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.
Advertisements

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.

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 fuckyeahftms.tumblr.com 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 crashchaoscats.wordpress.com and at crashchaoscats.tumblr.com.‭ ‬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.