Statistics vary on the numbers of people who regret having surgery to change from male to female or vice versa. We will look at some recent data and at some real-life stories to get a better picture of what happens when someone decides to alter his or her sex.
The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey (page 111)—the most recent available because of the pandemic—claims that 11% of female respondents reverted back to their original sex. Transgender men had a reversion rate of 4%. Those who chose to revert cited a variety of reasons. Five percent of those who detransitioned realized that a gender transition was not what they wanted. Other people cited family pressure and difficulty getting a job as reasons to detransition.
Authors of a 2021 article in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery conducted a systematic review of several databases to determine the rate of regret for those who had undergone surgery. According to the article, “7928 transgender patients who underwent any type of [gender-affirmation surgeries] were included. The pooled prevalence of regret after GAS was 1% (95% CI <1%–2%).” However, the article goes on to state that there was “high subjectivity in the assessment of regret and lack of standardized questionnaires, which highlight the importance of developing validated questionnaires in this population.”
But despite these low numbers and any possible issues with the format of the questionnaire, those who have lived life as a transgender male or female and who have detransitioned claim that the numbers are much higher and that people are afraid to speak out.
For instance, Eva is a woman who lived as a transgender male as a teenager. Though she did not medically transition, she determined—as an adult—that she no longer wanted to live as a man. She states that she felt “misled” by both family members and doctors. According to the article: “Eva, now 24, is part of a controversial cohort known as detransitioners and desisters, transgender people who come to rethink their decision, often having already undergone drug and surgical treatments.”
In October 2020, Eva began a group called Detrans Canada, which she hopes can help people who feel “ostracized” for their decision to detransition. Though this was still a fledgling group at the time of the article’s writing, “Eva noted that a Reddit forum for detransitioners … grew from 3,000 to over 16,000 members in just a few months.”
In a similar story by Medical News, Charlie Evans, a woman in the UK who detransitioned and stopped taking hormone therapy, has said that “hundreds” of people have contacted her since she made it public that she was detransitioning. According to Charlie, “I’m in communication with 19- and 20-year-olds who have had full gender reassignment surgery who wish they hadn’t, and their dysphoria hasn’t been relieved, they don’t feel better for it. They don’t know what their options are now.”
Charlie’s story continues:
The number of young people seeking gender transition is at the highest it has ever been, but little is reported about how many of them regret the decision later, finding they are unhappy with their new gender.
Evans, who made her story public last year, says she is shocked by the number of people who have contacted her saying they have found themselves in a similar position to her….
One 21-year-old woman who reached out to Evans said gender reassignment did not help her gender dysphoria and that she has therefore also detransitioned.
Medical News also tells the story of a woman named Ruby who had undergone testosterone therapy and lived as a male. However, she changed her mind about transitioning to a male before she was scheduled to have surgery to remove her breasts. Ruby states: “I didn’t think any change was going to be enough in the end and I thought it was better to work on changing how I felt about myself, than changing my body. I’ve seen similarities in the way I experience gender dysphoria, in the way I experience other body image issues.”
Regardless of the numbers, regret is real—and the numbers don’t really matter to those affected by a decision that they now regret and who feel misled by either doctors or families.
What they know is that they are hurting.
And as stewards of our brothers and sisters in Christ, it is our job to treat them with empathy, understanding, and compassion. It is our job to help them see the inherent dignity in themselves. And in both love and charity, it is our job to assist them as they seek help in moving forward.
But first, let’s look at how many people identify as transgender.
More Transgender Statistics
The UCLA School of Law states that 0.6% of adults identify as transgender. That equates to about 1.3 million adults.
The Hill recently reported on a 2020 survey that polled more than 15,000 American citizens aged 18 years or older. According to the survey, “Within Generation Z, the youngest adult demographic who are aged between 18 to 23 in 2020 … two percent identified as gay, lesbian, or transgender.”
Transgender identification includes everything from cross-dressing to hormonal treatment to sex reassignment surgery. The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, which claims to be the largest survey of transgender people in the US and its territories, states that of its 27,715 respondents, 78% wished for hormonal treatment. At that time, about 49% had received it.
To understand the bigger picture, let’s explain the medical basis of those who consider themselves transgender.
Gender Dysphoria and Changing Gender
Today the term “gender dysphoria” has become part of our daily parlance. We hear about it on the news, and we see it in movies. But few seem to realize this is a recognized medical illness. According to an article entitled “Gender Dysphoria in Adolescence: Current Perspectives” by Riittakerttu Kaltiala-Heino et al.:
The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) defines gender dysphoria (GD) as a condition in which a person has marked incongruence between the expressed or experienced gender and the biological sex at birth. This causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning.
A man can have surgery to look like a woman, and a woman can have surgery to look like a man, but no one can change his DNA—the essence of his being—to truly become the opposite sex.
In an article entitled “Sex Reassignment Doesn’t Work. Here Is the Evidence,” Ryan T. Anderson, senior research fellow in American principles and public policy, discusses this very fact. He states:
Modern science shows that our sexual organization begins with our DNA and development in the womb, and that sex differences manifest themselves in many bodily systems and organs, all the way down to the molecular level…. Cosmetic surgery and cross-sex hormones can’t change us into the opposite sex. They can affect appearances. They can stunt or damage some outward expressions of our reproductive organization. But they can’t transform it. They can’t turn us from one sex into the other.
As Christians, we are called to witness the fact that, barring a chromosomal abnormality, biological sex is determined at our creation and remains for the duration of life. Yet, society today demands that we believe that gender is fluid—that each person can and should decide one’s gender, and that the world should just conform to our decisions. It does this to the detriment of the people who need help the most.
Despite afflicting a very small percentage of the population, the transgender movement has gained so much momentum that anyone who points out in charity any flaws in the transgender mentality are often considered unfeeling or even “hateful.”
Paul McHugh, MD, has spent over 40 years as the University Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Medical School studying transgender persons. In an article about reassignment surgery, he writes:
Gender dysphoria … belongs in the family of similarly disordered assumptions about the body, such as anorexia nervosa and body dysmorphic disorder. Its treatment should not be directed at the body as with surgery and hormones any more than one treats obesity-fearing anorexic patients with liposuction. The treatment should strive to correct the false, problematic nature of the assumption and to resolve the psychosocial conflicts provoking it.
Most young boys and girls who come seeking sex-reassignment … come with psychosocial issues—conflicts over the prospects, expectations, and roles that they sense are attached to their given sex—and presume that sex-reassignment will ease or resolve them. The grim fact is that most of these youngsters do not find therapists willing to assess and guide them in ways that permit them to work out their conflicts and correct their assumptions. Rather, they and their families find only ‘gender counselors’ who encourage them in their sexual misassumptions.
Transgender Regret and Lost Years
We all strive to be happy—to feel comfortable in our own skin and to feel at peace with who we are. Indeed, in order to flourish as human beings, we must be comfortable with who we are. When we are not happy, we take steps to find out what has gone wrong. If you have ever hated something about yourself, you know that it’s a terrible feeling—one you would give almost anything to get rid of. So you work hard to make changes, to get back to a healthy state of mind or body. Sometimes you have to ask for help to get there.
But what if you feel so out of place in your own body that you believe the only way to attain happiness is to alter and maim that body? These feelings are what lead transgender men and women to the decision to transition.
But does changing gender appearance truly help the well-being of those who are confused or who feel like they don’t belong in their own bodies?
In 2020, Ryan Anderson penned an article discussing a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry that examined the satisfaction of people after they transitioned to the opposite sex. The study stated: “In this first total population study of transgender individuals with a gender incongruence diagnosis, the longitudinal association between gender-affirming surgery and reduced likelihood of mental health treatment lends support to the decision to provide gender-affirming surgeries to transgender individuals who seek them.”
However, after publication, the journal then issued a correction. According to Anderson:
The world’s largest dataset on patients who have undergone sex-reassignment procedures reveals that these procedures do not bring mental health benefits. But that’s not what the authors originally claimed. Or what the media touted.
In October 2019, the American Journal of Psychiatry published a paper titled, “Reduction in Mental Health Treatment Utilization Among Transgender Individuals After Gender-Affirming Surgeries: A Total Population Study.” As the title suggests, the paper claimed that after having had sex-reassignment surgeries, a patient was less likely to need mental health treatment.
Well, over the weekend, the editors of the journal and the authors of the paper issued a correction. In the words of the authors, “the results demonstrated no advantage of surgery in relation to subsequent mood or anxiety disorder-related health care.”
But it’s actually worse than that. The original results already demonstrated no benefits to hormonal transition. That part didn’t need a correction.
So, the bottom line: The largest dataset on sex-reassignment procedures—both hormonal and surgical—reveals that such procedures do not bring the promised mental health benefits [emphasis added].
A man named Walter Heyer can attest to that fact. Walter transitioned to the opposite sex and later felt regret. Heyer suffered both sexual and emotional abuse as a child, and after many years of agony resulting from this abuse, he began to think that all his problems would go away if he were to become a woman. So, to the horror of his wife and children, he underwent surgery and became “Laura.”
He lived as Laura for eight years, but never felt the sense of peace he thought he would feel after transitioning. He came to realize that transitioning into someone else did not fix what truly ailed him. Heyer now states:
Had I not been misled by media stories of sex change “success” and by medical practitioners who said transitioning was the answer to my problems, I wouldn’t have suffered as I have. Genetics can’t be changed. Feelings, however, can and do change. Underlying issues often drive the desire to escape one’s life into another, and they need to be addressed before taking the radical step of transition.
Walter sought therapy and was able to work through the problems that caused him to feel he needed to live as a woman. He detransitioned and has since married again. He and his wife now work to help others whose lives have been negatively affected by transitioning. He writes:
You will hear the media say, “Regret is rare.” But they are not reading my inbox, which is full of messages from transgender individuals who want the life and body back that was taken from them by cross-sex hormones, surgery and living under a new identity. After de-transitioning, I know the truth: Hormones and surgery may alter appearances, but nothing changes the immutable fact of your sex.
Compassion and the Church
As Catholics, we understand that the body God gifted us at our creation was intentional and that God makes no mistakes. Furthermore, our body houses our soul and is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we must treat it with respect and reverence, never causing harm to it.
The National Catholic Bioethics Center explains this beautifully:
A person’s sex is manifested by the body in accordance with how the person has been created, and so it cannot be in conflict with any truer or deeper sexual identity contrary to that bodily sex. This is a foundational anthropological point that no medical association or political ideology can overturn. The psychological experience of a disconnect with one’s bodily sex is not to be minimized; it calls for appropriate psychotherapy, but it can in no way be reflective of an “incorrect” sex.
Given this understanding of what it means to be a human person—a body-soul unity whose innate sexual identity is reflected in the person’s biology—it should be clear that no surgical, hormonal, or other intervention directed toward the body is capable of altering that innate sexual identity.
The NCBC goes on to explain that studies have shown that sex reassignment surgeries do not necessarily resolve the feelings of anxiety that people suffer from and that such surgeries also lead to a significant increase in both suicide attempts and in suicide.
In another report, Paul McHugh, MD, discusses the fact that adults who have had sex reassignment surgery have a higher risk of experiencing mental health problems than those in the general population. He cites a study that found that individuals who had had this surgery were about five times more likely than the control group to attempt suicide and almost 20 times more likely to succeed.
As intelligent people, we cannot deny what medical science teaches about the immutability of sex. As Catholics, we cannot deny God’s plan for us as His children. And as human beings, we cannot deny the fact that people are hurting.
We must approach this sensitive issue with love and compassion, for to do anything else would be a disservice to our fellow man. No one specific fix will heal all of those who are suffering, and we must enlist the help of ethical mental health professionals to help people facing gender dysphoria.
Though there may seem like little we can do as individuals, especially if we don’t personally know anyone with these struggles, there is one thing we can all do. We can and must teach the truth and not be party to the promulgation of lies that claims that people can change their sex free of repercussions.
Gender is not fluid. Regret after changing your body is real. And those who are hurting must be given an outlet to heal that does not entail the maiming of their bodies.