Elle Palmer: Why I Transitioned and Detransitioned

Elle Palmer
A still from Elle Palmer's YouTube video.

Elle Palmer explains her journey of transition and detransition. Uploaded as a YouTube video and transcribed here for Uncommon Ground by Donovan Cleckley.

This text, transcribed by Donovan Cleckley, comes from Palmer’s YouTube video “Why I Transitioned and Detransitioned,” first published on January 8, 2020, in which Palmer, a 20-year-old female, who desisted and detransitioned, discusses her lived experiences both transitioning and detransitioning.

Hello! My name is Elle. I am a female-to-male-to-female detransitioner.

I have been very active in the detrans community on Reddit, and I decided to make a video talking about detransitioning, because I have been thinking about it a lot for the past few weeks. And I just kind of wanted to let out some of my feelings about it and talk about what I’ve noticed, mostly talking about changes that have happened since I’ve been off hormones but also I could go into why I transitioned and how I’m coping now that I am detransitioning.

So, I guess I’ll start with: I came out as trans when I was fourteen, after I had just turned fifteen. I came out to my family. I went through a lot of old notes today where I was talking about why I thought I was trans and most of the reasons were because I wanted to look like a guy, I wanted to be perceived as a guy, and I had just gone through a very traumatic sexual experience with an older man, on the internet, thankfully not in real life. But it was still extremely traumatic for me and affected my confidence, my sense of self-worth.

I didn’t want people to perceive me as a woman anymore, because the reason that whole thing happened is because I was a female existing on the internet. Obviously, I wanted to change my gender after that happened. So, I got very active in the trans communities on Reddit, on Twitter, and spent most of my time online, didn’t do anything in real life at all, really; I didn’t have any friends, I didn’t go to school, at that point. So, the only people I really talked to on a daily basis were the people I talked to online. And that definitely didn’t help. That didn’t. I was basically consumed by trans media online—trans content online.

About a year later, I started testosterone, and I was sixteen. I had been going to a therapist who tried to tell me that she didn’t want me to transition. And when she told me that, I was like: Fuck you. I’m not ever coming back here. And then I went to a therapist from the LGBT center, who told me that she was ready to get me on hormones, from day one, like excited and ready to just help me transition.

And so, six months go by with her. Also, she was just an awful therapist; every session that we had together, she would basically just talk about her life the entire time and tell me stories from her life. She was like sixty, and she would just tell me about when she was growing up as a lesbian, and I would just be like: Okay, you’re my therapist, but okay.

After that, six months was up, I got on testosterone, and I was so excited for all the changes; I wanted my voice to drop, I wanted broad shoulders, I wanted facial hair, I wanted to be seen as a boy. And all of that happened for me almost immediately after starting testosterone at age sixteen. I’m guessing that’s probably why my voice dropped so much is because I was still a teenager. And why it hasn’t changed that much since going off testosterone is probably because that was a permanent change for me, being that I was so young when I started hormones. And I will probably have to deal with that for the rest of my life. So, I got all the changes I wanted.

Within the first six months, I was totally passing as a guy, probably even within the first month, because my voice dropped immediately. Within the first week, I felt a lump in my throat, and I remember how excited I was that I wasn’t going to have to be perceived as female anymore, solely because of that voice drop, which is ironic, now. Because it’s the biggest thing that I am insecure about, as a female, as a woman, now, because I just totally, one hundred percent, come off as a trans woman whenever I open my mouth. I know this for a fact. So, I got all the changes I wanted very soon after starting hormones.

The first year that I was on, I still looked very young, like a twelve-year-old boy, fat face, and really just gross rat ‘stache and sideburns that were super long—and, uh, just gross. As I made it passed the first year and then on to year two, my face started to thin out; I started to look more like a teenage boy, like older, like seventeen to eighteen, which was how old I was at the time. I gained a lot of weight in that second year, though, because I was basically just eating whatever I wanted; I was eating a lot of pasta every day, basically. And so, I gained a lot of weight and that made me really kind of insecure.

But I was also happy, because I was living as a man for the first time, totally passing as a man, all the time, never a doubt in anyone’s mind that I was male. And I had changed my name at that point, and I had changed my gender marker at that point, so I was able to live completely socially as male. Then I got a girlfriend and so everything was totally at the top of my life. I got everything I wanted, basically, out of transitioning. And I didn’t even have to really think about being trans anymore; it wasn’t even a thing. My girlfriend was totally great, and we had great intimacy, and there was no problem with my being trans at all.

Going into it from year two to three is when I started to question my gender identity, again. When I was eighteen to age nineteen, I was going through a lot of changes in my life; I graduated high school, broke up with my girlfriend, got really sad about the relationship. And: What was I going to do with my life? I didn’t know. I hadn’t gotten into any colleges; I was really confused as to where I was going next. And I also really didn’t like my body; I was really fat and I never had top surgery, so I was thinking about when that was going to happen.

Over that summer, I did a lot of travelling and thought a lot about myself. And then I started losing weight, because I started exercising, and I went vegan and felt really good about myself, actually, surprisingly, probably the best I ever felt about myself once I started losing weight. Losing weight actually impacted by self-confidence more than any other aspect of my time transitioning. So, that really made me feel kind of weird; I was like: How do I feel so good just from losing about fifty pounds. And, just from exercising, just from eating healthy, just from looking in the mirror and being like: Wow, I actually like my body. And that was the first time in my life where I had ever felt like that.

Also, immediately after I started testosterone, I stopped having bottom dysphoria, which should have been a red flag to me, that I didn’t need to transition at all. Because I had very intense bottom dysphoria before testosterone, but then, once I started testosterone, it was like “Snap” and gone—“Don’t even worry about that anymore.” That had never been a problem for me, throughout my entire time on testosterone; I had never felt dysphoric about not having a penis, anymore, which had been the biggest factor of me wanting to transition in the first place.

Once I started losing weight, and got to the point where I had lost fifty pounds and I was starting to express myself the way I wanted to with my clothing choices, that was the point where I was thinking: Am I actually trans? Am I genderfluid? Am I nonbinary? Or am I something else? Do I want to start being feminine? Because, after I lost weight, I started going out shopping and actually enjoying that for the first time. Once I was shopping, of course, I was always wearing my binder, because I never got top surgery, so I would put on a shirt, and I would be like: What if I had worn a bra with this? And I would be like: Why would I do that? I have never wanted to do that. My entire time identifying as trans, I had never been comfortable with my boobs at all or wanted to see them.

But, then, I went to the LGBT center, and I started mingling with everyone there, and I met a couple of AFAB nonbinary people or AFAB transmasculine people, who would wear bras, and just totally be comfortable with that. And I was like: Wow, I wish I could do that. And then I’d be like: Why can’t I? I have boobs. And then I would just get into this weird headspace where I would be like: Don’t think about that anymore. Don’t even entertain that thought, because that’s not something that you can do. So, I went through a long period, probably from the beginning of 2019 until the end of summer, where I was questioning what I was doing with my transition—if I still wanted to transition.

I never got far enough actually in my brain to get to the point where I was like: Why am I still transitioning? But I would have thoughts where I would get lost, and I would be like: What if I had never transitioned? What if I had never gone on testosterone? What if I had just learned to love myself, and I probably could’ve gotten there, blah, blah, blah, because I want to. And then I’d think: Oh, what if I could just go out and be a cis woman? What if I could wear a bra and a skirt and a dress or whatever and just have people see me as a woman? And then I’m like: But I can’t have that anymore. I can’t have that. I made that decision. I can’t have that. I would just tell myself: You fucked that up, a long time ago, so, why are you thinking about that now? So, I would have thoughts like that, and I would just talk myself out of it, and never got to the point where I actually realized that I could detransition, because I just never even thought about that—I never entertained that possibility.

Over the fall of 2018 and then spring 2019, I was doing college applications, and then I worked over the summer, and I got into my state school where I currently go. The week that I moved out of my house and my hometown to go live three hours away to go to state school, that first week that I was there, I moved into the gender-inclusive floor of my dorm, meaning that it’s basically all LGBT people and gender-nonconforming people. The roommate assignments aren’t based on gender; they’re just based on random—so, I have two roommates, one guy and one girl. That wasn’t an issue for me, which I was very thankful for, because I knew that, when I was choosing my dorm assignment, I was like: I am not living with a dude. Even though, at that point, I was still a trans guy, and I was totally passing and living as a man, I was like: There is no way in Hell I’m living with a dude. Not doing it. So, I’m glad that my past self knew that enough to make that decision for me.

Once I got to school, moved away, and started feeling kind of free of the burden of living in my hometown, I started to realize that I can express myself however I want, and I don’t have to worry about people that know me. I just get to exist here, basically. And, that first week, something that had been happening for about a year was my hair started falling out, in clumps, like big chunks of hair coming out when I would take a shower, like huge hairballs this big would form. I had been growing my hair out for a year and a half at the beginning of the semester. And I was sick of it. I took a shower one morning, saw how much hair came out of my head, and I was like: I am done with this. I am not going to let any more of my hair fall out, because my hair is my source of confidence. So, I was like: Fuck this. If I have to go off hormones, I’ll go off hormones. I just don’t want my hair to fall out anymore.

So, I googled “trans guys who go off testosterone because of hair loss,” and I found a few things, but the first thing that caught my eye was the detransitioning subreddit, where somebody posted their story, which was “Why I Decided to Detransition.” And I looked at that, and I was like: Okay… And so I read it, and I read through the whole thing, and I sat there, and I read it, and I saw myself as this person writing this, and I was like: Oh my God. I just felt all of this wash over me and be like: This is what I have to do. I never let myself think that before, but it all just clicked together the second I read that first post. And I was like: This is it. This is what I have to do: Stop hormones, let my body do its thing. I understand, now, that I can be a cis woman again. I haven’t gone too far; I haven’t past the point of no return. This can be a reality for me; I can live as a woman again. When I let myself think that, oh my God, it was just such a big relief for me, knowing that I wasn’t trapped living this inauthentic life where nobody saw me the way I saw myself.

That’s the way I’ve described it to anyone who’s asked me why; the whole time I was transitioning, I saw myself as a woman. And that never went away, no matter how much I started passing, no matter how much facial hair I was growing, no matter how my voice sounded. I looked in the mirror and I was happy with myself, and testosterone made me happy with myself, and I was okay with all the changes that were happening, but the way that I interacted with society and the way that I perceived myself and my role in society was different than how everyone else perceived me. It’s really hard to explain living inauthentically as a trans person, because I just know I was never trans.

I transitioned, but I shouldn’t have. I lived as trans and I lived as a man, and I got both of those experiences, and I’m very grateful for my time living as a man and seeing what that was like. But I shouldn’t have done that. I never should have been able to do that; I never should have even entertained that possibility, because I never really felt like I was a man, or that I should have been.

But it’s impossible to say whether someone should or should not transition; I just think there are always other things you can do first to help yourself before you try transitioning—and then, if nothing else helps you, when you’re older. My thing is that I was sixteen when I started testosterone, and, if I had been forced to wait, I thought that being trans was making me want to kill myself. But if I had been going to a good therapist, if I had been going to school, if I had had friends and had meaningful relationships with people outside of the internet, I know that I would have been able to reconcile my female identity with myself the way that I was. I was just living so disconnected from my body and so disconnected from who I really was.

All I want to do with putting myself out there and telling this story is I just want to be a voice for someone who isn’t comfortable. And I just want people who have gone through this to relate and to show that we are not alone, and there’s going to be a lot of us—I know that. I want to be kind of a voice of hope, in a way, that this isn’t the end of the world. I was on testosterone for three years, and now I’ve been off for four-and-a-half months. I always find insecurities about myself. And that was what I was doing before transitioning, but to be doing that after transition, and deciding to detransition. It’s just like I’m back to square one, and I don’t want to feel like that.

And so, I just want everyone who watches this to know that, if you’re going through this, you just have to have hope, that there are more important things to be worried about. It’s not the be-all, end-all. Like, my voice—I’m probably going to try to do voice training, but if this is the way my voice sounds for the rest of my life, I made that decision, and I have to deal with that. I have to live with that. There’s nothing else that I can do. I decided that I was male, and that I would never change my mind. And then I changed my mind. And that’s life. That’s part of life. Just coming to terms with who we are, what we are, and being at peace with ourselves—that’s the message I want to send out to you.

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