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Detransition is the cessation or reversal of a transgender identification or gender transition, whether by social, legal, or medical means. It is estimated that detransitioners range from less than one percent to as many as eight percent of individuals who start transition. Some individuals detransition on a temporary basis.
Desistance is a related term used to describe the cessation of transgender identity or gender dysphoria and has a higher occurrence.
Direct, formal research of detransition is lacking. Professional interest in the phenomenon has been met with contention. Detransitioners (persons who detransition) have similarly experienced controversy and struggle.
Background and terminology
Transition is the process of a transgender person changing their gender presentation and/or sex characteristics to accord with their internal sense of gender identity. Transition commonly involves social changes (such as clothing, personal name, and pronouns), legal changes (such as legal name and legal gender), and medical/physical changes (such as hormone replacement therapy and sex reassignment surgery).
Detransition (sometimes called retransition) is the process of halting or reverting a transgender identification or gender transition. Like transition, detransition is not a single event. Methods of detransitioning can vary greatly among individuals, and can involve changes to one's gender expression, social identity, legal identity documents, and/or anatomy. Desistance is a general term for any cessation, and it is commonly applied specifically to the cessation of transgender identity or gender dysphoria. Those who undertake detransition are known as detransitioners. Detransition is commonly associated with transition regret, but regret and detransition do not always coincide.
Formal studies of detransition have been few in number, of disputed quality, and politically controversial. Frequency estimates for detransition and desistance vary greatly, with notable differences in terminology and methodology. Detransition is more common in the earlier stages of transition, particularly before surgeries. It is estimated that the number of detransitioners in 2014 ranged from less than one per cent to as many as five per cent. A 2018 survey of WPATH (World Professional Association for Transgender Health) surgeons found that approximately 0.3% of patients who underwent transition-related surgery later requested detransition-related surgical care. The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found that 8% of respondents who had transitioned reported having ever detransitioned, and 62% of that group had later returned to living in a trans gender role.
Desistance in gender dysphoric adolescents may be higher. A 2008 study found 61% desisted from their transgender identity before reaching the age of 29, and a 2013 study found 63% desisted before age 20. A 2019 clinical assessment found that 9.4% of patients with adolescent-emerging gender dysphoria ceased wishing to pursue medical interventions and/or no longer felt that their gender identity was incongruent with their biological sex within an eighteen-month period.
A 2017 study suggested detransition rates are growing. A 2003 German study found evidence for an increase in the number of demands for detransition, blaming poor practice on the part of "well-meaning but certainly not unproblematic" clinicians who—contrary to international best practices—assumed that transitioning as quickly as possible should be the only correct course of action. Surgeon Miroslav Djordjevic and psychotherapist James Caspian have reported that demand for surgical reversal of the physical effects of medical transition has been on the rise.
Detransitioners have commonly cited trauma, isolation, dissociation, inadequate mental healthcare, and social pressure as motivations for pursuing transition. Informed consent and affirmation of self-diagnosis (both newer but increasingly employed models for transgender healthcare) have been criticized for failing to meet the needs of those who eventually detransition. Among eventual detransitioners, the progression of transition has been found to magnify, rather than remedy, gender dysphoria. Sufferers may fixate on passing (being perceived as their preferred gender), leading them to pursue ever further steps in medical transition.
Motives for detransitioning commonly include financial barriers to transition, social rejection in transition, depression or suicidality due to transition, and discomfort with sexual characteristics developed during transition. Additional motives include concern for lack of data on long-term effects of hormone replacement therapy, concern for loss of fertility, complications from surgery, and changes in gender identity. Some people detransition on a temporary basis, in order to accomplish a particular aim, such as having biologically related children, or until barriers to transition have been resolved or removed. Transgender elders may also detransition out of concern for whether they can receive adequate or respectful care in later life.
Mike Penner, a sportswriter for the Los Angeles Times, publicly identified as transsexual in April 2007 under the name Christine Daniels and wrote of his experience with transition until October 2008, when he resumed his male identity. He died by suicide in November 2009.
Since 2011, Walt Heyer has written several books on his experience of regret and detransition.
Carey Callahan began speaking openly about her detransition in 2016. Callahan identified as trans for four years. Her employment at a gender clinic led her to seek alternatives to transition. She advocates for detransitioners and gender-nonconforming people while working as a licensed therapist. She was profiled by The Atlantic in 2018.
Longtime New York performance artist Brian Belovitch (formerly known as Tish Gervais) transitioned in 1972, following social pressure to conform his feminine personality to binary gender norms. He lived as a trans woman for fifteen years before "retransitioning", as he terms it, in 1987. Belovitch cites his changed views on his own gender identity (referring to himself now as "genderqueer or gender nonconforming") for prompting his reversal. He was profiled by Paper magazine in 2018; he published his memoir later that year.
In March 2019, James Shupe, the first American to win legal recognition of having a nonbinary gender, criticized his transition and publicly re-identified as a man. Shupe had lived as a trans woman for two years and as a nonbinary person for three.
Cultural and political impact
There is a lack of legal, medical, and psychological guidelines on the topic of detransition and a perceived atmosphere of censorship around researching the phenomenon. Detransitioners say they have been harassed by activists who view detransition as a political threat to trans rights.
In August 2017, the Mazzoni Center's Philadelphia Trans Health Conference, which is an annual meeting of transgender people, advocates, and healthcare providers, canceled two panel discussions on detransition and alternate methods of working with gender dysphoria. The conference organizers said, "When a topic becomes controversial, such as this one has turned on social media, there is a duty to make sure that the debate does not get out of control at the conference itself. After several days of considerations and reviewing feedback, the planning committee voted that the workshops, while valid, cannot be presented at the conference as planned."
In September 2017, Bath Spa University revoked permission for James Caspian, a counselor who specializes in transgender therapy, to research regret of gender-reassignment procedures and pursuit of detransition. Caspian alleged the reason for the university's refusal was that it was "a potentially politically incorrect piece of research, [which] carries a risk to the university. Attacks on social media may not be confined to the researcher, but may involve the university. The posting of unpleasant material on blogs or social media may be detrimental to the reputation of the university."
WPATH's Standards of Care have offered no mention of detransition, though a majority of WPATH surgeons have expressed desire for detransition guidelines to be included, and former WPATH president and longtime chair of WPATH's SOC revision team, Eli Coleman, has listed detransition among the topics that he would like to see included in the eighth edition.
Detransition has attracted interest from both social conservatives on the political right and radical feminists on the political left. Activists on the right have been accused of using detransitioners' stories to further their work against trans rights. Those on the left see detransitioners' experiences as further proof of patriarchal enforcement of gender roles and medicalized erasure of gays and lesbians. This attention has elicited in detransitioners mixed feelings of both exploitation and support.
- Category:People who detransitioned
- Healthcare and the LGBT community
- LGBT rights by country or territory
- LGBT social movements
- Fenway Health 2010; HRC n.d.
- "'Detransition' refers to reidentification with the gender identity given at birth and a conscious decision to take action to revert to that designation." Stewart 2018, p. xxiii. See also Marchiano 2017; Graham 2017; Tobia 2018; Herzog 2017a; Clark-Flory 2015; Danker et al. 2018; Turban et al. 2018b.
- Clark-Flory 2015; Herzog 2017a; Graham 2017; Tobia 2018
- Merriam-Webster n.d.; Collins n.d.
- Marchiano 2017; Steensma et al. 2013; Wallien and Cohen-Kettenis 2008
- Herzog 2017a; Graham 2017; Singal 2018
- "The research on outcomes post-transition is mixed at best." Marchiano 2017
- "[R]esearch in this field is extremely controversial." Danker et al. 2018
- "[A] potentially politically incorrect piece of research carries a risk to the university. Attacks on social media may not be confined to the researcher, but may involve the university. The posting of unpleasant material on blogs or social media may be detrimental to the reputation of the university." Weale 2017. See also BBC 2017
- Detransition estimates:
- "Eight percent of respondents to the 2015 [U.S. Transgender] Survey reported detransitioning at some point, that is, returning to living as the gender they were assigned at birth; however, most detransitioned only temporarily, and 62 percent of those who had once detransitioned reported living in their felt gender identity." Boslaugh 2018, p. 43
- "Detransitioning after surgical interventions ... is exceedingly rare. Research has often put the percentage of regret between 1 and 2% ... Detransitioning is actually far more common in the stages before surgery, when people are still exploring their options. 'There are people who take hormones and then decide to go off hormones,' says Randi Ettner, a therapist who has served on the board of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health. 'That is not uncommon.'" Clark-Flory 2015
- "A 50-year study out of Sweden found that only 2.2 percent of people who medically transitioned later experienced 'transition regret'" Herzog 2017a
- "There were 15 (5 [female-to-male] and 10 [male-to-female]) regret applications corresponding to a 2.2% regret rate for both sexes. There was a significant decline of regrets over the time period." (Dhejne et al. define "regret" as "application for reversal of the legal gender status among those who were sex reassigned" which "gives the person the right to treatment to reverse the body as much as possible.") Dhejne et al. 2014
- Desistance estimates:
- "There is a wealth of replicated research that tells us that 80–95% of children who experience a cross-sex identification in childhood will eventually desist and come to identify with their natal sex as adults." Marchiano 2017
- There have, however, been almost a dozen studies looking at the rate of desistance among trans-identified kids [which] James Cantor summarized [as] '[V]ery few trans kids ... transition by the time they are adults'. The exact rate of desistance varied by study, but overall they concluded that about 80% ... identified as their sex at birth.... [T]he most recent study ... found that two-thirds ultimately identified as the gender they were assigned at birth." Herzog 2017a
- "For decades, follow-up studies of transgender kids have shown that a substantial majority—anywhere from 65 to 94%—eventually ceased to identify as transgender." Brooks 2018
- "Only very few trans- kids still want to transition by the time they are adults. Instead, they generally turn out to be regular gay or lesbian folks. The exact number varies by study, but roughly 60–90% of trans- kids turn out no longer to be trans by adulthood." Cantor 2016
- Marchiano 2017
- Goldberg, Michelle (2014-07-28). "What Is a Woman?". ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 2019-11-06.
- Danker et al. 2018
- Boslaugh 2018, p. 43; James et al. 2016, p. 111
- Stein 2009; Wallien and Cohen-Kettenis 2008
- Brooks 2018; Herzog 2017a; Steensma et al. 2013
- Churcher Clarke & Spiliadis 2019
- "The growing number of detransitioners is a possible indication that there are significant numbers of people who are not satisfied with transition outcomes." Marchiano 2017
- "In jüngster Zeit gibt es jedoch einige Hinweise für die Zunahme von Rückumwandulungsbegehren und es stellen sich zunehmend Patienten vor, bei denen schondie erste diagnostische Exploration Hinweise auf übergreifende Identitätsstörungen, u. U. auch auf transvestitisch-fetischistische Neigungen, auf unrealistische Erwartungen hin-sichtlich eines „völlig neuen Lebens“, jedoch nicht auf eine gelebte und innerlich fixierteGeschlechtsrollentransposition gibt. In Anbetracht derartiger Verläufe besorgt die zwarwohlmeinende, aber keinesfalls unproblematische Einstellung einiger Behandler, die annehmen, dass das möglichst schnelle Bedienen der vehement vorgetragenen Patienten-wünsche die einzig richtige Vorgehensweise wäre,„da man da sowieso nichts anderes machen kann.“ Dies widerspricht eklatant den Erfahrungen internationaler Gender-Zentren" Bosinski 2003
- Borreli 2017
- Shute 2017
- "... his preliminary findings that suggested growing numbers of young people, particularly women, were regretting gender reassignment ... [H]e was first alerted to the issue of gender reassignment reversal in 2014, when a Belgrade doctor told him he had been asked to carry out an unprecedented seven reversals that year." Weale 2017
- "[H]e wanted to study people who had swapped gender and then changed their minds after coming across evidence of a growing number of people who regretted having the surgery and finding no research had been done into the subject ... 'I found it very difficult to get people willing to talk openly about the experience of reversing surgery. They said they felt too traumatised to talk about it ...'" BBC 2017
- Marchiano 2017
- Graham 2017; Marchiano 2017; Singal 2018; Yoo 2018
- Marchiano 2017
- "Six persons clearly ventilated their feelings of regret about the decision; three of them accused their clinician of incompetence. Four others respectively gave as primary reasons: social isolation, disappointing surgical results and a sudden vanishing of the urge to live as a woman." Kuiper and Cohen-Kettenis 1998. See also Borreli 2017; Bowen 2007; Clark-Flory 2015; Danker et al. 2018; Herzog 2017a; McFadden 2017; Sarner 2017; Turban et al. 2018a.
- Americo 2018; Kanner 2018
- Witten 2015
- Pieper 2015; Friess 2009; Herman 2011
- Heyer n.d.; Dumas 2015
- Pollock 2018; Singal 2018; Graham et al. 2017; Murphy 2018; Graham et al. 2017
- Tobia 2018; Belovitch 2018
- Showalter 2019; Christian Today 2019; Shupe 2019
- Graham 2017
- Shute 2017; BBC 2017; Borreli 2017; Stein 2009; Veissière 2018
- "'The complexity of our viewpoint is pretty inconvenient to people on all sides of the political spectrum,' Carey says in the film. For her, detransitioning has resulted in the most harassment she has ever faced in her life." Pollock 2018
- "This has ignited a contentious debate both in and outside the trans community, with various sides accusing each other of bigotry, harassment, censorship, and damaging the fight for trans rights. It's such a fraught issue that many people I interviewed requested anonymity. (All the names of detransitioners have been changed.) Others refused to speak on the record, afraid of the potential fallout." Herzog 2017a
- "[Other messages received] were from clinicians and detransitioners, thanking me for presenting a perspective they felt so many were scared to voice." Veissière 2018
- ""[T]he trans community does our best to pretend that retransitioning never happens ... trans people who have retransitioned are often treated as outcasts, as aberrations or as an embarrassment to our community's goals. They are assumed to be failures, traitors to the cause of trans liberation." Tobia 2018
- Rodriguez 2017; Herzog 2017b
- Mazzoni 2017
- BBC 2017; Weale 2017; Hurst 2017
- Danker et al. 2018
- "88% of respondents feel that WPATH SOC 8 should include a chapter on detransition" Danker et al. 2018
- "Miscellaneous suggestions ... detransition." Coleman 2017
- Ford 2018; Herzog 2017a; Bowen 2007; Tobia 2018
- Herzog 2017a; Bowen 2007
- Herzog 2017a; Bowen 2007
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