Detransitioning and Re-transitioning: An Interview with Terry Griffiths
This week we’ve got an interview with Terry Griffiths, a trans man who detransitioned before transitioning again years later. He tells us his story and gives his thoughts trans health care, education, and the support trans kids need.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Terry begins by telling us about when he first socially transitioned at eight years old. He came out to his friends by giving them a letter at the beach saying he wanted to be a boy. “But now I see it more as like, I have always been,” he clarifies. “But yeah, I wrote that and said that my name is Stanley now. And please in future refer to me as boy. And then my friends were chill with that.”
We were interested to hear how he’d chosen that name, and at what point he settled on Terry instead.
“I’d been through a few different male names at that point,” he says. “So I've told my parents, I wanted to be called Jude which I think comes from the TV presenter. And then I dressed up as Fireman Sam and said I wanted to be called Sam. And then I played Moshi Monsters, and there was a monster on it, Stanley, and I said I wanted to be called Stanley.” He was called by various names for a few years, but on his eleventh birthday he got his named changed to Terry by deed poll for his birthday.
So his parents were supportive?
“My parents were really supportive.” He explains how his mum came with him to speak to the Special Educational Needs Coordinator, even though “SENCOs aren’t really meant to help me navigate through all that stuff. She was a really nice person so I would talk to her about it.”
But not everyone was so understanding.
“My teachers were mixed about it, and then most of my peers didn’t really understand. People would ask my stuff like ‘Are you a lesbian?’ ‘Are you a boy or girl?’ and I was really confused at that point.”
Terry then tells us about his first attempt at medical transitioning.
“I had a referral to Tavistock, which was the only gender clinic in the UK at this point. I was trying to get on hormone blockers, because that would have been brilliant.”
Why didn’t he go through with it?
“I said to myself, I’m just gonna pretend that this isn’t a thing anymore. Even though I’d waited two years for this appointment, I got my mum to call them and get my discharged because I’d changed my mind.”
How did that feel? What was the reaction from other people?
“It was frustrating for everyone, especially my parents, because they’d done so much to get me this appointment. Everyone had put in so much effort changing to male pronouns and I had to say ‘No, I want you to change back to female pronouns’ which was confusing to people. And it was also confusing because I still presented in like a stereotypically boyish way, and my name is legally changed at this point. I tried to present in a more feminine way but it just made me uncomfortable. So I presented masculine again, but I said that I was a butch lesbian.”
It was near the end of Year 10 that Terry socially transitioned again.
“I realised I can’t hide this anymore, I can’t pretend that I’m not transgender. So I told my parents that I definitely am transgender. My dad found that easier to process than my mum. He changed to male pronouns right away, but my mum took about a year. Some of my teachers were a lot better than others. I had an art teacher who always misgendered me and got annoyed when they were corrected. And there was this particular PE teacher who was unsupportive and put me in the girls’ group for PE. And my dad had to write a note saying I wasn’t going to do PE if they made me go in the girls’ group and I’d get changed with the boys. But they said I was still physically a girl so I couldn’t. He made me go in front of all the girls and announce I would be getting changed in the toilets alone. It was really uncomfortable and I was really relieved when PE was over. But I was even more confident I am male and I really regretted not going with that before.”
What helped him come to the realisation that he really is trans?
“I was really pleased when I found all these LGBT pages only. Before I felt like I was the only person in the world who felt like that. But then I realised, no, there are so many more people like that. And that was when I really started to feel the regret of not going to that Tavistock appointment. Because it was the fact I felt so alone in it that made me feel like it was just something I was making up.”
What support does he feel he could have benefitted from that he didn’t have?
“I definitely feel like if in junior school I had known about other transgender people then I probably would have gone to that appointment and ignored the people who were bullying me for it. And if I’d had more knowledge about being transgender, I wouldn’t have socially detransitioned. When we had sex education at that age it should have included transgenderism and LGBT stuff in general, because all the focus was on cis straight people, which obviously wasn’t very helpful or relatable to me. SO that made me feel even more like I needed to fit into what everyone else wants.”
And even some of the support that was available for young transgender people wasn’t always as helpful as it could have been.
“I used to read the stories on Mermaids from other trans kids and there was one that stuck with me about Kyle who struggled a lot in high school with bullying. They would point out the hair on his legs in the changing rooms and stuff. But I think that in a way, that didn’t help too much because he was talking about being bullied and that reinforced that I needed to hide. So I feel like having positive stories about it would have helped.”
After realising he really is trans, Terry began to pursue medical transitioning again.
“I went to the GP to be referred and get started again. By the time I got there I was technically too old for it. But they made a compromise that they would assess me anyway, taking into consideration that I had already been seen by Tavistock. And now I’ve been on testosterone for about a year.”
But it took a long time.
“The waiting list didn’t initially seem to bad because they said it was eight months. But then it went up to nine months and then it went to to fourteen months. Then it went up to eighteen months. And I pestered them constantly, multiple times a week to get this appointment. I’ve heard of people waiting five years. Once you get to the assessment, you have about six appointments total. They get to know you and your family and eventually talk more specifically about gender. Because it takes so long most people are way over eighteen by the time they get there, so you get referred to the adult gender clinic. The waiting list was pretty good for me, it was only a few months. I had an online appointment because of Covid and they gave me another diagnosis. Then I had a physical assessment, in person at the clinic. Finally they wrote me a letter to get hormone blockers and testosterone. I think it’s quite uncommon to go on both at the same time though. And now I need to get a blood test every three months. I’ve had my top surgery referral now as well, but I don’t know when that will happen.”
The waiting list was so long he considered buying testosterone online and administering it himself, but he explains to us why he decided to stick with the NHS.
“I’m not really sure it it’s safe. I’d rather wait and make sure I do it properly. Stuff can definitely go wrong with it. It needs to be monitored really. For example, with my testosterone, they increased my dose gradually, but at one point it was putting me at risk of blood clots and they had to lower the dosage again. So yeah, I definitely wanted to have that reassurance that everything was going alright and it was safe. I’m glad I resisted trying to get it off the internet.”
As well as medically transitioning, Terry took another step by getting his gender recognition certificate.
“Over the summer before university I got my gender recognition certificate. It was quite a faff to be honest. It was initially £140 which was way too expensive and I wasn’t sure if I wanted it. But then the government suddenly decided to put it down to £5. So I had to get a report off the gender clinic, a report off my GP, and then I had to fill in a load of paperwork myself. And then I had to go to a solicitor to get a statutory declaration. And then I had to find two years worth of evidence that I was going by my name and get my birth certificate and my deed poll.”
Despite starting young and not yet having surgery, Terry’s transition has already been a lengthy process. He shares his thoughts on what could be improved to make trans health care in the UK better, and reduce the number of people detransitioning.
“They should definitely make more gender clinics and employ more people, so they can see more people faster. It’s not prioritised by the government currently. There also needs to be better education. Gender and gender expression should be taught as part of the curriculum, so people really understand what being transgender is. There also should be better psychological support, to help people figure out if they want to go on hormones or if their problem is something else. Making it easier to get hormone blockers could also help because it gives some breathing room for someone to figure out what they want. If they want to go on hormones afterwards they can, or they can resume their natural puberty.”
Finally, Terry reflects on his experiences. Does he still have any doubts about his identity?
“No, it’s definitely really clear now. And I fell like because of how I went back and forth, it helped me really. It made me realise what kind of situations and presentations I wasn’t comfortable in, and how I am comfortable. And now I’m sure I’m doing the right thing. It makes me happy that I’m changing, like my voice dropped and that’s irreversible, I know that’s never going to go back to how it was. And that’s good.”
A poem from Terry Griffiths
My First and Only Bra Fitting
Is it for you?
My mum is asked.
No, it’s for my daughter.
To that, the fitting room person makes an expression
I read as horrified,
Potentially just because that’s how I’m feeling inside.
After being on the Tavistock waiting list since I was nine,
I have just been offered an appointment at the point I’ve
Decided to live a lie.
Why be happy when you could be normal, right?
Especially in high school.
In high school, I will try to make
The discomfort for my body non-gendered,
Disguising my dysphoria by telling myself
Ah, I just need a thigh gap!
My three-year-old brother gazes at my fabric cupped chesticles and says I look great,
And I tell myself that any girl would feel
Just as uneasy as me,
And that the only reason I’m dreading
This A-cup from becoming B, C, maybe even D,
Breast tissue multiplying like dangerous bacteria
Is that it will be inconvenient.
In a couple of weeks,
I’ll choose to wear that stupid bra
Without a vest to cover it
Getting changed for my first secondary school PE lesson,
And a few people from junior will giggle and whisper about it
Among the crowd that is bitching it smells of B/O!
I will lose my locker key
And the receptionist will have a Freudian slip,
Asking are you a boy or a girl?
Instead of are you in the blue or green zone?
But I will constantly be demanded my gender throughout the whole of high school on purpose.
I will be walking home with my Justin Bieber hair
Next to a couple of lads,
And someone behind will say
One of those boys is a girl.
They will get my attention,
Make me declare it.
My school reports will include a wild pronoun mix,
And everyone will be so confused.
I will be bringing confusion
In Year Nine, I will discover trans Instagram accounts,
Watch Uppercasechase1 on YouTube, yearn to be him,
But still try to find ways around it.
I will convince myself I am only uncomfortable shirtless
Because society says so.
I will be eternally thankful for the mixed PE group,
But still stuck getting changed with bitchy girls, who will call me a lesbo.
I will still go all day without going to the toilet.
In Year Ten, I will start watching Orange is the New Black,
Call myself a dyke and see how it makes me feel.
Then at the end of the year, I will finally unpeel
That I am not okay with my estrogen-infested chest.
I will realise that those who whispered and giggled about me wearing a bra
Have always sensed I have been ignoring myself.
People will call out over the road
The classic are you a boy or a girl?
And I will affirm that I am a boy,
To which they will say oh, okay!
There will be those who will not accept that answer,
And I will still be far away from T,
But brave enough to make speeches about gender
In front of entire year groups.
At the moment, I have no idea about any of that.
Do you wish we didn’t let you do this?
Asks my dad.
We didn’t want you to be depressed.
I would rather be depressed than a weirdo.
My, how things will advance in eight years -
When I will be sitting at my desk writing this
With a beard.