Detransitioned Women Deserve to be Heard
I’m happy to see the Outline stand by the article Rachel Monroe wrote about my detransition and the growing detransitioned women’s community. A number of trans people have objected to the article, calling it, among other things, “irresponsible” and “transphobic garbage”. One gets the impression that if these particular trans people had their way, the story would not have run or would be heavily altered to bring it within their comfort level. I got the sense reading these and other responses that these particular trans people only viewed detransitioning in regards to how they think it affects them, how it could harm the trans community or affect their access to hormones and surgery. They were unable to consider detransitioned women on our own terms, as a group with specific interests and needs who of course will act to advance our own well-being. If that means telling stories and truths other people find uncomfortable, so be it.
It is worth asking why some trans people see us as a threat.What is wrong with informing more people about how trauma and dissociation can lead women to identify as another gender? What is wrong with speaking out about how social pressures can drive women to transition? Much of what we say challenges how many trans people understand dysphoria and trans identity. Some of what we say, for example that there is pressure on some women to transition, has long been labeled transphobic misinformation by trans activists. Our experiences are no less real just because they are politically or ideologically incorrect. Our stories challenge the idea that trans identity is in-born and we criticize a treatment that many in the trans community hail as life-saving. I am not surprised that we are threatening but that doesn’t mean the concerns we raise aren’t real.
Some trans people expressed concern that our stories and perspectives could be used against the trans community. Our stories should not be silenced because of how other people misuse them. Understand that when people use detransitioned women’s stories as a weapon against trans people they also do harm to detransitioned and dysphoric women and the work we’re trying do. They make it harder for us to talk to a community that already finds what we have to say threatening.
People, whatever their political label, who think that trans people and people who transition are less than or defective are not my allies nor do we have common interests. The people who are so eager to use us in their arguments with trans activists don’t listen to us when we tell them not to call our bodies mutilated, use us as scare stories or otherwise objectify us. They don’t listen when we tell them their words are disrespectful and counter-productive and often attack us for criticizing them. They have no more respect for us than they do trans people because to them all people who’ve transitioned are less than, our minds are unsound. We want to speak for ourselves, not have others layer their meaning over our own. Understand that when people try to use us for ends we don’t agree with we push back.
We are not interested in adding to the hardships trans people already face. We want to help other dysphoric women. We want to provide more information so it becomes easier to recognize when dysphoria is rooted in trauma and misogyny. We want to provide information on ways to treat dysphoria beside transitioning. We want to provide support and resources for other women who are detransitioning.
I don’t know of any detransitioned woman who doesn’t believe that adults can decide what to do with their lives and their bodies, including to transition if they decide that’s what’s best for them. Even those of us who are severely critical of transitioning respect other people’s ability to decide what is right for them. We want to be open about our criticisms, we want people to consider our perspective but ultimately we recognize the decision rest in the hands of the other person. What many of us want is more discussion, more options, more choices, not more restrictions, paternalism or pathologization. We want more information about the possible causes of dysphoria and trans identity and we want more treatment options for dysphoria besides transitioning. We want it recognized that sometimes reconciling with one’s birth sex and learning to accept one’s body is the best treatment for dysphoria.
We speak out of experience, not ideology. The detransitioned women’s community holds a diversity of political opinions, though, unsurprisingly, we are largely pro-women’s liberation, anti-sexist and anti-patriarchy. This comes from our experience of how living in a misogynistic society has harmed us. You don’t need to read theory to know sexism’s hurt you when your own body bares the scars.
It is frustrating to be cast as advancing a “transphobic” ideology or agenda when your goal is to advocate and provide resources for a group of marginalized women. Almost all the resources we have we created ourselves, through a lot of effort and hard work. We want more women to know we exist because it’s hard for women to detransition on their own. Just knowing there are other detransitioned women out there helps a great deal. I know that much of what I and other detransitioned women have to say may be hard for some trans people to hear but I am speaking first and foremost to and for other detransitioned and dysphoric women. I put our interests first, ahead of trans comfort levels, because no one else is looking out for us.
Detransitioning is difficult. We don’t go back to being “normal cis women”. Many of us were never what society thought women should be like and we never will be. We’ve been outside of conventional womanhood for most of our lives, before, during and now after transitioning. Even if we appear as relatively conventional or feminine women, even if we can blend in, our past transitions can still effect how others see us.
Our lives as detransitioned women are often not that different from our lives as trans people. We still have special medical needs because of our history of taking testosterone and/or getting surgery. I still seek out health care from providers who are familiar with transitioned bodies. A lot of people still think we’re crazy mutilated freaks. People still project all kinds of weirdness on us and our bodies and treat us as objects and symbols instead of people. It can be scary to come out as detransitioned. It’s scarier for me than coming out as trans because it’s rarer so I have less of an idea of how people will react. A good chunk of the time people hear detransitioned as transitioned more than once and hence “extra-trans”. Once you’ve transitioned it can be hard to shake the trans label because people will continue to attach it to you. Sometimes we don’t have the option of hiding our histories because of how our bodies have been modified by taking t and/or getting surgery. Sometimes we have to speak up to be recognized as female at all because we still pass for male. Being a women with a deep voice and facial hair who’s open about my past gets me marked as “other” fairly often. I can’t take being seen as just another woman for granted. I still pass for male on a regular basis. In many ways, my life isn’t all that different from when I thought of myself as a genderqueer trans man and in some ways I experience more social friction now as a detransitioned lesbian.
One of the hardest parts of detransitioning is the isolation and feeling lost, uprooted. I didn’t know where I was going when I started to detransition. When I was transitioning I had tons of information to shift through to get some idea of how my own transition would play out. There were hundreds of transition journals online documenting trans men’s experience with taking t and getting surgery. I found many online communities, resource guides, memoirs by trans men and so on. I attended a trans youth group before and during my transition and got to hang out with trans men my own age. In contrast when I started looking for information on detransitioning online I found a handful of blogs. There were no books or support groups for women like me. I had no role models or guides, I didn’t know what kind of issues I’d have to navigate, didn’t know how other people would react when I came out again. I didn’t know what it was going to be like to do the psychological work of detransitioning, how to understand and integrate my past transition, how to work through my internalized misogyny and accept myself as a woman, how to deal with any residual dysphoria, how to heal my trauma and dissociation. I’m grateful I found another detransitioned woman online to talk to because I couldn’t have done it all on my own. Coming out again as a woman terrified me but having my friend’s support gave me the courage to do it anyways. I had to figure out a lot of things as they came up, relying on myself and other detransitioned women.
I was part of the early wave of detransitioned women who felt like we were mapping the territory we were moving through as we explored it. We wrote about our experiences to make it easier for the women who came after us to navigate that often difficult and confusing terrain. If information like that had been available to me when I was younger I probably would’ve detransitioned a lot sooner. So it doesn’t surprise me that more and more women started to detransition once we started telling our stories, once we made it clear that it was possible to detransition and come out the other end alright. We took what was often a terrifying idea for many and made it a reality that could be lived through. We don’t want detransitioning to be scary or taboo. We want it to be a possibility that all transitioned people can face calmly, knowing that if they end up detransitioning they will have resources and community to help them through.
My story and the stories of other detransitioned women are important and need to be heard. We are becoming more vocal and visible but I still assume most people I encounter wouldn’t know anything about detransitioning when I bring up my history. I expect to do a lot of explaining and educating for some time to come. I speak out and write for other women like me, other women who have felt dysphoric, other women who have transitioned. I have been told by many women how important my work has been to them. I agreed to be interviewed for the above mentioned article with these women in mind. If you find my story threatening consider these women and imagine if stories like mine were what you desperately needed to hear.