He now thinks he was rushed into transitioning

The Guardian shares a story of detransitioning.

Elan Anthony knows more than most about trans identity issues. Born a boy 42 years ago, he transitioned from male to female at 19 and then detransitioned to male three years ago. While his story is enlightening, it is also immensely challenging and it took him a long time and a lot of therapy to conclude that he had made a mistake.

He says – in the same paragraph – both that he believed he was female and that could never change, and that at times he wondered if he’d gotten it wrong and should actually be a man.

“I started to realise that I could have dealt with my own issues so much better without changing my body because that has brought so many more difficulties. Detransitioning isn’t as unusual as you might expect, but it is underground, for a number of reasons, and the trans community isn’t happy discussing this.”

He now thinks he was rushed into transitioning by well-intentioned but ultimately misguided people.

“I’m an only child and grew up in Ohio,” he says. “When I was young, I was bullied a lot, being very bright but physically weak, which singled me out as a super-nerd and resulted in a lot of violence. I started to fantasise about being a girl from about age six because that would make me safe and take me away from my place at the bottom of the male hierarchy.”

I at the same age spent a lot of time pretending to be a male character from one story or another, because the story spoke to me in some way and I wanted to play at being the protagonist. It’s not exactly the same as fantasizing being a boy, I think, because I didn’t do it all the time and because it was pretending, which requires less suspension of disbelief than fantasizing. But at any rate I think it’s an ordinary feature of childhood and not necessarily a symptom of gender dysphoria.

“As I reached puberty, these feelings became part of my sexuality and I experienced some gender dysphoria, but I was also attracted to women so it was confusing. When I was in high school I had several girlfriends and my gender dysphoria declined until I got to college. Initially, I didn’t meet any women so all my gender feelings came back. Looking back, I think that was because, as a freshman, I was back to being at the bottom of the heap, which affected my confidence.”

University counselling referred him to a gender clinic and it was then that he began to discover there were other people who felt the same way as him.

“It was a revelation – other people had these feelings too, and I could relate to them, so could be really happy.”

Yes – but what that also does is make one vulnerable to social contagion. Social contagion is not necessarily a bad thing; I wish more people were subject to for instance anti-racism via social contagion; it depends on the content. Having friends who think the rules of gender are bullshit is one thing, and having friends who think the rules of gender are awesome but they sometimes don’t match one’s personal body is another.

But he now sees that this is where things began to go wrong.

“I told the psychologist I wanted to be female but nothing about the other issues involved, such as being bullied. I wasn’t aware that bullying had anything to do with my gender issues, but he didn’t ask any deeper questions. So, I was just like, ‘This is who I am and this who I want to be’, and they were like, ‘That’s great!’, and after just two sessions I was given hormones, which was actually not good practice.”

Sometimes instant validation is not the right response.

Realising he had made a mistake was a gradual process. “I couldn’t bond with people and eventually started therapy to work on why I couldn’t have relationships and why my body was so tense. I eventually realised that a lot of this had to do with trying to present myself as female, which was unnatural for my body. I was holding my shoulders in and my butt out and doing all sorts of things that were outside the natural movement of my body. This was causing strain and stress on my body and that was when I realised that this whole transition was a problem. It was a long process and the big revelation was that the roots of my problem lay with the early bullying and feeling unsafe being a man. I stopped taking oestrogen and started on testosterone.”

And he lost some friends as a result.

Elan is studying psychology and aims to work towards a doctorate: “I’m interested in continuing to work on this subject, although I also do find it emotionally taxing, especially because there is a large movement towards promoting and supporting trans rights and trans issues in psychology right now. It sometimes can be difficult to be critical in any way of trans issues in that environment, but I am interested in helping people work with their dysphoria in whatever way possible.”

The tricky part of that is that “promoting and supporting trans rights” has evolved into meaning treating gender dysphoria as literally being the alternative sex, as opposed to meaning helping people work with their dysphoria in whatever way possible. The latter is obviously a more flexible and reasonable way of understanding GD.

He is very aware of the irony of his situation, transitioning originally at a time when there was minimal support and now detranstioning at a time when transitioning is totally acceptable, but detransitioning is less so.

“I don’t have much community around detransition and the overwhelming number of detransitioners are natal females who have their own community. I do know a few male detransitioners and have talked to them, and I think the next step for us is to have more of a community also.”

Detransitioning has brought its own pain, especially as he feels there is little leeway in offering any criticism about transitioning.

“Being critical about trans issues is definitely going against the grain right now in psychology. I have felt like I was fighting a constant battle for some time, but it feels like there are a lot more people speaking out about detransition, as well as more clinicians who are interested in looking at alternative ways to deal with dysphoria. In the beginning I felt like one of the very few people working on this but it feels different now.”

Being critical about trans issues is definitely going against the grain right now in politics, too, which is a very odd thing. It’s very odd to make a psychological state a matter of political loyalty, and so much so that it becomes a reason to beat up women who try to get together to talk about it.

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