Earlier this month, Laurie Higgins, a member of a right-wing Christian group called the Illinois Family Institute, published an article on the group’s website about detransitioned people. It was later reposted on Life Site, another conservative Christian website. The article took my words and those of two other detransitioned women out of context in an attempt to use them to attack trans people. All of us were disgusted with the misuse of our words, images and videos. Carey Callahan, who was among those featured in the article, made a video in response that can be viewed here.
Higgins quoted from a video I made about transitioning as a response to trauma. I made that video to reach out to other trauma survivors, not to smear trans people. Many of those who’ve transitioned due to trauma initially feel ashamed of what they’ve done to survive and cope. I wanted others who’ve gone through this particular struggle to know that they’re not fucked up and that they’re not alone. I also made it clear that even if someone’s transition is motivated by trauma, detransitioning is only one path towards healing and that trans men can stay transitioned and work through their trauma. People have to figure out what works for them and what’s going to give them the best life. Of course, Higgins skipped over that part when she was selecting quotes. It was particularly upsetting that she attempted to use this specific video to shame and stigmatize, to promote the very suffering and harm it was meant to combat.
I’ve had another of my videos end up on a right-wing site before this and I’m afraid that with the far-right becoming increasingly emboldened, this probably won’t be be the last attempt made by right-wing Christians to use the experiences of detransitioned people against trans people. With that in mind, I want to make a few things clear.
Seeing my words taken out of context by right-wing Christians makes me feel violated and humiliated. I’m a fairly private person overall. It’s not easy for me to talk about my trauma online. A lot of the time the only way I can push myself to get vulnerable is to think of other detransitioned women, often women I know in real life, who I know would benefit from hearing about my experience. It’s horrifying to see my words being used by the very kind of people who traumatized me in the first place, with the intent of hurting more people like me. I think of trans men as being people like me, more so than not. My life now is not too different from my life as a trans man.
Like trans men, we detransitioned women are not strangers to being called mentally ill or damaged for being trans. We know what it’s like to live as a trans person is this society and having to deal with others’ disrespect and ignorance. We know what it’s like to be treated like broken deranged women and we know that only increases the damage and creates more wounds to heal from. Treating people as “less than” because they suffer from trauma or mental illness makes it harder for them to heal.
No attack on trans people leaves detransitioned people unscathed. Any attack on their right to exist is an attack on ours. We are all stigmatized for having medically transitioned bodies, our dysphoria is misunderstood, our sanity is questioned, and we are treated like objects or symbols rather than people. Without fail, those who dehumanize trans people dehumanize detransitioned people as well, often by reducing us to our bodies, trauma and suffering. Selectively quoting our words to push an anti-trans narrative isn’t listening to us, it’s exploiting us for a political agenda that hurts our own well-being.
We put our words online to let other detransitioned women know they are not alone, not to make trans people feel more alienated. We talk about our trauma and dysphoria, how we’ve suffered from it and what we’ve done to heal in order to help others who are suffering, not to add to their difficulties or humiliate them. We talk about how we have been mistreated and dehumanized for not fitting into gender roles, for being “too masculine”, for being visibly lesbian, for being trans, for being what society considers freakish and unnatural. We speak out against how we and others like us have been wronged in order to end that injustice, not to give ammunition to those who wronged us. The Christian Right are prominent among those who create and enforce the misogyny, sexism and homophobia that drove us to transition. Therefore, when we speak out against social forces that drive women to transition, we speak out against right-wing Christians and the harm they promote as well.
Detransitioned women work together to undo the damage done by right-wing Christians and others who promote a restricted view of what a woman can be, who say you can’t be lesbian, butch, or gender non-conforming and be a “real” woman. We work to let other women know that they are not unnatural, sinful, disgusting, unhealthy or freakish for being the kind of woman they are, that they don’t have to change their bodies to be “right”.
So many detransitioned women have been hurt by right-wing Christians, either being raised in churches that teach us who we are is wrong or coming into contact with Christians who use their religion as a justification to reject our full humanity and mistreat us. I’ve felt the toxic social influence of right-wing Christians starting when I was a child. I grew up going to school with Christian kids who believed being gay was a sin. They bullied me for being “too masculine” and later for coming out as a lesbian. I grew up in a town where the Unitarian church my family attended was called “satanic” by other churches in town for being gay-friendly. I grew up learning about how right-wing Christian organizations were determined to eliminate gay people either by trying to turn us straight or push us back into the closet. I knew gay kids whose conservative Christian parents threw them out or sent them to conversion “therapy”. I’m not surprised that many detransitioned lesbians I know had conservative Christian upbringings. Right-wing Christians provided us all with ample encouragement to reject ourselves. If there wasn’t so much social pressure not to be a lesbian or butch or otherwise “unfeminine,” we wouldn’t have been so eager to change ourselves and our bodies. Right-wing Christianity is one of the strongest social forces driving women to transition.
Right-wing Christians who exploit our words conveniently leave out the fact that many detransitioned women are now happily living as lesbian or bisexual women and are very often butch or otherwise gender non-conforming. They zero in on our pain and ignore our recovery, which often involves embracing much of what they reject as sinful or unhealthy. They use our mental suffering as proof that all those who deviate from their ideal of heterosexuality and stereotypical womanhood and manhood are lesser people, deserving a lesser place in society. Right-wing Christians will exploit our trauma but not take responsibility for their part in creating it. Right-wing Christians inflict damage on women, gay, trans and gender non-conforming people, causing us to suffer–and then turn around and use that suffering to justify their mistreatment of us. They work hard to make life inhospitable for lesbians and other women who fall outside their idea of proper womanhood, spreading lies about how we’re sick, sinful, how our bodies aren’t our own. This encourages more women to hate themselves and dissociate from their female bodies. Right-wing Christians contribute to the very conditions that lead some women to reject themselves and transition and then try to use the suffering they’ve caused in order to inflict even more damage. In truth, right-wing Christians don’t want us to heal or be well because we’re more useful to them when we suffer.
I won’t stay silent in the face of such hypocrisy. I won’t stand by when assholes try to use my words to prop up a political agenda that endangers both trans people and detransitioned women. I consider such misuse of my words to be a violation and an attack on my own person. I work towards a world without patriarchy, which means working towards a world without the Religious Right. I’m tired of right-wing Christians feeding off my suffering, as well as the suffering of other women, gay people, trans people and others harmed by patriarchal sex roles. I will do whatever I can to resist them and the damage they create.
If you want to support detransitioned and dysphoric women, resist the Right and join in struggles to keep them out of power. Right-wing Christians and other social conservatives are the source of much of our suffering. They work to create a society where we can’t exist as we are, which makes transitioning a very appealing survival strategy. Uprooting right-wing Christianity will give all women more power and more space to be free.