Detransition: When Transpeople Go Back


I recently watched this old movie, a 60's thriller called Seconds. It's about this middle aged guy who's fed up with his career and family. He finds an organization that offers to fake his death with a cadaver and supply him with an exciting new life and identity using plastic surgery. Predictably, he finds his new life as empty as the old and returns to the agency hoping for another. They explain, as he's whisked away for surgery, that the failed rebirthers are used to supply the agency's cadavers.

This is how people see transgenderism. To them, transpeople just hate themselves so much they decide to pretend being someone they're not (of the opposite sex, no less) to appease some fundamental instability in their personalities—we could lose our nerve at the drop of a hat! And it's for this very reason so many doctors insist on having total power over our decisions about our bodies.

For some, transition is indeed a rebirth. They abandon their friends, families, and careers to start over. Their life up to that point is forever concealed. Given how transpeople are treated, I don't blame them. And, certainly, there are always a lot of changes involved, some of them irreversible. When you take who you are and throw your entire life out the window, of course it looks crazy.

But that's not what happens. Transitioning doesn't change who you are. It's not about gender, it's about the life you lead—it's like following your dream and deciding to become a painter. Nobody fusses about living a double life—boring by day, artist by night. People don't complain about being painters trapped in a dullard's bodies only to be argued with for it. Nor does anyone ever worry that a painter's going to de-transition back to being talentless.

Prior to transitioning you spend your life being punished for being you. The way you walk, the way you talk, the way you sit, the way you stand, your gestures, your thoughts—everything's wrong. Of course, it'd be right if you were a girl. As a boy, however, even if it's natural, and comfortable, and perfectly serviceable, you're going to get questioned, and corrected, and made fun of, and harassed. Everyone else gets to go to the mall and pick the hairstyle and clothes they want while what you like falls into the 50% of things that are forbidden. You can't admit to liking certain TV shows, songs, books, or hobbies, either.

Transition means looking at this cluster-fuck of punishment and saying, “Fine! If everything about the life I want is only for woman, I'll be a fucking woman!” and, after a couple hellish years of being treated like an in-between thing and having tyrannical doctor's run your life, if you're really pretty, you can live the life you always wanted but always had denied to you because of your genitals.

There are problems here too. First, if people aren't 100% convinced you're a woman, they will punish you worse than when you were a crappy boy. Second, why should anyone have to change sex just to freely live the way they want when the other 50% of people are already doing so just fine? Third, women get punished for not being good enough too, and it's just as much of a pain if you're not 100% into social conformity and didn't learn the million things only girls get taught.

When I first got on hormones, there were things I missed about being a boy—the comfortable intimacy I enjoyed around other guys, for instance. So, I got to thinking about de-transitioning. Of course, I loved my hair way too much to ever cut it again, so I'd keep it as it was. I also loved the way the testosterone blockers made me feel—not so angry and horny all the time. And if I was going to be a boy again, I definitely wanted to be a pretty boy. But I liked girl clothes way better! Maybe I could have just crossdressed all the time?

Anyway, I was stuck wondering if I could de-transition without changing anything. It took years to figure out what that meant. The only thing I needed to change was how I felt about myself. That's the key to transitioning in the first place. I didn't want to feel like being trans was something to hide—I was fine with my birth sex. And there is boy stuff I like: video games, the martial arts, general athleticism, male homoeroticism, being goofy and weird—lots of great stuff!

My former roommate used to identify as a transwoman too. Then he de-transitioned into a long-haired, effeminate gay guy who took a testosterone blocker and liked to crossdress. The difference between him being a woman and him being a man was so razor-thin he had to explain to me he'd de-transitioned at all. Another roommate of mine, a transman, did something similar. That's generally all de-transition is—you're still transitioned, but your horizons on what it means have expanded.

And yet, psychiatrists continue to use the spectre of de-transition to control us. Because people go back, doctors demand the final say over the medical treatments that allow us to live as we please. Imagine it! Even when you go dancing on that thin line between man and woman, you still get punished for it!

Well, at least I'm not punishing myself anymore...