Guest Post: A Response from a Reader to My Open Letter to Julia Serano
Thank you for your open, honest, and important letter to Julia Serano in response to her post, “Detransition, Desistance, and Disinformation: A Guide for Understanding Transgender Children Debates.”
You expressed so much of what I have felt, for years, but have not shared publicly, regarding the desire to transition. I agree that Julia’s clinical, logical, data-driven explanation for transitioning overlooked an important aspect–the effects of trauma–which you intelligently and eloquently addressed.
I related a lot to your experiences and your letter is prompting me to share my own. There were distinct times in my life where I desperately wanted to be male–as a young girl, in my early twenties and again in my mid forties. Every time it was in response to trauma. I didn’t recognize the connection between the effects of my trauma and my desire to be male while in that desperate state. What I did want was what you described: to create “a new self to cope and survive.” I felt that the only way I could continue to live and to make it in the world, was to be a man.
The trauma I endured was being physically and emotionally abused as a child; raped as an 18 year old; emotionally and physically abused by a college boyfriend; and then abused in a marriage to a man. Your statement that “We also live in a patriarchy that hates women and attacks female bodies constantly,” really resonated. I hadn’t thought about the global, macro attacks on women that lead us to hate and reject ourselves, I thought more about my personal experiences as a source for my desire to become a man.
There is great irony in a woman–myself–being abused repeatedly by men, and then, to survive–emotionally, psychically, and mentally–wanting to become a man. Fortunately, as an adult, I have accessed a lot of support through therapy and peer-based recovery which has allowed me to work through my trauma without having to actually transition. But, I certainly know that feeling of having to be a man to survive and that there was no other way, no other option.
When I started therapy in my early twenties, I revealed to my therapist that I had been raped at 18. It had been four years and I had never told anyone. In the process of uncovering that rape and telling her about it, I stated, during a session, that I wanted to become a man. She nodded, she said she understood, and that it was something we could explore, but in the meantime, we really needed to talk about the rape. I appreciated her approach. She wasn’t directive, judgmental, or reactive, she simply stated it was something to keep talking about, but encouraged me to focus on my experience of being raped and other traumas.
Your statement about “hating myself for being a woman and a lesbian” resonated with me as well. The man who raped me when I was 18 was a psychologist who I went to see because I had found myself physically and sexually attracted to my roommate in my freshman year at college. I was scared and confused by my feelings. I grew up in a very homophobic family and these feelings freaked me out. I did some reading in the library about lesbianism. This was in 1980. The available literature told me that lesbians were mentally ill, that they needed to be institutionalized, and that they were emotionally stunted and not fully formed adults. I continued to read, panicking that I was going to need to be institutionalized and that I was constitutionally incapable of reaching emotional maturity. My panic turned to wanting to kill myself. Then I found a book by this psychologist, titled “Overcoming Homosexuality.” I was relieved. There was help for me. I contacted him and made an appointment. On my first visit he raped me. On my second visit he raped me repeatedly. And the kicker: I was paying for his “therapy.”
When you write about hating yourself for being a lesbian or for not being a typical female, I get it. As a kid I hated myself for being a tomboy, for being high-energy and athletic, and preferring jeans, sneakers, and sports to dresses and dolls. There were so few girls like me; I felt isolated and I was teased and rejected for being a tomboy.
If I could have expressed myself as a young girl without feeling I was violating the code of femaleness, or as a young woman, if I could have felt my attraction to women without hating myself, my life experience would have been much different. Instead, my feelings of isolation and being teased as a girl diminished my self worth, and the conversion therapy/rape perpetrated by this psychologist severely compounded my distress. My response to the complete failure of this conversion therapy was to straighten myself out. I slept with men figuring that it would fix my attraction to women. I continued on my campaign to act straight until a boyfriend physically attacked me. After that the dam burst. I could no longer keep the secret about my rape and my attraction to women. I found a legitimate therapist and started telling the truth.
Now when I hear and read about women transitioning, I wonder to myself, “What happened to them?” What is their trauma? What is so painful inside them that the only way to move forward is to change their gender? I say this stuff mainly to myself and a few trusted others, because this is not an accepted or widely held belief. It was certainly my experience, but I refrain from saying it because I feel that my opinions will be criticized and rejected.
I also think it is useful to ask who benefits from women becoming men. Clearly manufacturers of hormones, surgeons and hospitals do, as well as a patriarchal society that prefers and values men. Really, we don’t need more men in the world. We need more women who love and accept themselves. I feel fortunate that I was able, over the years, to work through my pain, fear, panic, anxiety, rage, homophobia and misogyny and stay female. I am really glad that I continue to reclaim my femaleness and feel more love and acceptance for myself as a woman. I do not accept the notion that we are “born in the wrong bodies.” I believe we live in a society that is wrong about what it means to be female. Women deserve a world where they are nurtured, protected and supported, not abused, oppressed, and invalidated. It is wrong that women feel they have to take male hormones and surgically alter their bodies to survive. My body was never wrong. What happened to me was wrong.
I also resonated with what you said about being cut off from other women, the wounds of that, and finding common ground with other women. I have felt isolated, apart, weird, and different from other women a lot during my life. In my recovery I have sought out trusted women to share with and build community. But, I don’t know many women whose experience and thoughts resonated quite the way yours did, or with whom I felt I could so openly share my story and my thoughts about the causes of my dysphoria and desire to transition.
Your response to Julia Serano articulated clearly what I have experienced and, again, have not stated publicly. I feel like you are doing an important service by educating people about an alternative explanation to body dysphoria and transitioning. Julia would be wise to consider your perspective.Thank you for putting yourself out there and inspiring other women, including me.