My name is Michelle. I recently detransitioned after a decade of identifying as transgender, and now I am faced with the reality that I had surgically removed healthy body parts that I could have used to carry and feed my future children. I have male-pattern balding and a deepened voice for the rest of my life. And it seems that I have no recourse for what happened. This is my story.
As a little girl, I was bullied daily — by my peers, by older children, and sometimes even by younger children. It felt like everyone in my elementary school knew that I was “different.” My mom once recalled a time when the school bus was pulling up to my house, and she could hear the entire bus full of children chanting cruel things at me.
The worst of it went on for about six years (ages 8-13), but it certainly felt like one of the longest and most difficult periods of my life. I had one close friendship with a girl that ended poorly, after which point, I lost all of my other female “friends” at school. This is when I began using dissociation to escape from the constant overwhelm of having feelings that no one would validate. I think disconnecting from my body in this way is one of the reasons I thought transition was what I needed.
Later, I would learn that what I experienced in childhood was developmental trauma. It affected the trajectory of my life. My personality completely changed. I went from a loud, fierce, opinionated child to a passive, shy teenager with low self-esteem. I learned that everything I did, including asking for help, only made things worse; so instead, I did nothing.
I harmed myself for the first time when I was 11, and in my high school years, I started cutting more frequently. I was extremely anxious and often depressed. Getting up for school in the morning felt like a chore.
I had a solid group of friends in high school, most of whom I am still in touch with. But many of the people that I dated were older and, in retrospect, didn’t seem to have my best interests at heart.
In short, my formative years were extremely difficult for me.
After moving out of my parents’ house when I was about 20, I began connecting with the LGBT community online. I had gone back and forth on whether I might be into girls for years, but I ultimately settled on calling myself asexual. I found out that many people who identify as asexual were also gender variant (identifying as transgender or gender non-conforming).
Although I had never had gender dysphoria before, the more I thought about gender and how I wanted to present myself, the more self-aware I became about my body, and the more I wanted to change it. I thought about my past and became convinced that I had been bullied because I was trans and just didn’t know it.
Online, I was sucked into a world where it felt like I was finally somewhere I belonged. In places like Tumblr, there was constant reassurance that only trans people spend so much time thinking about their gender (not actually true) and that every trans person has doubts about transitioning. These reassurances kept me on the path towards permanently altering my body, and the medical professionals I saw never questioned me.
I started pursuing medical transition. I was prescribed testosterone in late 2010, and I had a double mastectomy at the beginning of 2012.
My mental health improved for a short while after I started transitioning, but then it plummeted. I remained socially anxious. It continued to be difficult for me to make friends. I was still depressed, although I couldn’t really cry anymore because of the hormones. My ability to take care of myself was falling apart. I gained about 70-80 pounds after starting hormones. I lost my salaried job shortly after my first surgery in 2012 for “inconsistent” work output. I had difficulty keeping up with eating and cleaning, and I couldn’t stick to a specific sleep schedule.
I couldn’t even take my testosterone shots on schedule — and I stopped caring about my appearance — so I stopped taking them.
I was low-income after losing that job. After a few years later, it became too difficult to keep living in the city, and I moved in with family once more. I tried to attend university, but it was hard to keep up with the classes. I felt like I knew what I was capable of, and I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t just succeed.
In 2017, I went for a fulsome psychoeducational assessment, and I was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, post-traumatic stress symptoms, and major depressive disorder (among other things). I felt validated by my diagnoses, but, for a long while afterwards, I had a lot of anger. I wished I had known when I was a child. I wished that I had 20 years of strategies and coping skills behind me.
Gender dysphoria wasn’t really addressed in my assessment. As such, I continued to identify as transgender — though as non-binary at that time. In my mind, since I had already made permanent changes to my body and figured I was always going to be seen as “weird,” I thought I might as well just keep going.
It’s not so easy to admit to yourself that you have spent a decade of your life on a mistake. It’s even harder to admit it to everyone else.
So I had one more surgery in 2018: a partial hysterectomy. I retained my ovaries because I had stopped taking hormones. I wasn’t in a great place mentally at the time, so I can’t really remember why I thought it was a good idea except that, for trans people, it was covered by provincial insurance, and I liked the idea of not having any more periods or pap exams.
Even though I had wanted to have children my entire life, I figured there were alternatives anyway. I put those feelings on the back burner for future-me to deal with.
2020 was hard on all of us, but it certainly provided a lot of time for reflection.
In the second half of 2020, I had a breakthrough. I recognized that my diagnoses (especially the developmental disabilities) explained everything I’d been through in my life much more succinctly than identifying as transgender ever had.
I began re-identifying as a female, and I asked my friends and family to once again refer to me by my birth name.
I’ve had almost a decade to come to terms with my chest, but acknowledging that I cannot bear my own children has been devastating. Some days, the pain of what I’ve done to myself is overwhelming. I cry and I can’t stop. Other days, I’m angry that I wasn’t screened for the diagnoses I later received before I was prescribed hormones.
Despite those overwhelming feelings, my mental health has never been better. I still lose my temper sometimes — don’t we all? — but overall, I am calmer and more understanding. I am more compassionate and more logical. I started walking every day and eating better. I’ve even lost weight (40 pounds and counting).
There are so many moving parts involved with gender and choosing to transition (and detransition) that I’ve started to write a memoir of my experiences. My hope is that sharing what I’ve gone through in more detail might help others to ensure that they are choosing the path that is best for them.
I’m very worried that the one-size-fits-all approach to medical transition will only put more vulnerable people through medical trauma, and the trans community that once supported me for ten years has made it clear that they don’t care about collateral damage.
Thank you for taking the time to read my story.
GDA: We welcome Michelle as a new GDA member from Ontario. We are grateful that she is dedicating her difficult journey to educating and advocating for the safe holistic care of young Canadians. Thank-you Michelle!
Image credit: Provided by the author.