‘I had a sex change, only to realise I’d made a terrible mistake’

Ideas

‘I had a sex change, only to realise I’d made a terrible mistake’

The growing number of those regretting changing gender is rarely discussed

Cara McCoogan


If Stella O’Malley were a child today, she is sure she would have had gender reassignment treatment.
The 43-year-old psychotherapist identified as a boy in the 80s, long before gender dysphoria was a common part of medical and social parlance.
Uncomfortable in her skin until she reached puberty, O’Malley says she “finally connected” with her biological identity when she had her first period.
Fast-forward three decades and, in the UK, the NHS gender identity clinic at The Tavistock and Portman in London has seen referrals for gender dysphoria soar 2,500% in nine years.
Hundreds of children are being prescribed puberty-blocking drugs to delay onset until they are 16 and old enough to opt for hormonal treatment.
This week, 17 pupils at one school were reportedly taking blockers, some of whom may have been encouraged by peers to do so. According to research, almost every single person who takes blockers will go on to transition.
However, the number of those regretting changing gender and seeking to “detransition” is also a growing area – but rarely discussed.
Professor Miroslav Djordjevic, a world-leading genital reconstructive surgeon, says almost 40 people have contacted him in the past year about reversal procedures.
Little research has been done into the long-term effects of hormonal and surgical treatments, as academics have found themselves shut down by a backlash from transgender activists.
O’Malley has made a documentary that investigates this sensitive topic, asking whether we are doing children harm by starting the transition process so early.
“There is no doubt in my mind that, for many people, transitioning can be absolutely the right path,” says O’Malley.
“But despite all the people I’ve met, I’m still so uncomfortable with the idea of children taking drugs that can cause permanent changes to their bodies. I’m haunted by the idea that there are kids out there like I was – ones that change their minds.”
One person O’Malley meets in her programme is Cale, a 25-year-old former trans man who chose to detransition two years ago shortly after she underwent a double mastectomy.
Cale’s story
I had a complicated childhood. My parents divorced when I was young, I didn’t fit in with my peers and I started self-harming.
One day, I was researching mental health conditions and came across the term “transgender”. Being “born in the wrong body” seemed to explain everything.
When I was about 16, I started seeking medical help. I was the only person in my school who had asked to change gender and I didn’t know anyone who had transitioned.
My dad was distraught and took a long time to come to terms with it, worrying he wouldn’t be able to accept me as a man and that I would harm my body with cross-sex hormones. My mom, seeing how unhappy I was, said if it was what I wanted then she'd support me.
First, I was prescribed testosterone pills. At school, people accepted my new name, Shin, and I was never bullied, but I was obsessed about “passing” (being accepted as male).
Whenever someone thought I was female, I would correct them. I’d think it was clear that I was trans, and that people were just ignoring the obvious signs. It turned me sour, and I used to think: “Why can’t they just accept me?” I blamed my problems on not passing, and thought once I had transitioned fully, people would treat me the way I wanted them to.
After a while, I was more confident, partly due to the psychological effects of testosterone.
At 23, I decided to have a double mastectomy. I believed that once I looked “man enough”, I would finally be at peace. But even after years of taking hormones, of looking and sounding male and having surgery, my dysphoria persisted.
It turned out that it wasn’t the hormones or surgery that would help me deal with my self-loathing, but the support of my boyfriend.
M has been there for me since I was 18. He told me if transitioning was what I really wanted, he would support me. M said he accepted and loved my body, which opened the door for me to do the same. I examined my anxiety and faced my childhood traumas and made peace with them. I learned to stop running away from myself and trying to become someone else.
The tipping point was when I saw M’s sister’s wedding video. I felt incredibly sad because, no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t see our wedding or future together.
Imagining myself in a suit or being called “dad” just felt wrong, like I was imagining someone else’s life. It didn’t feel like me.
Despite having been adamant all my life that I would never have children or settle down, I suddenly wondered whether having all that wasn’t exactly what I wanted after all.
Luckily, I had decided years earlier not to have genital surgery. It’s costly, requires multiple surgeries, and it has no guarantee that the outcome will look or function like the real thing.
Slowly, I realised I was no longer bothered about being perceived as female or fighting gender roles. I had worked so hard to maintain an image that kept shattering and I was tired of glueing it back together.
There was no fanfare to my detransition. No medical analysis, no gender clinic approval and no reconstructive surgery (the surgery I had undergone was irreversible); I just stopped taking my medication.
Slowly but surely, biology took over and my body reverted to its near-natural state.
In recent years, we both expected that I would detransition. It was a gradual process that we both knew was coming.
I feel at peace now, as a woman. At 25, for the first time, I am OK with my body and feel I am finally being honest with myself.
I don’t regret having taken the hormones or even having the mastectomy – it was necessary for me to grow as a person and to come to my own conclusion.
I also learned a lot by living as a man.
When I first considered detransitioning, I contacted some online trans communities and was met with denial. I was banned from all but one site, and even that one asked me to leave as soon as I was “no longer identifying as transgender”.
I remain the only person I know who has detransitioned. It saddens me that detransitioners, who are vulnerable and lack support, get attacked by activists.
The trans agenda preaches that you’re either trans or not – but there are people like me, who had very severe gender dysphoria, who eagerly transitioned, then changed their mind. The trans lobby needs to stop bullying and censoring detransitioners.
And the medical profession needs to make sure children can’t make decisions that can permanently alter their body, delay puberty or make them infertile.
My gender dysphoria was very real back then – but now it’s gone.
– © Telegraph Media Company Limited

This article is reserved for Times Select subscribers.
A subscription gives you full digital access to all Times Select content.

Times Select

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Questions or problems?
Email helpdesk@timeslive.co.za or call 0860 52 52 00.