The debate about trans identities and gender dysphoria has become very polarized – even for those of us who have lived through it.
When the Government announced this week it would not go ahead with a Bill to ban conversion therapy for trans people, my response was mixed. At 18, I’d been prescribed testosterone by a private GP so I could transition to living as a man. The GP didn’t attempt to explore the possible causes of my gender dysphoria, such as my mental health problems or my difficulties fitting in socially. But even if they had, I might have insisted on going ahead anyway. I thought I knew everything about myself – nobody could tell me what to do.
I was raised in Lancashire, in a very masculine environment. My mum used to work nights, so I was looked after by my dad. I also had two stepbrothers, eight years older. I wasn’t brought up with them, but we did socialize as I was growing up. After my parents divorced when I was 11, I spent a lot of time with my dad because my mum used to work three jobs.
When I started school, I struggled to make friends with other girls. I didn’t care for Groovy Chick, or Barbie or Bratz – I just wanted to play football. There were a lot of social rules to female friendships. Male friendships were just so much easier: we’d fall out, we’d fight, we’d make up, we’d forget about it the next day.
High school was a particularly difficult time. When I was about 11, I became convinced I was meant to be a boy. My male friends were all developing differently to 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 are meant to be male are accidentally born female. I thought: this is the answer! I was gender dysphoric, I was meant to be born male and there was no other reason why I might not get on with women.
At the same time, I began feeling sexually attracted to girls, though later I realized I was bisexual. Aged 12, I developed depression and anxiety. I had a few sessions with a counsellor, who used words such as “borderline”, “bipolar” and “manic”. My parents didn’t really know what to do, and support from the school was minimal. It was my boyfriend, who I met in high school and who is also bisexual, who gave me the most support.
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 perpetrator was tried and sent to prison. It was a hugely traumatic period.
I started experimenting with my gender presentation and on Instagram and Tumblr, I changed my pronouns to he/she. I thought I was gender-fluid because the concept of transitioning was too scary. I was only 13 or 14 at this point. Some days I wanted to be girly, other days I wanted to dress like a man.
In my final year at school, I remember saying to my boyfriend that I needed to pick a side. Some days I would say my pronouns are “he/him” and others 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 I was going to be as girly as possible and blend in and be totally normal.
But when I was 18 and did my last exam, I suddenly decided I needed to go ahead with this transition. The big narrative being pushed is that transition will be the answer to all your problems. I confided in my boyfriend and he was very supportive because, back then, he assumed that doctors knew what they were doing.
The NHS waiting time for hormones is about five or six years, so I saved up enough money from my gap year job to pay for private gender therapy. In March 2018, I contacted Gender GP, an online health and wellbeing clinic for transgender people and was given a 30-minute phone consultation costing £300; I 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 could have affected things.
The consultation included a question about fertility risks and whether I wanted children. Because of what I’d read on social media, I knew I needed to say ‘no’ in order to be prescribed hormones. They didn’t tell me all the potential side effects, such as heart problems and loss of bone density, or the extent to which it could impact fertility.
(A spokesman for the online gender clinic, GenderGP, says: “We operate an informed model of care – that means we start from a position of belief if you say you are trans. Our job is not to try and validate your gender, or prove whether you are trans. Our job is to support you to make the best decisions.”)
For the first year or so, I was over the moon. I changed my name to Ryan. It took about three months to see changes, which included developing more muscle mass and broader shoulders. My periods stopped, which I was very happy about. Socially, I enjoyed going out and being read as male, and was pleased to no longer attract unwelcome sexual attention from men. My relationship with my boyfriend was pretty much the same, though when we went out we did sometimes attract invasive questions about how we had sex.
I was a lot more emotionally stable – no longer having the up-and-down emotions that girls tend to have as a result of a hormonal cycle. My friends were all very accepting. Although my dad found the name change difficult, he said that as I was an adult, I could do what I wanted. I had been binding my breasts and had saved up £7,000 to pay for a double mastectomy, but in the end decided it would be better to spend it on traveling or buying a house. I’m glad I didn’t go ahead.
Then during my first term at the University of Lancaster, 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’d always felt like an outcast and struggled if things weren’t routine, he suggested I might have autism.
After being referred to specialists for an assessment, my autism diagnosis was confirmed. It was like having pieces of a jigsaw come together, enabling me to see the full picture.
About six months later, I decided to come off testosterone. The online clinic advised me not to come off it altogether, because of my gender dysphoria, and recommended instead that I halve my dose. Initially, I did this, but when my periods came back, I decided to stop it altogether. I didn’t speak to any other medical professionals and didn’t have any more contact with the clinic, except to cancel my £30 monthly subscription fee.
Although I had felt happy passing as male, I was never 100 per cent comfortable. I was constantly worried about whether I looked too female. Apart from me felt like I was lying to myself and others.
Fertility was another big 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 detransitioning, but friends and colleagues were very supportive, although my dad was concerned and had a lot of questions. Initially, I missed the emotional stability I’d had on testosterone. I also hated getting my periods back, because ever since detransitioning, my menstrual cycle has been an absolute mess, and I am now being investigated for polycystic ovary syndrome. Apart from this, given my periods have returned, I should be able to conceive.
Physically, one of the most difficult things has been the amount of body hair I’ve been left with – I still need to shave a lot. My voice is deeper than it used to be.
But it’s great to be able to dress up again. And my boyfriend has been fine with me detransitioning – the good thing about dating a bi dude is they don’t care either way.
The main advice I’d give to others with gender dysphoria is to wait until you’re 21 before going on hormones. Let your body be an adult woman’s body before you decide to change it. And listen to detransitioner storiessuch as those of Sinead Watson and Keira Bell. If you believe you might have some sort of neurodivergence or a history of abuse, think about how those things might have affected you.
I’m now 22 and feel a lot better. I dropped out of my original university course and from September I plan to study criminology at a different university. What’s been nice is that I now accept my body. I do experience pangs of dysphoria, but they’re nowhere near as frequent as they used to be. My long-term plan is to become a probation officer – and I look forward to a future that includes children.
If you need support with a family member who’s struggling with gender dysphoria, you can contact Genspect at [email protected].