Detransition is a process by which some formerly transgender people cease to identify as transgender, and possibly reverse social, legal, or medical transition. Detransitioning can be voluntary or involuntary, temporary or permanent. Some transgender people who detransition medically or socially continue to identify as transgender.
Even though modern studies show that the overwhelming majority of transgender youth persist in their gender identity into adulthood, and the fact that voluntary detransition or regrets regarding transition are exceedingly rare, the experiences of a small number of detransitioners have been used to control the narrative surrounding youth and adult transition.
Detransitioning is frequently involuntary and typically driven by external factors such as a lack of material wealth, negative pressure from friends and family, non-affirming work and school environments, and increased vulnerability to discrimination and violence. Transgender people face heightened workplace discrimination, discrimination in housing, and “shockingly high” levels of sexual abuse and assault.
Many transgender youth who come out in unsupportive environments are victims of conversion or “reparative” therapy, also known as “gender exploratory therapy,” an attempt by anti-transgender therapists to discourage transition. Conversion therapy is illegal in twenty-two states and territories, and more than seventy municipalities or counties in the United States have prohibited the practice. Outside the US, over fourteen nations have some form of ban on conversion therapy.
Role of Detransitioners in Anti-Transgender Activism
Anti-transgender activists have used a handful of public detransitioners, both in speaking roles and in courtroom testimony, to promote the idea that puberty blockers, hormonal medication, and gender-affirming surgeries are performed on children and young adults without an acceptable period of observation beforehand. Detransitioner Charlie Evans has voiced concern that autistic women may be more likely to falsely consider themselves transgender, though limited research suggests that some autistic transgender people may consider themselves more qualified to accurately interpret their needs because they are autistic.
One of the earliest media publications about detransitioners was written in June of 2017 by journalist and podcaster Katie Herzog. The article, The Detransitioners: They Were Transgender, Until They Weren’t, features quotes from anonymous detransitioned women, one of whom described transition as “regressive.” Since publication, one of the article’s key voices, Ky Schevers, identified by the pseudonym “Cass'' in Herzog’s article, has published a recanting of her statements in Herzog’s piece, expressing that she was driven to radical feminism and detransition by a traumatic housing situation, and that the quotes she gave Herzog were intentionally deceptive, failing to accurately represent her feelings about her own body and gender at the time. She describes the story she told in The Stranger as “a fabrication.” Schevers has been highly critical of the detransition movement, describing it as “cult-like” and comparing it to conversion therapy.
More recently, a small group of detransitioners have been used by Republicans to promote anti-transgender legislation that blocks gender-affirming care for young transgender people, despite the self-advocacy of many happily transitioned young people. Some states have even put forward attempts to restrict adult transition.
Though the detransition movement primarily focuses on former transgender men like Chloe Cole and Kira Bell, transgender women have contributed their voices to anti-transgender propaganda. Elisa Rae Shupe previously detransitioned and aided anti-transgender activists and lawmakers in their efforts before retransitioning and publicly exposing their activities, while former Navy SEAL Chris Beck joined the detransition movement after a change in religious beliefs.
Anti-transgender activist organizations often promote the detransition movement, such as the Society for Evidence Based Gender Medicine (SEGM) and Transgender Trend, though they are typically forced to use outdated studies to support their claims.
- Factors Leading to “Detransition” Among Transgender and Gender Diverse People in the United States: A Mixed-Methods Analysis
- Stonewall: Dispelling myths around detransition