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Gianna Israel Gender Library

Reversing Transition

There are a number of transgender persons who after deciding to permanently transition, live in role for a short period of time, and then reverse back to their original gender. Reversing transition is a subject that people prefer to avoid discussing. However, it bears scrutiny. Particularly for people who are planning a transition, as well as those who are considering a return to their original gender. This article probes common reasons behind gender reversals.

The action of reversing a transition is similar to purging, but considerably more far-reaching as it often effects most facets of a persons life. Purging, or throwing a way ones clothes and disavowing ones identity as a crossdresser, is common among crossdressers who have not come to terms with their need to crossdress. They most frequently do so because of guilt, fear and insecurity. In reversing a gender transition, the individual may do so for a variety of reasons, and must actually undo steps and go through a re-orientation process so as to once again feel comfortable in their old gender identity. Many who do so find that things ever really become as they had been before transition.

Transgenderists, those who live part or full-time in role as a member of the opposite gender, and transsexuals, those who permanently seek a new gender and genital reassignment, are both types of individuals who may consider reversing the steps of a permanent gender transition. Those that do often have to counter the effects of hormone usage, new physical developments, voice training, and a restructured social system. After announcing intentions to change, and then reverse, they must also prepare themselves for the possibility others will view them as unstable. Once again, they may find their social support systems significantly altered, particularly within employment and relationships.

The most common reason individuals reverse a transition is economic. This is true with any group, although there is a tendency for young adults to give up on transition once the harsh realities of cost and discrimination set in. Generally what happens, is the individual starts out with sincere hopes of finding a job in their new identity, but quickly finds themselves unemployable and unacceptable to society. Without experience surviving as an adult, the pressure becomes too much and they reverse their transition.

For any age group finding employment can be extremely difficult for the newly transitioned person. So difficult in fact a transitioning person should anticipate being unemployed for two to three times longer than non-transgendered persons. This is because a new gendered person is required to learn the unspoken customs of what is expected from a male or female employee and coworker. Lack of knowledge of how men and women interact professionally can seriously hamper job-seeking efforts. Add to gender issues the traditional difficulties persons have finding work, and the challenge of landing a job can at times be almost impossible. Traditional difficulties include lack of work experience, lack of job hunting skills, lack of job available on the market.

There are also other factors which make securing employment difficult. For the person making a transition, gaining a new position or transitioning on the job also requires a sophistication in dressing skills or presentation. Most importantly, the person needs an ability to negotiate their needs without alienating others. These factors represent why it is so important an individual have experiencing socializing as well as transacting business in their new gender role before carrying gender issues into the workplace. I encourage my counseling clients to ask questions about these processes. How does your new wardrobe compare with other same gendered persons of similar position? How do your physical mannerisms and gestures appear to others? Is your appearance consistent? What do you intend to do about the bathroom issue? How will you handle it if a co-worker or customer harasses you?

Transgender persons would be well-served in observing how other transgender men and women maintain employment in their location. This can vary greatly depending on location. Generally speaking, if there is a wide variety of cultural diversity in an area, people are going to be more accepting of you. Cultural diversity can include sexual orientation, race, and so forth. I also strongly advise all transgender persons in the course of transition, to seek gender specialized counseling prior to seeking work or making an on-the-job transition. Support groups are also an excellent source of information, as you can hear about the success and difficulties others have faced. The more information and resources a person has available, the higher the chances they will secure employment and successfully integrate their needs into the workplace without affecting work performance.

Age is another major reason behind why individuals often reverse a transition. I have found this to be true for young persons (ages 16 - 30) and for maturing persons (50+). With younger persons, economics play a large role in this. However, of equal importance is the fact that young persons lack experience coping with a serious and dangerous world. Todays young person is typically under extreme survival pressure. This can be particularly true if a person is disowned by their immediate family. As an new adult, it may often take up to a decade for people to develop the communication skills, education and life experiences needed to successfully navigate relationships and other social structures. Consequently, this explains why the preponderance of transitioning persons are typically over age 30. Once an persons life is in place as an adult, their unresolved gender issues come to the surface because they have no other major unresolved developmental challenges.

For persons over age 50. The underlying reason for reversing a transition typically comes as a result of inflexibility. Simply stated, after living in one gender for over 50 years, it is easier to let things rest. Some wonder why they should give up all the security they have built during the course of a lifetime. Others, more gender dysphoric, find they are psychologically forced to pursue transition. Finally, all too often, maturing persons who are not familiar with the gender community, will believe they are too old to transition. Within my practice I have worked with a variety of people within the 50 - 70 age group. The majority of these individuals have transitioned successfully. They found that what they have lost in youth was compensated in a lifetime of experiences. These experiences frequently helped them adjust quicker to transition, and gave them a new lease on life.

Whatever a persons reasons may be for reversing a transition, this is an important step. It is no less important than a person who decides to begin a transition. I strongly encourage people who are considering a reversal to contact a gender specialist, even for short term consultation, so as to gain information about the reversal process. If they do not do so, they may once again find themselves longing to transition--particularly if they reversed a transition due to short-term difficulties. Finally, it is important to understand that reversing a transition is also a personal decision. While considering this option, it is best to not listen to the advise of anyone who is pushy, demanding, condescending or portrays the reversal as an act of betrayal of the gender community.


GENDER ARTICLES. This educational column authored by Gianna E. Israel is regularly featured on the 3rd Monday of each month in Tg-Forum, the Internet's most up-to-date, weekly Transgender Magazine <http://www.tgforum.com/>. Several weeks later each article is forwarded to Usenet and AOL <Keyword TCF>. Each column has been written to inspire contemplation and dialogue. Columns may be reprinted in any medium insofar as each article, its introduction, and the author's contact information remains unaltered.

GIANNA E. ISRAEL provides nationwide telephone consultation, individual & relationship counseling, evaluations and referrals. She is principal author of the Transgender Care (Temple University / in press 1997). She also writes Transgender Tapestry's "Ask Gianna" column; is an AEGIS board member and HBIGDA member.She can be contacted at (415) 558-8058, at P.O. Box 424447 San Francisco, CA 94142, or via e-mail at Gianna@counselsuite.com.


Copyright © 2001 by Diane Wilson. All rights reserved.