This is a seriously misunderstood topic. I was inspired to write about detransitioning when I saw a tweet by a bigot spreading misinformation. Bigots love to pretend that the rare cases of people deciding to reverse the effects of social and medical transitioning are somehow a sign of an “agenda” forcing people to become transgender. For the record, this isn’t a trans 101 post. There are hundreds, if not thousands of trans 101 resources and websites out there for any “But what does transgender mean?” questions. Google is your friend. Or pay a trans person to explain it to you. Either way, that’s not what this post is for. The goal here is to explain the basics of transitioning, detransitioning, and how you, cisgender people, can support trans people regardless of the choices they make. I want to demystify detransitioning for y’all.
What is Transitioning?
Before I get into detransitioning, I’ll explain transitioning real quick. There are 2 types: social transitioning and medical transitioning. Social transitioning deals with how you engage with society and people. Examples of social transitioning would be coming out as trans (to friends, family, coworkers, classmates, doctors, etc. over and over again throughout your whole life), using different pronouns, changing your name and gender markers on IDs, and/or changing the clothes you wear. Medical transitioning includes the medical procedures/treatments that some trans people decide to do to ease dysphoria, to overcome the puberty they were forced to endure, etc. Hormone replacement therapy, hysterectomies, the multiple kinds of top and bottom surgeries, etc. are a few of the many examples of medical transitioning. Cis people, in their ignorance, think there is this 1 surgery, THE surgery, that does…who knows what…and that’s how trans people become trans…like baking a cake or something. Transitioning in general is not a 1 size fits all kind of deal. Some trans people socially transition, medically transition, or some combination of both. Not all trans people choose to transition the same way. Transitioning, like life, is unique to each person. It depends on what living their truth looks like for each person and what is realistically possible for them due to financial restrictions or society’s transmisia/transphobia. Some trans people do not socially or physically transition in any way for their own reasons.
Note: Transgender people do not transition for cisgender people’s pleasure, comfort, permission, etc. Trans people transition to live their truth. Trans people do NOT transition to look like or copy cis people. Trans people do NOT transition to attract or trap cis people. Trans people transition for their happiness, peace of mind, satisfaction, etc. The only time trans people factor cis people into their thinking is when they are worried cis people will harm/kill them or when discrimination leads to them losing jobs, access to healthcare, right to pee in public bathrooms, child custody, etc.
The medical health and mental health needs/concerns of transgender people are not taught in med school/psych programs and there are so few in depth trainings available. Most cisgender professionals don’t know anything and don’t have the training to provide care to trans people. And most of them don’t even know how to help people process their own feelings about gender. Most professionals don’t know how to help anyone determine for themselves if they are actually transgender or if they are cisgender with gender-related concerns. So it is rare, but possible that a cisgender therapist with no proper training could encourage a another cisgender person with gender role/gender presentation concerns to transition. That’s SO rare because usually cisgender people go out of their way to do whatever it takes to prevent gender transitions. Despite what most cis people seem to think, nobody is passing out hormones, etc. to transgender people like candy. It can take months at minimum to receive clearance for any kind of trans-related care, assuming you have insurance that will cover anything.
Though transgender people have always been around, trans people are becoming more visible in mainstream society so, as a result, more and more people see that being trans (and transitioning) is possible. At the end of the day, the rare cases of detransitioning that result from cis people mistakenly transitioning speaks more to systemic transmisia/transphobia in the healthcare field AND the desperate need for medical providers who are properly trained in transgender healthcare and working with gender-related concerns in general. Mental health professionals and doctors/nurses should be trained by trans people (a great way to create jobs) to be able to provide quality care and to be able to help all people process any gender-related feelings without judgment and/or bias.
What is Detransitioning?
[CW: I’m going to talk about detransitioning, putting it into the context of living in a transmisic/transphobic society. This may be hard to read and/or dysphoric for trans people. Self care, y’all.]
So I want to make it clear in this section that when I’m talking about detransitioning here, I am referring to transgender people who detransition. I already talked about cis people who mistakenly transition earlier. Again, the rest of this piece will cover only transgender people who detransition. Detransitioning could be social and/or physical. It’s usually due to systemic transmisia/transphobia (living in a society that is pound for pound stacked against you and wants you dead/disappeared) and a lack of social supports. Systemic bigotry and individual experiences with transmisia/transphobia can cause or exaggerate mental health symptoms like anxiety, depression, and/or trauma reactions. In addition to making physical health symptoms worse because the mind and body are connected. Exposure to other kinds of bigotry like racism and misogyny does the exact same thing so if you are a transgender person of color and/or a trans woman of color, you are dealing with even more burdens and stresses on your mind and body all the time at the same time. Detransitioning then can become a survival tactic in a bigoted, violent world that wants you dead.
Imagine being forced to cosplay as another gender for most of your life, with society constantly making jokes about trans people (trans women in particular) and killing them on a regular basis. Comedians make whole comedy specials about these murders. You then realize that you’re actually 1 of those people you’re taught to think is weird/disgusting/worthy of dying. Living your truth as a trans person is not a breeze, contrary to what a lot of cis people seem to think. This is an uphill battle: people you thought you trusted will abandon you and possibly actively try to harm you. Support can be hard to find depending on where you live. In many states, changing your name and gender marker on IDs is made purposefully too expensive for many people with mandatory doctor visits and/or surgery requirements. Really think about that. Think about being forced to have surgery (an expensive surgery you might not have really wanted) that you could die from because there’s a risk of dying in any kind of surgical procedure…and/or because your medical providers and/or case workers might have little to no experience working with actual trans people and/or might have anti-trans views. There have been many cases of medical providers refusing to treat trans people and/or letting trans people die on the operating table. This seriously happens. This is something that many trans people on some level worry about especially if you don’t live in an area that has quality transgender-specific care.
Let’s keep imagining here though: you need money to pay for your transition expenses, but no one will hire you to make that money because job discrimination against trans people is legal in most states. But any delay in transitioning could lead to more mental and emotional symptoms in addition to violence from cis people who routinely attack anyone who doesn’t look like them. And honestly that’s not even close to everything that trans people deal with. It’s draining to be trans in this society. It’s literally traumatic because bigots make it that way. And if you have other marginalized identities: being queer, asexual, intersex, Black or another POC, disabled, etc., it’s even more complicated. It can wear someone down to deal with all that bigotry alone for years. And with all of that, detransitioning can seem like the only option to find some peace. How messed up is that: Being forced away from living your truth and then dealing with all the psychological/emotional pain of that becomes the way to avoid society’s constant torture.
The most common reasons I have ever heard for a trans person detransitioning are for safety, a stable job/income, and/or to avoid being alone. I’ll never forget: in 1 of my old jobs, a coworker had a Black trans woman client who lived in a SRO (single room occupancy) building. I remember her coming down to see him in “boy-mode” suddenly one day. She told me casually that she decided to detransition over the weekend because she was terrified and tired of cis men attacking her basically every night. She was trying to find her own apartment and a job, but she couldn’t if she was constantly healing from these assaults. After almost a month, she started taking HRT again. When I saw her, she told me she started HRT again because (I’m paraphrasing) she had to do her regardless. I had so many mixed emotions in that moment. On 1 hand, it’s powerful as hell, but it shouldn’t have to cost her so much power and so much energy just to go to the corner store. Despite detransitioning being so rare, she isn’t the only one dealing with this.
I decided to ask transgender people on Twitter back in April the following questions: “What was happening in your life when you made the decision to detransition?” and “Is there anything else you want me to know/understand about this?”. 2 people graciously reached out to me to tell me their experiences with detransitioning. 1 person, a trans man made the decision to detransition in order to become financially stable. Due to job discrimination against trans people being very legal in this country, in order to receive “a serious paying job”, he made the choice to detransition. To put it blankly, he knew that “if I had walked into the interview binding with a shaved head I wouldn’t have been hired”. I’m using the word “choice” loosely here. Decisions made in coercive situations aren’t the same thing as decisions made when you have freedom. Having to choose between being yourself and being able to eat and keep a roof over your head is a symptom of larger problems in society. Suffer psychologically and emotionally and keep a job or be homeless and financially unstable. That’s not a real choice. And that’s a man-made problem that can easily be solved.
The 2nd person to share their story with me on Twitter was a non-binary trans POC who came out as trans 5 years ago and was isolated from their family for 4 years as a result. They decided to detransition because they are “in dire need of community”. They described the trans community at the school they are attending as “racist” and after being alone for so long, they said they are “in the process of detransitioning to talk to my parents again”. Humans have many different kinds of survival needs: shelter, clothing, food, stability, and a sense of belonging/community are some of them. Many marginalized/oppressed people are forced to trade some needs for others and have to figure out how to exist without fully being allowed to live. It’s painful. It’s messed up. Again, it’s a man-made problem. Many bigots will point to trans people who detransition as evidence that their trans experience and their gender was never real. One thing that this 2nd trans person wanted to make clear was that being forced by their situation to detransition was “very painful” and did not make them any less trans: “I guess I’d like you to know that I’m still trans”. This sentence reminded me of that Black trans woman approaching me to tell me that she’s still trans. I really felt that. Cisgender bigots try to capitalize on the rare detransitioning cases because they want to pretend that transgender people are accidents, signs of mental illness, a recent fad, and something that can be reversed with enough hate and abuse. But transgender people are still here. They have always been here and there’s nothing cis people can do to change that. If anything, detransitioning is a sign of a cisgender agenda: an agenda designed to prop up white supremacy, colonialism, patriarchy, etc. that traumatizes and kills children and adults, whole human beings, everyday.
What Can Cisgender People Do To Support Trans People?
This is why it’s so important for you to challenge transmisia/transphobia in yourself and the people in your life. Look into yourself. If you are a person of color and would want white people and other POCs to speak up if someone ever said some racist mess about your culture, you’d be a hypocrite if you wouldn’t do the same for an oppression that isn’t yours. This society makes being transgender so damn hard. Deadly actually. Especially if the trans person is also Black, queer, disabled, etc. There are trans people in your communities that you have abandoned to be as bigoted as colonizers. You can’t be a leader in a revolution with all that hate/disgust/aversion in your heart for your own people. You can’t be a leader and a leading cause of death at the same time.
Some Basic Ways Cis People Can Help:
- Introduce yourself with your name and pronouns to everyone, even if you think you know their gender. If anyone asks, say you’re just being polite: You wouldn’t like people to assume anything about you and you don’t like assuming things about people.
- Use whatever name and pronouns you are given. With practice, like anything you put effort towards, pronouns are easy.
- Don’t let anti-trans jokes fly without challenging them. If it makes people uncomfortable and feel like they can’t make those kinds of jokes around me anymore, good. I didn’t want it anyway and I made the area a better place.
- Stand against laws and policies that hurt trans ppl because it creates a safer world for everyone. Creating laws where medical providers can turn away trans people for religious beliefs creates loopholes so doctors could reject cis people for wanting birth control, being Black, having an undocumented immigration status, etc.
- If you don’t understand something, google it. If you can’t find the answer after googling, ask a trans person if you can give them some money in exchange for them taking the reasonable amount of time and labor to educate you.
- If you have some extra money, donate directly to a trans person.
Transphobic cisgender people love to jump on detransitioning stories as evidence of a “transgender agenda”, but if cis people let other people live their lives freely, there would be no need for detransitioning. Being real and true, the real agenda is assuming everyone is cisgender and heterosexual and then forcing everyone who is different to pretend for the rest of their lives…unless they want to risk housing discrimination, job discrimination, terrible medical care, not being able to get custody of their children, etc. On some: be like us or we won’t let you be a full member of society…assuming you survive all this. Staying silent doesn’t make you a witness. It at best means you’re an accomplice, holding the torturer’s beer. Trans people aren’t aliens. There are Black transgender people, Latinx transgender people, etc. There are trans people in your communities that you could be supporting. There are trans people in your hood you could be looking out for. Because bet money throughout history when one of us was killed and a march needed to happen and/or hashtags needed to be shared, your transgender community members were out in the streets. But who stands up for the trans people in your community?
Thanks for reading. The next post on Sunday 10/28/18 will be covering suicide: what it is, the difference between thinking about suicide and being at risk of actually doing it, bodily autonomy, and suicide prevention.