“There’s such a blame culture these days. You chose to take the hormones at an age people can decide to make children (16). Someone couldn’t baby you and sit with you for hours on end about your decision, you needed to do research. Yes it is horrible having made a mistake but the fault is not on doctors who cannot read your mind.”
So writes a reddit user in an emotional vent post on the subreddit r/ftm, lashing out at Keira Bell.
Up until fairly recently, most people hadn’t really heard of detransitioners. For a long time I myself knew them, as a then-trans guy, as bitter, hateful ex-ftms who couldn’t accept being trans. My exposure to them was entirely second-hand through trans (often transfem) friends who’d explain to me how “detransitioners,” discussed with the same incredulity as discussing a dragon or alien, were really bitter ex-ftm TERFs. Having had the harrowing experience of being accused of being a TERF myself once before, to the surprise of no one my decrying of TERFs and detransition from the time read almost like a simpering plea to distance myself from both. To be a TERF was the worst possible sin in my circles, even worse than being a racist or sexist. The fear of guilt by association ran deep. Unsurprisingly, when I began questioning my own transition a year into HRT my first fears jumped to TERFhood.
Like many detransitioners, I grew up in a difficult, abusive household. Perhaps subconsciously the decade of sexual abuse and misogyny I endured from my step-father made me truly hate being a girl, but neither I nor my therapists ever consciously made the connection at the time. Regardless, I still have nightmares of those years that wake me up, heart racing and on the verge of tears, in the middle of the night. It’s difficult to say the trauma from that time hasn’t affected me at all, though I did once try to pretend so.
Home life being difficult, school life was only marginally better. Despite excelling academically, I was unknowingly on the autism spectrum and from elementary onward my peers were quick to pick up on my oddities. My proclivity for “boy’s” clothing, short hair, and playing sports quickly led to rumors and accusations of being “dyke,” a word I had no understanding of at merely 10 years old but which I quickly learned. Puberty escalated things. I hated my body and swam in XXL jerseys and sweatshirts. Girls avoided me, and even the boys who had been my friends began to make fun of my pads and periods. I truly didn’t feel I was meant to be a girl, and around this time two things happened: I happened to read what “transgender” was in a book of child psychology, and talk of the “gender binary” began to pop up on Tumblr.
Honestly, at the time it felt like I’d found a secret key. Everything fit — the discomfort with my body, my loathing of being a “girl,” my comfort with being masculine, my desire to be masculine. I threw myself into it.
Up until this point, I had been secretly interacting with lesbian identity through blogs on Tumblr and books at the local library. I knew I was attracted to girls from a young age, but I didn’t know it, and the idea of being a lesbian was truthfully terrifying. Maybe it’s ironic, but the idea of being a trans guy seemed infinitely less scary despite lack of public trans support at the time. I had always dreamed of being the Disney prince to a princess. I began following ftm youtubers, looking into transition and researching HRT and surgeries, and participating in online trans forums. I consumed trans content voraciously; for the first time I felt “accepted.” I was allowed to be and even validated in my feelings and inability to connect to stereotypical femininity. My hatred of my body was normalized. I was experiencing gender dysphoria, and so did other people. Art, fics, memes, community — it all helped me feel like I had found a place. I came out as trans that year at 14. Despite not pursuing hormonal treatment until 21, I was lucky enough to go “stealth” and lived a life as a “cis” guy, albeit one with a high voice and baby face, for the better part of a decade.
When I initially decided to go to a renowned but unnamed gender clinic in 2018, the physician I saw told me that transition would likely work out great for me. We talked about my social transition from when I was 14, what I wanted from T, and my plans for transition in the future. When I signed off the paperwork for informed consent — “Just a formality,” he had said — he was extremely optimistic about how my transition would go. I got T that day, with my first shot done in the clinic by a kind nurse who offered to do it for me when I couldn’t stop my hands from shaking while attempting to ready the syringe.
I would visit the clinic a few more times over the course of that year and my therapist, who I’d seen for over a year at that point, to get my blood drawn and levels checked. My physician would comment on how well my transition was going and shake my hand before going on to the next patient. My therapist would affirm the same, praising how far I’d come. They both helped coordinate legal name changes and surgery, and my university insurance covered top surgery so I started weighing postponing an early graduation to get it done.
And then, I couldn’t.
My reluctance surprised me. I had picked up my forms from the gender clinic for my sex marker changes mid-year and they sat in my letter tray for weeks. I didn’t call the top surgeon I had been eyeing for a consult despite visiting the browser tab for it almost daily. I stopped going to the gender clinic altogether towards the end of the year, and my therapist had quit her practice in the summer. Although she invited me to try another therapist within the same care team, I didn’t feel I had the energy or spirit to explain everything, A to Z, to a new therapist. I stopped going, and my doubt mounted. I spiraled. My T shots tapered off as I tried to figure out what was wrong. The tsunami wave of fear, particularly the fear of regret, began to build.
What if I had made a mistake? What if I had “destroyed” my body with T? Could I even go back to living as a woman? What could I tell my family? That they were right? What about my body? Did I need to do anything? Who could I talk to? The gender clinic didn’t even bring up detransition. Should I just go to my normal PCP? What if I really damaged some internal organ? I had been experiencing symptoms of vaginal atrophy and the physician at the gender clinic had responded to my humiliated admission of atrophy with a surprisingly cavalier “It happens” before prescribing estrogen cream — would I have to do that forever? What about my voice? My facial hair? My hair had begun thinning, would it grow back? These thoughts swirled in my head for weeks and months.
I suppose in a sense, there was a dramatic “one day” — one day when I realized I wanted to detransition — but it was that one day amidst a shrouded mist of emotional turmoil so it doesn’t stand out so much to me. It took me weeks to even acknowledge my feelings. I was disappointed to find little to no “official” information on detransitioners at the time, and r/detrans remained the sole source of community that I could turn to for support, advice, and camaraderie. I came out to close friends as detransitioning, initially to “nonbinary” as detransitioning to “female” was unfathomable to me at the time, and was accused of everything from being brainwashed by TERFs to being unable to tackle internalized transphobia. It took me months to accept that I wasn’t “nonbinary” and that, despite being masculine and presenting masculinely, I wasn’t any less of a “woman” for it.
From there, my journey was similar to the paths I’ve seen liberal feminists take to “peaking” and embracing radical feminism or gender critical beliefs. It’s not especially relevant to this essay, so I’ve omitted it. But suffice to say that it is distressing so many things I found uncomfortable about the trans community were difficult to see while in it, and it is endlessly frustrating to realize I had quietly abided by casual racism and fetishization, misogyny, and encouragement of unhealthy beliefs.
It’s difficult to explain concisely why I transitioned, or why I detransitioned. Both are complex circumstances that took me years to process. I didn’t transition because I was autistic, same-sex attracted, or a “tomboy,” and I certainly didn’t consciously transition because I had childhood trauma, but these likely played a role in my gender dysphoria. Similarly, I didn’t detransition because my gender dysphoria vanished or for any similar singular reason, but the accumulation of many factors.
For one, occupying the male social role was difficult for me. I passed as cis, but nothing could have prepared me for knowing that passing as male wouldn’t make me male. The better I passed, the greater the divide felt between who I was seen as and who I truly was. I had to lie and pretend I had been born something I hadn’t been, experienced things I could never have, and understood things I didn’t, while pretending that I hadn’t experienced or understood the things I had. I had to pretend I couldn’t empathize with other women about periods or the experiences of misogyny and pretend I’d experienced a boyhood and even had a penis (when a cis guy friend worriedly asks if you’ve ever had a funny looking wart on your penis, you can’t exactly say, “Well, funny that…”). Whether or not trans men are “men,” I was lying about being male, and the most upsetting part was that I was lying well.
For another, the things I couldn’t have because I wasn’t male were the things that mattered quite a bit to me: being able to have “normal” sex as a man with a penis, having biological children with my future wife, feeling safe at night when passing a group of drunk guys catcalling a woman down the street…hell, even just being able to be shirtless without a scarred chest or (if I was lucky enough to get peri) “female” nipples. I would always have the scars of being born female if I got SRS — which barely felt like an option with how I felt about the results — and regardless of whether I did or didn’t get SRS, I would always be a “man” with a qualifier: a trans man. I simply wasn’t equipped to deal with that reality as a kid who grew into a young adult told that HRT (and particularly T) was basically magic that would turn me into a real boy.
If I had to pick one quote to describe my experience, it would be:
“Despite everything, it’s still you.”
I bear the permanent effects of T on a female body, and while some effects have proven to be less permanent than I’d seen claimed, it remains that I am changed from physically transitioning. My voice is deeper than the average woman’s, I struggle with PCOS, I have to shave the few scraggly chin hairs I got from T. Fundamentally, however, I am still myself, and I am thankful that I was able to have the courage to detransition and tackle my dysphoria in healthy ways. Some days I struggle with wanting to be male or perceived as male, but I can recognize where those feelings stem from and act accordingly.
In the end, I am just me, but me is pretty great. I’m a 24-year-old Asian same-sex attracted detrans woman, but I’m also an artist, pet owner, eldest daughter, trivia geek, and frappe lover. I’m glad that I took the opportunity, however delayed, to be my true self without buying into an ideology that necessitates the true self comes from the superficial trappings of hairstyles, clothing, HRT, or surgeries.