Hello Ladles and Germs,
Today we’re going to talk about transphobia and sexual orientation and how they’re not the same thing. Ever. No matter what.
I’ll start with a Relatable Story. When I was around 12-13 years old, I had a crush on a boy. I really big crush. We’re talking diary We were friends and I liked his personality. This was my first full-blown, pubertal crush on a real-life boy who wasn’t an actor or a fictional character. He picked me up once, bridal-style, for just a minute, and I remember how much I didn’t want him to put me down.
He also happened to be gay. So a teen romance wasn’t in the cards. I knew that, but the crush happened anyway because these things aren’t rational, especially in children. It started out as “I wish he liked girls” pining and ended up as “If only I were a boy”. If only I were a boy, he would fall in love with me and… well, I wasn’t sure what happened after that. All I knew was that it would be perfect. Because Love. I can’t overstate how infatuated little-me was with this boy. I thought he was the only one for me. But I wasn’t a boy, so my True Love would never love me. I wasn’t a boy, so I was unloveable. I wasn’t a boy, so I was destined to be… alone.
Dude! That’s a TERRIFYING thing for a 13 year old to think!
Another interesting piece of information about me: I felt intense shame about having romantic feelings. Not just embarrassment, but severe anxiety. I don’t know the reason, but I suspect it’s not anything nice. So I kept my feelings to myself, meanwhile dealing with other ordinary adolescent problems and some not so ordinary ones. (I have a high ACES score.) There wasn’t really anyone around who I would have felt comfortable talking with- not about love or sexuality or “gender”. That’s a big deal! It’s probably something that should have been discussed in my pre-transition therapy, but it wasn’t.
Once my mixture of feelings had coalesced into the big, bad Sex Dysphoria that we all know and love, my brain rewrote this story to fit the narrative- to make some sense of it all. I was attracted to a gay boy because I was actually a gay boy too- I just… didn’t look like one. I had felt somehow “different” from my peers for a long time. I didn’t quite relate to my idea of a heterosexual girl, to what I saw in many of the girls around me. Maybe this was why! I mean, for a long time, even after starting to experiment, I didn’t realize females had vaginas- no, I mean the actual literal organ. I thought it was just the outer parts and then BAM- uterus. I had no idea that penetrative sex existed. I thought rubbing together was The Thing To Do. Clearly this meant that my body map was wrong, since I hadn’t managed to find that part of my body on my own.I’m going to be kind to myself here and say that I don’t blame myself for making the mistake of thinking I was a gay boy. I was in a bad environment and was not well.
Anyhow, this is all to say that the problem was never sex-based attraction. Sexuality isn’t transphobic. (No, not even that person who called your reproductive system icky. That’s a personality problem, not a sexuality problem lol.) The problem was with my perception. As with “male” and “female”, I was overcomplicating the words “heterosexual” and “homosexual”. They weren’t just words to describe something about people, they had certain connotations to them. When I identified as a trans man, it hurt knowing that the people who I regarded as “like me” would most likely not be interested in me in a romantic way, and it’s obvious to me now why it hurt so much. These feelings were old, festering wounds.
De-fanging words- concepts even- stripping them of all but their most basic meaning, has been comforting and necessary. Homosexual males not being attracted to females doesn’t need to hurt. Gay men go from “gay men who will never love me because my body is disgusting and wrong” to “uninterested people”. No need for more information because when it comes right down to it, that’s all that matters. Straight men go from “straight men who like the disgusting body I’d love to escape” to “people who might be interested”. Shockingly, there are bi/heterosexual males who actually LIKE androgynous or masculine females! Boyish women. And there are women who like willowy bald men with zero body hair and glasses. (It might be me.) Because men and women aren’t that different- it’s literally just your reproductive business. And if someone isn’t interested in your reproductive business, that’s fine, because someone else probably is.
The hard part is finding someone who likes your stunning personality. 😉
If it’s not already obvious, dysphorics tend to read into eeeeverything.
To use a personal example: “Oh yeah, I was always the dad when I played house in Pre-K. I’ve always thought of myself as a boy, really.”
Nevermind that I also played the dog or the (apparently sexless) “baby”. Anyway, we’re thorough. We like having all of the information available… despite what our particular beliefs surrounding sex and gender would suggest lol. So that’s why I feel I should write this post- this entire blog, really. Although I don’t think I’m ultimately saying anything *Brand Spanking New*, I wanted to really break it down into steps, because steps are easier for me to understand than abstract ideas. “Accept your natural body” is an excellent sentiment, but it didn’t make sense to me when I thought my natural body was wrong.
The information I wanted from other dysphoric people was how they thought– how their very brains worked. How they rationalized their feelings, how they came to certain conclusions, how they perceived reality, what dysphoria felt like to them. Similarly, what I wanted from detransitioners was a literal guide to reframing your own thoughts. Some people phrased this as “unlearning internalized misogyny”, but that was too vague for me at the time. It also didn’t cover male detransitioners, with whom I felt (and feel) a kinship because I don’t think we’re really all that different.
I believe it is a misconception that people who ID as trans think male and female are the same and cannot distinguish between them. On the contrary, I’d suggest that dysphorics perceive the differences between the sexes to be even greater than they actually are.
I frequented trans subreddits for a time. A common worry was that “cis” people could tell they’re trans by the sound of their urination. Now, if you’re thinking “that’s absolutely mad, no one’s listening to you pee, and if they are, they’re probably just waiting for you to leave so they can poop in peace”, congratulations, you’re thinking rationally. But for a dysphoric person, this seems like a completely logical concern.
Neither sex is better or worse on its own- nature has no use for such value judgements- they are only different. But dysphorics are lost in analysis. We unconsciously exaggerate the strengths and weaknesses of the sexes- but particularly our own. We don’t know what being the opposite sex is like, but we definitely don’t like something about our own and perhaps see something desirable on the other side. True “Grass is Greener” style. Dysphorics are Pissed (with a capital P) that we didn’t get to choose our bodies. We assign a sort of almost-moral value to sex- to otherwise innocuous organs with no inherent meaning. For whatever reason- be it a certain type of personality, faulty thought processes, upbringing, or all of the above- we crave an explanation for something that most people understand intuitively. And being “trans” is the closest some get to The Answer.
Ultimately, sex is a physical trait like any other: short, tall, male, female. A product of nature- impartial, unfeeling, merciless nature. The result of many thousands of generations of humans and whatever creatures came before us, tracing all the way back to your most primordial ancestor.
Your biological sex is your birthright.
This is not to disparage people who resemble the bottom pair, but such people are individuals with unique personalities and traits. They should not be the default image next to the dictionary definition of “man” and “woman”. Does this make sense??
“So you think you’ve got it all figured out, eh?”
I don’t know, I’m not a Mental Health Professional. I’m not anyone noteworthy or special. I’ve just thought about this a whole awful lot. In any case, here’s my proposal:
- First, you must be honest with yourself. I know this sounds like I don’t care about your feelings, but I do. Very much so. I want to help. Acknowledge that modern medicine can only make you look like the opposite sex. It cannot actually turn you into the opposite sex, any more than bleaching your hair makes you a natural blonde. Sex dysphoria- body dysphoria, that is- is ultimately a thought. A want. A desire for something that cannot be achieved. You can try anyway, but short of a miracle, you will fail. You may imitate, but if you are not happy with surface level imitation, you will not have a good time. You need to deconstruct the way you think about sex and start from scratch. Recognizing and working with your limitations is an important part of life.
- It’s surprising how big of an impact words can have. This is why pronouns and names are such a central part of discussing trans people. (How weird is that?) Stop thinking of yourself as a man or a woman. No, not in the trans way- we’re going to come back to them later. Whenever you think “I’m a man” or look in the mirror and think “that’s a female”, STOP. These words are tainted for you at the moment. Force yourself to think “that is a person” or “I am a human”.
- Take step 3 and apply it to people who are not you. If you find your first thought about someone is related to their sex, correct yourself: Person, Human, Individual. Don’t confuse yourself or anyone else- obviously you’re still going to be calling them he/she/Bob/whatever. Just make a quick note in your head that they are, like you, human.
- Once you have a better understanding of how all humans are the same, you can then begin to form an objective understanding of how the biological sexes differ. Start by thinking in terms of gametes, which I think are probably relatively neutral for most people- big gametes, little gametes. How is this different from trans language like “people who menstruate”? Well…
- Slowly start introducing the words “male” and “female”. Think of them only in the sense that they are a concise way to label a certain category of people. “I am a person who happens to be in the female reproductive category” is a mouthful, but it’s easier for a dysphoric person to accept than “I am female”.
- Male: of or denoting the sex that produces small, typically motile gametes, especially spermatozoa, with which a female may be fertilized or inseminated to produce offspring
- Female: Of or denoting the sex that can bear offspring or produce eggs, distinguished biologically by the production of gametes (ova) which can be fertilized by male gametes
- “Man” and “woman” should come last, being that they are the most loaded terms, socially speaking. Again, these will need to be thought of only in the sense of concision. Woman: Adult human female. Man: Adult human male. Subdefine these words:
- Adult: Fully grown or developed
- Human: A bipedal primate mammal (Homo sapiens)
- Male/Female: Addressed in step 5
- Integrate these words back into your vocabulary. You don’t need to identify with them or have any particular feelings towards them. They mean only exactly what they mean and nothing more. If you like one word more than another, you’re allowing yourself to get into dicey territory. Words are just tools. If you have a particularly bad episode of dysphoria, Step 2 is where you should start. Ultimately, we are all the same species: human. As different as we can be, we all have very similar thoughts and feelings and many of us want the same things. Male and female humans are not vastly different, other than their reproductive role. Again, be honest with yourself. This is an exercise in accountability.
If you are not honest with yourself, you will fail.
Although it sucks, don’t be angry at your dysphoria. The goal is not repression. It’s a feeling, so treat it like any other negative emotion: sadness, anger, frustration. Be aware of it, understand it for what it is, try to figure out where it comes from, and remind yourself that there is a way out of it. I find a lot of comfort in simply understanding why I’m feeling a certain way. Sometimes I’m justified, sometimes I’m not, but that’s part of the Universal Human Experience.
Be honest with yourself, but be kind too.
I think there’s a big problem with the way girls are raised: adults often do not practice what they preach. My father always told me that I could do or be anything that I wanted to be, but frowned when I wore a (glittery, purple) shirt that read simply “Girls Rule!” I was allowed to like dinosaurs and videogames, but was teased if I didn’t shave my legs. Teasing was enough to make me think that I would die a social death if I didn’t shave every day. It didn’t matter that I always wore long pants- what if someone glimpsed my ankles?
Girls receive mixed signals- hearing that they are just as good as boys, but observing something very different. I knew this before I transitioned, but by that point, I was so entrenched in the idea that my dysphoria was something innate, something that I was born with, that I thought, “Well, perhaps that exacerbated the issue, but it’s not the root cause sooo…” And so I downplayed the issue and transitioned anyway, not coming to truly understand how big an influence misogyny had been until after I’d already had a mastectomy.
I believe that the tendency towards dysphoria may be something that we are born with- a certain sort of obsessive, perfectionist personality trait, not unlike that which compelled me to aim for perfectly smooth, shaven legs that no one would even see. Or perhaps it’s the result of a certain style of parenting. (Insert your nature vs. nurture argument of choice here.) I also believe internalized misogyny plays its part.
But when we mix perfectionism with misogyny and exposure to just the right ideas, “I should have been male- no, I AM male,” seems an obvious, entirely logical (if nonsense) conclusion for a teenage girl.
You have to be able to recognize both aspects in yourself, untangle them from one another, and approach them from an objective angle. No chastising yourself for misogyny- it’s not helpful. Rationalize: when you see a reeeally cool bird, do you care if it’s male or female? Should you care?
Be the cool bird you want to see in the world.
“No one wants to silence detransitioners.”
For everyone’s sake, let’s assume that this is true. I think most people are well-intentioned. I assume no one reading this is Evil Incarnate.
I transitioned because I genuinely believed that being born in the wrong body was a Real Thing. In order to believe that transitioning is an appropriate, medically-justifiable treatment for a medical condition, you must believe that a person can be born in the wrong body. Otherwise, it’s just cosmetic surgery and while I don’t mind what other people do with their bodies, I want my body to be as natural as possible, as long as it’s healthy. It took 9 years of internal debate (on top of a lifetime of “what-if”), but I finally managed to game my own brain into believing this was A Thing. And that I had it.
At times, even during transition, I felt like I’d been hit with some black magic.
“How incredible that we can be born into the wrong body. How amazing- and horrible- it is that a man can be born in female form. How strange- absurd- and what are the odds that this should happen to me? Of all the rotten luck…”
I detransitioned because that core belief was shattered. If I still believed that someone could be born in the wrong body, then I would feel obligated to take Testosterone, because that’s Me As A Person. I like structure. I brush my teeth twice a day. When I had surgery, I followed the post-op care recommendations to the letter. If I thought transitioning was best for my health, I’d keep at it, even though injections and routine blood drawings are a real drag.
If I want to discuss my experience, to really get into the icky-sticky feelings and thoughts I had while going there-and-back-again, it’s really not possible to avoid talking about how and why I changed my mind. “It wasn’t right for me,” doesn’t cover it. That may work for brushing your teeth after every meal vs. twice a day, but we’re talking about the #1 Top Recommended Treatment for dysphoria. The ONLY treatment that works at all, depending on who you ask. I wouldn’t stop a course of antibiotics halfway through because it “just wasn’t right for me” and I hope you wouldn’t either!
But you have to believe in transition in order for it to work.
Having once believed in the benefits of transition as a cure for dysphoria, I felt horribly sorry for de- and non-transitioners. How masochistic, I thought, forcing yourself to live with dysphoria for the sake of being normal. Internalized Transphobia. How sad. It might have been their decision to make, but I still felt bad for them. I wanted to help them.
This is not entirely unlike how I feel now, although I am more interested in word-vomiting into the void and seeing what resonates with someone else. I have no particularly desperate investment in strangers’ transitions and I certainly don’t care to Ban All Transition Surgery, any more than I care about banning all nose jobs.
Want is the key word here. No one’s goal is SILENCE THE DETRANS HERETICS! It’s just that simplifying the whole deal to “just not right for them” and chalking up any additional complexity as “bad for trans people” happens to do just that. Regardless of what people want.
Regardless of how anyone feels about transsexuality or trangenderism or whatever, everyone seems to be able to laugh together about people claiming to be “trans-racial”- that is, born one race, but thinking you should be another or imitating another in some way. It’s generally accepted that claiming to be of a race that one is objectively not is uh… offensive. Ridiculous!
Or just plain Not Possible if you’re going for tact.
Given that we all (mostly) recognize that race is a physical characteristic that is an essential part of our bodies which cannot be changed, why have we become so much more permissive of the idea that someone can be trans- born as the wrong sex? If we can be born as the wrong sex, why can’t we be born as the wrong race? What makes the two different?
Let’s talk about that. I’ll give you the trans perspective- or at least mine.
Race is determined, at its most basic level, by a person’s skin color. Following that, you have the texture of their hair, the color of their eyes. Skin texture, how much body hair they grow. Race also has an influence on the shape of a person’s facial features, the size and strength of their body. Even a person’s general health is affected by their race. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll ignore the cultural side of things.
Sex, on the other hand, is delineated mainly by what sort of genitals you have. Whether you make eggs or sperm. Whether you produce estrogen or testosterone, which secondary sex characteristics you develop at puberty, whether you will menstruate or not, whether you can become pregnant or impregnate others. Again, we’ll ignore the behavioral differences for this post.
The thing that makes race and sex different is simple:
There are many races. There are also no races. Race is not a spectrum from black to white, with other races somewhere in the middle. Race does not serve a basic biological function. People of different races are not biologically inhibited from having children together.
Conversely, there are only two true sexes. They are clearly defined. Intersex people have a rare medical condition that does not override the two-sex divide. Sex serves a biological purpose and one of each is required to make more humans.
If you are a person who is invested in being permitted to medically transition from one sex to another, you need to be able to justify it, and the way that you do this is actually to emphasize the differences between being male and female. As a FTM, I wanted desperately to be male- not masculine, male. For social stuff, like relationships, and purely body-based reasons alike. I wanted to be able to impregnate (despite not actually wanting to DO so, bafflingly). I wanted to know what having a prostate was like. I wanted to know what it felt like to have something different downstairs. The curiosity became a NEED to know. I think it grew so deep that I came to feel like I was a male who was deformed from birth- a male who developed incorrectly into a female. (Which raises the question: if I had born male, would I have been so desperately curious about being female? I think I would have.).
I still think I have pretty strong empathy for the male body. Is that a thing? Can it be a thing? Is anyone looking into that? Or is that just Extreme Heterosexuality?
Anyway, back to race. If you put it into context of the feelings above, the differences between races seems quite… superficial. So what if you have a lighter skin color than someone else? That doesn’t affect your basic biological functioning. Our bodies are the only thing that ever really belong to us- ideally, they should feel like home. Sure, we all feel envy towards people with features that are seen as desirable, and that might even extend to the aspects that are connected to a person’s race. But I think trans-ID’d people are right to some extent- sex IS different. At the end of the day, if we close our eyes and forget about social pressures and norms and expectation, the differences between races is negligible. Sex, on the other hand, is something that’s with us no matter where we are, who we are with, even if we are alone with ourselves.
“If you were alone with yourself on a desert island, would you still want to be male?”
This is a question I asked myself often when I was a Big Tran(tm), and every time I answered myself with a resounding “hell yes.” This gave me confidence. Made me sure. What would be the point in changing race if it was just you and you alone, without mirrors or culture or anything else? There was still a point to being male.
But I think allowing us to ask ourselves these questions, to try to rationally justify transition IS the fatal flaw in the system. Because it doesn’t matter whether race is more superficial, more socially-defined, than sex. We’re overcomplicating something that, quite frankly, does not need to be so complicated.
The kid gloves need to come off- maybe not around the actively suffering, but in the medical community for sure. Among people who can handle it. The simple, uncomplicated, boring truth of the matter is that humans cannot change sex any more than we can change race. I think there’s something potentially beautiful to unlock if we try to better understand what we call “sex dysphoria”, but we’ll never get there by pretending the body isn’t inseparable from the mind.
We can’t expect the duct tape of transition to hold the leaky pipes together forever.
Ok ok so I’m sure everyone already knows the answer, but I wanted to do my thought experiment anyway because I want to A) have a written record of what I’m thinking right now and B) share my ideas just in case they help somebody. I have entirely too many thoughts jostling around in my head which is probably how I ended up in this situation in the first place lol.
Fact: We don’t have evidence that being trans (born in the wrong body) is a distinct biological phenomenon. The only proof that being trans exists is self-reporting of symptoms (dysphoria).
Person “A” has dysphoria, based on the given definition of the phenomenon. They report it and transition based on having dysphoria, which is the recommended treatment.
After having recommended medical interventions thought to help with dysphoria, A subsequently comes to understand dysphoria as a type of intrusive thought.
One of the main recommendations to deal with intrusive thoughts is to practice mindfulness: recognizing the thought for what it is and rationalizing it away. It is not recommended to attempt to repress or appease the thought.
A concludes the existence of dysphoria (intrusive thoughts) is not sufficient evidence that a person can be in the wrong body. It is only proof that a person is having intrusive thoughts.
A detransitions while still experiencing dysphoria. In other words: A actively meets all of the criteria for being trans, but does not accept that a person can be in the wrong body (trans) due to lack of evidence. Being physically healthy, A has rejected the diagnosis of having an incorrect body.
One of the following statements MUST be true:
A was wrong about being trans. A was not experiencing dysphoria. A was misdiagnosed.
There is no such thing as being trans: born in the wrong body/having an X mind in a Y body.
If there is no such thing as being trans, then we must completely re-think the way we treat dysphoric people. We must reconsider which surgical interventions are allowed and when. We must determine whether it’s ever appropriate to treat intrusive thoughts with opposite-sex hormones. We must figure out what it means when people claim to be trans without dysphoria. This is not a comfortable conversation to have. This is not an easy conversation to have.
If A was wrong about being trans, it’s an isolated case and the fault lies with A. This is a much cleaner explanation. A is not trans and therefore should not have been treated as a trans person.
However, A had (and has) the exact same evidence of being trans as people who continue claiming to be trans: dysphoria, therapy, hormones, surgery, documentation of legal name and gender marker changes. It cannot be proven that A is wrong any more than it can be proven being trans (born in the wrong body) is real.
I am A. I do not identify as trans. I am trans, based on all of the observable criteria. My body bears the marks. It’s no one’s right to tell me that I did not have The Authentic Trans Experience. It’s no one’s right to invade my mind that way. I also do not believe that I am trans, because I don’t think that being trans is a legitimate condition. I do believe that dysphoria is- I have had it for years. I also believe that people who believe they are trans, believe that they are trans.
One of the things that gave me pause when I was originally thinking about detransition was the thought that I’d committed so much of my life, energy, time, etc. to thinking I was trans. It was literally the sunk cost fallacy in action, and I saw it, and it still made me hesitate.
Detransitioners are unnerving, I think, because we DO commit to the idea that we are trans. There’s really something physically wrong with us- with our bodies! It’s not just our brains gone haywire! We’re not mentally ill! I’m not crazy- how could I be crazy?
That’s some stigma, friends.