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. 😉
This will be brief. (Ish.)
I came out to my mom as trans when I was 17 years old, but it was a tentative sort of coming out. Four years later, when I turned 21, I wrote her a letter and emailed it to her- I guess hoping to more clearly outline my feelings and expectations. I’d like to point out that 21 is a milestone age, because we tend to take drastic actions at milestone ages- you know, like when I turned 25 and panicked and started transition.
I was 27 when I detransitioned. Not particularly noteworthy. Does that have any implications?
Anyway, I forgot about it for a while, but it turns out I still have a copy of it in my email account. So here it is, in all its glory. I’ll let you form your own opinions on it and on the author at the time.
This is the letter that I said I would write you ages ago. I’ll try not to write too much and if you have anything you want to ask, I’m willing to try to answer you. It’s easier to write answers than to say them, but if you really want to talk, I can even try that.
As I’ve told you before, I’m transgender. I know that I’m physically a girl, but mentally I’m a boy. For about 10 years, I’ve been very uncomfortable with my physical self. (It’s the reason I would cover up all the time in middle and high school, not because I was “cold” in [HOT PLACE] summers.) It’s called dysphoria, and it’s a horrible feeling. Honestly, I would like to be more social and outgoing, but every new person who calls me “she” and knows me as “her” only makes things worse. [BOY WHO LIKED ME] wanted a “girlfriend”, but I couldn’t say yes to that- and I felt terrible for making him wait for so long, just in case what you said (and hoped) was true: it was just a phase.
Mom, it’s not a phase. When I was little, I used to imagine I’d suddenly just morph and grow up into a guy. Since it became that was not how things worked, I have not been happy. I’ve been miserable and I know I’ve made the people around me weary too. But I’m really tired of being unhappy and spreading the gloom around. So I’m going to start taking baby steps to actually grow up the way I expected to when I was a little kid. (If you want to know what sort of steps those are, I don’t mind telling you, but you have to ask, not just tell me that you don’t know what to do.)
I’ve already asked my friends to start using the correct pronouns when it’s just us and peers. Even [FRIEND], who has known me almost as long as you have, has agreed- and told me that she was only upset that I had lied to her, my best friend, for so many years. But I need your cooperation too. I don’t expect you to suddenly start talking about me as “him” in front of family. If you want me to be honest, what I do hope is that you’ll attempt to be neutral- that you won’t use decidedly “girl” nicknames, or introduce me as your “daughter, [GIVEN NAME]” (I intend to change my name, too, not because I hate the name, but because I don’t feel that it’s “me”. I guess changing it would distance me from the character that I feel I’ve been playing for years- plus, I like playing with names.), and that you’ll attempt to avoid using pronouns when in front of strangers. Especially when I’m trying to present as male, which I usually am, unless I don’t have time and it’s extremely obvious…
In a perfect world, you would have figured out why I was different years ago and this wouldn’t come as a shock to you. You would already see me as your son, the way I’ve always seen myself. You wouldn’t continue to insist that it was a phase. You wouldn’t think that something is wrong with me. That’s what hurts the most: that you might dismiss it as something wrong with me and try to stop me. Please don’t do that. I want to make myself happy. There is nothing wrong with me, so don’t tell me that there is. Don’t go around asking other people for advice, or if they think it’s abnormal or weird; I’ll tell you right now that, while it might not be normal for them, it’s normal for me.
I apologize for being a little defensive in this letter, but I don’t think there’s anything that I feel more strongly about. I want you to take me seriously. I desperately want your love and support, but I’m tired of being a fake person to feel like I deserve it.
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.
“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 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 I changed my mind and what that means. “It wasn’t right for me,” doesn’t cover it. That works for some things, but we’re talking about the #1 recommended treatment for this condition. No, wait, the “ONLY” treatment that works. At all. I wouldn’t stop a course of antibiotics halfway through because it “just wasn’t right for me.”
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.
When you’re on social media, “awareness” is everything. We’re currently in the middle of Transgender Awareness Week. A few weeks back, we had Mental Health Awareness Day. But for all the lip service about “awareness”, Woke Folk(tm) on Social Media are no better about awareness than the ignorant schlubs from The Outside.
Warning: I’m going to talk about suicidal thoughts. And stuff.
So to get right into it, something I see regurgitated a lot is the idea that suicide threats are manipulative. (This is probably not going where you think it is, but who am I to know?) Granted, if the person is not actually suicidal, this is true. I am not making excuses for people who use threats of suicide to get their way. Let me repeat that in big bold print in case my position on this matter is a little hazy:
It’s NOT OK for people to threaten suicide or use the concept of suicide for personal or political gain! It’s not ok to use the risk of suicide to further your cause! I’m not telling anyone to just capitulate to anyone who claims they’re suicidal, so no willful misinterpretations allowed, ok?
But how can we tell who is suicidal and who isn’t? (Again, we shouldn’t use “not being able to tell” as an excuse for letting it go. Hear me out.) Mentally unwell people often don’t realize just how unstable they are. When I was suicidal, hearing that it was manipulative to threaten suicide made me feel worse about myself. Let me put that into context: I wasn’t the person saying “If you don’t do X, I will kill myself.” Instead, I would say things like “I’m so miserable about X that I want to kill myself.”
I knew I needed therapy, but the process of obtaining therapy felt completely insurmountable. Phone calls, meeting new people (aka the therapist), doctors’ appointments for medication… The whole process was so intimidating that I wanted to kill myself just to get out of doing it. I was reaching out the only way that I knew how- that was accessible at the time, which is unfortunate, but does not make me guilty of manipulation, which implies intent. But I still applied the sentiment to myself, especially because my “methods” mostly just resulted in people not wanting to interact with me. I feel a mixture of sympathy for and frustration with the people who didn’t know how to handle me. Mostly, I just feel sad that it reached that point. It wasn’t my fault that I was a burden.
In any case, I felt like a monster when I asked for help.
On one hand, there are people encouraging the mentally ill to report their problems and seek treatment. On the other hand, there are people telling the mentally ill that reporting their problems is abusive. Often, these are the same groups of individuals- the aforementioned Woke Folk. This isn’t the only example of inconsistency of thought and lack of critical thinking on social media, but it’s definitely an interesting example. I have a lot of faith in people and I like to believe that these people are coming from a good place, but you know what they say about good intentions.
I am not currently (Nov. 13, 2018 approx. midday) suicidal. If I made the same complaints Right Now as I did when I was barely hanging in there, it would be some really manipulative behavior on my part. Because even though I still struggle with the purpose of life and all that, I don’t feel nearly the same level of hopelessness as I once did. I think that my current state is where a lot of Social Media Depressives are, and I think they are applying their experience with a relatively low level of depression to all possible levels of depression. Which I think is understandable, but has unfortunate outcomes.
But that’s just my theory.
Anyway, my Trans History is intrinsically linked to my mental health. Being unable to fully, openly, honestly talk about what I was feeling- all of the questions and thoughts I had- hurt me bad. Being allowed to think I should have been male- not being able to talk through the how and why I was wrong- being permitted to sink my teeth in deeper to a fiction that I created to cope- this all hurt me. Me, the human, the brain behind the body, and eventually the body itself. I should have been able to tell someone what I was feeling. It shouldn’t have been embarrassing for me, as a small child, to have questions about my body, but it was. I thought my thoughts were strange- and maybe they are! But as an adult, I’m okay with my thoughts being strange. As a kid, I thought having strange thoughts would see me dead or worse- abandoned. Were my fears ultimately unfounded? Maybe. But I should never have been afraid to ask. Somewhere, something went wrong. Really wrong.
“Being trans (thinking you are born in the wrong body) is not a mental illness,” is what people say. M… b… but… why not? Because “the experts” say so? Experts are people too. They’re motivated by feelings and emotions just like everyone else. It took me a long time to realize that experts- all authority figures, really- are just people. That doesn’t make them all wrong, but it also doesn’t make them all right. I’ll trust a dermatologist to make the best possible decision regarding the obvious growth on my arm. I can see it there. Being a growth. But there are also experts on ghosts- that doesn’t mean ghosts have been proven to be a real phenomenon.
But it doesn’t cause any real lasting harm to have your house inspected by a Ghost Expert. At least… I hope.
Is it because there’s a stigma against the mentally ill? And nobody wants to be associated with those people? The Woke Folk, who have had their brush with mild depression and think they’re experts- who flippantly tell suicidal people that their suicidality is manipulative- would say no! Of course not! Who are you to equate being trans with being mentally ill?
We’re mentally ill- we know what it’s like, and thinking you were born in the wrong body is definitely not an example of it.
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.