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.