There’s an infographic floating around on Facebook and tumblr about “The Myth of Trans* Regrets.” It points out that only a tiny minority–six percent–report that their quality of life has not improved, while only four percent report that their wellbeing has not improved.
I never know how to fit myself into all this. It’s true: I am an outlier. I suspect that people like me might be underreported. Psychiatric care for trans people is closely linked to vetting for transition and supervising through transition. It isn’t focused on wellbeing, or on caring for the trans patient as a patient rather than a transsexual in process. Many trans people discontinue therapy upon completing transition–like most people, they can’t easily afford regular therapy and may not need it. So late follow-ups are rare, and practitioners might not have such a good sense of how their patients do in the years and decades following transition.
They may also not be reliable witnesses in the minds of their former patients; I know that I was very embarrassed to share my grief and worry with my therapist, and that I certainly felt ashamed of having failed. Failed her, you could say. I felt that I had lied to her, even though I had never intentionally misrepresented my feelings. I felt that I had misused her help, even though she was nominally my therapist and not my transition liaison. I was embarrassed by my neediness and confusion in the aftermath–I felt weepy and weak. I felt, altogether, as though I had to mask the depth and complication of my feelings–to clean myself up and sweep myself along. I did not feel that she wanted to deal with any messy mixed results. She did know that I had gone back–she supervised the first few months of the return trip–and she knew that I was devastated during that time, and extremely anxious about my ability to return to an acceptable picture of womanhood.
We had a sort-of follow-up session a year and a few months later, which she initiated because she had another patient whose choice she doubted, whose stability she doubted, and she wanted me to tell her if there was anything she might do to improve on our interaction. I don’t think I gave her any useful information.
Now, I can’t name anything she could do, other than recuse herself. During that session and throughout our interaction, I felt pushed to soften any criticism of her, to take the weight of our failure on myself, to make it clear that I did not blame her or any of her colleagues or the process they worked through. It was my fault. I should have been more careful. I should have been more clear. I should have known better. I should not have made this mistake. I accepted responsibility. After all, I was perfectly fine. I was lucky.
I wonder if a similar process is not at work in the minds of other regretters: it is my fault, and after all it is not so bad.
It’s true that it isn’t so bad. I haven’t suffered any lasting harm to my gender, you could say: I look like an appropriate and normal woman. I haven’t suffered any lasting harm to my life, either: I have not been excluded, or harassed, or hurt by my history as someone who was trans, and I have not been hurt by revealing this part of my story to anybody. Most people have seen me as brave.
But the emotional weight of all of it was terrible, crushing. There were months when I woke up at night with the grief of it, the shame of what I had done. My life was over, and I would never get it back. That was the sense I had then, of something terrible and irrevocable.
I don’t think my therapist quite understood that, or made it her business to understand. I don’t know if she felt that it was her responsibility. I’m not sure that knowing about it–or, I suppose, having me refer to it in those words–would have led her to treat me any differently from her other patients, the ones who had to dismantle their lives once and move on into uncertain territory in one straight direction. She did say early on that she believed that I was in my re-transition just like a trans woman: someone transitioning from man to woman, and that I was among that cohort very lucky. Blessed. She also said that I would need implants. She also said that I would need time.
And so, while she might have had compassion for me as someone going through a long and difficult change, she might have believed that my sadness and fear was containable. Treatable. That I could be set on the path and gently pushed forward into female normalcy, and that in the end I would feel perfectly contented with the life and body I had.
That did happen. But alongside that transition there grew a tangle of horrified sadness and self-loathing that had no solution. It bore no relation to the straightforward, easy way back, and because of that it did not end when I came back to normalcy. I spent several years as an emotional Hydra: only one of my bodies was the wanted one. Having no ready explanation for these terrible feelings only made them inarticulate.