What Is Retransition or Detransition?

Affirming a Cisgender Identity After Affirming a Transgender One

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Gender transition is the process of socially, medically, or surgically affirming one's gender identity. Transgender people, those whose gender identity does not match what is expected for their assigned sex at birth, may choose to engage in some or all of these processes at varying stages of their lives.

People are said to retransition or detransition if they affirm a cisgender identity after affirming a transgender one. Although gender identity does tend to evolve, to some degree, throughout a person's life, detransition is relatively rare—particularly for those who have engaged with medical or surgical gender affirmation.

Rear view of a mother and daughter walking along a railway track in autumn, Goldstream, Vancouver Island, Canada
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Desistence vs. Detransition

Puberty is a highly important time for people coming to an understanding of their gender identity. A significant fraction of individuals who are gender nonconforming in childhood may end up identifying as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or another sexual minority rather than as transgender late adolescents and adults.

This is generally referred to as desistance rather than detransition. Detransition, or retransition, is generally only used to describe someone who has transitioned socially or medically into a different gender role.

An example of this is someone who was assigned female, lived socially as male for many years, and then returned to living as a woman. These types of cases tend to be very rare, and are even rarer in individuals who have accessed any medical or surgical care to affirm their gender.

Language is important. Many activists and allies encourage the use of retransition rather than detransition to recognize that gender is a journey that may not necessarily go in a straight line. The term detransition is often used by individuals who want to restrict access to gender affirming care out of concern that it could lead to regret.

While regret is possible, it is rare. Lack of access to affirming care has been shown to have more concrete risks.

Retransition Statistics

Retransition is a relatively recent concept in gender research and care. In part this reflects that the barriers to accessing gender affirming care and being able to transition have historically been extremely high.

In recent years, there has been a move to an informed consent model of gender care to replace the traditional gatekeeping models, but access can still be quite difficult for people outside of major metropolitan areas.

Statistics on retransition are difficult to come by. One study of 796 individuals seeking gender care in Spain reported that eight either retransitioned or disclosed regret (1%).

Another study looked at surgeons who offered gender affirming procedures. Looking at 46 surgeons who had worked with 22,725 patients, there were only 62 documented cases of regret (0.27%).

Most other information about retransition comes from news articles or case studies, making it difficult to estimate how common or uncommon it may be. However, the vast majority of literature on gender affirming care reports very low rates of any regret, let alone a retransition.

Meaning of Retransition

Despite the relatively small body of literature about retransition, one thing is clear. People have a variety of reasons for retransitioning. These reasons include:

  • Difficulty dealing with the stigma and harassment associated with being visibly gender non-conforming, and or transgender in an unaccepting world. Sometimes this is framed as minority stress.
  • Developing a more nuanced understanding of their gender, sometimes as a result of the experience of transitioning
  • Regret about transition

It is important to acknowledge that most of the media narrative focuses on the last category. This reflects a form of moral panic about access to gender affirming care that was also visible in the rapid onset gender dysphoria controversy.

However, looking at the aforementioned study of surgeons working with gender diverse patients, of the 0.27% who retransitioned, only one-third gave the reason of a gender identity change. The rest had experienced social or romantic problems or post-operative pain.

Indeed, research suggests that much of the limited regret discussed by transgender patients is related to disappointment with outcomes rather than any change in feelings about gender identity.

Health Care and Retransition

Individuals who retransition may not require any health care. Those who have socially transitioned, may simply socially transition again.

Even some individuals who have medically or surgically transitioned may not seek out additional interventions to affirm their new gender identity. They may just socially transition into a new role and/or stop using any ongoing gender affirming hormone treatments.

Transfeminine individuals who have not had surgery and stop taking estrogen and spironolactone will experience revirilization. If they have not undergone permanent hair removal, they will get hairier. They may experience male pattern baldness.

They will likely return to having spontaneous erections. Their chests may shrink to a degree, but depending on the extent of breast growth they experienced on estrogen, they may still have noticeable breasts.

Transmasculine individuals who stop taking testosterone and have not had surgery will likely resume menstruation (assuming they are of reproductive age). However, they will not lose any facial hair they have grown. Any voice and bone structure changes will also be permanent.

Patients who have had top surgery will not regrow breasts if they have had a full mastectomy. Any bottom growth (clitoral growth) will likely also remain.

Some individuals who retransition or detransition may seek out surgery to reverse changes they experienced during their initial transition. This could be anything from breast removal up to and including phalloplasty for people who retransition to male after undergoing vaginoplasty. There are not yet clear, evidence-based guidelines around when such surgeries are appropriate.

A Word From Verywell

While there are certainly individuals who retransition after undergoing medical and or surgical gender affirmation, that type of retransition is rare.

It is important to balance the need to acknowledge the lived experience of those individuals with the real risk to the vast majority transgender and gender-diverse individuals that is posed by popular narratives of retransition.

Such narratives often frame access to gender affirming health care as a dangerous risk that could lead to regret, when the truth is that gender affirming care is orders of magnitude more likely to be life-affirming or even life-saving.

The extraordinarily low risk of regret or retransition is dwarfed by the risk of suicide and other health problems among those who cannot access needed care.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Elizabeth Boskey, PhD
Elizabeth Boskey, PhD, MPH, CHES, is a social worker, adjunct lecturer, and expert writer in the field of sexually transmitted diseases.