Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Doctor of Philosophy


Gender, Sexuality & Women’s Studies


Knabe, Susan


This dissertation research draws on the lived experience of people who choose to de/retransition in order to complicate simplistic understandings of de/retransition as ‘sex change’ (or postoperative) regret. Specifically, I interpret narratives of de/retransition beyond the dominant framing of ‘sex change’ regret to analyze the ways in which these narratives produce ruptures in normative discourses that constrain trans genders and temporalities of gender transition. My research opens up space for interpreting processes of de/retransition as more complex, nuanced, and productive than they are commonly understood. The dissertation is organized in such a way that each chapter deals with narratives that become progressively personal. As such, the first chapter is an analysis of mainstream media representations of de/retransition, with commentary on topics such as desistance rates, rapid-onset gender dysphoria, and autism. The second chapter rereads Leslie Feinberg’s fictional (or semi-autobiographical?) Stone Butch Blues as a narrative of de/retransition and considers what this narrative adds to contemporary debates in trans studies, specifically with regard to the trans/cis binary and trans temporalities. The third chapter focuses on Brian Belovitch’s memoir, Trans Figured: My Journey From Boy to Girl to Woman to Man, where the topics of trauma, passing, and queer utopia arise. The fourth and final chapter is based on interviews that I have conducted with three participants. In the conclusion to this dissertation I argue that we need to do away with notions of authenticity and regret to an understanding of all (trans) gender subjectivity as relationally constituted and subject to change.

Summary for Lay Audience

The visibility of trans people and issues has increased since high-profile celebrities such as Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox have graced the covers of magazines such as Vanity Fair and Time. Along with changes in attitudes in the general public, the medical establishment has moved toward treating trans individuals as autonomous subjects who have the right to access gender affirming treatment with less interference or gatekeeping than was enacted in the past. Best practices for treating and supporting gender dysphoria have shifted from a gatekeeping model of care, where individuals would have to take many steps, or jump through "hoops", to demonstrate their readiness for medical intervention, to the gender affirmative model, where (adult) individuals presenting with symptoms of gender dysphoria receive support that affirms their gender and treats them as capable of making choices regarding gender transition, often based on an informed consent model of care. I argue that the recent (2015 and on) increase in concern around individuals who de/retransition is linked to this shift in approaches to care. The topic of de/retransition serves as a larger spectre of the harms that may occur with a medical system that has too little oversight. In addition to arguing against the moral panic that has arisen from the possibility that people may de/retransition, I also demonstrate an understanding of this process beyond the framing of de/retransition as simply 'regret'. I argue for the understanding of trans subjectivity, like any gendered subjectivity, as being relational and contextual. If we understand gender identity as being constituted relationally and as impacted by social and cultural context, we can take seriously the reasons beyond simple regret, or misdiagnosis, that individuals express when narrating their choices to discontinue living as trans.