Detransition and The Struggle For The Self
we're not that different
“Look, no matter how much you want to be Y, you cannot be reborn as him. You are not Y. It's okay for you to be you. However, I am not saying it's fine to be 'just as you are'. If you are unable to really feel happy, then it's clear that things aren't right just as they are. You've got to put one foot in front of the other, and not stop.”
― Ichiro Kishimi, The Courage to Be Disliked: How to Free Yourself, Change your Life and Achieve Real Happiness
“If people who transition feel like they are dying and being reborn… how do I know which parts of myself am I killing righteously, amputating to heal? God, I am lost in a wilderness.
It’s brutal to think that all my body mods are permanent. I was brave to do all of this. Brave and courageous. Yet also careless. Also reckless.
Can’t believe how much the body seems limiting and enslaving.
This hell is something I cannot pull out of, dissociate my way away from. Not if I want to ever get any self-knowledge. I must face everything head on.”
- my Journal, 1/23/17 (shortly before I detransitioned)
Some people act like transition and detransition is a simple mistake, a simple bad judgement call that should be spoken of seldomly, and then, only with shame.
I do not agree.
I think that it is nothing less than part of the defining search for self-understanding that all of us embark on in our various ways. It is not like picking out the wrong hair dye at the store. It’s a serious commitment to a course of action, and when that goes wrong, there’s inevitably a lot of fallout.
So when I write about detransition, I’m not just writing about gender for some quick political slap fight points. I’m trying to write about the human experience as a whole.
Some people transition and are happy with their choices and live their life. That’s all good. This blog probably is not going to be that useful to them, although, who knows.
But some of us make the leap and commit to transition, hoping to find - what? New freedom? Permission to be ourselves? Physical safety? Comfort? Community?
There’s a rush of euphoria, a feeling of joy and fulfillment, an expectation that things are finally clicking into place. And maybe for a while they are!
And then for some people, some while later, they realize it’s not what they thought. The initial rush faded and the old problems are still there.
Or it solves one problem and more crop up.
Or life just continues to go on and you continue to subtly and inevitably change in the way that we all do.
Life is messy. Transition is messy. There’s a tendency to take trans identity as a self-evident internal state. You realize you’re trans, you medically and socially transition, things are good. But what is it to be trans? This is a major divide in the so-called gender critical vs trans framework. Is being “trans” an internal state consisting of a gender identity that is innate, unquestionable, offensive to try to unpack? Or is it more accurate to speak about experiences of “gender dysphoria,” which could represent a whole range of symptoms and causes?
I had a great conversation with Bridget Phetasy on her podcast recently. I remembered listening to her podcast earlier in my detransition and being so touched by her stories of struggling with sobriety. She spoke about it with a wry but brutal honesty. I was riveted as she described her struggles. I remember a time where she was talking about how much better her life was after getting sober, and how much she was grateful. But she then confided that she still had dark, dark struggles sometimes. Her voice thick with tears, she described a hard period she had had. “Sometimes it’s all I can do not to jump in front of the train.”
If there’s something that moves me, it’s that. Someone who has lived through an awful time, and who sometimes feels a darkness still threatening to consume her, but continues onward anyway. I love the way she had made meaning out of her struggles. Since that podcast, she’s gotten married, gotten pregnant. I’m really happy for her.
I can’t wait til the release of that podcast. It’s a beautiful conversation. (She also has a great blog. Take this piece, “A surplus of psycho”. Extremely good.)
Anyway. Everything is to a purpose, even our self-destructive and self-deluding actions. Maybe you can’t relate to wanting to transition, but probably you can relate to feeling uncomfortable in your skin, in bouts of self-loathing, in wishing you were an idealized other person. I think they all reflect a universal human struggle.
My friend Helena recently wrote a magnificent essay about her transition and detransition. It was about gender, yes, but also about coming of age, about struggling with indoctrination, about family relations, about all kinds of things.
I like writing that’s maybe, on the surface level, political, but also goes so deep into someone’s human experience that everyone finds some commonality there.
So in that vein, let me recommend some writing on detransition I’ve been enjoying recently: