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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.
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 ranged from less than one per cent to as many as eight per cent.
Desistance rates among young children may be higher. Of children referred to gender clinics for either gender dysphoria or gender non-conformity, a 2008 study found 61% desisted from their gender incongruence or nonconformity before reaching the age of 29, and a 2013 study found 63% desisted before age 20. However, the study (by Steensma et al.) was criticized for its methodology; 28 of the 127 children did not respond to a follow-up, and were classified as desistors. In addition, all the children in the persistence group had previously received a full diagnosis for gender identity disorder, whereas half of the desistance group were initially designated as "subthreshold" for the diagnosis.
A 2019 clinical assessment found that 9.4% of patients with adolescent-emerging gender dysphoria either ceased wishing to pursue medical interventions or no longer felt that their gender identity was incongruent with their assigned sex at birth within an eighteen-month period. Research prior to 2000 might report inflated numbers of desistance, as gender-nonconforming children without gender dysphoria might have been included in studies.
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.
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. A qualitative study comparing child desisters to persisters (those with persisting gender dysphoria) found that while persisters related their dysphoria primarily to a mismatch between their bodies and their identity, desisters' dysphoria was more likely to be, at least retroactively, related to a desire to fulfill the other gender role.
Criticisms have been made regarding the "persistence-desistance" dichotomy as ignoring reasons why a person's gender identity may desist outside of simply being cisgender in the first place. For example, an assertion of a cisgender identity may be treated with validity and as an invalidation of a previously stated transgender identity; however, an assertion of a transgender identity may only be treated with the same validity if it is held throughout one's life. An individual may repress or realize their identity at any point in their life for a variety of reasons; some individuals' gender identities are fluid and/or may change throughout their lifetime, and some individuals' whose identities are non-binary are effectively excluded due to the studies' assumption of a gender binary.
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 committed suicide in November 2009.
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.
In 2020 in the United Kingdom, 23-year-old Keira Bell joined a lawsuit against the NHS Gender Identity Development Service. Bell was prescribed puberty blockers at age 16 and testosterone a year later, and had her breasts removed before stopping hormone treatments and reidentifying as a woman. She states that she should have been "challenged more" by the gender clinic, criticising the lack of therapy or questioning she received before being prescribed the puberty blockers. The High Court ruled "It is highly unlikely that a child aged 13 or under would be competent to give consent to the administration of puberty blockers", also "It is doubtful that a child aged 14 or 15 could understand and weigh the long-term risks and consequences of the administration of puberty blockers" and "In respect of young persons aged 16 and over, the legal position is that there is a presumption that they have the ability to consent to medical treatment".
Transitioning after detransitioning
The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey collected responses from individuals who identified as transgender at the time of the survey. 8% of those who had transitioned reported having ever detransitioned; 62% of that group were living as a gender other than the one assigned to them at birth at the time of the survey.
Marissa Dainton surgically transitioned to a woman in 1993. Four years after that, she had joined an evangelical church, and decided to resume a male identity, because she viewed her first transition as sinful. When she married a woman from the congregation, she had her surgically-constructed vagina removed, leaving her without genitalia. However, she continued to crossdress in secret, and in 2003 decided to transition again. She obtained breast implants, but decided against constructing a new vagina due to possible complications from the type of procedure it would require the second time.
Sam Kane surgically transitioned to a woman in 1997, but seven years later had found life as a woman "shallow" and stated that men did not take her seriously in business as a woman. She transitioned back to a male gender role and had a new penis surgically constructed in 2004. She did not consider herself to have successfully returned to being a man, and stated, "Having become Samantha, I should have stayed Samantha." She again transitioned into a female gender role, this time non-surgically, in 2017.
Ky Schevers transitioned to male in college, but later detransitioned and documented the process under the name CrashChaosCats. She was interviewed for The Outline in 2016 and The Stranger in 2017. She later began to identify as transmasculine and in a 2021 Slate interview compared her experiences in detransition communities to the ex-gay movement.
Cultural and political impact
There is a lack of legal, medical, and psychological guidelines on the topic of detransition. WPATH's Standards of Care have offered no mention of detransition, though a majority of WPATH surgeons have expressed a 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.
There is perceived to be an 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. Controversy surrounding detransition within trans activism primarily arises from how the subject is framed in mainstream media and right-wing politics. 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. On the left, radical feminists 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.
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 Jungian psychotherapist who works with transgender people and is a trustee of The Beaumont Trust, 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." The university stated that Caspian's proposal "was not refused because of the subject matter, but rather because of his proposed methodological approach. The university was not satisfied this approach would guarantee the anonymity of his participants or the confidentiality of the data." In May 2017, he took the matter to the High Court, who concluded his application for a judicial review was "totally without merit". The outcome was also considered by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education, who determined the university's conclusion was reasonable. Caspian appealed to the High Court for judicial review again in 2019; the judge ruled against him, saying, "I entirely accept that there are important issues of freedom of expression. I just do not accept that, on the facts of this particular case, there is an arguable case made out," and adding that the application was too late. Caspian claimed that he was "refused permission for a Judicial Review on points of procedure" and that the judge "was clearly sympathetic to the case but felt that his hands were tied by legal procedure;" in February 2021 he appealed to the European Court of Human Rights.
- 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
- 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
- "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
- "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
- Goldberg, Michelle (2014-07-28). "What Is a Woman?". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 2019-11-06.
- Stein 2009; Wallien and Cohen-Kettenis 2008
- Steensma et al. 2013 p. 583: "From this sample, 127 adolescents were selected who were 15 years of age or older during the 4-year period of follow-up between 2008 and 2012. Of these adolescents, 47 adolescents (37%, 23 boys, 24 girls) were identified as persisters....As the Amsterdam clinic is the only gender identity service in the Netherlands where psychological and medical treatment is offered to adolescents with GD, we assumed that for the 80 adolescents (56 boys and 24 girls), who did not return to the clinic, that their GD had desisted, and that they no longer had a desire for gender reassignment."
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- Churcher Clarke & Spiliadis 2019
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- "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
- Marchiano 2017
- Graham 2017; Marchiano 2017; Yoo 2018
- "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 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
- Steensma, Thomas D.; Biemond, Roeline; De Boer, Fijgje; Cohen-Kettenis, Peggy T. (2011). "Desisting and persisting gender dysphoria after childhood: A qualitative follow-up study". Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 16 (4): 499–516. doi:10.1177/1359104510378303. PMID 21216800. S2CID 1789558.
- 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
- Holt, Alison (March 1, 2020). "NHS gender clinic 'should have challenged me more' over transition". BBC. Retrieved March 3, 2020.
- "Puberty blockers: Under-16s 'unlikely' to be able to give informed consent". BBC News. 1 December 2020. Retrieved 3 December 2020.
- Boslaugh 2018, p. 43; James et al. 2016, pp. 111, 292–294
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- "Top London lawyer changed gender three times". NZ Herald. The New Zealand Herald. 1 April 2017. Retrieved 21 March 2020.
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- Graham 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
- 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
- Slothouber, Van (2020). "(De)trans visibility: Moral panic in mainstream media reports on de/Retransition". European Journal of English Studies. 24: 89–99. doi:10.1080/13825577.2020.1730052. S2CID 219079388.
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- Rodriguez 2017; Herzog 2017b
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