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No, De-Transitioning Is Not a Thing

No, De-Transitioning Is Not “A Thing”

The growing media focus on the concept of de-transitioning is yet another way to delegitmize transgender people, writes Riki Wilchins.

I recently refused to be interviewed for an upcoming article for very prestigious, top-tier magazine, which would certainly have been great exposure. The author (I won't name her, but you can find her amazing interview with Janet Mock if you surf a bit) was very sensitive to the community and, while she never self-identified as such, I believed quite possibly genderqueer herself.

But the article was to be on de-transitioning. Specifically on very butch lesbians who are so victimized by this society's genderphobia that they decide to become trans men or believe they actually are trans men. When this doesn't work out, they must de-transition.

The media, naturally, has picked up on this. And it's about to become a new front in the Trannie Wars. Having been hated and mocked, trans people have become the media's darlings.

But the media thrives on drama, not neat endings, and no drama works without the plot shifts. This is why what the media builds up, it soon tears down. I fear it's about to do this to us.

When I was interviewed back in the 1980s, I would always be asked about this one famous de-transitioned individual. He had started out as male, decided he was transsexual (using politically incorrect word here intentionally), stopped well short of surgery, and then gone back to living as male.

I wish him no ill and hope he has found peace. But then he went on one national talk show after another, telling his story, and showing how we poor trannies really couldn't be trusted to know our own minds, often mistook our own gender, and in general should be kept away from sharp implements that might hurt us, particularly surgical scalpels and the doctors wielding them.

While he had every right to tell his story, it -- and he -- were used all over to undercut us and once again to delegitimize transgender experience. This cisgender urge to delegitimize us, to push us back toward our birth sex, is never far away. And it is terribly hard to undo.

It seems strange now, but in the 1980s, trans surgery was pioneered and instituted by large teaching hospitals, which led the way, beginning with Baltimore Johns Hopkins.

But then one man, Paul McHugh, latched on to a biased study he helped commission that was designed to show that transsexuality (still using politically incorrect term here) was a mental problem.

Then using this weaponized study, he wielded his enormous power as chief of psychiatry to kill the transgender program at Hopkins, and soon every other major hospital followed suit. To this day, he still says, "I'm not against transgender people [but] anxious they get the help they need"-- meaning not surgery but the psychiatric help that (entirely coincidentally) his department could provide. With friends like these, you don't need enemies.

McHugh is still authoring anti-transgender pieces cited by the radical right to attack us. As The Washington Post notes, it took 38 years -- nearly four decades -- for Hopkins to finally repudiate McHugh and return to the field. Four decades. And then only after faculty at Hopkins's Bloomberg School of Public Health finally and publicly denounced his policies.

And then there's Ken Zucker, founder of the Toronto-based Center for Addiction and Mental Health, who has "treated" 500 pre-adolescent gender-variant children -- essentially uncomplaining "patients" forcibly submitted by their parents to his care. This is "reparative therapy" for trans children by diagnosing them with an infant version of gender identity disorder.

The center was closed and Zucker stopped from harming another defenseless trans child only in 2015, when an internal audit challenged his work.

But he had been doing this since the 1970s. So again, four-five decades passed before his terrible work could be stopped.

So no, I won't be quoted in an article, however well-intended, on de-transitioning. You want to quote me in an article on the horrors of genderphobia, I'm all in. But not one that reignites or fuels in any way the wars over our legitimacy. I hope not to step ever again into that poisoned pond.

There's reason those "de-transitioned transsexuals" that the media trots out are almost never those who have had surgery. I have a theory as to why that is. It involves a pretty embarrassing story.

When I was going for my surgery, I was one of the first lesbian trans women my team had seen. Almost all the ones they had treated were all about boys and the disco stick. I was not. I insisted that they alter their current surgical treatment and create a functioning clitoris. They found that remarkable, and I found any alternative simply ridiculous, almost (in my mind at least) maiming.

So to make sure I "really" wanted surgery, they made me wait an extra year. It literally almost killed me. I had the car, I had the hose, and God knows I had the desire.

When the year was finally up and they went to wheel me in, I still almost jumped off the surgical gurney. Even after all that. Even me. It's that scary.

So don't tell me about de-transitioning transsexuals. Not everyone who de-transitions was ever a transsexual. It's damn hard thing to do. Write your piece without me, and leave the rest of us in peace.

RIKI WILCHINS's newest book is TRANS/gressive.

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Riki Wilchins