This guest post by “fightingunreality,” a regular commenter on this blog, is the second in an ongoing series of accounts by women who at one time experienced gender dysphoria or the desire to become the opposite sex—but who turned away from “transition” without undergoing hormones or surgery. (The first in the series is “Abandoning the Ship of Woman,” by guest poster “Dot.”)
I am looking for more guest posts from formerly dysphoric women and girls, of all ages, who did not take steps to “transition” medically. There are some fine writings/blogs authored by detransitioned/detransitioning women who did embark upon medical transition but returned to embracing their femaleness; I will leave it to those women to continue elucidating their experiences for us. One excellent blog by a detransitioned woman is that of Maria Catt, who wrote powerfully yesterday about the hazards of transition and specifically testosterone—both from the perspective of someone who has used “T” herself, and as a worker in a medical clinic which served transgender people. Another fine blog by a detransitioned woman is “Hot Flanks,” who writes sensitively about her journey home to female after years of trans-identification.
Nothing wrong with your body that the truth can’t cure
As one of many women who have faced some of the issues confronting teenagers who call themselves “transgender,” I feel reasonably certain that, had these girls been born in an era before the all-out indoctrination that has taken place in the past decade, they would not only not be seriously considering altering their bodies; they would be developing a framework for understanding why they ever felt the female sex was not their own.
Such dysphoric females would most likely eventually connect, as I have, with other women who had the same difficulties–even if those difficulties remained unspoken. Instead of demanding hormones and surgery, these girls would be learning to cope with the ongoing changes that take place as they gradually mature, physically and socially. And it wouldn’t be easy, but nothing of importance ever is. Especially during the teenage years.
I imagine a self-identified trans teen reading this and thinking, “Eh, what could she possibly know? She was never ‘really trans’.” In response, I ask: What IS “really trans”?
Dysphoric teens often talk about depression and anxiety spiking during their middle school years, when their bodies begin changing in ways they don’t want and can’t stop; changes that feel wrong.
Do you have any idea how common these feelings are? For the longest time, I wouldn’t talk about them because I thought they were weird and embarrassing. But it turns out that a lot of my friends felt the same way and weren’t talking about it either. Nothing seems right when your body starts to change, and it doesn’t help that the hormones that are causing the changes fuel emotional highs and lows that are really intense and hard to handle. I know it doesn’t really seem like it, but things get a lot easier to deal with. It just takes time.
I remember this time period very well. I panicked. I was depressed. I didn’t know what to do because I could not imagine myself becoming what I believed it was to be a woman. I was neither like the women I knew nor those I saw on television. The idea of having to buy or wear a bra was repugnant. As a result, I did the only thing that seemed logical at the time: I hid my breasts and tried to carry on as if nothing had changed. I wore layers and vests and spent a lot of time worrying about other people noticing.
I remember feeling ashamed, especially when my older sisters made fun of me for trying to deny this development, or alternately, for acting or feeling like I was a boy (something that I never verbalized for fear of perpetual teasing). I had been obsessed with becoming a boy prior to hitting puberty, and what I considered to be my body’s betrayal seemed like the ultimate cruelty. Like some sort of unfair punishment.
Remembering those times, I wonder what it would have been like if I’d had someone I trusted who I could talk with about it–someone who understood the depth of my despair, who’d been through something similar. I did not have any such confidante. Yet in retrospect, I consider myself extremely lucky, because what I also did not have–which virtually every other child and adolescent has now–is someone who would have reinforced my belief that I really was meant to be a boy; that I was “trans.” I have to tell you, I would have bought into that belief with everything I had because I did not want to be female. I did not want to wear dresses or makeup, bleed every month, date boys or get married—ever. Being “trans” would have been the perfect out for all of those things, and once your body starts to develop, the pressure is on. Everything changes.
Thinking back, it was around age 5–the time when I started kindergarten –when I began to realize I wasn’t quite like the other girls. To be honest, I can’t even remember what activities the girls engaged in because I didn’t pay much attention. I guess it must have been dolls, since the note inscribed on my very first report card said that I didn’t like to play with them, but instead played with “trains and boys’ toys.” It made it seem like it was a bad thing–like I was bad–and I can recall from that point on a growing alienation from whatever it was that “girl” was supposed to mean. I actually remember at one point feeling sorry for *them,* for the girls, as if I weren’t one myself.
By the time puberty hit, my friends were all boys, so I guess you can imagine the additional issues that started to develop right along with my budding breasts. Suddenly the pressure was really on from the adults to act more ladylike, and there came rules about spending time alone with the boys and separating us for activities. We couldn’t play together as easily. There was increasing snark from the girls at school who marked me out as “other” for my failure to socially conform. I didn’t really need to hear their comments, though, because my changing body was a constant reminder of how I was supposed to behave and look which had nothing to do with how I felt about or saw myself. I felt trapped.
Worse, it wasn’t just the girls who had become suddenly self-conscious about their increasing need to conform: the boys who had been my peers and best friends began to see me as “other,” too. It didn’t matter that I was just as good as any of them when it came to sports, or that in a fight I would most likely win. I was a girl, and that alone altered the dynamic in our little group. It was even worse outside of our circle of friends. Individually, my friends seemed the same, but around the other boys, it was like they had to prove something to each other. Influenced by their own surging hormones, some of them began to make sexualized comments to impress each other with the pretense of worldliness, and the situation became increasingly intolerable. Former friends would dis me in the presence of others in order to get a laugh or to prove their masculinity. Hanging out with a girl wasn’t cool at this age unless it had some sort of sexual connotation. My sense of betrayal was devastating and complete.
It was at this point that I found myself alone. No longer accepted as a peer, I was closed out of the boys’ club and realized that I had little in common with the girls. I hadn’t really learned the rules very well, and from what I saw, I didn’t want to. Girls seemed helpless sometimes–interested in things that were incomprehensible to me. They began to cover the backs of their notebooks with popular boys’ names, plus theirs, surrounded by hearts. I just didn’t get it. It was pretty clear that I did not really fit in: I was not like them, and I certainly wasn’t going to grow up to be like their moms who I understood even less. I had no role models–I knew no one like me. As an adult, I can acknowledge a multitude of contributing factors, but at the time I could see only one real source of my pain: my body had betrayed me. I was alone, I was depressed, and I couldn’t see any way out of my situation. I felt like a mistake and I too often just wanted to be dead. As it was, I did what I could to simply hide. I sought invisibility and spent a lot of time by myself.
What if, along with my rejection of my maturing body, my growing depression, the loss of my peer group and my increasing alienation, I’d been told that there was a cure? I, along with a number of my friends, have asked that question. What if I’d been told that I must have a “male brain” or that there was science that showed that I had a “medical condition” that caused all of the problems? What would I have done? It didn’t happen, fortunately, but I think I understand my former self well enough to know: I would have attributed all of my social difficulties to that “condition.” I would have believed that if I could just fix that “condition,” all of the other issues would be resolved or at least lessened. They were, after all, entirely related to being the wrong sex. Weren’t they?
Having been raised in a very religious household, I actually believed as a young child that god would give me a boy’s body if I prayed often enough and hard enough. As a result, every time I was made aware that I was, in fact, a girl, I would repeat my litany with the sincere belief that my prayers would be answered. I would imagine myself as having changed, as having all the qualities I believed that entailed. When I showered, I’d plaster my soapy hair to my head so it would feel and look short. I’d shape lather on my face in the form of a beard, imagining how I would look when things were “fixed.” Each time, as my fantasy washed away, I would experience an even greater disappointment in the reality I faced. The more I engaged in the fantasy in its varying forms, the more distressed I was at what was: my body seemed to grow worse and I prayed even harder. I bargained with god, formulated deals, but each morning I awoke to the same disappointment. Despite my lack of progress, I continued praying for a few years because I convinced myself that my long-term dedication would somehow prove my faith, and that would make a difference. It was only the loss of that faith which eventually caused me to give up: I became convinced that god couldn’t hear me. I hadn’t lost my body shame, only the idea that there was anything I could do about it.
Testosterone and mastectomies don’t require a god or magic–just money and a psychologist’s approval. It’s a real thing that you can find out about now without even trying. You can watch hours of videos online as some girls/women sprout beards and their voices are lowered. You can see them pose with fading scars, pectoral muscles now hormonally enlarged and visible in the absence of those hated breasts. You can read all of the accompanying comments supporting her choice and your desire, and you can find a ready-made community to replace the one you lost, to accept and agree with the idea that something is terribly wrong with the way you are now that can be fixed with hormones and surgery. They’ll even tell you how to go about getting them. This is a real thing. But the magical thinking involved is the belief that you can actually change your sex; that you will be indistinguishable from actual males. The unreality of this is easy enough to overlook if you want something bad enough, even if you have no way of knowing what it actually means to be what you want. With “gender reassignment” and T, there’s no need to ever give up hoping for a miracle, because unlike god, the purveyors of gender change are listening very closely. They even advertise, making sure you can hear them. They are waiting for you. They’ve published books to help you, a teen, lay out all of the talking points that will help you convince your parents that you need this “cure.” They’ve made it easy.
As it was, as a teen, I had nothing of the sort. Oh, I’d heard of “sex change” operations, and for awhile clung to the idea of one as I tried to maintain that possibility, but the reality was that they were still really rare and impossible for someone so young and with no money, and there was no question that my family would not approve. As a result, I was forced to face reality. I was female, and I had to accept that and do what it took to learn to navigate the world as such.
One of the interesting things that happens when someone wants something badly is that they begin to fantasize about having it. They imagine themselves in possession of their want and it gives them pleasure, the fantasy itself becoming the reward. Unfortunately, reality is not changed and it often seems even worse or even less real when compared to what has been imagined. For myself, I know that the more I visualized myself as a boy, the worse I felt about who I actually was. The more I saw myself as being what I wanted, the more that want took on the characteristics of a need, something that I had to have; that I could not live without. I was wrong, of course, but had “gender reassignment” existed back then, it would have served as the material manifestation of that need –the promise of a wish fulfilled, that which god would not grant me. There would have been no reason for me to resolve the conflict that I had with my body. The time and experience I had which allowed me to come to terms with my sex would have been spent instead on fueling the same fantasy which had intensified my previous despair: my fantasy visualization would have prolonged my rejection of my body, and the degree of my dysphoria and dysmorphia would have increased.
As it was, I went through an intensely lonely and depressing time, but at some point, after about a year I guess, one of the girls in my class decided to befriend me. To be honest, I think it was because she felt sorry for me, but really, I didn’t care why. What mattered is that through her I gained entry into her circle of friends and my isolation ended. It would, of course, be convenient to slap some happy ending on the story and tell you that all was happily ever after from that point, but I think that kind of thing only happens in made-for-TV movies. I was still a teenager, with adolescent mood swings and depression, and I still was not one with my body. I had my issues, and so did my new friends. We were all pretty messed up, but at least we were messed up together.
In retrospect, I think it’s highly likely that I would have been dragged irretrievably into the world of crime and drugs that many of them fell into had my love of sport not provided a diversion from complete immersion into that subculture. Title IX had just been passed the year before, and even my small rural school was forced to provide some girls’ sport teams in order to comply. It wasn’t the football or baseball that I had formerly enjoyed playing with the boys, but basketball provided me with the opportunity to develop and prove my strength and my skill in a way that as a girl I had been denied. Not only did the physical activity help me gain a new relationship with my body –which believe me, was a very, very big deal. But for the first time, I was in constant contact with other girls whose strength and ability I admired, and with whom I could develop a sense of camaraderie and teamwork. I think maybe it was the first time I really realized that female was something to be.
The bravest and smartest and strongest people I have known have always been women. I just had to open my eyes to see it.
I am not “trans.” I never was “trans.” I was a girl, a female who’s grown up in a culture that makes us feel like less because of our sex. It is a world that teaches us that our opinions are not valued, that our knowledge is incomplete, that we are weak and that we are never safe if we go out alone. It is a place where we’re made to feel that merely being female is an invitation to men to do what they will despite our objections. To be female in this age and this place is to be convinced that the more we mature, the more limited our options become, and it is this belief we must resist, not our sexed bodies.
For myself, I was lucky. I managed to arrive at maturity at a time when women were actively fighting to shatter these myths and I was able to hear their voices over the constant murmurings of those who had and would define me by my use to them. These women were not popular then—they were mocked and reviled just as women are now, but they would not be silenced. Their words let me know that I had truly never wanted to be a boy, but rather that I didn’t want the limitations that were being forced on me as a girl. I was–we all are–more than our culture tells us we can be, and ultimately, there’s nothing wrong with your body that the truth cannot cure.
If you can manage to listen to the voices of the strong women who came before you, voices that are currently being drowned out by the popular trans-narrative, you may just hear them, too.