Making Peace with My Transition
I recently came across something I wrote about five years when I was first detransitioning. It was a draft of an email that I wrote to my best friend but apparently never sent. In it, I talked about how I often felt like I’d ruined myself by transitioning and was struggling with these feelings. I felt like I’d lost my old body and wasn’t sure how I was going to live as a woman in the body I had now. I felt ashamed that I’d transitioned as a result of social pressures and that writing about my transition online was more or less confessing to being an “unstable fuck-up”. I thought there was something really wrong with me because I’d transitioned, that I’d done something terrible to myself. While I knew that living in sexist society had played a huge role in my decision to transition, I felt primary responsible for making that choice. I blamed myself and my “weakness” for destroying my own life.
It was difficult and painful to reread that email because it brought me back to a very hard, desperate time in my life. I struggled with the thoughts and feelings I described in that email for years. They dragged me down into despair and sometimes made me feel like my life wasn’t worth living.
I’m so grateful I no longer feel that way. I don’t hate myself for transitioning, I don’t think I’m a fuck-up or that I ruined my body or destroyed myself. I don’t think I did something awful to myself. I’m not ashamed of my past transition or that I lived as a trans man for years. I know now that I didn’t lose myself or my body.
I have such a different view of my life and my past transition now that remembering the time when I wrote that email is like looking back on a bad dream. I’m relieved to have woken up from it. It seemed real at the time but now I can see how my suffering was in fact the creation of my mind.
There was never anything wrong with me for transitioning. I had gender dysphoria and I tried one of the most widely used methods to treat it, methods that often work quite successfully. Transitioning did in fact help me find some measure of relief for years. Taking testosterone helped to alleviate my dysphoria. I took it for as long as I found it useful and then I stopped when I’d gotten all the permanent effects I wanted from it. I was a genderqueer trans dude who wanted a genderqueer body. From the start of my transition, I figured that I’d probably only take t temporarily. I had a successful genderqueer transition and then I got to a place in my life where I started thinking in-depth about my past trauma, particularly how I’d been bullied for being gender nonconforming when I was younger, and that got me questioning what I was again. Starting to deal with my past trauma, not dissatisfaction with medical transition, was what lead me to detransition.
I can’t say that my transition actually made my life worse in any significant regard. I happened to transition in my early twenties, when I was a fairly dysfunctional and self-destructive person and so I used to associate my transition with my overall self-destructiveness. But did transitioning cause me any more psychological problems or make it harder for me to function in the world? No. If I hadn’t transitioned, I still would’ve been depressed and doing too many drugs and cutting myself to deal with overwhelming feelings. I still would’ve been a troubled young person if I’d never transitioned. Taking testosterone, using male pronouns and living as a dude didn’t make my life any harder or make me any more dysfunctional. It actually reduced some of my stress because people treated me better as a dude. I found it easy to get a long with other people after I started passing, so in that sense it helped me function better and lessened my social anxiety.
After I detransitioned, I retroactively decided that my transition had been harmful even though it never seemed to be doing me any harm while I was doing it. That I hadn’t been able to see the supposed harm until after I’d detransitioned became proof that I had been especially fucked up and deluded. The satisfaction I’d felt while taking t became evidence of how disturbed I was.
Why did I think I’d done something terrible by transitioning? I’d decided that I was a butch lesbian and I had very specific ideas of what a butch lesbian was supposed to do and be. Needless to say, a “good” butch lesbian never transitioned. A “good” butch lesbian knew what she was, maybe questioned her gender but never got so confused about what she was that she lived as a man for years. “Good” butch lesbians were strong enough to overcome any dysphoria they felt without transitioning, they weren’t weak fuck-ups like me who gave into social pressure or got wrecked by trauma. I could not be what I thought a butch lesbian was supposed to be because of my past transition. I had had the chance to be a “good” butch lesbian but I’d blown it. I got really hung up on what my body had been like before I took t and how my life could’ve gone if I’d never transitioned.
Eventually, I realized that the ways I was thinking about myself and my transition were making me miserable. I realized I was making up a fantasy about what my life was supposed to be like and allowing that fantasy to feed off of and spoil the reality I was actually living in. If I actually looked at what my life was like, instead of fixating on my imagined ideals, than what I saw looked pretty good. My experience is different from butch lesbians who never transitioned but doesn’t mean I’m somehow inferior or worse off than they are.
For a long time, I thought that there must be something deeply wrong with me for not figuring out that I was a lesbian sooner. I eventually realized and accepted that I’m a somewhat atypical lesbian. I have gender dysphoria and that makes my experience fairly different from lesbians who don’t. Having gender dysphoria doesn’t make me any better or worse than other lesbians, just like having anxiety or depression doesn’t make me any less good of a lesbian. It just means I have particular difficulties that other lesbians don’t face. The kind of gender dysphoria that lesbians and other women tend to develop is highly misunderstood and under-researched. Lot of people don’t even know that it exists. While I had heard of butch lesbians with gender dysphoria before I transitioned, there was far, far less information about dysphoric lesbians than about trans men and hardly any information about how to treat dysphoria without transitioning. Now, as a result of the hard work of detransitioned and dysphoric women, there’s probably more information and resources for female gender dysphoria than there ever has been. But nothing like what exists now was available when I was a gender dysphoric teen reading all I could to understand and figure out how to treat my condition. I had to figure out what I was and what I needed through trial and error and it’s no wonder it took me a long time to work things out.
When I was first detransitioning, I worried about what kind of life I could have as a lesbian with a history of FtM transition. I had practically no role models who had come before me, who could tell me that I’d be ok or give me advice about how to handle the kinds of situations I found myself in. The one detransitioned woman I was close to at that time was very different from me in many regards. She hadn’t been on t for as long as I had and had never passed as a man. I had to figure a lot of things out on my own. I had to see for myself how many of my fears were unfounded. I had to learn that I could find people who would accept me and treat me well, that my past transition didn’t bar me from connecting with other women and lesbians, that I could find people that would hire me as very gender nonconforming woman. I had to learn that I could have a meaningful satisfying life as detransitioned woman.
I also became a lot happier with myself and accepting of my past transition when I came to accept myself as a passing woman, a woman who passes for male. I’d gotten many messages in the trans, queer and lesbian communities that my self-presentation and how others saw me meant a great deal. Being visibly queer was highly valued in the communities I moved in. I strongly believed that it was better to be visibly queer than to look “heteronormative” or pass for straight. For years I lived among people who put a lot of effort into being seen a certain way. I was taught and believed that if I could just get people to see me as I saw myself I’d be happier. I was frustrated for example, when I passed for male but felt more genderqueer. I stopped taking t partially so that I’d look more ambiguous. When I detransitioned, I went from wanting people to see me as genderqueer to wanting to be seen as a butch dyke. It distressed me greatly when, even after years of being off of t, most people still saw me as male. I thought I’d made a horrible choice because now I’d forever ruined my chance to be a visible lesbian.
Gradually I came to readjust my priorities, with the help and support of other detransitioned women. This turned out to be another instance where my thoughts and expectations were leading to my unhappiness. I started to question how realistic it was to expect that other people would be able to just look at me and see me as I saw myself. I worked on giving up my desires to be seen by strangers a certain way and stopped allowing other people’s perceptions of me to define me so much. I started grounding myself more in my own awareness and inner being, noticing that that stayed real and vibrant no matter how people saw me or what they projected onto me. I also learned more about the history of passing women and got to spend time with other women who frequently pass, both those who transitioned in the past and those who haven’t. That helped me realize that passing for male and moving through the world as a man is just another female experience. I no longer mind passing and I feel a lot better now that I’m less concerned about what I look like to other people. I’m a lot happier now then when I was obsessed about being visibly queer or lesbian.
Another thing that helped me rethink the significance of my transition was a resurgence of gender dysphoria that I had a few years ago. Since I’d detransitioned, I’d been mostly dysphoria free and I was surprised when I found myself feeling dysphoric again. Just the right web of stressful circumstances came together to trigger intense dysphoric feelings. It wasn’t fun to deal with but I learned a lot about myself as I worked through it. Through my meditative practice, I’d developed the ability to mindfully observe the workings of my mind and I used this to watch and learn about my dysphoria. I learned to approach my dysphoria with compassion and in the process also learned to develop compassion and understanding for my past dysphoric self, who I’d been when I transitioned.
I’d shut my younger trans-identified self out as something shameful that I wanted to distance myself from. I saw my trans self as a harmful delusion I’d “recovered” from. Now I slowly lost my fear of that part of me and was able to look back and see someone going through hard times, doing his best with the information and resources that he had. When I detransitioned, I treated my trans self much like that self had treated my younger female selves. My trans self had dissociated from who I was as a young girl and teenager to get away from the trauma I’d lived through growing up as female genderweirdo. When I detransitioned, I dissociated from my trans self to escape traumatic times I’d lived through as a genderqueer trans dude. As I said before, I happened to be a very dysfunctional young person when I transitioned and I was ashamed of how I used to cope with my psychological pain. I was ashamed that I’d ever felt that pain in the first place. I resorted to the same coping mechanism I’d used before when I transitioned, separating out and dissociating from the “bad” or painful parts of myself and creating a self out of what was left, whatever was going to help me get what I needed to survive. I really believed I needed to discard my past trans self in order to heal from my past trauma. While I still think my past trans self was greatly shaped by trauma I’ve lived through, I no longer see him as merely a maladaptive coping mechanism. It’s more complicated than that. I wasn’t whole when I dissociated from that part of myself and I feel a lot more complete now that I’ve started to integrate all of who I am. Rejecting my past trans self and my transition was as destructive being cut off from my female body and being. No part of me is wrong or shameful and I need to accept and love all of what I am.
Starting to integrate my past trans self and my transition was both freeing and confusing. I found myself questioning what I was yet again, which was disturbing because I thought I’d finally settled that question when I’d detransitioned and came out as a woman. Womanhood proved to be big enough to hold my past transition and my experiences of living as a genderqueer trans man. Being a woman doesn’t mean I have to distance myself from my past, deny it or be ashamed of it. I can be a woman and claim my past transition, work my trans self into who I am today and recognize the connections I still share with some trans and genderqueer people.
I am a gender dysphoric butch woman with a history of trauma living in a society that cares very little for women, gender nonconforming people, people with gender dysphoria or people who’ve lived through trauma. I grew up being told that what I was was wrong and unnatural. I was hurt and abused for not looking or acting like other girls. I developed gender dysphoria at a young age and learned about transitioning as a teenager. I read everything I could get my hands on to figure out what I was dealing with and how to treat it. I took testosterone because it was the best treatment I could find at the time. My early twenties were difficult and stressful and would’ve been hard no matter what gender I lived as. When my life got more settled, I could finally start dealing with my past trauma more extensively, which lead me to question my gender again. It took me years to find the information I needed about trauma and gender dysphoria to alleviate my suffering and create a better life for myself. I had to figure a lot out on my own through experimentation. I had to figure out how to live as a woman with a history of taking testosterone and living as man. I had to figure out how to integrate my past transition and trans self into who I am today. I had to learn to drop ideals and desires that weren’t helping me and accept myself as I am.
I feel compassion for all my past selves who struggled and suffered so much. For years, I struggled with hating myself for one reason or another. I didn’t even realize how harsh I was accustomed to being with myself until I started to back off some and take a more gentle approach. I learned to be hard on myself to toughen myself up so it didn’t hurt as bad when other people were cruel to me. It’s taken me a very long time to learn how to treat myself well and that being gentle with myself doesn’t make me weak. I was still very self-hating when I detransitioned and I turned my transition into another reason to be hard on myself. I still struggle with the habit of being harsh with myself, with wanting to reject who I was when I first detransitioned because what I did then unintentionally caused me pain and I think of things so differently now. But who I was then was doing the best she could with what she had on hand. Her hard work and persistence got me to where I am now. I resist my tendency to dissociate and reject parts of myself. I learn to practice compassion for all of who I am. I still have my share of problems and suffering but I feel so alive and so present now.
I look back on what I wrote five years ago and feel I so glad that I made it through to where I am now. I’m so grateful that I had other detransitioned women who were figuring out how to deal with the surreal situations we found ourselves in, who were also making it up as they went along. I’m afraid to think of what would’ve happened if I hadn’t found other women like me. I hope that my own work has helped other women work through their troubles and find happiness and peace. I don’t want other women to suffer like I have. One of my main motives for doing the work that I do is to alleviate suffering when I can.
Far from being something that wrecked me forever, my transition is just another experience I lived through and learned from. It took a lot of work and struggle but now I know I haven’t lost anything or come close to destroying myself. I have so much power and life in me and I intend to use it as best I can.
Disclaimer: Since I’ve seen people with a wide variety of ideologies try to use the experiences of detransitioned people for various agendas, let me make a few things clear. This post is about my experiences and I don’t expect other detransitioned people to come to the same conclusions about their past transitions as I have. Detransitioned people’s experiences of transitioning and detransitioning vary a great deal. I’ve been hesitant to write about my shift in perspective because I’ve seen detransitioned people’s suffering dismissed so many times. I worried that if I talked about how my feelings about my transition had changed, people would seize on that and go “See! Detransitioning is no big deal. People who say they’ve been hurt by transitioning are crazy” or some other such bullshit. Don’t use my story to dismiss the suffering of other detransitioned people. Don’t send this post to detransitioned people in your life to encourage them to “get over it”. I really hope I’m just overthinking shit but I’ve seen detranstioned people get so much crazy bullshit that I feel like I have to include this disclaimer just in case.