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.

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.

social contagion

Discussion of the rise in transition rates being potentially caused by social contagion (usually discussed as spreading through social media) often neglects to address what has rendered so many young people vulnerable to it. When transition possibly caused by social contagion is brought up without explicitly acknowledging that only certain individuals are likely to be susceptible to seek transition after online exposure to trans community, I feel like the uninitiated are likely to assume this is some kind of fad, like when everybody in 6th grade made a Club Penguin account. It’s not.

Yeah, I read a lot of before I came out, and I’m not going to say that kind of thing had no impact on me. Still, I really doubt I would have given much of a shit (or spent so much time on those sites) if it weren’t for the people on that blog looking more like me than anyone at my school, if it weren’t for them describing their dysphoria in language that very much resonated with me, if I hadn’t been looking for some kind of “out” all my life, etc etc.

We all have different stories about how we got here, but none of them (that I’ve heard, at least) are actually as simple as “I saw it on the internet”, even if immersing ourselves in internet subcultures that glorify transition was one factor. This implication is alienating as hell to people who never had their emotional problems validated until they described them using the language of transition.

Behavioral contagion is a result of the reduction of fear or restraints – aspects of a group or situation which prevent certain behaviors from being performed.[2] Restraints are typically group-derived, meaning that the “observer”, the individual wishing to perform a certain behavior, is constrained by the fear of rejection by the group, who would view this behavior as a “lack of impulse control”.[2]

An individual (the “observer”) wants to perform some behavior, but that behavior would violate the unspoken and accepted rules of the group or situation they are in; these rules are the restraints preventing the observer from performing that action. Once the restraints are broken or reduced the observer is then “free” to perform the behavior his- or herself; this is achieved by the “intervention” of the model. The model is another individual, in the same group or situation as the observer, who performs the behavior which the observer wished to perform.[2] Stephenson and Fielding (1971) describe this effect as “[Once] one member of a gathering has performed a commonly desired action, the payoffs for similar action or nonaction are materially altered. … [The] initiator, by his action, establishes an inequitable advantage over the other members of the gathering which they may proceed to nullify by following his example. ”[1]

This rings true for me. When I first learned transition existed, when I was around 13, I was really intrigued, but never considered it as a possibility for myself- the cost was too high. These were people I only saw on daytime talk shows when I stayed home sick, getting called really horrible names and treated as spectacles. Over the next few years, as I gradually learned more about transition and got to know more individuals who were transitioning online, I felt less and less like transitioning would make me a freak or totally alone. By the time I was around 16, the cost/benefit equation had shifted considerably in my eyes, enough for me to start pursuing transition.
In a way, it’s a good thing that I didn’t judge myself as harshly for having a drive to transition. I don’t think people who want to transition, or who do transition, should feel like they’re disgusting freaks for it, the way I used to. And of course, not transitioning alone wouldn’t have resolved any of the trauma or pervasive lifelong gendered rejection that made me want to escape femaleness. It’s not like I would be totally fine if I had just managed to avoid one maladaptive coping mechanism. Given that no healthier options were made accessible to me, I was going to keep trying self-preservation strategies with high costs, transition or no transition. I might have had more serious alcohol issues, thrown myself into casual sex, whatever. Something was gonna have to give.

So… social contagion, as it’s generally understood (to my knowledge; I’m no expert) doesn’t create new aspirations out of thin air. It reduces inhibitions that prevent someone from doing something they kinda wanted to do in the first place, or would once somebody else told them about it. If your kid asked for hormones after spending 3 days straight on FTM Youtube, bad news- blaming the internet is an overly simplistic explanation that erases the complexity of their inner life. Succeeding in blocking them from transition alone will not resolve any of the underlying feelings that motivated them to seek it.

The way this model of social contagion can apply to maladaptive coping mechanisms is really striking. At my middle school, a ton of the girls (me included) started cutting one after another. Were we cutting to be cool? Was it the same as the way those fucking save the boobies bracelets spread? No. All of us were still humiliated if anyone saw our cuts, even other girls who were cutting. It felt like shit. It definitely did not help us when people talked about how all the girls were cutting lately as if it was like any other trend. We all had our own reasons for doing it.

When I went to my little sister’s graduation from a fancy charter school this year, I was really surprised that so many of her classmates were trans. I was the only person who transitioned at my high school several years ago, and I went on independent study to do it. Almost nobody even knew why I wasn’t in class anymore. So why are there so many trans teenagers at this school? Are my sister’s classmates “faking it”? I doubt it. The most likely explanation to me seems like, since the social costs are lower, the strategy of transitioning to cope with certain feelings is being used more widely.

Nobody goes through all this trouble just because they saw it online, at least nobody I know, and an awful lot of women in my life have sought transition at one time or another. Everyone has their own reasons. For me, some of the big ones were gendered rejection, sexual trauma, difficult dynamics at home, being entirely isolated from lesbian (especially butch lesbian) role models and community, seeing boys with similarly ADD-looking issues treated with much more understanding than I ever was, stuff like that. I needed help finding a healthy lesbian community, resources for coping with being female and ADD, and support learning to live with sexual trauma. Just locking up my laptop wouldn’t have helped me get those needs met. All it would have done is change the direction of my self-destructive shitspiral- for a while, at least.

Basically, I would like to see more care taken in these discussions.

An Open Letter to Julia Serano from One of the‭ ‬Detransitioned People You‭ ‬Claim to‭ ‬“Support‭” — There Are So Many Things Wrong With This

Originally posted on crashchaoscats: Hey Julia, My name is Crash and I‭’‬m a detransitioned woman.‭ ‬I blog about how and why I came to transition and then detransition at and at‭ ‬I‭’‬ve been talking to,‭ ‬hanging out and organizing with other detransitioned women for around three years now.‭ ‬In that time I have…

via An Open Letter to Julia Serano from One of the‭ ‬Detransitioned People You‭ ‬Claim to‭ ‬“Support‭” — There Are So Many Things Wrong With This

Passing & Pronouns

Hey, um, so… a lot of different feelings. I wanted to talk a little bit about how I experienced passing, as a man- and I mean I still experience it, you know, because people, people don’t really know what to make of this… um… at first, I started passing about six months or so after I got my mastectomy, because I got a round little face. And it took a long time for my voice to even drop as much as I did, I had, uh, I was pretty shrill… um… so, when I first started passing, it was pretty cool, uh, it was really cool. I felt like I was becoming this new person who could have an easier life. I felt like I was re-creating myself, I was… I don’t know, um, I felt like I was being seen.

And… the longer it went, the less I felt like that. The more time I spent with men thinking I was men, being treated the way men treat other men, and women treating me the way they treat men… it was intensely distressing. It did not feel like I was being seen. Once I realized what other people meant when they saw me that way, and what that meant to them, whether or not they would have defined it the way I did or even noticed they were treating me differently… it’s a lot. Like, I, I’ve done… I work in group homes, I’ve done work in group homes for a while, and when I was a man- “when I was a man”! I mean, I wasn’t ever a man. But when people thought I was a man, they expected me to clean so much less. People were so much nicer to me.

You know, I’m, kind of mental health-wise, I’m kind of a shitshow. Um, and, um, people were so much more patient about attention deficit stuff, like about needing help, needing them to explain things, and go over stuff when I screwed stuff up… people were so much more patient with me. When I was like, kind of nervous socially, people would go out of their way to try and make me feel comfortable, in a way that I had never experienced before, you know, in my life as a woman who looked like a lesbian. And, um, going back… I mean, it’s, you know, people treat me differently again.

People, I… you know, I told my coworkers. I made them transfer me sites and everything, I told… my supervisor and everybody, that, you know… “woman all along”… I goofed…and so, now I’m back to working in an environment where everyone knows I’m a woman. And the expectations are higher again, you know, people want me to clean more, people are passive aggressive when I forget to clean, you know, it’s different, you know? And group homes are kind of interesting, the ones I work in, because it’s kind of… obviously it’s very different, but in some ways it’s kind of similar to a family environment, in that there’s a lot of like, domestic labor, and like, emotional labor, are big things, that you’re helping these people with their problems and talking to them. And like, the expectations on me in this environment, are wildly different when people think I’m a man versus when I’m not. People expect so much more emotional work from me, and like, support for people emotionally from me… the people I support too, expect more from me when they think I’m a woman than when I’m a man.

Um… yeah, it’s just a trip. And you know, women are scared of you, the way they’re scared of men. And that makes to be scared of men, and it make sense to be scared of me when you think I’m a man, but shit… I guess, I don’t know. Part of transitioning for me was- I mean, I don’t know if it was part of transitioning exactly. But… I don’t know.
Part of being a lesbian to me, and I think for other lesbians but especially if you look, you look more butch, is… this fear of being like a man, of being scary, of being predatory, of being dangerous. And having other people reinforce to me that I was a man, and reinforced to myself that I was a man, and have it reinforced to me that it’s correct when other people treat me like a man… that did not do me any favors. Um… because I’m not, that’s not the reality, it’s just not true. There was a time when I wanted that to be true, and… even then, it wasn’t true, I’m not, I’m not a man.

Um… and, you know, as intensely as passing felt like being seen at first, is exactly how intensely I feel erased now. I, it’s, I don’t know. I mean, I felt like I was doing the right thing, and even like, a couple months before I stopped transitioning, I would have told you, you know, this is who I am, I can’t help it. Um… but, obviously that didn’t play out. So yeah.

Um… I guess just… feel like I haven’t seen enough… you know, it’s obviously really hard to talk about, but I haven’t seen a lot of conversation about how difficult passing can be emotionally, for someone who hasn’t grown up as a man, who hasn’t been taught that they deserve to be given all of the things men are given at the expense of women. Um… it just, it’s just, it’s just like fingers in the wound, of like, you know, you do not deserve… this is not, this is not for you. This is for men. It just feels like… I don’t know, it just reminds me, it just reminded me… you know, that… that wasn’t how people saw me, that wasn’t what, deep down, these people would think of me, if they knew I was female. They would not think, that, you know, that I deserved all this help. I was getting this nice treatment because they thought I was someone I was not.

And you know, I couldn’t talk about my childhood? You know, I’d tell… I have sisters, I have all these stories about my sisters, and it’s really hard to talk about your relationship with your sisters, when everyone thinks you’re a man, you know, you can’t talk about Girl Scouts, you know, there’s so much shit, there’s just so much shit. Couldn’t talk- the only girl on cross country, I couldn’t talk about being the only girl on cross country, there’s just all these parts of my life, that, you know, you can’t just… you know, it’s not like a video game, you can’t just change the gender, change the pronouns, and the story stays intact. Nothing makes any- it doesn’t, it doesn’t work anymore. I can’t just… I don’t know. I don’t know.

Um… yeah. And I mean, I still get, I still get read as male all the time now. But it’s different, um, now that I can… now that I’m not so dependent on other people to see me. Now that I know what I am, regardless of what someone else sees or doesn’t see. Having some stability in my self-concept, like, makes a huge difference. I don’t, you know, I don’t… obviously I am “misgendered”, you know, people call me a man all the fucking time, you know, I go to the store, whatever.

Um… but… it doesn’t change what I know about myself, it doesn’t shake me in the same way. It sets off… it makes me kind of, you know, makes me have to think about, and do some more processing, do some feelings work, about old feelings, of what it felt like to pass, while I believed that made me a man inside, and this was a true and honest reflection of myself, um… but… it doesn’t… it doesn’t get to me in the same way anymore, um, that it used to, because I know what I am.

I don’t know, it’s just kind of a weird, it’s a weird thing. Because obviously before transition, I didn’t like female pronouns, whatever…whoo… um, but yeah, I mean, I hated she pronouns, I was all fussed about that. I was very worked up about that. And that was about what they represented to me. The same way male pronouns distressing me now, or I mean, distressing me sometimes now, is about what they represent to me now. Um, my distaste for female pronouns was about what I thought they meant, and the ideas that I had heard and been told over and over again, and that I believed, and did not question, about what it meant to be a woman, and that that was something that could not include me.

Which I mean, you know, fair enough. Makes sense that I thought that. I really hadn’t encountered communities where a woman could be like me, where that wasn’t, you know, where I hadn’t spent time anywhere, where, you know,  I wasn’t kind of a freak show. And… I don’t know. Getting to spend time in female space now, with, especially… the two times I’ve gone to female, uh, events, were events that had a bunch of other, detransitioned and reconciling women, like women who had stopped transition before or after taking medical steps, um… being around those ladies and getting to talk to everybody and be together, and not be, you know, not be such a fucking freak… made a huge difference.

This is kind of a sidebar, I was trying to talk about how it’s not fun to get seen as a man. But yeah, um… kind of looped the hell around. It used-for a while, I couldn’t stand either, I didn’t know what the fuck I was gonna do, you know, “nonbinary”, so to speak. But it really just turned out that I needed to do more, do more thinking… with my girlfriend who also used, she used it pronouns, for years… we love each other. We were both trans when we met. But yeah, we just had to do more thinking and processing, and, you know, feelings work about what those pronouns meant to us. So yeah, uh, those are my thoughts… later.

Nerve Damage

So I guess something I wanted to talk about a little more, that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, um, I guess, in terms of reality checks about what, what surgery might end up being like.

Um… nerve damage. That’s not fun. It really did not seem like that big of a deal to me, when I was, um, looking into surgery, I read all my side effects, signed all my papers, went to the doctor… I did everything right, everyone told me what was what gonna happen. Um, but, if you don’t have, like, nerve damage… I mean any medical thing, anything you haven’t experienced yet, you don’t really know what it’s like. But specifically right now, I’m talking about like… if you don’t have nerve damage, you don’t really know what that’s like, you don’t know what you’re signing up for. Um… it’s pretty distressing to have an area of your body where you  used to feel something… feel dead. I mean, it feels the same as like… when your mouth is numb. Sometimes. Sometimes it hurts like hell.

And that’s the other thing is it’s like, it’s all over the place? Um, it’s really really weird to go from having normal sensation on a part of your body, to be, you know, drugged to sleep and wake up, and then going forward, for years going forward, you have no sensation, or pain, or no sensation mixed with pain, or like dead and pain, it’s just, it’s crazy! It’s really hard to describe. In terms of like what sensation feels like, nerve damage kind of feels like it’s like, off the sensation spectrum, like it’s not really a kind of feeling I had considered existed before.

Um, and you know… when I was with someone else who was trans, who I felt really comfortable with, who was getting a mastectomy, like, my chest was able- I was able to experience my chest as a part of our like, you know, intimacy together. A lot of other things went wrong in that relationship, but I did experience my chest, as a a part of my sexuality. And that’s very weird, to go from having something… potentially, with the right person you feel really really comfortable with, in terms of those issues, be a part of my sexuality, versus feeling dead, it feels dead, or painful.

Um… so yeah, and you know, I thought anything was better than what I had. But you know, I wasn’t super realistic about how top surgery turns out when you’re not, you know, the “right” size. My surgeon… my surgeon told me, the same as if someone was much smaller than me- or you know, whatever- if someone was- the “right” size for a surgery like this. Um… I really, I really didn’t know what that would mean.

Not that I think I’d feel any better about my chest, if it looked super symmetrical and everything. I don’t think that I would. But I mean, it does kind of strike me that, you know, I wasn’t expecting this, even though by any reasonable measure, I should have been. I’d seen pictures of people who had had surgery with, you know, I’d like, like, 32DDs, and I wasn’t super really thin, you know, kind of… regular. So… I don’t know. I think that’s another element that demonstrates kind of how, you can go into this and sign everything and say all the right words, and not really have it be real to you, what the actual results might be.

And my nipples- whew! Oh my goodness. Yikes! Um… they still look like scar tissue, it’s been like three years, and they still are like… you know they’re not really perfectly round, they’re kind of…tore up, you know, they kind of look… I don’t know. They don’t look… nothing looks the way I thought it would. And I didn’t have any real good reason to think it would look that way, either, I was just, you know, I wasn’t being realistic with myself. I would say all the right words, but inside, I wasn’t really realistic with myself.

And you know, nipple sensation. Whew! You know, that’s… I don’t think that’s coming back. Um, I have almost no feeling and what I do have is pain, and it feels, it just feels nasty, it feels crazy. And it just brings up, you know, all the other feelings about my chest.

Um… like you know, there’s little pockets on the front of your shirt? When I’m wearing TWO shirts, I love putting shit in my front pocket. Super convenient. I work at a job where there’s a bunch of keys, so I can keep my keys in the front pocket. Uh… keep my phone in the front pocket. And then summer comes and I’m wearing one shirt, and I put, and I try to put something in the front pocket on my tshirt, and it’s like oh shit, because it’s like on my nipple, and it just feels horrible. So then every time I go to put my phone away, I’m like- I’m attention deficit, real attention deficit, and so I just forget all fucking day. So I’m constantly being reminded that you know, you can’t use the front pocket of your shirt, or else you’ll have to think about your fucking chest all day.

Um… yeah… um, you know… it’s not symmnetrical. I’m off testosterone now, I have been for like a year, and tissue’s kind of coming back there a little bit, you know, because whenever- it doesn’t generally come back until your weight starts shifting around, but I guess mine is now, a little bit, because my chest has a little bit more, like, breast kind of tissue, and then… um… and it’s super weird, because the new tissue has normal feeling, but the old tissue doesn’t… like, a lot of it is still nerve damage-y… I don’t know it’s just! It’s crazy! I don’t know how to describe nerve damage. Super weird though. And if you know, it turns out that this isn’t something you have… easy feelings about, nerve damage sure as shit doesn’t help with that, damn! It so super does not help!

Um… so yeah, I guess, just wanted to talk about that, basically. Um… just wanted to talk about how things can turn out, because this is a reality, is that, there was nothing before I transitioned that would have clearly distinguished me from anyone else. That’s, I mean, my gender therapist is, was experienced, and had a lot of, you know, had a lot of experience with this stuff, with a lot of people, and we’ve talked about how this all turned out for me. I don’t see a gender therapist anymore, whoo, I don’t see any therapist, damn, hoo. Um… but I email with my gender therapist, and we talk about this, and I don’t think my gender therapist knew this was something that could happen to me, either, I don’t think anyone knew.

And that’s kind of the problem. I mean, at the very least, people should be aware that this is how it can turn out, that you can end up- years into it, years into it, you can realize… hey, um… I’m a fucking lesbian, and I really fucked up. And now, you know, I have to live with that. And that’s, this is where, you know- and there’s, you know, there’s ways to move forward from it, there’s talking about your feelings, there’s connecting with other people, there’s plenty of things you can do, but… I would not wish this on anyone. It would have been a LOT easier to not have that surgery. I really would have done myself some favors with THAT. Um… so yeah. Um… well, bye.

Masectomy Feelings

So after watching Maria Catt’s video and Kat’s video I decided to make one too… ended up making three. I’m prolific! Here’s the first one.

Hey! Um, I’m Max, um, so I watched Maria Catt’s video, and she’s great, wish her the best, um, and, she talked about, mentioned that people have a lot of feelings about having mastectomies, and, I myself am someone with a lot of feelings about having a mastectomy, and I know that there’s a lot of stuff out there that talks about how great it is, and I made stuff like that, when I thought mine was really great, and when I thought this had gone really good. Um, so I just kind of wanted to talk about my experiences with that.

Um, initially what I wanted to do was film this somewhere pretty, because it’s not really a pretty conversation, but um, it’s kind of windy, so instead I’m doing it in my dusty shed. So yeah. I wanted surgery initially- I mean I started wanting surgery when I started wanting to transition. I, I thought it would help, basically. I was uncomfortable with my chest in a really profound way. I really did not like looking at myself or thinking about what I looked like. I REALLY did not like other people looking at me or thinking about what I looked like. I thought that top surgery would help, I guess, is kind of, the main reason why I did that. I kept thinking that for years afterwards, for three years. I thought it had helped.

And kind of… you know, the reality of that was, that what it helped me do was think about my chest less, because there was nothing there. When you’ve got a flat chest, there’s not as many logistical concerns that you need to address, so it’s easier minute-to-minute, to not think about my chest. Um, it did NOT make me more comfortable with what was there. Even immediately after surgery, I was pretty horrified by what it looked like. Um, and you know, that’s the reality of surgery, is that it’s kind of gross to look at. Um, but I had assumed it would be worth it, and I kept talking myself into that, um, narrative, that I was becoming who I needed to be, that I had been born wrong, and that there was this other person that I could become, who would have an easier life, who could be happy.

So yeah, trying to get back on track here, got a little notebook. So yeah, when I went in for surgery, I thought it was going to be really great. I was really excited, this was what I wanted. I asked my surgeon the day of, when he was marking on my chest with marker, um, I asked where the tissue would go. I wanted to know if it was like Fight Club, in a trash can and shit. He said no, it got incinerated, and I was like yeah, I’m right. Um, and, everyone was really nice to me, everyone was really nice to me.

When we got to the operating room, I was surprised by the kind of dentist-looking chair they had there, I thought it would be a big flat silver table, and I expressed that to Dr Crane, Curtis Crane in San Francisco, and he was like what, it’s not a morgue. And I was like haha… I thought this whole thing was all very funny. I was excited to experience going under anesthesia. And looking back, that is not how I feel. It is terrifying to me that that’s how I felt at the time, because to me that speaks to how disconnected I was, from my body, and how little I cared about what happened to me.

And you know, this was a time in my life when I was regularly having intense suicidal ideation, and transition felt like an alternative to that. Like, I wanted to die- I never actually- you know, I wanted to die, but the reason I wanted to die was because I didn’t think I could have a better life. So with the prospect of transition, I thought, hey, this is a way to have a better life, and not, um, kill myself, so you know, I was down for that. And I think that was a lot of what- was a part of why, I was up for something as intense as surgery.

So for a few years after my surgery, like I said, I was cool with it, in that I didn’t have anything negative to say about it. I didn’t look at my chest much, I didn’t think about my chest much. It was easier to detach myself from the way I had felt about my chest then, and from the way I felt about my chest now, which, whoo, I was not ready for that. I would occasionally- you know, I would have thoughts and feelings about distress, with surgery, and confusion, and a lot of complicated feelings about my chest, but I wouldn’t engage with them, I wouldn’t think about it. I tried really hard not to think about it.

And actually, it was months after I had decided to stop transitioning at all, it was months after I had gone off testosterone, that I felt really able to say that this surgery was something I regreted, this wasn’t something I wanted to do, this wasn’t the way I wanted to live. And I feel, I think that the framework of grief is really relevant here. And you know, the way stages of grief work isn’t that you go through them in perfect order. How it works is that you kind of move around through them and sometimes you’re spending more time in one or the other. And I mean, before people start engaging in that process, a lot of times where they are is denial. And that’s, that’s very understandable, this is a lot of fucking feelings to have. It’s really fucking intense. I don’t think it’s wrong not to want to talk about this.

But yeah. I spent a lot of time- I mean, three years, guess it could have been longer, but it felt like a long time- um, trying to convince myself that what happened was okay. And it’s not, it’s not. I don’t feel okay. I don’t feel like what happened was okay at all. Um, I feel, like… it… I tried talking about this with like, people who aren’t very familiar with the very specific kind of issues that are relevant here. Um… and a friend of mine told me that what I was talking about sounded like I should look into, like, losing a child?

It feels, I mean, it’s a loss. It feels like, it feels like I killed a part of me on purpose, because I blamed that part of me, for the mistreatment that was attracted by my chest. You know, I feel like I was blaming my chest for, the way I was treated- I put a LOT on that part of my body, and I felt that, by removing my breasts, I could remove those feelings. That you know, I could amputate, my uh, my fucking feelings. And unfortunately, you know, it would be super convenient if that was the case, I would so super love if that was true. For me it was not, it was not true at all. So… so… I mean I got all the feelings that led me here in the first place, that led me to transition and surgery, those feelings are still there. They’re not gone, they’re not better at all. And now I’ve got all the extra shit that transitioning added.

You know, for me right now, especially surgery is kind of what’s big for me. Yeah, I guess I just wanted to talk about that, that this doesn’t always turn out well, and I think it’s important to be realistic about that, that this may not go well, this may not be something you feel good about in three years. Even if you feel good in one year, even if you feel good in two years. I mean, I would have told anyone that I was having a great fucking time, I would say yeah this isn’t something I regret, this is so awesome, I would argue with people about it, you know? I wasn’t different until I was.

And a lot of that is that I’m in a place now, you know, I’m in a good relationship, I have a stable house environment, I have support online from other women of these experiences. I’m in a place where I can, where I’m safe enough to start unpacking these feelings. I mean, if I was still… if I wasn’t with my girlfriend, you know? If I had been alone, and as isolated from lesbian community as we are right now, and as I have been for the last few years, um… I don’t think I would have figured this stuff out myself. I would have kept saying my surgery is a great fucking decision, I would have felt stuffing my feelings down, and having other problems because of that. I mean… I drank a lot more, I smoked a lot more, when I was trying not to deal with those feelings.

Actually, I… I think around six months after I had surgery, I had- eight months after? I had like, a psychotic break, I lost it. You know, I thought, aliens were after me, and stuff. So you know, stuffing that shit down didn’t really do me any favors, but you know, it did feel like my only option for a long time.

So basically yeah, just… this wasn’t very organized. I wrote a bunch of really good notes and then I just kind of… departed, departed from that. But yeah. Basically… it’s important to be realistic about how this might go. And you know… if you haven’t had surgery yet, and you’re idealizing it, I think it’s important to seek out reality checks, in terms of how this might go. I… this did not go well for me.

I feel like I lost a part of my body and like I lost the chance to do the really intense and challenging, but ultimately worthwhile, emotional work of figuring out how to live with my body, the way it was. And now that’s gone. And what I have- the work that I can do is, figuring out how to live with a body that is permanently marked by my desire to destroy it. You know, I, I have permanently made a part of my body, my hatred of it. And you know, I was into self-harm before, that’s not new exactly, but it’s kind of another level, it feels like, to me, in terms of my own relationship to cutting or burning myself, versus my chest being so different. It’s a lot.

Um, and if, if this is something that you’ve already done, and you’re having complicated feelings about it, um, regardless of whether you’re intending to transition or whatever, we can talk about that. It’s, it’s a lot to be alone with it. You don’t have to, you know, we all make our own choices. There’s no pressure to, for you to deal with this the same way that I have. If you’re feeling alone with this and want to talk about it, hit me up.


Response to “Fear of a Trans Planet”

(This is a response to this article; I’m reposting it here because their comment box doesn’t allow line breaks, so this way I can post a link to it for anyone else who absolutely cannot read that many words with no lines in between.)

“Where are the people who switched pronouns at 10, switched pronouns again at 25, and found the experience traumatizing? Where are the people who received unneeded medical interventions and were permanently, or temporarily, harmed?”

I transitioned FTM at 16, was on testosterone and had a double mastectomy by 17. I’m 20 now and back to understanding myself as a lesbian, like I was before I found out about transition and latched onto it as a way to “fix” body issues created by the challenges of growing up in a deeply misogynistic and lesbian-hating world. I don’t know if he’s ever planning on using the interview directly but I’ve spoken to Singal at length about what happened to me and I know at least one other woman who transitioned underage and talked to him, too, so he knows women who went through this are out there. He is not speaking in the hypothetical.

I absolutely am traumatized by what happened to me, and I’m not the only one. I’m a part of support networks for women who stopped transition that have over 100 members, and that’s just the individuals who have gone looking for others with this experience and found us. I’ve met more than a dozen of these ladies in person at different times… we’re definitely real. If you’re interested in learning more about this experience, here’s a publication by some of these women (not focused specifically on pediatric transition although I believe at least one contributor did transition underage).

Plenty of others who transition, whether they continue or not, live with complicated feelings about what happened. Not all of us name those experiences the same way, search for community to process that pain, or ever “go public” to any degree. This is trauma.

Hormone therapy really wasn’t that safe, in my experience. I remember being 17 and watching my pediatric endocrinologist literally Google dosing information right in front of me. Didn’t inspire confidence. The doctors controlling my HRT had no idea what they were doing, at least with patients like me. They were all just as confused about how to treat me medically as they were about how to interact with me as a human being. When I was on testosterone and taking Adderal for ADD, I got heart palpitations, chest pain, and shortness of breath. I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t want to have to choose between a psych med that was making a huge difference in my ability to function in the workplace and hormone therapy, and I didn’t want to acknowledge that what I was doing was dangerous.

Early in my transition, I went through menopause. This caused vaginal atrophy and drip incontinence that has persisted for years. I piss myself slowly all day now; it’s really not cute or fun. I refused to acknowledge it was connected to the HRT-caused vaginal atrophy that immediately preceded its onset until months after going off testosterone. Yeah, I signed a paper saying I knew that could happen. I also thought this treatment was my only hope for coping with the intense feelings of alienation/disgust with my femaleness. I was wrong. Transition didn’t help. It did harm, harm that I now have to learn how to live with on top of all the shit I thought transition would fix.

I know plenty of others who had a wide range of even more concerning side effects on testosterone, and many of us didn’t ever say a word about these health problems until we were “desisting”. Nobody wants to be told they need to go off it; many of us are willing to lie or risk our health in order to stay on testosterone.

My double mastectomy was severely traumatizing. I paid a guy, a guy who does this every day for cash, to drug me to sleep and cut away healthy tissue. I did this because I believed it would heal all of the emotional issues I was blaming on my female body. It didn’t work. Now I’m still all fucked up and I’m missing body parts, too.

There is no surgery that will undo what’s been done… adding synthetic materials to resemble the tissue of mine that was incinerated years ago would not help me. It took 3 years of stuffing down every negative feeling about my mastectomy before I was ready to face that what happened did harm to me. I was off hormones for months before I admitted to myself that I deeply, deeply regretted this surgery. The best way I can think of describing the loss is like, killing a family member who I blamed for being a burden on me, and then realizing years later that the blame I put on them was extremely and tragically misplaced. It was not their fault, but they’re gone now anyway, because I wanted them gone. I have lost my breasts and I have lost the chance to reconcile with my breasts. It wouldn’t be easy, but it would be work worth doing. Now the work before me instead is reconciling with what I’ve done and with the chest I have now- flat, scarred, assymmetrical, and nerve-damaged.

“The social pressure on cis people to become trans, on the other hand, does not exist. Singal says his goal is to help children. But who is helped by ginning up fears of amorphous harms done to vaguely defined victims?”

I think the victims are defined pretty clearly: those who ultimately end up feeling that transition did them harm. It would have helped me to have not been subjected to this shit, so yeah, I appreciate writing that acknowledges women like me exist. The framework of cis vs trans is extremely limited- which do you think I am? Am I cis, because I was born female and describe myself as a woman? Funny, because my driver’s license still says Maxwell, and it still says male. My chest is flat, I grow a beard that I don’t usually shave. So does that make me trans?

This dichotomy leaves no room for women who experience severe alienation from their femaleness but still choose to claim it, and it leaves no room for women who claim their femaleness after transition has transformed their material circumstances. Please don’t give me the “you’re nonbinary” gotcha, either… I’m not. I’m a woman. This happens to women. I know it would be a lot easier for a lot of people if I would just lie about what I am, but I’m done convincing myself to believe convenient lies about me that deep down, I recognize as false. I invested so much in this idea that, by making myself superficially distinct from other women, I could erase the harm done to me because of my femaleness. That lie gave me hope, but it’s just not true. I have an awful lot more in common with butch lesbians who never transitioned than with anyone born male.

“Singal’s article is less a call to help children, and more a confused reaffirmation of stereotypes about queer people seductively converting straights.”

Really? Is it? I went from being a lesbian who was seen as a lesbian to being a lesbian who was seen as a man, after a string of heterosexual doctors did a bunch of shit to my body. Who’s trying to convert who? I started dating my girlfriend when I was already living stealth at school and in public. We were never seen as a lesbian couple until this year, and even now, I’m not usually recognized as female. Yes, I asked for the treatments I got, I pushed for them hard. I did that because I genuinely had no idea that a woman could feel the way I felt. I didn’t know a woman could hate her breasts, could hate the way she was treated, could hate her own femaleness. I didn’t have enough empathy for women under patriarchy, including myself, to realize that these feelings were an entirely reasonable response to all of the horrible shit that had already happened to me by the time I was 16 and begging to be put on hormones.

Pediatric medical transition is a relatively new phenomenon, and it takes a while to get to a place with your trauma where you’re comfortable going public. Give it a few years and there will be an awful lot more of us. I wish this wasn’t the case. I wish you were right, that this treatment wasn’t doing harm, that all of these children were going to grow up and be just fine. I wish that I was just fine. I’m not, this destroyed me in a lot of ways. I will never be the same.

Transitioning does require courage, but so does recognizing that transition has done you far more harm than good. Disagree all you want but try to remember that you’re talking about my trauma and the trauma of others like me; the least you can do is acknowledge that we exist. This is not Triton. What happened to us was not painless. It makes sense that I’m concerned about these treatments that did me so much harm as a teenager becoming increasingly available to children.