PITT's Detransitioner Survey Results
The relationship between gender-skeptical parents and detransitioners is complicated.
Parents know or are frightened that their own trans-identified kids are seriously mentally unstable, are scared that their children may medicalize themselves based on highly sketchy internet and peer influence, and are terrified that these children they love so very much may do permanent damage to their long-term physical health as a result. The parents’ own mental state deteriorates as fear takes hold: many lie awake night after night, stewing in self-recrimination, depression, and distress.
In their desperation, parents sometimes reach out to detransitioners because surely these people have the answers. They woke up and came to terms with reality, and parents wonder how that came to be, and if it’s something they can nudge their trans identified children toward. Many detransitioners are very gentle with parents, recognizing that pain is pain, no matter what the age of the person suffering. Some share their stories, offer words of hope, make videos, talk to kids and to parents.
But detransitioners also know well that there was no magic formula that triggered the start of their detransition process. For all the similarities that there are between them, there are as many differences. Some become tired of parents' endless online questions when they are often at a stage where they can barely help themselves, much less strangers. It may create feelings of inadequacy and anxiety because detransitioners can’t help but repeatedly relive their own flawed decision-making processes as they observe younger kids being swept into the trans machine. It may create feelings of depression or rage because their own parents may have affirmed their transition or, conversely, may have abused or disowned them for identifying as trans. Their damaged family relationships may prevent them from having much empathy for parents who contact them.
With all that said, it was not a surprise that PITT did not have a strong response rate to our March 2023 Detransitioner Survey—but we thank the 45 desisters and detransitioners who did fill out the survey from the bottom of our hearts. In order to protect individual privacy and to avoid reading too much into such a small data set, we will not attach the data file to this post. As always, we are happy to talk to professional researchers about the survey, and you can email us at email@example.com.
This survey focused on the parent-child relationship. Despite the small numbers, we did see some important patterns and glean some real words of wisdom from the results. Our key takeaways are below, but before we get started, we’ll share some of the basic participant demographics: 70% of the respondents were female, 30% were male. The youngest they had officially socially transitioned was at 6, the oldest was 26. The highest percentage desisted/detransitioned in the 1-3 year range (40%), but a third had been trans-identified for more than five years before detransitioning. 58% had taken cross-sex hormones but only 34% had gotten any type of gender surgery. Almost all had multiple co-morbid neurodivergence and/or mental health conditions ranging from autism to depression and everything in between. And with that, let’s dive in.
Key Takeaway 1: Physician, heal thyself
“My parents’ biggest mistake was being disconnected from their kids and each other long before gender even entered the picture. Their relationship issues carried over into neglectful and toxic parenting patterns.”
The majority of detransitioners/desisters had positive relationships with both parents before they transitioned (55%). That is very important to note. But for those who did not, a common theme was having parents who did not bring their best selves to the parent-child relationship: respondents noted parent anger, disinterest, unresolved personal trauma, toxic marriages, tendencies to blame and shame, personal obsessions with having the “right” gendered appearance, homophobia, misogyny, and strong religious beliefs that interfered with the parent-child connection. It is sometimes very hard to recognize the flaws we all carry as humans, but if you’re breathing, you have them. We want to be careful here, however, for two reasons: first, blaming parents for our troubles is common in young adulthood, and moving beyond blame is important developmental work. We are also cautious because. while some parents don’t recognize they have personal issues to work through, many of us spend our days wallowing in unproductive guilt and self-flagellation. Regardless, if your child has announced a trans-identity, it may be important that you seek therapy for yourself to strengthen your self-confidence and your parenting skills as a first step in your process rather than a last one. We know how difficult it is to find a good therapist for yourself when you’re gender-skeptical and recommend starting off at GETA.
Key Takeaway 2: Focus on the relationship first
“My parents could have told me to wait or showed me alternatives instead of being completely affirming.”
“My parents could’ve used my name and pronouns (so as not to "fight" me) while affirming that I don't have to give into intrusive thoughts or compulsions surrounding gender.”
In this particular small data set, the number of parents who affirmed vs those who didn’t affirm was so balanced that it’s hard to draw conclusions on whether there’s a generic best practice. Certainly, not hiding your concerns is important—as one detransitioner put it, “...basically all the things they repressed over the three years I was trans came spilling out in my detransition. I wish they said those things to me before I was sterilized.” Several respondents understood the impact of what some psychologists call counterwill on their behavior—that whatever questions their parents raised, they were hellbent on ignoring them, and that these attempts may have made their determination to transition stronger rather than weaker: “...Realistically, I think there isn't much they could have done to convince me out of it otherwise. I was just personally not willing to have an open mind, and I was trained by the trans community to stand my ground and be firm.”
We’re looking forward to new books coming out soon from mental health professionals like Miriam Grossman and Sasha Ayad, Lisa Marchiano, and Stella O’Malley and to the results from new studies getting underway that will shed further light on best practices in parent-child communication. In the meantime, whether you affirm, don’t affirm, or walk a nuanced line in between, recognize that you can create connections with willing children that have nothing to do with gender but are positive for the whole family system regardless of transition outcomes. As one respondent put it, their parents could have “showed me unconditional support, helped me to meet new people, involved me more in family activities…” These are things some of us can do as parents right now.
A special note for those of you who are parents of desisters and detransitioners: you have probably realized this, but respondents made clear that there is often deep shame and embarrassment associated with detransition for a variety of reasons (there may also be anger if they blame parents for their transition). One person was so disconnected from their parents, they hadn’t told them about the detransition, but for others, it was very important that parents not express strong emotions pro or con, share I-told-you-so’s, or ask too many questions. Detransitioners should take the lead. As one respondent put it, “...asking once and leaving it be was honestly the best thing, I think. I'm not ready to be confronted about it by them yet.”
Key Takeaway 3: Porn and the internet are a problem
“Most parents of that generation seemed to be unaware of porn or its impacts on younger generations, who had unfettered access to the internet…”
As easy access to the internet through laptops and smartphones spread over the past 10-15 years, it turns out that our children were being guided online by strangers into sexualized conversations, watching sometimes violent pornography and bizarre or gruesome fetish imagery, and reading whacky claims about sex and sexuality at very impressionable ages. Many of us Boomer and Gen X parents were stupidly, stupidly ignorant of what our kids were doing. Future generations of parents will learn from our mistakes, but our children’s unchecked online habits have had real-life impacts, from deep depression to eating disorders to functional tics to transition and more. A recurrent theme with detransitioners was that they wished their parents had protected them from porn and other types of negative online content. If you’re in the process of setting boundaries now or reclaiming your parental authority on digital access, we recommend you check out So You Don’t Want to Be a PITT Parent for specific tips on handling the internet.
Key Takeaway 4: Think partner, not pester
“We need people who will help us do what’s truly best for us, mentally and physically, without judgment or expectations.”
Our last survey question was whether there was anything that PITT parents could do to assist detransitioners and desisters. Some respondents had never heard of PITT before, some appreciated that we get the word out about the challenges of transition and encouraged us to keep spreading that message. But it’s important to recognize that gender-skeptical parents may have conscious or unconscious expectations that are not helpful. Laying our painful stories on the shoulders of young people struggling through their own painful stories doesn’t help anyone. So please, resist the temptation to ask a lot of questions or share your own struggles with a detransitioner or desister.
What respondents did ask for repeatedly was assistance in getting therapy and developing detrans support groups. One organization that provides subsidized therapy is Genspect with their Beyond Trans project. Please consider donating to Genspect and telling them you’re interested in supporting Beyond Trans. If you’re a detransitioner or desister reading this and have other projects you think we should be aware of, please share that information in the comments below.
What an agonizing road we are all stumbling along. Let us be partners when we can.