What hap­pens if you change your gen­der, but then re­alise you’ve made a mis­take?

The Guardian - Family - - Front page - Third­way­

Elan An­thony knows more than most about trans iden­tity is­sues. Born a boy 42 years ago, he tran­si­tioned from male to fe­male at 19 and then de­tran­si­tioned to male three years ago. While his story is en­light­en­ing, it is also im­mensely chal­leng­ing and it took him a long time and a lot of ther­apy to con­clude that he had made a mis­take.

“There are def­i­nite steps and sup­port around tran­si­tion­ing, but not around de­tran­si­tion­ing, so I felt I had to make my own road in many ways,” he says. “And real­is­ing that the tran­si­tion had caused more prob­lems than it solved was hard.”

It was also a shock be­cause, as at­ti­tudes changed over the last two decades, one thing that stayed con­stant with Elan was the idea that gen­der iden­tity was fun­da­men­tal.

“I be­lieved that I was fe­male and that could never change. There were times I won­dered if I’d got it wrong and should ac­tu­ally be a man. The idea of fluid gen­der is rel­a­tively new in terms of pub­lic aware­ness but it did ac­tu­ally ex­ist in the 90s.

“I started to re­alise that I could have dealt with my own is­sues so much bet­ter with­out chang­ing my body be­cause that has brought so many more dif­fi­cul­ties. De­tran­si­tion­ing isn’t as un­usual as you might ex­pect, but it is un­der­ground, for a num­ber of rea­sons, and the trans com­mu­nity isn’t happy dis­cussing this.”

He now thinks he was rushed into tran­si­tion­ing by well-in­ten­tioned but ul­ti­mately mis­guided peo­ple.

“I’m an only child and grew up in Ohio,” he says. “When I was young, I was bul­lied a lot, be­ing very bright but phys­i­cally weak, which sin­gled me out as a su­per-nerd and re­sulted in a lot of vi­o­lence. I started to fan­ta­sise about be­ing a girl from about age six be­cause that would make me safe and take me away from my place at the bot­tom of the male hi­er­ar­chy.”

“As I reached pu­berty, th­ese feel­ings be­came part of my sex­u­al­ity and I ex­pe­ri­enced some gen­der dys­pho­ria, but I was also at­tracted to women so it was con­fus­ing. When I was in high school I had sev­eral girl­friends and my gen­der dys­pho­ria de­clined un­til I got to col­lege. Ini­tially, I didn’t meet any women so all my gen­der feel­ings came back. Look­ing back, I think that was be­cause, as a fresh­man, I was back to be­ing at the bot­tom of the heap, which af­fected my con­fi­dence.”

Univer­sity coun­selling re­ferred him to a gen­der clinic and it was then that he be­gan to dis­cover there were other peo­ple who felt the same way as him.

“It was a rev­e­la­tion – other peo­ple had th­ese feel­ings too, and I could re­late to them, so could be re­ally happy.”

But he now sees that this is where things be­gan to go wrong.

“I told the psy­chol­o­gist I wanted to be fe­male but noth­ing about the other is­sues in­volved, such as be­ing bul­lied. I wasn’t aware that bul­ly­ing had any­thing to do with my gen­der is­sues, but he didn’t ask any deeper ques­tions. So, I was just like, ‘This is who I am and this who I want to be’, and they were like, ‘That’s great!’, and af­ter just two ses­sions I was given hor­mones, which was ac­tu­ally not good prac­tice.

“I was young and there were very few young tran­si­tion­ers then, but it wasn’t that hard to be­come seen as a woman and I started to get a lot of pos­i­tive at­ten­tion. But I was put on re­ally high doses of hor­mones, which were crazy. We don’t do stuff like this any more but I was on the equiv­a­lent of 17 birth con­trol pills a day at one point so it felt like my brain wasn’t work­ing right and it didn’t help my dys­pho­ria. I had re­ally big hands and a big jaw and so I still had the same prob­lem of hat­ing parts of my body.”

Elan’s par­ents weren’t very sup­port­ive when he told them he was trans, al­though his dad was a lit­tle more sup­port­ive than his mother. Un­for­tu­nately, his fa­ther died soon af­ter­wards.

“My mom was al­ways op­posed to my tran­si­tion. I only saw her twice over the 20 years I was tran­si­tioned. She never be­lieved I could be a woman. We still talked on the phone reg­u­larly but our re­la­tion­ship was quite strained. When I de­tran­si­tioned, it was dif­fi­cult to tell her be­cause, in a way, it was ad­mit­ting she was right, al­though since then we have got along bet­ter.”

Real­is­ing he had made a mis­take was a grad­ual process. “I couldn’t bond with peo­ple and even­tu­ally started ther­apy to work on why I couldn’t have re­la­tion­ships and why my body was so tense. I even­tu­ally re­alised that a lot of this had to do with try­ing to present my­self as fe­male, which was un­nat­u­ral for my body. I was hold­ing my shoul­ders in and my butt out and do­ing all sorts of things that were out­side the nat­u­ral move­ment of my body. This was caus­ing strain and stress on my body and that was when I re­alised that this whole tran­si­tion was a prob­lem. It was a long process and the big rev­e­la­tion was that the roots of my prob­lem lay with the early bul­ly­ing and feel­ing un­safe be­ing a man. I stopped tak­ing oe­stro­gen and started on testos­terone.”

The iso­la­tion of de­tran­si­tion­ing was hard, as are the un­cer­tain­ties that now be­set him. “Some of my friends couldn’t deal with it and some were sup­port­ive. But we drifted apart be­cause I be­came a dif­fer­ent per­son in many ways, as de­tran­si­tion­ing caused me to ques­tion many of my values. I’m not open with many peo­ple about my past, ex­cept on the in­ter­net, but that is chang­ing be­cause I think keep­ing my tran­si­tion/ de­tran­si­tion se­cret has led to me feel­ing some shame about it.”

EI started to re­alise that I could have dealt with my own is­sues so much bet­ter with­out chang­ing my body

lan is study­ing psy­chol­ogy and aims to work to­wards a doc­tor­ate: “I’m in­ter­ested in con­tin­u­ing to work on this sub­ject, al­though I also do find it emo­tion­ally tax­ing, es­pe­cially be­cause there is a large move­ment to­wards pro­mot­ing and sup­port­ing trans rights and trans is­sues in psy­chol­ogy right now. It some­times can be dif­fi­cult to be crit­i­cal in any way of trans is­sues in that en­vi­ron­ment, but I am in­ter­ested in help­ing peo­ple work with their dys­pho­ria in what­ever way pos­si­ble.

“One of my biggest strug­gles is that due to the med­i­cal pro­ce­dures I un­der­went, I have dif­fi­culty with dat­ing, am un­able to have chil­dren, and still hav­ing prob­lems find­ing a good hor­mone bal­ance. And it is dif­fi­cult be­ing part of the psy­cho­log­i­cal com­mu­nity that is so pro-tran­si­tion right now and be­ing one of the few crit­ics.”

De­spite – or per­haps be­cause of – the roller­coaster ride that has been his life for the last 20 years, his am­bi­tions are sur­pris­ingly mod­est. “I would re­ally like to just set­tle down with one per­son and have a nice quiet life, with mean­ing­ful work and a lov­ing part­ner. I’ve had re­la­tion­ships with men and women, but never ended up get­ting mar­ried or hav­ing a per­ma­nent part­ner. I feel re­grets about not hav­ing chil­dren and not be­ing able to have bi­o­log­i­cal chil­dren. This was some­thing I didn’t ap­pre­ci­ate when I was younger, but re­ally feels like some­thing miss­ing now.”

He is very aware of the irony of his sit­u­a­tion, tran­si­tion­ing orig­i­nally at a time when there was min­i­mal sup­port and now de­transtion­ing at a time when tran­si­tion­ing is to­tally ac­cept­able, but de­tran­si­tion­ing is less so.

“I don’t have much com­mu­nity around de­tran­si­tion and the over­whelm­ing num­ber of de­tran­si­tion­ers are natal fe­males who have their own com­mu­nity. I do know a few male de­tran­si­tion­ers and have talked to them, and I think the next step for us is to have more of a com­mu­nity also.”

De­tran­si­tion­ing has brought its own pain, es­pe­cially as he feels there is lit­tle lee­way in of­fer­ing any crit­i­cism about tran­si­tion­ing.

“Be­ing crit­i­cal about trans is­sues is def­i­nitely go­ing against the grain right now in psy­chol­ogy. I have felt like I was fight­ing a con­stant bat­tle for some time, but it feels like there are a lot more peo­ple speak­ing out about de­tran­si­tion, as well as more clin­i­cians who are in­ter­ested in look­ing at al­ter­na­tive ways to deal with dys­pho­ria. In the be­gin­ning I felt like one of the very few peo­ple work­ing on this but it feels dif­fer­ent now.”

Elan as a young boy

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