Who is trans?

Are you trans because of what you do, who you are, or what you think you are?

What do trans people do? We spend at least some time, possibly all the time, expressing ourselves in our true gender. We seek medical treatment, hormones and surgery. We talk with other people about being trans. But most trans women can remember a time when we never expressed ourselves female- either before we did so for the first time, or between expressing female as children and expressing female as adults. Some trans children are accepted by their parents, and do not have this experience.

Some trans women, like me, try hard to make men of ourselves, and might deny we were trans while doing so. Now, I would say I was trans in denial at the time. So some people I would call trans, if I had a God’s eye view, would deny it.

I would call them trans because I don’t like the idea of becoming trans. It’s an idea transphobes use to belittle trans people, who they say “wake up one day and decide they are the other sex”.

So what do trans people do? Some of us live as trans taking hormones and have had surgery, and some of us live in the assigned gender and deny being trans. The behaviour is the same as the whole population, though the proportions are different. But statisticians can only count people who will admit they are trans.

They might also count people who answer that they are trans because they think it is a stupid question and they want to mess with the statisticians. Some of those may be trans in denial.

Transphobia affects all of us. I spent time trying to make a man of myself because of internalised transphobia, feelings of disgust and contempt at being trans. I still have some internalised transphobia now.

You are trans because of who you are, so in theory a psychiatrist could question a person and identify transsexual traits even if they claimed not to be transsexual. That happened to me. I saw the psychiatrist because I would cross-dress for a time, and then throw out all my women’s clothes. I thought it was bearable to cross-dress alone, in my home, as I had a stressful job and if that was a way I could relax, it is completely harmless. And I thought it was reasonable to think I am a man therefore it is shameful to cross-dress, and I will not. I could not bear oscillating between these positions several times a year. It caused me great distress.

That was the internalised transphobia. So, I would call anyone who cross-dresses occasionally trans, especially if they want the term. They may, later, become staunch transmedicalists denying the term trans or the rights of trans women to anyone who is not at least on the gender clinic waiting list, but right now they only cross dress in private now and then.

Or, you could be trans because you talk to others about it online, without any cross-gender behaviour other than that. I call such people trans if they claim the term. They are not expressing themselves in their true gender offline, or going into single-sex spaces. They are no threat to anyone.

You are trans because of who you are, but no-one might know if you deny it. So you are trans because you think you are. No-one who thinks they are trans is not trans.

Some people detransition. They remain trans. Something prompted them to transition. They may regret it, and particularly any medical treatment, but that does not stop them being trans. They may retransition.

A trans woman who only spends part of the time expressing female might go into a women’s loo when dressed female. She harms no-one else. She may be checking out whether transition is right for her- because transphobia is oppressive, and she may be unable to bear it. So I want everyone dressed as women able to use women’s loos. The ones who look most weird, or shifty, or mannish, are the ones who are most in need of kindness and courtesy: and because they are doing something so brave, the most entitled to it.

Listening to the transphobes

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics has launched an open consultation on treating gender dysphoric children and adolescents, to which anti-trans campaigners may easily respond. The working group does not include a single trans person. Dr Ruth Pierce has written a detailed critique of the project and its inadequacies. I had a look at the questions.

Nuffield produces reports on ethical issues in bioscience and health. It is funded by the Nuffield Foundation, the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust. This page has links to its work on gender identity. This is its call for evidence.

They start by asking what gender dysphoria is, explaining that some people think it is a medical condition- genetic, hormonal, neurodevelopmental or psychiatric; some think it a social construct, and some a “normal variant of gender expression”. They don’t want a single agreed view, but want to understand how different views affect the approach to care and treatment.

Trans is what some people are, just as gay is. Attempts to suppress our personality fail. Attempts to prevent us from expressing ourselves through transition may succeed, though at the cost of great psychological distress.

Gender dysphoria is the distress at having to conform to the wrong gender, or at living with transphobia including internalised transphobia.

Those anti-trans campaigners who imagine they are left-wing feminists conceive of transgender as a threat to AFAB children: to those who want to transition, whom they call girls, threatened by infertility and physical changes preventing them from living their lives as “adult human females”; and to cis girls generally, from trans girls, whom they characterise as a threat to privacy or even a sexual threat. They cannot believe that transition could ever be right for someone.

However, trans people exist. Transition benefits us. Medical treatment with hormones and surgery at the very least helps us pass better, so to function better in a transphobic society, and at best cures the gender dysphoria arising from our bodies being wrong. Before transition I hated my body. Now I love it.

Anyone asserting that transition is always or mostly wrong is therefore denying reality, and their views should be discounted. However as Ruth Pierce shows the Nuffield press release quotes the approbation of extreme anti-trans campaigners.

Nuffield then asks what social factors are most relevant to the discussion on gender identity, and names a number of possibilities. On “intense sexualisation and objectification of women” I would add rape culture and pervasive sexual violence, but not primarily as having an effect on the trans boys but on the anti-trans campaigners. Many who once were feminist have been traumatised by that sexual violence, and they imagine that trans boys are fleeing it rather than expressing their true selves. It blinds them to the phenomenon of the trans boy who benefits from transition.

Nuffield names “increased visibility of trans individuals in public life”. Well, yes. Rather than trying to conform to the assigned gender, we realise transition might be possible. I felt I could not transition, because the trans women I knew seemed to be having awful lives. When I met some who seemed to prosper, it seemed possible that I could make a go of life as a trans woman, and so I decided to transition.

It does not mention the public transphobic campaigns of the Republican party in the US and the Conservatives and their allies here. That terrifies trans children, and makes them attempt to conform to their assigned gender. It causes mental anguish and even illness. We live in an atmosphere of extreme transphobia. That Nuffield names homophobic bullying but does not explicitly name transphobic bullying shows that they are trying to find a mid point between trans people and the anti-trans campaigners, rather than finding what is right for the children.

Nuffield then asks whether the evidence base justifies the use of puberty blockers and gender affirming hormones (which they call “cross-sex hormones”). I don’t know. There are great difficulties with producing evidence that these treatments are beneficial- the privacy of the trans people involved, the rarity of treatment, and the reasons why treatment is given. Trans children want PB and GAH because they want the right sex characteristics and not the wrong ones. Gender clinics justify treatment as a way of alleviating distress at the time of treatment, not anticipated problems and benefits in the future. That fits Nuffield’s next question- what should be the purpose of PBs?

How should trans children be treated? Before asking this, by way of context, they refer to “desisters”. I would draw attention to people who detransition under the extreme transphobia of society, and later transition again.

Nuffield asks, “Should children be encouraged or supported to transition socially?” Of course. It is the only way to find whether they will prefer life transitioned. But look what Nuffield has to say. Social transition “makes it difficult for young people to change their minds, and in fact increases the likelihood of later medical transition”.

Social transition of cis children is torture. It does not work. This way of presenting the issue makes transition look like a bad thing. The point is, for trans people, social transition makes our lives better. We do it under the pressure of worse transphobia than in Britain now. Nuffield is echoing transphobic talking points.

Nuffield then asks about a range of harms, even those which might be seen as harming those who do not desist, such as, loss of fertility. Stem cells can be made to develop into gametes. That is the way to address loss of fertility. They posit “the negative consequences of disrupting physiological puberty, given the role it might play in the formation and development of a consistent gender identity”. That is mere speculation, simply a more formal way of saying “Don’t indulge them. They’ll grow out of it.” BUT WE DON’T.

This is what Ruth Pierce means about the distress of facing these endless questionnaires, surveys and consultations. I want to cry. Why can Nuffield not see?

Then they ask about consent. They go into detail on the doubts expressed by the judges in the Bell case. They ask, “Do you think that children and adolescents have the capacity to consent to PBs and CSH?” No, scream the anti-trans campaigners. Trans people don’t say there are no risks, just beg the cis gatekeepers to consider the risks of not treating.

Again, the questions make the anti-trans case. “Is there anything distinctive about PB and CSH that they warrant a different standard of consent?” No, not really. All treatment has risks. Should a fifteen year old girl have an abortion? What if she regrets it, and is incapable thereafter of becoming pregnant? There is nothing distinctive, because this is treatment which can have great benefit. Many claims of risk are fearmongering and evidence-free speculation. But transphobes are so wise, and disinterested, in their calls for “transparent public debate”.

My sarcasm is a defence mechanism.

Nuffield asks if there’s anything else you want to say. Getting the distinctions and similarities clear in your mind, clarifying why phobes’ objections are irrelevant, is a particular skill. Not all trans people have that skill. Facing demands for explanation, we might just give up. Nuffield will produce a report over many pages, with many considerations weighed and taken into account, but for us it’s quite simple.

Transition saved my life. It may save others.

I am not going to answer this consultation. I dare to hope someone will express the potential benefits of PB and GAH in such a way that it will be clear to any disinterested person that they should be given, and that only considering the alleviation of current distress to justify treatment is unethical.

Trans day of Visibility

Tomorrow, 31 March, is Trans Day of Visibility, which is the opposite of Bi Day of Visibility. On BDoV, lots of people with opposite sex partners say “I’m Bi, actually” (and some of their partners go, “What?”) On TDoV, a few trans people say, “I’m Trans!” And everyone says, “We know”. It’s also a double-dare to trans people who pass, who the gender psychiatrists would be hard-put to read as trans, to come out. That can be frightening. One trans woman I knew changed city and job, only keeping two friends who had known her as male.

Everyone who knows me knows I am trans. It could be the wig or the jawline, more likely it’s the voice. And that is mostly OK, most people who know me are OK.

Or the day is for trans people who tweet or blog about other things to come out. Then their followers will see, and perhaps feel more positively to trans people, and only the haters will unfollow.

It is a day to celebrate transition and the liberation that brings. The world seemed to change from monochrome to colour for me. Before, I hated my body. Now, I love my body. In the journey of transition, I got to know myself, and released the control which I needed to pretend to be male. I cannot imagine my life if I had not done it.

It is a day to celebrate being trans, and the gift that is to the wider community: a particular set of experiences leading to a different perspective. The difficulties of transition can produce a deep wisdom in people.

Possibly, it is a day for someone who has not yet started transition to begin to come out. You know you will have to do it. If you come out at work, in Europe and the US you are protected under discrimination legislation. Still be careful. That being said, I found most people accepting. If you come out to loving parents, siblings, partners or children, they may already know.

You can’t tell from what people have said how they will react. People who have said thoughtless, prejudiced things, if they like or love you, may accept you. People who say the right, non-discriminatory things may harbour secret prejudice. I lost a friend, when I transitioned, who was a cross-dresser.

Coming out is part of becoming yourself. Presenting your assigned gender, you are hiding. In fear, we hide ourselves and try to be what we think others expect. This is stunting and limiting. Coming out is scary, but necessary for self-respect. People need to be able to be ourselves with others. If we cannot, we are completely alone.

Stonewall has posters for schools showing trans people and their achievements.

Alec Salmond continues to build his disreputable Alba Party, with convicted perjurer Tommy Sheridan, antisemite Neale Hanvey, and two women who support the tiny but well funded hate group Four Women Scotland Limited. Why would they join Mr Sleepy Cuddles? It goes to show transphobe haters give up all feminist causes when they start campaigning against trans women. Alba stands for “All Ladies Be Aware”.

Authenticity III

Is “living authentically” possible? What would it mean?

Quakers have the example of John Woolman. He refused to make money from slavery, made enough money to support himself, his wife and daughter living simply, and devoted the rest of his energies to his spiritual concerns, especially abolitionist campaigning. He changed from being a merchant to a tailor to have more free time for Quaker witness.

Some people say things they do not believe, and I am one of them. I am thinking particularly of shit-eating in the vain hope of maintaining a relationship at my brief stint of volunteering. In a job, or a relationship, I might say what I do not believe out of fear, believing myself constrained. It might be better to take steps to leave such a job or relationship, but the person might feel unable to. Then authenticity in the sense of being free to follow your principles, and choosing to do so, would be in part a matter of luck or privilege rather than morality. Trans females sometimes, like me, and the child XY, have a period of desperately trying to fit masculine stereotypes.

It might not be possible to be inauthentic. The whole human being, conscious and unconscious, all the cells of the body intimately interconnected and interdependent, does what it does. If it did something else it would be someone else. So the liar and bully Donald Trump’s actions show who he is. He is “authentic” as Woolman was, and the concept adds nothing.

To be unchangeably the same in different situations- at work, with children, relaxing- might be a sign of inflexibility rather than any virtue of “authenticity”. To approach every situation with patience, attention, curiosity, respect- loving and alive to possibility- well, I aspire to that. “Pray without ceasing” as Paul said. One might simply be too tired.

I have great gifts of intelligence and heart, and I feel they could do more in the world. That they do not is a source of shame and misery to me.

Do I do all that I might? If I imagine myself achieving things I do not now achieve, what prevents me? These are the possibilities:

  • a physical illness, though blood tests show none
  • depression I cannot just snap out of
  • Blindness to things others might see
  • I do all I can.

Sue, a wise person whom I trust, wrote, “Thanks as ever for your shining presence Abigail and for your profoundest of wisdoms, you so often touch me deeply and I am inspired by you.” I quote that because it delights me.

Here is a wonderful and wide-ranging interview with the psychotherapist Emmy van Deurzen. There’s lots of good stuff in it, but one thing grabbing my attention was her talking of people trapped in the darkness, the morass of life, paralysed with terror. In therapy, “that can take a very long time,” she said. Yeah, s’pose.

In a Quaker group on Thursday we discussed authenticity. I got upset and, weeping, described times when I have worked hard to achieve against a great deal of push-back, and then the push-back got too much and I gave up. Someone left. The organiser said “sometimes what [I] bring feels beyond the emotional scope of [her] ability to keep the space safe and welcoming for everyone”. Well, I get that. When someone expressed emotional pain that I could apparently make better by a bit of sympathetic listening, I felt good. When that emotional pain appeared to get worse, I blamed them.

On Friday, Sue led an hour of voice exercises involving projecting at high or low pitch, and then told us to remember times as children when we were wholly and unself-consciously ourselves. Losing yourself in play. Your best holiday ever. If school was good, what were your favourite parts? If it wasn’t, what was the best release from it? Times excited about something.

Then, pick out the characteristics in you that go with these memories.

I find myself in two places. I can name good characteristics which are in me: I wrote, “Adventurous. Loving. Strong willed, great-hearted. Warm. Playful. Passionate.” Sue loved “great-hearted”: “it is so deliciously you in how it resonates who you are”. And, I am in a painful memory.

My voice therapist suggested I do these voice exercises throughout the day, a few seconds at a time, just as Sue just has. So on the stairs in the office, I was my free female self, and then went back to my desk and had to be the professional man again. It was unbearable, and so I stopped the exercises.

So there is this deeply painful memory, and I wonder what is going on.
Am I triggered?
Am I indulging my negativity?
Have I choices in this?
Should I “honour the progress I have made”?

I go with the last, and say, evenly, that this bad memory has been brought up for me. Being born middle-aged, I have few memories when I was not self-conscious. And, I believe in those positive qualities I named. I say I am feeling triggered, and I have ways of taking care of myself.

Part of that was thinking of my second great born-again moment. I saw the psychiatrist about transitioning, in June 2001. I had various intellectual arguments why I was Really Transsexual, and he dismissed all of them. My safe space, intellectual argument, was stripped away from me, and it was one of the most intensely painful experiences I have ever had. I was awake weeping in the night, unable to go to work in the morning, and I went round to a friend to weep and be comforted. What I had left was how I felt and what I wanted, and my childhood training was to deny and distrust that.

Warm. Playful. Passionate. All bad qualities which I must never give any hint of possessing. My damage is an inextricable part of me, and people will disentangle nature and nurture just as soon as we work out how to unbake a cake and remove the eggs from it. But I am healing.

I am writing this on Saturday. It has taken hours, and involved some abandoned weeping. It is part of my healing process.

Recovering from that training is taking all my gifts and all my energy. Arguably I am trapped in the dark morass, paralysed with terror, and it is hard to bear how slowly I am recovering. Am I “authentic”? I don’t find the concept useful. I am me, and that is good.

Detransitioners

Much of the detransition experience is similar to the transitioner’s. Both find solidarity with people undergoing the same thing, and allies, both find opponents, chiefly online. Both might dislike their bodies and think that some process will make their body acceptable. Both want to be themselves, and find the stereotypes imposed by ordinary society oppressive. We should be allies. Why are we not, and what might be done about this?

Some of the most vocal allies of F-M-F detransitioners are anti-trans campaigners. They think detransitioners are proof that transition is wrong, and that sexism prevents young women accepting themselves when they don’t fit gender stereotypes. Some detransitioners, such as Keira Bell, enthusiastically join with that group. Others, like Ky Schevers, find it oppressive. The strongest analogy for transitioners is those who give us grudging acceptance, but want to police our bodies- the cis person who wants to know whether you have had genital surgery. In both cases, it’s all about them. The policers prove their tolerance, when they are phobic, by tolerating us if we have had surgery. The anti-trans campaigners want to use detransitioners in their campaigns. Both groups seek to define us.

Both transitioners and detransitioners see happiness or fulfilment at the end of a physical process- medical transition, or detransition. Where physical reversion is impossible, detransitioners may blame their unhappiness on the medical interventions they had- the woman who has to shave her face and worries about thinning hair, the man with breasts needing a binder. I would be happy if-. Both undergo long stressful processes most people would never undergo and can’t really understand, in an attempt to fit in as their true selves in society.

Both find medical care patchy and doctors and therapists obstructive or ignorant.

Even when we are different, we are different in the same ways. Both transitioners and detransitioners include some people who just want to live their lives quietly, and others who want to campaign. Both groups include some who think only their path is right- the transmedicalist who thinks only those who desire genital surgery are truly trans, and the detransitioner who thinks no-one should transition- and some who see it is hard to be gender non-conforming, and those who are should stick together, and accept each others’ different ways of coping.

Both groups are trying to find a way to live in a gendered world. We should be allies.

Both groups have had horrible experiences separate from being trans. How could you not sympathise with Y, an Asian-heritage lesbian, when she writes,

the decade of sexual abuse and misogyny I endured from my step-father made me truly hate being a girl… I still have nightmares of those years that wake me up, heart racing and on the verge of tears, in the middle of the night.

I am less sure what to say about her allegation of “casual racism and fetishization” in the trans community, except that racism is endemic in Western society, and allegations of racism are thrown around by trans and anti-trans groups to discredit the other side, rather than primarily to correct racism.

Y socially transitioned aged 14, and first took hormones aged 21. She says she passed as a cis male, and I don’t know what to make of that. Possibly it is because Asian people are even more strongly gender stereotyped than whites. When she was considering top surgery she put it off for months, in emotional turmoil, until she found community on the detrans reddit and lost all her old support group, who accused her of being brainwashed by TERFs or having internalised transphobia.

Well, of course she has internalised transphobia. We grow up in a transphobic society. I don’t think she was brainwashed by TERFs, though. She wanted to make sense of who she was, and how she could be herself and be happy as herself, but in her moment of maximum confusion the trans community rejected her.

She talks of her dysphoria. She has particular ideas about how it can be addressed, in a healthy way, and she says use of surgery or hormones is false ideology. She says she is “also an artist, pet owner, eldest daughter, trivia geek, and frappe lover”- that is, her transition and detransition processes are mostly over, and she is able to give energy to other things. Many post-transition people could say the same.

For me, greater recognition of nonbinary identity and nonbinary pathways among the trans community would help us to integrate with each other, better, rather than with campaigners who want to use us for their own ideology. Someone who wants top surgery, someone who thought s/he did but finds the idea revolting, someone who had it and regrets it, and someone who had it and feels fulfilled should be able to come together and see what unites them and their interests is so much greater than what drives them apart.

We should reject those cis who want to use us for their own ends.

We have gender dysphoria. We cope with it as best we may. We try to live as our true selves despite societal hostility. We must find a way to solidarity.

Eddie Izzard and nonbinary

When Izzard was nonbinary, no-one cared. But now, she’s transitioning!?

In 2017 in The Hollywood Reporter she said she identified as transgender but had both “boy and girl mode”. But in 2020, her pronouns were given as she/her, and it was international news. Now, she is recording a drama in a male role, and wanted to go back to he/him, but was told she can’t be both.

She came out as “transvestite” in 1985, and people would stand a foot away and ask “What the fuck is that?” They turn you into an it, she says. “People don’t expect a trans woman to be able to run 130 marathons for charity and it changes their sense of what a trans woman is,” she says. That’s because they expect trans women to be physically inadequate and without any staying-power.

Will she physically transition, asks the journalist. There it is. Are you going to have your balls cut off. What will your genitals look like. Any privacy interviewees might have about medical conditions is denied the trans woman. She has always had breasts envy, and he asks if she is taking hormones. She refuses to say but “smiles”.

She wants to be a Labour candidate. I would love to have her stand here.

Some people are nonbinary, and that matters. They could change pronouns but not presentation, they could present differently on different days like Izzard still does, they could mix it up like his man’s suit and high heeled shoes. But there’s still this idea of proper transition, hormones and surgery. Either medicalised transition is thought of as acceptable, but anything else is still seen as perverted or wrong, or medicalised transition is something the cis have somehow got their heads round but nonbinary is beyond their comprehension. No one should have to undergo surgery to be accepted. No one should have their gender expression restricted.

Izzard thinks radical feminists should be our allies. “I’d like to get to the place where we don’t have to have this fight because I’m trying to deal with rightwing fascists.” Of course. My way to make allies would be to talk about common interests rather than women’s spaces.

The House of Lords transphobia increased, using the excuse of international women’s day. Content: transphobia.

Ralph Palmer, a Conservative hereditary peer, said:

Stonewall, please climb out of the hole of misogyny and bullying that you have dug for yourself. The needs of trans people, which are pressing, are not best served by adding to the disadvantages of women.

Tories, of course, want it to be a zero-sum game, a conflict of rights. We have so much in common, especially our interests, with all feminists, and they want to obscure that. It is a shame some self-identified “feminists” go along with them.

Anthony Young, a Labour peer, said “I want to make it clear that I believe in fair rights for transgender people. I am not transphobic, although no doubt I will be accused of it after this contribution”. Not a good line. Why is he transphobic? Well, “Fair rights” to him means exclusion from women’s spaces. I don’t want “fair rights” according to Young’s definition, I want human rights.

He is transphobic because he spoke out against inclusive language for trans men as “nonsense”. Then he said,

I want to conclude on the problem of the increased violence towards women and children taking place during Covid. We need to ensure that we protect safe spaces for women in hostels, refuges, hospitals and prisons. Physical threats to women, including rape, by transgender men are a terrible indictment on our society.

By “transgender men” he means trans women. I had to think about that one, but perhaps we will have to get used to it. The problem of increased violence towards women during covid has nothing to do with trans women. It is cis men. The juxtaposition shows extreme fear or hatred of trans women, and attempts to instil it in others. It is transphobic.

Fortunately Sal Brinton, Liberal Democrat, spoke up for us.

On top of the concerns about the attacks on trans people, there is now a real concern that the equalities rights granted over many years are being rowed back on. Over the last two days, three government advisers have resigned over this issue, the Conservative LGBT+ organisation is demanding an investigation and many Back-Bench MPs are worried.

I was somewhat surprised by the assertion of the noble Lord, Lord Young, that women’s refuges were dangerous places because of the threat of trans women being there. I am not aware of any such cases, and for the Domestic Abuse Bill, a number of women’s refuges and other organisations made it plain that they are trans -inclusive. In fact, a 2017 survey showed that the reality is that one in six trans women experience domestic abuse themselves.

In the House of Commons, the usual transphobes were about: Jackie Doyle-Price claimed to “fight for women’s safe spaces” rather than for trans-exclusion, and praised Keira Bell.

Yet Caroline Nokes MP said,

On this International Women’s Day, let us champion all women—gay women, who do not need conversion therapy; trans women, who want to be treated with respect and fairness. Remember, they are the ones most likely to suffer domestic abuse.

Kirsty Blackman, MP, SNP said,

We must consider this—we must look at stereotypes—and we must always consider intersectionality: we must check our own privilege. Younger women, ethnic minority women, bisexual women, trans women and disabled women are more likely to be domestically abused.

Wendy Chamberlain, MP, LD, referred to single-sex spaces but said they were needed because of “the fear of sexual violence perpetrated by men”. Exactly. Not trans women.

Trans in 1970

You know you are the opposite sex. You know this is mad, and shameful, and no-one must know. You think you are the only one. But brave people are making paths, and transition is becoming possible. Government and society are tolerant if contemptuous. You can be you.

The case of Corbett v Corbett or Ashley decided in England that a trans woman, even after an operation, could not marry a man, and that decision stood until the Gender Recognition Act 2004, which had certain insulting restrictions. However, it says something about what it was like to be trans in 1970, when it was decided.

It wasn’t easy. First, you had to hear that other people were like this too. In her teens April Ashley had attempted suicide and been admitted to mental hospital, where she said she wanted to be a woman. In 1956, aged 21, she went to the south of France where she met and joined a troupe of female impersonators from the Carousel club, Paris. She was taking oestrogen.

In 1961 April was working as a model, until this was reported in the press. In 1962, the News of the World published a series of articles about her, telling her life story in considerable detail. Reporting was exploitative, but it was out there. Jan Morris’ book Conundrum was published in 1974. I found it unreadable, too close to my experience, and it was written to explain us to educated cis people rather than to ourselves, but it was there.

In 1961, April changed her name by deed poll, and obtained a passport in her female name. “The Ministry of National Insurance issued her with a woman’s insurance card, and now treat her as a woman for national insurance purposes.” The doctors had arranged this for several patients. The rules were different, based on the idea that women would marry and become housewives. There was a widow’s benefit but no equivalent for widowers. So the rules were inappropriate if you could not marry, but the thing was done.

In court, her husband’s barrister badgered her over whether she had had erections or ejaculated. The judge, contemptuously, records, “She simply refused to answer either question and wept a little”.

A lawyer in Gibraltar succeeded in getting a special licence for her to marry. So the High Court in London scotched that idea, but some officials would have given it a go.

There was a surgeon, Georges Burou, in Casablanca, who would perform the operation, and April had it in 1960. There were specialists in London who recommended it: Dr JB Randell, at the Charing Cross gender clinic, which had started in 1966, had recommended 35 patients for surgery. Patients had to sign a consent form saying “I understand it will not alter my male sex and that it is being done to prevent deterioration in my mental health”.

Arthur Corbett pressed her to marry, though she knew this was a mistake. Arthur was unhappily married, and had cross-dressed from 1948. They rarely dressed, saying “I didn’t like what I saw. You want the fantasy to appear right. It utterly failed to appear right in my eyes.” A man who had had an amputation told me those turned on by this didn’t last, as they wanted the amputation themselves. So Arthur pressed her to marry, but though April had had sex with others, Arthur could not go through with it. “On several occasions he succeeded in penetrating her fully, but immediately gave up, saying ’I can’t, I can’t’ and withdrew without ejaculation, and burst into tears.” She left Arthur, saying the years since they met had been the worst of her life.

I am not using pronouns for Arthur. I am pretty sure she was trans, and born fifty years later would have transitioned. She felt that, looking like she did, it would have been impossible. While the judge, and probably the psychiatrists, made a rigorous distinction then between “transsexuals” and “transvestites”, the difference is what you see as possible, rather than your true nature.

Lawyers soon began arguing that the Sex Discrimination Act 1970 made it illegal to discriminate against transsexuals.

Transition was even harder than now, but there were pathways, and official recognition, and exceptionally courageous individuals could do it, and make a life.

Ky Schevers

Ky Schevers compares trans men detransitioning into “gender critical” circles to the “ex-gay” movement. Having spent time with them, and transitioned to male again, he says they are harmful both to trans people and detransitioners. He has written some perceptive Medium posts about his experiences. Any human being might recognise the tension between seeking acceptance from others, and being proudly who you are, which for trans people is particularly fraught.

At times I have needed to say different things about myself, and wanted different affirmation from others. Before I committed to transition, I wanted to, yet was too frightened, and I read up on “autogynephilia”, and told myself my desires were unreal. Then I decided I would transition, and joined Transsexual UK, a Yahoo group. There my desire to transition was affirmed, though it was nastily transmedicalist- not just the clear desire for hormones and surgery, but the implication that those who did not want surgery were perverts or transvestites and we should distance ourselves from them. And all the time I have wanted affirmed just for me, for who I am.

Since the March lockdown I have been powerfully affirmed here, Saturdays at 11am GMT. It is a space for everyone, not just trans, where we can show ourselves.

Ky transitioned female to male, then detransitioned, and joined gender critical groups. They would affirm him if he asserted that he was a woman, that being butch was fine but saying that it was in any way “masculine” was wrong, because that was a way some women were and all women were allowed to be if they wanted to. He used his strong gifts for thinking, analysis and writing on a wordpress blog which is now deleted. His crashchaoscats tumblr is now “Hemp Life Mag- CBD reviews, news and guides”, with no obvious indication it has ever been a detransition blog.

As a F-M-F detransitioner, part of his belief system was that he had undertaken a terrible act of self-harm caused by “transgender ideology”, and it was important to him to shield others for similar harm. His “Open letter to Julia Serano” remains, shared by another on facebook, and I copied it to a word document which I retain. He wrote to Julia, a powerful transadvocate,

I see these young women, lesbian and otherwise, finally find other women they can relate to, who also feel out of place in this society, who don’t fit the patriarchal myths and I watch them grow proud of being female, being a woman. It has been beautiful to watch and amazing to be a part of so many women’s healing.

You can choose to listen to us and change how you talk about us or you can keep repeating the same misinformation. In case you do choose to listen, I’ve included some links to other detransitioned women’s blogs and videos. In any case, we will keep speaking our truths because even if you’re not listening, a lot of women are and they need to hear what we have to say.

There it is. Beautifully articulate, powerfully expressed, definite, and he would say now completely wrong. Or at least if right for anyone not right for him. I wrote about him at the time.

There has to be a better way. As he says, people who transition and detransition have a lot in common with people who are transitioning or want to, or who have transitioned. It would be so much better if they could be in community together for mutual support. And yet they are pitched against each other, forced to argue that the other groups are deluded and perhaps that they personally have been in the past.

I want a Gender Variant community, of people who recognise that gender stereotypes do not fit them, and support any way of coping with that- living against the stereotypes, living with a particular presentation such as “butch”, having surgery- because we recognise what we have in common. I don’t know it is possible. Too many people are invested in their own way and want to save others from different, wrong, paths. There is a strong taboo in the wider community against body alteration- some people even condemn tattoos, piercings, or rhinoplasties, leave alone what we have done. He says,

People also need spaces where they can freely explore how their sense of gender may have been shaped by trauma and/or living in a homophobic transphobic patriarchy without being pressured to adopt a particular identity or interpretation of their experiences.

Ky now feels he was exploited by people with their own axes to grind- conservative Evangelicals who claim gender variance is a sin encouraged by feminism, parents of trans people who are disgusted by their children’s desires and encourage each other to oppose them, or conversion therapists who want to make money from them. “Ideologically motivated detransition is conversion therapy,” he says. We want to be accepted in community, because we are social beings, and so we seek out their conditional acceptance. But,

People invested in transphobic ideologies have no interest in helping detransitioned people heal because they want to frame transitioning as being as damaging as possible.

I needed to sort out who I was as opposed to what I had become in order to belong to the community.

Now, he says, it is “surreal” to accept himself as a trans man and lose that community. “I still care about a lot of detransitioned women but I no longer feel like I can be close to them.” How could he, when he sees them as perpetrating the same harms? Could he just be with them, without trying to fix each other? Could we each accept that my path is right for me now, and just because it is different to your path does not mean either is wrong? Could we support each other in such different choices? We need an identity, and feel such confusion when that identity changes- I thought I was a “man”, and now see I am a trans woman. An answer might be to cling less tightly to a rigid conception of that identity, but that troubles straight people and raises our internalised self-phobia.

He feels terribly guilty.

I betrayed the trans community by adopting and promoting transphobic views and creating material that was then picked up and used by other anti-trans groups. I betrayed the detrans community by coming out as trans, leaving the community and talking openly about how detransitioning hurt me. I further betray them by naming the harm done by the detrans community [including Keira Bell.]… The thing I’m really trying to figure out is how do I take responsibility for my past actions and do what I can to fix the damage? … I don’t want to harm others, even unintentionally… Those transphobic ideas harmed me but they also motivated me to speak and act in ways that harmed other trans people as well.

He has been writing. It is his skill. It is powerful stuff, and anyone interested should read him and engage with him, trans people, allies, and those he says are exploiters.

He is vulnerable. Not for the first time,

I am dismantling who I once was and still figuring out who I want to be now.
I’m working to heal from the damage of trying to erase an important part of myself.
I was in pain and I wanted it to stop.

The exploiters should have pity on us, but they too have their needs and identities to protect. I will have pity on him. Ky, you were seeking community and seeking to understand yourself in a blizzard of conflicting interpretations, anger, contempt and fear. You did your best to help others and find community. I will not blame you for anything you did, however mistaken you now feel it was.

These are Ky’s three Medium posts:
Detransition as conversion therapy: a survivor speaks out.
What is ideologically motivated detransition?
Moving between worlds deciding what to do next.

Agnes Zalewska

Should you participate in research projects on trans?

I found out about Agnes, or Agnieszka, Zalewska’s project “Illusions and realities. Transgender motivations and desires” on facebook, and people were wary. We don’t like the word “illusions” in this context. Some think the “illusion” might be our feeling that we really are of the gender we express. One would not go near it, based on the title alone. However we have illusions before we transition, of what transition will be like, both good and bad- I thought I would be sacked, and I was supported in work.

This is part of Mrs Zalewska’s Doctorate in Clinical Practice at the University of Exeter. She is an accredited psychoanalytic psychotherapist, and worked at The Laurels, the gender clinic in Exeter. Someone on facebook had seen her there, and found her professional and supportive. There are tales about the Gender Identity Development Service, of how some psychs left thinking it gave treatment too easily, but with that caveat I think this makes her an ally. Here is her crowdfunding page.

She is on twitter, but most of her tweets are retweets, generally fewer than one a month. She retweeted this from Marcus Evans, linking his article in Quillette “Why I resigned from Tavistock: trans identified children need therapy, not just affirmation and drugs”. Evans is hostile, and Quillette is a hard-right publication. Evans praises a discredited book. I don’t think a mere retweet shows Mrs Zalewska is hostile, though. She follows trans advocates including the Scottish Trans Alliance, and anti-trans propagandists including “transgender trend“.

Trans people exist. There are campaigners, desperate to portray us as a threat to women- trans women as male predators who should not be in women’s spaces, trans men as dupes being mutilated in a way they will regret. But that is based on a false understanding of who we are. In general I would say British academic research would give a greater understanding of us. Narrowly propagandistic work designed to show we were deluded or dangerous would not be ethical.

Mrs Zalewska is one of the authors of this article, “An exploration of the lived experiences of non-binary individuals who have presented at a GIC in the UK”. Only the abstract is freely available, including this recommendation:

for an affirmative approach that offers space for the non-binary individual to articulate their desires and come to terms with their identity. This exploration must take into consideration the person’s place within a social world that can be transphobic and limited in terms of potential medical interventions. Further research is needed to better understand this marginalised community.

I am not sure how far that takes us. Saying “Of course you’re not nonbinary” will just drive the patient away. Indeed the social world can be transphobic, and that might induce a nonbinary person to stay concealed, conforming to gender stereotypes. If a therapist was overly concerned about the transphobia of society, she might discourage a patient from transition.

Googling a bit, I was amazed to find this site: callforparticipants.com. If I wanted, I could search it to see if any of my idiosyncrasies was being researched atm, then pour my heart out to a researcher and appear in various obscure PhD theses. Everyone should have a hobby. Even though I reveal myself completely here, I find the thought distasteful- to be questioned and summarised.

“The aim of the study is to increase awareness of the people who undergo gender transition.” It will help people considering transition, Mrs Zalewska writes. People transition in considerably more hostile environments than the UK is in 2020. The study is self-selecting. I clicked the ohsotempting button marked “Take part in this study” and got a request for my email address.

I don’t think it can do any harm, to me personally, or generally. I am not sure it will do great good. It would help to understand experiences of transition, but that might be better in quantitative than qualitative research- a representative sample of transitioners. It can never be established if we are happier transitioned, because the groups to be compared- those who considered transition, but didn’t, and those who transitioned- can’t include a proper control.

One might ask the same question about motivations to participate. What are your illusions, motivations and desires, and what is the reality? I can’t see any benefit to me beyond feeling I have given Mrs Zalewska, someone I do not know, a gift. However as the issues she considers with patients include transgender and sexuality, I may help those patients.

Performing gender

Lying on the floor weeping “I am not a man” even as I pretended to be one at work, I believed in a real me, separate from that pretense, which manifested herself when I expressed myself female. Like others, I found that at first presenting male was just normal, and expressing female mind-blowingly wonderful; then presenting male was a bit unpleasant and expressing female was really nice; and finally expressing female was just normal and presenting male unbearable. I had wanted to prepare for transition, with electrolysis of my face and other things, but I went full time before my electrolysis was complete. Then, needing to avoid shaving so I could have electrolysis I was abused in the street, and became depressed and miserable.

Judith Butler says we could perform gender, that is act a gender role, much as my friend said I appeared to be acting when presenting male and just being me when expressing female- have you noticed, I write “Presenting” male, saying that’s something about how I appeared, and “Expressing” female, when my appearance was the expression of my real self? I have expressed (wrote spoke and thought about) it that way all this century. But that’s not what she means when she says gender is performative. There’s no actor underneath, putting on a performance. Instead we act and speak in ways which consolidate the impression that we are men or women, not expressing an internal reality but responding to others as we are conditioned to, following habits which seem to us to be part of some essence. The phenomenon of gender is self-sustaining, people enforcing it on each other.

I need to do more reading on this, but Butler does not fit that description. She was walking down the street and a teenager called out, “Are you a lesbian?” There’s the policing, enforcement, bullying right there- she is not walking in a normal manner, so a stranger calls her out on it- but she does not change. Gaydar is a thing. Gay people can spot each other. Straight people can spot us too. The bullying isn’t working, or not completely. There is something in her which rebels. It might not be something as complex as a gender: the underlying reality could be as simple as a sexual attraction, stopping her from following others’ gender rules and making her own, but the effect is a range of behaviours and interactions which mark her out as “unfeminine”.

Lesbians might be butch or femme. H was particularly disgusted by femme lesbians, “attracted to that type of masculinity”- quite unable to understand them. There are fashions for butches, a butch uniform which is quite as constraining as straight women’s fashions, even if they change less frequently. Is the standard butch expression constrained by lesbians, or by the wider community?

H, particularly highly sexed, at twenty wore jeans and DMs and a crew cut, to avoid unwanted sexual attention, then in her forties her daughter persuaded her to dress sexily and around seventy she still does, with long hair and tight dresses. She talks of “performing gender”, but appears to mean making a choice, having twice exercised a choice and made a huge change. Now her sexiness is power, holding male attention despite her age, controlling the men by skills learned through experience.

Tim, a gay man, told me that in some relationships he was bottom, in others top, and he found his feelings around his body changed as he moved between. The areas which were erogenous zones would be different. He could pass as straight.

There’s something inside so strong. We transition. My father, attracted to women, was a primary head teacher. He had one male teacher and five women in his school, and while he thought the women more talented he noticed them encouraging the male to apply for promoted posts- to Dad’s disgust. Other men might have found their feminine encouragement of the man, and holding themselves back, unremarkable, or even appropriate. If men take the promoted posts are they really more talented and efficacious or do we imagine them to be more talented because we are programmed to see them so? Yet Dad saw them differently, perhaps because he was attracted to strong women, as am I.

Wikipedia is not the best of sources, but there I find a one paragraph criticism of Judith Butler by Martha Nussbaum, saying that rather than political campaigning Butler encourages feminists to subvert gender by speech and gesture, in “unfeminine” ways, subverting gender norms. I imagine both would be possible- walk like a man, refuse to smile and be accommodating, and campaign against VAWG.

When I was presenting male I did not see myself as acting. I was aspiring to masculinity, but it would be one real human being that was a man, going running to make myself fit, and when I was behaving in a masculine way it seemed to me that this was me, being how I ought to be, rather than hiding a “real me” underneath. Later, I either became aware of that Real Me which had been suppressed in fear (as I have always thought since) or that “feminine self” somehow came into being.

Happy birthday to Judith Butler, 64 today (I planned this post before finding it was her birthday). She provided this photo for Wikipedia when she was 57.

This is Martha Nussbaum, photographed aged 61 by Robin Holland.

How do you see these photographs? What does Professor Nussbaum’s makeup, and Professor Butler’s lack of it, signify? Are they feminine? Strong? Open or guarded? Can you read intelligence in either picture separately from the titles they have earned?

Added: here’s long distance runner Emily Halnon on My Boyfriend’s Wedding Dress. She loves his flair, imagines she’s contributing to a progressive shift in how we define masculinity, finally allowing men to be emotional and vulnerable, or to ask for help, or to hug their male friends, and yet was uncomfortable with him cross-dressing. She loves his muscles and athleticism, and his hairy chest, as well as his emotional depth, vulnerability and openness, but she and her girlfriends want men who are bigger and taller than they are, or who are better than them at sports, or who don’t cry in front of them. So- she wants to subvert gender norms, but still finds herself enforcing them because of the gravitational pull of wider society. Or, she’s a heterosexual woman who has particular desires, even if a minority of women might enjoy the support of a more vulnerable man.