Detransition And Trans Regret

There is something that is talked about very little in the trans* community, or when it is talked about, is only talked about in a negative fashion. Detransitioning, where a trans* person decides to no longer transition and/or live as a gender other than the one they were coercively assigned at birth, is something that is often only brought up in a negative light. People who have detransitioned are often used as evidence that trans* people should not transition. There are people who have detransitioned who are also very vocal advocates for not allowing people to transition due to their personal experiences. There are people who also detransition who are not vocal opponents of those who are transitioning or seeking to transition. These people live the rest of their lives as happy cis folk. They realize their experiences are their own.

There is nothing inherently wrong with detransitioning. We are afforded (or should be afforded) bodily autonomy to do with our bodies as we please. People detransition for numerous reasons, some simply because of no longer identifying in that way, others due to the stigmas associated with being trans*, and others for more complex and varied reasons. There is no wrong reason to detransition. If we are to be afforded bodily autonomy to transition, we must acknowledge the same respect for others. While we may not agree on the reasons, we must allow people to do with their bodies as they wish for their happiness.

Those who detransition do not delegitimize the identities of trans* people. Let me emphasize this point. Just like all identities, gender is fluid. Identity may not be set in stone for some. The identities of those who detransition do not influence the identities of other trans* people. That is not to say we exist in a vacuum where the decisions of one person do not affect the decisions of another. However, how one chooses to use their body and identity does not delegitimize the identity of another person. Just like trans men being men does not delegitimize cis men (and the same for trans women being women), someone detransitioning does not undermine the identity of trans* people.

For this to be so, the idea would have to be that trans* identities are universal. It would have to assume that all trans* people share the same narrative and story line, that all trans* people have one common way to be described. The problem is, the trans* population is as diverse and varied as the cis population. Our sexualities, colors, religions, and histories are all different. There is no universal trans* experience, just like there is no universal experience of manhood or womanhood. Someone detransitioning cannot undermine an identity that is as extremely diverse and varied as the trans* experience for the trans* experience is a human one.

Thus, the problem with detransitioning lies not with the act of detransitioning, but how the act of detransitioning is used and how the people universalize their experience. How people use their experiences and try to pass them off to further the oppression of trans* people becomes the issue. Transitioning and detransitioning are very personal, when a person decides to make the personal political, especially in a way to remove the bodily autonomy and further the oppression of another group of people, then criticisms can be made. For example, if a person detransitions because of their own set of reasons, but then turns around and tries to use their experience to explain away all trans* people, then the rhetoric used can be criticized, not the personal decision to detransition. Of course, attempting to universalize any experience is inherently oppressive. Many of the attempts to delegitimize trans* people through the experiences of other people are also factually incorrect.

There is a common strain among those who are vocally anti-transition. This rhetoric is based on the false idea of trans* regret. Now, that is not to say that there are not trans* people who regret transitioning since people who have detransitioned exist. If they didn’t, I obviously would not be writing this article. However, this is a number that is greatly over emphasized. A 2011 study found that 94% of trans* people reported their quality of life improved, 96% that their sense of well-being improved. 9 out of 10 (so 90%) said their overall personality improved. Various medically transitions resulted in 90% at the lowest (and that was with genital surgery which many trans* people do not or cannot get). In fact, when looking at the regrets for bottom surgery, no one regretted their surgery. Of course, this does not speak for everyone as there are people who have had genital surgery, and later had it undone.

The idea of trans* regret also focuses on removing bodily autonomy. Others are deemed to know more and what is better for someone than that person themselves. Despite evidence to the contrary, these experiences are still held above the lived experiences of trans* people who have come before and are still alive.  This is the same type of logic that allows gate-keeping access to hormones and surgery to continue to happen. People are more afraid that a cis person may accidentally transition than the fact trans* people die due lack of ability to access life saving resources. This just shows that cis lives are seen as more valuable than trans* lives.  It also shows how cis identities are seen as more legitimate and not up to scrutiny the same way that trans* lives and experiences are.

I also want to address the people who detransition due to cissexist reasons, such as the fact they have a penis or vagina defining their lives. This is something I’ve seen people tote as fact day-in and day-out. While I have written on the fact that penises and vaginas are not inherently gendered and how sex is a socially created category, I want to address the creepy power people seem to give to genitals. So much of this rhetoric and way of thinking is based on the notion that genitals override identity and other aspects of the body. Genitals are given a power to dictate everything about a person, from their expected mannerisms, to their privileges, to their very identity. What is between a person’s legs is used to dictate everything about a person, stripping them of all bodily autonomy and ability to exist. A person is degraded down to their genitals and maybe not even the ones they have anymore, but the ones they used to have. I thought we were past where people were defined by one dimension of themselves?

Detransitioning is not inherently harmful. Identity is a fluid thing, and this include gender. While some may be more steadfast than others, this does not delegitimize anyone’s experiences. We must discuss that identity is open to change and that there are people who do decide to detransition. We must not greet these people with shame and scorn. They are not traitors to trans* people, no matter their reason for detransitioning. A person is free to do with their body and their lives as they wish. It is when they decide to use these experiences to try and push for anti-transition rhetoric and methods, that a problem is created.

The problems that we need to address are not the people who have detransitioned, but the reasons they may have or the reasons that they use to perpetuate cissexist and trans*phobic notions. We must address society’s cissexism and biological essentialism, for at it’s core, all anti-transition advocates function on this. We must address the idea that trans* regret is a massive problem in the community, when research reveals the opposite. We must address that people are NOT defined by their genitals, but by how they choose to define themselves. We must also focus on the idea that trans* experiences are universal and thus, something that can be pathologized and lobbied against. We must not allow people to use their personal experiences to define the existences of others and to override their bodily autonomy and right to self. People who detransition are not the problem, the fact that biological essentialism and cissexism exist are the problem.

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6 thoughts on “Detransition And Trans Regret”

  1. I am confused. You talk about not being dictated by sex or gender but when, for instance, you are biologically a female but identify as a male and transition – that seems to entail taking on all the social behaviors of the male gender. So you are still stuck in the binary and are still trying to conform to gender stereotypes. It seems like being a wannabe- a conformer- to being
    a version of a man rather than just being yourself.

    1. Trans people are biologically whatever gender they are. Thus trans women are biologically female, trans men biologically male, NB people are whatever they wish to be. So, you are wrong right from the gate and this is something I have written about.

      As for fulfilling stereotypes, nope. I am literally the opposite of every male stereotype in existence. I am femme, I wear women’s clothing, Jesus fuck do I love pink, bright colors and glitter. Butterflies are some of my favorite critters. Of course, I’m not exactly male, which you would know once again if you read my work as opposed to just trolling your blog with your cissexism. Trans people are doing them, if that ends up fulfilling a stereotype, who the fuck should care? No one. Stereotypes are based in cissexism, racism, misogyny, and so forth and so forth.

      So, bye. -blows a kiss-

  2. I truly asked an honest question trying to make sense of what you were saying. I was not clear however, in my question. I am sorry. I should have been clearer. I was speaking not about you personally but rhetorically about a trans person who transitions so they can feel more like the gender they identify with. I did read almost all your blogs and realize that you dress both femininely and masculinely but prefer femme and that at this point you do not identify with either gender. I was interested in your experience as part of my effort to try to understand the trans experience. I thought you wrote extremely well about your experiences and process. I was not trolling. I feel very confused as there are different takes on gender and sex even within the trans community online. I agree with some but not all of the things you have to say in your blogs. What I have most trouble with in some trans writings is equating biology with gender. Just because I do not agree does not make me cissexist. I also do not like being called cis. Frankly I find that cis and trans terminolgy creates another false binary and I think is unfair to both groups. Why do we have to have so many labels? I frankly do not feel totally comfortable with the sex that I was born into. I also feel that the word cis in practical usage online has often become a derogatory word and is often used in ways such as cis scum or cis sexist. There is a lot of militancy and hate flying around the internet. Please don’t hate me because I many not see everything the way you do.
    I don’t hate you or feel anger or contempt for you. You are an interesting and thoughtful person who I thought I might be able to have a discourse with even if we do not agree on everything.

    1. If you do not like being called cissexist (which is one word), don’t say cissexist things like your very thinly veiled attempt to say that trans people are biologically the gender they were assigned at birth. Sex is as much as a social construct as gender is and this is supported by SCIENCE and the scientific community. It’s not just some theory or trans idea. It’s a fact. Sex, like gender, is not a binary. Asserting someone is cis is not creating unnecessary labels, especially in a world that labels other people as trans. Want to get rid of the word cis? Get rid of assigning people assumptive genders based on arbitrary characteristics such as genitals. Don’t like being called cis? Don’t say people are something because of ‘biology’. Don’t like being called cis? Don’t assume that masculinity and femininity are some form of polar opposites and can only be ascribed to via an outdated, racist, colonialist, and so forth idea of gender. Don’t like being called cis? Get rid of the institutional oppressions and structures that continue to require a necessary word to be equal to that of trans. Don’t like being called cis? Normalize being trans. Normalize genders outside of the gender binary. Normalize gender fluidity. Abolish gender stereotypes. Abolish gender roles. Abolish gender assumptions. Abolish assigning babies genders. Abolish gatekeeping.

      As for cis being derogatory, no. It has not. In those examples, the derogatory words are NOT cis, but scum. Being called scum is offensive, not being called cis. If you read my works, I have covered this and the false idea of sex, and so forth. So before saying you enjoy my work and have read it and then going on about things I have talked about repeatedly and in detail, maybe actually read it and don’t lie through your teeth.

      1. Lucien- I feel your emotion, anger in your response. I am really sorry if my comments were in any way hurtful to you. It was not my intention. I am not trolling.

        The reason I am trying so hard to make logical sense and to find reason within the transgender framework of ideas is because someone close to me who I love dearly just informed me they are transgender. That is why I am online reading and questioning. I am trying to learn more and allay concerns. I do have myriad questions and I am trying to work through a lot. It is not easy for me.

        I read your blogs a while ago and I did not go back and reread them so I have surely forgotten many of your points. My memory is not that sharp. I was not lying. I just remember that I liked a lot of your ideas and the way you expressed them. You are a good writer. The only thing that I really had a hard time seeing eye to eye with you about was the idea that biological/physiological sex and gender are both socially based. That male or female is just a societal label that the doctor or midwife places on an infant. Not that people don’t start automatically and immediately layering gender expectations on the infant – sometimes even before they are born if they know the sex beforehand.

        I never equated gender and biological sex. I believe gender is a social construct but sex is biological. I never said masculinity and femininity are polar opposites. In fact my belief is that everyone expresses a range of both and sometimes the proportions change even within the individual depending on the situation or period of life or other factors. It is society that decides what behaviors are labeled masculine and feminine and what society deems acceptable for men and for women.

        Society does a lot of things that are not fair or right – including judging people for their gender expression. Hating or abusing people because they fall outside the range that society is comfortable with- I believe -is morally wrong.

        Except for my understanding of biological sex vs gender variation I think we are more on the same page than you think. It sounds like you are saying that biological/physiological sex and gender are both social constructs. I believe masculinity and femininity are social constructs that make up gender- a social construct. Sex – or male/female organisms, I believe, are biological scientific constructs that explain the vast majority (98-99% in humans) of many biological organisms – including plants and animals. Sure there is variation but the construct helps make sense of things – including why a transgender person might want to have surgery and take hormones

        I recently read an article in Autostraddle called “It’s Time for People to do Away with the Social Construct of “Biological Sex” to Defend their Transmisogyny”. The author makes an argument similar to yours about biological sex and transgender however I think both of you are throwing the baby out with the bath water as some transgender people themselves pointed out much better than I could in some of the comments. Maybe you can hear their voices better than mine since they are not cisgender. Here they are:

        1-I appreciate your article. I see your concern, and I applaud your drive to help our community. I find some of your points to be of concern though.
        I fall into the classification of transwoman. Even though I know I am technically transgender, I do not identify as transgender or a transwoman, I am just a woman. The day that realization struck me, I felt the weight of my world lift from my shoulders. Finding my place in the social construct of gender is what gave me the freedom to just be. I no longer had to struggle with figuring out who I was, fighting against society’s negative view of all things trans, or feeling like I was viewed as “less than.” I finally fit into our (changing) construct.
        The reason I say our construct is changing is BECAUSE of the work of both the medical and psychological fields. The research from these fields is proving that gender is not binary, that it is a fluid model, and their work is pushing public opinion toward accepting the fluid model, albeit slowly.
        The research about gender related issues CANNOT occur without medical intervention, and medical intervention CANNOT occur without sexual classification. Sexual classification IS based on biological constructs, not on social constructs. Is there variability in the biological, physiological, and psychological representations of sex? Of course, just as there is variability in everything. Here is the most important point I will make: VARIABILITY WITHIN A SYSTEM DOES NOT INVALIDATE SAID SYSTEM. Within the sex system, variability is accounted for by the classification of Intersex. Intersex is the presence of male and female biological characteristics, be they sex organs, chromosomes, etc. the fact that nothing falling outside of the male/female spectrum has yet been discovered proves that our current model is April SAScorrect. That’s how science works. If something outside of the male/female system is discovered, it will lead to the reexamination of our model. Again, VARIABILITY WITHIN A SYSTEM DOES NOT INVALIDATE SAID SYSTEM.
        Gender IS a social construct because it is based on a society’s perspective of behavioral expectations. There is no scientific basis for gender. Gender is a person’s personal representation of roles typically assigned to their biological sex. Remember, VARIABILITY WITHIN A SYSTEM DOES NOT INVALIDATE SAID SYSTEM. As gender roles have been assigned by the society they represent, how could they be wrong? Where the “wrongness” comes into play is society’s refusal to recognize and accept variability within the system and evolution of the principles upon which the system is built. The same can be applied to the construct of marriage. Male/female marriage isn’t wrong. Refusing to recognize variability in the model of marriage is wrong. Society is on the way to correct that wrong.
        Finally, this may sting a bit, but globalizing the system of assigned sex as merely being an attempt to marginalize transgender individuals or to leave the door open for discrimination an/or persecution of transgender individuals is simply ludicrous. Do people use the system as an excuse to do those things? Absolutely. People also use “democracy” as an excuse for war. I am a woman who is technically a transwoman, and I believe democracy is inherently good with no evil intent, just as I believe that the medically, biologically, and not socially based model of sex is not evil.
        This is my one recipe for the best course of action to affect change:
        1) above all else, treat and deal with others how we would like society to treat us
        2) stand up on the foundation of our own successful life (however we each define success)
        3) positively demonstrate that we do exist outside of society’s current construct of gender
        4) teach others why it is important to analyze the current construct
        5) help the world understand that it is better to accept variability within (and hopefully change) the system than it is to hide behind the veil of security they believe their imperfect system provides.

        2. I’m really sorry guys, but this is flat out ridiculous. There is a very similar tumblr post floating around about various intersex conditions and how that disproved the sex binary. I am sick to fucking death of people appropriating intersex conditions to talk about trans issues. While they may overlap from time to time, they are different situations and to claim they in any way parallel eachother is at best highly intellectually dishonest.
        I am trans but I am also female. No matter what I ever do, at its core that will never change. I spent my whole life socialized as a female as a direct result of my sex. My medical care has to reflect that I am female or I’ll just flat out die. Any number of things present differently between males and females – heart attacks for example. Everyone is entitled to express their gender and have that respected, but it gets nobody anywhere to use rare conditions completely out of context to argue your point.
        Sex exists. None of us can post modern queer theory our way out of that, no matter how much we might like to.
        3- Except biological sex does exist, and saying it doesn’t is transphobic because you are denying the fact that trans people experience sex dysphoria, and you are trivializing it, which is almost equally disgusting.
        Yes, biological sex does exist. No, it isn’t an excuse to invalidate the gender of trans people.
        I am a trans man. I need the sex characteristics of my body to be altered for me to be comfortable. No matter how much you say “but if you’re male, your body is male!”, it doesn’t make the dysphoria go away. Hormones and surgery will make it go away.
        There are plenty of stories that prove it. There are several instances of men having damage to their genitals shortly after birth, and having sex reassignment. Without even being told, they begin to develop sex dysphoria shortly after puberty. It is biological, not mental.
        Basically, the argument that biological sex isn’t real is as harmful to trans people as being told that sex reassignment is cosmetic, when in reality it is life saving.
        4- Interesting article here with many good points. I am definitely in the camp that believes in the notion of “biological sex,” but I agree with the author that it should not be used to gender/misgender anyone. Biological sex matters in the context of science and medicine, most of all when it comes to reproduction. Regardless of any cultural and social expressions, our species reproduces sexually. We are not strawberries, earthworms, or amoeba (just a few examples of organisms that reproduce differently from ourselves).
        Point being, although biological sex is relevant in certain contexts, it doesn’t bear on gender, and hopefully as society at large becomes more educated about trans issues, people will learn not to use a person’s reproductive system as an attack on their gender.

        And a couple other comments by scientists (who do not reveal their gender identity) but appear to know more than you or me:

        1-While I think you’re right to point out what’s problematic about the phrase “biological sex”, it’s obtuse to claim that “there’s nothing intrinsically male about XY chromosomes and testosterone”. Male and female chromosomes and hormones most certainly do exist, and their biochemical influence on human beings is indisputable. Sexual dimorphism is not purely a “social construct”, it is an intrinsic physiological dichotomy that plays a fundamental role in human development.
        Within weeks of fertilization, each human fetus develops undifferentiated gonads and primordial Wolffian and Mullerian ducts that are common to both male and female genotypes. If the SRY gene is active (usually, but not always, on the Y chromosone), it causes the gonads to develop into testicles, which excrete hormones that stimulate the Wolffian ducts to develop into the male reproductive tract and cause the Mullerian ducts to wither away. In the absence of the SRY gene, the gonads develop into ovaries, which excrete hormones that stimulate the Mullerian ducts to develop into the female reproductive tract and cause the Wolffian ducts to wither away. (In certain intersex cases, one or more of these developments may be delayed or interrupted.) Once these changes to the gonads, Wolffian and Mullerian ducts occur, they are permanent and irreversible. This is the physiological foundation of human sexual dimorphism, and it is fundamental to everyone’s development, transgender and intersex individuals included.
        That isn’t the end of the story, however, because much of the brain’s development may be influenced by hormones excreted by the testicles, ovaries, and other organs. While it’s unknown exactly how this may affect a person’s intrinsic sense of gender identity, there’s little doubt that it plays a significant role. In addition, the physiological developments stimulated by testicular and ovarian hormones during puberty have a major impact on a person’s psychology and self-image.
        In my view, denying the reality of human sexual dimorphism does nothing to advance understanding and compassion for transgender and intersex people. I think it’s far more effective to recognize that we were each conceived with the inherent potential to develop along either male or female physiological paths. In many cases, an individual’s development may not follow an exclusively male or female path, but may diverge in intriguingly numerous ways. Our understanding of human sexuality is far from complete, and our collective maturity in dealing with it has left much to be desired.
        2-Clearly, the issue is based on the use of the words “male” and “female” to dichotomize the human population. The biological reality that I’m interested in (as a researcher in the field of evolutionary biology) is that people (and other organisms) vary in their genetic composition (e.g., number of x chromosomes, number of y chromosomes), and these genetic differences have real effects. For example, people with certain genetic compositions look different, have different susceptibilities to disease, have different rates of certain types of cancer, respond differently to certain medicines, etc. It’s totally correct, however, to say that the partitioning of all this genetic variability into two categories (male and female) is arbitrary. But it’s a bit of a stretch to claim that using external physical characters to make a prediction (with greater than 99.9% certainty, I should note) about certain fairly important things (e.g., what cancer I’m at risk of developing, what my susceptibility to heart disease is, what my early-life developmental trajectory is likely to be) makes a doctor a hateful person. In my case, when I’m teaching about genetics and evolution in a university classroom, I use gender to make a prediction about genetic make-up (either XX or XY) of students in my class in order to demonstrate patterns of genetically-based variation in height among my students (there is an effect of X and Y chromosome composition on height) – I really don’t think there’s anything hateful in that. It’s just an effective way to teach about the sources and patterns of variability that form the basis of evolutionary change.

        Lucien-I hope you have time to think about what some other thoughtful transgender people have to say. I will be away from my phone and computer for a while so I will not be able to respond if you have any other comments.

        I wish you all the best,

        Julie

      2. Trasgender people, like any people, are not a monolith. We do not all agree on things. We do not all have to. Just like feminists, we all have different belief systems and ideas that exist in our greater framework. I do not agree with those people. Plain and simple. I agree with people like the Autostraddle writer (I believe her name is Mae), Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, etc. Sex is a social construct. Period. Who made up the definitions? Humans. It’s as variable as any aspect of humanity. It’s a sliding scale. It’s just as contrived as gender.

        Also my name is Lucian. There is no anger here, btw.

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