An Open Letter to Julia Serano from One of the Detransitioned People You Claim to “Support”
My name is Crash and I’m a detransitioned woman. I blog about how and why I came to transition and then detransition at crashchaoscats.wordpress.com and at crashchaoscats.tumblr.com. I’ve been talking to, hanging out and organizing with other detransitioned women for around three years now. In that time I have watched and helped our community emerge. I’m going to stick to talking mostly about detransitioned women and not touch on detransitioned men because I can’t speak to their experience.
Look, you say you want the trans community to support detransitioned people but you just wrote an article that distorts and misrepresent our reality. It doesn’t help me or other detransitioned people when you spread misinformation about us. You’re not the first trans activist to do so and I don’t expect you to be the last. I’ve been reading the articles trans activists write about detransition for years now and I’ve yet to see an accurate portrayal of our issues and experience. During that same time, we’ve also been writing about detransitioning as we’ve lived it. There are a lot more of us and a lot more of our writing available than ever before. But it seems as though many trans people who write about detransition are either unaware of what we’ve been saying or have been studiously ignoring us. Either way it’s incredibly frustrating to see the same inaccuracies about us repeated over and over again in the media. You claim to want to support detransitioned people. Well, if you really want to support us, listen to what we’re saying and take it seriously.
We transitioned for a lot of different reasons. Many of us transitioned due to trauma. We lived through event(s) terrible enough that it damaged our sense of self and so we created a new self to cope and survive. That self was our trans or male or genderqueer identity. We transitioned because we got raped, because we’re incest survivors, because we faced violence for being lesbians, because we were locked up in psych wards, because one of our parents killed themselves. We also live in a patriarchy that hates women and attacks female bodies constantly. Whatever trauma we lived through typically had something to do with being a woman. Sometimes bad things happened to us just for being female in a culture where women are violated every day and sometimes bad things happened because we’re the wrong kind of woman, maybe too butch or “masculine” or loud or unemotional. One way or another, we didn’t fit in with what other people and our culture expected women to be. Sometimes our bodies themselves were deemed not female enough and treated as if they were freakish. That happened to me because I had traits like an adam’s apple, body hair, an angular face and so on, leading many to speculate on what sex I was. Eventually, other people’s judgments got inside my head and infected how I saw myself until I started questioning whether I was really female too.
Trauma and misogyny led us to dissociate from being female and then to transition. Transitioning was itself further trauma. First others attacked and wounded our bodies and distorted our self-perceptions and then we hurt ourselves in response. Transitioning was an act of self-destruction, enabled by medical professionals who were supposedly “helping” us to be our “true selves.” It is truly horrifying to come out of that dissociated state and realize that not only were you suppressing and trying to destroy yourself but that other people were there encouraging and assisting you in doing so. Many of us came to see the “care” we received as unethical or a form of medical abuse. Many of us believe that the present “trans affirmative care” and “informed consent” models are misleading, irresponsible and do not truly ensure that people make realistic, fully informed choices.
Some people detransition after a few months but most women I know were transitioned for years before they decided to detransition. I took testosterone for a total of four years and most of the detransitioned women I know were on hormones for at least a year. I know some women who lived as trans men for a decade or more before detransitioning. Testosterone in transition-level doses has profound impacts on a female body right away, including on the cellular level. For example, this study discusses mitochondrial damage and damage to the leukocytes in FTMs who have been taking T for 12 weeks. Many of the effects of testosterone are permanent and some of these irreversible effects, such as a deeper voice and in some cases facial hair, can manifest after only a few months of taking it. In many cases, the changes we made to our bodies felt right at the time but as we began to work through why we transitioned we came to feel very differently about them. The ways transitioning changed our bodies came to symbolize extreme self-denial rather than the self-affirmation we felt earlier.
We have to learn to live in a modified body and this usually involves grieving. All of us who took t, whether for a few months or for years, all of us have altered voices. There is a very deep, painful symbolism behind losing your original voice and having no way of getting it back. For many of us it is not the physical changes themselves that are troubling but what they represent. I am not disturbed by changes like my facial hair or my deeper voice in and of themselves but they remind me constantly of what I did to myself, how I rejected and betrayed myself, how deeply I took other people’s hatred into my own body. My body is now marked forever by that hatred and that can be a lot to carry. Many of us have struggled with feeling like we have ruined ourselves.
Detransitioning is as much about facing trauma as it is about figuring out how to live in an altered body. Transitioning was all about trying to get away from what hurt us and detransitioning is finally facing that and overcoming it. It’s about making connections between how other people have treated us and how we’ve seen ourselves and our bodies. It’s about remembering terrible, scary, upsetting memories and integrating them. It’s about making sense of what happened, giving up old explanations that no longer work and coming up with new ones that fit our experience better. In the process we often reject much of what we believed when we were trans because it no longer suits us or seems true. It’s about understanding how the society around us has influenced us and shaped how we thought, felt and came to view ourselves. It’s not just figuring out how specific people hurt us but how our culture has restricted and attacked us and all women. It’s about connecting both with other women who transitioned and then stopped and to women in general. Feeling like we couldn’t be women, being cut off from other women is one of our deepest wounds and healing it means finally finding common ground and community with other women.
Detransitioning is learning to accept and be fully present in your body. It is about finding different ways to cope with and heal from dysphoria. Transitioning is not the only viable treatment for dysphoria, however severely it may manifest. We have learned this through experience and often with great difficulty and sacrifice. And many of us found that transitioning made our dysphoria worse instead of improving it. Many of us found some relief through changing our bodies but found even greater peace and happiness coming to accept our bodies as female. I was very satisfied with the physical changes caused by testosterone. They never felt wrong. But changing my body did not get at my root problems, it only obscured them further. My actual problems were trauma and hating myself for being a woman and a lesbian. Since I started dealing with my trauma and finding ways to be more present in my body, I have felt a lot more joy, strength and power than I ever felt taking t. Learning to accept the body and fully inhabit it is an effective way to treat many people’s dysphoria. Many detransitioned and dysphoric women have found ways to re-connect with our bodies, such as meditating, yoga, working out, exercising or doing physical labor, and we combine these practices with working through the trauma that caused dissociation from the body in the first place. It is often a long and difficult process that takes years but the rewards are well worth it.
As I have explained, detransitioning, at least in regards to women, has much to do with trauma, dissociation and misogyny. Misogyny and trauma caused our dysphoria and drove our transitions; detransitioning is about healing from this damage and coming back from dissociation. This is one of the main points I try to get across to people when I explain detransitioning and this is a point many other detransitioned women try to make too. But I have yet to see trauma or misogyny mentioned at all in any article by a trans activist claiming to explain detransition, including your own.
Instead, our suffering is typically dismissed as insignificant if it is even mentioned at all. It seems to be inconceivable to many trans activists that for many women transitioning has been disastrous and traumatic, increasing rather than relieving our difficulties. You do not talk about our grief, nor how we feel betrayed by the medical professionals that helped us transition. You do not really talk about us at all but about what we represent to you. To many of you, we are a statistic that needs to be explained away, a rare occurrence other people are needlessly fussing about.
You never fail to exclaim on our supposed rarity and cite studies that supposedly prove how uncommon we are. As a detransitioned woman, I can tell you that many of those studies are based on criteria that exclude our actual circumstances and that I don’t trust their accuracy. For example, there is a study presently being conducted in the UK on people who surgically reverse previous sex-reassignment surgery. They include both genital surgery and also mastectomy. Some detransitioned women would not qualify for this study because they took hormones but never got mastectomies. Of those who did get a mastectomy, the majority do not chose to get breast reconstruction. I would not meet the criteria for this study and neither would any of the detransitioned women I know personally. Additionally, while many of us are unhappy with the results of our transition, not all or even most of us would frame our feelings as regret because at the time we felt we had no other choice but to transition. We had no alternatives that we knew of so we were not truly making a free choice we could later regret making. It is far more honest to say that currently no one knows how many detransitioned people there are because there is not sufficient information. I know of no clinic or practitioner providing hormones who even attempts to keep track of how many people stay on them long-term. From my own experience, I can say that there are many more detransitioned women now than there were only a few years ago and it seems most likely that our numbers will continue to increase. Furthermore, there is a lot of irony in your implication that because we are a numerical minority, that makes our issues less important. As a trans person, you are a member of a numerical minority in relation to the general population, but I doubt you would appreciate having your own issues dismissed on that basis.
Minimizing our numbers and our suffering, obscuring the reasons why we transition in the first place goes along well with a political agenda to increase access to medical transition at all costs.
I think this is what is really at stake when you and other trans activists discuss detransitioned people. To you, we are potential obstacles to making sure hormones and surgery are easily available. And that’s how you generally treat us, as an argument to be disproved, not as real people with real lives and hardships. Let me ask you this, though: what is the real harm in uncovering all the reasons people experience dysphoria and offering alternative treatments alongside transition? For example, since trauma can lead to dysphoria, people interested in transitioning could be informed of this potential cause and offered the option of therapy to explore whether trauma is at the root of their own dysphoria. Many detransitioned women now say they would’ve benefited from having such an option and that it could’ve helped them avoid making unnecessary changes to their bodies.
At present your call for support and compassion towards us comes across as empty words. If you truly want to support us, you could listen to our criticisms of the health care we received and take seriously our recommendations for improving it. You could post links to our writings when you discuss us. You wrote a whole article, with many links to trans people and people writing about trans people, and never once linked to any writing by an actual detransitioned person. I’m telling you, some of us are quite prolific and have a lot to say–but none of what we’ve been saying was included in your piece, which purports to explain our situation. That’s not support, that’s erasure.
If you want to support us, you can start taking us seriously as people as real as you are. People who you might disagree with, who might say things that upset or anger you but who have as big a stake as these debates and discussions about transitioning as you do. Transitioning has changed our bodies and our lives forever and we have a right to talk about what really happened to us. We’re not going to put up with you or other trans activists explaining us away and spreading misinformation about us because our reality doesn’t mesh well with your political agenda.
We’re here and we’re not going to stop speaking out about our lives. I am no one’s pawn. Many of us were tokenized plenty of times when we were trans and we are beyond done with that. We do our own politics. I am writing now out of concern for my own well-being, that of my other detransitioned sisters and for all other women and girls who could be potentially harmed by transitioning. I know what happened to me, I know what it means and I came to this understanding through my own reflection and through talking to other detransitioned women. We have been developing our own analysis of dysphoria and transitioning and how it impacts women for some time now. We are a growing cultural force. We have already changed how some people on and off-line talk about and understand dysphoria.
Those of us who post our words publicly have already been told by many women how we have helped them, how they might’ve wrongly transitioned if they hadn’t read of our experiences. I have been amazed and distressed to learn how many women consider transitioning because they think they have no other option and how quickly some decide against it when they find out they really do. I hear many young women talk about how they thought they were not women because they never knew other women like them, never saw any women like them depicted in the media or the culture around them. So many of these young women are lesbians. It is now a relatively common experience for young lesbians to question whether they are really female or a woman and to identify as trans or genderqueer for a time. I see these young women, lesbian and otherwise, finally find other women they can relate to, who also feel out of place in this society, who don’t fit the patriarchal myths and I watch them grow proud of being female, being a woman. It has been beautiful to watch and amazing to be a part of so many women’s healing.
You can choose to listen to us and change how you talk about us or you can keep repeating the same misinformation. In case you do choose to listen, I’ve included some links to other detransitioned women’s blogs and videos. In any case, we will keep speaking our truths because even if you’re not listening, a lot of women are and they need to hear what we have to say. More and more women are speaking out, women who detransitioned and women who considered transitioning and didn’t. Perhaps one day there will be enough of us, we will be loud enough that you will not be able to ignore our voices any longer.
Blogs and Videos of Detransitioned Women:
(more to be added as I get permission from more women. If you’re a detransitioned woman and you want your blog, writing and/or video(s) listed here, let me know.)