August 2, 2018

What about non- and detransitioning transgender people?

I got the following anonymous question over at tumblr:

Why do you invalidate and devalue the experiences of detransitioners? Stop talking over them just bc they make you feel threatened. They're actually very lovely and they send an important message that we need to explore other options for dysphoria management. What about trans ppl with chronic illnesses that can't do HRT? They need our support but we just ignore them.

Here is my answer:

I do not devalue the experiences of detransitioners, nor do I feel threatened by them.

I have underlined repeatedly that the complexity and diversity of sex and gender lead to difficult choices for many transgender people (and I am using the word transgender in its wide “umbrella” sense here).

People with gender dysphoria may chose not to transition for many different and legitimate choices. I am a gender dysphoric transgender person and I have not transitioned.

Given the rampant transphobia and homophobia in our societies, I am also not surprised see that some who have transitioned find living and presenting as their target sex difficult, and detransition for that and other reasons.

Regretters used in anti-trans propaganda

However, right now the very existence of “regretters” is used by transphobic TERFs and right wing fundamentalists to invalidate the identities of all transgender people.

The argument is that if some are detransitioning, all those who transition are “fake” and that transitioning is a recipe for mental illness and suffering. This is why I over and over again underline the following:

1. Only a small minority of those who transition regret doing so (between 0.6 and 4 percent according to the studies I have read).

2. The great majority of those who transition report a much higher quality of life and health after transitioning. While the attempted suicide rate among all transgender people is around 40%, the similar rate for those that have transition is more or less the same as the general population.

I say this not in order to devalue the experience of detransitioners, but to ensure that their very existence is not not used to undermine the legitimacy of transitioning as an essential  tool in transgender health care.


Detransitioners are now caught in a game where their existence is used as a weapon against all transgender people. I really liked ThirdWayTrans’ blog on alternative ways of expressing gender variance and living with dysphoria . They have now stopped blogging, as they found that TERFs and right wing extremists have been using the blog to attack trans people in general. That is a tragedy, because it also makes many transgender people less likely to become advocates for alternatives to surgery.

We need alternative ways of helping

In order to help non- and detransitioning gender dysphoric people, we have to make both health personell and people in general understand the following:

1. The strict binary only fits some transgender people well (in the same way as it also puts severe restraints on non-transgender people). We need health care that gives trans people the possibility of exploring many avenues, before they make any final decisions. Blessed are the ones that have no doubts! But not all trans people are like that.

2. Given the restraints given by culture, laws, social mores, personality traits and personal responsibilities, there will – at least in the foreseeable future – always be gender dysphoric transgender people who cannot or will not transition, even if they do fit the binary. They need, as you point out, to be presented with other options than full hormone therapy and genital surgery.

We are slowly getting there. “Bottom surgery” is no longer considered a requirement for transitioning in my country (at least not by the majority of politicians and gate keepers). This also leaves room for more fluid roles and identities.

But it is still hard for trans people to get hold of hormones if they are not planning to go “all the way". We know that many transgender people get some relief from dysphoria by taking them. I know that trans-friendly doctors in many countries are cutting corners here, in order to help transgender people. This should be a totally legitimate and legal option, in my view.

In many countries it is also hard to get public or insurance support for laser hair removal, which has also been know to help MTF trans people who are not transitioning, as has top surgery for some non-transitioning FTM trans people.

In Norway the number of psychologists and psychiatrists specializing in sexology and gender identities is very low, and the waiting lists are long. Some get help from therapists without this specialization, but it remains hard to find them and pay for their services. This is a challenge that has to be addressed in most, if not all, countries.

Respect the diversity!

I have never been hiding any of this. I am the co-founder and chief moderator of the Crossdream Life Forum, where gender variant people of all shades and colors discuss alternative ways of living with dysphoria. Some of them have transitioned, others have not.  Many of them are not even dysphoric.

We have to stand up against the TERFs and other extremists. The only way we can make  room for the transgender journey, non-binary identities, and alternative treatments for dysphoria in our societies  is to make people understand that the binary does fit everyone and that such people are not a threat to society.

See also Julia Serano’s article: Detransition, Desistance, and Disinformation: A Guide for Understanding Transgender Children Debates. There is much there that is relevant for this discussion.

Photo: Photitos2016

2 comments:

  1. very important point that you make Jack: some people do not choose to transition or detransition due to many reasons some of which may be health related or simply due to circumstances that make that option more unattractive. Tjey may find that doing so produces a new series of challenges that they cannot deal with which includes the management of prejudice they may face were they to exercise that option. This is most certainly true in the case of older people like me who may fear the judgement of colleagues from our generation.

    Using these cases as proof that we are not transgender is disingenuous but I am not surprised that the right-wingers and the TERFS would jump on this; that is what they do.

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  2. So true, Joanna. I sometimes wonder if the real nature of sex and gender is so complex that it is impossible to understand the diversity that is actually there.

    Still, I do not think that this is true. In pre-modern times, all the way up to the late 18th century, most people would not find it hard to understand that you could - for instance - mix masculine and feminine traits. Both humorology and astrology allowed for that. There are even several reported cases from the 16 and 1700-hundreds were women spontanueously changed into men, and were accepted as such. Transformations the other way was not possible, as masculine fire was considered stronger than feminine water, for some bizarre reason. Gender was at the time a legal and religious concept. It was not a biological concept. In other words: It is possible to develop world views that allows for those in between.

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