[CW: mention of suicidal impulses, addiction, self-destructiveness, transphobia]
I keep thinking back on what my life was like when I was at my most fanatical. I was working on a farm in Oregon. I didn’t know anyone in the area. I was very depressed and hated myself. I felt like getting drunk all the time but I was trying not to drink and was mostly successful with that. I only had to do a few hours of work a day in exchange for room and board, so I had lots of free time. I ended up spending a lot of it online. I also read a lot.
I wrote a lot of radical feminist detrans propaganda that wasn’t supposed to come off as an obvious attempt to influence people. I wanted to convince people of my perspectives. I wanted to recruit. I saw changing how people thought about transitioning and being trans as a challenge. I read about social psychology and cults. I drank really strong coffee and paced around, thinking, arguing with fake opponents in my head, trying to come up with ways to get my ideas across. I wrote blog posts and tweeted and made a few YouTube videos. I got really high on my passion and ideals, mixed up with caffeine and desperation. I was so fucking miserable.
I meditated everyday and it was torturous nearly every time. A struggle to make it through the session. I tried to pay attention to my breath but my body was tense and in pain, locked up. I was suffering deeply but I couldn’t open to it or connect with it. I sat with my depression and tense muscles, unable to stop myself from checking how much time I had left several times over the session, having a hard time making it to the end.
I keep wondering why I turned to transphobic radical feminist ideology, why I helped create a weird “ex-trans” detrans subculture, why I did a lot of things that seem pretty strange now. I think I just wanted to stop suffering. I hurt a lot but I was also used to hurting a lot. I’d been dealing with depression and wanting to die since I was a teenager. I didn’t know anything else. I used to do drugs but then I quit and soon after I quit, I got really into radical feminism and being a detrans woman on a mission. Getting into those ideas and trying to apply them, feeling like I had a purpose gave me another kind of intoxicating feeling. Getting high was still one of my main ways of coping with distress, I just switched from chemicals to ideas and activism.
I felt like I was doing something with my life and like I belonged somewhere. I helped create a community where there were a lot of people I could relate to. I felt like people understood me and cared about me. It was better than just getting high on drugs but it didn’t actually fix my problems.
I still hated myself, I still wanted to die. My suicidal feelings got worse because I felt like I had wrecked my life by transitioning. I thought I was always going to suffer because of my past transition and I sometimes battled with powerful urges to kill myself, urges that really scared me.
I spent years of my life talking about how detransitioning had made my life better but when I look back now I don’t think it did. Quitting drugs helped. Working on farms really improved my life, as did establishing a daily meditation practice. Working on past trauma helped me heal but treating being trans as result of trauma just created more wounds. I decided I was really a woman before I had figured out what self-acceptance and wholeness felt like. I didn’t even know how much I hated myself until I stopped, until my feelings towards myself shifted from hatred to compassion and acceptance. And when that shift happened, I started moving towards accepting myself as trans.
It’s so strange to me now that I was trying to convince other people to follow my example when I was in so much pain. I wouldn’t wish the kind of life I had as detrans woman on anyone. I got a lot of things from my detransition but happiness and well-being were not among them. I got a sense of meaning, I got belonging, I got praise from other people. But I couldn’t see myself clearly, I wasn’t accepting myself, I was creating a persona that had a purpose, that helped me fit in, that won me approval. None of that is the same as truly being at peace with oneself or gaining self-knowledge.
I have a lot of compassion for who I used to be. Thinking of that time in my life makes me very sad. Janice Raymond called trans men “lost women” but her version of radical feminism made me lost to myself for years, lost in a kind of false female power. I became a tamed token transmasculine person, de-transed and reciting the theories of those who wanted me mandated out of existence.
For trans people, living in a society that doesn’t want us to exist, where many people think we’re defective, delusional and mutilated, loving ourselves, accepting ourselves is an act of resistance. Erasing ourselves helps no one nor does it protect us from suffering. Being tricked into thinking our obliteration is a kind of salvation is one of the worst forms of suffering because it conditions us to accept self-hatred as out true selves. And many of us are susceptible to this because we have never known self-love. I grew up being rejected by my peers, seeing almost no one like me in the culture around me. So many people have treated me like there’s something wrong with me, of course I internalized that.
What’s really infuriating is that many people can’t see how much it hurts when a trans person tries to erase themselves. They want us to “fix” what we are and have no idea what they’re asking us to do. I do know, I did it for years. It was cruel. It was dressed up as love, healing and feminism but underneath all that it was just encouraging me to destroy myself. Some people really love a self-hating self-denying trans person. I don’t know how to talk about what it’s like knowing that, knowing how much some people want us to change and disappear and how they see that as benevolent instead of hateful. I don’t have words for that but I know what it feels like inside of me. It feels like pain, rage and screaming. It feels like getting wretched apart.
I think about who I used to be when I was detransitioned and deeply believed in ideas that were hurting me and I feel grief. I’m able to love who I am now including who I was back then. I’m able to accept myself including when I was hurting myself and other people, acting out in all kinds of dysfunctional ways. I don’t condone my past actions but I feel compassion for who I was when I did them because that’s the only way I’ll be able to heal and move on. I work to make peace with all of myself, everything I’ve ever been, all different times I’ve lived through.
When I meditate now I can feel my pain and approach it with gentleness. It can still be overwhelming and hard to focus on but it’s different now. I have more patience with myself. I give myself space to be whatever I am. I let ideas and feelings come and go and try not to hold on too tight to any of them.
I try to live in the present but I still feel myself carrying around the past. I feel the lingering effects of my detransition like flesh working to mend itself. I think about something else I want to write about, to try to explain to other people. I think about how I can take my past, my suffering, my flawed theories, bad choices and misdeeds and turn that into something that could help people. I work with words, with attending to my mind and breath, with accepting myself so that I may accept others. I work with the intention of changing my experience from one of suffering to one of healing. Step by step, I find release from my past and decide what I want to do now. And I do it.