I am familiar with these narratives, and here are a couple of thoughts:
First, I’d simply say that I don’t think either of these stories actually relates much to the research that props up the “desistance myth,” much of which focused on effeminate boys who “desisted” to become gay men. In particular, given they were much older when they underwent transition treatments, it certainly doesn’t speak to allowing gender nonconforming kids to explore gender or trans-insistent kids to socially transition (which doesn’t impact their bodies at all). I would say, however, that I think these women are victims of the way the desistance myth reflects a lot of limited thinking about gender identities, both past and present.
Both of their narratives actually reinforce a long-standing problem of gatekeeping for trans-affirmative care. Carey Callahan mentions this, but I think misses the point a bit. For a long time, trans people were told by their doctors that they couldn’t transition unless they could “pass” as the gender they were transitioning their body to match. I think Carey and Cari were both victims of this lingering notion that if they felt uncomfortable as their assigned gender, the only choice was to transition to the opposite extreme.
Both discuss feeling disconnected from their femininity, but then felt they were never affirmed for being non-conforming. Cari, in particular, speaks to feeling like she was only offered one extreme or the other. I agree that this is problematic; indeed, the “desistance myth” itself grew out of researchers treating all gender non-conforming kids as if they were trans, as opposed to just those who were insistent, persistent, and consistent about actually being a different gender. Because of the pressures society places on women, I think they may be particularly vulnerable to feeling disconnected from notions of womanhood and this false dichotomy that can follow.
As such, I think these two stories both point to the important reality that a person’s discomfort with their gender (particularly a woman) might not be gender dysphoria. That’s why I do think therapy is important for all people struggling with gender-related issues to help identify what might be responsible for that discomfort and to ensure that the treatment actually matches the symptoms. I don’t think this means we need to resort back to more gatekeeping for people who are trans; I think it just means that medicine can sometimes be as much an art as a science and we haven’t perfected diagnosing gender dysphoria. Given transition regret is documented in no more than 4 percent of cases, we have gotten pretty good at it with the research we have. These 4 percent do not negate the successes of the other 96 percent.
I actually have no problem respecting both women’s self-identity that they are not transgender, and probably never were. Likewise, I think it’s significant that they use the term “detransitioned,” as oppose to “ex-trans,” because the latter would mirror “ex-gay” and seem to describe someone who was trans is now not. I don’t hear this claim in their narratives.
Lastly, I don’t think either narrative actually contradicts the reality of trans identities as other people experience them. The goal should always be wellness, which means resolving gender dysphoria and/or unpacking any other psychological baggage that could be contributing to a person’s negative health consequences. It’s possible that for some people, their journey won’t end after a simple transition from one extreme of gender to the other, and it could be that they journey down some wrong paths before they find the best solution. I don’t want to force anyone into a box; I want them to be well in whatever sense of self they think fits them best.
In the videos from these women that I’ve listened to, I haven’t sensed a strong sense of “regret” so much as a concern that their experiences are being erased. I have no desire to erase them, but I’m just not convinced that their exceptional experiences contradict otherwise affirming transgender identities.
(If you have more questions about detransition, I would definitely check out Zinnia Jones’ extensive look at the many narratives out there and how few actually fit what anti-trans conservatives want to make of them.)