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What is detransition or retransition?

A small number of people affirm a transgender identity (sometimes referred to as “coming out of the closet”), and later realise they aren’t, or decide to affirm a cisgender identity again.

They may have a change of gender identity – affirming that a cisgender identity is the one that feels best for them, or they may simply decide to outwardly take on a cisgender identity while inwardly maintaining a transgender identity (“go back into the closet”).

Sometimes those who affirm a cisgender identity after having affirmed a transgender one are referred to as “detransitioners”, “retransitioners”, or someone who has “detransitioned” or “retransitioned”.

“People are said to retransition or detransition if they affirm a cisgender identity after affirming a transgender one. Although gender identity does tend to evolve, to some degree, throughout a person’s life, detransition is relatively rare—particularly for those who have engaged with medical or surgical gender affirmation.” Elizabeth Boskey, PhD.

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What’s the difference between ‘detransition’ and ‘retransition’?

Usually “retransition” is the term that acknowledges that gender identity is a journey of exploration, and that it is possible to transition to a transgender identity or a cisgender identity multiple times.
The word “detransition” is most often used by anti-trans campaigners, who wish to stop people from accessing gender-affirming healthcare – either to affirm a transgender identity or a cisgender one.

Both words are used in this article, to help people find it when they search the internet.

No matter what kind of transition journey a person is on, it is important to have appropriate healthcare and supports.

Why do people retransition?

A 2015 survey of nearly 28,000 people, carried out by the National Center for Transgender Equality (USA), showed that 8% of respondents reported ‘detransitioning’. Of those who detransitioned, 62% said that they only detransitioned temporarily.

The most common reason for re/detransitioning was pressure from a parent.

0.4% said they detransitioned after realising that particular transgender identity didn’t feel right for them.

Conversion therapy

Conversion therapy (or transphobic bullying) by parents, schools, therapists, faith community leaders, or other adults is not OK. If you need to talk, you can get in touch with us. If you need immediate crisis support, contact a crisis line – there is one linked below. If you are experiencing pressure to retransition or detransition from a parent, GMA has resources to help your family be more supportive.

In the recent article Detransition as Conversion Therapy: A Survivor Speaks Out, a trans man and ex-detransitioner wrote:

“Ideologically motivated detransition is conversion therapy. It tries to convince trans people that our sense of self is false, that we can’t have happy or satisfying lives as trans people. I can see now that I wasted years of my life trying to fix a part of myself that was never broken and suffering needlessly in the process. I presented myself as a detransition success story but the truth is that detransitioning did not work for me and was an act of self-denial and rejection.”

Exploring genders

Exploring gender can be important, empowering, fun, and liberating. Regardless of age, the freedom to choose how one expresses their gender is an important human right. If a person explores being a different gender, and later decides it’s not for them, there is no reason why they should be made to feel shame, regret, or that there is something wrong with them.

This includes people who transition, for example, from “female” to male, then later realise they are non-binary. It’s perfectly OK to try out different genders before settling where one feels most at home.

It is healthy and OK to be whatever gender you are – whether you are transgender, or not.
You deserve to explore, express, and be yourself. There is no “wrong way” to be who you are.

Staying safe

Temporary re/detransition is relatively common, because it is so hard to be out in the world as a transgender person; due to stigma, discrimination, and violence. Many people retransition or detransition for a period of time after initially “coming out” as trans, in order to stay safe – whether this is at work, at home, or out in society generally. Most commonly, this is due to pressure from a parent. Most people who retransition or detransition eventually transition back to a trans identity when it is safe for them to do so.

Permanent retransition or detransition is much less common, but is usually also due to stigma, discrimination, and violence. International research has consistently shown that less than 1% retransition or detransition because they simply realise they were wrong about being trans.

“We can’t treat detransition as the end of person’s journey in exploring their gender identity, as many will choose to retransition [to a transgender identity] at a later point when they are safe and supported” – Stonewall UK.

Whatever the reason, respect a persons gender – it is OK to be trans, and it is OK to have tried out being trans at some point in one’s journey.

Retransition rights

Whether a person retransitions or detransitions temporarily or permanently, they deserve the same right to bodily integrity, autonomy, and accurate identity documents. GMA advocates for retransitioning people to have access to respectful and appropriate healthcare, including further hormone therapy and gender-affirming surgeries if necessary. For example, a retransitioned person who has had an oophorectomy may require estrogen therapy, and must be allowed to access this.

GMA also advocates for the ability to change the gender marker on birth certificates more than once – if a person has changed it and wants to change back, they should have the right to do so.

Bodily integrity, autonomy, and human rights are important for all people.

Social stigma

Most of the social stigma for having retransitioned is stigma for having transitioned in the first place. It is transphobia being misdirected at those who once identified as transgender, but no longer do.

All trans people and retransitioned people deserve to live free from transphobia, stigma, discrimination, and violence.

Medical regret

Research shows that the “rate of regret” for people who have undergone gender affirming medical treatments is below 1%, and is most commonly regret due a lack of support from families and communities, though some occasional (not complete) regret is due to poor surgical outcomes. (Smith, Van Goozen, Kuiper, Cohen-Kettenis 2005, M Landén, J Wålinder, G Hambert, B Lundström 1998).

One study over several decades showed 2.2% of participants experienced some form of regret for medically transitioning, however the rate of regret lessened over time, perhaps as medical procedures improved (Dhejne, Arver, Oberg, Landén 2014). However, recent longitudinal studies found that none of the participants expressed regret over medically transitioning (Krege et al. 2001, De Cuypere et al. 2006).

In a study of 22,725 patients who had undergone gender affirming surgeries, only 22 patients experienced regret on the basis of a change in gender identity. (Danker, Narayan, Bluebond-Langner, Schechter, Berli, 2018).

This study concluded that:

“Regret after gender-affirming surgery is an exceedingly rare event. Reasons for regret or detransition are diverse, ranging from change in gender identity to societal and relationship pressures to post-surgical pain. It is not uncommon for detransition to be associated with surgical complications.”

Whether a retransitioned or detransitioned person regrets past treatments or not, they deserve access to the healthcare they currently need – which may include further hormone therapy and gender affirming surgeries.

Pressure to retransition or detransition

Messaging throughout society puts pressure on young people to be the gender they were assigned at birth. This includes messaging that promotes cisgender (non-transgender) people as normal, and does not give the same positive message about transgender people.

There is also more overt transphobic messaging in many films and other media, with transgender people often portrayed in a negative light.

Many public places do not have gender-neutral bathrooms, dresses and skirts are usually designed to fit only cisgender women’s bodies, some schools refuse to let trans students wear the uniform that fits their gender, and there are sometimes pressures from healthcare providers as well, with a recent NZ study on 1,178 trans people showing that 17% of trans people had experienced conversion therapy in a healthcare setting. Trans people are routinely discriminated against in education, employment, housing, and other areas.

Fundamentalist faith based groups, anti-trans campaigners, and ultra-right (conservative extremist) groups promote misinformation aimed at frightening families into pressuring their young people to detransition.

Another article Detransition Awareness Day: Inconvenient Truths and Community Building talks about the ways that the narrative on detransition are constructed to attack transgender people and undermine retransition:

“We created a community that often encouraged people to use their trauma to attack the trans community and trans healthcare […] Transphobic radical feminists were the first to use detrans women. Later on transphobic parent groups, conversion therapists, right-wing Christians and other anti-trans groups would also seek to harness detrans women.

“Transphobic people latch onto to detrans people because to them detrans people are proof that transitioning and living as a trans person is harmful. Therefore they have an investment in detransitioned people’s suffering rather than their healing and happiness. They have an investment in detrans people viewing transition as “irreversible damage”. If a person harmed by medical transition can get all that they need to heal and have a good life, they are no longer so useful in proving the inherent harms of transition. Rather, they show that the problem is access to resources and competent medical treatment.

There is so much pressure – both political and personal – to retransition or detransition. But whatever the reason for retransitioning or detransitioning, the supports needed by the individual are very similar to the supports needed by those transitioning to a transgender identity: access to appropriate medical care, accurate identity documents, and the freedom to express their gender however they see fit.

Get support

If you are struggling with gender, being pressured to retransition or detransition, or are unable to access gender affirming retransition or detransition medical care and need information or support, get in touch with us.

We support your right – no matter what the reason – to retransition or detransition, and to have access to appropriate medical care, identification documents, and support.

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