Living as male again

As he was being wheeled in to the operating theatre in Thailand in 2006 for his vaginoplasty, Daniel was thinking “Don’t do it”. Waking up was hard. His thighs were black and blue. He had a bit of relief for six months after, but then the depression set in. In 2016, he was praying and he heard the voice of God, saying, “I created you male, you are walking around in a female role that is not your creation. You need to turn around and go back to your birth gender.” The same morning he emailed his pastor, sister and friends, and went on a mission to remove all traces of his Danielle identity from his home.

Or so he says now. We reimagine our histories and memories when we recall them, laying them down anew. He had an unhappy childhood. He lived with his mother after his father divorced her because of her alcoholism. She would bath him, and pay great attention to his genitals, telling him men were bad. He started wearing his mother’s and sister’s clothes when he was eight. He feared being male. He became alcoholic, and when he got sober in1994 he had a social transition, dressing female but without hormones or surgery. It was a shock to his US Bible-belt community. People avoided him. The isolation was too much, so he reverted, and moved north as a man. But then he was reading about transition, and got “tunnel vision”- he thought if only he could transition medically he would be happy.

He feels he was dishonest with the psychiatrist: he did not tell her he was abused as a child, and she did not ask him. (Odd- mine took a full history, back to childhood.) “I was living in fear of exposing those deep dark secrets.” Possibly, he has a different view of them now. Now, that experience of being bathed is a big thing for him. Perhaps then it did not seem so fundamental to his experience since. After all, trans women generally believe we have an innate gender identity. Having reverted, he has to find some reason why he was wrong to transition. So now he says his transition was his fault. He had breast removal and T injections to get his manly shape back. He has recently had an assessment for a phalloplasty operation, but the doctors found his liver function was not good enough. He will be reassessed.

Surgeons did not want to consider phalloplasty when they heard he was reversing a vaginoplasty. Eventually he found Miroslav Đorđević, who has completed thirteen phalloplasties for such patients. He has inserted a penile implant for sexual intercourse in six, and the others are awaiting assessment; and he has 25 new candidates. He says candidates are not properly assessed before vaginoplasty, and the patients are very distressed, regretting not just the result but the wrong decision.

He has found a wife through a Christian dating site. She is Latina, and they were using a translation app to communicate.

Trans people sometimes say most regret is because the result is sub-optimal, rather than because the decision was wrong. Dr Asa Radix, of the WPATH Standards of Care revision committee, says few patients have returned to tell her that they are detransitioning without some external factor, such as feeling unsafe on the streets, or losing their job. That would seem to indicate there had been no misdiagnosis, that the psychiatrists had been right.

In 2004, in Thailand, a psychologist at the hospital asked me if I was sure. She said they would be delighted for me to preserve my genitals.

Brian Belovitch, as a young gay man, ran away from an abusive and prejudiced working class neighbourhood to a trans ghetto. As a child, he had been mistaken for a girl. He became a vivacious woman, Natalia, a hostess on the New York club scene. He took heroin and crack. He felt he had four choices- being a trans woman with a penis, gender confirmation surgery, suicide, or undoing the hormonal changes and accepting himself as a gender non-conforming pretty man. So he identifies as gender fluid, and talks of retransition not detransitioning- he is moving on, not turning back.

We need to see these options before we have the gender surgery. The problem is transnormativity, the belief that gender dysphoria should be treated by a binary medical transition, and gender stereotypes, often with grudging acceptance of people who go through that transition greater than of people who are gender non-conforming.

Lilian Huck reverted because when she started oestrogen she had heart problems, so it was stopped. She found herself developing chest hair again. So she reverted. Then she saw a suicide prevention psychologist, who asked her how she would like to be buried- in a dress. She is living female again. None of these decisions are easy.

From the BBC World Service documentary he2she2he.

A gender-free child

Anoush is being brought up gender-free. They can choose their gender later. At 17 months, they are a “lovely little human” who loves dolls but also motorbikes and machinery. Their parents are circus performers, who live on a house boat. They want their child to be who they are, not moulded by the unconscious bias of others into pink is for girls stereotypes. The grandmother found the child’s sex when she changed their nappy, but even other family members do not know.

Hooray! People want to know what genitals someone has so that they know what gender stereotypes to enforce. Even if they consciously desire to subvert such stereotypes and let the child be themself, they will unconsciously steer the child to “boy-things” or “girl-things”. That this is not happening in the first few years of life may be an invaluable foundation, even if when potty-trained and out in the world people will start caring what toilet they use, and nurseries will want to know. The stereotyping afflicts all of us.

So it was odd to read feminists opposing this treatment. Catherine Bennett in the Guardian strongly objected. People should be able to bring their child up free of gender stereotypes while acknowledging their sex.

Clemmie Millbank, in the Independent, also a parent of a baby of seventeen months, observed the gendered treatment given by her fellow Millennials, and the way her husband told their son not to be a wuss when he banged his head. Boys are rebuked for lashing out, but there’s a rueful “boys will be boys” tolerance which would not be extended to girls. Yet she says,

Every time we tell a little girl she’s pretty and a little boy he’s clever, we need to stop ourselves and consider our actions. The only way to tackle gender bias is by confronting it head on, not by hiding it.

Conscious incompetence here would be painful. Always you would ask yourself, am I cuddling this crying child because she is a girl? Am I not cuddling out of a rebellion against stereotyping when I really should? You tell someone to “grow a pair” and feel instantly ashamed.

Bennett claims that the parents are placing gender above sex. The gender-neutral extremist must be continually patrolling their own narrative, whereby gender, a matter of choice and chance, eclipses human biology.

I don’t think they are. There is nothing to indicate that they will alter the child’s body, or ignore their genitals later, just that they want to prevent gender bias now.

Sex is physical, gender is cultural. That is my observation, that of many others, and the basis of feminism opposing women’s oppression (and to a lesser extent men’s) by stereotypes. Actual humans do not naturally fit gendered boxes. So taking action to prevent forcing a child into those boxes is necessary. Some people feel the forcing is natural and appropriate – boys should be boys- some do it thoughtlessly.

I am sure Catherine Bennett would not buy a pink princess shirt for a toddler girl relative. She may even be able to cuddle crying children equally, whatever clothes they wear. Does she despise an unmanly man, or unconsciously reinforce femininity ever? The social pressure to do so is strong.

She is so hostile to concepts of gender neutral as a way to subvert the culture of gender, so hostile to trans people, that she cannot see the value of hiding a child’s genitals. It makes it impossible to stereotype! Is that not obviously a good thing, especially for a feminist?

No one fits the rigid gender boxes. Some people get along with them more or less. Some of us are so tortured by them that we must escape them by any means. We transition, or we change pronouns, or we self-consciously try to give off the signals of the other sex, to change others’ expectations and treatment of us.

None of this is acceptable to some feminists. Only their way is allowed. You can only subvert gender while being clear about sex. They even ally with the far right to oppose transition.

We have to accept all tools to subvert gender, and celebrate everyone fighting it. There are too many people who actively support stereotyping, who think boys should be that type of boy, made to man up, ashamed of showing emotion, and girls should be gentle and caring. Unless we are allies against that our cause is doomed.

A “Christian” site was confused, and in part progressive. This is the progressive bit:

As Christians we love the variety of gifts and personalities God has given to males and females made in his image. We do not want to restrict God, if indeed that were even possible, and narrowly define gender roles and behaviour in ways that are not supported in the Bible.

It seems they think stereotyping can be too restrictive. However they also think “gender is programmed into our DNA”. It is “deeply disturbing” to think Anoush might choose a gender identity different to the one their genitals indicate. But, how could Anouch do that, if it’s against DNA programming?

I wish the parents well. Anoush has a chance to find themself. It would save a lot of angst if everyone else had too.

Seeing the psychologist

When a psychologist treats a trans person, can they avoid harm? Less than 30% of psychologists were familiar with trans issues, and there is no clue how many of us there are- between 0.00017 and 1.3%. It depends how you define us- the finding in Massachusetts that 0.5% of people identified as trans or gender non-conforming depends on how widely you define GNC, and how restrictively you define “normal” gender roles.

So the American Psychological Association drafted guidelines for working with us, and defined us as those who have a gender identity that is not fully aligned with their sex assigned at birth. The feminine trans man is clear about his sex, and happy with his femininity, but the guidelines conflate sex and gender. Gender role is the appearance, personality and behaviour associated with being a man or a woman in a particular culture, but there can be a feminine personality in a trans-male body, or a feminine AMAB male could be quite clear he is male. Gender identity is called a person’s deeply felt, inherent sense of being male, female or an alternative gender. This matters for trans people, but some cis people deny having a gender identity. Appearance, personality and behaviour do not always coincide.

A woman might dress down with no makeup, hair tied back, jeans and a t-shirt, but people will observe she is a woman from the visual clues. This is very important to most observers, who will then apply their stereotypical understanding of women to that person. Some women respond by joining a feminist group, some by transitioning, and might experience that as a choice, a drive, an innate characteristic, or a mistake. If there is a drive to transition, many respond by resisting, because of family pressure or beliefs.

The words and definitions the APA uses seem more designed to avoid offending trans people than to create a taxonomy of issues and responses. As a taxonomy is so difficult, that may be unavoidable.

Treat the patient as an individual.
Do not see a gender identity or desire to transition as pathological.
Transition may be non-binary
Assist with the mental health problems, including those arising from the stress of being trans.

There. Simple. The APA agrees: A person’s identification as TGNC can be healthy and self-affirming, and is not inherently pathological. However, people may experience distress associated with discordance between their gender identity and their body or sex assigned at birth, as well as societal stigma and discrimination.

They state there is greater recognition of non-binary identities, rather than a concept of transition to the opposite sex with emphasis on passing. Well, passing helps you appear to fit in, and that can reduce stress as well as providing scope for subverting the stereotypes. They insist that affirmative care must be non-binary, non-prescriptive, but unfortunately law and surgery has not caught up.

The psychologist, modelling acceptance of ambiguity, may be ahead of the patient who has internalised transphobia. That will help counter stigma and assist the patient to make informed choices. But, still, we dance between fitting in and being ourselves.

The gender critical trans woman

How can a trans woman be a radical feminist? Surely it is completely incompatible, to assert I am a woman, and that gender is a Patriarchal construct in the interests of men?

Humans reproduce sexually, and therefore there are sexual differences between males and females. It makes no sense to me that about 0.1-1% of the population is really the other sex, so must transition, with brains built to run on the opposite sex hormone, or whatever. If we are invested in transition, then when we start taking cross-sex hormones we are not able to assess their effects objectively, as they affirm our chosen course of action. Oestrogen may make hair removal easier. We will minimise negative effects, as we want this so much. The trans woman is not in any sense physically female, even after hormones and surgery.

I am caught by my rationality. This is simply the truth for me. And yet, I am a trans woman. I wanted to transition- I found it irresistible- and I did, and I have no wish to revert now. So there is what I think, and what I do, and they might seem inconsistent, but they enable me to understand the extreme variation in understandings of gender among those of us it fits least well. If I am a man, then I am proof that gender is cultural not genetic.

Some women call themselves gender-critical, because they find gender oppressive. They might admit to be gender non-conforming, but would possibly argue that was trite, as gender fitted no-one and everyone fails to conform in some way. One said she “performed” gender, meaning she made herself look alluring, and there is another difference: to her gender is strongly linked to sexuality, to me it is about other aspects of personality as well.

Other people are AFAB non-binary. Their gender is neither masculine nor feminine, they say. They may signal it with androgynous hairstyles or clothes, or dress conventionally as women. These two groups, though their theory is completely different, may have similar character and similar behaviour: the tragedy is that they are turned against each other, when they might work together for common goals.

Perhaps it is the Quaker in me, but I don’t think the theory or understanding is as important as what we want and what we do. Trans women don’t fit gender conventions, at least not those applying to men. Trans men have found a way to live in this current gendered patriarchal society which works for them. Younger adults are maturing in a less violent society, with no corporal punishment at school, smacking by parents frowned on and possibly criminal, and so are less violent and controlling, with violent crime rates decreasing. They can then be more gender fluid. By one measure more people call themselves “non-binary” than “trans”. The old model of binary transition from one set of gender roles and markers, which do not fit me, to another, which fit me slightly better but still do not fit me, is giving way to a rejection of gender roles by both “gender non-conforming” and “non-binary” folks.

The problem in prisons is not trans women in women’s prisons- or indeed trans women being kept in men’s prisons- but privatisation and austerity. Trans women in women’s loos- well, more and more places have “all-gender toilets”. Refuges can find ways of keeping potentially violent trans women out of communal spaces, and help them in other ways. There is no problem with trans women which cannot be solved by a bit of thought and good will, and there is no need for all the fear and anger to be directed against gender recognition. Gender recognition is not the problem, and all that energy is being wasted. Gender non-conforming is pitted against non-binary.

A gender non-conforming child

In “Roseanne”, the main character’s grandchild, Mark, is gender non-conforming. He paints his nails and wears skirts to school, and yet he claims firmly that he is a boy. Roseanne tells him he has to pick his battles in life, and he says this is important.

Roseanne Barr is openly transphobic: “Women do not want your penises forced in their faces or in our private bathrooms. Respect that FACT.” Forcing a penis in someone’s face without consent is a disgusting image, and shows the visceral disgust she feels for ordinary people going for a pee. The producer consulted Lori Duron, whose son is like that; both the real and fictional families support their child.

So we have two groups of AMAB children: “3G” males, by genes, gonads and genitals. Both groups dress and present feminine. One group insist that they are trans, they are girls, and want called by a girl’s name and to be treated as the girls are treated, including access to the girls’ locker room, which makes all the conservatives angry and frightened. The other group insist they are boys, and insist on their right to present as they wish, which may contravene gendered school uniform rules. That is a huge difference between two groups of children who superficially seem very alike. What could cause it?

One possibility is that they are genuinely different, even though we might not have the language to describe the precise nature of the difference. The trans girls are innately trans. The cis boys are not stereotypically masculine and want visibly to spurn “masculinity” but are not trans.

Or, perhaps the social pressures on them are different. It depends on what they tell people, and what people tell them, and in what circumstances. Then, the slightest difference in treatment might push them down these radically different paths. They don’t know the right words, they just know what they want- to express themselves as girls do- and exploring what that might mean with adults pushes them one way or the other.

Or they could have different personalities. Both groups are challenging convention, but in different ways. I hate challenging convention, myself, I just want to fit in, and calling myself a woman seemed a way to fit in as best I could.

A recent meta-analysis of studies of gender transition shows benefits from surgical and hormonal treatment for gender dysphoric individuals: Among the positive outcomes of gender transition and related medical treatments for transgender individuals are improved quality of life, greater relationship satisfaction, higher self-esteem and confidence, and reductions in anxiety, depression, suicidality, and substance use. Yet this Boy-group does not want such treatment, and to tell them they were trans against their will, far worse to foist medical treatment on them, would be unethical. Many people can relate to the idea that sterilisation is bad for a person, to be denied even if they crave it.

We cannot make deductions about one of those groups from the experience of the other. Just because Lori’s son insists he is a boy, does not mean that the trans girls are. Just because he does not want medical treatment does not mean they should be denied it. We just don’t know. We can’t have a control group, of people who want transition and are denied it, to prove transition improves anyone’s situation. Possibly, he would have claimed to be a trans girl, in different circumstances: and if he claims to be one, then he is one, for there is no other way of knowing who is trans.

My solution for this is to make it less fraught. By the time either group has gone to school in a skirt, they have worn down intense resistance from family and friends, and shown they are willing to face standing out in a way often deliberately shamed. It takes courage and determination. If boys in skirts were no big deal, playing with dolls, whether every day or only some days, we could find what they really want.

Solidarity with gender non-conforming people

Women’s jeans are nicer than men’s. They are not cut for the shape of my hips, and jeans look fairly alike across the sexes; but I still prefer women’s jeans. It took a leap of empathy when a trans man told me he preferred men’s.

But-
surely-
oh.

Loos were more of a stretch. The smell is worse in men’s, it’s more likely there will be puddles on the floor, and even considering the chance of queues women’s are much nicer. Still he prefers men’s. This is a person whose experience is complementary to mine- in some ways the same, in some ways the mirror-opposite. In part I can simply feel with him, because I know exactly what that feels like, and in part I have to step back, think about it, make an adjustment, and see. I do that because understanding positive motivation of others makes them more comprehensible to me, and makes it easier to associate with them.

For a woman who experiences Patriarchy as restricting women in general, and feels it most keenly restricting her, it must be hard to see men’s freedoms as restricting some. Images are pernicious. I just image-searched “scientist”. The first pictures show a man, a woman, and a man and woman together, and are gender balanced. There is a row of options across the screen: click physics or chemistry, and the images are of men. Even in biology, which was seen as a “girl’s subject” at my school, the first pictures are all of men. Girls are not expected to be rational or put themselves forward. Girls are not given the tools to defend themselves from sex pests. Girls are expected to be demure and accommodating, passive not active, listening not speaking when important matters are discussed. Even if it is not always that bad, it can seem that way: any exceptions in treatment make the bad treatment more objectionable.

And if I say, I could not express my feelings, she might say well you can. Hurt, expressed as anger or resentment, is expected of boys and suppressed in girls. I feel released by transition, and she just cannot understand that. I feel able to be more expressive, but stating precisely how is difficult for me, especially if I have to communicate that to a sceptical other.

So when you said you understood how I had felt restricted it was salve on a chronic wound, the temporary lifting of a burden. I want to be understood, especially by you. I felt distorted, shoved into a box that did not fit me, confronted with demands I could not meet. And when I said “I am not that person” even to me it felt like weakness and inadequacy rather than otherness: my real gifts, not encouraged and so not developed, I did not see as gifts.

So much is pulling us apart. These women share alternative explanations for our transition. We are perverts, they say. It is autogynephilia. They have few privileges, and women’s spaces are important. We are a threat, men in women’s spaces, men exploiting programmes designed to overcome a few of women’s disadvantages under Patriarchy, such as all-women shortlists. These things should be for women born women, not males.

The dispute is primarily between trans women and women born women who insist they are women, that gender is oppressive and we conform to it, that transition is wrong. They see the issues in terms of lack, costs or risks for women: girls should not bind their breasts and make themselves sterile! Girls should not be forced into life-long dependency on dangerous drugs! Men should not pretend to be women! If you do not fit the expectations of your “gender” and demand to be accepted as yourself, as your sex and with all your qualities used and valued, transition appears a monstrous distortion.

If you feel restricted by society yet trenchantly assert your sex, you may feel society is pushing people into transition, a monstrous distortion serving gender myths. The leap of imagination is seeing transition as a response that people make, under the same oppression you suffer, even though it is not a response you could ever consider, even though it revolts you. I experienced gender expectations as restriction, rejection, devaluation, just as you did. Just as you should be supported in the way you respond, so should I. There is oppression. Let us work together against the oppression, rather than fight amongst ourselves about the different responses of oppressed people.

Two leaps of imagination are required. Those born men are oppressed too, are gender non-conforming too. And transition is a reasonable response to that oppression, even if it is not yours. And then a third- even though you may feel your allegiance is to women born women who refuse to transition, it is worthwhile to work with trans women, for by working together we can defeat the oppression. Even though our immediate interests may appear opposed- access to women’s space- our long term interests are the same.

“Cis gay man”

Is the phrase “cis gay man” offensive?

A gay man does not conform to the male stereotype, which is heterosexual. He does not pretend to conform, if he is Out, and he is gay not as a matter of choice but because of who he is. His expression of himself as a gay man contradicts and subverts that male stereotype, whether he is conventionally masculine apart from his attractions, or not.

More broadly, there would be more than two groups, whether you consider who people are, in their inward selves, or how we behave. There are those who fit fairly comfortably within the male stereotype, those who do not but pretend to, those who do not fit and do not conform, and those who transition. Those who pretend to fit are oppressed by gender- are they “cis”?

For me, the word “cis” simply means “not trans”. A cis gay man is someone who does not self identify as a (trans) woman, and presents as male, however camp. This is true whether Trans is something we are at the core of our being, so that I really am a woman, or a choice we make because transition is most comfortable, given the circumstances. I am trans because I have transitioned, even though I claim to be a feminine man who could not bear my attempt to conform to the male stereotype, so fled it.

If “cis” simply means not trans, it can include gender non-conforming people, and those oppressed by the stereotype. There is some problem when we talk of “cis privilege”, which they have only to the extent that they pretend to conform, and we never have. “Passing privilege” is something different. There is a grey area with people who are perfectly androgynous in presentation- you can’t always tell what gonads someone has, just by looking at them- but few people are in that grey area.

Am I boring you? I am almost boring myself. I read the suggestion that “cis gay man” is offensive, somewhere on the internet, and must use my felicity with words to establish that that suggestion is hostile to trans people, and unjustified. I have a right to exist.

I have a right to exist anyway, but now find myself in need of seeking to reassure myself of that. I can name me and not-me without being offensive!

I wish gender non-conforming could cease to be a thing, just be part of ordinary human expression. It is a thing because someone finds it objectionable or surprising- a child in the playground, a colleague, a passer-by on the street- and expresses offence, or displeasure, or institutes some sanction; and because we are permanently hurt by such displeasure, and ever after inflict those sanctions on ourselves; or we go into fight mode, always alert for the displeasure and armed to resist it.

THEY’RE THE ENEMY! NOT ME!

Oh God, it’s frightening. The intolerant are the enemy, those who want to force us all into tiny gender conforming boxes, men, only ever attracted to women, never expressing any feeling but anger, and life would be so much easier if-

Social Pressure II

There are people. Some of them are assigned female at birth, AFAB, some are assigned male at birth, AMAB. Some of them are intersex, they matter too, and my friend was fair pleased to learn she was Klinefelter’s- she had two X chromosomes! But I am writing for people who fit “normal” sexual development but not gender stereotypes, and find this uncomfortable.

The gender stereotypes affect AFAB and AMAB differently. Women do most of the caring for children and dependents, most of the housework, get promoted less, get interrupted more.

The stereotypes are rigid in childhood, enforced by toyshops and peers.

Many people don’t conform to those, perhaps most. “Patriarchy” is the concept that society is configured in the interests of the dominant males. Depending on personality, some people are happy in their own skin and happy not to conform- the boy who does ballet, the girl who plays rugby. Some try to conform, until that becomes unbearable. There is a spectrum, so some only differ a little from the stereotype, some differ a lot.

Some people are homosexual, some heterosexual, some bisexual. I don’t say “gay” and “straight” because, while there are men attracted to men, “gay” is a particular way of conceptualising that.

When you don’t conform, there are different ideas on how you can conceptualise yourself and your relation to the wider society, including “trans”, “non-binary” and “gender-non-conforming”. Non-conforming AFABs are not merely soft, non-conforming AMABs are soft, so there are differences in how they respond. Radical feminists can be very angry.

Each person is an individual, so no-one precisely fits those boxes; the boxes are fuzzy enough to include different people.

There is social pressure on the person who does not fit, to be trans. The wider society understands that, so if you are gender-diverse they may think you are trans and get confused if you are not. A GP once told me that one of the GP’s main tasks is to protect patients from specialists, who want to do stuff- and surgeons had the brilliant idea of implanting a womb in Lili Elbe, killing her by organ rejection. Surgeons busily remove wombs and gonads, and alter the appearance of bodies.

Many AMAB find dressing as women arousing. There are taboos against being visibly or discernably aroused in public and these extend to being cross-dressed.

Some people may have a physical sex dysphoria, and would want their organs altered even if there were no gender stereotypes. We can’t know. However, transition provides a relatively comfortable place for some people. I am happier transitioned than I was before, and I realised, before, that even if in five years’ time I was trying to make a go of life presenting male again, transition was the route I had to take to get there.

Because transition is a relatively comfortable place, I want transition, including physical alteration, to remain possible for people. I would also like people to feel accepted in their assigned sex, as gender non-conforming as they wish. I feel both groups are similar people with similar problems, and a similar interest in social acceptance of the widest possible gendered behaviour, for both genders. If I feel I want to do something which is particularly masculine I say “Today I am non-binary” and do it. This is liberating.

However, where there is social pressure to conform, the interests of each appear to be in opposition. Non-transitioners may feel pressured to transition, the “acceptable” way of being non-conforming. Transitioners may feel pressured not to, as transition is seen as harmful by social conservatives and radical feminists alike.

I want both choices to be accepted, but I take a side in the debate. Those who transition may see themselves as a class apart, really transsexual, AMABs who are really women, AFABs who are really men. It is not a choice of a particular course of action, it is the choice to recognise and affirm rather than suppressing who they really are. I say it is a choice. Yes, they really are naturally very far from the stereotype, but that does not mean they really are the other gender. I don’t accept theories of brain sex to justify transition, and ideas of a feminine soul or two-spirit are myths, stories to say why transition feels comfortable, appropriate, or the most desirable thing in the world, rather than a rigorous scientific this therefore that hypothesis. If it is generally thought that transition is a choice, it will be less acceptable.

Scientific studies are fraught. How many children detransition? Can you tell which trans kids will definitely want to transition as adults, and prevent their wrong puberty? People with a particular interest fight over the methodology and conclusions. Particularly, what should be the default when we don’t know? Why should it be that a trans child must undergo an assigned sex puberty, making transition later more difficult?

Some people detransition because of social pressure. Society forces them back in the closet. Some find a way to self-acceptance that does not involve presenting as the opposite sex.

Yes, it is a choice, but a choice made by oppressed people between unattractive options: given that you don’t fit the stereotype, you can pretend to fit it, live openly not fitting it, or transition. It is easier not to conform if you are comfortable in your own skin, but not everyone is, and people who face this choice often aren’t. Social Justice Warriors who want everyone to self-actualise, be valued, and reach their full potential should be very careful what they say. Social conservatives who value order and conformity should back the fuck off.

Social pressure

Do people transition because of social pressure? How could you know?

Now, I identify as a pansy, a feminine male. Before transition, I felt social pressure to conform to standards of masculinity, but I was aware of “transsexuals”. I felt liberated when I could express myself as Clare. In May 2000, I decided to transition. That decision lasted less than a week: I went to the local TV/TS group and sat with the TSs. None of them had jobs. They seemed miserable. They did not seem to pass particularly well. I thought I could not do it. Then at another group I found trans women who seemed to be able to make a go of life, and in November 2000 I decided to transition. I transitioned in April 2002, and still express myself as female. I have no plans to revert.

As I understood it at the time, there were two kinds of people with a Y chromosome who dressed as women. There were transvestites, who did it for sexual kicks, and transsexuals, who did it because they were really women. TVs were perverts, ridiculous and disgusting, but TSs had a medical condition, and were not to be condemned. I did not feel able to express my feminine self as a man, so the alternative was to transition. I wanted to transition, so I was TS.

In the Northern Concord, of those who did not proclaim themselves TS, there were still people who were like blokes down the pub who happened to be dressed strangely, and some very feminine types. I was friendly with the latter, and some later transitioned.

I wanted sex reassignment surgery. I paid for it. Now, I believe that I had it because of social pressure, because it was part of my understanding of what a transsexual was. Some of that pressure came from the transsexual support group, but also from cis folk, who talked of a “sex change”. Now, many who transition full time do not have SRS. We are “Trans”, which includes cross-dressers. We can make our own path within Trans, rather than being classified as one or the other of TV/TS.

There may be social pressure to identify as trans:

I discussed that article in detail. The mother finds professionals and others surprised that her daughter is not trans- there is social pressure- but mother and daughter are resisting it. It does not show that people transition because of social pressure, that someone comfortable with gender non-conforming behaviour will transition, and certainly not that anyone who could conform to the cis gender stereotype would feel any pressure to transition. It also supports the cisnormative default: the girl is thought to be trans, because she is not like girls are supposed to be. But she could still fit social expectations if she were trans, confirming how girls and boys are different- though the mother writes of others’ surprise, not disapproval. The gender non-conformist who refuses to transition is the real social pariah.

Talk of “social pressure” implies that we are in some way unfree, unfulfilled or prevented from self-actualisation. I would say that I felt I could be more myself if I conformed to the concept of the transsexual woman, so I leapt at the chance. Cisnormativity creates transgender: I would not have needed to transition had I been able to live as a flamboyant pansy, still male. (“Been” able or felt able? Social pressure was too strong for me.)  That is, there is social pressure on the gender non-conforming person to satisfy societal expectations, either by conforming to gender expectations of their sex or by transitioning.

Aged 51, I feel more able to resist social pressure, but possibly I am just ignored. I cycled to the station and took off my wig, unable to bear it. “You need a pair of long earrings,” said that woman. Um. Probably strong makeup too. There is an acceptable look for bald women, but it certainly is not my male pattern baldness, with hair thick round the back and sides but wispy or absent on top. I am paranoid about that even though I shave the sides.

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I tried that line on a trans activist facebook group. Cisnormativity creates transgender. One said Dysphoria is an emotional response to the gender variation of self, which may be a misunderstanding. Cisnormativity creates the idea that a boy should be “boyish”, and grow up to be “manly”. But it may be a disagreement. She is really a woman, she thinks. Another said she observed in children aged 2 or 3 distress at possessing a penis. I find it disturbing that the child, who is allowed to dress as a girl, should know that penis=boy, and not wholly credible without some parental pressure, but she believes that.

How you see it depends on your theory. I say we- transitioners, detransitioners, closeted people, open gender non-conformists, are all the same, all people who do not fit gender stereotypes, who respond to the difficulties that causes in different ways. She says she is a woman with a trans history, yes, really a woman. How you behave depends on your theory. I might not have transitioned had I not believed I really was transsexual. Later, I realised the question which mattered was “Will I be happier if I transition?”- what do I want to do, rather than who am I or what is my fundamental nature. I resisted transition, imagining I was not really TS: thinking I was autogynephilic instead. I say “non-binary” is a freedom-word, a claim I make when I want to act in a particular way, not a separate way of being human as bi or gay is. Different people might argue we are all NB, or all trans, or all GNC, and would act differently because of their theory. Which word you choose may either retrospectively justify your desire, or alter the way you express that desire. The way you do not fit stereotypes may be minimal or extreme, and how much that distresses you will differ.

It is not just we who debate these things. The doctors, and the wider society, debate them too. Some people, not personally affected, argue for what they think is good for the individual, some for the wider society, having different ideas of what it means to be man, woman, human. Ignorant people have strong opinions. Should people have access to cross-gender hormones and surgery? Should society repress gender non-conformity as a perversion, or only permit it to be expressed in a particular way? We can’t make our decisions isolated from the wider conversation, and we may be angry with people trying to push us into a path, or an understanding of the phenomenon, when it’s not the one we want.

On another trans group, person after person anticipates or celebrates their SRS. That I feel now I had it because of social pressure does not mean that anyone else did. For some dysphoria means a loathing of the body because it does not fit the person, which is cured by surgery.

All this is an introduction to the article in The Stranger, and particular responses to it.

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Katie Herzog wrote an article, The Detransitioners: They Were Transgender, Until They Weren’t. Julia Serano and others responded, Katie Herzog wrote again, woundedly saying she was only a journalist reporting people’s stories and experts’ opinions, and Julia Serano wrote again. Briefly, I feel the problem is that people want to make their own decisions- transition, detransition, surgery, hormones, behaviour- but feel that expressed opinions about others’ decisions may make their own more difficult. As Serano writes,  trans communities are highly aware of how notions of “social contagion,” “trendsgender,” and “cisgender people being turned transgender because of peer pressure” are routinely used by those who wish to rollback transgender rights and access to healthcare. We won’t get hormones if others are simply gender non-conforming and public pressure says taking cross-gender hormones is icky, they will not permit it.

But then I say we don’t make our decisions free of public pressure. We may feel that pressure in different ways, as there is no consensus. Detransitioners, social conservatives and TERFs say Transition is Bad. Social liberals recognise that men have been dressing as women since Deuteronomy and probably long before, and there is a tradition of trans surgery going back to Lili Elbe. Depending on the circles we move in or what we read, different options present themselves to us, and what attracts us to one rather than the other may be luck or chance.

Serano has also written, stop pitting detransitioners against happily transitioned people. Yes. We’re the ones who have to live with our non-conformity. We share a lot of common interests. We should strive to minimize unwanted irreversible changes, she says. Of course. But when I so badly wanted SRS in 2003, I did not know I would regret it later.

This is long enough already. I may come back to these articles. I want us all to be able to make whichever decisions feel right for us, to deal with gender issues- but we cannot do that in a vacuum, as if there were no social pressure. It is continued: Social Pressure II.

How feminine is Clémentine-Hélène Dufau’s portrait of Maurice Rostand!