Confessions of a Former “Crypto-TERF”
I’m disturbed by many of my past actions as a detrans radical feminist. I said and did things that I now find very harmful and unethical. I was deceptive and tried to manipulate people, tried to change how transmasculine people thought of themselves and what choices they made. At the time I was able to rationalize to myself that my behavior was actually helpful because I believed so strongly in what I was doing.
Dishonesty was normalized in the radical feminist detrans women’s community. While some of us were more upfront with our views than others, most of us hid what we really thought from many of our friends and acquaintances. We thought they were too steeped in patriarchal culture or taken in by “trans ideology” to understand our views. If people did show any sign of being receptive to our beliefs, we would share what we thought they would find acceptable but hold back anything they would find too extreme or offensive.
Most of my friends outside of the detrans women’s community had no idea what I really thought while I was a part of it. Some of them knew I’d taken an interest in radical feminism and lesbian culture but they had no idea how deeply I’d immersed myself in transphobic radical lesbian feminism or what kind of ideas I was trying to spread. They thought I was just trying to help create a community of detrans women and raise awareness about our experiences. They knew I could sometimes be critical of the trans community but they had no idea that I thought trans people wouldn’t exist in a world without patriarchy and was working towards that. They had no idea I’d been radicalized and talked with other detrans women about “the erasure of female reality” and how to stage a “cultural intervention” to discourage female-assigned people from coming out as trans and transitioning.
A lot people who read my blog had no idea either. I intentionally moderated my views in public in order to reach a larger audience and make my ideas less threatening. At the same time, I wanted to be “challenging”. I was trying to spread the idea that trans identity and transition could be motivated by trauma and internalized misogyny. I did nothing to reassure trans readers that I took their identities seriously and that was intentional. I thought trans identities were already overly reinforced by the dominant culture and I wanted to undermine them. I didn’t directly attack them though and I never came out and said they weren’t real. I was trying to introduce the idea that trans identity could be caused by trauma or sexism, without saying that they all were (though that’s what I believed) and without saying anything about how some people really were trans.
When I became a radical feminist I had a kind of conversion experience. It was very powerful and emotionally intense. I embraced many views that I had previously dismissed or found repellent. I felt that adopting these beliefs had brought me deep healing, though it also turned my world upside down. It was both exciting and disorientating. I was full of passion for my new beliefs and was convinced that they could help other people as well. I thought I had experienced transformative healing and I wanted to share this with others. I really believed that transmasculine people would be freer and happier if they could accept themselves as women, as I had. I could understand why they would reject my ideas and methods, since I had done the same in the past, but I felt compelled to find a way to get through to them.
When I look back now on my radical feminist conversion, I see that I was trying to become a new person, reinvent myself. At the time I struggled with depression and self-hatred. I felt broken and ruined because of trauma I’d lived through over the course of my life. The version of radical feminism I believed in seemed to offer a way to get rid of my past damaged self and start over by ditching everything “patriarchal” about myself and getting in touch with some deeper female power supposedly hidden inside of me. I was running from myself and getting lost in all these radical feminist ideas, these visions of autonomous lesbian countercultures and the like.
I’d engaged in self-destructive behaviors in the past. I used to cut and burn myself, struggled with drug addiction for almost a decade. I now see my detransition and taking on a radical feminist lesbian identity as a continuation of my self-destructive tendencies rather than a way to heal from them. This time my self-destructive impulses lead me to try to destroy others as well, in the name of “helping” them. I tried to encourage them to destroy themselves as I was destroying myself. As a young trans person, I had never encouraged other people to transition or identify as trans but as a detrans woman I was driven to recruit, to control other people. What I was doing to myself wasn’t enough, I needed others to go along with me, share the same world view and carry out the same mission.
I changed how I talked about my past as a trans person. I emphasized the parts of my experience that seemed to line up with radical feminist theory or that I thought would be most likely to sway people. I excluded those that didn’t, forgot them even, hid them from myself. It was only after I left the detrans and radical feminist communities that I really understood how much I had changed my story, how I’d turned my life into propaganda. I knew I was telling my story in particular ways in order to influence people but I didn’t see this as lying and I was also trying to convince myself of what I was saying. The way I distorted my experience was as much about getting myself to believe as it was about getting other people to.
For example, I used to talk a lot about how before I transitioned, people would assume I was trans, use male pronouns and so on without asking me first. I called this being “socialized trans” and said this had influenced how I saw myself and pushed me towards transitioning. What I didn’t say and what I honestly forgot for many years was that this annoyed me at the time and I was critical of it. I began to remember my reactions to people’s assumptions when an old friend brought them up in conversation. They recalled how I used to complain and get upset when people assumed I was trans. I looked back on old writing from that time and found they were correct. I was indeed critical of other people’s perceptions of me and thought they were wrong to make such assumptions based on how I presented myself. I did express concern that how people saw me could shape how I saw myself but I was actively on the lookout for such influence.
I had long been concerned about how social forces and past experiences, such as how I’d been bullied as a child and teenager, could’ve shaped my sense of self and my dysphoria. I came across the theory that trans men were self-hating women about the same time I found out they existed at all. That idea made a deep impression on me, which lead to years of questioning and doubts, culminating in my detransition and passionate embrace of those theories. I questioned my gender and whether transitioning was right for me many times throughout my early to mid twenties. I was fascinated with the idea that some people were pressured to transition years before I ended up detransitioning and adopting radical feminist views of trans people.
One of the reasons those theories hit me so hard was that I felt like both a man and a butch dyke and I had trouble accepting that I could really be both. People were often cold or hostile to me when I was seen as a butch lesbian but nicer to me when I passed for male. It was easy for me imagine that my sense of being male came from how others treated me. I felt different from both other butch lesbians and other trans men I met. I felt more trans than most butch lesbians but I also had a strong sense of being female that made me feel out of place among most trans men.
During my detransition, I tried to emphasize my similarities with trans men but before that point I had thought and talked about being trans very differently. The majority of trans men I came across were more male-identified than I was while I have always been more female and dyke-identified than the average trans dude. Because of this, I had a harder time relating to most trans men or feeling like I belonged among them. I was the trans man who lived in the feminist special interest house in college, the one who marched topless at the Dyke March back when most participants were cis lesbians and trans men usually watched from the sidelines. I got the sense that some trans dudes I met didn’t think I was really trans, that they may have thought I was just a confused dyke.
If I had talked honestly about what I had been like as a trans person before I detransitioned, it would’ve been obvious that I had always been different from most trans men, had always been more female-identified and long had doubts about transitioning, more so than most trans people. I would’ve stuck out as someone more likely to detransition than most, rather than someone whose experiences prove that anyone could end up detransitioning.
When I tried to play up my similarities with trans men, I didn’t see myself as lying or being manipulative. I believed in the story I was telling and convinced myself that I really had been more like the average trans man. I was so caught up in radical feminist ideology and the project of trying to influence people that I distorted my story without being fully aware of what I was doing. I was rewriting my past in order to escape it. I gave myself a new back story to line up with the new radical feminist self I was trying to create, with the mission I’d given myself.
I’ve never given myself over to an ideology like that before and I hope I never do that again. It felt intoxicating at the time, it gave me a strong sense of purpose but that kind of high is nothing like true self-acceptance. It also lead me to say and do things that I now find morally reprehensible. I see myself as being defined largely by the choices I make, how I decide to respond to people and situations. I lost myself not only in terms of gender but in terms of moral action and values, which in many ways is far worse.
It’s generally not in my nature to try to control how others think of themselves or what choices they make. Personal autonomy and respecting diversity have long been core values of mine, values I was raised with. I am disturbed not only with how my own self concept got distorted but also by how I was convinced to abandon my values and act in ways I would typically find unethical. In some ways that feels like a deeper violation than being convinced to reject my gender. It troubles me deeply.
Honesty is another one of my core values and it disturbs me now how dishonest I became, both to myself and others. How I represented myself and my activities in public, including to close friends, was different from how I talked and plotted in private. I had a secret life that only other detrans women and radical feminists knew about. Outwardly I was trying to raise awareness and create resources for detransitioned women while covertly I was working with radical feminists, detrans and otherwise, to counter trans activism, discourage people from transitioning and “liberate” transmasculine people from themselves. Some of us joked among ourselves about running psy-ops in queer/trans groups, subtly trying to change what ideas were acceptable to talk about in those spaces.
I worry now about the impact I had on other people. I’m concerned that my more moderate public views helped draw people into the orbit of transphobic radical feminism. Transphobic radical feminists see all female-assigned people as potential targets for recruitment. Detrans radical feminists particularly focused on transmasculine people and female-assigned people who’d been in the radical queer community. Most of us had been radical queers at some point and really liked gaining converts from that community. It reinforced the rightness of our own ideological transformation. We saw the queer/trans community as a dangerous misogynistic cult. We were working to free “women” from its clutches and introduce them to radical feminism, which we saw as healing and liberating.
People used to contact me about online support groups for female-assigned people who were detransitioning, looking for “alternative treatments for gender dysphoria” and/or seeking to “reconcile with being female”. There were two Facebook groups that I knew of, though I never belonged to either since I don’t have a Facebook account. One was supposed to be apolitical and presented itself as trans-friendly but had radical feminist undertones. The other was explicitly radical feminist/gender critical. I knew one of the women who administered the groups and I would pass people interested in joining onto her. She would then vet them and decide which group(s) to admit them to. I believe a lot of people in the first group didn’t even know the second one existed. I think back on this now and worry that I directed people looking for support to online communities that ended up radicalizing them. A person would’ve had to have been at least somewhat sympathetic to radical feminism to get into the more political group. But a lot of people start out curious about transphobic radical feminism, like they don’t agree with a lot of it but think it makes a few good points, and then gradually go deeper and deeper in and adopt increasingly extreme beliefs. That’s what happened to me.
It’s hard to face what I’ve done but I have to reckon with it if I want to heal any damage I’ve inflicted and heal myself. I’m deeply sorry for my past actions, for any harm I’ve committed. I’m talking about what I did because I want people to know that there are people working to spread transphobic ideology and encourage trans people to detransition. I want trans people to know what they’re up against. I want people to know that some detrans people have an agenda, some detrans people really are trying to sow doubts and influence people’s choices.
Being honest about this is hard but freeing. I started questioning what I was doing as a detrans woman years before I actually left that community. I encountered resistance when I started questioning my past behavior and became more open-minded about transitioning and trans people. There were limits on how openly critical I could be of transphobic radical feminism and problematic behavior in the detrans women’s community and so I kept a lot of my thoughts and feelings to myself. It was hard to see how bad things really were until after I left and didn’t have to worry about what other detrans women thought of me.
It’s important for me to live according to my values. If I act in ways that are harmful and unethical then I need to take action to remedy that. I need to be honest with myself and others about what I’ve done and then do whatever I can to repair the damage. I apologize from my dishonesty and deception, my efforts to control and manipulate others. I apologize for spreading transphobic ideology and otherwise inflicting my own self-hatred onto other trans people.
I have been humbled by my experience. I have seen how I can become confused and arrogant, be mislead, act against my own and others’ interests while believing that I am doing good. I have been forced to confront my faults but knowing them makes me stronger and more capable of helping others.
Being honest feels so much better than speaking propaganda, even if being honest means talking about how I’ve hurt others, wronged them, how I’ve been deceived and tried to deceive others in turn. Speaking honestly brings me back to myself, makes my story my own again. I’d rather confront my capacity to do harm than falsely believe I have the solutions to other people’s pain. I seek my own truth, my own particular way of knowing reality, without assuming others will see things the same way I do. I offer up my thoughts, perspectives and recollections of my past for others to interpret as they will. I uncover what I used to keep hidden so that I can let go of that part of my life and keep going forward into freedom.
Speaking out about my time in the radical feminist detrans women’s community, including about my own past misdeeds, helps me make peace with my past. I can’t undo what I’ve done but I can expose the harmful behavior of my former community. I can use whatever insights I have into transphobic feminism to help trans people more effectively resist it. Having seen and experienced the harms of transphobic ideology firsthand, I am committed to countering it in any way I can. I know what kind of life transphobic people want for trans people, I know what it’s like to be dominated from the inside out by their distorted views of us and I know the freedom that comes from escaping it.
Instead of trying to control others, I now want to resist those that seek to contain and erase us. I want to help other trans people get what we need to live freely. I want to live in a society that takes our existence for granted and respects us, where we can define who are and be honest about our lives, where we have bodily autonomy and access to comprehensive healthcare. I want to aid others in coming to their own self-knowledge, give them space to figure things out for themselves. I want to hear other people’s stories, help create a world where they can speak freely in their own words. I want nothing less than freedom for everyone.