Addressing Detrans Misconceptions
“People who detransition are opposed to gender care”
Detrans narratives are sometimes used by politicians, activists or in the media as an argument against trans people and gender care. However, many people who detransition support trans people and worry their stories will be used to hurt trans people, women, or the 2SLGBTQ+ community.
Some detransitioners may wish to see improvements in research and adjustments in practice to better support people who seek medical transition. For example, many detrans and trans youth alike discuss the need to explore the motives for wanting to transition and clarify possible underlying issues and wished they were offered non-medical options to address their feelings of distress. Yet many also specify that such a comprehensive assessment approach shouldn’t restrict people’s ability to decide to transition. Detransitioners are diverse just like any other minority group. Detransitioning is a life experience, not a political position.
“People who detransition are not part of the 2SLGBTQ+ community/they are just cisgender”
Some people who detransition still consider themselves to be trans, non-binary, genderfluid or gender non-conforming, lesbian, gay, bisexual or feel a belonging to gender or sexual diversity.
For those who do not use the trans label anymore, many don’t identify as cisgender either and they may reject gender identity labels entirely. Or, they may feel their social experience and their body has been changed by transitioning and that the cisgender label does not fit them. Some identify with their sex, others think their experience is significantly different from one of a cisgender person: they have experienced dysphoria, have undergone a transition and sometimes continue to face transphobia.
People who detransition can have similar challenges to trans people, like having dysphoria or reverse dysphoria, being perceived as gender non-conforming, being outside of gender norms, take hormonal treatments after a gonadectomy surgery, etc.
“Everyone who detransitions regrets their transition.”
It is true that people who detransition can face strong feelings of regrets, grief and sometimes anger, but this is not the case for everyone. Often, a mix of positive and negative feelings may be present: regretting some aspects of transition and liking others, grieving the past self and gaining more self-acceptance through the process. Because some detrans people are mourning the body they once had and they can no longer recover, care providers should provide support to process these feelings. However, people who detransition often have a wide range of feelings regarding their transition and not everyone experiences regrets or grief. For some, these feelings may fade over time as they process grief and loss. Others feel gratitude for having been able to explore their gender and gain a better self-understanding, and some are satisfied with the physical changes from their medical transition. Narratives from both studies showed complex and ambivalent feelings such satisfaction with some aspects of medical or social transition, while being dissatisfied with other elements. It is important to remember that detransition, like transition, can be an individual experience and people have unique needs.
In the Re/DeTrans Canada study, 18 out of 27 participants had positive feelings about their transition or didn’t have regrets, and about a third of participants expressed decisional regret. In the Detrans Discourses study, 14 out of 20 participants expressed positive feelings or no regrets about their transition, 12 expressed negative feelings including regrets, most expressed both negative and positive feelings and/or had ambivalent discourses. Other studies have shown that about 50-60% of participants who detransitioned report regret (Littman, 2021; Vandenbussche, 2021).
“People detransitioned because they accessed transitions too quickly”
Deciding to stop a transition is not necessarily linked to a rushed transition, though some people do feel this way in hindsight. On the other hand, some people do feel they needed more psychosocial support, and time and space to make a decision. But reasons to stop a transition or detransition can vary greatly, as the evidence shows.
What was observed in the Detrans Discourses research is that among 13 youth who have stopped a medical transition, only one started a medical process soon after identifying as trans. Others waited at least a year, and more than half waited at least two years. Some youth had been identifying as trans for 7-8 years before starting a medical transition, which didn’t prevent them from detransitioning. In the Re/DeTrans Canada study, a minority reported that they were able to access gender-related healthcare too quickly, with insufficient exploration of their gender dysphoria. But many participants said they waited a year or more, or had trouble accessing, interventions that were desired. One of the nonbinary participants was required by their care provider to first begin testosterone in order to have chest surgery/double mastectomy. They regret having taken testosterone, but do not regret surgery.
“Life is ruined after a detransition”
Having to stop and/or reverse a transition can be challenging and destabilizing, especially at the beginning. People who detransition can experience feelings like grief, anger, regret, doubt, worry for the future, and helplessness. Sometimes, challenges from the past may come back or remain and need to be addressed with a healthcare provider, such as gender dysphoria or body related distress. However, many detransitioners report having a fulfilling life today. Some people even report that having gone through a detransition taught them to care less about external validations, to detach from gender norms, and to find self-love and self-acceptance. This does not mean that transition was the right path, but rather that a rewarding life after detransition is possible. Resources like embodiment practices, journaling, psychological support, community support or peer support can help navigate this period. In the Detrans Discourses study, Eleonor offers an example of self-acceptance and resilience after going through strong feelings of regrets and self-blame:
“It’s more of like, it’s kind of cheesy, but I kind of like love myself more for it, even though there are things I obviously wish I could change, like everyone else, but there’s, there’s less of a feeling of like, God, I hate my body or God I hate this part of myself and more just like this isn’t perfect, but nothing is, and that’s fine, and I think it’s helped a lot to be able to tackle those feelings in like a, a more gentle way toward myself [laughs]. Like, it’s helped a lot I think mentally. I don’t know about physically, but mentally and emotionally, I think it’s helped a lot.”
This shows, as stated by Expósito-Campos, “Life after detransition can be livable, meaningful, and fulfilling.” p.276.
“People detransition because of transphobia”
There are many reasons people detransition. Some detransitions are driven by transphobia, while others may be related to health concerns or a change in identity. Some report experiences of access denial to trans care, lack of parental support, violence, and transphobic assaults which can lead to stopping their transition. Among these people, some will choose to later resume their transition, some will not.
Depending on how researchers measured this phenomenon, numbers vary greatly. Among studies which have specifically targeted detrans people, Littman found that 23% of participants stopped because of discriminations. In Vandenbussche’s study, the most common reported reason for detransition was realizing that gender dysphoria was related to other issues (70%). The second one was health concerns (62%), followed by transition did not help my dysphoria (50%), found alternatives to deal with my dysphoria (45%), unhappy with the social changes (44%), and change in political views (43%). At the very bottom of the list are: lack of support from social surroundings (13%), financial concerns (12%) and discrimination (10%). The study of Turban showed that more than 82% of participants stopped their transition because of external factors (like parental, partner or family pressure, social stigma, discriminations). However, this study was conducted with people who were still identifying as part of the trans community and gender diversity. Thus, the results concern people who haven’t stopped identifying as trans, which doesn’t reflect the experience of all detrans people. Overall, these results show that we can’t say that detransition is exclusively caused by transphobia or lack of support, but these are indeed factors that lead some to detransition. Some people who don’t necessarily experience transphobia can choose to stop their transition for other reasons (like identity shifts, unsatisfasfactory transition outcomes, etc.).
“All detrans people transitioned in the first place because of peer influences”
Some detrans people mention an active influence from peers who affirm the idea that feeling dysphoria equals being trans and this can encourage the person to transition. With social media, this phenomenon can be amplified, and sometimes puts a strong focus on the feeling of dysphoria=trans, and the need to transition. Thus, in Detrans Discourses, a participant mentioned having developed dysphoria because she felt she “had to in order to be trans enough”. Some participants also mentioned feeling a pressure to perform their gender and “to keep going with each step to prove themselves”. It also happens that people have been labelled trans by other trans people after having shared their experience of feeling dysphoria. A decision to transition is deeply personal and individual. A gender exploration and even a transition doesn’t have to follow specific steps. It is important to really explore one’s feelings, needs and expectations outside of external influences to find the most appropriate answer for oneself. It is not up to someone else to say what is the best solution.
That said, we can’t generalize this idea that all people who transition and later detransition were influenced by peers or social media. For some people, gender exploration is a social experience that enables recognition of one’s gender identity and connecting with community. The way we feel about our gender can be impacted by many factors including social norms, cultural beliefs, social experiences, and gender dysphoria.
“I can’t stop my transition, or detransition, I’ve invested so much” (AKA “Sunk cost fallacy”)
Sometimes, when we take a decision which comes with high costs, or we have invested significant time and effort, it can be difficult to reconsider. The sunk cost fallacy bias is this tendency we have to stick to a decision we took, regardless of the negative outcomes because we already have invested in it (eg: time, money, energy, etc.). This idea can apply to a transition/detransition. For example, we can think that we have spent so much time on hormones that we can’t stop it, or that we have put so much effort into the transition that stopping it would mean we have done it for nothing. Other times, we may feel that people around us (parents, friends) are more invested in the transition than us!
Someone may feel that it’s too late to stop their transition because it has caused irreversible change. Indeed, it is a risk that after a detransition, one can struggle being perceived in their authentic gender, or even can be perceived as more trans or gender non-conforming after detransition, than they did during transition, because of their appearance.
In the Detrans Discourses study, detrans youth reported that while it was a complicated and difficult process, they were able to proceed and in the end felt relieved and hope for the future. In this study, Jada who was nonbinary when she started to transition and spent 4 years on testosterone says:
“I feel like a weight has been lifted, just knowing that the detransition and just stopping hormone treatment was for a good reason, it felt like I became more aligned with my identity, after suppressing for so long.”