November 19, 2019

Hard Questions About Young People and Gender

“Earlier this week, I met a group of women in their early 20s who are not supposed to exist.

They’re women who, in their teens, realized that they were actually men, socially transitioned to the other sex, and then underwent hormone therapy to change their bodies, faces, and voices to become transgender men. After varying amounts of time, however, they all realized they had made a big mistake, stopped testosterone therapy, and “detransitioned” back to being who they were before. They are now embarrassed, they say, but not ashamed. “I don’t identify as anything,” one of them told me. “I just have two X chromosomes in the bag.”

These women are not anti-trans, or religious nuts, or members of the far right. They expressed not a smidgen of transphobia, just a pressing concern that many teenage women, particularly lesbians, struggling with gender dysphoria, have been convinced too quickly that the only solution is to change their sex. They worry that any kind of therapy apart from affirmation of transgender identity is now seen as transphobic, and that teens are able to get hormones far too easily.

The widespread consensus today is that detransitioning is so rare even mentioning it borders on transphobic. But in reality, absolutely no one knows how rare detransitions are currently — the small set of research studies detransition skeptics present as evidence that it is very uncommon all come from vastly different contexts, in some cases decades-old, and arguably don’t capture what’s going on in 2019. These women live every day with the consequences of their decision: tenacious facial hair (one has to shave every three days) and body hair, deeper voices, permanently enlarged clitorises. They also suffer from the effects of “binding,” i.e. wearing a breast corset of sorts, to flatten their chests, so they can pass more easily as men. “I have back issues, lower lung capacity, and permanent dents around my shoulders,” one told me. “Every now and again, I have to push a rib back in to breathe,” another recounts. “I have permanent bruising,” another explains. “Serious back issues,” says another, who cannot carry a backpack for long without pain. “We get ‘sir’ed at Dunkin’ Donuts every time,” one joked.”

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