“How do you know you won’t regret transitioning later?”

Last week, I came out to my parents and the rest of my family and friends. I have complicated and mixed feelings regarding how it went, but in general, I don’t think that I could have expected much better. Nobody was confrontational or very strongly opposed, until today. Today, I came out to a long-time friend of mine and it didn’t go very well. He was quite negative about me transitioning and was very concerned about me doing so. His primary concern that he repeated throughout the conversation was “how do you know that you won’t regret this later?”. I didn’t have an answer to this question ready at the time but after some reflection, I think I now have an answer.

In my opinion, the question “how do you know that you won’t regret transitioning later?” is completely irrelevant and frankly meaningless. It is impossible to answer. I don’t know that I won’t regret transitioning later because it is impossible for me to ever know this. You cannot say that you won’t regret something 10, 20, even 50 years down the line, as you cannot predict the future. At some level, we all know this instinctively. We don’t live our lives vetting every action for fear of possible future regret. If we did, we would be paralyzed and unable to do anything. Requiring that a trans person “knows” they won’t regret transition is an impossible standard to hold someone to and only serves to gatekeep.

The reverse of the question is just as relevant: “How do I know that I won’t regret not transitioning later?”. This question is just as impossible to answer as the previous, however, the reframe is important. In the original question, transitioning is framed as this permanent act that I will likely regret while not transitioning is seen as the default. Transitioning has to justified and not transitioning is assumed. This is simply normative nonsense, not transitioning is also a choice that comes with consequences and the potential for regret. It means more masculinization. It means more time living as a man. It means potentially fewer effects if I had decided to transition later. All of these are potential sources of regret that are obfuscated by treating not-transitioning as the baseline. The questions very framing is biased against transition by treating it as aberrant.

Lastly, I am statistically unlikely to regret my transition. Transition regret is exceedingly rare and detransition rates are extremely low. A 2015 study found that only 8% of transgender people detransition and most do it only temporarily or because of outside pressure.1 Only .4% of all respondents in the study detransitioned because they felt that gender transition wasn’t for them.1 A Swedish study on transgender people who underwent gender affirming-surgery found that only 2% regret the surgery or their transition.2 While transition regret does occur, it is incredibly quite rare especially given the media attention that it receives. The vast majority of trans people do not experience regret over their transition.

I can’t say that I won’t regret transitioning later in life. It is simply impossible for me to predict. However I do know that right now, I would regret stopping my transition. That I currently regret not starting hormones sooner. I don’t know what the future holds, but right now I want to transition and live as my authentic self. I refuse to allow the risk of future regret to prevent me from living as myself today.

References:

  1. .James, S. E., Herman, J. L., Rankin, S., Keisling, M., Mottet, L., & Anafi, M. (2016). The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey. Washington, DC: National Center for Transgender Equality. P.111
  2. Dhejne, Cecilia & Oberg, Katarina & Arver, Stefan & Landén, Mikael. (2014). An Analysis of All Applications for Sex Reassignment Surgery in Sweden, 1960-2010: Prevalence, Incidence, and Regrets. Archives of sexual behavior. 43. 10.1007/s10508-014-0300-8.

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