Typically, it will be noted by trans-activists and even a lot of the mainstream media that the percentage of people who express “transsexual regret” make up a minuscule percentage of those who have transitioned from living in their birth genders or had any gender reassignment treatment or procedures. These people usually are portrayed as aberrations within the transgendered community. They are sad “problem cases” who can’t “get their stuff together” and are now doomed to live out the rest of their lives in agony. Transgendered people have it hard enough without stories such as these that can be used as anti-trans propaganda.
Here’s another thing – there is a lot riding on the notion that once someone transitions from one gender to another they usually don’t go back. The idea that gender identity is fixed and permanent and not at all related to sexual identity is really important in helping make society more comfortable with the idea of people changing genders. It helps make the idea of getting insurance coverage for transgender care more palatable and makes enacting trans-friendly legislation a lot easier. “Gender” is still a sacred space and there is an expectation coming from somewhere in the middle of mainstream society that if people really do have to cross gender lines it needs to be done earnestly, responsibly and permanently.
But here is one more thing, and this is why I, your humble narrator, am here. I have a feeling that there are a lot more out there than are coming forward who have transitioned from one societal gender role to another only to discover at some point later in their life (be it five minutes or fifty years) that maybe it doesn’t feel right anymore and they don’t know what to do about it (or are scared to even admit having these feelings.) Because these people go against the narrative of a fixed gender identity, I have a hunch that there are many more people in this position than are politically expedient to report. Many of the fantastic LGBT community centers, trans-advocacy groups and medical providers who now have good resources for those wishing to transition do not have much in place to help the post-transition and/or post-surgical-reassignment population that wishes to transition again, this time to their birth gender. It is already quite a task to get funding for anything related to “transgender” so one can imagine the additional burden it would be to get programs established for those wishing to transition back (not to mention a PR nightmare.) The question remains though, what about people who have transitioned out of their birth gender who want some information about what the process of transitioning back to their birth gender? What resources can be provided to this underserved community?
This is the space I found myself about about 5 years ago and it is a very scary place to be. For me, my own confusion about gender identity had danced in and out of my life since I can remember. Was I was born in the wrong body? Was I was born in the wrong sex? It was a source of hidden shame that I had these thoughts and the few times that I confessed them to friends or family were disastrous. In 1995 I saw the Internet for the first time and I suddenly had access to to talk to people who had feelings like I did and knew that I was not alone. (Starting in elementary school I pretty much mastered the library sciences to read any and all published material on the subject of transsexualism. Within 5 minutes of being on the Internet I saw that I had access to resources and literature that positively dwarfed what I had seen in my life up to that point.)
I was on my way. And it was an incredibly exciting period of my life. I was going to be my “real self” at last. Any hurts from friends, family or “the world at large” were mitigated by the glow I had from finally achieving something that I had considered my entire life. For me it was really important to do things in what I perceived as the “right way”. I followed the Standards of Care. I consulted with experts on the subject. In my heart I felt I was on the right path.
I transitioned to my new gender role and although mostly happy for about 5 years I still had something gnawing in the back of my mind that wasn’t right. I began to question the whole concept of being “born in the wrong body” as it related to me. I turned these thoughts over and over in my head. Was I really the gender I had chosen to live openly as or was my essence – the stuff that makes me me – coming from a place that was neither necessarily male nor female but just “me”? What made me who I am? I began to look back on my birth gender just like someone might revisit an old neighborhood or town they are too embarrassed to admit they came from but at times still secretly missed. There were things about my birth gender that I had fought hard to repress that I now found that I missed. I also found myself deliberately acting out stereotypes by emphasizing things about me that I perceived to be in accordance with my newly expressed gender identity and de-emphasizing those that were not. I think a lot of us do this (and it doesn’t matter if you are trans or not) but sometimes it is great just “to be”.
After years of avoiding reading anything related to being transgendered (because after a lifetime of dwelling on it I was totally exhausted) I turned once again to the Internet to see if there was anyone out there like me and had found themselves in the same questioning state as myself. While there were even more resources than ever for people wishing to work out their gender identity issues they all seemed to be pointing in one way – the steps leading to transition but not the steps leading away from it. Although I read a few very lucid accounts of moving back and forth between genders after “transition” they paled in number compared to the horror stories of regretful transsexuals who had either soldiered on unhappily in their reassigned genders, killed themselves or went back to their birth genders in most dramatic fashion, often becoming reactionary fiercely intolerant people and having a “religious” component to their “conversion”.
I once again joined support groups and found a lot of really cool people there but few that I could relate to in terms of wanting to transition back. I got a few comments that I had somehow become afraid to be who I needed to be. A lot of people saw me as retreating from something. I saw the opposite – I felt like I wanted to grow.
For me this has been all along about feeling “gender congruity”. It has been an elusive quest but maybe sometimes you have to take a few wrong turns on your journey to get where you want to be (or at least headed in the right direction.) I am still on that journey. I am a lot closer to being where I want to be now than I was 5 years ago, but I have been taking my own sweet time. I have thought about starting this blog for awhile but I have worried for so many years about transgender related issues do I really want to spend any more time on the subject? I want to move on.
I have to admit that it has taken me a long time to actually start this blog because I have been scared to write this. Scared of hurting someone. Scared of getting hurt. Scared I am going to say something that gets misinterpreted. I guess, more than anything else, scared of trying to figure some of this out in public (which I have come to the conclusion is the only way I can figure it out.) I don’t have a map and I am not entirely comfortable.
But I am writing this because I suspect that there is a marginalized and isolated population which I am a part of that needs to be a little bit more out in the light. I understand why our story is not perceived as being the most helpful by those fighting the good fight for understanding and respect for the trans community. But we are out there and we need resources and support beyond those tied to religion or some form of repentance/”conversion therapy”.
So this blog post is signpost of sorts – just one voice out there looking for other signs of life. I have seen a few other blogs starting to talk about this. I have yet to find a clearing house of resources (is there one?) What are the legal obstacles of going back? What are the psychological and medical issues? Is there a place we can talk about this? Do we need to make a place where we can talk about this? Is there a place on the web that I should be going to? How can we have this conversation without being harmful to our brothers and sisters who fall under the umbrella of “transgendered”? Any thoughts please send to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I believe the understanding of trans-related issues is still very much in its infancy. I personally am wary of anyone who says “they have it all figured out” about anything (your mileage may vary). There are many assumptions about gender that we as a species have held for millennia that are only now just eroding. The recent bill in California allowing students to be treated as the gender they perceive themselves to be and the backlash that has already begun is part of the process we as a society use to figure out how we deal with all of this. It is a conversation we are ALL going to have to have and I think all voices have to be part of the conversation.
My experience is only my own experience. My gender identity is only my own gender identity. My beliefs (as fluid as they are) are only my own beliefs. I am not you. I cannot know what it feels like to be you (nor you me.) By telling part of my story I don’t want to discount others’. In life I strive to be gentle, loving and affirming (strive being the operative word – I am only human!) I do not want my story to be used for hate or repression.
Although I feel secure in my birth gender and finally know this is the only “home” for me, I still identify as transgendered because of the journey I have been on. In retrospect, I realize that some of the doubts I had about the validity of my needing to change my outward gender expression were valid. I could have saved myself a lot of expense and major sidetracks on life’s journey if I could have known this sooner. Unfortunately some truths are harder to tease out than others. It took me awhile to get here but “here I am”.
I am sure there are those on this journey who have never had the slightest of doubts and they are coming from a place that I cannot pretend to understand. I don’t want to stand in their way. Also, just because someone has some doubts I am not saying this means they should not transition.
For many, expressing their gender identity as they believe/know it to be appears to be working for them and I think that is wonderful. Even though it can still get pretty bad out there, I think there is more tolerance in the world than even a decade ago. There have been many “transgender pioneers” who have conducted their lives with dignity and, simply by the act of living their lives, have brought compassion for trans issues from even the most unlikely of groups and individuals. I do think that to move this “conversation” forward there needs to be a universal acknowledgment and understanding that gender identity can be just as important to people who are not transgendered as those that are. Most transgendered people believe with a burning passion that their gender identity is independent of their birth gender and it is this passion that helps fuel some of the tremendous bravery that often goes with making a gender transition. But people who are completely comfortable with their birth gender can believe just as passionately in what gender means to them and, more importantly, how that impacts their own core identity. Just because I may believe in the possibility that brain sex can be different from someone’s biological sex it doesn’t mean I can force you to believe the same. How one constructs gender is a deeply personal thing exclusive to each of us as individuals. The beliefs and things we hold sacred always have to be respected. We should all be able to live our own truths as long as they don’t infringe upon or harm anyone. What I can do (and hopefully what we as a species can do) is maybe help you get to a point where you realize in most cases the whole “gender thing” really doesn’t matter. And in the cases where it does matter (and there definitely are some) let’s not resort to bigotry or hatred. Let’s work it out.
As a civilized society we should ALL be able to move through the world treating others with the respect and in the manner that we would wish ourselves to be treated. I think it is sad that many people still “detransition” because of societal or any other pressures. We only get one life and we need to be who we are. I do not want to be part of anything that encourages people to detransition for what I consider to be the “wrong reasons”, namely societal persecution and prejudice. However, for those who have already transitioned and who, after doing the kind of soul searching that accompanies decisions such as this, have decided they are open to the possibility of transitioning back to their birth genders I want to say that this is nothing to be ashamed about. In addition to those who have found their true gender identity by returning to living their birth gender I have read experiences from people who returned temporarily to their birth gender only to realize that it still wasn’t a good fit and moved back to their own “true gender” more self-assured in their identity than ever before. I have read other stories where people have moved into a sort of “third space”. Exploring options is a good thing.
I don’t want to be blogging about this the rest of my life and it is not my desire to become a full time activist but I do sincerely want to say “yo”.