Detransitioned lesbians, also referred to as detrans lesbians, are lesbians who previously identified as trans men and have since re-identified as women. Some of them knew they were attracted to women before their transition. Others discovered their lesbianism at the same time as their detransition and are entering the lesbian community for the first time. Detransitioned lesbians are often misunderstood — they are sometimes accused by the trans community of being transphobic due to their detransition and can be told that they are “gender traitors” by women who have never themselves transitioned.
Detransitioned women have reported transitioning for a number of reasons, such as dysphoria related to internalized misogyny or internalized homophobia. They also detransition for many reasons, and just because a woman is detransitioned, it does not mean that she no longer feels dysphoric. It is important to hear directly from detransitioned lesbians instead of relying on harmful stereotypes.
I sat down with some detransitioned lesbians to ask about their experiences in the broader lesbian community, what they want other lesbians to know, and what things those lesbians can do in order to help their detransitioned sisters feel welcome and accepted in our community. Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
How has the broader lesbian community treated detransitioned lesbians?
How have lesbians in the broader community treated detransitioned lesbians? It is important to understand the sort of experiences they have had in the lesbian community, both the good and the bad. I spoke with Carol, a 39-year-old who has been detransitioned for a year and a half. She is happily married to her wife of 20 years, is a mother, and enjoys gardening and painting. When Carol was asked about her experiences in the lesbian community, this is what she had to say:
“I think I have had more positives than negatives, but that comes from the lesbians who are aware of detransition and transition. The ones that are out of the loop, they don’t get it a lot of the time. And they’re the ones that won’t understand some of the more simple things like what testosterone does to the female body. A lot of us look very masculine and some of us will always look very masculine.”
Benji, who is 24 years old and detransitioned four years ago, also told me about her experiences in the lesbian community. She started identifying as trans at 13 and lived as a trans man from ages 16 to 20. She is a Canadian lesbian who works on both detrans and lesbian community building. Benji’s described her experiences in the lesbian community, saying,
“I’ve noticed it more recently but most of my lesbian community is Facebook groups at this point, there’s some older lesbians who make these weird posts basically saying detrans women are traitors to women and they are betraying lesbians and can’t be trusted. They seem to really not understand the circumstances under which lesbians are detransitioning…they should have empathy with us,”
In the same way that detransitioned lesbians cannot be reduced to one single thing, neither can their experiences in the lesbian community be.
What does the lesbian community need to know?
Carol wants the community to have “Awareness of the variation of women and the female body and the female experience could be very helpful. If someone’s interested, just a basic understanding of what transition is, what it does, and what [detransition] entails. Some things don’t go away. It takes years for a lot of us to look like men and it takes years for a lot of us to start looking female again.”
Ariana is 20 years old and has been detransitioned for just over a year. She is committed to learning and getting outside at least once every day, and she wants lesbians who are not detransitioned to know that, “It was the best thing I could have done at the moment. I feel a little bit of shame like ‘How did I do that or think that was the right thing?’ You want other lesbians to have empathy for you, understanding that it can be shame-based.”
N, a 32-year-old healer and bodyworker who has been detransitioned for eight months, wants lesbians who have never transitioned to know that “Everyone’s story is unique,” and she asks that lesbians, “be open with curiosity instead of assumptions.”
Benji also shared an important list of things that non-detrans lesbians can make themselves aware of:
“Lesbians should make themselves aware of detransition, reading some blogs and watching some YouTube videos, so when they meet a detrans lesbian, that person isn’t obligated to explain to every person around them their story like a thousand times. Be aware of how people transition and detransition…
“Recognize that we are not a monolith…
“[Non-detrans lesbians should] make themselves aware of the effects of [testosterone]…
“Stop perpetuating the concept that detrans women abandoned women and betrayed lesbians…
“Don’t expect detrans women to feminize.”
There are plenty of resources online for those who are interested in hearing more from detransitioned lesbians about their experiences. For example, there is a growing number of YouTube channels by detransitioned women making videos discussing topics such as why they transitioned or how they relate to their bodies following surgery. Those who want to watch YouTube videos can search terms like “FTM detransition” to find channels like these ones. There are also blogs, such as Post Trans, Destroy Your Binder, and the informative Detrans Info that discuss detransition. There is also a subreddit for detransitioners.
Knowledge of detransition and respect for the diversity of the female body and the female experience is not only important for building and maintaining friendships, but also for those who date detransitioned lesbians:
“When dating, there are certain questions that are inevitable that I try to get ahead of. Letting them in on my medical history and things that are sensitive for me with my needs for comfort and security. The same rules apply: giving honesty, respect, straightforwardness, and I expect the same thing in return.”
“I know a lot of detrans lesbians’ concern is that a lot of lesbians who have been on [testosterone] are very hairy, have enlarged clitorises or if they have had top surgery…they’re worried that they will be unattractive and that lesbians aren’t going to want to date them because [lesbians are] attracted to the female body and this is an altered female body. I think basically lesbians can put it into perspective. There’s a variety of clitoris sizes, you fall in a bell curve of what’s normal.”
Some people think that if a woman detransitions, it means that she was not really trans, or that she was mistaken about being trans. Carol noted that: “[People who believe detransitioned women were not trans] missed the whole point. Most of us were and we still meet the criteria. We have the same issues. You cannot separate most detrans from female-to-male right now. We just chose to stop [transition].”
What can we do to help detransitioned lesbians feel more welcome in the community?
I spoke with Isabella, a 20-year-old detransitioner who likes to read and bike ride and is studying to become a physician’s assistant. Isabella identified as trans from ages 14 to 20, was on hormones for almost 3 years, and had top surgery. She told me about how she has heard some lesbians say negative things about women who have had this type of surgical intervention, and she gave an important reminder that other lesbians should “Be more considerate of detransitioners…I think we should be a little bit more open arms.”
Emma, a German detransitioner who did not give her age, said that one thing the broader lesbian community can do to make detransitioned lesbians feel more welcome is to recognize the overlap in experiences between butch lesbians and trans-identifying women. She said that the community would be more unified by, “being more open minded about butch lesbians.” Whether women identify as butch or simply present as stereotypically masculine, there are prevalent negative attitudes toward these women. Some say butches perform toxic masculinity, some say they have ‘masculine privilege.’ The spectrum of resentment and even anger toward butch lesbians adds pressure to those considering transition.
N shared a desire for community-building. “I wish we could all sit down and have a big conversation about gender nonconformity and inclusivity and how much butchness is a part of our history…Being okay with each other, I want more conversation and dialogue.” Our collective history of butch/femme dynamics is important to remember, including its problematic edges. Feminist critiques of gender performance ultimately bring us to the reality that all lesbians are gender non-conforming. We have this in common, regardless of the labels that others apply to us, or that we apply to ourselves.
Benji also shared an important reminder of what non-detransitioned lesbians can do, “Have empathy and compassion for something that you very well could have gone through. Draw the connection that lesbians and detrans lesbians have a lot in common and we should build on that commonality…Recognize that no matter how this person looks that this is your sister and treat them as your sister.”
Detransitioned lesbians are not a monolith
How do you respect someone’s unique experiences without reducing them to those things? We know that it is wrong to pretend not to see someone’s race or gender, since those have such a big impact on one’s life. But at the same time, it is wrong to only see those things and to reduce someone to them. The same thing is true for detransitioned lesbians; it is possible for non-detrans lesbians to respect the experiences of detrans lesbians without tokenizing them. If you are unsure how to go about that, Benji provided an accessible analogy:
“I think it’s really simple. All you have to do is imagine you’re the lone lesbian in a group of straight women and any time something LGBT comes up they’re like ‘yo, ask the lesbian about it?’ or turn and look at the lesbian and expect a reaction. Don’t do that to detrans women. Don’t expect us to be on top of every thing that’s related to transition.”
Every lesbian has had the experience of being the token lesbian and knows how uncomfortable that feels. We can use that knowledge to help put ourselves in the shoes of detransitioned lesbians in order to strengthen their sense of belonging in the lesbian community.
Isabella also had a reminder for those trying to understand and respect the stories of detrans lesbians, “I would say just have sympathy or be able to empathize with dysphoric women if you’re not dysphoric…sympathy in that our journeys are just a little different than yours.”
And finally, although it is important to acknowledge the experiences of the detransitioned lesbians, as Carol noted, “We don’t want to be treated super different either. We just want to be accepted in the community as lesbians. We want to move on too. I want to just move forward. You want to understand, but also don’t want it to be the most present thing in the room.”