What do I mean by ideologically motivated detransition? I made up the term while trying to make sense of my experience. I’m not wholly satisfied with it but it’s the best I’ve got at the moment. I wouldn’t be surprised if I find other ways to describe what I’ve gone through as I continue to process my detransition. Still, one has to start somewhere and I think it’s important to define this particular form of detransitioning and explain why it’s harmful for both trans and detrans people.
People use the word detransition to describe a variety of experiences. Some trans people use detransitioning to describe a time when they temporarily put their transition on hold due to external circumstances, such as losing a job and being unable to afford hormones or experiencing hostility from transphobic family members. Others use detransition to refer to permanently stopping one’s medical transition. This could be because the person’s sense of gender shifted or they decided that transitioning wasn’t helping them or for any number of other reasons.
It’s important to understand that what I’m calling ideologically motivated detransition is one experience of detransitioning among many. Certainly not all people who halt their transition and stop identifying as trans do so for ideological reasons. It is also important to recognize that while some detrans people who believe in transphobic ideologies are trans people in denial, not all are. Transphobic groups try to recruit both vulnerable trans and detrans people. Most resources that currently exist for detrans people were created by people with transphobic beliefs and detrans people may adopt such beliefs in order to belong and find support.
To me, ideologically motivated detransition is a way of approaching and understanding trans identity, transitioning and detransitioning from the perspective of a transphobic belief system that frames being trans and transitioning as inherently negative. According to this ideology, merely identifying as trans for any amount of time is harmful because trans identity is seen as a form of false consciousness and/or mental illness. Identifying as trans and transitioning are framed as maladaptive coping techniques, often cast as a kind of addiction that one can fall back into without proper treatment and support. Transitioning is seen as self-destructive, unsatisfying, and ultimately futile.
In this framework, detransitioning means “recovering” from trans identity and transition. Medical transition is seen as a traumatic event to heal from, though often it’s cast as being so damaging that one can’t ever make a full recovery but must learn to live with the physical and psychological scars. Trans identity is a delusion or manifestation of dissociation to be worked through. Often gender identity itself is seen as unreal and pathological while biological sex is seen as the reality one must learn to embrace. Depending on the particular ideology, one may be encouraged to either embrace or resist one’s assigned gender role.
Trans identity is seen as a symptom of social dysfunction. In the case of transphobic radical feminism, trans identity is seen as arising from living in a homophobic patriarchal society that punishes people for not fitting into heterosexist gender roles. From more conservative perspectives, trans identity comes from a breakdown in traditional gender roles and is often linked to the supposed excesses of the feminist and gay rights movements. Regardless of the particular ideology, the trans community itself is always cast as a negative social influence, often accused of being a “cult” recruiting and indoctrinating vulnerable people.
Ideological groups that try to convert and detransition trans people may vary widely in their particulars but what they share in common are beliefs about sex and gender that are incompatible with the existence of trans people. Rather than change their beliefs and theories to recognize the reality of trans people, they attempt to change trans people in order to fit and uphold their ideologies. They attempt to convert trans people from being threats to their belief systems to being adherents who defend and maintain them and who will work to convert other trans people in turn.
They also try to recruit detransitioned people, people who truly were not helped by transitioning, and encourage them to adopt their particular interpretations of trans identity, transition and detransition. There is nothing wrong with recognizing that transitioning can be traumatic for some individuals or that it’s possible for a lesbian to identify as a man and transition as result of internalized homophobia. The problem is claiming that transitioning is inherently harmful or that all transmasculine people are really self-hating lesbians. The problem is taking some experiences of trans identity and transitioning and acting as if they are applicable for all who identify as trans and/or transition, turning individual experiences into a rigid ideology. People in ideological detrans communities are encouraged to project their experiences onto all trans people and to turn their experiences into anti-trans propaganda.
Much of the focus in ideological detrans communities is spent trying to restrict access to transition rather than helping people in those communities work through any problems they have and get on with their lives. People invested in transphobic ideologies have no interest in helping detransitioned people heal because they want to frame transitioning as being as damaging as possible. They have an incentive to keep detrans people angry and in pain because then detrans people are easier to exploit for their transphobic agendas. Their stories of trauma are used to recruit other vulnerable people looking for support.
I was in a very vulnerable place when I detransitioned, with little access to resources, information or support. I really felt like I had ruined myself and was worried that I was going to suffer for the rest of my life because I had transitioned. Radical feminists were more than happy to validate these feelings because it aligned with their own negative views of transition. At the time, I really valued their support because I was hurt and isolated. I felt like they cared about my pain.
Later I realized they had an investment in my distress and feelings of brokenness because they could use it to argue against medical transition. But if I stopped feeling hurt by transitioning, they could no longer use my story for their arguments. I was most useful as a victim and my pain was worth more to them than my ability to recover from it. Not surprisingly, when I later decided that transitioning hadn’t actually ruined my life, that it hadn’t made much of a negative impact at all, I encountered quite a bit of resistance. I honestly feel like I was never supposed to heal from my pain.
An ideologically motivated detransition framework certainly doesn’t recognize that detransitioning is not going to work for everyone who tries it. It doesn’t see trans identity as real so it doesn’t see how trans people could be harmed by rejecting who we are and internalizing transphobic beliefs. A trans person trapped inside an ideologically motivated detransition is not allowed to recognize either their transness or the forces that seek to repress and destroy that transness. Instead trans identity is cast as the problem and transphobic ideologies are framed as the solution.
Ideologically motivated detrans subcultures do not give people the freedom to determine what they are or what they need to best treat any dysphoria they experience. In the detrans women’s community I belonged to, woman/female was the only acceptable way to conceive of myself. I could be butch but wasn’t supposed to think of butchness in terms of masculinity because that also a form of “female disidentification.” Accepting my body and “reconciling with being female” was the only correct ways to deal with dysphoria.
After I left the detrans community, I fell back into questioning my gender. I realized I’d been living as a woman because that was the only acceptable option if I wanted to be a part of that group. I needed to sort out who I was as opposed to what I had become in order to belong to the community. Being able to determine what gender I was felt foreign. I wasn’t used to having that kind of freedom and it lead me to feel disorientated at first. It made me realize how restricted my life in the detrans women’s community had been.
For this reason, I think it’s important not to impose any identities or labels on people engaging in ideologically motivated detransition. The last thing people in that situation need is more people telling them what they really are. Criticizing transphobic word or actions is fine but a person’s identity is their own business and up to them to determine.
Ideologically motivated detransition is harmful for both trans and detrans people. For trans people it functions as a kind of conversion therapy. For detrans people it seeks to keep them trapped in their trauma so they can be used to attack trans people and access to medical transition. It seeks to use both trans and detrans people to create a society where trans people can’t live freely and openly.
Creating more resources for detransitioning people is vital for combating ideologically motivated detransition. People need to be able to find support without being co-opted for a political agenda. People also need spaces where they can freely explore how their sense of gender may have been shaped by trauma and/or living in a homophobic transphobic patriarchy without being pressured to adopt a particular identity or interpretation of their experiences. As someone who has dealt with trauma that intersected with my gender dysphoria and who’s been hurt by living in culture that hates women, gay and trans people, I would’ve deeply benefited from such spaces. We need to create more resources so that everyone can get what they need to heal, figure out who/what they are and live the best life possible.