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Stigma of de-transition
Reading various responses to the Mike Penner/Christine Daniels re-transition news has made me realize that I need to be more vocal about my own experience with this. There are people in the trans community who re-transition, or for various reasons; family, health, religious beliefs, etc., decide to never transition at all. These aren’t easy choices, and can be just as difficult as making the decision to transition. Unfortunately, there is a stigma attached to both re-transition and non-transition within the transsexual community. There is concern that our stories could provide fodder for the anti-transgender or ex-transgender factions to use against all of us. If people can transition back to their birth gender, then they have fuel for their argument that there’s no need for treatments and transsexual surgeries. Perhaps there’s also fear of “There but for the grace of God go I” if things got tough.
Thus many of us who re-transition tend to disappear into the woodwork. I think we’re encouraged to sweep it under the carpet, both from within the transgender community, and especially from outside as well. Don’t ask, and definitely don’t dare tell! The end result is that people only hear about “successful” transition stories, or an occasional overblown, sensationalistic de-transition story from the media. Complete with transsexual regret and a pink bedroom as reminders.
I’m generally not shy about disclosing my transgender status to others. I often disclose it so as to educate about transgender issues, and also simply to be more open with my friends about who I am. Although I occasionally mention that I once transitioned M2F, lived full time for over a year, and then re-transitioned, I rarely tell my full story. I just say that I’m transgender and leave it at that. Why?
I think the primary reason for this is the considerable stigma that goes along with de-transition. The tendency to see it as a failure. If someone re-transitions, perhaps it’s because she really wasn’t transsexual in the first place. If I’m to be truly honest with myself, I have to admit that I’ve internalized this shame to an extent. It’s still there in the background, even after all these years.
I suppose that people who have known me for a long time probably think my transsexuality was “just a phase". Kind of a very weird mid-life crisis. Some guys buy a red sports car or have an affair. Others change genders. I think they truly want to believe that I changed back to male and am happy. And if I’m not happy as male, I don’t think they really want to know that either. SInce I’m not wearing a dress when I go to their house for dinner, it’s easy for them to think that it’s over and done with. They can ignore that I might be wearing a female shirt with my jeans. Seen but not really heard.
I ask my fellow sisters and brothers who have re-transitioned to not stay silent any longer. Why are we locked away in a closet, even invisible within our own transgender communities. There are others who need to hear our voices, our stories. To know that it’s OK to be who they are. To know that it’s OK to be who we are. There is no shame in re-transitioning. Likewise, there is no shame in not transitioning at all if the circumstances aren’t right for it. To me, the real shame is societal expectation that we must be either one gender or the other. No acceptance for anyone in between or outside. And rigorous enforcement against expression of anything else. I think it’s time for society to transition.