Risks/harms of ideological detransition/“alternative treatments for gender dysphoria”
Originally published on Reclaiming Trans
Several months ago, I decided to write out the negative effects of my detransition and came up with the following list. I divided the list up between what I experienced while detransitioning and when I came out as trans again, after deciding that detransition hadn’t worked for me.
– Suicidal thoughts, impulses, feelings
– Increase in dysphoria
– Internalizing toxic belief system
– Self-destructive coping mechanisms, addiction, impulses to self-harm, etc
– increased dissociation/fragmentation from rejecting trans parts
– gender dysphoria/gender identity manifesting as imagined characters, daydreams, sexual fantasies, etc, basically repressed parts of the self bubbling up in my imagination
– suppression of thoughts and feelings, micromanaging internal life, can get exhausting
– Disconnection from trans peers, community and culture
– conditional support/relationships from peers in detrans and radical feminist communities
– Distress at having wasted years worth of time and energy
– Guilt for having betrayed other trans people, remorse, shame
– Feelings of disgust from having come to hate other trans people, feeling shame at having violated my ethics
– Feelings of failure
– Identity confusion, not knowing what I am
– feeling betrayed by detrans women, lesbians and radical feminists
– deep feeling of violation, psychologically ripped apart, like my head’s really been fucked with
– feeling like my mind has been contaminated
– feeling like I’ve been used/exploited
– feeling cynical about other people and their motivations, losing trust in others
– fear of cis women and lesbians
– going back and forth from feeling upset/enraged at how others treated me to feeling upset about my own decision and/or actions that harmed others
– feeling responsible for hurting others, encouraging self-harm
– feeling hopeless and overwhelmed
– feeling undeserving of support from other trans people because I feel like I betrayed them
– feeling isolated
It was a lot to see everything all written out like that but also helpful. It helped me measure what I’ve gone through and what I’m healing from.
Like other conversion practices, ideologically motivated detransition and “alternative treatments” for gender dysphoria that are rooted in transphobia can cause immense psychological suffering. Coming to believe that being trans was result of past trauma, homophobia, sexism and misogyny that I’d suffered from and that as a result I needed to treat being trans as something to work through and “heal from” caused me years of pain. Pain that was at times hard to endure. It frightens me now to think about how desperate and overwhelmed I sometimes felt.
I recently found something I wrote when I was still very deeply immersed in transphobic detrans radical feminist ideology. I wrote about how “I still have the feelings but I don’t deal with them in the same way. But now they happen and I know it is a reaction to the world, I don’t identify with it” and how ”[i]t’s weird to go from seeing something as a state of being, as what you are — to seeing it as an effect of trauma. Going from ‘this is what I am’ to ‘this is an indication of what I have been through.’ And it feels really lonely.” Rereading those words makes me feel so sad for who I was at the time, it makes me remember how much I was suffering. How I felt never really changed but I learned to detach from that part of myself and see and treat it as a manifestation of past trauma. I really thought that’s what I needed to do to heal. Instead I experienced a lot of pain.
At the time I thought the pain was something I had to go through to work through my trauma but that didn’t work out as I thought it would. Treating being trans as something to overcome never actually eliminated my suffering or helped me heal from the past. It just made me feel like there was something really wrong with me and that my life was messed up because I had transitioned. It didn’t work, it didn’t help me feel better about myself or my life.
Actually dealing with my trauma, working through painful experiences from my past that still effected me in one way or another led me to accept myself as trans. It helped me become less self-hating in general and feel more at ease with myself and helped me feel more in touch with my body and mind, more present. For the first time in my adult life, I developed deep self-love for myself. The more attuned I became to my feelings, the more denying and rejecting that I was trans felt wrong and harmful. I realized that I never needed to overcome being trans to heal from past trauma and that disconnecting and treating my transness “as an effect of trauma” had only lead to more suffering.
Pathologizing trans people, trying to convince us that we need to change our minds, change how we see ourselves, can cause great harm. Transphobic people like to fixate on the potential harms and risks of medical transition and body modification but neglect to consider the harms that can result from psychological interventions. They often deny that anti-trans conversion therapy and practices even exist.
Detransition motivated by self-hatred and internalized transphobia is certain to result in great psychological suffering. Such detransition often occurs in the context of a transphobic community that is unlikely to be supportive of people changing course if detransitioning is not actually helping a person. Often members of transphobic detrans communities are anxious about people retransitioning and do what they can to encourage members to stay detransitioned/desisted. They sincerely believe that what they’re doing is helpful, which can make things feel even more confusing. I received little support from the detrans woman I was closest to when I expressed discontent and regret about my detransition. The messages I internalized were that I needed to stay detransitioned so as to not let down my community and that taking my feelings of being trans seriously would be indulging a harmful delusion. It took time for me to work out that coming out as trans was not actually a betrayal, that I wasn’t crazy or falling back into a self-destructive pattern and that it was ok for me to do what I needed to be happy.
I feel a lot of distress at how my past actions have negatively harmed other trans people. At the time, I sincerely believed that promoting transphobic radical feminism and “alternative treatments” for gender dysphoria was actually helpful for transmasculine people but now I’m greatly concerned about the negative affects of my actions. I’m also disturbed by the hateful and dehumanizing beliefs I used to hold about transfeminine people and how I used to support transphobic feminist spaces that excluded trans women. I worry especially about how my past story and ideas could appeal to other trans survivors of trauma who struggle with internalized transphobia, self-hatred or dissociation. I worry that I misled people who were already suffering into adopting self-destructive conversion practices. And I’m very concerned about how transphobic groups have used my story and writing to promote their agendas, and to promote anti-trans conversion therapy and practices in particular.
When I take in the impact of what I went through and think about how anti-trans activists want to promote such practices as “healing”, as a better alternative to social and medical transition, I get very distraught. It’s hard to take what transphobic people are willing to subject us to because they can’t handle the fact that we exist.
Transphobic people have been pushing conversion practices on trans people for decades and these practices have never worked, they have never “cured” us of being trans. They’ve wasted our time and caused us needless suffering. The anti-trans conversion practices of today are no more effective and no less harmful than those of the past. The ones based in transphobic feminism are no better than those based in psychoanalysis or conservative Christianity. They’re all based on the false idea that being trans is dysfunctional and something that needs to be overcome. They can hold trans people captive in an ideological cage and teach us to reinterpret what our feelings and sense of self mean but they can’t eliminate those feelings, they can’t erase or change who we are.
I used to believe that transitioning had ruined my life and struggled with intense depression and self-hatred as a result. My detransition lead to years of intense suffering and while I grieve the time lost, this time I don’t feel like it wrecked my life. I’m still healing and processing what happened and I expect this to go on for quite some time to come. I have hard days, I have all kinds of feelings that come up and I have days when the hard times feel firmly in the past. I don’t feel like I’ll forever be trapped by my past detransition. I can feel myself change, heal and grow day by day. I feel a stillness in myself that I can draw from while I work through the pain of what I’ve lived through. I feel a tenderness too, towards both myself and others. I want everyone to get what they need to exist freely as they are and love themselves.
I want people to know the harmful impact of ideologically motivated detransition and other anti-trans conversion practices. I want to name what I went through so I can move past it in my own life and also raise awareness of it as a harmful practice in the larger society. I want others who’ve lived through it to know that they’re not the only person who’s endured this particular mindfuck. I want to do what I can to create a freer world for trans people and all other people currently facing oppression. We deserve a society that recognizes our humanity and autonomy instead of trying to convince us that we need to change who we are. And we can create that. If anything, what I’ve lived through has taught me just how strong we are.