From the Diversity and Discrimination section of the ASWB exam content outline: The impact of transgender and transitioning process on behaviors, attitudes, identity, and relationships. Not sure how they arrived at that wording. It may reflect some of the confusion and heat around the topic. Below, and effort to reduce confusion and heat and help prepare you for questions on the social work licensing exam.

Transgender Identity

The impact of transitioning of course varies widely--it's a highly personal and unique experience. It's important to recognize that there is no universal transgender narrative, different people have different journeys and different perspectives. That being said, here are some general considerations regarding the impact on behaviors, attitudes, identity, and relationships:

  • Behavior:
    • Self-Expression: For many transgender individuals, the transitioning process is a means of aligning their overall presentation (eg, appearance and pronouns) with their internal gender identity. This alignment can lead to changes in self-expression, such as clothing choices, hairstyles, and body language.
    • Social Interaction: Some people may experience changes in how they interact with others as they navigate social spaces with a different gender presentation. This can include changes in social roles and expectations.
  • Attitudes:

    • Self-Acceptance: Deciding to transition often involves a journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance. This often leads to more positive attitudes toward oneself.
    • Empathy and Understanding: Transgender individuals may develop a heightened sense of empathy and understanding towards others who face challenges related to identity, discrimination, or societal expectations.
  • Identity:

    • Gender Identity: The transitioning process is a central aspect of aligning one's physical appearance with their gender identity. This process may lead to a more congruent and authentic sense of self.
    • Fluidity and Exploration: Some individuals may experience changes in their understanding of gender and may embrace a more fluid or non-binary identity as they explore and express their authentic selves.
  • Relationships:

    • Intimate Relationships: Transitioning can impact intimate relationships, as partners may need to navigate changes in physical appearance, emotional well-being, and sexual dynamics. Communication and support are crucial during this time.
    • Family and Friendships: The reactions of family and friends to a transgender individual's identity and transition can vary. Some relationships may strengthen, while others may face challenges. Education and open communication are essential in fostering understanding.
  • Mental Health:

    • Positive Mental Health: For transgender individuals, aligning gender identity with presentation can lead to improved mental health and well-being.
    • Challenges and Stigma: Many face societal stigma and discrimination, which can impact mental health. Support from friends, family, and the community is crucial in navigating these challenges.

It's crucial to approach each individual's experience with sensitivity and respect for their unique journey. Supportive environments and communities play a significant role in fostering positive outcomes during the transitioning process.


There are several myths and misconceptions about transitioning that contribute to miscommunication, misunderstanding, and discrimination. Examples:

  • Myth: Transition is a single, uniform process.

    • Reality: Transitioning is a highly individualized process that can include a combination of social, medical, and legal steps. Not all transgender individuals pursue the same aspects of transition, and the decisions made are based on personal needs and preferences.
    • Myth: Transitioning is a phase or a choice.

      • Reality: Being transgender is not a phase or a choice. Gender identity is a deeply ingrained aspect of a person's identity, and the decision to transition is often driven by the need to align one's gender identity with their outward presentation.
  • Myth: Transgender individuals are only seeking attention.

    • Reality: Gender dysphoria, the distress that may accompany the incongruence between one's gender identity and assigned gender at birth, is a recognized medical condition. Transitioning is a way for individuals to alleviate this distress and live authentically.
  • Myth: Transitioning is solely about surgery.

    • Reality: While some transgender individuals may choose to undergo surgeries as part of their transition, not all do. Transitioning can involve various elements, including changes in clothing, hairstyle, hormone therapy, and social aspects--with or without surgery. 
  • Myth: Transitioning is a recent trend.

    • Reality: Transgender identities and experiences have existed throughout history and across cultures. Increased visibility and awareness do not make being transgender a trend; rather, it reflects a growing understanding and acceptance of diverse gender identities.
  • Myth: All transgender people fit stereotypical gender norms.

    • Reality: Gender identity is not determined by adherence to stereotypical gender norms. Transgender individuals, like cisgender individuals, express a wide range of interests, appearances, and behaviors that may not conform to traditional gender expectations.
  • Myth: Transitioning guarantees happiness and solves all problems.

    • Reality: While transitioning can bring relief and authenticity to many transgender individuals, it does not guarantee a life without challenges. Transgender individuals may still face discrimination, stigma, and mental health issues, highlighting the need for societal support and understanding.

Social workers can challenge these myths and promote accurate, empathetic understanding of transgender experiences. Education and open dialogue can help dispel misconceptions and derail discrimination.

On the Social Work Exam

How will this look on the ASWB exam? Something like this:

  • A social worker is counseling a transgender individual who is in the early stages of transitioning. The client expresses concerns about potential discrimination at work. What is the most appropriate action for the social worker to take?
  • A transgender teenager, is experiencing challenges with his parents who are struggling to accept his gender identity. The parents have sought family counseling. What should the social worker prioritize in this situation?
  • A social worker is providing support to a transgender individual who has recently started hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and is facing challenges in managing the emotional aspects of the transition. What should the social worker consider when providing support?

Get questions like these--with answers, rationales, and suggested study links!--on Social Work Test Prep's full-length practice tests. Ready?

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November 20, 2023
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