STUDY: Review of detransitioner experiences

This is a review of Faye Gear’s newly published study, A Thematic Analysis of Detransitioners’ Experience and Development.

Republished with permission from and thanks to Canadian Gender Report.

A review of detransitioner experiences has just been published with many quotes and insights from the interviewee’s. Faye Gear conducted interviews with 5 Canadian and American detransitioners as part of a thematic review of detransitioner experiences supervised at the University of Western Ontario. Her review has been published at: https://psyarxiv.com/683p7/

Summary of Results

The review established that four main themes emerged around the desire to transition: mental health, fear around puberty and the growing realization of sexuality, how one’s female body relates to the world, and peer groups. There were two distinct themes around the decision to detransition, which are mental health and a change in environment. There is also a theme that emerges around the concept of gender identity. Faye also found a strong age milestone similarity for all 5 participants and their journey.

Table 1

   Age at social transitionAge at testosteroneAge at double mastectomyAge at detransition
  Participant A  1617No20
  Participant B  14141619
  Participant C  13  15  No18
  Participant D  171718  20  
  Participant E  14No1819
  Average age  14.815.7517.319.2

Consistent across all 5 interviews was a realization that being transgender was not the answer to poor mental health and self-image. Instead, by learning more holistic ways to deal with poor body image and mental health issues such as depression, it no longer worked to identify as the opposite sex, but rather became possible to reconcile with their biological sex and to stop opposite sex hormones. Most reported feeling like they no longer needed external validation to have self-worth and people’s perception of them no longer mattered much, and that they were free to exist in their natural body as they wished rather than feeling like they had to conform to a stereotype of women.

The second theme that emerged which seems to have an influence on the detransition decision is environmental changes, such as a physical environmental change and or social environment change. For one participant it was starting a new intimate relationship that sparked the detransition journey; for another it was taking a leave of absence from college and for another it was starting college. Here we can see that by having new experiences happen and being open to them, this can result in an identity shift or a period of self-reflection (Duerden, Widmer, Taniguchi, & McCoy, 2009). For others, it was stopping being active in the online trans communities or changing friend groups. This again shows how a change in the status quo can start a period of personal development and reflection which shifts how people perceive themselves and others, particularly in late adolescence and early adulthood (Smith-Lovin, 2003).

Identifying as transgender for these young women was masking deeper underlying issues. However, because of the affirmation-only approach that is the norm in today’s psychology and medical fields, the issues went undiagnosed and untreated resulting in these young female teenagers being unnecessarily medicalized and operated on by the medical profession. Faye summarizes her conclusion based on these interviews that “a more holistic approach with the long-term future and wellbeing of the individual in mind, rather than a short-term mindset of treating the self-declared symptoms, would have been much more beneficial to these young women.”

The current transgender diagnosis is driven by self-identification (Coleman et al., 2012) and can mask sexuality, body image issues, and possibly body dysmorphia, as well as undetected or undiagnosed issues such as eating disorders, depression, anxiety, or even ASD. It is incumbent on the psychology field to re-evaluate how to best care for youth who identify as transgender, to ensure the most ethical noninvasive holistic treatment and compassion is available, so there is minimal harm and regret caused.

Download the review

Verbatim excerpts from the interviews that explore these issues and why the teens decided to adopt a transgender identity in the first place can be found in the full review published here: https://psyarxiv.com/683p7/

Image credit: Claudia Barbosa, Pexels

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