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The debate over trans identities and gender dysphoria has become very polarized – even for those of us who have experienced it.
When the government announced this week that it would not go ahead with a bill banning conversion therapy for trans people, my response was mixed. When I was 18, a private GP prescribed me testosterone so I could transition into manhood. The GP did not attempt to explore the possible causes of my gender dysphoria, such as my mental health problems or my difficulties with social integration. But even if they had, I might have insisted on continuing anyway. I thought I knew everything about me – no one could tell me what to do.
I grew up in Lancashire, in a very masculine environment. My mother worked nights, so my father took care of me. I also had two half-brothers, eight years older. I wasn’t raised with them, but we socialized as I grew up. After my parents divorced when I was 11, I spent a lot of time with my dad because my mom had three jobs.
When I started school, I had a hard time making friends with other girls. I didn’t like Groovy Chick, or Barbie or Bratz – I just wanted to play football. There were many social rules in female friendships. Male friendships were so much easier: we argued, we argued, we reconciled, we forgot about it the next day.
High school was a particularly difficult time. When I was around 11, I became convinced that I was meant to be a boy. My male friends were all developing differently from me, and in turn, that made me feel like I wished I had what they had – they were stronger and more outgoing. On Tumblr and YouTube, I discovered trans people who argued that some people who were supposed to be men were accidentally born women. I thought: this is the answer! I was gender dysphoric, I was supposed to be born male and there was no other reason I wouldn’t get along with women.
At the same time, I started to feel sexually attracted to girls, although later I realized I was bisexual. At 12, I developed depression and anxiety. I had a few sessions with a counselor who used words like “borderline,” “bipolar,” and “manic.” My parents didn’t really know what to do and the support from school was minimal. It was my boyfriend, who I met in high school and who is also bisexual, who supported me the most.
To add to my distress, when I was 14, I was sexually abused by a stranger after being groomed online. I told my parents, who reported it to the police. Eventually, the author was tried and sent to prison. It was an extremely traumatic time.
I started experimenting with my gender presentation and on Instagram and Tumblr changed my pronouns to he/she. I thought I was fluid because the concept of transition was too scary. I was only 13 or 14 at the time. Some days I wanted to be girly, other days I wanted to dress like a man.
During my senior year at school, I remember telling my boyfriend that I had to pick a side. Some days I would say my pronouns are “he/him” and some days I would say my pronouns are “she/her”. Before going to college, I swallowed my dysphoria, and for the next two years of my life, I decided that I was going to be as feminine as possible, blend in, and be totally normal.
But when I was 18 and took my last exam, I suddenly decided that I had to continue this transition. The grand narrative pushed is that transition will be the answer to all your problems. I confided in my boyfriend and he was very supportive because at the time he assumed doctors knew what they were doing.
The NHS wait time for hormones is around five or six years, so I saved enough money on my gap year job to pay for private gender therapy. In March 2018 I contacted Gender GP, an online health and wellness clinic for transgender people and received a 30 minute telephone consultation at a cost of £300; I have never had a face to face consultation. In June, I was prescribed hormones. There was no exploration of my sexual trauma, and no mention of my upbringing and how that might have affected things.
The consultation included a question about fertility risks and whether I wanted children. From what I had read on social media, I knew I had to say “no” to be prescribed hormones. They didn’t tell me all the potential side effects, such as heart problems and loss of bone density, or how it might impact fertility.
(A spokesperson for the online gender clinic, GenderGP, said: “We apply an informed model of care – this means that we start from a position of belief if you say you are trans. Our work does not is not to try to validate your gender, or prove that you are trans. Our job is to help you make the best decisions.”
For the first year or so, I was in heaven. I changed my name to Ryan. It took about three months to see changes, including developing more muscle mass and broader shoulders. My periods stopped, which I was very happy about. Socially, I enjoyed going out and being read like a man, and was glad I was no longer attracting unwelcome sexual attention from men. My relationship with my boyfriend was much the same, although when we went out we sometimes attracted intrusive questions about how we had sex.
I was much more emotionally stable – I no longer had the up and down emotions that girls tend to have due to a hormonal cycle. My friends were all very receptive. Although my father found the name change difficult, he said that as an adult I could do whatever I wanted. I had bandaged my boobs and saved up £7,000 to pay for a double mastectomy, but ultimately decided it was better to spend it on traveling or buying a house. I’m glad I didn’t move forward.
Then, during my first term at Lancaster University, where I was studying psychology, I went through a bad mental health episode. After attempting suicide, I was referred to a social worker. When I explained to him that I had always felt like an outcast and struggled if things weren’t routine, he suggested that I might have autism.
After being referred to specialists for an evaluation, my autism diagnosis was confirmed. It was as if the pieces of a puzzle fit together, allowing me to see the big picture.
About six months later, I decided to quit testosterone. The online clinic advised me not to go without completely, because of my gender dysphoria, and instead recommended that I cut my dose in half. At first I did, but when my periods came back I decided to stop completely. I spoke to no other medical professionals and had no further contact with the clinic except to cancel my £30 monthly subscription.
Although I felt happy passing as a man, I was never 100% comfortable. I was constantly worried about whether I looked too feminine. Part of me felt like I was lying to myself and others.
Fertility was another important factor. When I turned 20, I realized I really wanted a family — and I had chosen to self-sterilize for no good reason.
I felt embarrassed about the detransition, but my friends and colleagues were very supportive, even though my father was worried and had a lot of questions. Initially, I missed the emotional stability I had had with testosterone. I also hated having my period return, because since detransitioning, my menstrual cycle is an absolute mess, and I’m currently under investigation for polycystic ovary syndrome. Other than that, since my periods have returned, I should be able to conceive.
One of the hardest things physically has been how much hair I have left – I still need to shave a lot. My voice is deeper than before.
But it’s great to be able to dress up again. And my boyfriend was okay with my detransition – the good thing about dating a bi guy is that they don’t care anyway.
The main advice I would give to other people with gender dysphoria is to wait until you are 21 before taking hormones. Let your body be an adult woman’s body before deciding to change it. And listen to stories of detransition, like those of Sinead Watson and Keira Bell. If you think you might have some kind of neurodivergence or a history of abuse, think about how these things might have affected you.
I am now 22 years old and I feel much better. I dropped out of my original university course and from September I plan to study criminology at another university. What is good is that I now accept my body. I feel dysphoria pains, but they are not nearly as frequent as before. My long-term plan is to become a probation officer – and I look forward to a future that includes children.
If you need help with a family member struggling with gender dysphoria, you can contact Genspect at email@example.com.
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