Last summer, I went on a camping trip for my birthday in Jasper National Park. It was a sanctuary of warm sunrays, freezing rapid glacier waters and noisy ravens swooping through the campground. I have always found camping a peaceful get-away that heals soul. While sitting around a campfire, I accepted that sharing the story of my detransition from female to male back to female is something that, as a writer, I must do. I have struggled with this truth for months as the permanence of the internet and the cruelty that other detransitioners have faced online is daunting to say the least. Detransition is a very taboo and stigmatised outcome in the trans community. Most people know what a trans person is, someone whose gender identity and biological sex are incongruent. Detransition is the cessation or reversal of trans identification / gender transition by social, legal, and/or medical means. Desisting is when someone has transitioned socially no longer identifies as transgender and reidentifies with their birth-sex. The detransition stigma runs so deep that if you were to search “regret transitioning statistics” the featured snippet, is from a survey of transgender people which found that 8% had detransitioned at some point, ignoring the fact that detransitioners no longer identify as trans. Even with experts pressing the need for research into detransitioners, at least one university has block the research. The first study specifically on detransitioners was only published a 9 months ago (April 30th ’21). Through out, I will reference this study as I talk about my experience as a detransitioned lesbian. I will explain the distress I experienced around my gender which includes sexual trauma, sexism, and mental health issues; I feel like to give a full picture of the factors that led me to transition these things need to be included.
What is Gender Dysphoria?
My health Alberta defines gender dysphoria as a feeling of emotional distress because your gender identity doesn’t match the sex you were assigned at birth. I was diagnosed with gender identity disorder in 2017. As a child I always incredibly envious of boys, they got to do all the things I wanted. They could date girls and wear all the cool clothes. Men didn’t look at them sexually; I was twelve the first time I got catcalled and I was always terrified of it. My breasts became a source of immense shame, I hated them and what they symbolised. Boys didn’t get lessons on what to yell if they were getting raped (fire, not rape because people won’t respond unless it also affects them) or what to do if a man tries to abduct them. Scream and fight for your life, if fighting doesn’t work rip his hair out, soil yourself, kick off your shoes so the police can hopefully find your body.
If I was a boy, I believed, my cousin wouldn’t have told me to take off my panties so he could see my vagina when we were children (I refused). Boys didn’t get sexually harassed at work like I did, a 28-year-old guy was, I now know, grooming me into engaging in a sexual relationship with him. I was fourteen, I thought he wanted to be my friend until my parents found out. I was sexually assaulted by a peer at seventeen when I had fallen asleep on his couch. He groped me and gratified himself. I was afraid if I moved, he would penetrate me or get violent. I didn’t believe unwanted sexual contact was sexual assault if the perpetrator didn’t penetrate a part of your body. I was able to rationalise and justify what he did and why, he was my friend and even though I was now terrified of him, I blamed myself for what happened. I fell asleep at a friend’s house on the couch, I should have known better than doing that. Now trying to sleep with men in the house, no matter how much I love and trust them, I lay in bed awake because of what could happen. I was too scared to go to the university near me where he went to study, what if we were in the same class? I wished I looked like a boy, and I wanted girls looked at me how they looked at boys. If I was a boy, I could kiss girls.
I felt like I was supposed to be a boy, I often wrote journal entries pretending I one. At sixteen I awkwardly tried to talk about my attraction to girls with a parental figure, but it didn’t go well, and I felt the need to bury those feelings as deep as I could. As I grew up the distress around my body, gender, and sexuality only grew stronger. I tried so hard to be feminine and date boys, which amplified my mental health issues. When I learned what being transgender was, I believed that transition fix everything I perceived as wrong with me. However, I wasn’t sure. When I was 24, after a year of contemplation, I saw a gender therapist. When I got to the appointment, she told me in the first ten minutes she would write a letter to my GP to inform him transition was necessary. When I told her my story, but without the insight I have today, she affirmed my gender and set me on the path to be medicalised. She wasn’t concerned with other symptoms that I expressed at the time and didn’t think I would particularly benefit from more talk therapy; she did say she hoped I would come in and update her through out my transition. The only person who saw how horrifying this was, was my sister who felt as though saying anything unsupportive would push me away even more. There was a history of me being The Golden Child and her being The Scapegoat which put a wedge in our relationship for many years. Through my detransition she has been my rock.
The trans community online as well as the gender therapist I saw presented transition as the only option for gender dysphoria. I spent several days googling treatments and found nothing beyond medical and social transition. Even now browsing online all the reputable sources only list transition as the treatment negating decades of research. An often-quoted study from 2019 was the largest meta-analysis on mental health and gender affirming transition. Their conclusion was that gender affirming surgery reduced the likelihood of mental health treatment which lends support to providing the surgeries. After other researchers sent in letters pointing out the study’s data doesn’t match their conclusions, the authors reanalyzed the data to compare outcomes between individuals diagnosed with gender incongruence who had received gender-affirming surgical treatments and those diagnosed with gender incongruence who had not. The results demonstrated no advantage of surgery in relation to subsequent mood or anxiety disorder-related health care visits, prescriptions or hospitalizations following suicide attempts in that comparison. So why was medicalisation the only option presented? Why aren’t patients being informed that gender affirming surgeries provide no advantage to their mental health concerns? It was presented to me as the only thing I could do, or I would take my life. I believe it was something I must do, as there is nothing else that would help relieve the pain I was in.
I was hospitalised a few months after the referral the gender ‘therapist’ sent, and I was diagnosed with multiple mental health conditions she had overlooked. My social / medical transition was never brought up by the psychiatrists I saw. I signed “informed” consent forms for cross-sex hormones while on a day pass from hospital where I was being held under a form 1. If I was to not return to the hospital police would retrieve me and bring me back in because I was a danger to myself. While being hospitalised, I was diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder and 70% of detransitioners also had depression1. I share many diagnoses with other detransitioners: anxiety disorders (63%)1, ADHD (24%)1, personality disorders (17%)1. One of the symptoms of the personality disorder I was diagnosed with, a few weeks before I began cross-sex hormones, is unstable sense of self. Was it not reasonable to, at that point, intervene in my medical transition? If being hospitalised was necessary and I was deemed to be a danger to myself, how could I give informed consent?
I went on to have a hysterectomy as well as my breasts removed. Both procedures, my ability to fully understand what I was doing was impaired. My mental health deteriorated rapidly through the 8 months up to surgery which should have been a red flag that at the very least, I wouldn’t be able to follow post operative care. I was hospitalised a few weeks after my hysterectomy because I was in a psychotic episode. My mental health condition was not improving, however the hospital discharged me after 4 months hoping being independent with community supports would be more effective. I attempted suicide in the fall that left me in the ICU for 9 days. I was discharged for Christmas. Without talking to my outpatient psychiatrist, 6 weeks after I was discharged, my breasts were amputated. I believed both times, that each of these surgeries would end my suffering. Instead, they left me with huge uneven scars that make me feel disfigured, a brain injury, and a life-long dependency on estradiol. Nothing ended my suffering until I started a therapy program that is specifically for people with borderline personality disorder that I started to improve and by then how could I turn back from my identity as a man?
While I was trans identified I felt lonely, misunderstood, and ostracized from the world. Only other trans identified people could understand what I was going through, and my identity and victim status became a huge part of how I saw myself. I looked for validation from others instead of finding a sense of identity based on what I value and believe. BPD is a huge barrier to having a strong sense of self and I believe made me more vulnerable to trans ideology ( which is a whole other post in itself). People who I didn’t feel accepted me fully I would drift apart from, demonise, and lash out against. I was able to allow myself to explore my attraction to women, I was viewed as straight, and it felt a mixture of both right and wrong. I could never put a finger on what was wrong, so I concluded I must be bisexual. Transitioning allowed me to explore my sexuality without the shame I felt around being same sex attracted. The stigmatisation of lesbians that existed in the 90’s- 00’s and lesbian sex being commodified into a porn category, makes the label difficult to grapple with for many female homosexuals. My theory is many female homosexuals are struggling with there gender identity over the past decade and identifying as trans to escape the male fetishization of being a lesbian.
Through therapy, I started to question if I should have transitioned in the first place. I started expressing ‘reverse dysphoria’ to my medical team. I was becoming more and more uncomfortable with my body as I became more connected to a sense of who I am. Eventually, in quarantine, I decided I needed to detransition even though I could see online how much the detransitioned community is demonised and shunned. The second table 1 of the detrans study, where respondents share their experiences of exclusion from the LGBT community bring rings true for me as well: “The LGBT+ community doesn’t support detransitioners and I lost LGBT+ friends I had because they deemed me transphobic/ terfy, only non-LGBT+ friends supported me” I am choosing not to link the hate comments I have seen from trans rights advocates towards detransitioned people because I don’t feel like it is productive, but there are many examples out there. If anyone wishes to see some of the screenshots, I can provide images for you.
I couldn’t have made it through my detransition without my sister, her unconditional love and loyalty is something I am very grateful for. Going against the standard of care that doctors and therapists are trained to follow has been very challenging. I had no pushback around my trans identification however reconnecting with my birth-sex was challenged by my medical team. I am lucky they come from a place of care and understanding, not everyone has that experience. In table 31 of the study respondents share negative medical experiences during detransition: “I had no medical help from the doctor who prescribed me [testosterone] she wanted nothing to do with me” is a particularly haunting response to me. Detransitioning was the most isolating experience of my life. I had only the support of a few people and I had to convince my medical team this is the right choice and I need to do this. Even though they watched my mental health deteriorate through out my transition it was still difficult for them to accept that I no longer identified as transgender. It is a common experience, according to this study as well as what other detrans stories I have listened to, that the medical professionals who helped them transition either not believing them or refusing to help them through detransition. “I still struggle to find a doctor who has knowledge of detransition, and the effects HRT had on me / my best course of action since stopping” another survey respondent said.
Things have gotten better over the year and a half that I have been detransitioning. I graduated from DBT, found a girlfriend I now live with, and am putting the chunky Lego blocks together to build a life worth living. I read a book on a Therapeutic Model for Gender Dysphoria and saw so much of my story throughout the book. I have deep regret and ruminate on if I had an actual unbiased therapist instead of one specialising in gender would it have left me physically whole? I am in occupational therapy now and working towards building a career as a writer or perhaps a return to school. Thank you for reading my story and I am working on some more writing for this website. Stay tuned.
One thought on “Life after Transition”
Wow. Hope you’re OK.