What is Transition and Detransition?

By Lynn F. 

When a person detransitions, they are taking steps to return to living as their biological sex. Not only are there physical steps, but there are emotional and sometimes ideological steps one takes to reconcile with their biological sex. Some detrans people no longer believe in gender identity and instead adhere to the idea that the only thing that makes someone a man or women is our biological sex. Some detrans people do still believe in gender identity to some extent, and others have no real feelings either way. It is important to acknowledge that detrans people, like anyone else, come from different backgrounds with many different belief systems, and not every detrans person will reconcile with their biological sex in the same way.

 It has been my experience as a detransitioned woman that the physical process of detransition is not well understood by people outside of the transgender and detransition community. For this reason, we believe it is important to clarify first what medical transition is, and the steps generally taken by trans-identified individuals. This will enable us to better discuss and understand what detransition is and the complexities involved. 

It is important to note that there is no one single way that everyone medically transitions or detransitions. However, there are common steps that people usually take medically.  

This resource was written by a layperson based on a combination of personal experience, community knowledge obtained through word of mouth, and online research.  It was not written by a medical professional and is not intended as medical advice.

Before discussing detransition, it is important to understand what medical transition is and how it is achieved.

Gender Dysphoria and Medical Transition

When someone medically transitions, their goal is to achieve the appearance of the opposite sex. There are many reasons why someone might want to do this. Gender or sex dysphoria is the most common reason people seek medical transition. 

Gender/sex dysphoria is understood by most to mean a feeling of emotional distress around one’s sex/gender. People describe gender/sex dysphoria as a feeling of wrongness with their bodies, specifically their biological sex and/or genitalia, feeling uncomfortable with being perceived by others as their biological sex, or feeling disconnected from the gender/sex roles associated with their biological sex.  

The causes of gender dysphoria are unknown, and very little research has been done to uncover its origins.  Within the transgender community, it is usually assumed that gender dysphoria is an inborn trait, either genetic or set in utero.  Within the detransitioner community, there are a variety of beliefs about the cause of gender dysphoria.  Many detransitioned and desisted people believe that their gender dysphoria was caused by a combination of experiential factors, such as internalized homophobia, trauma from sexual assault, and social distress caused by the expectations imposed on them based on their sex, exacerbated by underlying mental health issues such as dissociative disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and body dysmorphia.  

Some people, but not all, make a distinction between sex dysphoria, which relates to feelings about one’s body, and gender dysphoria, which relates to personal identity and how someone wants to be perceived by others. Most commonly, the phrase “gender dysphoria”, or just “dysphoria”, is used as an umbrella term to describe all the various ways a person might feel discomfort related to their biological sex.

The most common recommendation by the medical and mental health community for people who struggle with dysphoria is medical transition. It is thought that changing the body to appear more like the individual feels it should look will alleviate the feelings of “wrongness”. However, as many detransitioned people will note, transitioning does not always alleviate the dysphoria. In some cases, it can make it worse. Others claim that transition did alleviate their dysphoria. 

It is hard to know who might benefit from transition and who will not. Dysphoria, transition, and detransition have not been scientifically studied with as much rigor as other conditions in the medical and mental health field. What little research exists is hard to come by. While the decision is largely left up to the individual, recommendations from therapists and doctors, as well as beliefs within a person’s peer group, have a strong influence on a person’s decision to transition.