video for USPATH

Here’s the video I made for Carey Callahan (and the others she was working with) to show along with a presentation on detransition at USPATH in Feb 2017!! Incredibly impressed with her for actually showing up there. I’m going to list myself as a USPATH telepresenter on a bunch of resumes now 🙂

Approximate transcription:

At the time when I started to detransition, I was already getting a lot of relief from coping strategies other than transition- relationships with animals, spending a lot of time in nature, connecting with other women with similar experiences, being in a supportive relationship and having a home environment where I was able to relax.

On some level when I was transitioning at 16, I had thought of “being a woman” as everything I wasn’t- pretty, compliant, content with the way I was treated as a woman, and content with my female body.

I thought that women didn’t ever hate their bodies the way I did or believe they’d be better off as a man. I learned this wasn’t true. I learned many women, especially lesbians, have experienced periods of wanting to be men in intense and visceral ways, ways that met the diagnostic criteria for GID or gender dysphoria, but that they were eventually really glad that they had instead made peace with themselves as one type or another of unconventional women. I learned, from connecting with other women, that womanhood could hold women like me, that I could be a woman even if I’d had a mastectomy, didn’t really like shaving, and would rather be called Max than Abigail. I learned that I’m a lesbian.

I loved the standards of care and used them to self-advocate in medical offices as a teenager who met the diagnostic criteria for GID and really thought I’d kill myself if I didn’t transition. I didn’t know there were ways to get relief from those feelings that didn’t come from a therapist, endocrinologist, or surgeon. I generally refused to talk to my old gender therapist about anything except wanting to transition. I have been diagnosed a lot of ways but haven’t talked to a doctor or mental health professional for almost anything except a bad flu in a couple years, and I feel better than I can remember ever feeling in the past. The dynamic of relating to another person as an expert on my body and/or my problems is something I avoid whenever practical.

I count myself as extremely lucky that I had misgivings about the hysterectomy I was about to schedule a while before I stopped transitioning. I am extremely grateful that, at this point in my life, I can usually stay far away from the fields that I feel did me an awful lot of harm. The history of psychiatry is riddled with examples of medical/psychiatric abuse of noncompliant women that was regarded as revolutionary and even sought-after by individuals experiencing really tough stuff. I understand that others feel their transitions were lifesaving, I used to believe this about myself. Do others understand that transition can also do profound harm? Detransition wasn’t forced on me by anyone. This was a realization that was really healing for me, that I could stop transition and it was okay to be a woman the way i was. A lot of detransitioning to me was about listening to myself and believing myself that I had been hurt by this treatment.

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better

When I was repressing the hell out of any complicated feelings about transition, it felt like my life would be destroyed if I let myself actually express even a tiny bit of that stuff.

Once I started connecting with other women who were up to talk about it, I had this excruciating sense of urgency about it. It felt like I was a balloon about to pop, and I could never release enough to relieve the overwhelming pressure. My whole Cymbalta withdrawal syndrome summer ordeal was pretty helpful here, honestly… I literally could not stop talking about any of this. Even after I stopped being physically sick from the withdrawals, I had entirely out of control mood swings and no control over impulsive speech, to a degree I have never experienced before or since. I spent an awful lot of my waking hours rambling about this stuff to somebody. I’m incredibly grateful that ended (months-long massive personality  changes are really disruptive!) but I’m also pretty grateful that it happened.

By the end of it, that feeling of pressure was pretty much gone. For the last few months I’ve felt a lot more like a balloon with absolutely no air in it, which has its own pros and cons. I’m not very energetic or talkative (especially compared to how I was over last summer) but I’m also not freaking the fuck out all the time. Seems like I kind of fast-forwarded through an amount of venting that might have taken me years if I had gone at a remotely reasonable pace. My feelings about transition aren’t something I have to think about all the time anymore.

When I was actively repressing everything, getting to a point where I’d let enough out that I was neither actively losing my shit or repressing any feelings about transition was unimaginable. It did not occur to me that this was something I could work through. It felt absolutely, incredibly insurmountable… and at the time, it probably was. I think denial was pretty adaptive here. At that point, I didn’t trust anyone with feelings like that. I wasn’t alone in the world or anything, but the relationships I had were not ones where I was ready to make myself so vulnerable. I’m glad that I bottled everything up until I had the support to handle processing it, and I’m glad that processing enough of it that I don’t have to think about it all the time didn’t actually end up taking the rest of my life.

It’s not like I’m done having any new thoughts or feelings on those topics. It’s like I’m done taking a giant piss after holding it very painfully for years. I’m sure I’ll keep having difficult feelings about all kinds of things. Like, my mastiff just died. I am so super not happy about that, but like… I trust the people around me enough that I just cried about it all the time for a week straight, and you know what? I feel a lot better than I did when my yellow lab died in high school and I just held everything in. It’s really nice to be in a situation where repressing everything actually isn’t the only way to cope. Really hoping it lasts.

worrying

Here’s a post where I think about my neckbeard for a while and then get wound up about Donald Trump. Classic!!

So… when I first told everyone at work I was really female and had been all along, it was after months of shaving my facial hair, ostensibly in order to make myself more believable. I kept shaving for months after that, specifically in order to make myself appear credibly female to others.

I still got read as male a lot of the time, and I still often got treated weird when seen as female, because I still looked like a fat butch lesbian with a completely flat chest. When I stopped shaving, it turned out the beard really didn’t make much of a difference. Seems like I’m already past some kind of freakishness threshold and out here, it’s kind of a free-for-all. There’s no real winning for women anyway. A lot of the time you might as well do what you want.

And I don’t like shaving! Removing my facial hair (besides a tiny little mustache that I’m not overly fond of aesthetically and do spend like 20 seconds shaving every few days) is not something I wanted to do, or something I was doing for myself. Other women have different experiences here, but this is mine. When I’m feeling at or better than my baseline state, which is most the time lately, I like the way I look. I look like a woman I’d be happy to see and happier to get to know.

I don’t always stick to my guns on this. I’ve shaved for my last few job interviews, now that my ID says female. I should probably stop doing that. A job that’s hostile to women who look how I usually look isn’t going to be a good fit anyway, something several different women with more life experience than me have expressed. I don’t really feel great about shaving for my driver’s license photo, either. It makes me feel like I’m still prioritizing other people’s ideas of who I should be and how I should look over what I actually feel comfortable with. I’m tired of feeling that way. I feel like I’m still trying to peel away all these bad habits, and trying to please others at the expense of being myself is one of them.

I’m not saying these feelings are intrinsic to hair removal. I know plenty of women whose descriptions of their relationships to their facial hair are really different from mine. But I’m not living their lives, and they’re not living mine. If someone else does feel good about removing all that stuff, that’s her business. It doesn’t feel good to me.

The more I give myself permission to stop caring what others think, the more relaxed and authentic I can be, and you know what? A lot of people like authentic, even if they also think you’re kind of a freak. Not being so nervous about others see you makes it a lot easier to connect sincerely. Yeah, connecting with a lot of people might also be easier if “being authentic” to me didn’t include usually not shaving my neckbeard very often, or if I wasn’t a butch lesbian, but that wouldn’t be my life. Getting hung up on lives that are so different from my own that they’re really entirely another (imaginary!) woman’s life is not helpful to me. I have stuff to do, and this is what I have to work with, and it’s enough. That’s something I keep coming back to: what’s left of my body might be less than ideal in some senses, and the process of that loss was difficult, but there’s clearly enough of me to continue living.

Anyway… feels kinda silly to keep on working through my feelings about my appearance right now. Really seems like things are about to get an awful lot worse here. I guess I’m still dipping in and out of denial about that. Really sucks to be too poor to have an escape plan or even start stockpiling more than a little survival stuff. We’re working on plans for some actual organizing where we are, and in the meantime we’re calling numbers and writing emails.

Redressalert’s post related to this stuff is good reading. So is Crash’s. One or both of them link to this really important article by Masha Gessen, a Jewish woman who has survived other autocracies. Gessen has written another article since that’s equally relevant.

There is no good reason I can see to be optimistic about the outcome of this election, and being realistic means challenging ourselves to remain present enough that we can react appropriately to the level of threat that is approaching very, very soon.

choice

Being isolated from others who have complicated feelings about their transition and being unaware of alternative ways to handle the feelings that led me to transition seemed to be the main factors that kept me from exploring negative feelings about this stuff. Without access to those, I think I would have continued transitioning indefinitely. It didn’t feel like a choice. I have a major beef with that- the idea that transition isn’t a choice.

I felt I had no choice but transition for a long time, and the reason I felt that way was because other choices were not offered to me. I didn’t know anyone who had survived feelings like mine without transition, and I didn’t have any ideas about how someone might do that. That’s a problem! How can someone give informed consent to transition when they believe the only alternative is a miserable life eventually cut short by suicide?  People who transition believing it’s absolutely the only way they can ever experience any relief are people whose community and healthcare professionals have failed them.

No doctor told me that getting a troubled shelter dog and training her as a psychiatric service dog, or being in a loving and supportive relationship, or having a bunch of friends with similar experiences, might provide enough relief that I wouldn’t have to live as a man in order to feel okay. They totally did, though. That definitely happened to me.

The fact that a lot of people see advice for coping with distress that doesn’t involve medication or surgery as inherently invalidating is pretty messed up. I’ve seen it expressed that anyone whose drive to transition can be addressed without actually transitioning (or continuing to transition) can’t possibly be experiencing as much pain as someone who’s really trans. Within this model, you aren’t even really suffering unless you believe they’re the only ones who can help. Believing that puts so much power in the hands of for-profit institutions.

The tools used by the medical industrial complex can help people, for sure, and everyone is entitled to decide for herself what approaches to try. But it’s just not true that, for someone’s distress to be valid, it has to be unresponsive to everything except pharmaceuticals or surgery. Finding substantial relief outside a doctor’s office does not inherently mean that the condition was any less serious.

A woman I know once said something along the lines of, if the top priority of all providers of transgender healthcare services was really to help people feel their best, they’d be banging down the doors of all these women talking about alternative strategies for coping with feelings currently or formerly diagnosable as gender dysphoria. I think this is entirely accurate, and I think it’s telling that it hasn’t happened.

strategy

I was really lucky that, when my dissociative defenses started gradually crumbling around me, other women had already been organizing around the experience of stopping transition- other women who have lived it. If it wasn’t for the community that existed because of their hard work, I doubt I would have stopped transition any time soon. The alternatives to community created “for us, by us” looked a lot gnarlier to me than continuing to pretend I was a man on the inside.

For example, my main exposure to criticism of transition, while I was transitioning, was a certain blogger who loves to post photo roundups of unfortunate FTM souls. Seeing post-op pictures of actual people’s actual chests and genitals, that they live with every day, shared nonconsensually (yeah, they were already online, but they were sensitive pictures not shared with any intention of being consumed as anti-trans media) strongly reinforced the hyperbolic descriptions of radical feminists that I was already hearing from the trans community. I read this content compulsively anyway. It caused emotional flashbacks to extreme shame and self hatred. In response to that level of desperation, my drive to transition felt even more immense. When I was transitioning, I knew a lot of other FTMs who would compulsively trigger themselves using the same blog. None of us stopped transitioning as a result of it, either. We just cried a lot about it.

The value of community and activism directed by the individuals it’s stated to serve has been identified by individuals from a wide range of specific experiences. The motto of the Autistic Self Advocacy network is “nothing about us, without us”. Girls Educational & Mentoring Services, an organization created to serve trafficked women and girls, was founded by a woman trafficked in childhood and states as part of their philosophy that “the voices and experiences of youth survivors are integral to the development and implementation of all GEMS’ programming.” It isn’t a new idea that people facing specific challenges know a thing or two about those challenges, and that those observing from the outside often approach their issues in counterproductive ways.

Many women (I don’t attempt to build community with males) who have never transitioned consistently fail to approach the issue with genuine empathy. Some of them appear to believe that, before a woman with a history of transition can be welcomed back into the fold, proper penance must be demonstrated. We are apparently obligated to apologize personally for every anti-feminist action ever performed by anyone FTM. “Abandoning womanhood” is seen as deeply selfish.

Nobody can truly abandon their trauma, no matter how hard they might try, and there is nothing anyone female can do to void her right to name herself as a woman if she so chooses. Asking us to carry the real or perceived sins of everyone else on the same path we took is not fair, and expecting us to talk shit with you about those who don’t stop transition is fucked up. We are not “special snowflakes” for recognizing the areas in which our experiences are distinct and having the self-empathy to recognize when we’re being treated poorly. Transition may not be a feminist act, but we are not bad feminists for trying our best to survive.

Is transition a selfish act? Insofar as any acts intended to be self-preserving over all else are, yeah. It’s worth noting here that the perception of attempted self-preservation as immorally selfish is applied very sparingly to the actions of white, straight men, but broadly applied to anyone female (especially women dehumanized in additional ways), even by other women within feminist community. Are we entitled to protect our own lives to the best of our ability, or aren’t we? Under patriarchy, women are frequently presented with situations in which it is not in their own immediate best interests to act out feminist principles. Shitting on FTMs is not any more politically justifiable than mocking a woman for wearing makeup to work or getting “feminizing” cosmetic surgery. I absolutely do not believe that transition is more selfish than expecting other women to self-flagellate for having transitioned. Condemning someone for choosing (under duress!) an option that kept her alive but did not uplift other women is not compatible with a realistic assessment of the threats women live under.

Referring to transition as an act of self-preservation might seem confusing, since I’ve discussed in the past how I experienced it as self-harm. In reconciling the knowledge that many women ultimately felt their transition was an act of self-harm with the way many currently transitioning describe the process as life-saving, the concept of self-harm as self-preservation is essential.

From SANE, a organization established in the UK to improve quality of life for those affected by mental illness:

Paradoxically, self-harm is mainly an act of self-preservation. Participants found it helpful in controlling emotions and behaviour. There was a sense of a
struggle against behavioural impulses that did not match long term goals and peoples’ understanding of who they are. Most commonly, suicidal behaviour needed curbing– over 100 participants said self-harming had prevented them from killing themselves. Instances of self-harm (particularly wrist-cutting and overdosing) have been mistaken for suicide attempts. It was clear, though, from our research, there was rarely a wish to die. Rather, participants often harmed to end periods of intense suicidal thoughts and feelings: trying to save, not eliminate themselves.
Many believed that harming prevented them from acts of violence and generally made them able to behave in a more acceptable way. Often this entailed limiting expressions of emotion, hiding how one truly thinks and feels: “It keeps me happy in front of others. It has stopped my depression spilling out.” Self-harm appears to be associated with a felt need to keep inner life hidden from others, even family and friends.

For women living under patriarchy, self-preservation frequently appears to require self-harm. Once in a while, maybe there really isn’t any way to survive without self-harm. Often, there is, but to the victim of direct abuse or societal violence, an open door doesn’t always look like an open door. We do our best.

Self-harm is an expression of distress. Realistic discussion of the potential costs of a given strategy is important- we all deserve accurate information about our choices- but condemnation is not. Just stopping the behavior itself won’t eliminate the distress that made it feel necessary in the first place.

From SANE again:

Six participants wrote that it was pivotal to the success of their attempt to discontinue harming to keep choice to harm as a possibility. This may be for fear of losing a coping mechanism; it may also be that accepting the possibility of future self-harm may validate past decisions to harm, removing associated guilt and shame:
“After I’d been in hospital, I went to the college nurse and told her I had been self-harming. She told me that there was nothing wrong with doing it and that I should continue if I wanted to, and booked me into see a counsellor. By telling me that I could do it, it took the guilt out of the cycle and I slowly began to stop. I finally realised that what I was doing wasn’t ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’, it was just my way of coping.”
Taking the guilt out of the cycle may be an important element in successful treatment: following the usual feelings of relief/release and/or calm, a quarter of participants felt guilt/shame/embarrassment and one in nine experienced self-loathing after an episode of self-harm. Given that these emotions were also precipitants of self-harm it is easy to see how such behaviour can feed itself in a vicious circular dynamic– but only insofar as it is interpreted as wrong or loathsome rather than a simple fact.
It is not helpful to shame, mock, or express disgust with the strategies a woman has employed in an attempt to survive the circumstances of her life, and sabotaging another woman’s healing from patriarchal trauma is an anti-feminist act. If you need to vent about your own complicated feelings concerning a certain survival strategy, find an appropriate place to communicate about that. Feel what you feel. But have some respect for your sisters when you do it. Don’t act like “transmen betray women” or “FTM bodies are disgusting” is a sound feminist critique. It’s not.  While we’re on the subject: voyeuristic consumption of uncredited post-op images of someone’s shirtless or naked body taken without permission and used for basically the polar opposite of the OP’s intentions is not chill, whatever judgements you hold about those intentions.
Asking for a little bit of sensitivity around an issue that has shaped so many women’s bodies and lives in ways that will never leave us isn’t the same as saying that transition should never be criticized, and expecting somebody you just met with a history of transition to grovel for your forgiveness because you’re carrying a lot of intense emotions about the type of trauma she has lived with is wildly inappropriate.
On top of being morally wrong, treating other women like stupid, selfish traitors is a shit political strategy. By refusing to regard anyone with a history of transition as your sister unless she demonstrates sufficient submissiveness and willingness to disavow others who made the same choices she did, you’re screening out everyone in that group who has fought to reclaim some amount of self-worth. The handful who may continue to engage with you despite your mistreatment of them are not going to be able to feel or perform their best in a messed up emotional climate like that. For those observing from outside and still buying into trans ideology, these displays of callousness (and the presence of obviously self-hating detransitioned women being expected to atone) validate the idea that “TERFs” are heartless bogeywomyn.

Expressing empathy for those who transition, on the other hand, paves the way for anyone with these experiences looking for a way back home by facilitating sincere connection and understanding. Many of us felt there was no way we could conceive of ourselves as female anymore, that we didn’t deserve to, and that weren’t wanted anywhere. This belief can trap somebody for years living a life they no longer want.  Living stealth as a man was the loneliest I’ve ever felt. It was absolutely fucking miserable. It’s so not okay to undermine opportunities for someone of that experience to connect with other women, provided she’s ready to engage in good faith.

That’s another thing- loving boundaries created to protect the intentions of female space are not incompatible with making room for those of us with a history of transition. If a currently trans-identified female is still trying to talk others into transition, or isn’t okay with being acknowledged as a woman within women’s community, she’s probably not ready to participate there. That doesn’t mean she’s an evil traitor to femaleness, though. It doesn’t mean she’s “like a man”. It just means she may not be a good fit for that group right then, because she’s carrying some complicated baggage that could hurt others.

This isn’t about making sure we have pronoun circles at our bonfires or eroding the definition of female. It’s about listening to each other. It’s about welcoming women who recognize a need to find community as women, but aren’t sure they have a place anywhere anymore. We all need each other. We all need to be seen.

ugly

I get all kinds of intrusive thoughts, or whatever you wanna call it when stuff comes into your head unbidden and upsets you if you engage with it. I think they’re kind of like dreams- products of parts of your brain you can’t control, with wildly varying levels of significance. Sometimes it’s meaningless regurgitated images or words, sometimes it’s an expression of shit that runs really deep, sometimes it’s a nasty and disturbing combination.

Right now I’m stuck on “I want to be beautiful” or “I’m tired of being ugly”. It feels like it’s my 13 year old self saying that in my head. There’s so much shit there. When I was that age, I had started wearing push-up bras and trying to date guys. It was horrible. I “blended in” exactly as much as I could, and it gave me no relief. It didn’t work. I couldn’t do it right, and even when I got as close as possible for me, it felt like shit. After a couple years of that I gave up and tried to be myself- a cranky lesbian. This was not well-received. Another year and I wanted to transition.

The other day, my girlfriend said she wanted everyone in the world to think she was beautiful. I said I wanted that too. She thought for a little bit and then corrected herself, saying what she really wanted was for everybody to think she was valuable. That makes a lot of sense to me. All our lives, women are told a million different ways that our true value is in our looks. This can be incredibly destructive to any woman. Those who do “look right” have their own set of challenges here, but honestly, I don’t know nearly as much about all that. Sharing across that kind of experience gap takes so much vulnerability on both sides. What I know more about is being seen as an unfuckable freak. When that’s how others treat you, of course you think being seen as beautiful is the solution. It’s not really about vanity, or about looking a certain way. Beauty standards are temporally and culturally bound. Wanting to feel worthy of love isn’t.

That’s part of why, for a while, I straddled that line, trying to make myself fuckable for men. At the time, I thought that was the same as lovable. I wasn’t allowed to dress how I wanted anyway, so I tried to hide my butchness and play up my DD breasts. It was a really messy few years.  I had sex with a man and it was disgusting. I saw my best friend assaulted. A lot of rough family stuff happened.

When I came out as trans and was eventually allowed to choose my clothes, that was a really amazing feeling. Throughout transition and detransition, ever since I got control over how I look at around 16, I’ve pretty much stuck with the same look. I get basically the same haircut (which I grow out to variable stages before losing my shit about how bad it looks “long” and cutting it again). I wear mens clothes a couple sizes too big. I don’t wear makeup. I don’t shave, except when I’m feeling self-conscious about my facial hair for some reason. The reason this stuff hasn’t really changed is because, when I’m not freaking out what other people think, I like how I look. I know what I’m comfortable in. So it really makes me feel crazy when I get echoes of adolescent wishes to be pretty and normal.

On the other hand, it totally makes sense right now. I feel like a repulsive freak an awful lot lately. It’s hard to remember that I don’t always feel this way. When I’m surrounded by butch women, detransitioned women, and others who don’t fit in a lot of places, I don’t worry that I’m a literal monster who deserves to be immolated for the good of society. What I’m experiencing is not innate to being a funny-looking woman. It’s not caused by my body, and it’s not caused by how I present myself. It’s caused by isolation from supportive community, and forced engagement with people who can’t (or won’t) really see me.

Anyway, my girlfriend and me went out to a nature reserve so I feel a lot better than I did when I started writing this. I love algae and willows and weird bugs. We met a nice couple on okcupid last week and I’m trying to make friends with someone from Craigslist. Would super love to have more than zero good friends within a 3 hour drive. Maybe we’ll get there eventually. A billion different pretty necessary expenses we can’t afford have been coming up for months and my work is super stressful, but all things considered, it feels like I’m doing a lot better lately.

relevance of suicide contagion

Despite the many massive and immediately obvious differences between the two, I think suicide contagion and how that spreads is relevant to discussions of social contagion as a trigger for transition. Both are drastic strategies generally employed, at least in part, as an attempt to alleviate acute dissatisfaction with one’s life. I struggled with a drive to commit suicide for a long time and still have issues with suicidal ideation at times. My transition was motivated in part by my belief that it would make me less suicidal.

In terms of suicide contagion, the role of preexisting vulnerabilities is acknowledged as a necessary causal factor for suicide contagion to impact someone. In terms of suicide contagion, it’s not just like it’s actually just a result of seeing something on tv or whatever. What happens is that seeing suicide discussed in certain ways can function as a trigger event for life-ending self harm behavior, in the context of someone’s current situation.

While transition is not inherently life-ending by any means, the rise in incidence as its presence on mainstream and social media rises indicates that social contagion is probably a factor at play here. Here’s some further thoughts on that.

Another similar feature is the possibility of “mass clusters” of suicides, as well as “point clusters” of suicides occurring on a smaller scale. These are patterns that many of us have seen with transition.

Two general types of suicide cluster have been discussed in the literature; roughly, these can be classified as mass clusters and point clusters. Mass clusters are media related, and the evidence for them is equivocal; point clusters are local phenomena, and these do appear to occur. Contagion has not been conceptually well developed nor empirically well supported as an explanation for suicide clusters. An alternative explanation for why suicides sometimes cluster is articulated: People who are vulnerable to suicide may cluster well before the occurrence of any overt suicidal stimulus, and when they experience severe negative events, including but not limited to the suicidal behavior of one member of the cluster, all members of the cluster are at increased risk for suicidality (a risk that may be offset by good social support).
On a local scale, many of us involved in trans community have watched “point cluster”-structured explosions of transition within a social group happen right in front of us. I know I’ve watched friend groups go from having a couple trans people to entirely trans-identified, online many times and once in person. This also appears to be occurring on a “mass cluster”-like scale… here’s a graphic an online news site posted in an article speaking positively about transition, showing the rise in referrals to the only clinic in England handling pediatric transition.

4ebd850053fe3802a0d75fa71279b6eb
If you view transition as exclusively positive, this rise in its incidence is a good thing. As someone who experienced transition as an effort to medically “correct” me as an underage traumatized butch lesbian with a learning disability, though, I have a hard time believing that no one else is going to be hurt by this. I sought transition because I could see no other way to move forward. Have all 1,398 of these children and adolescents been made aware of other ways to cope with these feelings, involving fewer medical risks and no ongoing reliance on synthetic hormones? Were their struggles all seen and respected before they pursued transition? Are they all cognitively developed enough to make fully educated choices when it comes to decisions that may affect their bodies in huge ways for the rest of their lives? I doubt this very much.
Anyways- here’s the aspects of media reporting that the CDC cites as contributing to suicide contagion.

  • Presenting simplistic explanations for suicide
  • Providing sensational coverage of suicide
  • Reporting “how-to” descriptions of suicide
  • Presenting suicide as a tool for accomplishing certain ends
  • Glorifying suicide or persons who commit suicide
  • Focusing on the suicide completer’s positive characteristics
As a thought experiment, replace “suicide” with “transition” in each of these “don’ts”. Does that not describe how transition is frequently discussed, both intercommunity and to an increasing degree, even in media outside the community?

Obviously there’s a ton of media against transition, too… but everyone in the world is also saturated with media that (in terms of explicit messages, if not how it treats people struggling) generally discourages suicide (in a range of ways with very diverse levels of empathy and potential helpfulness to a suicidal person). In light of that, I don’t think the existence of a shit ton of trans-people-hating media wholly invalidates the comparison.

Another important note: suicide contagion is generally seen as most likely to occur when a vulnerable population feels they have a lot in common with the deceased. I feel that this fits the patterns I’ve seen in trans communities- people seem more likely to consider transition when someone who they previously viewed as “the same” as them begins transition. For example, I know several butch women who have talked about transition spreading through friend groups formerly composed exclusively of women who knew themselves as butch lesbians.

Here’s something else about suicide contagion: there are community responses that can mitigate its impact. In terms of suicide, the focus is fully on prevention. This isn’t directly analogous to transition; I don’t think the focus should truly be to prevent transition. For one thing, this would imply a lack of support for those who have already transitioned, a group I’m visibly a part of. As long as transition is available, some of us will choose it, and that doesn’t mean they’re any less human or deserving of support. Withdrawing support upon transition also makes it less likely for individuals to feel that stopping transition is an option.

However, I do feel that efforts should be made to communicate that transition is not the only option when it comes to coping with a drive to transition. This isn’t common knowledge. Support for women coping with rejection related to gender noncompliance, alienation from their bodies, distress at being seen as female, and other experiences often coded as inherently trans should be widely available, whether or not those experiences are a part of a trans identity for the individual suffering. These are female experiences and should be decoupled from transition narratives to a higher degree, while still allowing trans individuals to recognize them as a part of their stories. Resources on all of the different ways different individuals have managed to handle what would be diagnosed as GID or gender dysphoria, without further reliance on medical intervention, should be broadly available, especially in communities where a reduction of social restraints on transition has taken place.

If transition is supposed to be a choice, there have got to be other options. Doing something because you believe it’s the only way to avoid eventually killing yourself isn’t really the same as making a free choice. Whether it helps you or not, medical transition exposes you to a shit ton of risk. There are lower risk options that, for many of us, worked an awful lot better.

Would point clusters of transition occur with the same frequency if sensitive, unbiased support systems that acknowledged these feelings do not inherently necessitate transition, were made available to those struggling? Would mass clusters? I don’t know for sure. It’s worth noting that, in the year I’ve spent in detransition/reconciling community, I’ve never seen a bunch of us return to a trans identity at once. This has been true (as far as I’ve seen) even though some individuals do return to transition, and everyone in these circles has previously considered herself trans in some way.

I believe our resilience to intercommunity transition spikes is heightened in this community because, by virtue of being connected to each other, we can freely process the way it makes us feel when someone we feel we have a lot in common with returns to a coping mechanism that we know has done us harm. Naming our feelings and working with each other to identify ways to move forward probably makes us less likely to rely on objectively higher-risk strategies. This is not something that many women have, but I feel that it’s something all women deserve (to the extent that they can participate without harming others). We can’t find out if anyone would choose transition freely until everyone knows it’s not their only option.