That quote comes from an article about the recent Trans Mental Health Study, the largest ever undertaken in Europe, which asked respondents whether they felt regret. The responses highlight some of the problems with defining regret as a concept. Can you regret a problem that had no real solution, like the best way to come out to a hostile family? Can you regret something that was out of your hands entirely, like your surgery results? Can you regret something that was out of anyone’s hands, like your genetic makeup? Can you regret abuse or mistreatment–can you regret being the victim of someone else’s crime? Does regret over lost time or lost relationships count as trans regret?
It wouldn’t seem so. I’m sure this isn’t the picture of “trans regret” that the Daily Mail readership carries around in its head. I know it isn’t the “trans regret” that controls are supposed to fix at a minimum.
These responses made up the overwhelming majority of “regrets” cited by study respondents, the overwhelming majority of whom (I feel clumsy saying ‘overwhelming majority’ over and over again, but it’s not sufficient in context to say ‘most’) did not regret the decision to transition or the decision to undergo any particular medical procedure or take any particular legal or social step towards openly living in their new identity.
Several quoted respondents use “regret” to mean “miss,” or “mourn:” they miss the prestige manhood offered them, the prestige (ostensible) cis status offered them, they miss parents, friends, professions. They miss acceptance. They also miss things they never had: a male childhood, a female adolescence. They mourn safety and kindness. They mourn loved ones who have declared them dead. Some of them “regret” sad necessity, like non-disclosure about trans status.
No one seems to regret any quality or detail of man or womanhood, or any part of their body–although they do miss sensation in the case of post-op “regret.”
Nobody regrets transitioning. Nobody misses their old gender. Nobody mourns their old body. Nobody feels remorse about not waiting several more years. Nobody regrets the permission they were granted or the support they finally received.
I wonder, sometimes, whether I regret it myself. On one level, I hold the purest, least-ambiguous claim to regret: I quit, after all, and have never looked back. I also wouldn’t say that I regret becoming a woman again. I do not wish I were still a man, and I doubt very much that I will ever become one a second time. My personal regret does not encompass revulsion or alienation. I am not sure I minded being a man. I know that there were some things, some times, I enjoyed very much. There are some parts of manhood that I regret as in miss or mourn.
I may regret the way in which I came back. I regret that I didn’t allow myself to retain anything, even most of my memories. I regret that I didn’t allow myself to miss or mourn anything about being male, or any part of my male body. I regret that I was so uncompromising–so draconian–in my attitude towards what I had done. It wasn’t only that I was consumed by shame: shame consumed any sense of happiness or even humor out of those few years. It was all gallows.
And now that I’m trying to write this book, shame stands in the way. I have trouble evaluating any of this, even the internal parts, because so much of my identity was subsumed in regret. This was not what I wanted.
And so I will have to ask not only how common people like me really are, but how deep those feelings truly run, what anchors them in fact. I may have been forced into a performance of regret just as one is forced into a performance of gender. Regret became as much of an identity as male ever was, as female ever has been, and because it felt so suspect and so crucial, I may have devoted more energy to maintaining it than either gender I claimed.
I miss or mourn my sense of my identity as something that dignifies me. I miss or mourn my sense of identity as something I have a right rather than an obligation towards. I miss or mourn my ability to honestly love, freely enjoy, both body and identity, instead of holding onto both identity and body as a kind of shield against judgment. I miss or mourn the assurance that I was not wanting.
And I miss, or mourn, the person I was before regret entered my life.