Detransition Awareness Day: Inconvenient Truths and Community Building

Originally posted on 3/12/21 on Health Liberation Now!

Apparently today, March 12th is Detransition Awareness Day. Today is supposed to be a day for informing people about detransitioning in the name of creating more and better resources. Well then, here are some things I want people to be aware of concerning resources for people who detransition and why they’re in the state that they are today.

As someone who played an important role in creating one of the first communities and support networks for detransitioned women, who worked in that community for close to seven years, I have a lot of regrets now. I and others in that community made many bad, misguided choices that lead to the formation of a detrans community that is better at radicalizing people into transphobic ideology than it is with helping people access the resources they need to live a good life. We created a community that often encouraged people to use their trauma to attack the trans community and trans healthcare rather than helping people heal and get on with their lives.

At the time of course, I thought encouraging people to adopt radical feminist views and politics was acting in their best interests. Now I see that creating resources and support spaces that were dominated by a particular political ideology was totally unethical. We did not do enough to make sure that no particular ideology or politics were imposed on people. We did a better job creating spaces where we could freely share and practice our transphobic beliefs than we did to create spaces that were centered on meeting people’s needs. We sincerely believed in what were doing but all the same, what we were doing was wrong.

After researching social psychology and radicalization, I now know that people with strong psychological needs and vulnerabilities can easily be indoctrinated if they find a ideological group that offers them a sense of support and belonging and seems capable of solving their problems. Which means that if the only group that a detransitioning or questioning person can find holds a particular set of beliefs, that person could easily adopt those beliefs as a means of getting support and care from the group. We thought the fact that so many detrans women adopted radical feminist politics meant we had stumbled onto the truth. Their conversion reinforced our faith. Really we just stumbled on a very effective way of brainwashing people without them really realizing what was happening. Hell, a lot of us had been radicalized ourselves through a similar process.

We could’ve approached detransitioning as an experience that some people go through rather than a politicized identity. An experience that often brings with it particular problems and challenges. We could’ve worked to help create resources that helped people overcome those problems and build a happier life for themselves.

Detrans women could have connected with trans people who are also unhappy with the current healthcare system and worked together to try to build one that better meets all our needs. We could’ve contacted trans legal groups and asked if they’d be willing to assist detrans people in changing their legal documents back. Or pursue legal action against shady medical professionals in such a way that would not harm trans people’s access to transition related healthcare. We could’ve started an education campaign to teach LGBT clinics how to better respond to the needs of detransitioning people. There’s a lot that we could’ve done that would’ve created more resources for people who end up detransitioning.

We did none of that because many of us thought that neither trans people or transitioning would exist in an ideal world. We were more intent on creating that world than working with trans people. Many of us turned our back on the queer and trans community and tried to integrate into the radical feminist lesbian community. We were encouraged to see lesbian feminists as “our people” and working for their culture as working for our own interests. We got a place to belong in that community because we validated their views on trans people and gave them hope that at least some young “lesbians” could “recover” from trans identity.

The current detrans community was not inevitable, it took the shape that it did because those who built it held particular views and politics. Many of the creators of the early detrans women’s community believed that trans identity was a creation of patriarchy and trauma and that transitioning was harmful. And so we created spaces that reinforced those views, that “supported” people by encouraging them to see trans identity was something to overcome and transition as something to heal from, that encouraged them to adopt radical feminist politics and view the trans community as a cult. This set us in opposition to the trans community rather than seeing them as people we could work with as equals for our own mutual benefit. Whatever traits and interests we shared with transmasculine people we used to try to recruit them to our views. Trans people were either enemies or potential converts or both.

Instead of allying with trans people, we allied with transphobic feminists and lesbians, with people whose main interest in us was how we could be used to rationalize and promote their transphobic beliefs. This was the beginning of a parasitic relationship between detransitioned people and organized transphobia. Transphobic radical feminists were the first to use detrans women. Later on transphobic parent groups, conversion therapists, right-wing Christians and other anti-trans groups would also seek to harness detrans women. While some individual detrans people are able to derive social and material benefits from working within organized transphobia, detrans people as whole suffer.

Transphobic people latch onto to detrans people because to them detrans people are proof that transitioning and living as a trans person is harmful. Therefore they have an investment in detransitioned people’s suffering rather than their healing and happiness. They have an investment in detrans people viewing transition as “irreversible damage”. If a person harmed by medical transition can get all that they need to heal and have a good life, they are no longer so useful in proving the inherent harms of transition. Rather, they show that the problem is access to resources and competent medical treatment.

The role of detrans people in organized transphobia is to testify to the harms of transitioning and the trans community in order to justify doing away with them. Detrans people are encouraged to share about their trauma and tell stories about their descent into trans identity and transition, how they were harmed, any abuse they suffered in the trans community, and how they came to realize their mistake and detransition. People are rewarded and praised for giving such testimony, which can often lock them into a particular narrative that serves transphobic ends. There is often little to no attention paid to how sharing trauma in the wrong circumstance, especially if the person has not had enough time and space to process it, can harm the survivor and seriously impede recovery. And if they change their mind, describe their experiences differently from what transphobic people want to hear, or come out as trans again, they will immediately be declared mentally ill and defective once more.

I speak of this from firsthand experience, as someone who told my detransition story many times, on my blog, in videos, at workshops and in the media. Looking back now, I can see how telling my story and assuming the role of a public detrans woman hurt me deeply. I feel exploited and violated and I feel like others benefited from it far more than I did personally. I was encouraged to share my story and my trauma far too soon, in circumstances that were not safe, that led to me getting stuck in the role of professional victim/crusader rather than helping me work through my trauma and actually heal from it. When I started to let go of that story and view my life in a way I found more helpful, I faced resistance from detrans women who had used my experience to build up their status in transphobic subcultures. When I came out as trans again, transphobes were quick to call me “crazy” and “borderline.”

As a detrans woman, I was also treated like an object, a means of winning an argument, rather than a full human being, more times than I can count. I was far from alone in this treatment. Many other detrans women face similar treatment. Detrans women protested this dehumanizing treatment from our supposed allies throughout my entire time in the detrans community. It never stopped. I still see detrans women complaining about it.

How can you expect people to treat you as an equal when one of their fundamental views is that there is something wrong with anyone who transitions or identifies as trans? Detrans people suffer from the transphobia of transphobic communities while being encouraged to call it misogyny, horizontal hostility, anything but what it is. Detrans people are treated in specific ways because they transitioned and lived as a trans person, that’s transphobia however they may see themselves. You can’t identify out of transphobia. The transphobes decide if you’re a target of it, not you.

Of course I also recognize the harms I caused to the trans community while I was a detrans radical feminist and I am deeply sorry for what I’ve done. But I believe that it is important to address how detrans people as a whole do not benefit from associating with transphobes. Transphobes feed off of the suffering of detrans people, they praise and otherwise try to influence detrans people to accept the role they want them to play. What interests do they have in detrans people healing whatever trauma they’ve experienced and getting on with their lives? They want ruined bodies and ruined lives, that makes for better propaganda.

What interest do transphobes have in researching ways to fix the medical problems both detrans and trans people sometimes face as a result of transitioning? That would end up making transitioning safer and that’s the last thing transphobic people want. They want transition to stay as risky as possible to use those risks as a reason why no one should do. Make transition safe as possible and you take away one of the biggest arguments against it.

Trans people have every reason to make medical transition as safe as possible, to work on better treatments for when things go wrong or complications develop. We have an interest in helping people heal from any trauma connected to transitioning, whether they are trans or detrans. It is in trans people’s interest to care about whatever suffering detrans people endure, it is in transphobic people’s interests to exploit the suffering of detrans people and milk it for all its worth. Who does it make more sense to trust, those who have bodies like yours, who fight for a world where bodies like your are cared for and respected or those who think your body is freakish and disgusting? Where do your material interests really lie? Do you really think you life would be better in society where transition is even more stigmatized than it already is? Or in a society that treats people with transitioned bodies as full human beings regardless of how they see themselves? Do you want to be seen as a person or a mutilated body?

I regret choosing to align with transphobic feminists not only because of the harm I did to trans people but also because I helped create a toxic, exploitative relationship between transphobic groups and detrans people. I helped create a detrans community that focused more on combating trans rights than it did on working to improve the lives of people who detransition. I would go so far as suggesting that turning the experience of detransition into an identity was a mistake. Instead of working to create detrans womanhood building off of lesbian feminist theory, I wish I had helped create resources for anyone who ends up detransitioning for any reason, regardless of how they identify, as well as resources for people whose sense of gender changes over time.

The lack of resources for detrans people is connected to detrans people choosing to work with those who attack trans people instead of the trans community. Imagine if a detrans person could go to any organization that helped trans people, clinics, legal aid groups, mutual aid networks, etc and get assistance. I and others in the detrans community could’ve worked to make that happen but we didn’t because of our transphobia. It didn’t have to be this way and people don’t have to continue to make the same bad choices.

As part of holding myself accountable and working to repair past damage, I’m willing to work with detrans people who are genuinely interested working with trans people to create better resources. For those detrans people who recognize our common interests, who stand in solidarity with trans people, see themselves as part of our community or as allies to us, I’m here for you. I know that the trans community could do more to support detrans people and I am willing help with that work. Since I see my past actions as contributing to a lack of real resources for detrans people, it is only fitting that I do what I can now to bring them into existence.

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