A 61-year-old who claimed a sex change from female to male 16 years ago was her ”greatest mistake” has begun transitioning back to a woman.
Debbie Karemer struggling with her sexual identity for years and asked for gender reassignment aged 44 – becoming Lee Harries.
Shockingly, she claims she began private testosterone treatment a DAY later and had her breasts removed after three months – starting an 11-year journey to become a ‘man’.
But after years of counselling she finally discovered she wasn’t transgender – but was instead suffering with horrific complex PTSD, after years of sexual abuse.
It was too late for Debbie, and now she feels like a woman trapped in “an approximation of a male body”.
She’s now back to identifying as Debbie – dressing in women’s clothing – and is on the NHS waiting list for an operation to reverse the re-assignment.
Six weeks ago she started taking oestrogen and is now being seen by specialists at an NHS gender identity clinic but claimed they are not too sure how to help.
Debbie stopped taking testosterone in February this year and has had to wait nine months for it to completely leave her system.
She said she should never have been allowed to transition and is seeking support from The Detransition Advocacy Network on the next steps.
She’s speaking out on the “taboo” subject of surgery regret – gender reassignment reversal – to encourage others to seek talking therapy before surgery.
Debbie, from Hemel Hempstead, said: “I look in the mirror through the eyes of that terrified 15-year-old girl and see this funny little man staring back at me.
“I’m a woman, I’m still Debbie.
“But now I’ve got no hair. I’ve got a beard and I’ve had all my body mutilated.
“I wish I could turn back the clock and just have the foresight of what the nightmare the next 15 years would be.
“I’m a woman I’m not meant to be a bloke. I’m trapped.
“It’s a complete mess – where do you even start? I just regret the decision.
“There is this myth that when an individual ‘changes gender’ they go into hospital one gender and come out ‘all done’.
“That isn’t the case, there are years of surgeries and hormones for the rest of your life.
“I know things are a lot better than they were when I had my surgeries, but there is a big lack of talking therapies.
“I should have been helped.
“I’m sure a lot of transgender men feel the same too but I’m the only one honest and brave one to come out and say it.”
Debbie said she was sexually abused by her estranged father – no deceased – when she was a teenager.
She struggled with her sexual identity for years, even developing objectum sexuality – sexual attraction to objects like a white Fender Stratocaster and a fishing rod.
“Looking back it was just a way of coping with the trauma,” she said.
Debbie then married her one and only long-term friend Alan in December 1997.
The self loathing became so extreme she almost cut off her breasts with a pair of kitchen scissors.
She first heard of transgender and gender reassignment surgery in 2002 while watching an episode of chat show programme Kilroy in his living room.
“The programme was introduced as a ‘special’ where transgender men and women were on,” she said.
“At the time it was a state of mind no body really spoke about.
“I remember seeing them on the TV and thinking ‘that’s me!’
“I suppose they seemed confident in themselves and seemed accepted.
“That’s all I wanted.
“I had spent years feeling I couldn’t live in my own body and hating every single moment.
“Suddenly I saw the answer on Kilroy. It felt like the only answer. It felt like the only way forward.”
Later that week Debbie researched transitioning online and discovered a local F2M support group in Camden, London.
There she was given the number of a leading private psychiatrist specialising in gender identity disorder.
Later that week she booked an appointment with a private psychiatrist and was given a two-week course of testosterone to start the very next day, she said.
Just three months later Debbie – who went by the name Lee – underwent a private double bi-lateral mastectomy.
Having lived off benefits since living his factory job, Alan paid for the initial consultation and double bilateral mastectomy costing £3,500.
In November 2004 Debbie had her uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes removed, and a Metoidioplasty – the beginning of surgery to create a penis.
In 2005 she had prosthetic testicles created and in 2008 she had her vagina removed, and a few months later surgeons created a penis using fat and skin from his arm.
In May 2010 excess breast tissue was removed and in April 2013, more surgery was performed on her testicles.
All but the first op – the mastectomy – was performed by private hospitals paid by the NHS, she said.
She said she had some counselling sessions before one of the ops – but that the funding had already been agreed and it was a ‘box ticking exercise’.
“At the time it felt like the right thing to do and I was really glad it was happening,” she said.
“I remember when I started waking up in the morning and seeing stubble on my face, thinking ‘this is the start of a new life’ and I’m no longer this traumatised girl.
“I wanted to start this life as a new man so I enlisted myself on a computer course.”
With hindsight, the first step towards his realisation was when she approached the police in 2012, to report the abuse at the hands of her father.
Prompted by the Jimmy Saville scandal, she gave statements but her father died from emphysema in 2013, before she could be charged, Lee said.
Lee had sought the help of a private counsellor in 2009.
She thought her feelings about her body might stem from transitioning “too late” but after four years, in 2013 – after her final op – she realised her “mistake”.
“She started to mention the words ‘childhood trauma’ and it fell into place,” she said.
“It became apparent that transitioning was a big mistake.
“The session where I realised this was so bad that I had a complete break down and panic attack because I realised it was a huge mistake.
“It should never have happened. It was a big wake up call.
“I was traumatised by what had happened in my life and it was misdiagnosed as being transgender.
“I was vulnerable, I just though that if I wasn’t a girl my life would be different, I would be different, I would be accepted and that would be it.
“I thought that becoming a man would make me worthy and I would become a different person.
“Looking back now I realise that it was simply a feeling that if I didn’t have a vagina, I couldn’t be raped.
“But I’m not a man, I am an approximation of a man.
“I feel completely ‘mutilated’.
“I completely missed out on being a woman. I denied my body the chance to go through the menopause.
“I wish I could wake up as Debbie and realise that the last 15 years were just as bad a nightmare.”
Debbie primarily blames her father for what has happened to her – but then the private psychiatrist who started off her journey.
“What should have happened differently? Having a different upbringing,” she said.
“But I think that the psychiatrist should have picked up on the fact that I was abused.
“I should have had help somewhere along the line.”
“I can’t fathom the huge increase in gender reassignment surgery.
“There is a huge lack of talking therapies, and that’s a problem.
“I know a couple of trans men from when I was going through it and I know they were doing it for the same reasons as me.
“Trans-men and women come out of hospital saying everything is great – but that’s not always the case.
“If they are doing it for the right reasons then that’s fair.
“But nobody is honest when it goes wrong.
“On the inside I’m just not me.
“I’m a different creature on the outside.
“Inside I am still that young girl calling out but I miss looking in the mirror and seeing my feminine self.
“The thing I dream and long to do is to go out for a meal.
“But most of all I just miss the old Debbie.”