Democrat Danica Roem defeated incumbent Del. Robert G. Marshall (R) on November 7 and became Virginia’s first openly transgender elected official.
Roem’s fundraising numbers more than doubled Marshall’s, in part due to nationwide support from pro-LGBT groups, including the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). Roem’s top donor, who individually contributed $180,000 (almost a quarter of the total raised), was Chris Abele, a major contributor to liberal causes and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) advocacy groups.
The political power of the LGBTQ rainbow carried the day in electing Roem. If the candidate had been Dan Roem, few across the nation would have noticed his candidacy. This election result shows that the LGBTQ rainbow and the HRC are strong forces in the Democratic Party today. Roem was not the only trans person ushered into office on Tuesday. Minneapolis elected two openly transgender people to city council, Andrea Jenkins and Phillipe Cunningham.
Trans candidates can take advantage of the identity politics in play today. Social justice warrior appeal and the ability to gather national financial support makes it challenging for contenders in local races to compete. Candidates who don’t embody some “special identity” appear unappealingly old-fashioned and socially out of touch.
What Makes a Transgender Person?
The LGBTQ lobby is waving the rainbow victory flag and the U.S. media celebrates. But no one celebrates when a transgender person realizes that the trans life is not for him. No courage awards are given to regretters who want to leave their medically induced gender and live again as their genetically coded birth sex, a process called detransitioning or retransitioning. It typically is arduous, both emotionally and physically. Surgeries and years of taking cross-gender hormones have physical consequences that can’t be reversed.
In the ten years I have been interviewing and working with transgender people who regret their transitions, I have found, to my amazement, one common thread in the stories of all. Each has some form of unresolved childhood pain that contributed to the onset of gender dysphoria. Most are deeply depressed.
It was not some pre-natal hormone wash in the womb that affected their gender identity. It was deep emotional pain. One hundred percent of the time, people who write to me wanting to undo the gender change can identify the unresolved life-changing trauma that triggered the desire to change genders.
Roem also faced a traumatic childhood event that could result in deep pain and a sense of loss for anyone. Dan Roem was born September 30, 1984. When little Dan was only three years old, his father, John Paul Roem, took his own life. The loss of one’s father to suicide is deeply painful and could contribute to a fragile sense of gender identity.
The boy’s maternal grandfather, Anthony Oliveto, acted as a father figure and introduced the child to his favorite sport, baseball. But a grandfather, no matter how great, cannot be expected to make up for losing one’s father.
Young Roem played on Little League baseball teams, but the other boys teased him for being awkward and effeminate. He began privately identifying as female and trying on female hair accessories in secret. In his teens, Roem escaped to the basement and practiced guitar during stormy conflicts between his mother and her boyfriend. Rohm began his physical transition in 2012, then three years later legally changed his name to Danica.
Identifying as a trans woman can serve as an escape or reprieve for unresolved childhood pain. Whether this is the case for Roem, only he can know. But as people wishing to undo gender change report to me, and as evidenced in my own life as a trans woman, the gender change doesn’t always fix what’s broken and the desire to be the opposite gender doesn’t always last. I’ve heard from people who question their gender change as soon as three weeks after surgery up to 30 years later.
Detransitioners Tell Their Stories
Those who detransition generally don’t inform their doctors, so they aren’t counted in any reversal statistics. As I know personally from living as a trans woman for eight years and from interacting with detransitioners who contact me for advice, people who decide to undo a gender change are reluctant to share their stories privately or publicly. They don’t want people to find out. The emotional risk is too high.
I understand and respect their need for privacy and the freedom to navigate the detransition process in their own way and in their own time. But I also know that people who are considering detransition feel isolated. For someone questioning, reading stories of those who have traveled this path can be life-changing.
Over the years, a few courageous souls have overcome their fears and shared their experiences publicly out of a desire to help others who are amid the struggle. The reasons for retransitioning are complex and varied. Each person’s story deserves to be heard with compassion and given respect. Here are four people who have bravely offered their experience for others to consider.
Rene Jax had gender-change surgery from male-to-female (MTF) in 1980. He broke barriers when he became the first openly trans police officer in San Francisco. Now this history-maker has written a book, “Don’t Get On the Plane: Why a Sex Change Will Ruin Your Life,” in which he uses his experience to show the dangerous outcomes that result when government and medicine use political correctness instead of science as a guide.
He writes on the book jacket: “By embracing and supporting cross sex living and all the medications and surgeries that doctors are offering us, transsexuals are condemning themselves to a life of being a social pariah.”
Joel Nowak’s story was featured in The Sydney Morning Herald. Nowak went to Mexico to buy female hormones to start MTF transition when he was 32, and had the surgery three years later, becoming “Jennifer.” At first, life as a woman was exhilarating, but by the age of 40, Jennifer was having long bouts of depression and feeling isolated.
Step by little step, Nowak says he left Jennifer behind and returned to life as Joel. He was astonished at the lack of resources for retransitioning. Through his website at retransition.org, he shares his experience and lessons to help other post-operative transgender people who are, as he says, “desperate for an exit strategy.”
Elan Anthony, now age 42, told his story of transition and detransition for The Guardian this September. He transitioned to female at age 19 and detransitioned 20 years later. His story is like many others who swallow the idea “hook, line and sinker” that one can change genders. He now thinks he was rushed into transitioning by well-intentioned but ultimately misguided people. It took a long time and a lot of therapy to conclude that transitioning from male to female was, for him, a mistake.
This past September, The Economist 1843 Magazine told the story of Max Robinson’s detransition in a well-nuanced article about treating transgender children. Max was born female, but after years of feeling like a misfit in his sex, she came out as transgender to her parents around age 15.
Max saw a therapist, and against the therapist’s advice insisted that she had to have hormones and surgery. She started testosterone shortly before she turned 17, and had a mastectomy the following year. It was a happy time for Max. But six months after she began successfully passing as a male, she realized, deep down, that she wasn’t sure any more. When Max was 19, just more than three years after she came out as transgender, she realized she’d made a mistake and began detransitioning.
We Need More Public and Professional Discourse
With the topic of detransition off-limits for so long, it’s encouraging to see people speaking up because that helps others in similar circumstances. It’s also encouraging to see websites offering detransition information and safe forums, such as sexchangeregret.com (my website), thirdwaytrans.com, and retransition.org.
What is lacking, however, is professional help with medical, psychological, and legal questions. The medical profession needs to develop protocols to educate doctors and other health professionals in best practices of care for this neglected group.
The newly elected trans people can bask in celebrating their historic election victories, but my hope is, as they advocate for trans rights in their respective districts, that they will not forget the ones who aren’t happy with gender change and who also need an advocate.