As he was being wheeled in to the operating theatre in Thailand in 2006 for his vaginoplasty, Daniel was thinking “Don’t do it”. Waking up was hard. His thighs were black and blue. He had a bit of relief for six months after, but then the depression set in. In 2016, he was praying and he heard the voice of God, saying, “I created you male, you are walking around in a female role that is not your creation. You need to turn around and go back to your birth gender.” The same morning he emailed his pastor, sister and friends, and went on a mission to remove all traces of his Danielle identity from his home.
Or so he says now. We reimagine our histories and memories when we recall them, laying them down anew. He had an unhappy childhood. He lived with his mother after his father divorced her because of her alcoholism. She would bath him, and pay great attention to his genitals, telling him men were bad. He started wearing his mother’s and sister’s clothes when he was eight. He feared being male. He became alcoholic, and when he got sober in1994 he had a social transition, dressing female but without hormones or surgery. It was a shock to his US Bible-belt community. People avoided him. The isolation was too much, so he reverted, and moved north as a man. But then he was reading about transition, and got “tunnel vision”- he thought if only he could transition medically he would be happy.
He feels he was dishonest with the psychiatrist: he did not tell her he was abused as a child, and she did not ask him. (Odd- mine took a full history, back to childhood.) “I was living in fear of exposing those deep dark secrets.” Possibly, he has a different view of them now. Now, that experience of being bathed is a big thing for him. Perhaps then it did not seem so fundamental to his experience since. After all, trans women generally believe we have an innate gender identity. Having reverted, he has to find some reason why he was wrong to transition. So now he says his transition was his fault. He had breast removal and T injections to get his manly shape back. He has recently had an assessment for a phalloplasty operation, but the doctors found his liver function was not good enough. He will be reassessed.
Surgeons did not want to consider phalloplasty when they heard he was reversing a vaginoplasty. Eventually he found Miroslav Đorđević, who has completed thirteen phalloplasties for such patients. He has inserted a penile implant for sexual intercourse in six, and the others are awaiting assessment; and he has 25 new candidates. He says candidates are not properly assessed before vaginoplasty, and the patients are very distressed, regretting not just the result but the wrong decision.
He has found a wife through a Christian dating site. She is Latina, and they were using a translation app to communicate.
Trans people sometimes say most regret is because the result is sub-optimal, rather than because the decision was wrong. Dr Asa Radix, of the WPATH Standards of Care revision committee, says few patients have returned to tell her that they are detransitioning without some external factor, such as feeling unsafe on the streets, or losing their job. That would seem to indicate there had been no misdiagnosis, that the psychiatrists had been right.
In 2004, in Thailand, a psychologist at the hospital asked me if I was sure. She said they would be delighted for me to preserve my genitals.
Brian Belovitch, as a young gay man, ran away from an abusive and prejudiced working class neighbourhood to a trans ghetto. As a child, he had been mistaken for a girl. He became a vivacious woman, Natalia, a hostess on the New York club scene. He took heroin and crack. He felt he had four choices- being a trans woman with a penis, gender confirmation surgery, suicide, or undoing the hormonal changes and accepting himself as a gender non-conforming pretty man. So he identifies as gender fluid, and talks of retransition not detransitioning- he is moving on, not turning back.
We need to see these options before we have the gender surgery. The problem is transnormativity, the belief that gender dysphoria should be treated by a binary medical transition, and gender stereotypes, often with grudging acceptance of people who go through that transition greater than of people who are gender non-conforming.
Lilian Huck reverted because when she started oestrogen she had heart problems, so it was stopped. She found herself developing chest hair again. So she reverted. Then she saw a suicide prevention psychologist, who asked her how she would like to be buried- in a dress. She is living female again. None of these decisions are easy.
From the BBC World Service documentary he2she2he.