daydreaming about ballet dancing in the outfield? Or maybe you were saddled with an Easy-Bake Oven when what you really wanted for Christmas was a Creepy Crawlers Bug Maker — not that I’m bitter or anything.
What can you do now to fulfill those long-forgotten wants and needs? It can be helpful to remind yourself that you’ve always been you, even if you never had the chance to take care of yourself in the right ways before.
3. Get creative.
Another great way of both affirming your gender and getting to know what feels empowering for you as a trans person is to try and express yourself creatively. Whether that’s through writing, painting, singing, making TikToks, elaborate cloth napkin-folding, or anything else, giving yourself a nonjudgmental space to be creative, have fun, and express yourself in new ways can be an incredibly empowering experience. (Even if you’re not exactly sure what gender means to you yet.)
4. Let yourself be playful.
According to Marsh, gender should be “free and playful,” which “sounds easy but oh no it is not. For a lot of trans folks, it feels very urgent that everyone has their ducks in a row, because when we were kids, having our sh*t together was one way we avoided violence.” And though this self-protective reflex may have helped shield us from harm as children, as adults it can do much more harm than good.
At any rate, Queer people have been through enough and deserve to find joy in whatever ways we can — big or small — and exploring your gender can be a great way to do so. This can mean different things to different people, but the crux of this sentiment is just to stop taking yourself so seriously all the time. That might mean wearing tons of bright colors and “childish” styles without caring if other people might find it silly. It could be taking the gay clubs by storm with the girlies and letting yourself dance like no one is watching.
For me, this mainly comes down to reminding myself that gender as we know it is entirely made up, and isn’t it funny that so many people get so mad about it all the time? Like, I’m just trying to go to the bathroom, and some conservative guy is getting his panties in a bunch because of what may or may not be in my pants? Ridiculous. Of course, it’s all fun and games until someone gets hate-crimed, but, oddly enough, that’s life when you’re Queer. We may as well have a good time while we can, and play is a powerful coping mechanism.
How To Affirm Your Gender Through Self-Expression
5. Get a haircut.
Do I really need to justify the power of a good haircut? Whatever your gender, it’s hard to deny that checking yourself out in the mirror with a new ‘do feels pretty incredible. Especially when you’ve been getting the “wrong” kind of haircuts your whole life, finding a style that feels right for you can feel utterly transformative.
In recent years, the mullet has become something of a Queer icon and can be an affirming hairstyle for any gender, but as always it’s about what works for you. Whether you’re shaving your whole head, growing your hair out for the first time ever, or going all-in on some Manic Panic, you deserve a crown fitting of your gender!
6. Experiment with new beauty products or techniques.
Much like a new hairstyle, a new makeup look can do wonders for your self-esteem. This is a great way to treat yourself to a little self-care while also fulfilling that gender-affirming itch you need to scratch.
For people exploring more feminine aspects of their gender, you might try a new eye shadow, lip color, or whatever viral makeup trend is doing the rounds. Prominent trans makeup artist and YouTuber Nikkie de Jager even has a great tutorial for “feminizing” the face, if that’s a goal you have. Granted, buying and experimenting with makeup for the first time can feel especially daunting for newly out transfemmes, but try to remember that we all have to start somewhere! Not everyone has the privilege of getting the “right” gender tutorials early on in life, and that’s not your fault. You deserve the time and space to learn, too, so try to be gentle with yourself.
Makeup is a powerful tool that anyone can use to affirm their gender, and the fun isn’t just for femmes! Masc folks, especially those looking to pass as cis for either personal or safety reasons, can use contouring to “masculinize” their face and even give the illusion of thicker facial hair. That said, I’m also very here for more fellas sporting extravagant makeup looks, too — power to the pretty boys!
7. Develop a sense of style that feels right for your current gender.
You may not have the money for a whole new wardrobe, but there are still loads of ways you can use fashion to affirm your gender. For a lot of people, this is a process of trial and error. It takes a lot of work to develop a personalized sense of style, but the rewards can lead to so many good gender feelings! It is worth it.
Gender-affirming style consultant Gwyn Averill creates TikTok content to help other trans folks feel more affirmed in their personal style — often just by reworking what they already own or thrifting what they don’t. Though much of their content is geared towards creating a more “masculine” silhouette for curvier bodies, they have recently begun doing collabs with other creators like Griffin Brooks, who recently shared some tips for people assigned male at birth (AMAB) looking to “feminize” their style.
8. Try some new pronouns on for size.
Whether you’ve been out for some time and want to try something new or are just starting to get to know your transness, changing pronouns can be a great way to explore your gender identity. Although the healthiest, most sustainable form of affirmation comes from within, there is something a little extra special about having other people validate your gender, too. (We all deserve a little external validation as a treat.)
Moreso, claiming your gender in such a public way can be an empowering act, rebellious in a world that makes it so unsafe to exist as a trans person. Depending on your current circumstance, it may not be safe to change your pronouns publicly, but it can feel freeing to share them to trusted friends and family members. In any case, sharing your pronouns with a smaller circle to start can be a nice way of easing your transition to leave some extra safe space for emotional processing. From there, you can decide whether or not to be honest when folks ask or to share them in a passively public way — like on a name tag or in your email signature and social media bios.
As for the pronouns themselves, it’s all about what feels right to you. You may feel that, especially as you continue to explore your gender, multiple pronouns make you feel good. You may feel more comfortable using neopronouns instead of the more familiar options of he/him, she/her, or they/them. You may not care about pronouns at all. Whatever you do, just don’t limit yourself.
9. Give yourself a new name.
Names are powerful, and picking a new one can be a great exercise in expressing your identity and claiming your gender. This may or may not be public; trying out a new name just on yourself can be a helpful self-explorative exercise. Or, much like pronouns, it can also be helpful to ease your way into the process by sharing your new name with a smaller circle before totally putting yourself out there.
It can be scary to take a new name out into the world, opening yourself up to the near-certainty of being deadnamed in public, being outed whenever your legal name is required, and just constantly being reminded that people don’t see you for who you really are. The legal name change process may remove some of those possibilities, but it comes along with its own taxing emotional, legal, and financial drawbacks and the additional complication that the process varies depending on what state you’re in. Moreover, the sheer financial expense makes this process inaccessible for many people, especially considering the significant pay gap for trans folks in the US. (It typically costs between $25 - $500 depending on where you live, per legal resource site Justia.) Although there are some assistance options for low-income trans folks seeking a legal name change, it can still be a tough hurdle to overcome.
Even with all that, giving yourself a new name, one that finally feels right, can feel like coming home. It might be helpful to make a list of several names that appeal to you for one reason or another and sit with them for a while. You might find the name that feels like you right away, or you might not. It’s a process, and you don’t need to shame yourself for taking your time or making some changes along the way. Your name will never be a burden, and anyone who feels that way isn’t worthy of knowing you.
As for how to choose a new name, the options are endless. For some folks, it’s important to pick a name with a history or meaning that they connect with. This can also be doubly significant to anyone looking to connect with their heritage by picking a name rooted in their cultural background. Others may ask their parents or family for potential names, whether that means choices inspired by family history, options they considered prior to their birth, or totally new ideas. Some folks may draw from their favorite books, films, or TV shows. Others take inspiration from nature. Some may not change their name at all. Others may change it once, twice, and again and again until they find what works.
How To Affirm Your Gender In The Physical Body
10. Get a new tattoo or piercing.
Permanently changing your physical appearance is a very powerful way to take ownership of your own body. Although body modifications may not be for everyone, if ink or body jewelry appeal to you, they can be a great way to affirm your gender. The piercing or tattoo doesn’t even need to be related to gender or sexuality specifically — sometimes, it just feels good to be intentional about adorning your body.
11. Try out trans voice work.
Trans voice work is a burgeoning field that involves a wide variety of practices, but the primary focus is learning how to modify the pitch or tone of your voice in a way that better fits your gender expression. This can be an intense physical and emotional process, but the results can be truly euphoric. Moreover, for plenty of trans folks, mastering voice work can be a safety measure that allows them to “pass” as cis in unsafe spaces.
According to Alex Robinson, MT-BC (he/him), a licensed music therapist and trans man specializing in trans voice work, “Gender-affirming voice work allows people to explore their own voice. Our voices show where we've come from and who we are in a unique way that can be particularly vulnerable. Strengthening and trying out new ways of using the voice often frees it to fit into an expression that matches an individual's identity. Exploring it with a mentor can be helpful in avoiding things that can strain the voice or even end up causing the opposite effect in the long term.”
12. Start HRT.
You absolutely do not have to medically transition in any way to be trans. You’re the only one who gets to define your experience of gender and transness. Not all trans folks feel dysphoric about their body, and that doesn’t make them any less trans! Honestly, I wish we could all be so lucky. However, if you do think starting hormones would be an affirming experience for you, it is an incredibly empowering way to get more in touch with your body and grow more comfortable in your physical presentation of gender.
The process of getting on HRT will vary widely depending on personal circumstances, but it usually involves a visit to the doctor’s office. Navigating the American healthcare system is rarely fun, especially while trans, but it is somewhat unavoidable in this case. Even with insurance, it can be hard to find providers that are deeply knowledgeable about trans healthcare, and the process still requires a lot of self-advocating and personal research.
Furthermore, some care providers may even require letters from certified mental health professionals in order to “prove” you’re dysphoric enough to qualify for trans healthcare. There are some services, such as FOLX and Plume, that provide more accessible HRT out of pocket, but prices range from $59 - $250 per month. Thankfully, finding an informed consent clinic (clinics that do not require any additional psychological verification for HRT) can be a safe, accessible, and somewhat affordable way of receiving HRT without either the aforementioned medical gatekeeping or prohibitive costs.
Basically, when it comes to HRT there are just as many options as there are challenges. But nobody comes out as trans because it’s the easy option. We do it because it’s the only option. And, despite all the challenges, the fear, and the piles of medical bills, it’s somehow worth it. Plus, there’s just something about experiencing a “second puberty” that feels especially transformative, even magical.
13. Get gender-affirming surgery.
There are a wide variety of surgical procedures that may help you feel more at home in your body, depending on the nature of your gender identity. Once again, medical changes don’t make you any more or less trans. But if you think changing your brow ridge, getting your chest reshaped, or having something a little different between your legs might help, go for it. (Cis people get plastic surgery all the time like it’s no big deal, so why not us?)
With the proper consideration and appropriate medical attention, gender-affirming surgery can be a lifeline for trans folks dealing with gender dysphoria. There are a wide variety of surgical options to choose from, and you should feel free to consider as many or as few changes as you see fit. From there, it’s about finding a surgeon near you that can deliver the results you want.
Unfortunately, with many of these procedures, you will likely need to get letters of approval from one or more mental health professionals if you want them to be covered by insurance and even then there’s no guarantee. This is just one micro-level example of how deeply privilege can impact someone’s transition. There are so many barriers to trans care, and each of them is exponentially heightened for multiply marginalized folks, whether that’s by class, economic status, race, etc. For the right price, you could almost buy your way out of dysphoria. That’s just not a price most folks can pay. Thanks, capitalism!
Trans medical care is still a relatively unexplored field, and it can be hard to find online resources about it that feel trustworthy and offer consistent information. As with so many trans resources, the best place to look is within our own community. Talk to your trans friends about their doctors, post a question on Lex, find TikTok creators who are sharing their surgery stories, or join a trans Discord server for folks considering gender affirming procedures. There’s a lot of misinformation out there, but first-hand experiences and community support are the backbone of trans care.
Try Community-Based Methods For Affirming Your Gender
14. Find people who inspire your gender expression.
Although gender is a very personal experience for everyone, you might be able to look at certain people and think, “Oh, that’s how I wanna be.” Whether that’s someone you know personally, a public figure you look up to, or just someone you follow on Instagram with a cool vibe, it can be helpful to surround yourself with influences that make you feel more courageous in your gender and identity.
Anti-transness benefits from making us believe that we’re all alone in the world, and it takes a conscious effort to remind yourself what a lie that really is. It can be empowering to willfully counteract that sentiment by filling your life with all of the incredibly diverse gender rebels out there in the world.
15. Consume more media by/for/about trans people.
Filling your life with positive trans influences and media is a really helpful way to affirm your gender! It can be incredibly validating to be reminded that despite how lonely being trans can feel sometimes, you aren’t alone.
Although trans inclusion in the media is still few and far between on a macro scale, there’s still plenty to work with even now. Although trans artistry has historically been limited to underground scenes and only occasionally thrust into cult classic status, the ongoing success of books like Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters and Chef’s Kiss by TJ Alexander, and shows like Euphoria and Heartstopper means that even mainstream media is beginning to pay attention to trans stories now. There are prominent trans musicians performing today, like Kim Petras and Laura Jane Grace, as well as indie artists like Claude and Anjimile. Whatever your taste, it’s possible to find something you’ll love.
Personally, I take a lot of comfort in historical depictions of Queerness in media, because it reminds me that we’ve always been here. One of the most significant experiences of my own transition was reading We Both Laughed in Pleasure: The Selected Diaries of Lou Sullivan, 1961-1991. Sullivan was a gay trans man, activist, and writer who, despite being long gone, was someone who made me feel a lot less alone when I really needed it.
16. Get more involved in your trans community!
Your gender, the way you experience it, and how you express it, are completely unique to you, but thinking of your identity in a vacuum like that can get a little lonely. There’s nothing quite like a community to make someone feel at home, and for trans people, this can be a literal lifesaver.
If you live in a larger city that skews liberal, it may be easy to find in-person LGBTQ+ spaces to connect with other trans people: on fliers, through social media, and even just word-of-mouth. Speaking from my own experience, throw a rock in Seattle and you’ll probably land somewhere at least a little Queer. But, if rock throwing isn’t your gig, seeking out and following local trans community or activist groups on social media can be a perfect place to start.
However, not everyone has the privilege of living somewhere like that. In certain areas, Queer events and spaces are few and far between, making them physically and economically inaccessible. For these folks, the possibility of moving to a bigger city is just not an option. Furthermore, in-person community events anywhere may not be a safe option for disabled and/or immunocompromised folks with COVID rates climbing.
Often, the danger of being trans in public spaces can keep us from building the connections we need to sustain our community, especially for folks experiencing multiple marginalizations. Flawed though it may be, the internet can often be the only safe space left for some people to experience trans community. Building friendships online — whether through social media, gaming, or even dating apps — can be crucial. Regardless of the setting, being able to talk things out, share intimacy, and fully express your trans identity with people who really get it is more than just gender-affirming. It’s life-affirming.
As Marsh says, “There is no one, universal trans experience.” For every different trans person in the world, there are another hundred unique things that might affirm their gender. Transness is about more than pronouns, fashion choices, and body parts. Being trans is just about being you, and you’re the only one who can decide what that means.
Jeffrey Marsh, best-selling author and nonbinary LGBTQ+ advocate
Alex Robinson, MT-BC, licensed music therapist