An interview with Ritchie Herron for Detrans Awareness Day

A perspective from a detransitioner in the civil service

‘Detransitioners’ are people who have taken social or medical steps to change their gender but who later decide they feel more comfortable with their birth sex. Detransitioners are diverse and have varied and complex histories to tell, and we must respect how each one tells their own story and how they would like to be supported, including at work. We are platforming one SEEN member today to tell his own story today, to mark Detransition Awareness Day 2023.

If you want to read more about detransition and detransitioners’ stories, here are some resources:

A chat with Ritchie Herron

For Detrans awareness day this year, SEEN Steering Group member Jimmy spoke to one of our SEEN members, Ritchie Herron, about transitioning and detransitioning and how this affected him in the workplace.

NB: Ritchie has asked us to flag up a trigger warning on this article for colleagues, specifically transgender colleagues, that may find discussion of ‘detransition’ upsetting. Ritchie has advised that the last thing he wants to do is to upset or hurt anyone.

Jimmy: For Detrans Awareness Day this year (12th March) one of our members wanted to talk about his lived experience as a Civil Servant and how his transition and subsequent detransition affected his working life. His name is Ritchie Herron. Ritchie, can you tell us briefly about your history with the Civil Service?

Ritchie: Yes, thanks for having me along to share my story. I started in the Civil Service in 2006 a few months after my 19th birthday. I was fresh faced and just out of college! I began working in a contact centre, an AO role. I was in that role for a long time, 14 years! I got a promotion to EO in 2020 and moved to HR in a business support role, then last year – April 2022 – I got a promotion to HEO, to my current role in potential risks posed by new and emerging technologies. I’m already looking at and working towards my next promotion, I’m really driven now and just going for it!

Jimmy: So working for the Civil Service for almost 20 years, has it overall been a positive experience for you?

Ritchie: My department has been an extremely supportive employer in a number of areas. Funnily enough, just today I was diagnosed with autism, which is something I suspected I had for a long time. I started enquiring about getting an assessment around 2019 I think, but due to lockdown this was significantly delayed. But I think since I started, the managers I’ve had and the staff I’ve worked with, even though they didn’t know I was autistic – and neither did I – they’ve always been incredibly sympathetic and understanding with regards to my clear social awkwardness in certain situations, and known it's not just because I’ve been deliberately difficult! I mean seriously – sometimes I would have absolutely no boundaries in work and would just say exactly what was on my mind! I wouldn’t be rude but, I remember one time talking to a customer and he said ‘Oh I’ve been married for 21 years,’ and I said ‘Really? Do you regret being married for 21 years?’ No filter!

But then after a while my mental health started really deteriorating and I started having meltdowns in work, and these meltdowns started to get more and more frequent. I had a really good manager though who was very understanding, even though dealing with me could be difficult. And then I transitioned…

I changed my name from Richard to Abby, initially just a social transition but then aged about 26 I started medical transition – oestrogen and so on. I’m not going to lie – I was an absolute chaotic mess for about 4 years. My behaviour at work got worse, as all the previous issues and awkward social situations I had I now blamed on ‘transphobia’. Seriously – if anyone disagreed with me at work or tried to address my poor behaviours I argued that they were being transphobic. In my defence though I was going through a lot – I had a lot of medical appointments to do with my transition. My direct managers didn’t know how to manage me but their senior manager was really good and used to ask me serious probing questions like ‘do you think you’ve not got a lot of control in your personal life, but you do here, and so that’s leading you to act out at work’, but he used to say it a very measured and sensitive way, so he was really good with me… and then I went through the full medical transition including surgery, and so I had a lot of time off both for the surgery and the after-care… but I realise now a lot of the issues I were going through were actually linked to other things – general poor mental health, OCD, and as I now know – autism. But when I was going through the treatment it gave me a feeling of belonging, that this is the right answer for me for this reason.

So I was calmer in work, I wasn’t kicking off all the time anymore. Because of the severity of the surgery and the medication it just… dulled everything. I had no energy. I wasn’t argumentative because I just had no energy. People would say to me ‘you seem so much better’ but I wasn’t, I just seemed that way because I couldn’t act out like I did before because my body had been through so much, been so heavily taxed.

Jimmy: So you’d been in the Civil Service about… 6 or so years before you started to medically transition?

Ritchie: Medically transition, I think 8 years.

Jimmy: 8 years… so without putting words into your mouth, it seems like when you did transition at least you felt on the whole that your senior management were supportive, even though you were going through a lot?

Ritchie: That was later down the line. Initially nobody knew what to do with me. Then they brought in… I’ll just say a staff network that operates across government. They brought in this staff network to consult with on how to handle me, and to be honest this network just told my seniors that I can pretty much do what I want (!). And don’t get me wrong – there was a good policy around transgender staff but… in practice where I worked, HR had no actual experience of implementing this, but also there were aspects of the policy I didn’t want to follow. So I do feel like I’d put them in a difficult position because I’d put them in a brand new position they’d never been in before.

Jimmy: So no-one in your area had ever transitioned at work before? Is that what you mean?

Ritchie: No, that’s not it – the reason is I effectively went against the established policy – as I said above. So at this time the local policy was that if you wanted to transition, you privately spoke to your management and HR. Then what you’d do is stage a fake resignation – just tell your colleagues you are quitting. Then you’d be moved to a new area, which you’d start under your new name and new identity, effectively so as to not ‘out’ you as transgender to your colleagues. But I refused to do that, I decided what I wanted to do and I just told everyone – all my colleagues, and I didn’t want to transfer somewhere else I wanted to stay where I was.

Jimmy: So they had a process in place to protect the privacy of staff who were transitioning… but you just preferred to be out there, publicly!

Ritchie: Yeah, I didn’t want to be secretive, at the time I felt I was living my true self and I wanted to be proud of that, to my colleagues and friends in work.

Jimmy: I would be interested to know, from your perspective, as I appreciate that there are staff and throughout the wider Civil Service, who will transition and will be happy with their transition and consider it has been the best option to live their life to the fullest. So with that in mind I’d be interested in how your experience in work went when you were identifying as transgender. Was it difficult for you? Do you think you experienced genuine harassment or discrimination from your colleagues?

Ritchie: My immediate colleagues on the whole were great, but you know how it is. There was a lot of hearsay and gossip at first when I transitioned. But also… At first I didn’t really know how to dress or style myself. I had short hair and stubble… I didn’t look like a woman at all! And that drew a lot of attention to the point where people would literally come to – to what I would call a floorplate safari to come and see me! So they’d pretend they had a reason to be there, and they’d usually come in twos or threes, with a tour guide who would point me out, and they’d walk past, get slower and just clearly stop and stare at me. And on the rare occasions when I’d have to go to other floors or areas, I’d see people pointing and laughing at me.

A friend of mine at the time told me I was just being paranoid, but we were walking together somewhere in work one time, and there was this lass around my age, stood there looking really disgusted and just looking at me, and she called over a colleague and just started aggressively pointing and gesturing towards me. And then my friend just said ‘Jesus, I’m so sorry for telling you that you were just being paranoid’. So it was quite bad at the beginning. But then I found this group, this staff network I mentioned before – and they empowered me, but in a really bad way. And that’s when I started saying everything was transphobic, even when it clearly wasn’t. So because of that it made people really reserved and scared around me.

Jimmy: So even though you may have been given bad advice or encouraged in a bad way by this group, it actually seems that outside of your immediate team it wasn’t a very friendly or welcoming environment for you?

Ritchie: It wasn’t, no. I did get quite stressed out by some of the things that were going on and how I was being treated and stared at. I had a lot of medical appointments at this time, which was great, as I could use them then as an escape. I just wanted to be out of there.

Jimmy: What’s really interesting to me here when you talk about your journey, is that at first you said you wanted to stay where you were and be proud and happy, but then… it seems like that changed and you weren’t happy in work anymore.

Ritchie: Yeah… being happy and proud didn’t last very long to be honest. I think I was quite naïve. And then – it was actually lockdown when I felt I flourished in work! My progression has all happened since lockdown – 2 promotions! And I think that was due to being outside of the work environment. Being at home it was much easier for me to focus and actually just get on with work. I thrived away from the office – absolutely thrived, and I know a lot of people found lockdown really difficult, but for me it was perfect.

But yeah at the start – especially the first year and a half, I actually found work diabolically difficult. Just for some additional background, I actually was a really late bloomer – I don’t think puberty really hit in for me until I was about 17, and I honestly feel like when I started on the anti-androgen treatment I was still developing. So then after that first year and a half or so at least then… my body hair had stopped growing and then I started learning how to dress more 'like a woman', I grew my hair out. And I think my face is quite androgynous anyway, like if you didn’t know as long as I dress and present the right way you could easily believe I was female. So effectively I’m saying I started to ‘pass’. So after 2 years or so of treatment, I could see an old colleague in work and they wouldn’t recognise me, and I also had voice coaching so I could ‘do the voice’ too, and I’d be like ‘Oh hi Paddy, how are you today’ and they’d be like ‘who the f*** are you!?’… oh sorry you probably can’t put that in! So what I’m saying is eventually I was able to blend in. But then, people would come and see me for another reason, I’d be out of control, when I’d got through the initial phase and was in the ‘everything is transphobic’ stage I’d be back to kicking off, I’d be really explosive, and people would come see me to see me explode.

Jimmy: What I’d like to ask you now Ritchie, since we’re talking to you specifically for Detrans Awareness Day, is at what point you decided that transition was not right for you, and you wanted to detransition. Actually, before you answer that – you mentioned earlier it was when working from home during lockdown that you really started to flourish, was it during this period that you realised you wanted to detransition?

Ritchie: It was, but at that point, I was already disconnected from the trans community, because at this point I had become what they call a ‘trans-medicalist’, which is when you think someone is only trans when they medically transition – take hormones and so-on, which is funny in a way as years earlier one of the arguments I’d had with the cross government staff network I was involved in was that I wanted to support non-binary staff, but at that time they didn’t want to do that. Oh, by the way, I actually want it on record that I was removed from that network when I detransitioned.

So I was getting on well, working from home, then in March 2021, someone in work put up a post about Detrans Awareness Day. It was actually a gay man who did this. But I kicked off, massively, I said this is hate speech – I complained about him, I got the union involved. I didn’t actually read about what Detrans Awareness Day was or what it was about – I just saw the words and thought this has to be some antagonistic move to hurt trans people.

But even though I was doing and saying this, I already had doubts about my transition, mainly fuelled by the surgery and its aftereffects. I mean – I had major surgery in 2018. You can probably guess what the surgery was, without me going into graphic details. And I mean I had doubts, not just because of the issues and health problems I had directly as a result of the surgery. I started to realise that a lot of the issues I had that led me to transition were actually down to other factors – OCD, spending too much time in online communities, bullying, and what I suspected was autism. There were a lot of issues that made transition seem like an appealing option to me, and I realised this too late. So I’d seen that Detrans Awareness Day post, and I was very very reactive, but then about 6 months later I just thought, I need to look into this properly. I’m going to disprove all this ‘TERFy’ nonsense, and I can do this because I’m smart… because I’m the smartest trans person alive (laughs).

So I started reading up on Detrans Awareness Day and detransitioners in general. And you know that South Park meme that’s based on the ‘aaand it’s gone’ and it says ‘I’m gonna read into this 'TERF' stuff… aaand I’m one of them’. Literally – that was me! I was reading all these stories from detransitioners and I realised – there was some deep truth in this. I started reading up a lot on the male side – on the stories of male detransitioners. I started reading stories of people around my age, who have similar thoughts and feelings, and it really resonated with me.

Then in late 2021 I thought I need to do more than just read other people’s stories, I need to talk to people that have been through this. I couldn’t talk about these feelings in trans spaces, because the other trans people would get very defensive, but it meant it felt like there was no one I could talk to, no one, until I found the Detrans Community. Talking to them made me realise there was another option. I’d thought before that to be a man you had to be a manly man and that wasn’t me, I’m not a manly man, I’m a bit camp, I’m attracted to men…. I wasn’t super feminine but I definitely wasn’t masculine. Before I didn’t want to be seen as male because I didn’t want to be seen as a ‘manly man’. I really started unpacking where my gender dysphoria came from, and I thought ‘maybe I don’t have to live this way anymore’. So I cut my hair and instantly I thought ‘yeah I’m just not doing this anymore’ and that was it.

Jimmy: Thanks Ritchie, so before we finish today I’d like to ask – from the point you decided to detransition or to ‘stop living this way’ as you said, what was it like then from a work perspective? How supportive was work when you detransitioned?

Ritchie: So as this was happening – I’d actually had an interview ‘as Abby’ and was successful and got my HEO role. So when I got the email from my new management I just said ‘By the way I’m changing my name to Ritchie’, and they’ve just been awesome about the whole situation. But they did scramble a bit as they said ‘Oh we’ve been telling people we’ve got two new fabulous women coming in’ so I just said ‘it’s fine you’re still getting two new fabulous people!’ So my new management and actually my old managers and team were all great too, but what happened in the LGBT group my department was another story.

So this wasn’t the cross-government network I mentioned earlier, this was the departmental LGBT network and I was actually vice chair. What I did was – because I know how the Detrans issue had affected me before – I made a very very tactical decision to say ‘I’m stepping down, I’ve got a few health issues’. And that wasn’t a lie – I have quite a few health issues from surgery and hormones as I think I mentioned earlier. And it’s not that I don’t still support my trans colleagues because I do, I just don’t have the energy and I don’t feel as strongly about the overall cause anymore. And I didn’t make a big deal when I changed my name – I even had a few people contact me and say ‘I don’t know if you know this Abby but your name’s showing as Ritchie and you might want to get that fixed’ and I’d just say ‘nah, Ritchie’s a great name isn’t it?’ and just not make a big deal out of it. But then I told one of the network leads and – I don’t want to say their name but – they said ‘well you’ve lost my support, we don’t need this anti-trans rhetoric’, just because I was talking about my detransition.

But remember that guy I told you about earlier that I complained about for sharing that Detrans Awareness Day post? I don’t know what happened to him but I did write to his management and HR then and said ‘I want to withdraw all complaints I’ve made about him, I’m deeply regretful, I’m sorry I put him through this process’. I did all I could to clear his name. He’s not a vindictive guy, he’s so softly spoken, he’s the nicest man you’ll ever meet, just a nice caring individual. But I know I’d seen that one word ‘Detrans’ and I flipped. So that’s why I stepped down from the LGBT network too, I didn’t want to upset my trans colleagues because I know how I’d felt. So now I just stay away from those networks and any LGBT stuff at work, I just don’t get involved, don’t comment. Well OK, maybe I sometimes make comments about putting pronouns in signatures because I strongly feel that that shouldn’t be mandated.

Jimmy: OK so Ritchie I wanted to ask you something quickly again before we finish, because this actually raises an interesting point to me what you’ve just said. I’m a gay man and I’ve spoken quite a bit about how I don’t feel welcome in the LGBT networks across the Civil Service now, and how they don’t want me to have a voice…. So I know you’re saying that you felt you needed to remove yourself from that environment so as not to upset your other LGBTQ colleagues, because what you’re saying would not be welcome in these networks, so aren’t you effectively being excluded by them?

Ritchie: Yeah, of course. But, you know my opinions are my opinions and if you had told me three years ago I would have called myself a transphobic bigot! I guess I recognise though that I can jump to extremes because I’ve got an extremely obsessive nature. But, you know, I’m glad I detransitioned. It’s probably the only obsession I’ve had that hasn’t destroyed me in some way. I’ve had a lot of growth and development from this.

Jimmy: So finally, do you think there’s anything your department or the wider Civil Service can do to support detransitioners more? And I appreciate that’s quite a big question if you can’t answer it!

Ritchie: It’s worth noting here, I think, that detransitioners are still covered under the protected characteristic of gender reassignment in the Equality Act. If you look at the wording it includes ‘anyone who has undergone a process to change their gender…’. So then in internal policy around transition and gender reassignment, you should still be allowed the time off for medical appointments. Fun fact – it’s still the same policy I’m covered under when I need this. And that’s all been confirmed by work. So from a policy side I think we’re relatively good, although I can imagine there may be confusion and uncertainty from some managers and HR staff. So policy side its fine, but support side…. Despite the fact that like I said my managers have been great… it’s still a long way to go.

Jimmy: People in work, HR and D&I teams need to listen to people like you and other detransitioners I think.

Ritchie: Yeah they do but…. They are not coming from a malicious place. They are trying to protect what they see as a vulnerable minority and they sometimes see me and those like me as ‘bad’ because of what we’re saying and doing. But we’re not bad, and the world isn’t black and white. There’s shades of grey – people need to start thinking of the nuance.

Jimmy: Thanks Ritchie, you’ve shared a lot with us today but also I’d like to say it’s no secret that you’ve become something of a public figure, and have spoken out and done a number of interviews where you try to raise awareness of detransitioners and their stories. I know a lot of the wider issues that you’ve not talked about today as we’ve mainly focused on work, you have talked about in great detail elsewhere. So are there any particular interviews you’d like to signpost so people can find out more about your experience?

Ritchie: [Blair] White, and Viva Frei – they were really in depth.

Jimmy: Thanks Ritchie I think it’s really important for people to hear some of your wider experiences and in more detail, and I – I feel like I know so much about you! Not from when we’ve talked before but from all the interviews with you I’ve watched and listened to, and from reading your substack! But thanks Ritchie, thanks for your time today and we’re really glad to have given you this opportunity to discuss your lived experience specifically with your colleagues across the Civil Service. Is there any final message you’d like to leave us with!

Ritchie: Just to say, thanks for having me, and JK Rowling is based! 1

[Cover image: “more foggy road” by Sarah Olmstead, source, licence]