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Exploring the Retransition Narrative
A reflective essay on why some individuals may return or stay in their trans identity.
For this piece, I’ll be exploring the narratives around retransition, a theme that is brought up around the topic of detransition. In this essay, I’ll be addressing these narratives, and the beliefs behind them.
As with everything there are competing narratives around the reasons for detransition, one of which arrives from the trans sphere and another from those critical of gender affirmation.
In a previous entry, I wrote how detransition is marketed as external pressure from the trans sphere, pinning the motivations firmly around external factors. The basis of this narrative is that detransitioners are victimised trans people who have been pressured into detransition by external factors, releasing the burden from the individual and placing the onus solely on their environment and culture.
This in essence is a continuation of propelling the notion that trans people themselves have diminished responsibility and are powerless against their surroundings, a key aspect of the victim narrative that keeps them anchored in their trans identity.
Trans-positive surveys like the USTC are renowned for filtering out detransitioners, and anyone who does not presently identify as trans has their answers discounted, a double bind within itself. Consequently, a table from the 2015 USTS Report frequently finds itself floating around social media, reinforcing the aforementioned narrative, that detransition is merely a result of environmental factors, rather than individual choice, and they do this in the USTS report by framing detransition as ‘boymoding’ for family events or missing a dose of hormones.
Whilst some may detransition because of social pressure, recent studies (Elie Vandenbussche, 2021) and the /r/detrans demographic survey paint a drastically different picture, that the basis of detransition is a result of a disengaging from identity politics, ergo their trans identity, as opposed to external factors.
Detransition Amongst Transgender Diverse People (Michael Irwig, 2022) cites the same findings as Vandenbussche, with 70% of participants highlighting that their motivation to detransition was upon the realisation that gender dysphoria was related to other issues, health concerns and that transition did not help with dysphoria.
In my experience of detrans groups, many detransitioners had no difficulty in blending in as their stated sex, and realise the false reality of transition upon catching the dragon. Another key factor in awakening individuals is being met with the consequences of surgery, as well as the health implications of cross-sex hormones, usually appearing after 5-8 years of medical transition. Because of the length of time it takes for an individual to detransition, their experiences are filtered out in surveys like the USTC, which has an overwhelming volume of participants who have only been on hormones for several months or are fresh out of surgery, leading to an obscure set of figures.
In a few short weeks, it’ll be one year since I entered the detrans sphere. I’m reluctant to call it a community, though it certainly behaves like one in a way the trans community didn’t quite. They pull together, help each other and politely disagree without descending into chaos.
There are other private groups within this sphere, largely on Discord, one of which is the detrans male group, which has recently suffered an inexcusable intrusion, with individuals posing as detransitioners to gain access to the highly personal stories of others. In doing so they have shared private conversations, largely about myself and others, naturally, this has caused some members to back off, and return into hiding, understandably so too.
Picture this, you’re a freshly detransitioned woman, you have the loving embrace of a multitude of women’s groups to pick you up and dust you off, to defend you against the vitriol of Trans Rights Activists. Behind her, is a detrans man who anticipating a similar reaction, however, is greeted with hostility he wasn’t prepared for, he’s just left the cult and still doesn’t understand the dynamics at play, and is instantly placed in the firing lines of traumatic anger, irrational accusations about imagined crimes, and is carelessly accused of the worst things imaginable. Not only this but after leaving what was most certainly a cult, he’s expected to understand all the dynamics that brought him there, something detrans women don’t face.
What does he do? He back’s off, dips his toe back out of the water and retreats to those who at least, will be on his side.
If it were not for the Parent Groups specifically, I wouldn’t have made it past June on Twitter. I owe them a lot, for my sanity, and the support, and they alone are perhaps the only reason detrans males stick around at all. And even if the parent groups do manage to support that new detransitioner, he still has to get past the equally intense hatred from his former side, as well as extremists from the side he’s deflecting to.
The vitriol directed at all detransitioners or anyone who speaks out against gender affirmation is blindly apparent, you need not look any further than the quote tweets on KC Millers’ viral video to see how the trans-positive movement reacts to those with negative experiences of gender affirmation.
And it’s not just the flurry of anime and furry avatars that scare off male detransitioners, its the vitriol from these small fringe groups aforementioned, whose holier-than-thou approach is similar in tone to radical trans rights activists, and one we cannot be bothered with.
Detrans men are expected to put up with a high intensity of abuse, and an inquisition into their motivations for transition, all the while expected to endure a high-velocity cross-examination by multiple factions, and are expected to remain calm and exposed whilst doing so. Not everyone can, some lose their form and leave snarky responses and are instantly taken as evidence of extreme aggression and misogyny. Like a pack of wolves, cornering the target, until they dare bite back in defence. The double standards are baffling, and some yield to these insane demands, even I tried to at first.
Detrans males are judged for the crimes of others, imagined or otherwise. We want nothing to do with any more theories and have no intention to trade Serano for Dworkin and prescribe to another ideology.
But we are men, not women, feminism is not for us. We can respect women, stand by them if they do call on us, learn to respect boundaries and try not fuck up in the process, but do not judge us for not thinking like women, or adhering to feminist theory.
Meanwhile, Trans Rights Activists evangelize retransition and specifically one individual who specialises in ticking all the check marks for the trans-narrative. That person is Ky Schevers, who regularly pops up in hit pieces on detransition, supposedly debunking the current detransition movement (LGBT Nation 2022, Slate 2021).
What Ky regularly leaves out, is that her routes started in the same radical fringe groups that harass detransitioners today, originating on Tumblr and completely separate from the presently established Reddit /r/detrans group, of which Ky has never been involved at any stage. Indeed, all of Ky’s story takes place before the creation of /r/detrans, yet she is regularly referred to as an ‘insider’.
I wrote previously, about how some detransitioners find themselves going from one extreme to another, engaging in the same processes of radicalisation that led them to their trans identity. New theorists and ideologies take over the original trans ideology and much of the same behaviour is repeated. Those individuals may not retransition, but they never do loosen their grip on the reliance on ideological beliefs, which in itself misses the point of not being reliant on social science-based ideologies, regardless of the righteousness of said belief.
I empathise with Ky, but her experience is that of radicalisation, not detransition. We all are trying to find ways to get on with our lives, yet some are at risk from an inverse of the radicalisation they were seeking to flee, such as Ky, especially when there is no one there to deradicalize them.
The camp that rolls out Ky at a drop of a hat, also claims that “62% of people who detransition, retransition” which is entirely false and taken from surveys of trans people, not detransitioners, where they categorise detransition as going ‘boymode’ for a family event or missing their drug hit of hormones for a few weeks.
Detransition cannot be marked in medicalisation, nor should it, yet we are told that detransition means reversal surgeries or taking different hormones, and all this does is underpin the narrative that you can change sex with medical interventions.
Take your Pills, Alice
The concept of being ‘pink pilled’, is something that arouse from TransMax spaces, ran by self-declared incels who believe their lives to be better if they were read as women, and would easily attract a male partner who was interested in (again, normally young) oestrogenised males.
These terms spilt over into 4chans tttt (LGBT board), which used it as a common term to convince others that transition was their way out of loneliness.
Therefore, to be pink-pilled is for a male to be convinced that they are better off taking hormones and living as trans. Male detransitioners use this term in jest, but it underpins the feeling of wishing to reclaim one’s trans identity or being affirmed as your trans identity.
Some of us who have been on hormones for as long as myself have certain residual androgyny to our appearance. Although I’m usually read as male, there are instances where people see me as a transitioner. Having longer hair, piercings, no beard shadow and a notable chest sometimes causes strangers to question my sex, and for a few seconds after, I’m left wondering if I’m better off as trans, this in itself is a ‘pink pill’.
During these moments, we quickly find ourselves transported back to those times in our trans identifying stage, where our identity was being affirmed, and the ongoing search for positive reinforcement that was learned through the trans community, celebrating every ‘passing’ moment to the point where the notion becomes hardwired.
This is a learnt reaction, like Pavlov’s dogs salivating at the ring of a bell, and we are taught to celebrate, mark and notice interactions where we are read as women, and dread the moments when we aren’t. Even now, my instinctual reaction to being mistaken as a woman is one of reassurance. Counter to that, especially in early detransition, I found myself battling the learnt reaction of disgust when being recognised as male (i.e. being ‘misgendered’).
All of these behaviours are cult-like dynamics of learnt helplessness, one that is designed to train the individual to react to specific scenarios to seek empathetic rescue from fellow cult members. I suppose, this is one of the reasons Trans Identified Males tend to explode when being sexed as male in public, especially when they are taught that is the height of oppression and violence.
Detransition means losing most, if not all of your trans friends, and the support networks that come with it. I was kicked out of support networks for simply detransitioning.
Like Jehovah’s Witnesses, the trans community for many tends to be their only social circle online and in person. As long as you keep your opinions to yourself and sing the trans communities praises, and play the affirmation game with them, you’ll be fine, but if you dare critique or question anything, you’ll quickly find yourself cast out.
As good as it is, the detrans sphere is mostly populated by detrans women, and whilst the two melds quite well, there is an obvious need for single-sex spaces, especially in the context of what issues we need support with.
Reality & Responsibility
In my last essay; The Lies That Live Within the Language, I wrote about how those who transitioned young, in childhood or early adulthood feel as if the physical changes are so severe that living as their sex is simply not practical.
My criticism of this belief is that, like trans, the belief relies solely on confirmation bias in real-world experiences, to prove to the individual, that they are ‘too trans’ to detransition. This in itself is another form of true trans rhetoric, and my intuition is that it masks the more serious underlying issues, trauma, attachment and the notion of responsibility.
Whether we like it or not, we model ourselves on our primary caregivers and any trauma, no matter how small or big shapes us as individuals. My father is a traditional man, he could rebuild a motorbike, fit his windows and was all in all a very practical, confident man. Yet, he viewed emotion as a major weakness, and I’ll never forget one argument he had with my mother, as I and him were leaving the house, in the car he frustratingly and angrily said “Women are emotional and neurotic”. I remember thinking, “I’m those things, oh shit”.
My mother never swears, is polite, kind and loving. She’s never said anything mean-spirited and was always striving for harmony. I felt more like her, I didn’t like the rough play my Dad and Brother would regularly engage in, I didn’t like sports and for the most part, didn’t feel any kinship with my father or brother, I felt so different from them both, and as the youngest too, I was always with my mother.
All the messages I had growing up, as someone who was same-sex attracted and felt completely alien in the hyper-masculine culture of the North East of England, all lead me to fear becoming a man, and the inherit learnt responsibility that was to come with it. I yearned to be like the men in my family, but I knew no matter how much I attempted to emulate them, I just wasn’t like them at all.
With that, comes an inherent fear of responsibility and whilst not everyone will have my pipeline, I do come across males who experienced a similar dynamic. With females, there’s a desire to want to be the protector, to mask their trauma with their parents (domestic violence) or within themselves (abuse). Because of this male transitioners particularly, have an underlying desire to escape adulthood as the sex they are, and hold an idealistic view of what life will be like as the other sex, an escape from those expectations.
Transition is painted as a new beginning, or becoming one’s true self. In doing so, all guilt, misdeeds, regrets, pain and otherwise are shredded, like a born-again Christian they are free to lead a new life. This is perhaps why so many middle-aged men who transition end up abandoning their wives and children or forcing them to be complicit in their transition, without exception.
Teenage detransitioners face even more difficulties returning to their sex, especially when they have been robbed of any natural emergence into adulthood. Instead, they were sold a package deal in which the reality of detransition was not included, but instead false promises of unending gender euphoria as their true selves takes hold. That’s not what they find though, instead detrans women who transitioned as teenagers have fully dropped voices, facial hair and missing breasts.
Males who transition as teenagers have stunted growth, and have retained an almost child-like appearance, even with testosterone they are emasculated by the sheer size differences between them and other men. Despite this, they are expected to learn all the lessons they missed out on, whilst simultaneously coping with the grief of lost years and a life robbed from them.
If they decide to go public, they’re unironically told to take responsibility for their decisions, which typically means “be quiet and don’t speak ill of gender-affirming care.” Teenagers and young adults simply cannot grasp these implications until reality stares back at them.
Furthermore, I’m judged constantly for my choice of hormones. I’ve opted for health, so that means taking a low dose of Estrogen with Testosterone, resulting in no major physical changes.
I’ve had surgery and some other detransitioners in my position do not want to partake in the social experiment any longer, let alone by attempting to undo what’s been irreversibly done. Being a hairy man without genitals would put me in transman territory, and that isn’t something I or others want to undertake.
Nor should we be expected to, yet the criticism of my hormone choices underpins the belief that Estrogen is the essence of womanhood and Testosterone is the essence of manhood.
One of The Good One’s Fallacy
Perhaps it’s because I’ve spent the vast majority of my time with other detrans males that I’ve come across some instances of retransition, where the individual will state that they’re happy using the male toilets, being seen as male, but live their life as a trans woman. I have my doubts, not because I mistrust them, but because of the practicalities of a passing transitioner using spaces that match their sex, more so if they’ve had surgery.
In this argument, I see trans people who agree with detransitioners, but again the attitude from these individuals is often, but not always, that they are one of the good ones and I find myself constantly being told by them how transition worked for them, and that’s great, but to me, it’s like a drunk person telling a sober person why drinking worked out for them in the end. In my view, this is another form of true trans rhetoric masking itself as gender critical, claiming that transition works for some, and they just so happen to be that lucky minority.
They lean on detransitioners and the rhetoric around it as a means to reaffirm their trans identity. In detrans spaces, I’ve seen trans people who pose themselves as being exactly that, yet display all the incongruences and issues we all did, the only difference is they have intellectualised themselves into being the rescuer, and we are all the helpless victims.
This fallacy itself keeps some trans people from detransitioning and influences some detransitioners to retransition because they believe they can have their cake and eat it too. That’s not to say I’m against the existence of trans people, I’m against being used as a tool to reaffirm someone’s identity.
Years of medical treatments, stunted social development and being in a cult can make it difficult for an individual to return to normality. They will be forever changed, and for some, they realise a consequence of this is that navigating the world is far simpler in their trans identity, given their circumstances, but that is not retransition.
Like Cypher in the Matrix asking to be plugged back in, knowing what he knows could only be achieved by wiping his memory. Once you know, you really can’t plug back in, and the narrative around those who retransition is centred on people who never really disengaged with the mindset, to begin with.
For males especially, there are still many reasons not to give up their trans identity and stay plugged in. Even those who do wake up, face realities that make returning to their trans identity far more appealing than coming out of it.
Meanwhile, trans activists will celebrate those who retransition to no end, as it validates their rhetoric that the true outcome for a trans person is to transition and the true outcome for a detransitioner is to retransition. It paints detransition as solely due to factors outside of the individual’s control, ergo forfeiting any responsibility for their actions.
On the other hand, you have those who have been in the fray for much longer, who understand the dynamics at play, yet become easily frustrated when someone who has just left the cult displays behaviours and attitudes they’ve been critiquing from the comfort of their armchair and keyboard. But let me tell you this, there is no substitute for lived experience, there is a reason our voices get more traction than theirs, and it frustrates them to no end.
Detransitioners voices are powerful, and the pull of retransition doesn’t come just from those on the trans side, but from those whose ideals rely on unchecked fallacies riddled with confirmation bias, that doesn’t meet real-world testing.
Leaving an ideology that you’ve centred your life and body around is tremendously difficult, and there are many reasons for returning, like alcoholics, gamblers and addicts, the devil you know, is sometimes an easier choice.
Given the playing field, who can judge them?