A reader named Joe sent me this article, Trouble in Transtopia, about regretting transition and, well, never let it be said that I do not listen to the will of my readers.
First, I would like to highlight my points of agreement with the article. The trans community as a whole is shitty to detransitioners. We need to acknowledge that identity is fluid over time and many people will identify as trans for a period and later not. We need to acknowledge that sometimes people will think transition is the right decision for them, and it turns out that it isn’t. It is morally repugnant to erase a vulnerable group of people in need of support because they don’t fit into our neat, political narratives. Detransitioners are part of the trans community too. Doubly so! They transitioned twice, they are clearly far more trans than a silly once-transitioner like myself.
Similarly, I agree that medical transition is a big step which should only be entered into after a lot of thought (depending on the permanence of the transition step, of course– it can be reasonable to experiment with estrogen to see if you like it but definitely not with SRS).
However, the evidence presented by the article that detransition is very common is, uh, shitty.
The article claims that trans people claim that only five percent of people detransition. It doesn’t have a source, but that seems like a reasonable estimate, so let’s go with that. If about .3% of the population is transgender, then there will be 45,000 detransitioners in the US alone. That is more than enough for as many anecdotes as you please.
Furthermore, the detransition stories presented in the article include the story of Rene Richards, a tennis star, who not only never detransitioned but does not actually regret her transition:
In the same interview, Dr. Richards talked about wishing for something that could have prevented the surgery.
“What I said was if there were a drug, some voodoo, any kind of mind-altering magic remedy to keep the man intact, that would have been preferable, but there wasn’t,” Dr. Richards says. “The pressure to change into a woman was so strong that if I had not been able to do it, I might have been a suicide.”
Does she regret having the surgery?
“The answer is no.”
It is a very remarkable twisting of the facts to consider a person who says “if I hadn’t transitioned I would have killed myself” to be a trans failure story. She had a bunch of bad options and she picked the best available option. Not letting people transition would not actually improve the situation. “All your options are terrible! I will remove the best available option! I am helping! It is a good decision I have made here today!”
Furthermore, this includes the story of Ria Cooper, Britain’s youngest trans woman. As Natalie Reed wrote when the story initially broke:
Even some of the articles that most directly presented the story as one of how Ria’s “sex change hormones” had “caused” her depression, and that she was clearly “too young” to have made such a choice, nonetheless included quotes from Ria about how she had been treated by her family and friends in the wake of her transition. I can’t help but wonder if this is because the cis bias of the reporters was so thick they didn’t even realize they were including evidence of how they’d distorted the story and glossed over highly significant details. Ria described how her mother no longer permitted her to live at home or come by, unless she did so “as a boy”, how her father openly described her as an “embarrassment” and disappointment, how she ended up alienated from almost all of her friends, and how she considered detransition the only option for having interpersonal connections again, how she considered detransition her only chance to be happy. And that she herself tied this not to the mood swings “caused” by her HRT, but because detransition would allow her to regain her family and connections and support systems.
This wasn’t simply an issue of medical transition, and the physical changes, being something that Ria didn’t want (perhaps tellingly, perhaps not, I wasn’t able to find any statements by Ria on how she felt about her body, its changes, and what changes detransition will sacrifice). I don’t feel comfortable speculating on Ria’s feelings and whether or not she experiences dysphoria about male or female physical characteristics, or how intensely, but what’s clear is that this is very largely an issue of her being unable to cope with the intense pressures and alienation of being trans in a transphobic world. Which is to say nothing of the pressure, stress, transphobia, and lack of privacy or ability to adapt to a relatively “normal” life as female, she must have faced transitioning under such public scrutiny as “Britain’s youngest sex change patient!”.
I don’t know about you, but if I were seventeen years old, and my parents made it clear that they would only accept me if I were cis, and I no longer had friends, and I believed these situations would never change unless I detransitioned… I am pretty sure I would detransition. And I’m definitely dysphoric and have never regretted my social transition for a moment! Humans are social animals. As Natalie Reed says, we cannot know why Ria Cooper chose to detransition. However, it is simply bad journalism to report about it without mentioning that social rejection could be a factor.
Fortunately, the article Trouble in Transtopia does not purely rely on misrepresented anecdotes. It also cites two studies. So, let’s look at the studies!
First, they discussed the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, which among other startling results found that 41% of trans people have attempted suicide. (We Are The 41%!) Trouble in Transtopia says, “One need look no further for compelling evidence of widespread transgender and sex change regret.” I think they probably should have looked a bit further. Perhaps to the second half of the sentence?
with rates rising for those who lost a job due to bias (55%), were harassed/bullied in school (51%), had low household income, or were the victim of physical assault (61%) or sexual assault (64%).
I dunno, I’m just blueskying here, but it seems maybe plausible that the reason the trans suicide rate is so high is that people keep raping, harassing, firing, and trying to kill us.
The second study is a 2003 Swedish study which found that trans people are more likely to die, particularly from suicide, than demographic-matched cis controls of the same birth sex are.
I assume the sequel to Trouble in Transtopia will be Trouble in Depressedtopia. First paragraph: “Depressed people after treatment are more likely to kill themselves than people who have never been depressed are. This is undeniable evidence of therapy regret. Therapists are taking advantage of vulnerable people and making them want to kill themselves. We must ban therapy immediately.”
Threequel: “Trouble in Cancertopia! After chemo, cancer patients are still much more likely to die than people who have never gotten cancer! Look at all the side effects of chemo. It’s probably all the side effects of chemo killing everyone, we should just never treat cancer and there would be no problems anymore.”
It is true that trans people, even post-transition, are more likely to die than cis people. But “be cis” is not actually an option I have. My options are to be a non-transitioning gender dysphoric person or a transitioning gender dysphoric person. As far as I am aware, not a single study has been conducted on which option is better, possibly because gender dysphorics as a whole are extremely stubborn and going to respond to “you can’t transition” with doctor-shopping and/or illegally buying hormones and transitioning anyway. In the absence of such a study, we merely have to use our best judgment when figuring out whether transition is the right choice for us.
Finally: I have noticed a recurring trend through this article, which is that it treats the results of transphobia as the results of being trans. This is literally schoolyard bully logic: “it’s your fault I hit you, you were just standing there looking so hittable.” This is not to say that transphobia isn’t a factor people should take into account when considering whether to transition– they definitely should. But in terms of whether transition is an effective treatment for gender dysphoria, the fact that people are constantly assholes to us for no reason is not actually relevant. Transition is fine! Transition works great! The solution to the problems you’re decrying is not eliminating transition, it’s getting people to stop being assholes to us for no reason– that is, exactly the sort of trans activism you wish wouldn’t exist.