Over the years there have been salacious media reports about transgender women who choose to revert back to living as men, what we call detransition. Detransitioning happens very infrequently, but when it happens to someone who is or has become a public figure, such as Don Ennis most recently, the story takes on a scandalous air. Misinformation gets bandied about, both by the person involved and the media reporting on the reversion in gender assignment. When that happens, all of us suffer, but the trans community suffers the most. These stories trivialize our lives and the efforts we make to live them fully and authentically.
Let me start by saying that I believe that in an ideal society it shouldn’t matter who you are or how you live gender-wise. It shouldn’t matter whether you transition or detransition, and each person should have the right to self-determination to make her own choices. But we don’t live in an ideal world.
Trans persons, like gay persons, are “born that way.” While the younger generation is now claiming space between genders or negating gender entirely, I will focus only on what most Americans see as the trans experience: persons raised as boys who become women, and those raised as girls who become men.
The most important fact needed to understand this process of physical and gender transition is that the sense of oneself is innate. It does not suddenly transform as we grow, or change with puberty. It is not determined by clinging mothers or distant fathers. It matters not that Mom wanted a girl and got a boy, or that Dad punished his son for dancing. Our sense of self is inborn, and that is to be expected with a sexually reproducing species. Variations in sexual orientation, choices about procreation and the like are irrelevant for this discussion.
So while we may be raised as boys, our brains have told us we’re girls, and vice versa. The process of gender transition aligns the body and social life with the mind. It is, in a very profound respect, coming home. The process has been beautifully described by women such as Jenny Boylan and Joy Ladin.
But while this is a homecoming, it’s the most difficult homecoming one can attempt. Society generally does not understand or support such violations of gender behavior and role. As a result, even young trans children suffer from the signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When you add in struggling that persists for years, and in many cases decades, you have people confronting a huge challenge. We often colloquially call the resulting condition “culturally induced stress disorder,” modeled on PTSD.
Everything Transgender in NYC: Transitioning and Reverting back, a Media Frenzy