I asked trans men if they were transitioning because they were really a man, or because they were masculine; women if female or feminine, non-binary because their true physical form, or their character, was non-binary?
Several trans men said they were really men. Their female-developed bodies revolted them. Their breasts, their widening hips, had been horrible, a weird, squishy, fleshy thing. Their chest masculinisation freed them to be feminine. Femininity before transition was an act, now they could be their authentic feminine selves if no-one would think them a woman. Female puberty had confirmed that they really were men, if there had been any doubt. Body hair delights them, the voice breaking delights them. So even in a utopia without gender stereotypes, they would transition.
I worried about this, when I heard it. I have no idea what proportion detransition. It might seem to confirm the gender-critical feminist perspective, that teenage girls want to transition because being a woman can be horrible, subject to groping, unwanted advances, sexist “banter”, sexist assumptions and treatment at school, university and in employment, and being a man would seem liberating, and yet being a woman is wonderful, being a mother, giving birth and suckling a child are the purpose of these body parts, as well as the sexual pleasure of their owner. Women can be used sexually in a way men are not, so much. Approximating to being a man is liberating, at great cost in physical mutilation and long term hormone treatment with unknown consequences. These women pay the price of sexism with their beautiful female bodies. Sexism erases lesbians.
And yet, that denies the ability of these trans men to make decisions for themselves, or to know themselves. None will say that they transition to escape sexism, but because they really are men, and that they want their bodies to reflect the fact. They are clear that they are men.
I feel feminine. That is how transition enabled me to discover myself and value myself: I could be my feminine self, and begin to peel back the thick layers of shame obscuring myself. I don’t feel constrained by any particular concept of feminine. It is elastic and fuzzy, covering a wide variety of women. I don’t know how things would be, if I had not had hormones and surgery, but had attempted a transition without, but I transitioned because of my femininity.
Others echoed this. They were feminine rather than female. Many, men and women, were not really masculine or feminine, they thought, but both or neither. “I’m just me” is a good way of being. I feel non-binary is freeing. We should be able to adjust our bodies just as far as we need, and express our personalities without feeling constrained by ideals of masculinity or femininity. Men need to find and liberate their feminine side, not just trans women. Yet it is uncomfortable being feminine, and appearing to be a man.
As people went through the transition process they thought less about these things, and were more simply and unaffectedly themselves. Not everyone. Some detransition, and curse the whole idea of changing sex or gender; but it saves many lives.
And the gender-critical should get alongside us. So, yes, they are oppressed by sexism, by men interrupting and taking up space and not respecting them and suspicious of their leadership and ogling and groping and demanding sex. They are distracted from fighting these things by being drawn to fight a few thousand mostly-harmless trans women. We liberate ourselves from patriarchal oppression as best we can.
I wonder if detransitioning is really a large enough problem to concern ourselves with regarding your post’s topic. There will always be people at the tails of any distribution; perfectly labeling or prescribing treatments is not realistic, isn’t it?
I know several AFAB people who’ve either fully transitioned to male or, for example, undergone breast reduction surgery. The latter generally call themselves nonbinary but regardless of their self-label, it is their label and that’s good enough for me.
I have a good friend who’s AMAB and fully transitioned with surgeries and all presentation. Some months back I asked her if she thinks of herself as a woman or as a trans woman. She’s adamant that she’s a woman with no qualifying adjective. Fine with me, good to know. I’ve struggled a bit with labeling myself. After all, just like what I perceive to be the color red may be very different from what others perceive. So it may be, I believe, with gender. That said, I’ve experienced gender dysphoria since about four years old and now, fully transitioned myself, it’s largely gone.
I’ve come to telling people that I’m a woman of transgender experience which acknowledges the undeniable reality that I was AMAB and was transgender “before” and, like it or not, I’ll always be. For all intents and purposes though, I’m a woman first, trans second. Think of it like “people of color”: they are people first who happen to have skin tones that aren’t what we think of as white.
Brene Brown suggests, “True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are, it requires you to be who you are.” We are whatever we are, labels or not.
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Labels help us accept ourselves, ideally. I like “woman” without a qualifying adjective. I want detransitioners cared for, but not unduly exaggerated: just because someone reverts does not mean that transition was wrong for them, leave alone for anyone else.