Two 'Regretters' Discuss the Damage
In this 2010 Swedish documentary
The sad litany of transition regret has become familiar to a much larger share of the English-speaking world than it was just five or six years ago, but it has yet to break through into the mainstream.
It’s all here in this 2010 film: internalized homophobia. The stress of “passing.” The lies they told to the people they loved, the lies they told themselves, the idea of the self. It was always there, waiting to be seen and heard, but not in English.
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Of all the nations now retreating from “affirmative” models of “gender identity,” Sweden had the earliest turn because a frank public conversation about detransition began more than a decade ago, before gender identitarians had gained the political, cultural, and corporate silencing power they enjoy across the western world today.
Ångrarna, or “Regretters,” a 2010 film by Marcus Lindeen, presents Orlando Fagin and Mikael Johansson, two men who chose sex change surgery at very different times in their lives, for very different reasons.
They wanted one kind of attention. They wanted to avoid another kind of attention. Wigs and shaving and clothing were for blending in, or standing out, according to the desires of each man.
Both of them were convinced that “sex change” was real. Both are still grappling with the complications they created in their lives because “sex change” is a lie.
Both have questions about the other man’s penis, one being “reconstructed” and the other awaiting reconstruction surgery, because literal human sex change is impossible, and the penis is never the same.
“My new dick is bigger,” Fagin says, grinning. “I guess I got an added bonus!” Lindeen’s final shot of the film is Johansson silently being carted into the hospital elevator for a surgery that will leave him with a permanent erection. “I guess I’ll have to wear baggy pants,” he jokes.
Male sexuality does not reside in the penis, as is apparent in both men, who were misled into transgenderism by thinking it was.
During the one-hour conversation, Fagin and Johansson examine the images and artifacts of their lives as “women” and describe the dream they were chasing when they “adopted the female role.”
Johansson lied to his psychologist and regretted his vaginoplasty right away: “what have I done?”
Fagin took much longer to realize “being a woman isn’t me.” First, he had to go through the romantic tragedy of an eleven-year marriage to a man while keeping his secret.
Because the two men are the only voices in this conversation, there is no room for viewers to complain about remarks that would otherwise be instantly labeled transphobic.
No such framing appeared in contemporary media coverage, though to be fair, this was something of an art house film. However, it is notable that words “detransition” and “detransitioner” are absent in the film as well as the scant press coverage. Fagin and Johansson lacked a word for what they are, and so did everyone else.
For example, this review at the Washington City Paper dismisses the obvious implications of their experiences as “the tragic indecisiveness of a couple of transgender people.”
The reviewer praises the glorious “complexity of gender” something something represented in the scene where Fagin, clearly a gay man, proposes that he is something other than male or female:
“I don’t know who I am,” Fagin says.
“Sounds complicated,” Johansson replies.
“No, it isn’t,” Fagin says. “Believe me.”
Belief is the underlying complication. Fagin believed he was not a real man, believed he could be a real woman, led a man to believe he was a real woman, believed he would never get caught in the lie, or that it would all work out somehow, and now prefers to believe he was never really male to begin with.
Johansson believed what he was told about what it means to be a man. He believed that sex change would make him more acceptable to women. Irrationality and disorder reigned over his life instead of being addressed some other, healthier way, such as therapy, or a personal trainer, because Johansson believed he could change sex.
Lindeen was prepared for criticism at the time, but noted there was none.
“There were people in the audience who said they came to the screening with their guards up, feeling a potential threat that this film was going to be the one to put fuel on the fire and make things harder for them,” said Lindeen. “But from my experience with the people who have seen it, there has been a much better reaction.”
Thus, before the culture war battle lines were drawn over detransitioners, evidence for the existence of detransition (or “transition regret”) existed on film, and then later in a stage play based on it.
Sweden began as the most “trans-affirming” society on the planet. A year after Regretters came out, Sweden published the best long-term study so far on the efficacy of “gender affirmation” in adults. It found that suicidality had increased eighteenfold in the “trans” population. The Trans Train, a 2019 television documentary on young people detransitioning, changed the public conversation in Sweden. Since then, transition rates have plummeted and the pediatric transition regimen has been abandoned.
Regretters is an historic film but not easy to find. It is unavailable in the US on Netflix, for example, and although you can watch it right here at YouTube with English subtitles, the “Community Guidelines” have labeled it “adult content,” presumably because the two men fondly discuss a photo of Fagin holding his newly-installed sillicone breasts.
Regretters is also available at the internet archive, so we have embedded it here.