Someone I love might want to detransition
Was I wrong to support their transition?
If someone you love considers detransitioning or has detransitioned, especially if they are your child, you may wonder if it was a mistake to support their transition. Maybe you feel affected by the potential regrets, or lasting life implications, and you wonder if you could have prevented it from happening. These feelings are valid and understandable. Parents and loved ones may need support to process their own regret or complex feelings.
At this time, there is no data supporting the idea that relatives could play a role in preventing future transition regret. Factors associated with regret are very poorly studied. However, research has shown that parental support is a protective factor for gender-diverse young people’s mental health, reducing depression, self-harm and suicidality. Inversely, rejecting your child’s identity or a lack of acceptance can be very detrimental to the child. In some case, it might even be a factor of detransition because the youth can’t freely express their gender or is discouraged from doing so. In the (De)trans Discourses research, several participants mentioned having faced challenges because of a lack of support, which sometimes contributed to their detransition pathway. But no one mentioned regretting being supported by their parents during their transition. In the Re/DeTrans Canada study, the participants who regretted their transition shared that they did not blame their parents or loved ones because they were following medical provider advice.
Having supported a loved one during their transition was probably the best thing you could do with the information you had at the time, because you let them know they were safe to be themselves with you, and that they can trust you.
If someone you care for is thinking about, or is already detransitioning, it is important to keep supporting them and allow them to evolve and explore their identity. Detransitioning can be a very challenging period, but with additional difficulties, notably because of possible loss of friends or community, and detransition-related stigma. Detransitioning can also be accompanied with feelings of shame or guilt, sometimes leading people not to disclose their detransition to their relatives, especially by fear of reinforcing the idea that their transition was just a “phase”. This why it is important for family and friends to show a continuous support even during the detransition, without invalidating past identities, and embracing new ones.
What can I do to support them in their detransition?
Research on detransition is very recent so little is known about the most effective ways to support someone during their detransition or shift in their identity. Though, some research can point to needs among the detrans community, and also things to be careful about.
The (De)trans Discourses and the Re/DeTrans Canada projects pointed out that participants could face challenging feelings during the detransition like regrets and grief about their pre-transition body, “reverse dysphoria” caused by the effects of transition on the body, feelings of shame, guilt, confusion, anxiety, loneliness, worries about the future. They may also be ambivalent about their transition and feel nostalgia from their transition or face a return of past issues like dysphoria, eating disorders, or depression that the transition had helped alleviate. Having social and emotional support during this period could be valuable for those who detransition.
There are specific risks of social alienation reported by people who detransition. Detransphobia is a term which explains the discrimination and prejudices experienced by people who detransition or discontinue a transition. The Re/DeTrans Canada project highlighted how stereotypes about detransition such as being “transtrenders” invalidate people’s past trans experiences. Anti-trans groups and the mainstream media also often disproportionately focus on the experiences of detransition to de-legitimize trans and nonbinary people. Because of that, detransitioners are often viewed as being anti-trans, which might alienate them from the trans community where they once found support. Furthermore, there are very few support groups available for people who are detransitioning, particularly among LGBTQ+ service organizations.
A good approach is to communicate with your loved one, to have an open dialogue free of judgements if they feel the need to confide in you, maybe explore with them how they feel, and to ask them what their needs are or how you can best support them. Maybe they will face feelings like doubts, worries, grief, loss, uncertainty. Welcome those feelings, let them process their emotions and be present. You can offer active listening by letting them lead the conversation, mirroring what they tell you (by using a similar language), acknowledging their feelings and expressing understanding and empathy. One example of that would be:
“A: I feel like I will never be the same, and I’m so sad. I feel like I’m grieving the body I had and I don’t know how to accept my new body.
B: I’m hearing that you feel a lot of sadness and grief, and you don’t know how to find self-acceptance. Your body is permanently changed. Feeling sadness and grief is totally understandable. Loss often comes with grief or mourning, and it may take time. Accepting your body will be a process. Are they things that could be supportive in this process?”
You can help them feel validated in their current identity by using the name and pronouns of their choice and being open to it evolving again through time. Let them know that it is okay to have doubts or to change their mind and that you will still be present if they change their mind again in the future. Trust their capacity to take decisions for themselves without making judgements or invalidating their past decisions. Also, be careful not to express overenthusiasm to their decision to detransition, which could convey the idea that their transition was a mistake or give the impression that you expected their transition to be only a “phase”.
You can inform yourself and offer to give them resources on detransition, like this website. If you are a parent, maybe your child will need your help to access some resources: information, access to care-givers, therapists or counsellors, buying new clothes or gender accessories if they change their gender expression, driving them to a support group, showing them inspiring models. But don’t impose resources if they don’t feel a need to.
Finally, don’t forget to resource yourself. Having a child or a relative who detransitions can affect you. Finding support yourself and addressing your feelings is important and will help you in supporting your loved one.
I am trans and I am triggered by my friend’s detransition
If you are trans or are in a transitioning process, having a friend who is detransitioning may be triggering or emotionally difficult for you. It can bring to the surface your own doubts, worries about other people invalidating your own identity and transition, and maybe even fears of future regret. If that’s the case, don’t hesitate to seek support. Feeling a lot of negative emotion about someone else’s detransition may be signalling insecurities or unprocessed feelings in yourself that you may benefit from exploring with a care provider.
Feel free to communicate to your friend that you are having your own difficult feelings and don’t hesitate to ask for some time to process it. But remember that supporting their decision is a way to support their gender exploration and that all gender identities are valid. Although you might struggle with grieving your friend’s past identity, it is very likely your friend who is detransitioning needs your support and compassion.
As a parent, I am afraid of being judged if my child detransitions
To our knowledge, no research has studied parents of people who are detransitioning, but we know that parents who support their trans kid can face challenges like a fear of taking the wrong decision, a feeling of grief, isolation, a lack of support or acceptance from their circle. As detrans youth face negative bias like the idea that they were just transtrenders or they are ”ruined” parents can probably face the same detransphobic prejudices and being pointed out as having supported their child in making a “mistake”. However, it is important to remind yourself that as mentioned earlier, parental support is important to young people’s well-being. If your child decides that they are not transgender, it’s likely not because you have made a mistake by supporting them. But you should always keep an open mind to the reality that we are all changing as we grow, especially young people.
If you feel that your child detransitioning is affecting you (and maybe in turn affecting your child), don’t hesitate to seek for professional help.