Detransition Diary #3
Why didn't I detransition sooner?
I've been pretty open about the fact that I identified as transgender for ten years. It's certainly not the longest that anyone has identified as trans before starting to regret the decision — I have heard rumours of people who detransitioned after 20 years — but I know I'm on the longer side.
People are naturally curious: what makes someone change their mind after ten years?
A better question might be: why didn't I change my mind sooner?
Well, there were a lot of reasons.
All of my closest friends took the narrative of gender ideology as the unquestionable truth. Anyone who says they are transgender is transgender and deserves medical treatment, end of story. Being a man with a female body (and vice versa) was completely normal. The concept of gender identity was considered factual, even backed by science (somehow).
All of my friends believe the same thing because I dropped every friend who disagreed with me over the past ten years. Anyone who I thought was transphobic or racist or too conservative would get unfriended. My friends list was a carefully curated echo chamber. To do otherwise meant I would be subjected to constant reminders that the world was cruel and hateful.
I had a lot of mental health troubles and little space to build any resilience, so in retrospect, my actions made sense. But ultimately, it didn't help me; it only made me less able to deal with the real world.
When I started talking about how my ideas about gender had changed, I knew that I was going to lose friends… because that's how I had been treating people for the ten years prior. That desire to belong kept me from considering detransition sooner.
Even now, my remaining friends don't actually agree with me when it comes to gender. I have one friend who might be considered gender critical, and that's because he also detransitioned.
Second: identitarianism (or what I'll call 'false authorities').
I spent a long time involved in online activism. During that time, I participated in and defended cancel culture. I believed that, by punishing people for whatever I (or others) deemed to be bigoted, I was protecting the marginalized. I thought I was doing the right thing. If people didn't want to be cancelled, then they should try not being bigots. Simple!
Online activism on the left these days is very much driven by identitarianism. That means that people are considered to have authority about certain topics, not based on any expert credentials, but based entirely on their identity.
On trans topics, trans people are considered to be the ultimate authorities (as opposed to, for example, non-trans people who have done decades of research on trans-identified patients). Add in the concept of "intersectionality," and this often meant that trans women (i.e., trans-identified males) could override anything that trans men (i.e., trans-identified females) said.
Again, the reasons for these sorts of identity politics make sense — it’s a way for marginalized people to finally have their voices heard — but the application is imperfect.
Imagine that the perpetrator of a crime was denied any due process. Imagine that the victim of the crime was allowed to decide by themselves what punishment the perpetrator should receive. Imagine that the rest of society enacted that punishment based solely on the victim's say-so.
That's how it’s gone wrong. Someone who has been slighted (or marginalized, as the case may be) does not have an unbiased opinion. They have feelings that cloud their judgement of fairness. That’s why we have a justice system in the first place. The system is not perfect either, but it's more just than vigilantism.
At any rate, when you are involved in a community where refusing to submit to someone's authority will have you ex-communicated, you can easily be coerced into believing things that aren't true. So I didn’t consider detransition sooner because I believed a one-sided perspective of detransition and was warned not to listen to detransitioners.
Third: real authorities.
The professionals I dealt with throughout my life (the people who had real credibility as authorities) simply did not question me with any real depth.
I started seeing my personal therapist in 2008 and "came out" as a trans man in 2010. She had never had a transgender client before. She took me at my word and learned along with me.
The person who wrote my hormone letter was a trans therapist who had been transitioned for decades. I assumed (and he probably also assumed) that I was just like him.
None of the doctors or surgeons that I spoke to questioned whether I was doing the right thing. There was no in-depth psychological assessment by my doctors, but they required a letter from my therapist saying that I was of "sound mind" to give informed consent to starting testosterone.
Seven years after I was prescribed hormones, I started to suspect that I was neurodivergent (specifically ADHD) and underwent a psychoeducational assessment that involved hours of testing and extensive background history. After the assessment, I was given a host of diagnoses: attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, as suspected, but also autism spectrum disorder, major depressive disorder, social anxiety, post-traumatic stress symptoms, symptoms of borderline personality disorder... I also had a learning disability and “slow processing speed.”
According to the WPATH standards, I have nearly all of the diagnoses that are recommended to be screened for prior to being prescribed hormones. I wasn't diagnosed with any of them until years later. How could I have given informed consent when I was not informed about my own state of mind?
My gender identity was sort of a non-issue at the time of the assessment -- I was no longer on hormones and was identifying as nonbinary. Very little about my gender was mentioned in the assessment. So I continued to assume that my identify reflected an immutable reality. I had my uterus removed the following year.
It took another couple of years for me to put the pieces together and recognize how neurodivergence and trauma played into my perception of gender. Perhaps I would've started thinking about it sooner if an authority had suggested to me that there might be a connection.
Four: mental health itself.
I started exploring my gender expression a few months after moving out of my parents' house. I tried to attend university that same year and dropped out within two months. I quickly became overwhelmed trying to do both part-time work and part-time school. I was suicidal, and I started taking antidepressants for the first time. (One year later, I was prescribed testosterone.)
I had salaried work for a few years after moving out of my parents' house, but got fired a few months after I had spent all of my savings on my double mastectomy. (I was fired for "inconsistent" output, which I later learned was because I had undiagnosed ADHD.)
Everything after that point felt more difficult. I borrowed money from my parents so I could pay rent. I enrolled in a private career college and managed to graduate. I did transcription work on and off. I liked being an independent contractor, but I knew that I was underachieving. The work paid relatively well, but I couldn’t put in full-time hours without hating myself.
Until I received my diagnoses, I had no idea why I couldn't just get my life together. Every day was stressful. I couldn't sleep on a regular schedule. I wasn’t able to eat regularly. I didn't want to do anything except binge-watch TV or play video games all day. And then I would look back on my day and berate myself for wasting my life.
I didn’t consider detransition because I wasn’t able to set aside time for the kind of deep, probing self-reflection that might result in major changes to my life and everyone around me.
My nervous system simply couldn’t handle the suggestion of detransition. It wouldn't allow me to consider it. The mere idea was shut down immediately.
Having to announce to everyone in your life that you’ve made a giant mistake is not easy. In the case of detransition, it gets harder and harder the longer you’ve identified as trans and the more permanent changes you’ve made to your body.
So, to fully answer the question of why I didn’t detransition sooner: I feared losing my friends, I feared I would lose my ability to speak freely, I lacked questioning from professionals in my life, I had the stress of daily living, and I wasn’t in the right headspace to admit that I had been wrong for a decade about something so significant.
I was only forced to face the reality of detransition when my best friend went through it. I made the choice to detransition on my own time — it took me about a year afterwards to follow suit — but I do think that his actions helped me to move forward with mine. My next post will go into that (and other factors that spurred my decision) in more detail.
There might be some out there who think I was unduly influenced by my friend’s detransition. To them, I say this: if you believe that I could be influenced to detransition, it shouldn’t be difficult to believe that I could have been influenced to transition in the first place.