In 2015, twelve-year-old Patrick Mitchell told his mother that he thought he was actually a girl.
Two years later, Patrick has decided to “detransition” and live openly as male again. Patrick’s case has become a media sensation, with people using it to make generalizations about detransition, and transgender people in general.
But detransition is an incredibly complex issue, and the realities of detransitioning can’t be reduced to a simple sound bite.
As a twelve-year-old, Patrick was extremely unhappy with himself and could barely stand to look in the mirror because he “didn’t know who the person staring back at me was.” Since he was a young child, he had enjoyed wearing women’s clothing and had asked his mother if he could “turn into a girl” when he got older. When his mother mentioned the possibility he might be transgender, he smiled “for the first time in months.” And when Patrick faced legal barriers to transitioning (in Australia, going on hormones and puberty blockers requires waiting until the person is 16, and court approval) he became depressed and suicidal. Worried for her child’s mental health, his mother Alison gave Patrick her own estrogen medication.
Eventually, Patrick was able to take estrogen, grow out his hair, and be referred to by female pronouns at school. But in the process, he started wondering if he was actually a boy. At the beginning of the 2017 school year, when teachers started calling him a girl, Patrick let his mom know that he didn’t think he was actually transgender.
Many, like Australian pediatrician John Whitehall, as using this case as evidence that many people who are “diagnosed” as transgender aren’t trans at all. In his response to Patrick’s story, Whitehall went so far as to say that “the whole thing [medical treatment for transgender people] is experimental,” and not in line with the scientific method. But a look into the world of detransition reveals a far more complex story.
“Detransitioning” is when a trans man goes back to living openly as a woman, or a trans woman goes back to living openly as a man. Although detransition cases garner an abundance of media attention, these cases are relatively rare. Although “detransition sites” estimate that as many as 20% of trans people go on to detransition, a 50-year study in Sweden found that only 2.2 percent of people who medically transitioned reported regretting it afterward. Compared to the number of people who regret a typical cosmetic surgery (17% for a nose job), this number is vanishingly small.
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