Transition regret

I’ve been thinking a bit about people who regret transition recently.

I’ve said before  how I have great respect for those people who decide to revert to their birth-assigned gender. This is because it can be a difficult undertaking when so much has changed in their lives and the pressure from trans communities can be somewhat forcefully in favour of transition and against reversion. This is not to say that this is universally the case of course, as there are also a great many trans people who support people considering reversion in doing what is right for them – whatever the outcome of that may be.

Notwithstanding this, my thinking recently has not been so much about people who regret that they’ve transitioned, but rather those who regret how they transitioned.

This is because there can be such a strong drive for people to transition that they are willing to pay almost any cost,  and make almost any sacrifice, to achieve their aim. This can be especially the case for those people who transition later in life and who feel that they have lost time to make up for – which can be compounded if they have had a position in which a more forceful ‘can do’ attitude was rewarded and a more nuanced and thoughtful attitude was frowned upon. Of course there will not be ‘lost’ time, as such, as people’s lives will inevitably have brought other things with them which they may not have had had they transitioned in the past – perhaps children with a certain partner or a certain career, etc. Nonetheless there can be a strong drive to transition, and to transition now.

My worry is that in making a snap decision and then immediately transitioning people can, sometimes perhaps needlessly, pull down the edifice of their lives in a way in which, once the shine has worn off the transition, they come to regret. For some people this concerns the more playful aspects of living in a role other than that they were assigned at birth not matching up to the prosaic day-to-day realities of living in that gender role; Some people feel that surgeries or hormones will effect a social change in their life (perhaps in how others see them) which does not materialise, and are also left with large debts which exacerbate this burden; Some people may have transitioned in the evenings and at weekends for example, and not at work, and then come to find working day-to-day in a new role not what they had expected; And other people may not have transitioned with family and friends and find that the reception they were expecting was not what they received. This is not to say, of course, that people cannot transition very successfully in all these domains – many people do; or that there may not sadly be inevitable losses in any case; but rather that it is important to ensure that the idea of what it will be like matches the reality before making any irreversible changes.

To this end I generally recommend that people take a staged approach – telling those people they feel will be accepting and spending time with them in their preferred gender, before expanding that circle outwards. That not only gives the trans person time to asses whether it is right for them, it crucially allows other people time to come to terms with the change. This is not to say, of course, that trans people should be beholden to others in the timing or manner of their transition, but rather that with careful consideration – which may involve a paced transition – and calm compassionate communication, even quite anti-transition friends, family and co-workers can often be brought onside. What really seems to upset people is a transition which comes rather suddenly and [apparently] upsets their previously ordered life. It’s important to recognise that for wives, husbands, partners, parents and children the transition of a loved one is a major event in their life too and may require a rethink of their own identity as a wife or a husband; as a heterosexual, gay or lesbian person; as a son or daughter to a mum or dad and so on. While their thoughts and any fears should not prevent a necessary transition, they should be taken into account in so far as is possible with regards to the manner in which a transition is undertaken.

It’s also important for us to respect that trans people come in many and varied types and that, for some, to detransition or to markedly delay a transition could have tragic consequences due to the severity of the dysphoria; Whereas for others, elements such as wives, husbands, partners, parents and children are equally, or more marked in the person’s feelings and ideas – in which case the dysphoria must be managed as best it can without a full-time, or sometimes any, transition. As with so much else – gender dysphoria is not of a universal magnitude.

So there we are. It seems like it is a good plan to help people be who they need to be – whatever that turns out to be – and to encourage people to do that in such a way that when they get there they have not jettisoned important parts of their lives solely for the sake of expediency – and so come to regret, not necessarily what they’ve done, but how they’ve done it.