The Reality Behind the Story I Told: What My Life was Like When I was Interviewed for the Stranger
Originally published on Reclaiming Trans
Back when I was still a detrans woman, I was interviewed a few times by journalists for articles on detransitioning. The article that drew the most attention and the strongest reactions from people was a piece written by Katie Herzog that appeared in The Stranger. Many trans people and their allies found the article offensive and transphobic and reacted to it in outrage. Many wrote critical responses.
I want to talk about what was going on in my life when I was interviewed for The Stranger article, because the impression it gives is very incomplete and distorted in large part because of how I represented myself when I was being interviewed for it. I want to uncover the parts of my life that I kept hidden and explain why I represented myself as I did at the time. I am aware now that I was engaging in a lot of deception but that’s not how I saw it then. I was playing a role that had become second nature at that point and presenting what was supposed to true about myself. I was presenting a public persona for the benefit of the community I belonged to.
I’m not trying to excuse my actions and I don’t think they were any less harmful because of my intentions or my lack of awareness. I believe it’s important for people to know my state of mind. I was more a cult member than a con artist. Frankly, I find the fact that I didn’t see what I was doing as deceptive as far more disturbing than if I had consciously set out to lie to a journalist. It’s an example of how a person can engage in harmful and unethical behavior when they sincerely believe that their actions are helping others.
In the months before the interview, there were many signs that my detransition wasn’t working out but I was keeping this almost entirely to myself. I’d been living as a detrans woman and using “alternative treatments” to cope with dysphoria for around four years at that point. When I look back on my journals from that time, I find myself talking about how I still had trouble relating to my female body, it still felt weird and I felt uncomfortable with my breasts and reproductive parts in particular. I could accept that I had those body parts but it took work to do so and I didn’t feel especially positive about them or connected to them. I also talked about wanting a cock and how that seemed more appealing than having a cunt. In one journal entry I wrote that I still wanted a male body on some level and “[i]f I woke up with a male body, I think I’d be ok with that as long as it wasn’t radically different, just the male version of my current body.”
I wrote about how I still felt a like a dude sometimes, like a kind of “female man”. I talked about how I “became a woman” when I detransitioned and how much work that involved. I wrote about how I found myself wishing that I had gotten more out of detransitioning than I actually did, how I had wanted it to fix more problems in my life. I talked about how “I made myself into a lesbian feminist”, how I had really wanted learning to accept myself as woman to heal me and make me whole and it just hadn’t lived up to my expectations. Some of it helped me heal from past trauma but not as much I was hoping it would and I felt let down. I talked about how hard and stressful it was to live as a woman. I was beginning to question both my motives for detransitioning and just how much it had helped me.
I wrote about how both my detransition and conversion to radical feminism now looked like they were at least partially a response to conflict and trauma I had experienced in a radical queer collective house I used to live in. I talked about how I had joined the radical feminist community because of how I’d been hurt in the radical queer community, I’d been looking for a better, safer place to belong. That’s not what I’d found, not at all. I found the same kind of hurtful behavior and abusive people in the radical feminist scene.
I still had a very critical view of transitioning and tended to see trans identity as a response to living in patriarchy but I was growing more and more frustrated with how most radical feminists viewed trans people and transitioning. I was questioning more and developing my own views based on my experiences and research into the history of trans people and medical transition. I was fed up with how cruel many radical feminists were towards trans people, how they talked about transitioned bodies with disgust and how so many of them treated trans people as if they were freakish and inferior. I was opening up to the idea that for some people being trans was the most authentic way to exist in this present society and that transitioning actually helped some people, though I still worried a lot about people being pushed to transition or identify as trans. This was big shift for someone who had previously believed that all trans identity was a harmful coping mechanism and that transition was inherently harmful, who wanted to stop as many people as possible from transitioning and encourage people to detransition or desist. I didn’t get to believing in transphobic ideology all at once and I couldn’t disengage from it all at once either. It was a long process that took years to fully unfold.
At the time, I was conducting research for a book on “female gender dysphoria” that I was planning to write. I wanted to talk about gender dysphoria in female-assigned people as result of life under patriarchy and discuss the different ways people managed this dysphoria. When I began my research, I saw both medical transition and radical feminism as ways to respond to “female gender dysphoria”, the first being contaminated by false consciousness while the latter got to the true root of the problem. My views ended up shifting dramatically over the course of my research. What I learned about the history of trans people’s interactions with medical professionals ended up challenging a lot of my beliefs and lead me to question and rethink many of my perspectives. But in the beginning of my research I twisted what I read to fit my preexisting theories and eagerly shared my “findings” with others, offering up “proof” to back up the radical feminist interpretation of transmasculinity and transition.
It was very hard for me to totally break free from radical feminist ideology, in large part because of the kind of people I was spending most of my time with. At the time I lived in the East Bay, where I participated in a community of transphobic radical feminist lesbians, a few of whom were also detrans or re-identified. I was dating and living with a member of this community.
While hanging out among ourselves, I and other younger members of this scene would jokingly refer to ourselves and each other as “TERFs”, reclaiming what we viewed as a slur. Many of us got a kick out of having a secret life in a subculture outsiders (correctly) viewed as a hate group. We thought such people were ridiculous and misogynistic for seeing us as hateful and we frequently mocked them, acting as if they were ignorant, misled and/or overly sensitive. We would gather at a lesbian-owned coffee shop and complain about how trans activists were a threat to lesbian culture, talk about dangerous and disgusting “autogynephiles” trying to infiltrate “female-only” spaces, and the social forces supposedly pushing lesbians to “dis-identify from femaleness” and identify as trans. Generally, we were much more sympathetic towards transmasculine people than we were towards transfeminine people. We were especially harsh and hateful towards trans lesbians and other transfeminine people who were attracted to women. We also hung out with older lesbians who were happy to find younger dykes who shared their particular transphobic interpretation of lesbian feminism. I recall one of these older women talking about how Big Pharma was funding the trans movement and tricking butch dykes, femmy gay men and other gender nonconforming people into transitioning.
I had made the choice to move to a city with a radical lesbian feminist subculture and attempted to live up to my separatist views and values. I spent years working with other women to build the detransitioned women’s community and had become an influential detrans writer and activist. One of my essays had been published in a anti-trans anthology called Female Erasure, along side influential transphobic thinkers like Cathy Brennen, Sheila Jeffreys, Leirre Keith, Jennifer Bilek and Gallus Mag.
I had plunged into the life I thought I wanted and now it didn’t seem to be working. But I kept my doubts, questions and disillusionment hidden inside my head and in my journals. In private I wrote out my criticisms and disillusionment with radical feminism but among my friends I still voiced the same concerns about trans people and made the same arguments. I went back and forth between acknowledging that my detransition hadn’t really worked and struggling to make it work. I switched back and forth between recognizing that I still found much in common with trans men to writing out all the reasons I couldn’t identify as trans. I tried to treat my dysphoria using the methods I’d promoted for years, doing my best to “accept myself as a woman” because I couldn’t see how I could give it up at this point. My consciousness was fractured into the parts that knew the truth and that parts that still wanted to uphold the ideology I’d bought into. There was the persona I’d created, that of a detransitioned radical lesbian feminist and there was messier reality that I tried to keep hidden, even from myself.
I was a trans person who spent most of my time with lesbians who don’t believe trans people exist and don’t want them to exist, who treat trans people as a threat to their own existence. To participate in this community I had to deny my own feelings, hide many of my thoughts and distort much of my reality. I had to pretend that I wasn’t who I was every single day. There was no way be a part of this group without engaging in constant deception. My social life depended on it.
This is who I was and this is what my life was like when Herzog interviewed me. On the day of the interview, before my phone call with her, I wrote in my journal that:
“I have a phone interview with a journalist this afternoon. Should be interesting. Not totally sure I’m the person to do it because I’m having doubts if I really count as a detransitioned woman anymore. I detransitioned, that’s true. Am I sticking with that though? Did I just need to try out living as a woman because I didn’t get the chance to before? I don’t think I need to make anymore changes to my body. I’m also not sure I’d really be happy living full-time as a man. I probably am more in-between than anything but I have a lot of trouble accepting that. I don’t know why I’m like this but I’ve been this way for most of my life now. Able to see myself as a woman or a man. ”
I kept these feelings hidden just as I was hiding so much else. I was still very invested in the role I’d performed as a creator and representative of the detransitioned women’s community.
Once the interview actually happened, I found it easy to slip back into the role I’d perfected by that point. I’d given multiple workshops, written hundreds of pages of blog posts, made videos, and talked to numerous people about what it meant to be a detransitioned woman. I had my story down and could easily recite it, knowing which experiences to emphasize to illustrate the points I wanted to make. I knew what ideas I wanted to get across when I talked to people. I had so much practice that it was easy to put any personal doubts aside and get into character. And I sincerely believed in what I was saying while I said it. I believed in the story I was telling and thought I was doing important work.
I spoke not only for myself but for my community. Part of my job was to represent detransitioned women and make our stories visible to others. I had ideas I wanted to communicate but I was largely focused on talking about my lived experience. I wanted other detransitioned women to know they weren’t alone. I wanted people to see that living as a detransitioned woman was possible, make us seem like real people, not something theoretical or a scare story. I don’t think all my intentions were bad and I do think greater visibility would help detrans people.
My intentions, however good, don’t change the fact that my understanding of myself was grounded in the transphobic ideology and was a distortion of my own reality. I was telling the story I thought should be my truth, not actually describing my reality. There’s a lot I used to believe about my own life that I now see as a manifestation of self-hatred and I worry about the impact my story could’ve had on other people.
Herzog’s article mentions how radical feminists sought to use detransitioned women’s stories and describes me as being sympathetic to radical feminism. In reality, I was far more of a radical feminist than how I was depicted in the article and I don’t think that the article accurately reflects the relationship between the detransitioned women’s community I belonged to and radical feminism. The article talks about non-detrans radical feminists trying to use our stories but fails to discuss how many detransitioned women themselves use their experiences to advance transphobic radical feminism. Many detrans women I knew were committed radical feminists who believed all trans identity was rooted in internalized misogyny and trauma. We didn’t like it when other radical feminists objectified us or treated us primarily as a way to win arguments with trans people but we shared many of their views and political goals.
The way Herzog described me is partially a result of how I represented myself when she interviewed me. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, I intentionally moderated my views when talking to most people outside of the radical feminist subculture I belonged to. My views were in the process of changing and I had gotten a lot more open-minded about transitioning and trans people. At the same time, I was still hanging out with self-identified TERFs and held a lot of transphobic beliefs. I can’t imagine that I was entirely forthright with all my views. I certainly didn’t bring up my past when my beliefs were much more extreme. I did what I could to sound as reasonable and sympathetic as possible while finding ways to get specific ideas across. I focused largely on promoting the idea that trans identity and transitioning could be a manifestation of trauma, dissociation and internalized misogyny, using my story as a way to demonstrate this. I framed what I was doing as working for detransitioned, re-identified and dysphoric women instead of against trans people. I didn’t see myself as being dishonest when I hid my more extreme views, only practical. I saw most people as being unready for “the truth” and there were serious consequences to openly calling trans identity into question that I wanted to avoid.
I presented Herzog with a more moderate version of my detrans radical feminist persona, completely omitting my more transphobic views and my connections to anti-trans lesbian feminists as well as my raging dysphoria and disappointment with womanhood. As I said before, I slipped into the character I’d perfected and forgot about the feelings and doubts I struggled with. I put the well-being of the detrans women’s community ahead of describing the real details of my life. I didn’t even feel like a woman when I gave that interview but I felt like I had to be one anyways or I would be letting down my whole community.
The story I told and that was printed in the Stranger is a fabrication, one that I believed in and fought for. It was a story I got trapped in for years, that swallowed up my actual life. I can’t say it’s entirely false, after all it includes events from life that did indeed happen but I don’t believe in this story anymore and I don’t want it overshadowing my life. It confined and trapped me for years and I’m concerned about impact that it had on others.
I’m concerned it could’ve lead other trans people to deny or distort themselves. I fear it that encouraged cis people to dismiss trans people’s identities or reinforced their transphobia. I was a trans person with a distorted view of myself magnifying that and projecting it into the larger culture, inflicting my own wounds on other trans people. I am deeply sorry for any suffering I have caused others. I am sorry for participating in transphobic subcultures and engaging in what I now see as noxious and hateful behavior.
I can’t change the past but I can describe what my life was actually like at the time, make visible the parts I left out or hid. I want people to know that detransitioning didn’t work for me, that it stopped working for me even as I was presenting myself as someone who’d been helped by it. I want people to know that I belonged to transphobic communities that encouraged me to deceive myself and others, to present what was supposed to be true, not what was actually true. I want people to know that even cynical journalists can be fooled when they hear a story that lines up with what they’re expecting to find. So many people who question trans people’s identities take detrans people’s stories at face value, never considering that there could be more to them than meets the eye.
I want people to know the truth about my detransition, not the stories I told about it and that others encouraged me to tell. I wasn’t helping anyone by giving a distorted version of the truth, not detrans women, not lesbians, trans people or feminists and most certainly not myself. I was never a lesbian who was pressured into transitioning by living in a patriarchy, nor was my dysphoria rooted in trauma. I’m a trans person who converted to a transphobic ideology, surrounded myself with transphobic people and worked against my own people. I made some very bad choices that hurt myself and other people and cost me years of my life. I struggle with grief and regret over many of the choices I’ve made.
I commit myself now to be as honest as I can be. I can’t know how my views, feelings and perspectives will change over time but I can do my best to represent my life and my beliefs as openly and clearly as possible.
Writing about that particular time in my past is difficult because I had a lot of contradictory parts and impulses pulling me in different directions. I can remember what it was like but I worry others will find my descriptions of it confusing. It was confusing to live through and it’s surreal to look back on. I read my old journals and can’t imagine that I shared many of these thoughts and feelings with the lesbians I was friends with. I didn’t even share most of them with my partner at the time. I knew I kept a lot from other people but it’s intense to realize just how much.
It’s relief to talk about the transphobic subculture I was a part of and the harm I committed as well as the feelings and doubts I was secretly struggling with. I existed in so many different pieces, the parts I showed to my then partner and our friends, the parts I shared with people outside the lesbian feminist scene, the parts I told to journalists, and the parts I kept to myself, between me and my journal. Finally I can bring all the parts together, connect them to create a more honest description of my past and make myself whole.