Detransitioner Perspective: Reflections of a Transitioner with Regret
I’m an older transitioner, around middle age. I transitioned from male to female and got surgery in my 30s after decades of therapy. Within months of surgery, I started to experience regret. I’ve been on a path of self-discovery ever since, trying to make sense of how this happened and what I can do about it.
It hasn’t been easy. There’s a lot of information out there related to gender dysphoria and my own memories can sometimes get a little hazy. For instance, I can estimate when my dysphoria set in, but I don’t know exactly what I was feeling at the time. That’s where these kids have an advantage over me. They’re still young enough to know how they felt. Of course, they also have a disadvantage as they may work to actively avoid possible causes due to shame.
I also may be on the autism spectrum. Based on my research into that, I was absolutely autistic as a child and just went undiagnosed, because I didn’t have substantial communications issues. As an adult, I’ve learned to adapt well enough that I don’t plan to seek a diagnosis. However, I do still find it hinders me when I do research, as I get tunnel vision. I can’t focus on many possible options at once. I have to travel all the way down the rabbit hole for one option before starting on the next.
The research I’ve found thus far indicates several possible sources of dysphoria, and I’ve experienced most of them. That led me to believe that there might be overlapping causes and it seems as though those at Gender: A Wider Lens (2022) are in agreement with this.
Around the time my dysphoria started, I was sexually abused, emotionally abused, witnessed the repeated physical abuse of a sibling, lost a parental figure to death, and started puberty. To complicate the issue, I also had a major hormone imbalance that led to not having a sex drive. I had the dreams. I even enjoyed a good orgasm. I just felt nothing for anybody. Finding a person attractive was like seeing an old sports car to me. I liked the way they looked, but I felt nothing.
Prior to this, I did have something in common with today’s transitioners—that I didn’t fit in with my birth sex. Really, I didn’t fit in anywhere. The girls were just nice to me, and they liked the types of activities I did, so I hung out with them. During therapy, this would be attributed to me being a girl largely based on what I would later discover were just stereotypes. The fact that I would later mimic the boys to fit in led to affirmations that I was doing that to hide the fact that I was really a girl. I was really just trying to fit in though.
I remember noticing boys as a teenager but didn’t feel an attraction to them. I wanted to see them with a little less clothing, but I had the same curiosity about girls. I leaned towards liking girls because my religion had taught me that boys had to like girls.
I don’t remember what my dreams were like as a child, but as an adult, I was always with a man. I was briefly on a testosterone supplement following surgery and during that time, I found out what sexual attraction felt like. I felt it for men exclusively. That, to me, told me that I was wrong about my sexual orientation. I must have been attracted to men all this time and that’s why I was so repulsed by intimacy with women.
This is not the only path I explored. I had also read about autogynephilia numerous times. I saw statistics suggesting that 75% of men with gender dysphoria had it (Perry, 2019). Every time I read something, it didn’t sound like me though. Furthermore, the research I saw indicated it only applied to heterosexual men and I was already at a point where I was pretty sure I had been gay all along.
I had actually submitted a post to this site based on these assumptions and at the last moment, found an article written by Helen Joyce on the subject of autogynephilia that made me seriously question my previous self-reflections. I asked them to put on the brakes as I don’t want to mislead you. This submission is the result of that request.
Basically, every time I explored this before, it defined it as a sexual attraction to yourself as a woman. That’s not what happens with me though. I see an intimate scene and identify as the woman with the man. The arousal came first, not second. To me, this reinforced the notion that I was indeed just a confused gay man.
This article mentions that the man in the dream could be the result of validating being female in a fantasy. I don’t remember my childhood dreams though, so I don’t know if it was always men or not. I also don’t see myself in my dreams, so there’s no focus on what my own body looks like. Again, I don’t know if this was different as a teenager though. The fact that my body looks female now might be why I don't see myself in those dreams.
It also mentions that in adolescence, crossdressing would have been erotic, morphing into something more benign as an adult. I do remember stating that it felt peaceful to me as an adult, as if it were just comforting and nothing else, like a coping mechanism. This could have been an evolution of something different from childhood though.
Another thing that stood out was that it would go away while in a relationship, but then come back and destroy the relationship. I did run into that, but because I was so repulsed by sex, I assumed it was because I wasn’t into women. Experiencing sexual attraction to men later confirmed to me that my assumptions must be true.
Although I do still want to read the works cited in this article and compare my findings to myself, I feel fairly confident that I have autogynephilia. I think maybe my sexual attraction to men while briefly on testosterone was a conditioned response based on that, much like Pavlov’s dog.
I was not repulsed when I tried with men, which does give me some pause. I still think it’s likely that I have autogynephilia. I just may be bisexual instead of straight.
In hindsight, I think that’s one of the many things gender therapists did wrong for me. They were adamant that sexual orientation and gender dysphoria were separate things. In my case, I’m starting to think that my orientation led to my dysphoria and should have been considered first.
I also wish that the therapists I saw hadn’t repeatedly told me that only trans people question their gender, that religion causes internalized transphobia, or that transition is the only solution. These things are what made me believe transition was the only option. According to (Joyce, 2021), Blanchard’s research did conclude that transition was the only way for those with autogynephilia, so I can’t fault my therapists too much.
In my case, it wasn’t effective though. My transition resulted in reverse dysphoria. Instead of feeling like I needed to be a woman while living as a man, I now feel like I’m the only person that knows I’m not a woman and even my body disagrees with me.
I have not detransitioned yet as I don’t want to end up retransitioning later. I’ve seen that phenomenon with a few male detransitioners. I want to identify the cause of my dysphoria first and see if I can correct it. I also have concerns about whether it's even possible for me to pass as a man. I didn't before I transitioned and I pass as one even less now.
At any rate, I would highly suggest that transition be avoided. I was sure that it was right for me, as were my therapists, many of whom were adhering to the gatekeeping model, and I still had regrets. Maybe there are some who it actually does help, but I’m not one of them.
I would probably be fine just continuing what I’m doing, because the estrogen has all but eliminated what little sex drive I had—so while I have reverse dysphoria, it’s no longer soul-crushing. My main issue now is learning about the ways my transition affects the rights of women. I don’t want to be one of the reasons they have to be afraid.
For the Parents
I would suggest limiting or avoiding social media, including forums and Reddit. I found I would get sucked into it and it made me feel worse and the worse I felt, the more I would go there.
I think a gender therapist is okay, but I would make sure they’re not fully on board with the affirmation path. There can be underlying factors and they should be willing to explore them.
For males, absolutely look at autogynephilia. For females, the counterpart would be autoandrophilia, although I suspect the current wave has more to do with girls being told that only trans people question their gender at a time when they’re extremely vulnerable to suggestions that would end their discomfort from puberty.
I would also recommend finding someone skilled in autism (or similar) assessments as there seems to be an overlap between those on the spectrum and those that detransition. I don’t know if the same relationship exists among transitioners though.
Take care when addressing your kids. Your experiences in what they respond to might backfire if they’ve been affected by groupthink. I firmly believed that anybody that didn’t blindly accept me didn’t love me. Those that asked questions are still in my life. Those that told me it didn’t make any sense are not.
You might have been blindsided, but I assure you that your kids have been thinking about this for quite some time before they bring up transition. They’ve built up anxiety over how you’ll respond. Please be kind.
You may think your main goal is to stop it, but I would say it’s to protect them. You can’t do that if they cut you off. I would shift your thinking towards being an anchor for them outside the culture, someone they find irreplaceable, someone that won’t get angry or judge them. If they have doubts before they do it, you want to make sure they won’t be too ashamed to tell you. If they go through with it, you want to be the person they call if they have regrets. If they go through with it and are happy? In that case you just want to be there for them.
Joyce, H. (2021, September 7). The Truth about Autogynephilia. https://quillette.com/2021/09/07/the-truth-about-autogynephilia/
O'Malley, S., & Ayad, S. (2022). Gender, Identity and Transition from a Psychological Perspective.
Perry, L. (2019, November 6). What Is Autogynephilia? An Interview with Dr Ray Blanchard. https://quillette.com/2019/11/06/what-is-autogynephilia-an-interview-with-dr-ray-blanchard/