Hi. So sometimes I get emails not from people already in the process of detransitioning but from trans people who ask me whether they should detransition. And you know, I really, what I feel strongly about is that I really would like everyone who experiences gender dysphoria to live like a long, healthy, happy life where they get to express their talents and they get to offer up their strengths to the world. I think the world needs people with gender dysphoria to be alive and to be getting to express their talents. I think the world is worse off when we kill ourselves and with that goal in mind it’s hard for me to respond, to know how to respond, to a stranger asking me if they should detransition.
I always, my first instinct is to always write back, “I’m a stranger on the internet, don’t like…I can’t decide that for you.” But you know people go to strangers on the internet with a question like that because they often are not quite at the point where they are open to revealing to the people in their real life that they’re even thinking about that. So I’m not saying don’t write me with the question, but I just want to acknowledge that like it’s a tricky question for me, because it’s a tricky question. So I can only respond with a lot more questions for you if detransition is a thing that you’re considering and there are like two levels of questions.
The first is that I have to suss out what you even mean by “detransition.” Because people use the word in different ways. How I use the word and how the detransitioned people that I’m in community with use the word is that what we mean is that we had a mental construct of ourselves as a gender other than our sexed body, and we developed that mental construct for all kinds of reasons, it was often helpful to us for awhile, and then it became apparent to us that that mental construct was not helpful for us anymore. That it was holding us back, that it was creating crises in our lives, that it was tied up in bad feelings, like anxiety, like body dysmorphia, like you know, it was creating it’s own badness for us.
So what we do in community, as a project, is work to find other things to rely on than that mental construct. So how do you get through the day without thinking of yourself as something other than, for me, a female, and how do you get through the day without thinking of yourself as other than a man. Because if you developed that idea and it turns out it wasn’t good in your life, well you developed that idea for a reason, like it did something for you, and picking that apart and figuring out what you were getting from it and is there another way to get that good stuff without taking on the bad stuff. It’s quite a project, it’s complicated! Like there’s a reason I talk about it all the time, there’s a reason I write about it all the time, because it’s quite a project.
What I’ve noticed is that a lot of times in the media when they talk about detransition that’s not what they’re talking about, they’re really talking about people going back in the closet. So people who have a construct of themselves as a gender other than their sex and you know, who actively work to present themselves as the gender they feel themselves to be, stopping that effort of trying to present themselves in a different way. And letting it drop, presenting themselves as what people would assume about them from their sexed body and just kind of waiting it out until life gets a little more convenient and a little easier. Because the truth is that transition is incredibly hard and you know, I hated when I was trans getting called brave, I hated it, hated it. And ever since then getting called brave has sort of like, whenever I get called brave I sort of get really nervous that maybe I’m doing the wrong thing, because a lot of the time when people call you brave what they mean is, “oh, you’re about to get real poor!” But you know, it is, you’re taking on a great challenge when you transition and I do have a lot of respect for like, exactly how difficult that challenge is.
So ok, so first of all what are you even talking about when you say detransition? Is this a thing where you like, you’re thinking, “oh this mental construct is not helpful to me” or are you thinking like, “oh ok, this is not, as my life is right now this isn’t going to happen, so let’s ditch it for awhile and we’ll see if we can come back to it in a couple of years.” I have to say I think that second choice is totally valid, because it is so hard, and you know sometimes your money runs out, you know. And sometimes you gotta get a job, sometimes you gotta get a place to live and I don’t think that that is weak, or anything. I think that that is great. I think you do what you need to do to keep living. But those are two very different people to provide care to and the fact is I think that you can actually find, I know for certain like the clinic I worked at, they would absolutely provide care to someone who just had their transition process on hold. They absolutely saw that as within their purview of care, so, you know, if that’s your situation, if this is just a case of like, “I’m going to stop trying to present myself as something, as a gender other than my sex,” I would encourage you to still go to the same trans organizations, because they’re interested in providing you care. They desperately want to give you care, take the care!
I’m more concerned, my focus is really on that first group, on like, “This isn’t working, what do I do next?” That’s a group of people that I find very interesting and that I think are under-served, and I think that you know we don’t deserve to kill ourselves either. This is not…none of this stuff makes sense to kill yourself over. So I’m more concerned about that first group. Ok.
But even if you are actually in that first group- the construct isn’t working for you anymore, you’re not sure what to do next, you’re not sure how you should deal with these feelings if transition is not going to be how you deal with them, then there are all these logistical questions. And the thing about both transition and detransition is that the logistics are incredibly important. The logistics. How are you gonna pay your rent? How are you gonna get yourself to the doctor? Like, who are you gonna hang out with? How are you gonna take care of your body? Very specific questions, and these questions have everything to do with your specific life.
One of my criticisms about the care that I received while I was transitioning is that I had a lot of magical thinking about how things would resolve themselves, and the therapists and the doctors I saw did not do much to challenge my magical thinking. You know when I got on testosterone both the doctor that I got testosterone from and my therapist when I started testosterone, neither of them said anything to me like, “Hey. Specifically these are the specific alterations that testosterone is going to do to your body, it’s going to lower your voice, it’s going to make your hairier. So what that means is you’re creating a situation in your life where you’re still gonna have tits, you’re gonna still have that ass and those thighs you hate so much, you’re just gonna be hairier and have a lower voice. So what’s your plan for when that happens, how you’re going to survive that window in your life.” Because that’s an awful place to be at. Right?
I just kind of had this thought in my head like, well I really want to start the process and I really want to affirm my identity and this will make it real in my life and so I’m really eager to do this, to take testosterone, I want to know how it feels, I want to know if it feels rights, I wanna, you know, I wanted hair, I wanted a deeper voice, right? But I hadn’t considered adequately what is it going to be like to a be a big assed, big titted woman with like facial hair and a deeper voice. I hadn’t, I didn’t really get it. I wish that I had seen anyone, I wish anyone in my life had said, “You’re creating this exact situation, how are you gonna weather it?” You know the thing about, the thing is that doctors and therapists who serve the trans community really want to affirm the identity, but affirming someone’s identity doesn’t pay their rent, doesn’t keep them from having a mental breakdown, it really doesn’t. You gotta challenge people’s magical thinking.
So with this detransition stuff I would really like to challenge your magical thinking. Detransition is a very tough process. It’s worth it for me, for me it’s the kind of tough process where you do tough things and then you feel better, you feel more capable, you feel less socially anxious, and it sucked but you do the suckiness, and like exercising, it sucks and then you feel great. I wouldn’t say I feel great but I feel way better. But you gotta really really think about the logistics.
A coworker told me that she saw some article that said that like lots of trans people were thinking about detransitioning because Trump is going to be president. Guys. If that’s how you’re thinking about the detransition process I don’t believe you’re thinking clearly. I think there are lots of good reasons for trans identified people to be very very anxious about the new presidential administration, but a lot of the challenges that that administration could create for trans identified people will still exist for you if you’re detransitioned.
If you have had surgeries that taken away key components of your endocrine system, once you detransition you still are going to have to have an endocrinologist that knows about trans care, you’re still going to have to get your blood tested every 6 months, someone is still going to have to pay for those doctor’s appointments. So don’t act like detransitioning somehow takes that problem off the table, that problem is still exactly where it is. You know job stuff is very hard for trans identified people, job stuff is also, can be really hard for detransitioned people. You know the stigma that attaches itself to trans identified people- like you’re crazy, like you’re overdramatic, like you love attention- that stuff: oh, believe you me that sticks to you when you’re detransitioned. That doesn’t go anywhere, ok?
I would think through very carefully like, do you work with people who can hang with a detransition thing? And with both transition and detransition what I would recommend is that when you’re thinking about how other people are going to react expect that people will be their worst selves and then if they are not their worst selves that’s a pleasant surprise. But expect the worst. Because when people get confused and scared they regress and they act out the worst version of themselves. That’s definitely what I experienced when I transitioned, it definitely…I also experienced that being detransitioned ok? Like, neither being trans or being detransitioned is comforting and familiar to people, and so when people meet a person who is not comforting and not familiar they are not their best.
So plan for people to be immature, plan for people to not understand boundaries, plan for people to tokenize you, plan for people to fetishize you, like just get it in your head that you’re going to deal with a bunch of bullshit and then once someone doesn’t bring that bullshit to you then you can be like oh I like this person so much and I’m going to keep them in my life. I will say that the people who didn’t do that to me, both with transition or detransition, who like, didn’t try to take a bunch of instagram photos with me, didn’t try to sleep with me, like didn’t make a bunch of jokes about me, I like treasure those people so much.
Ok. So if you write to me about detransition I’m only going to respond to you with more questions. It’s not even so much that I want to know that information, in a lot of ways I don’t, in a lot of ways like, you know, someone confiding in you creates, for me, it creates a responsibility, and I’m not a therapist, and I’m not your therapist. It’s more that I want you to be thinking about these things very very logically and very detail-oriented, and specifically in your life. And that’s because when you don’t think that way it can create a crisis very quickly in your life and I don’t think that just because you suffer from gender dysphoria that you deserve to be in constant crisis.
I think that if you experience gender dysphoria if you can create a life for yourself where actually a lot of the details are kind of taken care of- you know where your rent is coming from, you go to work and it’s pleasant it’s not unpleasant, you can move around the world without feeling a bunch of fear- then your talents can really express themselves, and I think that people with gender dysphoria tend to be incredibly smart and incredibly talented. So I would really like us to do well.
But I’ve noticed about us that a lot of times it’s very hard for us to choose to do well. I think it’s because a lot of us had childhood bullying and I think that a lot of us have internalized the idea that we deserve to live in constant crisis. That we deserve to be stressed out, that we deserve to be poor, that we deserve to have to deal with a bunch of bullshit from people. And that’s not true. Just cause the world sucks doesn’t mean that we should suffer for the world sucking. Ok. Right.
Well, I hope you’re doing well. I hope that you can create some peace and some calm in your life to be able to create a context where you can think about these things very calmly, because I think when you’re thinking calmly about things it’s when you’re thinking about things realistically. And that’s all. Take care of yourself, even if other people did not take very good care of you in the past, you can take care of yourself better. K, take care, bye.