Detrans Awareness Day 2022: A Q&A With Fourteen Detransitioners and Desisters

For Detrans Awareness Day 2022, we reached out to a few detransitioners and desisters who were willing to do a Q&A with us. This was a written interview completed online, including eighteen questions about transition and detransition. This page is a sampling of their answers to five of the eighteen questions.

Click on the name below any quote to read that person’s full Q&A. To read each person’s full Q&A, including many questions and answers not included in this summary, please click here for the directory. There is a great deal of wisdom in these interviews, and I highly recommend reading them in their entirety.

Fourteen women and men, ages 15 to 35, shared their thoughts with us. This group includes seven detransitioned women, three detransitioned men, and four desisted women. (In this article, we’ll use the term “detransitioned” for anyone who underwent medical intervention, such as taking hormones or having surgery, and “desisted” for anyone who socially transitioned but did not medically transition. People who socially transitioned and then re-identified with their birth sex sometimes also use the term “socially detransitioned”.)

Our interviewees started identifying as transgender as young as age eleven, or as old as age twenty-four. They identified as transgender for anywhere between two years and nine years, and for those who took cross-sex hormones, they were on hormones for anywhere from less than a year to more than six years. Five people in the group had some form of sex reassignment surgery, either mastectomy or genital surgery. All of these men and women are commendable for their courage in relaying their experiences to us, and permitting us to publish them. We hope that this will help others in the same situation feel less alone. We would like our audience to understand that if you feel that living as your birth sex will be physically or psychologically healthier for you, it’s never too late. Support is waiting for you if you are ready to reach out.

What were some messages about men and women, or about gender expression and sexuality, that you received in your early life, before identifying as transgender? What were your beliefs about those things?

Nine of our interviewees wrote that they felt discomfort as a result of being pressured to fit into stereotypes based on their sex. Others wrote that they were aware of gender stereotypes but didn’t attach importance to them, or that they were raised in a gender-neutral environment.

I was taught that the first humans were Adam and Eve (the myth where woman was born of man) and was indoctrinated into fundamentalist Christianity. I was taught that women were “womb-men” and that our purpose is to bear and raise children. I was forced to wear a dress and itchy stockings, and in the church, only men had positions of authority. I didn’t have strong female role models and even my mother told me that men were better than women. I saw how boys were allowed more freedom and agency.

Lauren, 29, USA 🡽

Emotions are the domain for women, a famous quote by my Dad. A highly homophobic environment both towards men and women. I was confused because I was same sex attracted and was extremely scared of being rejected by my family.

Ritchie, 35, UK 🡽

I wasn’t really taught about gender roles, especially not by my parents. My brother used to dress up in my princess dresses, I played with his toys, and that was fine. I guess it was when I went to secondary school, an all girl’s school, that things began to change. Anyone who didn’t fit the stereotypical girly girl type was automatically an outcast.

Sophie, 19, UK 🡽

I was raised to be whoever I genuinely was. I got piercings young. I’ve been dying my hair since I was 11. My family was very open to whoever I chose to be, and I greatly appreciated that. There were no “men’s roles” or “women’s roles”.

Allison, 20, St. Louis 🡽

What sources (friends, specific websites, specific social media sites, therapists, books, etc) did you rely on the most for information on how a person can figure out if they are transgender? What thoughts, feelings, or internal experiences did these sources say were evidence that a person is trans?

Eight people mentioned social media as a source of information on how to tell if a person is transgender. Four used Tumblr, and the rest used a variety of other sites. The next most common source of information was a therapist or psychiatrist: two people got information from their therapist, and two from their psychiatrist. Two people wrote that they had a romantic partner who was transgender and who tried to convince them that they were also trans.

Three people mentioned being told by others on social media that there is no specific symptom or experience a person has to have in order to be transgender. Two people were told via social media that people who aren’t transgender never wonder whether they are or not, and therefore if are wondering whether you are trans, you must be trans. Other things given as evidence that a person is transgender are: being a boy who is feminine-acting, being a girl who prefers boyish clothing, feeling that life would be better as the opposite sex, having mostly male role models as a girl, feeling uncomfortable in one’s body, and being a boy who had wished to be a girl at a young age.

Social media, and therapists. Social media said it was just like feeling weird in your body, therapists used the DSM.

Rose, 19, California 🡽

I used Tumblr and YouTube. The communities that I was a part of were accepting and affirming to an extreme degree. People commonly talked about how there’s no right way to be trans and how everyone is ‘trans enough’. There were essentially no requirements to being trans other than ‘feeling like a boy’, ‘not feeling like a girl’, feeling ‘gender euphoria’ while dressing a certain way, etc.

Emily, 21, Virginia 🡽

I relied the most on my gender therapist and random websites on the internet (can’t remember specific sites anymore). I strongly started to believe that I must be a woman, because my femininity was overpowering my masculinity so much. I didn’t knew about gender stereotyping back then and nobody explained it to me, so I was convinced being transgender.

Yuki, 27, Austria 🡽

Did you work with a therapist while considering transition, or during your transition? What are some things the therapist said or did that was helpful, and what was unhelpful? Do you think there is something that a therapist could have said or done that would have led to a better outcome for you?

All ten of the people who medically transitioned had discussed transition with a therapist before taking medical steps. Nine of the ten were formally diagnosed with gender dysphoria and approved for medical transition by a therapist.

Six detransitioners wrote that their therapist did not encourage them to think about the consequences of transition, or the possible underlying causes for their desire to transition. The most common remark was that people wished the therapist had encouraged some level of introspection about the decision to transition. No one wrote that their therapist did encourage introspection – the remaining responses were neutral or didn’t address that topic.

Three people mentioned that their therapist was aware that they had another serious mental health condition, including two (eating disorder and psychosis) that are known to cause people to feel uncomfortable in their body. For all three, the therapist did not address the possible connection between their mental health challenges and their desire to transition.

One detransitioned woman wrote that her gender therapist had privately believed that she was not transgender, but did not communicate this to her while acting as her therapist before and during the medical transition process, and only confessed it after she announced that she was detransitioning.

Saw therapists for other mental health issues and was immediately referred to a gender therapist the second I stated I was considering transition. Continued to see ED (eating disorder) therapist, who treated me but never addressed transition. Gender therapist didn’t say much. Just gave me a bunch of “evaluation” exercises. I think if she had challenged me more or genuinely said she didn’t believe I was trans (she admitted when I detransed that she had a feeling I wasn’t), I would have thought it through more.

Willow, 22, USA 🡽

Therapist disregarded diagnosed psychosis. I was scared about gatekeeping and tried my hardest to seem ok. Never questioned me apart from just staying on an AA which I knew was medically dangerous. Never challenged why I wanted bottom surgery so badly. Couldn’t admit I had internalized homophobia and misandry. I needed a genuine challenge and introspection. Too much affirmation and fear of offending. It would probably be best to only allow psychiatrists or psychologists to allow transitioning.

Karu, 23, Canada 🡽

Yes, the therapist was old school and seemingly did not leave the twentieth century. She had me read materials dating back to the eighties and had me socially transition for a year – “Real Life Experience” – before considering writing a letter for hormones. She had me watch surgery videos, which helped me to avoid surgery knowing how intense it was. At times she was very condescending and I got fed up with her and quit therapy. I saw a nurse practitioner later to go on T.

Lauren, 29, USA 🡽

I never told my therapists about being trans because I thought they would just tell me it was because of my sexual trauma and not take me seriously and I didn’t want to deal with that. That is what my mom said when I told her I was trans and it made me very angry at the time and although it ended up being true, I wasn’t ready to understand that and it made me feel like I was stuck, vulnerable, alone and like nobody would take me seriously.

Daisy, 23, United States 🡽

The therapists only affirmed me in my feelings and gave me space to vent. They did not offer any help in terms of helping me accept my birth sex. They believed the solution was to transition. A better outcome would’ve been if they tried to help me be okay with my birth sex (since that is what I wanted). It’s not “conversion therapy” if the person consents and wants that.

Hannah, 19, USA 🡽

A Note On Therapy

For people who are familiar with therapy, but not with the political landscape of gender therapy, it can be confusing to hear that therapists didn’t encourage introspection, or that they signed off on medication or surgery for a client whom they believed wouldn’t benefit from it. Training and resources for therapists working with gender-questioning clients overwhelmingly come from transgender advocacy groups, not neutral professional sources. These resources often warn the therapist that the usual building blocks of therapy – encouraging clients to see a situation from all angles and gently challenging their assumptions – should not be used with gender-questioning clients, because the client may find it invalidating. Instead, therapists are encouraged to give clients “space to vent” and a supportive environment to help them become more secure in their identity as transgender. This is known as “affirmation therapy”.

Conversion therapy laws, which were originally used to prevent conversion therapy on gay people, are sometimes interpreted as banning a therapist from encouraging a client to introspect on their beliefs related to gender identity. This applies even in cases where the therapist wants the client to think more deeply about medical decisions out of a sincere concern for their well-being, without any religious or political agenda. It also still applies in cases where the therapist sees red flags in the client’s decision-making process, such as believing that they must be transgender because they enjoy crossdressing. In some countries and U.S. states, a therapist may be hesitant to challenge that belief in a client, out of concern for violating conversion therapy laws. This is especially concerning because beliefs such as these – that enjoying the clothing, hobbies, or interests associated with the opposite sex means you are transgender – are common in social media spaces that focus on gender identity.

Major U.S. organizations such as the American Psychological Association also base their recommendations for gender-dysphoric clients primarily on input from transgender advocacy groups. They therefore tend to discourage therapists from challenging any beliefs a client holds about their gender identity, even if the therapist does not have an anti-transgender motive in doing so. European organizations are more mixed in their approach, with variation from country to country.

When did you first start to question your trans identity or consider detransitioning?  What factors do you think led you to no longer identify as trans?

There was no one consistent reason why people started to consider detransitioning. Two people experienced regret as a result of having sex reassignment surgery, and two others felt uncomfortable with some of the body changes brought on by cross-sex hormones. Three women recognized over time that they were lesbians, and embracing lesbian identity and community made them feel more comfortable living as women. Three people wrote in that they recognized an underlying reason for their desire to transition – trauma, internalized misogyny and homophobia, a need to fit in with a transgender partner and friend group – and this realization helped them decide to detransition.

Four people moved from identifying as transgender to identifying as nonbinary, before eventually fully detransitioning. The remaining ten detransitioned directly back to living as their biological sex.

Once I was 12, my “male” identity began to die, but I, still afraid of the concept of being female, started to identify as “non-binary”, which was certainly a sign that I was not truly transgender. I began to question if I were, all along, simply a lesbian or bisexual [I, as I have stated prior, am now a lesbian], and eventually forgot about my previous identities. The sole factor that led to my realization that I was not transgender was that I merely never was in the first place.

Cecil, 15, USA 🡽

Some time after my 27th birthday I learned about non-binary gender identities. I had a short non-binary phase and then heavily started to question why “gender” as a concept even exists. I hated taking HRT for over a year already and it made me feel sick, so I made the decision to stop this madness.

Yuki, 27, Austria 🡽

I started questioning the HRT (hormone replacement therapy) after maybe 3 years on T, and slowly decided to stop after 5 years total (continued for 2 years to not be distracted in my studies). Disidentifying has been a slow process for me. I will give some hints as to what happened: I felt assimilated into heterosexuality. I felt disingenuous to my past self. I was iffy about my chest hair. I felt very secure in my social position (steady partner, good friends). I found other butch lesbians. I learned about lesbian history.

Emma, 28, Northern Europe 🡽

This year. I really learned to appreciate my body and the little things that make womanhood so amazing.

Jade, 18, Virginia 🡽

What advice would you give to someone who is working on building a good life after detransitioning?

The two stand-out pieces of advice were to pursue healthy friendships and spend time doing activities that make you happy. We couldn’t agree more.

Love yourself. It’s corny, but after learning this important fact it should bring forth self love.

Jade, 18, Virginia 🡽

Make it not about gender.

Emma, 28, Northern Europe 🡽

Live what you enjoy. If, like me, you enjoy playing music, really focus on that and make it your comfort, especially while you’re readjusting to being your birth gender to everyone.

Sophie, 19, UK 🡽

Take it slow and do not rush to treat being detrans as another identity.

Ritchie, 35, UK 🡽

Heal yourself ❤ therapy! Therapy does absolute wonders with learning to love yourself again.

Allison, 20, St Louis 🡽

Whatever you need to do to make yourself happier, do it.

Rose, 19, California 🡽

 
 

Thank you for reading.

To learn more, please visit our resource directory.

Or, you can click here to read the full Q&As of all the women and men who contributed to this project.

Detrans Story: Tony

“The doctors told me that you would be a boy. Imagine my surprise when you were born! We had already picked out boy clothes and a boy name for you and had to change everything last minute…”

For my mom this was just a funny anecdote that she joked with her kid about. For me this was one of the earliest pieces of “proof” I used to justify to myself that I was supposed to be a boy – but some horrible biological mistake forced me to be a stupid girl instead. A female. A woman. Terms I loathed for a long time.

My mom picked out my clothes for me every morning for most of my childhood. Colorful skirts, glittery shirts, pretty shoes. I got them dirty a lot by kicking around trash, climbing trees and tripping while playing catch. My toys were mostly animal figurines and stuffies and I made them fight wars and kill each other. My mom bought me a baby doll to play with but I didn’t want to touch it. I was easy to provoke and got into a lot of fights. I drew dragons and monsters and lots of blood.

My best friend at the time wanted me to try out her “make up” – some glittery lip gloss and purple eye shadow in a pink butterfly shaped container. I refused and she threatened to break off our friendship until I gave in. She did that a lot. I despised the feeling on my lips and eyes, but keeping my only friend was more important to me. I was 7.

When I got older it became more and more obvious that my mom was still picking out my clothes for me. Girls in my school would dress in stylish outfits, do their hair and wear makeup according to the latest trends. I still wore pink sweaters and refused to even touch make up. I still had the same awkward bangs right above my eyebrows that my mom would cut every so often with the kitchen scissors. And I began noticing how little I actually fit in with the other girls in my school.

A substitute teacher referred to me as a boy one day. I protested vehemently, everyone laughed, but something in me clicked. Even though I had shoulder length hair and wore clothes with “girly” colours some people would actually mistake me for a boy. The more it happened, the prouder I felt about it.

I don’t remember when I got my period for the first time, but I remember absolutely hating it. I cried a lot when I found out that I would have to go through this every month for the majority of my life. I hated the pain, I hated the feeling of pads in my panties and the blood coming out of me. I hated lying awake in agony for multiple nights. I hated the weird lumps of meat that were growing on my chest and I hated suddenly having to pay attention “if my nipples were showing” or if I had blood on my pants. I didn’t shave until I got made fun of in swim class.
“But it’s all worth it! Now you’re growing into a woman and you’ll even be a mother someday!” I didn’t want kids, though. In fact, I didn’t want to be a woman either. I wanted to keep catching lizards and climbing trees like the kid I still felt like, not grow old and have babies like a woman.

When I was around 12 years old I got a smartphone with internet access. I mainly used Instagram to access my favourite fandoms at the time and came across the occasional “LGBT” post. I already kind of knew what gay and trans people were from television, but the exposure to more and more LGBT related content really cemented the whole thing into my brain. Posts detailing the experience of “transguys” were especially intriguing: they hated “girl toys” and “girl clothes” as children, they hated their breasts and periods and female puberty and they hated being referred to as girls. I felt enlightened.

THIS was what was wrong with me, and I finally found out! Every tiny detail from my past began falling into place: of course the doctors thought I would be a boy because I was actually supposed to be one! Of course I didn’t play with dolls and played war instead, because that’s what boys do! Of course I hated female puberty, because I was not supposed to experience it! Of course I was happy about being “mistaken” for a boy all the time, because I really was a boy! Of course…

I began reading more and more about trans experiences because I finally found people I could relate to. They talked a lot about hating their high voices, their feminine hips, their names and I began hating mine too. Everything about me was so disgusting FEMALE, from my ridiculously feminine name to my dainty figure. I started wearing baggy clothes and slouch to hide the body I was more and more disgusted about. I strained my voice to try and sound more masculine and I wore multiple sports bras at once to simulate the effect of a binder. I shaved off the tiny hairs above my lip in hopes they would grow back more noticeable. I avoided swimming and any activity that would “expose” me. I picked exclusively male roles in theatre class, and after the show my mom would always tell me how obvious it was that I was just a girl pretending to be a boy, which absolutely broke me.

I was constantly worried about how people perceived me, if they could see my breasts and if they could tell I wasn’t really a boy by the tone of my voice or the way I walked. I had dreams about getting top surgery and testosterone and how transitioning instantly made everything better. I would visibly cringe if someone referred to me as a girl, a female, a she, or my deadname. The thought of getting pregnant and having children made me nauseous and I wanted to rip out my uterus so these things would never ever happen to me. I was sad, tired and angry all the time and harmed myself every so often.

I did all that privately and never came out to anyone, though. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I did.

I identified as a transman for most of my teen years and it kind of faded away before I turned 18. I can’t pinpoint an exact cause, but I think it had something to do with gaining a bit more confidence in the later years, working harder for school and actually seeing good results, making new friends and being responsible for “important” things like our class yearbook and designing the T-shirts that we would wear on our last trip together. I spent less time being active in online communities and just passively watched YouTube videos while studying, drawing or working on something else. I grew out my hair a bit, then chopped it off once it became annoying. I wore a steampunk-inspired dress to a convention, just for fun. I experimented with clothes and just settled on the ones I was comfortable with – without worrying if I “looked masculine enough” with them. I stopped caring about how people perceived me and I’ve never felt so free before in my life.

I’m now 20. I have a buzzcut, hairy legs, a closet full of comfy clothes and a loving boyfriend. I don’t wear makeup or dresses, I go by a masculine sounding nickname (think something like Tony, short for Anthonia) and I do all this without wasting a single thought about how other people see me. After all, why should I live to please others, perform for them like a circus animal or be something nice to look at for them? This is my life.

In the end I don’t “feel” female, I don’t “identify” as a woman, hell, sometimes I don’t even WANT to be a woman, but I simply am. It’s an objective reality, but it means nothing to me anymore in terms of how I should behave, dress and look like. There is so much comfort in knowing that I don’t need to do anything other than exist in this world.

I’m a woman – now probably even more “masculine” than ever – and I’m finally at peace about it.

– by “Tony”, desisted female, 20, Germany

The Best Decision I Ever Made: Essay by Carol

I’ve told my story of detransition many times over the last 2 years. For different platforms, to different people, in every version the pain I’ve gone through is clearly present. But I would like to do a little something different with this essay. At the risk of making my 19-year-old self cringe so hard I can feel it ripple forward in time to me now, I am going to talk about the positives to come out of this horrible experience. See, detransition was hard, it was painful, but it was also the greatest decision I’ve ever made.

I don’t think I’m overstating it to say that I feel like a new woman, or maybe I always was this woman under layers of pain. I hardly recognize the woman who first injected testosterone all those years ago, and that’s a very good thing. That means I’ve grown, I’ve healed, and I’ve become something better. I would have never believed I could have become who I am now. I am unbelievably happy I am here with only the few scars I carry. It could have gone much worse for me, but it didn’t.

I’ve never spoken publicly about this, but I will now. When I was thinking about stopping T and returning to living my life as I was, a woman, I was unbelievably scared. I was deeply ashamed; I had not only changed myself in profound ways, I had changed the people around me. I had made an impact on my family that would never be turned back. I didn’t know how I could go back; I didn’t know how I would tell my wife and son that I wanted to stop this way I was living. I felt like a flake and a complete loser of a human. 

One evening I was standing in my kitchen alone, thinking about all these things, and I suddenly felt the presence of my grandmother who had died some years earlier. It’s almost like I could feel her love and hear her voice, “Carol, honey, you have to stop hurting yourself now.” And I began to sob right there and let go of it. I knew I had to humble myself; I had to let what would happen, happen. I could no longer control and twist my life to hide my pain. I had to take on the responsibility of my decisions of self-destruction and the fallout from that. I had to detransition, it was time. 

So began one of the hardest years of my life. I had to face all the things I had buried since I was a child. I went to therapy to address my childhood abuse, which I believe contributed a great deal to my body dissociation and self-hate. I thought deeply and honestly about the possible root causes of where my feelings came from around dysphoria. I discovered things I had never known before. I threw myself into female-centered spaces. I locked out all maleness. I listened only to female singers for that first year, did feminist art, and engaged with other feminist and detrans women in a kind of consciousness raising. We talked about our experiences as females in this society. Those of us who are lesbians talked about the homophobia we faced and how that impacted our sense of self as women. 

It was hard work, but it was amazing work. And true healing was had through these experiences.  Doors seemed to open; sun shined in. That dark little room I had been hiding in for most of my life was flooded with fresh spring sunshine. It hurt my eyes at first and it burned my body because I had never seen such light. But soon my eyes adjusted, my skin toughened, and I was able to leave my room. I was able to walk in the sun. To feel love, to give love, to be a better parent, a better wife and actually make friendships with other women. I was able to accept my female body for the first time in my life.

The place my wife holds in my healing is head and shoulders above all the rest. Her forgiveness and love is the most beautiful thing I might ever behold. She held me on those nights I sobbed for hours. She listened when I needed to talk. She reassured me that my body was not ugly and unlovable, but still as beautiful as ever to her. We made dark jokes about our experiences, we laughed together and cried together. I listened to her and her pain and I took that on, because I had hurt her and she deserved healing too. We had to heal our relationship as well as ourselves. But two years later, as I write this, our marriage is the healthiest it’s ever been. We are happy, I am happy. No, better then happy, content. I feel settled, I feel at peace. 

I can’t believe I’ve come this far, I can’t believe such healing can be had. I’m so glad I detransitioned. I’m so unbelievably happy that I did that really hard and awful introspective work to reach this point. It feels like an amazing journey, like something out of an epic tale. I feel like a whole person. I know I would have never reached this place if I would have kept living as a trans man. For me it was a mask, and though it helped for a time, it was only a mask. My pain still existed underneath. It’s good to throw that mask off and walk in the sunshine. I recommend it.