Moving Between Worlds, Deciding What To Do Next

I feel like I’m between worlds, between different groups of people, between detrans and trans. I don’t feel like I fit into either group. It’s surreal thinking of myself as trans after seeing myself as detransitioned for years. That was a huge part of who I was. And now my time as a detransitioned woman feels like it was a distortion of who I am. A failed experiment with damaging consequences for both myself and others.

I was more or less disconnected from the trans community for around seven years. Coming back to being trans now is disorientating. I feel like I was living in an alternative universe. I basically was. I really believed that the trans community was a threat to women, to lesbians in particular. I thought all trans men, transmasculine people and female-assigned nonbinary people were suffering from internalized misogyny and probably unresolved trauma too. Now all that seems totally out of touch with reality. Reading the writing of other trans people now, learning about their lives and perspectives, my old views seem warped, ignorant and harmful.

Coming out of detransition meant realizing I was both trans and had internalized very transphobic beliefs. Those transphobic ideas harmed me but they also motivated me to speak and act in ways that harmed other trans people as well. I go back and forth between feeling hurt, angry and upset at what happened to me and feeling terrible for what I used to think and do. I long to re-connect with other trans people but feel unworthy of their company. I don’t feel like I can take other trans people’s trust and acceptance for granted just because I’m also trans and suffered during my detransition. I engaged in harmful actions towards other trans people and harm is harm no matter who commits it.

I’m bewildered by how I got to be in my present circumstances. I can recall the general sequences of events but it still confuses me. A lot of that confusion is really denial. I don’t want to accept what happened. I don’t want to accept that I’m a trans person who detransitioned, converted to a transphobic branch of radical lesbian feminism, spent years promoting my views and building the detransitioned women’s community and then realized that I was in fact trans, lost my faith in radical feminism and now have to figure out what to do with myself. I put years of my time and energy into something that now seems false and harmful. So much of what I was pushing ended up hurting me and I worry that it hurt other people as well. I’m a lot less concerned about getting my gender wrong than I am about having wronged other people. Treating other people ethically is far more important than knowing what gender I am and weighs more heavily on my mind.

What the hell do you do when you wake up and realize you were selling poison as medicine? I don’t know, I’m still trying to figure that out but I know I need to do something to make up for any harm I’ve done. If I had just caused myself harm I would do my best to heal from the damage and get on with my life. But I also promoted transphobic ideas and practices to other people and I need to be accountable for that. I can’t just get on with my life without doing something to address my past actions.

At the same time, I mourn the loss of my old community, the detransitioned women’s community I helped to create. It was a hard choice to disengage from that community but it felt necessary. I still care about a lot of detransitioned women but I no longer feel like I can be close to them. A lot of them still think like I did and I don’t want to be around people who hold those kinds of transphobic beliefs. I don’t want to be around people who think my sense of self is unhealthy, unreal or a product of living in a patriarchy or who think that about other trans people. Nor do I want to be around people who think whole sectors of the trans community, namely trans women and other transfeminine people, are dangerous predators out to assault other women.

There’s a part of me that wants to find a way to be trans and somehow convince the radical feminist detrans women I know that I’m real as a trans person. Or that I’m different and somehow more feminist than other trans people. I want them to believe me when I say this is who I am and this is what is best for me. But that seems very unrealistic and I don’t want to contort myself to try to meet the standards of a transphobic community or play into their transphobia by becoming their token trans person. I just need to accept that a lot of these women are not going to see me as I see myself, let go and move on.

I need to unlearn a lot of what I took up as a detransitioned radical feminist. I need to change. I’m still fighting against the idea I picked up in the detrans community that coming out as trans is harmful not only to myself but to others because it could encourage them to come out as trans too. A lot of detrans people really believe that trans identity is a harmful social contagion and so are against any positive portrayal of being trans or transitioning. But what’s wrong with being honest that I’m happier as a trans person than as a detrans woman? Why should I repress an important part of myself and be miserable just so radical feminists can point to me as the radical feminist solution to transmasculinity? How is lying to people about what makes me feel whole and happy radical or feminist in any way?

Meanwhile, I’m reclaiming being trans while the trans community is under attack from right-wing Christians, “gender critical feminists”, transphobic parents and anti-trans conversion therapists, among other groups. And all these groups use the voices and experiences of detransitioned people to argue against the reality of trans people, block trans rights and restrict access to medical transition, particularly for youth. There is a significant number of vocal detrans people who’ve joined the backlash against trans people. And I recognize that I used to be one of those detransitioned people and that I did my part to create a transphobic detrans subculture.

The detransitioned women’s community started out relatively underground. We were a small, tight-knit community at first, who mostly found each other and communicated online. Most of us identified as lesbians and were heavily influenced by lesbian separatism. Early on, we made connections to radical lesbian feminists who were staunch defenders of “female-only” spaces such as the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. The first in-person gatherings of detrans women took place at the last two Michfests, where we also presented workshops and made connections with older lesbian feminists. These women are worried that their version of lesbian culture is in danger of dying out. They’re distressed by the number of female-assigned people coming as trans and transitioning. They saw us as hope for the future survival of their community. We were welcomed as the “Amazon daughters” these women had long been fighting for.

We had a very lesbian feminist take on detransitioning. People who detransitioned were not just urged to “reconcile with their sex” and embrace womanhood but to adopt a radical feminist understanding of gender. You weren’t just supposed to reject being trans but to reject all forms of what lesbian feminists understood to be patriarchy, which included mainstream culture, queer culture and most of the left, basically anything outside of lesbian feminism. Many of us were influenced by likes of radical feminist philosopher Mary Daly, lesbian separatist Julia Penelope and, of course, Janice Raymond.

We never thought that we could convince all transmasculine people to detransition and become radical feminists but we put our stories and beliefs online knowing there had to be some people who would find them compelling. We were especially active on tumblr, most of us who blogged used that platform, and it’s still a center of radical feminist detrans activity. Gradually, our numbers grew and we created private online forums and Facebook groups and eventually organized in-person gatherings on “womyn’s land”.

Radical feminists, detrans and otherwise, were the first to use detransitioned women’s stories as anti-trans propaganda but they weren’t the last. Not long after detrans women started blogging, some of us were contacted by parents of trans teenagers who wanted us to help them “fix” their kids. One of these parents went on to create FourthWaveNow and organize with other parents who wanted to “cure” their trans children and restrict their access to transition. Transphobic parents sought to use detrans women to argue that trans identity is a dangerous social contagion and could be “cured” with the right treatments.

We were also contacted by therapists like Lisa Marchiano who wanted to use our stories to argue that trans identity, especially in young people, could be a sign of mental illness in need of the kind of therapy they could provide. There are now several organizations of mental health professionals promoting such “therapy” and arguing against respecting young trans people’s identities or allowing them to transition. These groups cater to the interests of the above mentioned anti-trans parents groups, attempting to turn a profit from parental transphobia.

Around the time when radical feminist groups started collaborating with the Christian Right, conservative Christians began using detrans women’s stories for their transphobic propaganda. I believe it is very likely that right-wing Christians discovered the existence of detrans women as a result of working with radical feminists as stories about detrans women started appearing in conservative Christian media soon after that collaboration started.

When I detransitioned and became a radical feminist, I set out to fight patriarchy and create more freedom for women who broke gender norms. Now I fear that I was more successful in creating a weapon for right-wing Christians, controlling parents, anti-trans conversion therapists and other transphobic people to use against trans people. I consider all of the aforementioned groups to be manifestations of patriarchy and a threat not only to trans people but also women and gay people. Seeing how easily my work was co-opted by groups whose agendas I found repellent lead me to rethink many of my beliefs and eventually lose my faith in radical feminism.

I’ve watched members of the detrans community become increasingly willing to collaborate with transphobic parents, therapists and right-wing Christians. The detrans women I was closest to thought the parents were abusive (and that their abuse made their kids trans) and that the therapists were part of the patriarchal medical establishment who were trying to cash in on a new market. We were horrified when other radical feminists started working with the Christian Right and when the Right started using our stories. Now I see a lot more detrans people teaming up with parents groups, organizations of transphobic medical professionals, and right-wing Christians.

There has also been a move away from seeing gender dysphoria as an ailment of patriarchy best treated with “consciousness raising”, social change and immersion in radical feminist subcultures and more towards seeing it primarily as a mental disorder best addressed by therapy. While before detrans people criticized medicalizing what they saw as a social/political problem, now many say that trans people are being medicalized in the wrong way, that we need therapists to talk us out of our identities and/or our desire for medical transition. Most of the detrans women I knew rejected the concept of ROGD but more detrans women coming out now embrace it. While many detrans women I knew saw therapists like Marchiano as untrustworthy and potentially exploitative, now many seek out her services and collaborate with like-minded medical professionals in order to “reform” trans-related healthcare.

As more groups have sought to use detransition for their political agendas, I’ve watched how detrans people have changed how they talk about themselves, their experiences and who they’re willing to make alliances with. There are still quite a few radical feminist detrans women who keep to the older understanding of detransition and many are unhappy with how detrans discourse has changed. They don’t seem willing to ask why their ideas were so readily adopted by conservative groups and members of the medical establishment or if radical feminist transphobia is more in alignment with patriarchal values rather than discordant with them. On a whole, detrans people seem unwilling to examine how social and political forces could shape their own actions and understandings of their lives, preferring to focus their attention proving that trans people’s identities and choices are inauthentic.

It is very surreal being a trans person who helped start a radical feminist detrans women’s subculture. I never thought I would detransition and become a lesbian feminist and later I never thought I’d decide I really was trans after all and that the community I helped form was a transphobic nightmare. I feel like I’ve betrayed both the trans and detrans communities. 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.

It’s a strange and distressing situation to be in. I feel compelled to act to address any harm I created but I’m unsure of how to proceed. I’m still sorting out my own head, still processing my detransition and figuring out that it really is ok to be trans after being told otherwise for years. My head feels all over the place. But then I read about what’s happening to trans people out in the world and I see how a detransitioned person like Keira Bell can obstruct trans healthcare and I feel like I need to do something now. A lot of trans people don’t have as good an understanding of the detrans community as they could and I could help with that. I want to share what I know but I’m not sure what’s the best way to do that.

I’m focused on figuring out what to do now. I feel confident that I can heal from my own personal trauma from detransitioning. 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? How can I best help other trans people after engaging in actions that were harmful and transphobic? At the very least I can speak out against the harmful actions of my old community and provide information about it so that trans people have a better understanding of what they’re up against. But I also want to work for more resources for trans people. I would love to find a way to help create more resources for trans trauma survivors. I’ve struggled a lot as a trans person hurt by trauma and that played a big role in my detransition. My situation often seems overwhelming but I try to break it down into specific problems to solve and tasks to perform.

I process my past and try to figure out how I can best use any insights or information I gleaned from the experience to help others. I try to understand where I went wrong, analyze my motives, what I got out of being a detransitioned radical feminist. I don’t want to harm others, even unintentionally, so I want to understand what lead me into thinking and acting as I did so I don’t repeat the same mistakes. If anything, this experience has been profoundly humbling because it’s made me confront my imperfections, my ability to delude myself in the service of gratifying my own ego, my capacity to do great harm with the best of intentions. I want to use my past mistakes to push myself to be more aware and attentive to my actions to make sure I am truly acting with compassion and helping others.

There is no way I can heal my own suffering if I don’t address the suffering I’ve caused others. I am between worlds, suspended between communities, walking away from one and trying to figure out how to repair the damage I’ve caused to the one I’m approaching. I am dismantling who I once was and still figuring out who I want to be now. Others may have harmed me but I see myself less as a victim and more as someone who misused my power and got burned in the process. I made bad choices that I now have to reckon with. Before I used my pain and claimed victim status in order to advance transphobic politics, now I gladly give that up and name the harm I caused. Taking responsibility for my actions is freeing but also frightening. I will act now with much less certainty than I had in the past and will listen more to others when they tell me who they are and what they need. I will work to give others the space they need to determine who they are, so that we may both be free.