“It's still a struggle to be okay with myself, but I feel more authentic now than when I was relying on external things to validate my identity. “
Submission by: @genderatheism
Currently 24, Washington,US
I never fit in with the other girls. I have vague memories of wearing dresses and tights to daycare, but my mother tells me that around age 2 she showed me a dress to wear that day and I said, “No Mom, black jeans,” and never looked back. I did have a dollhouse, but my favorite game was one I called Godzilla Meets the Dollhouse People, where the family would adopt a baby Godzilla that would grow up to either eat them or protect them, depending on the mood I was in. My hair was long, but it was wild and untamed. I played with both girls and boys, but usually in pretend games I would pretend to be a boy. I would sometimes get teased by other kids, called a boy pretending to be a girl because no real girl would dress the way I did. I knew the teasing would stop if I conformed, but that wasn’t worth it to me, so I endured. Basically, I was a classic tomboy.
It wasn’t until I got a little older that I started to really feel uncomfortable with being a girl. I was introverted and spent a lot of time online where it was all “no girls on the internet” this and “get back in the kitchen” that. I didn’t have the words for it at the time, but I hated how my body was both an object of desire and something to be scrutinized in every detail. I was called ugly because I didn’t style my hair or wear tight constricting clothes, but if I did do those things I would have been called a vapid slut. This was around the time my dysphoria began to manifest. I don’t know if I can separate whatever internal feelings I had about my body from the feelings brought on by external criticisms. Just by existing I attracted unwanted attention, even when I hid everything I could under my biggest hoodie. Even female pronouns felt grating on my ears—that “sh” sound symbolized my status as an object. It wasn’t just a classification, it was a command. “SH”e. Sshh. Sit down and shut up, like a good girl. It didn’t occur to me at the time that other girls also felt pressured to be something they aren’t, it seemed to come easily to them. Clearly, the problem was with me, for not being like the other girls. So I made an effort that lasted maybe a year or two. I thought maybe, if I tried hard enough to force myself into the mold, I could learn to be okay with it.
I was 17 when I first learned about being transgender. It felt like all the pieces suddenly clicked into place. This was why I couldn’t act like a girl should—I wasn’t a girl in the first place. This was why I liked “boy things” and felt so uncomfortable with my female body. I met every criteria in the diagnosis, it just made sense. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my parents were going through their divorce at the same time. That’s not the subject of this story so I won’t go too much into it, but that’s hard for any kid to deal with. My life was being flipped in all directions and I wanted to escape and start over. I moved with my mom when she left, to a town I’d never lived in before. Nobody there knew me, so I could introduce myself as a boy rather than have to come out to people I already knew. I started to meet other people like me. Back then the trans community was a lot smaller, but everyone was very supportive. I was starting to feel like I actually belonged somewhere and could be myself. I started seeing a therapist, who agreed that my noncompliance with traditional gender roles meant that I was actually male. At 20 I started taking testosterone, and it seemed like my life was on its way to being where I wanted it to be.
All was well for a few years. My family accepted me and I passed well enough that nobody knew unless I told them. I went stealth and decided that once I had gotten surgery I would put my trans status behind me, thinking of it just as a strange chapter of my life. I listened to all the trans positivity messages out there saying “trans men are real men,” and did my best to convince myself that was true. Of course I knew that no amount of modification would actually make me male, and that I would always have a connection to women that cis men do not have. But that wasn’t the point; the point was to say words that make people feel good.
In the years since I came out and now, there have been a lot of discussions in trans theory that eroded my sense of belonging in the community. We always said from the beginning that gender is a social construct and how you dress doesn’t define what you are, but at the same time we uphold these stereotypes to such a degree that anyone who doesn’t conform 100% to their assigned role is considered trans. The hypocrisy took a few years to sink in, but once it did I couldn’t un-see it. I never liked the concept of the cotton ceiling—for the uninformed this refers to people not wanting to sleep with trans people whose genitalia doesn’t match their orientation. Maybe I’m taking a radical stance here, but nobody is obligated to sleep with anyone they don’t want to, and trying to guilt them or call them transphobic for that is honestly creepy. More and more people began speaking out against the medicalization of transness and gatekeeping the community. But instead of criticizing how the diagnostic criteria for being trans focuses on liking the “wrong” toys or clothes (which if we’re going with the gender is a social construct narrative, is a valid criticism), people wanted to drop dysphoria as a necessary symptom, meaning that being trans just meant not conforming to gender roles, which aren’t important in the first place, but they are when we say they are. The logic felt so strained and unjustified, and I started to wonder how nobody else saw the doublethink going on. But I had one point that I held on to, that being brain sex. That was my justification for my feelings, I had a male brain in a female body. Sure, I couldn’t prove it, but it felt that way and that’s what counts right?
Well, then more brain studies started coming out. There was a study on brain plasticity, meaning the brain changes shape or function depending on external circumstances—so a woman who’s been living in that role her whole life would have a “woman’s brain,” but that was due to the life she lived, not how she was born. Last year, another study came out essentially proving that brain sex does not exist, because there is no single trait or list of traits that determines if a brain is male or female. I consider myself a scientific person, so when irrefutable proof that contradicts my beliefs is staring me in the face, my only option is to change my beliefs. Aside from that, there is a lot of evidence showing that transition usually does not reduce depression or suicidal ideation. But honestly I don’t need a study to tell me that, I could see it in my own life and in the lives of other trans people I knew. So I began to wonder, what actually makes me trans? If it’s not the way I dress, not something in the brain, and not dysphoria, what is it? My soul or spirit or whatever? Spare me that, I’m an atheist. I deal with facts and proof, not things that feel good to think about but don’t stand up to critical thought. My search for answers led me to gender critical feminism, which I was apprehensive about but I needed to understand. I began to read the forbidden texts of radical feminism where they spell woman with a Y, but I couldn’t speak to any of my trans friends about it because they were critical of transition which made them Bad People, and me a Bad Person for even being curious about what they had to say. I was surprised to see that there were a lot of similarities to what I had already been taught. Gender is a social construct, I know that. Female gender roles hurt female people while male gender roles benefit male people, that’s obvious. The biggest difference was that the ideology I was already in approached the problem of gender by creating more categories, while radical feminism advocated for abolishing the categories entirely. What a concept, treating people the same regardless of what organs they’re born with and not assigning things like colors or behaviors to one organ set or the other—of course the trans community advocates for this too, or claims to, but gender abolition actually seemed like the logical conclusion of that line of thought. I realized that I hadn’t needed to transition to become the person I wanted to be, that my dysphoria was more due to the way I was treated for the crime of being born female than anything else, and indeed, that I now had regrets. I still felt dysphoric, but it seemed like transitioning would never solve that. Even if I changed everything I could, I would still be fixated on the things that I can’t. I wanted to go back but felt like I couldn’t, because I’d forever have an altered voice and facial hair. I just knew I couldn’t keep acting like this was sound logic when I knew it wasn’t. I knew I couldn’t live like this anymore.
So I made an anonymous blog. No ties to my real identity, just a place for me to vent about my feelings. Shortly after, I stopped taking hormones and canceled my future appointments with the therapist I was seeing to get approval for top surgery. I got in contact with other people who had realized that we needed to break the chains of gender, rather than add more colors of chains—some with a history of transition, some not. Blogging about my experience has only made it more clear to me that gender theory has become dogmatic. I get insults and threats from anonymous posters for talking about my own experiences, even if I don’t say anything against anybody else. I’ve been called a self-hating trans man in denial, brainwashed by the radical feminist cult. I’ve been asked sarcastically why I hate trans people, as if being critical of the way power structures affect the way people think means that I hate individuals or want harm to come to them (I don’t.) I’ve even been accused of being a shill making up my whole story just to undermine the trans community. It’s a lot to deal with, but I can’t disable comments because I also get people coming to me for advice or just to vent, people who either share my experience or are just questioning mainstream gender theory but are afraid to tell people they know. I’m happy to be there for someone who needs a sympathetic ear, but it’s also upsetting that we have to talk about these things in secret. Detransition might not be common (yet—I honestly believe that a lot of young people who identify as trans now won’t within a few years), but it is an important part of the experience that anyone considering transition should take into account. I want to reiterate that I completely fit the narrative of a trans childhood and am formally diagnosed, I didn’t just get into it because it’s cool and trendy to be androgynous and have a dyed undercut. And yet, I still realized it wasn’t right for me. The same thing could happen to anyone in transition, especially if they are willing to critically examine their ideology instead of blindly accepting it. Detransitioned people deserve a voice in the community instead of being no-platformed the way we are now. We used to be just like you, and you could easily become like us.
I only recently came out to my family and friends about detransitioning (via Facebook, since it’s easier to write one post than to tell everyone individually.) It took several months for me to work up the courage—Coming out once is hard enough, and I worked so hard for everything I had achieved. It felt like throwing away a lot of effort, and I was worried that retracting my identity would make me look crazy (or at least uncommitted) and alienate my trans friends. I was finally inspired to speak up by a friend (who shall remain anonymous) saying that she was also going back to living as a woman, and getting a lot of positive and supportive response, including from mutual friends. When I did finally make the post I had been dreading for ages, it was uneventful. I called both my parents and they didn’t care as long as I was happy, and life immediately resumed. Not a lot has changed, and I don’t expect it to. I’m keeping my wardrobe because I like my clothes and clothes don’t define gender anyway, so I can wear whatever I want. I’m not going back to my birth name because I never liked it (sorry Mom and Dad!) and the name I chose for myself has become part of my identity, and is fairly neutral. People still assume that I’m a man because of my appearance, and that’s probably just something I’ll have to live with—I’m certainly not the only woman who does, even among women who have never transitioned. It’s still a struggle to be okay with myself, but I feel more authentic now than when I was relying on external things to validate my identity. It feels like I’m actually accepting me for me, rather than try and modify myself to chase an impossible end. Right now I’m just taking things a day at a time and focusing on taking care of this body, feeding it well and staying physically active to feel at home in it.
If you’re reading this and you’re
family or a friend, thank you. If you’re reading this and you think
I’m a violent transphobe, I can’t stop you, but I hope you understand
that my viewpoint is not an outsider’s opinion, it comes from an
intimate understanding of the trans community. If you’re reading
this and questioning your own transition, I’m here to tell you that
it’s never too late. Some detransitioners I know were on hormones
longer than me, or had surgery, and still reclaimed themselves. Our
community is here for you, and we’re all just trying to heal.