Being homeless and living in a tent in the mountains wasn’t exactly where Addy had expected to be at 31. A month ago, she’d at least been bouncing from a motel to a shelter. But life has a funny sense of humor—especially when you’re a transgender woman—so Addy used her own humor to make the most of it: Alone in her remote shelter on Election Night, “I was just making weird as heck Trump statuses on Facebook,” she says. “‘Shit posting,’ as the kids call it.” Her friends rallied around her wry, Dada-esque absurdities, and even Trump’s widening lead in the electoral college was funny for a while.
Eventually, however, reality settled in. “It hit me, like, ‘oh no, this is serious.’ And I started thinking about my friends. Black, Mexican, Jewish, Muslim, trans, queer . . . they (we) are all fucked.” As hate crimes skyrocketed around the country over the ensuing week, Addy realized that to stay safe as a homeless trans woman, she’d have to take drastic measures and detransition.
“Detransitioning” is a nominally self-explanatory concept that nevertheless has a number of different possible connotations, all of which generally end with the trans person in question returning to a gender presentation that reflects their assigned sex at birth. It’s commonly used in the mainstream to describe trans people who experience regret about going on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or getting gender confirmation surgeries (sometimes referred to as gender reassignment surgeries, or GRS). Those types of cases are relatively uncommon, though—certainly far less widespread than the anxiety trans people across the United States felt in the days following Election Night, during which time many seriously considered detransitioning for their own safety. An informal Twitter poll that concluded November 9 revealed that of 86 respondents, 36% said they’d decided to detransition or were seriously considering it after the election.
For Addy, who isn’t on hormones yet but says she’s “desperately seeking HRT” and wants to move to Chicago to find a clinic where she can more easily get a prescription, detransitioning doesn’t pose medical threats. But it does involve undoing the feminization work she’s performed on herself over the last six months. Gone are the dresses and makeup—here again are the muscle shirts and what Addy calls her “safety beard,” which she hopes will lend enough butchness to keep the cops from targeting her (at least, as much as they would if she were presenting authentically).
Trans people who’ve been on hormones for a long time and/or have undergone GRS are in a much different boat. Amelia Gapin, who made headlines as the first transgender athlete to grace the cover of Women’s Running magazine this summer, told me that in the first 24 hours after the electoral results came in, she found herself pinging back and forth “between terror over what would happen to people like me and just feeling completely deflated and empty. Like there was nothing. Nothing at all.” Amelia, who is 33, has been transitioning since 2013; she underwent GRS earlier this year. Although she’s come so far in her journey, Amelia still considered detransitioning—something she says was partially related to thoughts of self-harm, but “it felt more like self-preservation. Detransition to blend back into the world. If I go back to playing the role of being a straight cisgender white male, all threat is removed. Not just for me, but for my wife. It was an answer to the question ‘How do I survive in a Trump/Pence-led America?’”
The simple, bleak answer is that not everyone will. A suicide note was posted to Instagram on November 9th; written by someone calling herself only Lydyne, the note was brief but chilling. “My parents are going to put me through conversion therapy. But they can’t,” Lydyne wrote. “I am going to kill myself tonight so I would like to thank everybody for making my life seem at least a little better online. I know a lot of people will oppose this, but my life was over the minute trump [sic] was announced president.” Although the note is one of many accounts that may remain unconfirmed, suicide hotlines were jammed following Trump’s victory, with Trans Lifeline reporting more than 500 calls by the evening of the 9th. One of them might have been Lydyne’s. Amelia says she had thoughts like that too. “Those still haven’t gone away entirely.”
Younger trans people feel the same. Tolvo, a genderfluid (“I’m a woman most of the time”) 24-year-old who’s been socially transitioning since she was 23, says that the day after the election was a harrowing and dangerous time. “The results of the election devastated me. I fell into a deep depression and had heavily suicidal urges. I did harm to myself by sitting out in the cold just trying to clear my mind for an hour in only PJs until my dad found me and brought me inside. I also got in a huge fight with my mother where she outed me to my father. It was one of the worst 24-hour periods of my life.” At that point, Tolvo says, “detransitioning was already in my mind. I was afraid of being beaten or killed. At the same time I couldn’t bear going back to living as a man, how it felt like just thinking about it was poison to my body.”
That sentiment was one many trans people echoed to me as I sought out comments for this report. A friend told me “[I t]hought about it for 30 seconds, but I don’t think I’d fare too much better as a severely mentally ill woman . . . In short, no way out for me, gotta fight.” I asked members of Reddit’s r/asktransgender community if they intended to detransition; one replied dryly “I intend to buy a Kalashnikov.” Many told me their intent to transition had only been bolstered by the election, and another friend took the opportunity to come out publicly, saying “I felt it was the most powerful method at my disposal to show my family members and friends who voted for Trump that they DO know someone who would be impacted by his policies.”
Amelia tends to agree. “I would never detransition,” she says, “just for the simple fact that I am a woman and being one means being me. I knew I could never go back to being something else.” But that’s not an attack on people like Addy who believe detransitioning is the difference between life and death—just a warning that hiding can be deadly, too. “I want to just give [other trans people] a firm and emphatic ‘you have to be yourself, no matter what,’ but the reality is, a simple answer like that is dangerous. It’s a dangerous world, but it’s also dangerous to deny who you are and try to be something you’re not. Proof of that is very clear in the (attempted) suicide rate for trans people, especially trans youth. We know what happens when we deny who we are. Be safe, but don’t let anyone take away who you are.”
For what it’s worth, Addy and Amelia seem to be on the same page, even though their stories couldn’t be more different. When I asked Addy what she wanted to say to others who are in the same position as herself, she paused for a while before simply writing “Never stop fighting.” Though she’s scared about having to choose between safety and HRT (“I constantly worry about everything”), Addy doesn’t view this setback as the end. Like Tolvo, who fears for her siblings but wants to help them find safety, Addy and the rest of the trans community who choose to detransition are merely living to fight another day.
This is a war for our humanity, and it’s only just begun.