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Hope beyond victimhood
Even if medicalised gender change was the wrong choice, lives can be rebuilt with forgiveness | Part 4
This post brings together edited extracts from the historic detransitioners’ forum hosted on 12 March 2022 by the international parents’ group Genspect and its founder Stella O’Malley, a therapist in Ireland. The presentations by detransitioners were rich and nuanced, with insights that will be new to many people, especially to those who have only heard the activist claim that detransition is vanishingly rare.
Today’s post, the last of four devoted to the webinar, deals with triggers for detransition, the ordeal of the process, the paradox of regret and acceptance, and the hopeful refusal of victim status.
The Genspect webinar was sold out, and the Twitter hashtag #DetransAwarenessDay was trending in the US, Canada and the UK. Video from the forum has been released.
Genspect, which went public in June 2021 to speak for the often silenced parents of gender-questioning young people, represents 18 parent organisations in 16 different countries.
Sinéad, 31, detransitioner, Scotland
“You're so afraid to [detransition], and it takes such a long time to be able to admit to yourself that you were wrong. Because it's embarrassing, and you feel ashamed and you feel guilty. And in many cases, you lose all the friends that you had, because all your friends are trans. And [if] you detransition, you're seen as a heretic.
“You don’t want to detransition. You don't want to be a woman with a beard or a man with breasts. You don't want people to be hostile to you and accuse you of being a bigot, while you're also dealing with transition regret, which is a living hell, especially when none of your therapists or counsellors will listen to you, especially when you do actually find someone who isn't completely against detransition and their response is, maybe you’re gender fluid, maybe you’re non-binary.
“Detransition isn't fun. I completely understand why so many people lost in transition say, it took me a year, two years, five years — because why the hell would you want to do it sooner?”
Limpidă, 24, male detransitioner, America
“From age 15 until about 20, I was one of the more ideological-type people, I believed that I was already a woman. But I didn't actually socially transition until [age 20 when] I started to wear women's clothes and style my hair differently. And that made me even more miserable, because it just highlighted how masculine I actually looked.
“Then I started taking hormones at age 21. [And after a little more than a year] I talked to the nurse overseeing my treatment, and told her that with the hormones, there was a honeymoon period, but it seems like it's wearing off, and I feel worse almost. And she was like, maybe you should look into surgery if you really want to feel like a woman. And I spent months researching it and looking at surgeons.
“And what snapped me out of it, and made me realise I'm going to have to detransition, because clearly this was a bad idea, was that I had a waking nightmare — I was on the table being operated on, and I realised, this is not going to work out.”
Advice for parents
Stella O’Malley, therapist: “What can parents do to make it easier for trans-identified people to walk back their transition and commitment — without the kids worrying that we’ll say, we told you so?”
Laura, detransitioner: “The attachment and the relationship [between child and parents may be] affected by the transition, and by the distancing that the child had from their parents, both natural during puberty and becoming an adult, but also from whatever mental health issues they're going through. So I would say, use [the detransition process] as an opportunity to try and find a point of honesty and connection that you might not have had before.
“I have talked to some parents who say, optimistically, that this is a good thing that's happened to their family, because it's brought them closer to their child. And it's made them reflect on their own parenting and their own identities, and the role-modelling and mentoring they're doing for that kid, and made them evolve in their own thinking about it, and strengthened the bond.”
If you end up regretting [medical transition], there is no going back, you can end up in a really, really dark place. And when [transition was] being facilitated by medical professionals very easily, you end up in a particular realm where you think, I don't have a right to feel regret.
“I was on testosterone for almost five years, I got my breasts removed, so I got to that point. And I remember when my trans regret really kicked in, it was in 2018, and I was done. I quit my job, I dropped out of uni, I pushed everyone away from me. I was blackout-drunk every night. I wasn't eating, I wasn't sleeping. It was the darkest hole I ever went down. What transaction regret did to me, was everything other than kill me.
“I went to therapists, I went to counsellors, I got nothing. They didn't want to hear it. They didn’t want to talk about transition regret, which is why I turned to the internet to try and find other detransitioners. And I found many of them, a lot more than I thought I would find, because I'd always been told that transition was incredibly rare. I found dozens, the first couple of nights I was on there. And they were there for me. The therapists, the counsellors, none of them were there for me.”
“The vast majority of the deransitioners that I know are in their late teens and early 20s. They've got their whole lives ahead of them. And I get messages from them telling me about how they're ruined themselves. And I'm not having any of that. [My message to these younger detransitioners is] you need to be able to feel your feelings, even the bad ones, because you can't numb them forever.
“You need to feel, because whenever you feel your loss or your grief or your sadness, you actually confront it, which means you can deal with it.
“Pity is the worst thing you can give someone. So, even if you [feel] a victim, you need to try to get out of it. If you're struggling with transition regret and you're thinking, I've ruined my life, I'm a mess, I'm mutilated, where is it going to get you? It's going to get you in a box, it's going to get you under the ground.”
“So what we need to do, is figure out how can you move past irreversible changes. How do you get past permanently harming and changing yourself? Well, you get there by doing the hardest thing that you possibly can, which is forgiveness.
“And as cheesy as that may sound, I have to tell you, I hated myself, I hated myself so much. Forgiving myself was the hardest thing that I could ever do. I had to be able to forgive myself for getting myself in that mess. But here's the thing — once I did [forgive myself], all the anger that I built up went from the internal to the external. And I hated my gender clinic. I hated the people that facilitated what was done to me. I hated the gender specialists that gave me those cross-sex hormones and the referral for that surgery. Do you know how much that helped me? None.
“It didn't get me anywhere. And so what I had to do, was I had to learn to forgive them, the people that allowed this, the people that supported this. And if you're in the position that I was in a couple of months ago, you're, like — I can't, how can I forgive them for doing this for me?
“Well, I'll tell you, because even though you’ve gone through changes with cross-sex hormones, even though you've had your breasts removed — or if you're a detrans man, you've had breasts implanted — no matter what change, no matter how dramatic, has happened to your body, it didn’t kill you, which means you can still live. And you can still make a life for yourself.
“We are amazing, we're so strong. And we can get through anything that life throws at us.
“I'm not mutilated, or damaged or ruined. I'm the happiest I've ever been. And you can be too, so it doesn't matter what's been done. And I'm not excusing it, we should never have been allowed to transition. That was a failure on the part of the people who were supposed to be caring for us. We should never have been allowed to transition. But we did]. So, what are we going to do? Just give up?
“I don't approve of this narrative of deransitioners being ruined, mutilated, poor little souls. I'm not a victim, you're not a victim, because we can take control of our own lives. And we can make ourselves as happy as we deserve to be. But the problem is you need to work for it. And I know it's hard. For the first year of my detransition, most of which I can't remember, because I was a blackout drunk, because I was trying to get myself drunk enough to get up the courage to kill myself … But you eventually get to a point where you realise, do you know what? Wallowing in self-pity gets you nowhere.”
“Mental health professionals and doctors have to understand the trauma of detransitioners. You can't just slap a new pair of tits on [detransitioners] and send them out the door — which is the answer I got from Kaiser [Kaiser Permanente, a Californian health provider]. I said, I want to detransition, and you guys gave me this shit, and I want you to go ahead and basically fix it. And without batting an eye, they said, we can get you in for breast reconstruction.
“No, I don't want that. They think you’re Mr Potato Head, they can just put on some new parts and you're good to go.
“The trauma is the trauma that you're going to carry with you the rest of your life. That doesn't mean you're not going to heal from it, it doesn't mean you're not going to be much happier down the road, because I am. But it's still there.”
“In all the five years that I was trans-identified, I never once experienced transphobia. I was celebrated, and I was held up as beautiful and brave. Never once did I experience discrimination — until I detransitioned. And the first people to treat me poorly were my therapists, because they just didn't want to speak about detransition. I needed help. And when you hear a qualified mental health professional being, like, I don't know what detransition is, it's a kick in the stomach.”
“Once I realised [I had post-traumatic stress disorder], I detransitioned immediately, then I had to deal with the additional grief and trauma of the transition identity crisis and surgery, on top of everything else that had already happened.”
“Rather than telling people, this is how you treat detransitioners, I don't want more detransitioners, I want fewer. For that to happen, we need to treat people with gender dysphoria properly, and the [gender clinic] model that we've adopted so far is disgusting. And that's what needs to change.”
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Between regret and acceptance
Stella: “[Psychiatrist Dr Az Hakeem] had a therapeutic group, half of them wanted to transition, and half of them were people who had already transitioned. And the people who had already transitioned weren’t happy with their transition, they weren't necessarily going to detransition, but they weren't happy. So they met. And a very small percentage of [the would-be transitioners] went on to transition, having had therapeutic group work with people who had transitioned and weren’t happy. [The would-be transitioners] realised, this is much harder than I thought.
“I just think [this mixed group therapy] is a brilliant idea — let's just talk about the experiences because even if people are glad they transitioned, there's a lot they regret. There's a lot of things they didn't expect.
“[Psychologically] some people just don't regret things. It's the way they live their life. And some people say, no, I do regret — I wish I hadn't done that. And some people go, no, I don't ‘do’ regret — it's almost a philosophy in life.
Keira, detransitioner: “I'm not really sure where I stand on that just yet. The term regret, that's just kind of followed me on, people just assume it. But I try not to see it as regret, because I think that term can dictate the way I feel about certain things.
“I'm quite a spiritual person. I do believe things happen for a reason. And so, if [medical transition] didn't happen to me, I don't know what would have happened. I would have been a different person.
“I think I did make [a conscious] decision to detransition. I just knew that I didn’t want to continue with the hormones anymore. People have the idea that detransition means “reverse transition”, when it doesn't. Detransition just means stop.”