Detransition: Stop this buzzword

Detransitioning is an extremely controversial topic. Both within the trans community, and outside of it, if the word ‘detransition’ comes up in conversation, a lot of glares, stares and frowns are suddenly pointed in the speaker’s direction.

I have a lot of issue with this, a lot of mixed feelings, and a lot of frustration at the lack of understanding for people trying to figure out how to make things work out in our world.

I’m actually feeling like maybe you, the person on the other side of the screen, are also frowning at me right now- but hold on for two seconds, hopefully I won’t be talking about the parts of this discussion that make you so frustrated. Hopefully.

I also want to say quickly before I get into this, that I use the word ‘transition’ a lot in this piece when I say ‘transition’, I’m not talking about one medical procedure or another, one way of dressing or another, or any one action or idea of what transitioning is- instead I’m referring to the wide variety of experiences a wide variety of folks have, that all occur in efforts to survive or thrive.

I’ve read a lot of blogs about folks who have detransitioned. A LOT. probably too many, considering I’m also a trans person, and a trans person with anxiety - in other words, I already have a hard time trusting myself without countless anecdotes from folks who have “gone back” on decisions they have made. Saying this, however, I’ve read a lot of experiences, have two friends who have detransitioned, and have had a lot of conversations about detransitioning- both with trans people and cis people.

The most common response to folks hearing of someone detransitioning, in my experience, has been overwhelmingly negative. From cis people, I hear a lot of, ‘this is why people shouldn’t transition young - they’ll regret it later’, or ‘read this- you’ll think twice before you ruin your body’, and from trans people I hear a lot of, ‘oh, I wish they wouldn’t have shared that - it doesn’t help the cause’, or ‘talking about detransitioning makes us look bad’, or, ‘why should we care about the people who DEtransition, when we could be talking about the people happy with their transitions?’. Though I can empathize with both of these sides, particularly the concern from the trans community regarding cis people taking us seriously I have huge issues with these respectability politics.

I really genuinely understand the concern from the trans community surrounding this topic. Detransitioning is frequently used as a fucked up ‘example’ of how transitioning is a singular decision, and at that, a negative decision, rather than a choice or choices that are taken to allow someone to live their full truth. Getting that out of the way, here are my thoughts.

The biggest issue for me, and the issue that frustrates me continuously as a non-binary trans person, is the fact that many people who de-transition are non binary, and have learned as they have tried out a new expression, that being limited by the binary in one way is not necessarily better for them than being limited by the binary in a different way. What I mean by this, is that sometimes for non binary folks, or folks who aren’t yet aware that they are non binary, the gender they are presenting or living feels ‘wrong’ and doesn’t feel like who they are. This makes a lot of sense, considering when you are non binary, the world doesn’t really give you space, and no matter how you present or how you act, it’s hard to receive consistent acknowledgement or validation when you are of a gender identity that is frequently not even seen as real. So, when you’re living a life that feels wrong, or presenting in a way that feels inaccurate in parallel to how you feel, it makes sense to want to take a step, in some cases a big step, to try something else and attempt to make how you feel, and how you are living line up.

Furthermore, when I think about the trans and queer communities as a whole and some of the values I hope these communities hold close - I get discouraged when conversations about detransitioning come up as negative. If we all already acknowledge the fact that gender is fluid, and the fact that the binary is bullshit, why are we pissing on folks who acknowledge that fluidity and change within themselves? Though I’ve mentioned earlier how detransitioning can be a ‘step back’ because transition perhaps wasn’t suited well for any given individual, this isn’t the only scenario where “detransitioning” can be utilized. Sometimes, someone may need to transition at one point in their life, and then need to ‘transition’ again (or ‘detransition) in order to live genuinely, or even just survive.

I guess when I try to summarize all of my feelings around detransition conversations, I get back to the fact that gender is complicated and difficult and so incredibly multi-dimensional, and we’re all trying to make it work. I also don’t think it’s funny or okay to use a specific person’s experience, and claim that that experience is ‘reflecting badly’ on an entire community. It’s not okay to shame someone for trying to navigate a personal, individual maze, or to use that very personal experience as an example of ‘someone who reflects badly on the community’.

Gender is fluid, gender is weird, gender isn’t binary- and though these truths are frequently acknowledged (particularly in the trans and queer communities), I think we need to hold these truths closer to heart, and apply them to many more circumstances and situations than we do now. Gender isn’t only fluid when it’s convenient, the binary isn’t only fake when it’s convenient, and figuring out how to deal with gender in our world can be a struggle, even at times when it’s annoying that it is a struggle. If we can acknowledge the fact that there isn’t one singular experience that represents transition, transitioning, and ‘detransitioning’, and fluidity as a truth, maybe we could have more understanding and respect for those who need to try out different expressions and identities to feel at home.

Written by Rowen Quince, August 3rd, 2016.
Illustration by Mads Ananda Lodahl.

Similar reading:

Is it a man or a woman? Transitioning and the cis gaze by Ray Filar (external link)

Queer Normative Frustations by Alice Minor