Shrinking to survive: A former trans man reports on life inside queer youth culture

Max Robinson is a 20-year-old lesbian who recently detransitioned after 4 years of hormone replacement therapy. She underwent a double mastectomy at age 17, performed by plastic surgeon Curtis Crane in San Francisco. Max reports that her gender therapist wrote letters verifying the immediate medical necessity of these treatments.

Max currently works to provide direct support to developmentally disabled adults living in group homes; she detransitioned on the job in December 2015. Her novel Laika, which tells the story of the little stray dog who was sent outside Earth’s atmosphere in a Soviet satellite, is available digitally or in print here. In addition, Max and her partner collaborate on many graphic art and creative writing projects.

 Max, like many young lesbians of her generation, was led down the path to FTM “transition” as a teen, effectively short circuiting her chance to fully integrate her orientation as a same-sex attracted female.  As detailed in her account, the difficulties many young trans men face in queer communities are not widely known; and the less-than- rosy experiences of FTM teens are certainly not discussed in the many mainstream media stories which unquestioningly celebrate testosterone and surgery as welcome treatments for dysphoric girls—many of whom are same-sex attracted.

Max’s story will also appear in an upcoming anthology to be published within the year.

In the meantime, Max is available to respond to your questions and discussion in the comments section below this post.

All of us at 4thWaveNow are very grateful to Max for her courage in writing this post.

by Max Robinson

When I was 5, I led a girl rebellion. We put on capes and chased some boys in capes around. Whatever they said we couldn’t do, we did. It was mostly push-ups or holding bugs. I could hold any bug. My dad still has a picture in his office of me at a science fair, hands full of hissing cockroaches.

I hated to be told there was something I couldn’t do. In first grade, I’d go home from school all in a huff because the girls’ bathroom pass had pictures of bows on it, while the boys’ had soccer balls. My teacher wouldn’t let me choose which pass I wanted. I played soccer!

When I was in third grade, I drafted letters to the author of a children’s book series. I was bothered by the constant underlying sexism in her books about a family rescuing animals. The mom and the daughter were always secondary, sweeping or cooking in the background, while the father and son saw all the action. What troubled me most of all was that these books were written by a woman. I didn’t understand why she couldn’t create a single interesting female character.

Around the same time, my mom finally let me buy a pair of boys’ shoes. They were red and black, and I didn’t have to tie them. I wore them all the time, so often that the plastic frame of them tore through the fabric. It cut into my feet, but I didn’t tell my parents. I thought I wouldn’t get another pair. They didn’t find out until they saw the back of my ankles, torn and bleeding. When I told them why I hadn’t said anything, they got me another pair. This is my first memory of hurting myself on purpose so that I would feel better about my appearance. Later, there was tweezing, high heels, waxing, shaving, running, and trying to starve myself. In all of those, at one time or another, I was encouraged, but they really weren’t for me. I wanted to choose to hurt myself in my own way.

When I was 16, I talked my older sister into ordering me a binder, and I wore it as often I could. It hurt like hell. I insisted it didn’t. The pain made it easier to think less, which was nice, especially at school. Class was boring and I couldn’t focus, so I would always spend the whole day winding myself up with some thought obsession or another to keep busy. I would ask the teacher for bathroom breaks, and then used them to cut myself, just because I was under-stimulated and unhappy.

After school, I read Autostraddle articles and dozens of pages into the archive of FTM blogs. I was glad to see some women who looked kind of like me, saying that they had futures now. I wanted what they had, and I hated what I had. I think I was 15 or just barely 16 when I started checking this stuff out.

The longer I thought about it, the more sure I was that it was true. At first, I thought I might be genderqueer. Then, I wanted to go on testosterone for a while, but keep my breasts. Next I was sure that I wanted them gone. I would confess these changing thoughts anxiously to other trans-identifying friends online. They would reassure me that this happened to a lot of people, and that the dominant transgender narrative was oppressive.  Then I began reassuring others of this, too. We all agreed that being trans was very special and difficult.  Before, I had never felt special or that my pain mattered.

Some part of me knew I was talking myself into it. I ignored that part.

For the first time, I had a community that paid attention to me, at least online. We talked about our feelings and we listened to each other. This was my first real experience with Internet culture. I loved having friends. It wasn’t like school, where I was irritable and weird, floating between tables at lunch. People actually liked me on Tumblr. Almost all my friends were female and trans-identifying.

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I didn’t know anything. It was just so comforting to think that I was born wrong. If my body was the problem, it could be solved. Transition had clearly defined steps. Everybody chose from a set list, and when it was over, they were properly assembled.

When I renounced my connection to womanhood and what I shared with my sisters, I sealed away important parts of myself. I thought I was turning away from the hurt that came from being seen as a woman by men, but it was too late for that. That hurt has been inside my bones for years. After transition, I kept quieter than ever before. Always afraid, always afraid. Brought back into line.

Transition was supposed to fix things. That’s what I believed and that’s what doctors told my parents. I was 16 when I started hormone blockers, then testosterone. I was 17 when I had a double mastectomy.

If I didn’t look like a dyke and act like a crazy teenage girl, there would have been nothing to fix.

To fund my surgery, I started a blog where I posted print-to-order clothing and gifts, pandering to the interests of the people I saw on there. It worked pretty well. I got a bunch of money, but not quite enough. My parents used some of theirs, and my grandma helped, too. After all, this was a medically validated condition. I had been to appointments with professional after professional, all of whom agreed this was the way to go.

But it turned out to be cold comfort, removing hated body parts. Breasts marked me as a woman dressed funny. I wasn’t afraid to be anesthetized or cut open. The day of my surgery, after the doctor drew the lines of the incisions on my skin in Sharpie, I asked him where the tissue would go. He told me it would be incinerated as medical waste. I cackled. When they led me back to the operating room, I was confused. I thought there would be a silver table that I had to lie down on. I told my doctor this. He told me it wasn’t an autopsy, and laughed.

My first post-op memories don’t start until a day or two later. The pain wasn’t bad, and emptying my drains reminded me of using a menstrual cup, just with a lot more yellow stuff. It felt better than trying to live as a man with breasts. I couldn’t lift my arms to wash my own hair for a couple weeks, but seeing a flat chest was a breath of fresh air. It felt like it made sense after I had been watching my old face disappear, cheeks narrowing, beard coming in, because of testosterone. I didn’t want to be seen as a woman–as a lesbian–and I didn’t want to ask why.

Or maybe I just didn’t know who to ask. I did try. Before I started medical transition, I asked my gender therapist, a trans man, about internalized misogyny. The question was dismissed. I didn’t even really know what internalized misogyny was, but  I wanted to understand. Instead, I was assured that it probably wasn’t that. I got a letter for hormone replacement therapy, and later, for the top surgery. I was grateful.

It took years of testosterone for me to finally realize it was okay to live in my own body without it, that making this peace with myself was possible, and that I deserved that chance. I didn’t know it was okay to be a dysphoric lesbian, that I could survive this way. I was almost 20 when I stopped hormones. I had been 20 for a little while when I stopped understanding myself as a trans man.

Things changed. My mind changed.

There’s a species of rotifer (microscopic zooplankton) called Bdelloidea. A male bdelloid has never been observed. They’re all female, reproducing exclusively through parthenogenesis for millions of years. How did they survive quickly evolving parasites and rapidly changing environments without the adaptability afforded by sexual reproduction? Bdelloids shrivel up under stress. In anhydrobiosis, they’re easily carried away by the wind. For up to nine years, they’ll stay alive like this–barely living, but alive. Shrinking yourself to survive is a legitimate strategy, and sometimes it works.

After I detransitioned, I started a new job where I was known as a butch lesbian. At first, people treated me worse than when I was “passing” as male. Nobody trained me. They tried not to look at me at all. They didn’t relax until I started talking, talking like I had in high school. I made jokes and people laughed. I told them about my childhood when they told me about theirs. I did more than listen, finally. People actually liked me here, the same people who looked at me funny when I first started the job.

It had been so long since I had said anything outside my home without worrying about whether I “sounded male.” I hadn’t realized how much I had been holding back since I decided to transition. I hadn’t made new friends, except online, in years. In a couple weeks at this job, I got rides home and wedding invitations. I thought I was incapable of connecting to anyone in person, but I was just incapable of connecting to anyone as a man — because I’m not a man. I can’t pretend to be one without hiding an essential part of my nature.

I thought “woman” was wrong for me, because of how I dressed, how I related to my body, how I resented the expectations society had for me as a woman. I didn’t realize that my horror at my body could be caused by the horror of living in a world that wants to control all women.

If “being a woman” really was nothing but an identity, if I had been raised in a world where it really did just mean calling myself a woman, I never would have transitioned.  I would never have attempted to surgically and hormonally erase my femaleness. My drive to be anything but a woman was rooted in the material reality of being a woman, a material reality that cannot be identified out of. Trying to live in a fantasy where everything women have suffered for being female is null and void, even as misogyny continues to shape our lives, was valuable only in that I finally learned how incredibly valuable it was to name myself as a woman.

There is power in naming. It’s how we find each other, how we connect to our histories, how we connect to our futures. Driving us apart from each other is the easiest way to keep us from learning to recognize attempts to redefine our realities.

I didn’t know this then. I subscribed to an incredibly misogynistic set of beliefs for years. “DFAB privilege” was a common phrase in our community – “designated female at birth privilege.” It was accepted fact that being born female gave you a lifelong advantage over a male who transitioned. This included men who used transition only to mean using different pronouns on Tumblr and having an anime girl as their avatar. We believed that, as “dfabs,” we needed to shut up about our petty problems. We could never have it as hard as any “dmab women or non-binary people.” Everyone in the trans community agreed that it was our responsibility to uplift “dmab voices.” None of this seemed outrageous or strange to me; it felt pretty intuitive. Growing up under male domination is a grooming process that leaves many girls and women extremely vulnerable to manipulation.

The first experience that did make me start to feel suspicious of male transition was when I was 18 and a genderqueer-identifying man who had never pursued any kind of transition raped my best friend, a woman unacquainted with insular trans community politics. I had indirectly introduced her to this guy via mutual friends. After the rape, she told me what he did; I had been in the next room the whole night, awake, talking to someone I didn’t even like. I had no idea it was happening. When she let our mutual friends know, we both assumed they would have her back; after all, they referred to their apartment as a safe space for rape survivors. But instead, her rapist changed his pronouns on Tumblr, claimed to have schizophrenia, and then said that he couldn’t possibly have raped her, because of the power dynamics between a “cis” woman and a transwoman. He moved back to LA a few months later, without ever taking any steps towards transition. When he got there, he told his old friends he wasn’t schizophrenic or trans anymore.

Years before that, two different transwomen I knew had pressured me into sending nude photos of my breasts to them. I messaged them first, as a 16 year old, after seeing them repeatedly posting about being horny and suicidal, and how only nudes would make them feel any better. They didn’t even know who I was. To one of them, I submitted the nudes anonymously. I didn’t want to talk, I just wanted him to feel better. I thought it was my responsibility. It might still be posted somewhere, I have no idea.  Both of the transwomen who sexted with me identified as lesbians at the time and knew I was a transman. They didn’t care, as long as we were talking one-on-one.

I didn’t fully see the value in differentiating male from female until a traumatized and disabled lesbian I knew well, K, finally admitted to me that her transwoman partner M was beating her regularly.

For three years, she lived with steadily escalating physical & sexual violence, the details of which were originally included in this article but have now been removed for privacy reasons. Suffice it to say – it was an intimate portrait of what radical feminists understand as male violence.

It’s been two years since she moved in with me, away from him, and she’s still recovering from what he did to her. She had two decades of trauma before that, but nothing ever broke her like this did. Calling that relationship “lesbianism” left her stranded from the framework she desperately needed in order to contextualize her experiences as a survivor of captivity. It destroyed her ability to call herself a lesbian or a woman for a long time: if lesbians like to sleep with transwomen and were repulsed by the supposed maleness of transmen, how could she be a lesbian herself? If women are what her ex-partner M was, then she, K, must be something else entirely. The language of transition lends itself readily to abusive gaslighting that disguises and distorts women’s ability to name what is happening. What was done to her was extreme cruelty of a distinctly male variety, cruelty she was especially vulnerable to because of her lifelong history of trauma at men’s hands.

The more I started to understand that M could not have been female, the more I understood why I was. One’s actual sex matters. Running from its significance prevents you from doing anything but continuing its cycles of destruction. As soon as a transwoman said, “No, I’M not a man,” we instantly lost our ability to protect ourselves from him. Women who never transitioned in these trans circles believed their “cis privilege” rendered them man-like in their power. For those of us females (mainly lesbians) who did seek transition, we were often told that, as transmen, we were exactly as bad as any other men.

Loading the language was an incredibly powerful tool. I was a lesbian trying to save my friend from domestic violence at the hands of a man she had partnered with out of intense desperation, facing immediate homelessness as a severely mentally ill woman with limited mobility. Understanding this could have connected us to our foremothers who struggled through similar battles to protect each other from abusive men. Instead, we felt completely adrift. Other women dealing with abuse perpetrated by transwomen have described a similar sense of being in entirely uncharted territory, terrified to speak first, unable to find anyone else sharing experiences; they’re all too scared of being labeled an untouchable “trans-misogynist.”

In the 21st century, intelligent and capable adult women are having to relearn what “man” means, with fear at their backs every step of the way. We were among them, exploring radical and lesbian feminist ideology online and marveling at how decades-old works precisely described circumstances we had thought of as occurring only recently. Janice Raymond’s discussion of transexually-constructed lesbian feminists in The Transsexual Empire was startlingly relevant. She saw this coming. As lesbians, we have a rich history of theory that had been completely denied to women who came of age when K and I did. All either of us knew about Janice Raymond, until last year, was that she was evil to the core; a horrible transphobe. We believed this because we didn’t know any better.

Deprogramming took almost a year. Both of us were terrified just to read dissenting opinions. K, me, and another lesbian exited from the radical queer scene began moderating an online support group for anyone dysphoric and born female, including many who still identified as trans. When that group started, I was still one of the transmen. All of us were so incredibly relieved not to be alone. We disagreed on a lot of stuff, but we were all tired of what we saw happening to females.

When our remaining friends from the transgender community found out that we considered transwomen capable of male violence, and that we were concerned about transition’s effect on young adults, almost all of them deserted us immediately. Female trans-identifying friends who knew K’s history of homelessness and our currently rocky financial situation started talking publicly to each other about how we literally deserved to starve to death.

Losing these friends hurt enough on its own. Being cut off from them just when we had begun to see the severity of the situation within these groups was so much worse. I have a list of 20 intercommunity predators, mainly transwomen who prey on females — women or transmen. Eleven of them are one or two degrees of separation from us. So many women in our community had themselves been pressured to share nude photos, coerced into unwanted sex, or outright violently assaulted by males describing themselves as transwomen, but they still didn’t feel able to challenge the narrative they were being fed. These women, our friends, had been there with us. They saw transwoman predator after transwoman predator being named by their terrified female victims. The “call-outs” (a word used for anything from hurting someone’s feelings slightly to brutal rape) usually only happened once several victims of the same predator found each other and made sure they had friends on their side. When victims couldn’t be sure they would be supported, they didn’t come forward. The political climate made it doubly difficult to “call out” a transwoman. We were constantly being reminded that transwomen are harmed by the horrible stereotype that they’re all rapists or perverts, and we were taught that we needed to be constantly policing ourselves to avoid perpetuating this idea.

The silent victims of transwomen had good reason to keep quiet. We all saw transwomen using the language of “cissexism” and “transmisogyny” against anyone who named their behavior as harmful. Even transwomen dating other transwomen experienced abuse at their hands. In the resulting fallout, it was never clear who the true aggressor was; both of them would immediately begin using identity politics and “privilege dynamics” (i.e., someone poor can never hurt someone rich, under any circumstances, etc.) in a way that was very effective at obfuscating the truth. Our friends had been right beside us for all of this, and they still damned us for beginning to name what had enabled this wide-scale intercommunity violence.

Young lesbians in the “queer community” are known by many names: if you want to avoid scrutiny for not hooking up with transwomen, you’ve got to get creative. Some of us call ourselves queer, bisexual, or pansexual, because there’s no word for only being attracted to females, and you can’t be a lesbian if you date transmen or avoid dating transwomen. A lot of us, having been told that we can opt out of womanhood by choice, decided that we never want to be called “she” again. Young women who cling to the word “lesbian” find themselves increasingly pressured to sleep with transwomen, because—according to trans dogma–they are supposedly more vulnerable and oppressed than any “cis” lesbian.

Many transwomen seem to view dating a “cisbian” as a uniquely valuable source of gender validation. After all, lesbians only date women. There is no acknowledgement that, under some circumstances, some lesbians can be coerced into relationships that they are incapable of experiencing as anything except traumatic. I have never seen a transwoman from these circles ever express the possibility that this might be true. By all appearances, they have never considered it. Running from unpleasant truths is something that a lot of folks who transition (me included) tend to get very good at.

The insistence that lesbianism is not a strictly female experience runs so deep that transwomen, even those who only date other transwomen, often refer to themselves as “transdykes.” This includes those who are not transitioning–men who can literally only be differentiated from any other man when you ask his preferred pronouns. Many women believe that these “transdykes,” even those who have never been identifiable as anything but straight men to the outside world in any way, are more oppressed than any “cis” woman, specifically on the axis of gender. The level of gaslighting taking place here is difficult to overstate.

From the outside, now, I can finally see how ridiculous it is. Realizing this took months and months. It took us a year of exploring the feminist theory that had been forbidden to us before me or K could even call any transwoman a man without having a panic attack.

At first, when I started learning more about opposing viewpoints, I identified as a “gender-critical transman.” I knew that the transgender cause had been used in a lot of disgusting ways, but I still believed transition was the only way I could survive, and I was trying to reconcile seeing myself as transgender with believing that the vast majority of trans activism was harmful to women. During this time, I really looked up to gender-critical transwomen–transitioning males who were usually at least marginally more sympathetic and thoughtful than most men. I tried to reconcile our respective identities and our needs, as we understood them, with the needs of women as a class.

I failed. At the end of the day, I just don’t want anyone male in the bathroom with me. I don’t want them on a women’s volleyball team. I don’t want them at Curves. I don’t want them in a lesbian book club. The experience of being male is fundamentally different from the experience of being female — even if a man passes, even if a man has surgery to more closely resemble his idea of a woman. I don’t say this out of a hatred for transwomen. I say this out of love and respect for women. What we are cannot be conceived nor replicated in a man’s imagination, and it absolutely cannot be formed out of male tissue on an operating table.

The sympathy I feel for men harmed by gender, to the extent that it means I encourage male-to-female transsexualism, is in direct competition with the sympathy I feel for women harmed by gender. Everyone is entitled to make their own choices about their bodies. Everyone is also entitled to have opinions about the choices that others make about their bodies. I feel that transition is a treatment with far-reaching harmful side effects — not only for the individual receiving treatment, but for those around them.

Lesbians who see their sisters disappearing are more likely to try to erase themselves. Lesbians who are forced to welcome men into their spaces will never be able to see or understand the value of female-only space, having never actually experienced it. Transition does not cure the irreconcilability of our selves with our environments. Gendered identity crises are very real to the individuals experiencing them, myself included, but this energetic drive towards change is not best spent reforming ourselves into someone who can assimilate into the world men have built. We need to use this energy to work towards restoring balance to a sick world.

Many young lesbians (and some older lesbians caught up in a youth-oriented trans/queer culture) hold political views diametrically opposed to our collective interests. We genuinely believe some off-the-wall garbage, like that it’s wrong and evil not to be attracted to penises because of “internalized cissexism.” We have been successfully brainwashed to serve males at the expense of our own health and sanity.

I have so much empathy for other women who believed transition was their best choice. I lived that. The fact is, loving a woman does not automatically mean agreeing with her. I believe that all of us deserve better. We deserve to experience autonomous female space. We deserve the opportunity to experience our bodies as a part of nature worthy of celebration, not objects to be “reconstructed.” The energy we spend trying to run from our own bodies is better spent working to support each other.

Those of us who make it out of communities like the ones I was in often only manage to do so because of strong female (in my experience, lesbian) support networks that help us relearn how to think for ourselves without getting angry when we make mistakes in the process. I hear political opponents of the transgender movement calling it extremely cult-like and in the same breath damning the women, usually lesbians, who fall into the trap. This reinforces the learned hatred of anyone who disagrees without creating any opportunity for victims of this ideology to ask questions and explore viewpoints that—while the victims have not yet extricated themselves–genuinely feel like some kind of blasphemy to them. The pace of progress needs to be determined by the individual. Frustration with the behavior of young people in the transgender community is very understandable, but even the most righteous anger is unlikely to change minds when it’s directed at someone who has been manipulated into believing that dissenting women are literally equivalent to murderers.

The beliefs they have internalized are harmful to all women. No one is obligated to subject herself to being triggered or re-traumatized by the virulent misogyny that trans activists tend to espouse, even in the name of reaching out to a sister in crisis. Taking care of yourself has to come first. I try to stay available for conversations with questioning trans-identifying females, but I can’t always be there. I need rest, too.

As I move away from viewing myself and my body as an object to improve, I’m realizing more and more how much of my energy has been devoted to appeasing men in some way. By and large, that was a waste of time. I’m working on using my emotional energy for the benefit of myself first, and then for the benefit of other women.

While I was transitioning, I was terrified of eventually regretting it. I sure as hell didn’t let on much about my doubts, for fear of losing access to medical treatment, but I was consumed all the time with obsessive thoughts about it. I didn’t understand how I could go on living as a woman with no breasts. What man would want to fuck me? Never mind that I didn’t want to be fucked by any man; that didn’t feel like a good enough answer.

I am so incredibly grateful that I learned that there was more to being a woman. Transition was absolutely not the easiest way to learn this, but it was how I learned it. It was how I learned that I could survive without men viewing me as a piece of meat. I never shaved my legs or armpits again. I stopped tittering at their stupid jokes. I dress practically. I’m grateful that I learned it was okay to exist as I am.

For me, transition was a processing of distancing my true self from my body and my environment. Detransition has been the opposite: learning to participate earnestly in the world again. For me, this isn’t about undoing my transition. I’m not seeking any further changes like electrolysis or breast reconstruction. I am a woman, even if my body is recognizable as the body of a woman who once thought transition was the best choice available to me. My body has known tragedies, but my body is not a tragedy. When I catch myself slipping into deeply misogynistic internal tirades about the aspects of my appearance that changed during transition, I practice thought replacement. I am not a waste of a woman.

I’m so grateful for all of the incredible women I’ve connected with who are on the other side of transgender identities now. Some of them are women I met years ago, when both of us were still pursuing transition. Transition doesn’t have to be forever. If transition makes you sick inside, you don’t have to live and die with that sickness. There is community. There is processing. There is genuine healing. More and more of us are waking up, each with her own story. We question and disagree, with our enemies and with each other. We learn. Together, we are moving forward.

The surgical suite: Modern-day closet for today’s teen lesbian

Despite the fact that trans activists are diligently trying to lower the age of consent for cross sex hormones and surgeries, as a general rule children under 18 in the US cannot access these “treatments” without parental consent (Oregon being a notable exception). I have argued that even 18 is too young to make such permanent decisions, given that executive function skills are not well developed until the early 20s.

But there is another, equally important reason to question medical transition for adolescent girls. According to several peer-reviewed studies (which I will be discussing in detail in this post),

  • 95-100% of girls who “persist” in gender dysphoria at adolescence are same-sex attracted; these girls are typically offered cross-sex hormones by age 16, and  surgeries as young as 18.
  • The typical age that a young lesbian has her first sexual experience and/or claims her sexual orientation is between the ages of 19 and the early 20s.

Let those two statements sink in for a moment.

Here’s the reality of what’s going on in gender clinics around the world right now. An increasing number of adolescent girls diagnosed with “gender dysphoria” are asking for, and receiving, cross-sex hormones and surgeries. The World Professional Organization for Transgender Health (WPATH) officially recommends cross-sex hormone treatment to begin as early as age 16, with SRS surgeries to be offered at age 18.

The vast majority of these girls presenting to clinics admit to being same-sex attracted. Yet data from studies of LGB (lesbian, gay, and bisexual) people shows that most young women don’t fully crystallize a lesbian orientation until 19 or older.

To take one of several examples, this 1997 study of 147 lesbians and gay men by Gregory Herek et al, “Correlates of Internalized Homophobia in a Community Sample of Lesbians and Gay Men,” found that

 The mean age for first attraction to a member of the same sex was 11.5 for females and 10.3 for males. Mean age for first orgasm with a person of the same sex was 20.2 for females and 17.7 for males. On average, females first identified themselves as lesbian or bisexual at age 20.2, whereas men did so at age 18.7. Mean age for first disclosure of one’s sexual orientation was 20.5 for females and 21.2 for males.

A 2014 study of 396 LGB people, “Variations in Sexual Identity Milestones Among Lesbians, Gay Men, and Bisexuals” [full article behind paywall] by Alexander Martos and colleagues reported a similar finding for age of first sexual experience:

Women self-identified as nonheterosexual when they were almost 3 years older than the men (age 17.6 vs. 14.8) and reported their first same-sex relationship when they were 1.4 years older than men (19.1 vs.17.7).

And not only do young lesbians take longer to realize and accept their sexual orientation than their gay male counterparts. Coming out to oneself, and to loved ones and the world, takes time. It’s a developmental process that evolves over a number of years, from the first signs of puberty into early adulthood, with several stages, as Martos et al say in their 2014 study:

Coming out is not a single event but a series of realizations and disclosures. The age at which sexual minorities first recognize their identity, tell others about their identity, and have same-sex relationships varies, and people may take different amounts of time between one milestone and the next. Scholars have proposed and tested models of sexual identity development for over 30 years. Cass (1979) developed an influential model, which outlined a six-stage linear psychological path of sexual identity development. Troiden (1989) built upon Cass’s model and reframed it within four stages: (a) sensitization, which may include a person’s first same-sex attraction and their first questioning of their heterosexual socialization, (b) identity confusion, a period during early to mid-adolescence that is marked by inner turmoil and often the initiation of same-sex sexual activity, (c) identity assumption, when a youth self-identifies as LGB and begins to reveal their “true self” to select people and seeks community among other LGBs, and (d) commitment, which is marked by the initiation of a same-sex romantic relationship and disclosure to a wide variety of heterosexual people (Floyd and Stein 2002). These models suggest that healthy and stable sexual identity development necessitates the full permeation of sexual identity into all aspects of a person’s life.

So the process of integration–“full permeation”–of one’s sexual orientation is a process that takes place over a period of years.  It involves “identity confusion” and “inner turmoil” in adolescence. And not to put too fine a point on it, but most lesbians don’t even begin to express and realize their orientation until 19 or 20 years old.

Yet same-sex attracted girls who present to gender clinics–many of them still with the concrete, either-or thinking of a child (e.g., if I like girls, I must be a guy), internalized homophobia, and overall lack of maturity and self reflection typical of their age, have been “socially transitioned” for years; have had their puberty “blocked” (such that they don’t have the opportunity or desire, in most cases, to actually experience a physical relationship with a love interest); and then move on to “transitioning” to….a straight male.

Here they are, girls without sexual experience, conditioned to reject their bodies and begin irreversible medical “treatments” before they’ve had a chance to embark on the years-long process of discovering their own bodies as sexual beings.

In a 2011 Dutch study “Desisting and persisting dysphoria after childhood, Steensma et al note that 100% of the girls who “persisted” in gender dysphoria by age 16 were same-sex attracted. As they indicate, this finding corroborates that of other researchers over many decades. A 2013 study,  also by Steensma et al, revealed the same information, but added more granularity: between 95.7 -100% of the 16-year-old (average age) girls reported exclusively same-sex attraction, fantasy, and behavior (defined as “kissing” because, as the authors note, that was the extent of their sexual experience). Age 16–well before the average age of coming out as lesbian noted in the studies I highlighted earlier.

With regard to sexual attraction, all persisters reported feeling exclusively attracted to persons of the same natal sex, which confirmed their gender identity as they viewed this attraction as a hetero­sexual attraction. They did not consider themselves homosexual or lesbian.

…the majority of adolescents kept their sexual attractions to themselves. Both boys and girls indicated that, as a result of fear of rejection, they did not speak about their sexual feelings to others, and did not try to date someone. Furthermore, most adolescents felt uncomfortable responding to romantic gestures from others.

In summarizing their findings, Steensma et al note that

…. The third factor that seemed to be associated with the persistence or desistence of childhood gender dysphoria was the experience of falling in love and sexual attraction. The persisters, all attracted to same- (natal) sex partners, indicated that the awareness of their sexual attractions func­tioned as a confirmation of their cross-gender identification as they viewed this as typically hetero­sexual.

These adolescents at age 16 regarded their same sex attractions as “typically heterosexual.” It’s fascinating that the study authors make this statement without any examination of exactly why the 100%-same-sex-attracted persisters viewed themselves this way, and whether this might give pause to the practice of medical transition—especially since in the very next paragraph, Steensma et al refer to earlier research findings that LGB people are late to claim their sexual orientations:

 All persisters reported feeling exclusively, and as long as they could remember, sexually attracted to individuals of the same natal sex, although none of the persisters considered themselves ‘homosexual’ or ‘lesbian,’ but (because of their cross-gender identity) ‘heterosexual.’

As for the desisters, about half of them were sexually attracted in fantasy to individuals of the same natal sex. Yet, all girls and most of the boys identified as heterosexual. The difference between the reported sexual attractions and identities may be related to the timing of the ‘coming-out’. The literature shows that the average age of the first feel­ings of same-sex attraction is generally during puberty and before the age of 18 (e.g., Barber, 2000; Herek, Cogan, Gillis & Glunt, 1998; Rust, 1996). However, the moment at which men and women identify and come out as gay, lesbian, or bisexual generally lies above the age of 18, at the end of adolescence or in their early twenties (e.g., Barber, 2000; Herek, Cogan, Gillis & Glunt, 1998; Rust, 1996).

Steensma et al give us what we need to know, but they don’t connect the dots: these same-sex attracted young adolescent girls undergo “transition” before they have the opportunity to experience themselves as sexual beings in their healthy, original bodies.

Why are we robbing our kids of the right—the basic human right—to discover their sexuality without preemptive tampering by the medical and psychiatric profession?  “Transition” prevents them from learning whether they might be gay/lesbian, freezing them at an immature stage of development when the only possibility they see is that they are heterosexuals trapped in the wrong body.

Trans activists like to say that gender identity and sexual orientation are completely unrelated. But obviously, it just ain’t so. Study after study, anecdote after anecdote, media story after media story, tells us that most “trans men” start off as same-sex attracted adolescents. But no one outside the blogosphere—no one –is pointing out the obvious: that girls who would naturally mature into lesbian adults are having the process of realizing their sexual orientation short-circuited by medical transition.

Who will step forward to stop this? Who with power in our society—the Congress, the President, the publisher of the New York Times¸ the child and adolescent psychologists–will raise their voices? Where are the lesbian doctors, lawyers, heads of LGBT organizations? Which of you will name this preemptive conversion therapy for what it is?

And then I woke up: Guest post

This is Part II (Part I is here) of a guest post by thissoftspace, a woman in her late 30s who experienced gender dysphoria, began transition to FTM, but pulled back and now writes her own Tumblr and WordPress blogs celebrating her return to herself as female. As in Part I, her mother’s thoughts are also included in this piece. thissoftspace is available to respond personally to questions and discussion in the comments section below.

 As I read this second part,  I was struck by the extent to which her insight and overall mental maturity helped thissoftspace to desist from a trans identity:

 I am so grateful I have had the life experience with my mental highs and lows that I was able to recognize the patterns as soon as I did.

How much more difficult must it be for younger people to change their minds? They have so few prior life experiences to reflect upon; they lack the patience and foresight of a woman in her 30s,  who, even so, nearly transitioned herself. Her story has made me feel all the more strongly that we parents must fight for children to be allowed to reach adulthood before considering such monumental, life-changing decisions.

Part II: There and Back Again

by thissoftspace

While using the labels “agender,” “non-binary” or “genderqueer” made me feel better by being not-female, I soon realized those words were meaningless to the general public. In order to get the message across that I was not female, I had to bend my presentation further towards male – just like so many other “non-binary” young women I had seen online. Once I did so, everything seemed to slide neatly into a more traditional trans narrative. I clung to the gender-neutral labels a little longer, but it was clear my intentions were to escape female by transitioning to male. Why not just use male pronouns, a male name, to make the message loud and clear?

My mother’s words:

I truly wished to keep the matter personal and give it time. I wanted to see how things worked with her changing her name with a few friends who would understand, rather than be out in public with a male presentation. I did purchase her some new men’s clothing and spent many hours tailoring shirts so they fit properly. I felt this I could do, this was how I could help. I had trouble with the male pronouns, often saying “he/she” instead of just “he”. I tried to keep things as normal as possible. We spoke about giving space and trusting more, but there was a current of stress at the time.

Articles and pamphlets from PFLAG and GLAAD and the HRC insisted my new identity should be embraced and recognized. Bruce Jenner’s interview on broadcast television supported my “feeling” of being more male than female as perfectly valid. I watched videos and read blogs of various female-to-trans people and took in all their enthusiasm and encouragement, all their happiness and all the celebration surrounding their lives. PBS News Hour ran a special on transgender kids that was heartbreaking. Look at them! Don’t they deserve happiness? Don’t they deserve the freedom to be who they are? I shared some of these things with my mom. I told her I could be a man, a straight, normal man, dress the way I wanted, be the person I’ve always wanted to be. I could freely love women if I wanted to. I could be my brother’s cool younger brother instead of his weird little sister. I could finally just be myself. She couldn’t have tried harder to be patient and understanding.

My mom said, “As long as you don’t cut your body.” I didn’t understand why this body I so hated was so precious to her. I would lie awake at night thinking about physical transition. Despite looking in the bathroom mirror and telling myself I had a male body because I said I was male, I knew others wouldn’t see so clearly. For so many reasons, I wanted to fully transition. I wanted to get rid of the breasts and the organs I’d feared all my life. A third of my hypochondriac worries could be gone in a few operations. I wanted to use testosterone to shrink my thighs, to build my shoulders and arms. Big boned? No, I would be strong, as I had always been, but now it would be right. As a transgender man, everything that had always seemed wrong about me would finally be right.

My mother’s words:

I knew very little about transgender and seeing she had done research on the Internet, checking doctors and psychiatrists as well as interviews from those who had transitioned, I trusted her opinion. We also watched the Bruce Jenner interview and a few other shows about transgender issues. I became convinced this was the best for her. However, I believed firmly that the body should not be cut to conform, and I was not supportive about using hormones either. What would happen to her overall health? Even with the name change through the courts, I was concerned about the cost—let alone, her paying for medical changes.

I had travel plans coming up in several months, so I decided to work on transition without making any permanent changes until after my trip. This would give time to experiment and see if I was right or wrong about it all (and I am so thankful for this now.) I researched how to change my name, settling on a male one. I styled my hair to resemble those cool eccentric guys I’d always loved. For the first time since my early teens I let every hair on my body grow out, my big dark eyebrows, my legs, my armpits. I was thrilled at how many dark chin-hairs I had, that I had been plucking forever. One night I ended up staying up late looking at how to shape a goatee. What a difference that would make! I shaved my face because a “passing” guide said it would help me pass as male, with no “female peach fuzz” to be seen.

I bought a binder from a very friendly, helpful company run by “queer and trans people.” When I wore it in public, people called me “young man” – enough of a triumph to make me ignore the back pain it caused. I went to an air show and stood right up against the fence with the men with their cameras, asserting myself as having the right to be there because I was one of them, not some weird woman trying to worm her way in, as I had always felt before. It was so exciting to feel possibilities opening up before me like that. I spoke lower, spoke less. I pushed myself out physically. For some reason, I felt a little angry all the time.

Deep down, a part of me was grieving. A part of me felt I was betraying all I had ever really loved, all the wonderful lesbian characters I had written of and my faith in the invincibility of strong women. Deep down, I felt a part of me had given up, had surrendered. Maybe other women were invincible, but not me. I could only assure myself life would get better as a man; life could only get better when I wasn’t a woman at all.

In the midst of this, friends new and old supportively told me, “Whatever. We like you whatever.” I can’t express how much the word “whatever” stung. It sounds like such a sincere offer of unconditional love and support, but please understand: I did not want anyone to remain attached to any part of the person I had been. I had decided that person was a failure. Worthless. Something I hated deeply, something I was trying to escape. I didn’t want to hear “We like you whatever.” I wanted to hear “We love the new you!” I didn’t want unconditional acceptance of who I was. I wanted absolute celebration of what I was becoming. I wanted my new identity validated so badly it consumed my days and began affecting my health.

My mother’s words:

Try as she might, she never did look like a man, certainly not a man her age. She looked like a teenage boy, similar to her nephew, though when people called her “young man” I was supportive as it seemed to make her happy. I didn’t want people to be confused, so while in public, I had to be sure to support her and even say “my son.” I felt I was walking on eggshells, trying to give as much support and keep her as happy as possible because it was so stressful and she seemed so strained.

We no longer could talk openly and honestly without anger and emotion; I couldn’t say “You keep trying but you can’t totally look like a male. Why can’t you go back to being my daughter?” I did insist, however, that she be honest and present when friends visited – I would not let her hide in her room and become totally obsessed with this transition. I wanted her to know that even if she changed herself to a point, life would still be the same, with the same challenges and expectations. When people responded positively to her changes and new identity, I thought,wow, she really is accomplishing something, but I always woke up wondering what new thing would she be experimenting with today. I would go to bed wondering how everything would work out.

Looming before me was The Bathroom Issue. I was anxious about using a men’s bathroom, but increasingly afraid of being “caught” in the women’s bathroom. I had trouble sleeping, worrying how I would handle it all. My digestive system ran amok with the stress. I felt terrible, unfocused, distracted, unhappy. I played simple puzzle games for hours as my mind spun. How would I get the money for T and for surgeries? How would I bring this up to my doctor? Would T end up giving me cancer? Would I lose my hair? What would my brother think of me? Would I ever see my nephew and nieces again? How could I continue my work, so tied to my name and identity? How would any of this ever work out?

Time and time again I thought, stressed to my limit, “If it doesn’t work out, I may as well kill myself. There is nothing else. There is no alternative.” I felt trapped on a treadmill. Sometimes exhilarating – but I wondered how long I could run.

It happened that in the midst of this I volunteered to drive my mother and her friend to an opera three hours away. It was Mozart’s The Magic Flute. He had been one of my special cool guys growing up and I’d always wanted to see The Magic Flute, so I was happy to go along and do the driving. But the night before I found myself staring at the ceiling, wondering how I would use the bathroom. The venue, I knew, would be full of older conservative people. As this weird in-between thing, how could I use the bathroom? What would I look like to them? Could I ever just walk into a bathroom again? Would life ever be normal again? The ordeal before me – six months? a year? three years? five? – loomed in the darkness, full of impossible costs and fears.

In that frustrated and tearful moment, I wanted this transition to be over, but couldn’t see any possible end. I checked the time and the night had slipped away in sleepless worries. Feeling sick and so very tired I tossed and turned, desperate to get some sleep so I could drive safely, knowing I had six hours on the road ahead of me the next day. I would not be able to keep my eyes open. I could get us in a terrible accident.

Then it suddenly dawned on me: my quest for this new identity had become so overwhelming I was now putting other people’s lives in danger because of it. That thought struck me like an arrow. This was deeply unhealthy. This could not be right.

The push for validation and the self-absorbed mindset I had seen in some trans blogging and trans communities had always rubbed me the wrong way, but finally seeing it in myself was stunning and humiliating. This was not the kind of person I was, not the kind of person – male or female – I wanted to be. I wanted to be useful; I wanted to be happy. As I stepped back and looked at it objectively, not only was this fixation on transition potentially harmful to the people around me, it was also not helping me at all. It was obsessive, inescapable misery, as much as any bout of hypochondria or depressive cycle. Despite the flashes of hopeful possibility, at the end of the day it didn’t actually fix anything. It only made everything worse. If I had been self-conscious before, it was nothing compared to the constant struggle to assert myself as the opposite sex, both to others and to myself. And that constant self-involvement was destroying all the best parts of me.

I am so grateful I have had the life experience with my mental highs and lows that I was able to recognize the patterns as soon as I did. I had spent almost six months dedicated to this desperate hope that transition would solve all my problems – six months of trying to change everything from my name to my underwear – none of it easy, none of it comfortable. And then I woke up.

The next morning as I hurriedly ate breakfast, I told my mom to drop the male pronouns and just call me by my real name because there had to be another way. Somehow in that night of turmoil I had realized the transgender narrative would not solve my problems. It was just too difficult, too much, too illogical, too separated from material reality. I had no idea where to go from there, but I knew there had to be another way.

The opera was lovely, and though tiring, the drive turned out fine.

The next day I sat down at the computer and with great trepidation typed “transgender critical” in the search bar. I found Third Way Trans and my eyes were opened to some of the psychological issues behind gender confusion. I found 4th Wave Now and my eyes were opened to the societal issues, leading me to begin reading about radical feminism, which led me to deeper reading about lesbianism and the experiences of detransitioned women. Gleaning all of this information, so long unknown to me, was like waking up in a hospital after a horrible accident. Suddenly I was surrounded by voices that could explain how I had been hurt, why I had been hurt, and what was being done to repair the damage. These were no linguistic band-aids, no cosmetic cover-ups of old wounds. This was major surgery and strong medicine. It made me angry and it made me sad – there was so much about myself and the rest of the world I had to finally see and accept – but little by little, I began to heal.

My dis-identification from being female was healed by the knowledge that I was born female, down to my very chromosomes. No one – not even myself – can deny that natural fact or take away my right to be female. I was female when I was the kid with muddy knees, I was female when I was being mistaken for male, I was female when I was telling myself I had a male body. As a female human being, I can be useful and I can be happy without any confusion, without ever having to prove what I am. Those hated parts of my body? The bushy eyebrows, the fat thighs, the breadth of my shoulders and the sound of my voice: I learned that those, too, are all natural parts of the female human body. I am a perfectly good female human being. I can just be, residing in this body, and at last – at last – feel a real connection with other women, other female human beings, for the first time in my life.

My sense of shame and failure at being a woman was healed by the knowledge that the things I thought made a female a real woman – beauty standards, pornographic sexuality, submission to men – were not natural inclinations I was somehow missing, but rather forced upon all women by an oppressive society. Others have treated me the way they have only because I existed outside their frame of reference; I was something foreign to their idea of what a female human being should be. I can understand this myself, because it was my own limited ideas of what a woman should be that drove me to believe I was not one. Those views, however, only serve to reveal the narrowness of an individual perspective; they do nothing to actually invalidate who I am. The harsh judgment of “what a woman should be” is something I imagine all women, at least now and then, experience and endure in our society. Now I live with the constant hope to see all women free from those judgments, free to just be themselves, sweatshirts and jeans and all.

My rejection of my sexual orientation was finally healed by the knowledge passed down from mature lesbians – not lesbians depicted in the media or young women just beginning to experience their sexuality – but older lesbians embodying what a female-loving female actually is. All my life I have feared and repressed my attraction towards women because I had only ever learned what male attraction is, and as a lesbian, I wanted no part of it. The knowledge that lesbian attraction and sexuality exists distinct and separate from the male gaze – that lesbians are not like men – was revolutionary to me. At last I could open my heart, regardless of how I present myself or what clothes I wear. The only thing that has ever mattered was the sincere love I have always held for other female human beings.

My mother’s words:

What a relief when she said she would just be my daughter again, and when she shared with me the new information explaining how transition is not always the answer. When she spoke of what she had learned, I felt she was very sincere about it – there was no possibility left for her to change her mind. The information she brought me made so much more sense, I wondered why I hadn’t known about it before.

I still wonder why both sides of the transgender issue are not presented together. The material from trans-positive sources now sounds like propaganda in comparison. So much difficulty could be avoided if the right information were available to both young people and their parents.

 Our relationship is now better than ever. Going through the process over several months built a stronger trust and friendship, allowing us to be more honest about everything. I respect and love her as who she is, a gay woman with many talents and a wonderful human being. For the first time I believe she finally knows who she is, and has the confidence and independence to move forward in both her work and personal life. This has lifted a weight from my shoulders, as I had always worried about her, not knowing how to help. Now I know so much more about the issues and challenges she has faced and can even relate them to some of my own, so that we can properly support each other through them. Though she had to find all this out on her own, we really took the journey together and became better friends because of it. It was not easy, but thank heavens she discovered her true self.

Now, for the first time in my life, I feel like I have the right to exist just as I am. Yes, the words matter – embracing the words “female human being” and “lesbian” matter a great deal – but underneath those words is, at last, an understanding of the basic truths of human nature, that we are what we are and deserve to be loved and respected for that alone. It is only longstanding societal fears and ignorance that insist otherwise, and their effects are more subtly damaging to vulnerable individuals than we might often assume.

People tend to approach a person struggling with their gender identity with the words “I support you in whatever you need to do, even though I don’t understand,” as if gender confusion happens in a personal bubble. In the current cultural climate, it’s now seen as rude and harmful to even question a person who is considering transition – certainly no one ever questioned me. But I so wish they had. Nothing I experienced stemmed from some essential “feeling,” some innate discord between body and mind. All of it, as I’ve written about here, emerged from a lifetime of experiencing oppressive gender roles and confusing expectations, ignorance about what it meant to be a homosexual woman and both internal and external homophobia. It added up to the long-term reinforcement, in a very susceptible mind, of the idea that I was “wrong” in my body and my sex, and that led me to identify as transgender. Transition to male seemed to be the only fix for what I had deemed so unacceptable in a female. For the sake of so many others, I hope these root causes are further discussed and explored, so that transition is no longer viewed as the immediate answer to gender identity confusion. It is an act of compassion to ask “Why do you feel this way?” It is an act of compassion to ask, “Where do you hurt?” We may be surprised by how many of these pains we share.

For myself, I feel like I can finally start living as who and what I am, no longer obsessively worried about how I appear to others or what sort of strange being I might be. I am simply a female human being who loves other women. And it’s a consolation to know that the kid in her sweatshirt and muddy jeans was always okay just as she was. I just wish she had known all along.

To crush every doubt: Just pronouns and a name

This is a guest post by commenter thissoftspace, a woman who experienced gender dysphoria, began transition to FTM, but pulled back to embrace herself as female.

This account is a bit different from the previous two in my ongoing series of guest posts from women who’ve experienced dysphoria or dis-identification from female. Woven into the narrative are vignettes from thissofstspace‘s mother, who shares her own thoughts and feelings about her daughter’s journey.

Parents and their offspring who decide to “transition” are sometimes ripped away from each other in the process–whether the transitioner is a child or an adult with the right to make her own medical decisions. Some online trans activists even encourage young, questioning people to forsake their “transphobic” families and seek community only with strangers on Internet forums. This account from thissoftspace and her mother is a testament to the bond that endures between us parents and our kids—no matter what decisions are made, or how well we understand each other at a given time.

I’ll be publishing her piece in two parts. Here, in Part I, thissoftspace takes us through her “gender nonconforming” childhood and on to identifying as an “asexual agender aromantic.” Part II will chronicle her decision to transition and begin testosterone–until an epiphany one night leads her to return to her original female self.

thissoftspace will be available to respond personally to questions and discussion in the comments section below.

Please also visit her on WordPress and Tumblr, both blogs entitled “Nurturing a Healthier Habitat for Female Human Beings.” And if you know any young women who struggle to identify as female, send them here for a boost of self love.

Part I: There and Back Again

by thissoftspace

I can only tell the story as I experienced it. I can only tell how I grew up, how I came to view myself through the lens of others, how that led me to identify as transgender, and how I found my way back to myself. I’ve been living with these issues for nearly four decades, though the height of my gender identity crisis happened within the past two years. My mother, with whom I share a home and a close friendship, has been along for the journey, and I’ll be including some of her thoughts.

There is no definitive path for any person who identifies as transgender for any length of time – there are too many variables involved – but I hope this account gives some perspective on the internal and external forces involved, what I was going through while I was identifying as trans, and the hope there is to find another way.

My mother’s words:

I did not wish to see my daughter change into a man. She was my child, a young lady whom I admired. Why did she have to be a man? Yet I did not wish to lose her. I was afraid of her emotions, worried about her stability as a person. I wanted her happy and to be able to be a person who could function in the world.

It began with my name.

My first and middle names are both old, traditional feminine names. Looked at objectively, they really are quite lovely together. My first name happens to be similar to that of an international personality, and when I was very young, I was often (and still am) called by her nickname. The problem was, when I looked at her on television, I saw the pinnacle of what a woman should be. She was blonde and blue-eyed, gentle, poised, elegant, gracious, always dressed to a T. Flawless. Beautiful. Every time I was called by her name I felt an uncomfortable dissonance. I was nothing like her. Why did people call me by her name?

I was a kid in jeans and a sweatshirt with an oft-uncombed pageboy haircut, knee-deep in the pond after polliwogs. I was hollering as I set off fireworks with my older brother and I was galloping around the fields like a horse. I was climbing trees, pulling night crawlers out of the soil on damp summer nights, playing with Erector Sets, Legos, Transformers, model airplanes. Growing up, I never imagined any difference between my brother and myself. I have no memory of being held back from any activity because I was a girl, though I’m sure there were occasions. If there was a reason he played football and I didn’t, I never thought about it. When he removed himself as my playmate in his teens I felt an immense loss, and never could fathom why he had left me.

I didn’t think much about being a boy or a girl. I was what I was. My concept of what it meant to be female was fuzzy and confused from a young age, my default always leaning towards male. The only stuffed animal in my massive pile of furry friends that I called “she” was a dog that had puppies zipped into her tummy. Back then I couldn’t yet argue with biology. All of my other stuffed animals were male, to the point of cutting the “feminine” eyelashes off a toucan with scissors.

Away from home, I crashed into femininity in church and at school. I hated the tights and the dresses and the shoes I had to wear for church, always so itchy and restrictive and uncomfortable – and I was so terrified of spilling my Sunday School juice on them. On my first day of kindergarten, my grandmother had to drag me out from under her kitchen table and carry me onto the bus.

I was lost at school from the beginning. I had no idea how to relate to the other girls, watching them skeptically in their dresses and skirts with little colorful clips in their long hair, playing clapping rhyming games I’d never heard. I felt like a visitor from another planet and just kept trying to do my usual things. I got in trouble for taking a group of kids back to the stream that ran behind the playground and for keeping a grasshopper in my desk. Though I tried, I never seemed to have more than one real friend at a time. I remember going to a girl’s birthday party and being so overwhelmed and feeling so out of place I had My Very First Panic Attack and threw up. Social anxiety starts young.

The sense of otherness slipped into more than just social roles. When we would line up to be weighed for our yearly physicals, I always seemed bigger and heavier than the girls around me, though I was fit. I remember turning to the nurse, feeling self-conscious, and saying “I have big bones.” My body wasn’t even like their bodies. They were so small and delicate. I was… something else, broad-shouldered with big hands and big feet. I came in for picture day in 4th grade after being out sick, wearing jeans and a sweatshirt. The teacher asked me, “Are you sure you don’t want to have it done on the rain date?” I said no, I was fine as I was. In the picture, I look like one of the boys. It’s one of my favorite pictures from elementary school. I was comfortable, a big smile on my face. I was me.


My mother’s words:

My daughter was a bright-eyed, inquisitive, joyous little girl. I was confused as to why she didn’t like dolls, as I had loved them when I was a child. However, she did have many other interests and toys, including many beloved stuffed animals. When she began coming home from school early due to stomach pains, and when she was sick at a little girl’s birthday party, I did have my concerns. Her first grade teacher debated whether she should be placed in the gifted program due to her intelligence and creativity, or tested for learning disabilities due to her distraction and lack of involvement at school. I worried about her dislike of school, as I had always loved school myself, but she always succeeded in her classes. She remained happy on her own and when playing with her brother or a few special friends.

Then one night while lying in bed I felt something funny in my chest – a little bump right under my nipple. Nancy Reagan had been on TV talking about breast cancer, and I was filled with fear. Absolute terror. Something was very wrong with me. My mom took me to see the school nurse, who examined me and said it was perfectly normal. I was just developing, going through puberty. I was becoming a woman. I thought of Nancy Reagan and breast cancer and did not want to become that. I was terrified.

I never have lost the sense of something being physically wrong with me. Hypochondria has been with me for as long as I can remember. Worries about breast cancer still float through my mind almost every day.

With puberty came the further separation between girls and boys, and consequently between the girls and me. Girls spoke of liking boys and I didn’t understand what they were talking about. In the girl’s lavatory one day while a group of us were gossiping, my best friend at the time said to me, “What, are you gay?” No no, I quickly retorted. No, I just didn’t like that guy you were talking about.

But… I liked Mozart. I liked Edward Scissorhands. I liked the Phantom of the Opera. As my friends found their feminine identities and began wearing skirts and makeup and dating boys, I came to identify with a collection of eccentric male characters, so often misfits and underdogs who loved the girl but were denied her affections. I could relate to them. When I began writing stories, the first-person voice was of a 14-year-old boy. His presence as I grew older served a dual purpose: through him I could have some sense of freely expressing myself, and due to my preoccupation with this male character, no one would assume I was gay.

Of course I didn’t realize any of this at the time, all of these subtle coping mechanisms. Being a lesbian wasn’t an option for me. I had no reference for it; I didn’t know of any lesbians in my community. Sometimes kids would snicker and point at a gym teacher, but no one mentioned homosexuality openly. The homogeneity of the surrounding population was overwhelmingly white, straight, middle-class, and religious – nothing else was spoken of in anything but hushed whispers. I knew nothing other.

I watched Ellen Degeneres come out on her sitcom and lose her show. For some reason it made me incredibly angry, but I didn’t know why. I listened to Melissa Etheridge and thought she was awesome, but wouldn’t think about how she was singing the songs I loved to women. I got my hands on a copy of Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle when my brother’s girlfriend was reading it for a college class. I read it in a few days, enthralled. But I never could make the leap to applying any of it to me.


My mother’s words:

Having been a 6th grade teacher, I had often picked up on little girls beginning to like little boys and vice versa. My daughter did not seem interested at all. When boys would express an interest, I would wonder, “He’s such a nice boy, why doesn’t she like him?” I wondered if she did not know what getting kissed, dating, etc. was all about. I worried about her appearance, looking square and boxy in large men’s shirts, and tried to encourage her to choose dressier clothes she liked and felt comfortable in. She had to wear dresses or skirts for band and orchestra concerts, and I thought she looked beautiful, but she clearly preferred the pantsuit we bought for her senior picture. In high school she had a number of friends from the marching band and gifted program, and I thought these were the intelligent, creative people she needed for her friends, which provided a supportive group for her. When others wondered why she was not dating, I spoke honestly that she was more involved with her interests and hobbies – writing, drawing, and art – than boys, and that was fine with me as long as she was happy. I was concerned, however, if she would be able to handle life away from home, as she spent so much time alone with her creative pursuits.

At college, I avoided male attention like the plague, which wasn’t difficult since my “masculine” dress and lack of interest served as a kind of ward against their gaze, as it probably had been – possibly intentionally – for a long time. I couldn’t help but be envious of all the other girls, though, and how effortlessly groups of students, male and female, came together so naturally. There were girls I desperately wanted to get to know but didn’t dare approach; after all, I didn’t want to be misconstrued as gay. My best friend at the time seemed to assimilate without much difficulty, and gradually abandoned our regular hangouts to go on dates with men and out for drinks with women with whom she related better. We eventually fell out; she would be the last close friend I would have for a long time.

I dropped out of college after two years, never fitting in, never getting a foothold on figuring out what I wanted to pursue. I had become painfully self-conscious about how I looked and presented myself. I dressed “too masculine” in flannels and jeans, yet I loathed my wide hips and big thighs. I began a continuous cycle of exercising and dieting trying to get rid of the natural fat on my legs, even though I was never overweight according to the scale. I felt caught in a place between what looked like “male” and what was supposed to be “female.” I plucked my naturally full, dark eyebrows almost out of existence, because looking “male” was so wrong though I disliked looking “female” as well. Even my voice seemed too low for a woman’s, but I hated the thought I might sound like a man.

Anxiety followed hypochondria followed panic attacks followed depression. I got a diagnosis of panic disorder and some pills but no one ever offered therapy. I wonder now if that wasn’t a blessing, if it wouldn’t have put me on the path to identifying as trans at a much sooner and more vulnerable time. Instead of therapy, I ended up on the Internet.

Thank goodness for the Internet in so many ways, because it finally gave me a community outside of the conservative pocket in which I lived. I found others who loved writing, drawing, building things, creativity, video games. I found stories that introduced me to women who loved women in a way I could finally grasp, and at last – at 30! – I was able to accept and explore the idea for myself. Coming out as gay was like a new life blossoming. Though I still had to deal with the conservatism of my family and surrounding environment, I could at least drop the pretense of being straight and explore parts of myself I’d repressed for a very long time. My mother was supportive. I was open with my new friends. I wrote stories about lesbian characters and drew their portraits and it was wonderful.

My mother’s words:

When my daughter told me she was gay, I was relieved and happy, as before that time she had often seemed angry and withdrawn. Once she opened up about it I knew I could support her in whatever she was working through, and I let her know I would welcome any female partner she brought into our lives and our home. Of course, I had some fears and preferred to keep quiet about the subject. I did not want anyone to attack our way of life, including her brother due to his religious beliefs. I have always liked and admired the gay people I have met in my life, but I have also been aware of how people have attacked them due to their difference. I did not want to see her hurt in any way. These were my worries as her parent, and I understand now how my concerns might have been frightening or stifling to her at the time.

Yet I could not find a foothold in the gay community, a role model or identity to connect with. I looked online, joined this forum and that, talked to people, read articles. I was turned off first by the overt sexuality I saw everywhere, the importance placed on physical attractiveness, just like the mainstream media. But worse, I could not find myself among the plethora of gay faces. The butch/femme divide looked too much like straight gender roles to me. I was not a lesbian in makeup and a dress, after all; neither was I the picture of butchness with a buzzcut and men’s button-down shirts. Frightened by those apparent “gender roles” looming in front of me, I shrank away from a lesbian identity. There was too much I couldn’t come to terms with, not only in the homophobia in the world around me, but also in the sense that I wasn’t butch enough or femme enough – not man enough or woman enough (and definitely not “sexy” enough) in my mind. It was the same struggle I’d always had, and in retrospect a terrible misunderstanding of what it means to be a lesbian.

Then, a few years ago, I got the flu. While I was lying on the couch recovering, I was watching one of my favorite TV shows, featuring one of those slightly eccentric men I had always idolized. Maybe it was the haze of the flu, being tired, being stressed, being unhappy, but I looked at him and I thought, “Maybe I should try to be him. Maybe that’s the answer. Maybe I should grow my hair out and wear paisley shirts and just be him, and maybe then everything would get better.” It was that simple, that sincere. I had run out of solutions to try to fix my conundrum of not fitting in until this one last possibility occurred to me: Maybe I was transgender. Maybe I never should have been a woman at all. Maybe I was supposed to be a man.

I dipped my toes in a little at a time, reading, watching, learning from the Internet. I was both filled with hope and terrified. I made no big moves. I got together with some of my online friends but told them nothing of what was lurking in the back of my mind. But in the back of my mind, I felt so very different from them, more than ever before. Because now it was a big deal. Now they were “cis,” and I was “trans.” Now I was on a journey none of them could understand. It was especially alienating being with my female friends, some of the best friends I have ever had. It was heartbreaking to sit beside them and think, “You don’t know it yet, but I’m really nothing like you.” I felt sure all of my friendships were soon to come to an end.

So I withdrew to explore the idea of being transgender and figure out how to rebuild myself from scratch. It was a good time for it; my previous online community had dissolved and my work was in flux, leaving me socially isolated much of the time. Exploring all these little things that made me different filled the gaps. I ended up on the AVEN forum – the Asexual Visibility and Education Network community – because I had never had an intimate relationship. That’s where I was introduced to the plethora of labels. Within a week I had discovered I was an agender aromantic asexual. There were so many like me! It was wonderful. A vast community of people coming together to celebrate labels without ever really wondering why they needed them.

All I can say about this crucial turn is this: When I felt like I could no longer be identified by others – whether due to social isolation, mental illness, trauma, sexual orientation, lack of gender role conformation or a combination of all these things – I became desperate for some way to identify, to validate my unique existence. I felt unidentifiable, and the current “queer theory” offered identification and validation. There are so many labels to choose from. From the moment I picked up “agender” I severed myself from identifying as female, and all of the confusion and embarrassment that came with being female began to evaporate. It was easy then to try on new pronouns and names; with the backing of so many others who also identified as agender, I no longer felt afraid to try it myself. Remarkably, when I announced to my mother and my friends I needed to be called by another name and gender-neutral pronouns, they were more supportive than I ever imagined.

My mother’s words:

When she came to me with the different name and pronouns, I was skeptical, but I also wondered if this was the final answer. Had she had finally worked out what had been holding her back for so long? The names she experimented with were never fully male names, and with the gender-neutral terms and her physical body, I was relieved she was keeping a little part of her femaleness and not going 100% male. I could support the name, the clothes, the haircut, as she never did seem to be trying to be just like a man, though I felt I had to handle all of this with kid gloves. All the information she gave me was so positive, but her enthusiasm did not seem entirely natural to me, and I wondered what exactly she was doing. As her mother, it did not seem quite right, but what did I know?

It seems like such a small thing, just a handful of words, just pronouns and a name. But those words, when spoken by others, validate every belief and crush every doubt. Those words were a statement of who I wanted to be. And when you have never been able to be yourself, finally having an identity recognized by others is the most precious thing.

But everything after that becomes an effort to support and maintain that identity.


(continued in Part II)


Internalized homophobia & teen dysphoria: More reader comments

This week, I’ve been featuring comments submitted to this blog. Today, there are two selections: a commenter asking what the solution is (if not transition) for a female who is sexually attracted to other females, but cannot tolerate the idea of being a woman herself; and a 15-year-old who identifies as trans male. This teen feels angered by what I and others write here, believing we don’t understand.

First, from Dagis:

What if the sexual preference for a natal female is for a female, but only if the natal female were male? That is, what if the natal female does not self-identify as lesbian, could not conceive of being a female having an intimate sexual relationship with a female, but desires an intimate sexual relationship with a female as a male? I’ve yet to see this addressed by critics of “transition,” and yet I have seen this expressed by those considering FtM transition. Perhaps this is generally dismissed as “oh this person is just a ‘closet lesbian/gay,’ and therefore it’s not actually examined. But if it is a real issue for someone who identifies in anyway as having difficulty with their birth assigned sex, and such a person does indeed express desire for intimate sexual relationship (not homosexual), then what is a compassionate and logically sound response to such a person?

“I am attracted to women but I’m actually not a lesbian, I’m a straight man.” This assertion is a key part of nearly every transition account I’ve seen–including from women like Aydian Dowling, who lived happily as a lesbian before deciding she was a man.  (I always wonder why the prior lesbian life is presented as somehow less real than the subsequent life as a heterosexual man).

Trans-identified natal females stringently deny that their desire to convert to heterosexual males is in the least motivated by internalized homophobia.  But why else, then, would a woman be unable to “conceive of being a female having an intimate sexual relationship with a female”?

The accounts of female-to-male transitioners often revolve around a feeling of disgust for one’s own female body.  Transition vloggers are careful not to use anatomically accurate words that might “trigger” their viewers; euphemisms like “down there” and “junk” are substituted for the rejected body parts.  But clearly, for these women who desire to be heterosexual men, it’s not a generalized revulsion for female bodies;  they want to be intimate with other women.  Yet dis-identifying with and speaking disparagingly about one’s own female body, and taking comfort in the thought that they can be transformed, via hormones and surgery, into straight men–how is that not, at base,  a form of internalized homophobia?

As I’ve said many times, I have no difficulty acknowledging that some trans-identified people do feel intense dysphoria or dissociation from their bodies. That is an experience, and as such, it is subjectively real.  What right would I have to deny the feelings and thoughts of another person?

So as Dagis asks, what’s the compassionate and “logically sound” response (apart from simply agreeing that transition is the answer) to same-sex attracted women who are adamant that they cannot stand the thought of being sexually involved with someone of their own sex? I hate to say it, but I suspect most of them are just going to cover their ears if all they hear is feminist analysis.

Next, there is this comment from Kenneth, a 15-year-old who identifies as trans male.

This blog absolutely has pissed me off. To the people who have been saying that this whole Transgender thing is wrong and that people who identify as trans are only going through a phase, you have no idea about it. There are are thirty year olds who have identified as trans since they were old enough to understand that the gender of the their body did not match the one inside their head. I have identified myself as male before I barely knew what Internet was, I’d like to see you calling me ‘brainwashed’ by the internet. But at the age of twelve I was mildly obsessed over YouTube, I enjoyed watching YouTubers such as Smosh and Annoying Orange and etc. but I soon found a YouTuber that goes by the name of Alex Bertie, who has been identifying as male since he was fourteen; as of now he is 21 and personally goes and makes his appointments for his gender needs and hasn’t once had any doubts his doings.

I’m currently fifteen, I do identify as male regardless of what my body is. Could I possibly change my mind in a couple years or even months? Possibly, I’m not going to say it’s impossible but you sure as hell aren’t going to find me doing it right now; wearing girls clothes or mildly looking like a girl? No, that sounds like absolute hell and feel sorry for the children who have to go through that now. Normally children go back to their birth gender because society says that what they’re doing is wrong, some children even commit suicide because of this horrible issue. It isn’t wrong. I’d like to see your reaction if you were somehow ‘magically’ put into a male/female body but were born male/female. Would you like that? Would you try your hardest to become the gender you know yourself as?

Children also do not wish to tell their parent they are trans because the fact they feel like they’re going to be rejected. Many children of the LGBT+ community are thrown into the streets or are still allowed at home but are abused because of this ‘issue’.

I don’t doubt that Kenneth decided s/he was stereotypically male as a child, before being exposed to the Internet–although Kenneth’s subsequent experiences watching other trans-identified  people (like Alex, one of the many “YouTube famous” transitioners) had an impact in cementing that identity, no doubt.

But notice what Kenneth defines as being female: to “wear girls’ clothes or mildly look like a girl.” Because what is it to be a 15-year-old girl, apart  from clothes and looks and–what? Which video games you prefer? What does “girl” even mean to a teen like Kenneth?

I have never once heard an adult trans-identified person actually answer the question: What is a man? What is a woman?  apart from saying “it’s whatever I feel I am.” And I sure don’t expect a teen trans-identified person to be able to respond with any more clarity. But Kenneth: Are your feelings of being the opposite sex rooted in your preferences for the activities and appearances of the boys you’ve been around? What exactly is wrong with being a “gender nonconforming” girl?

Maybe this is what’s wrong: Kenneth brings up being rejected by parents. There is no doubt that “gender nonconforming” kids are more at risk for self harm, and that some do actually kill themselves due to, as Kenneth rightly calls it, this “horrible issue.” One of the risk factors for poor self esteem in LGBT teens is lack of family support, but how much of that is down to the pressure to conform to rigid gender stereotypes and norms?

Kenneth, parents like me aren’t rejecting our kids. We want to support them in expanding what it means to be a girl (or boy).  In fact, we actually see medical transition as another, potentially very serious form of self harm–even self hate.  And transition does not appear to be a magic long-term solution for many young people; witness the rash of teen suicides in 2015, several of whom were fully supported in their transition by family, teachers, and friends.

Kenneth presents this challenge:

I’d like to see your reaction if you were somehow ‘magically’ put into a male/female body but were born male/female. Would you like that? Would you try your hardest to become the gender you know yourself as?

What Kenneth is saying is: I hate this body. I want out of it. If you hated your body as much as I hate mine, wouldn’t you do everything in your power to escape its prison?

Kenneth, I don’t know what it’s like to feel extreme dysphoria; to want to drastically alter my body, even if it means a lifetime of surgeries and doctor’s appointments. I have fantasized, on more than one occasion, about being a man–down to every anatomical detail. I can even say that I’ve mightily wished I were a man at certain times in my life. But it has not caused me the misery you are talking about here.  There are quite a few women who have been there, though, like this one. And there are several more in my blogroll (linked on the right side of the page) who have been down the same path you’re on–but returned home to realizing themselves as female.

I don’t doubt your pain, and your determination to do something to relieve that pain. Nor do I doubt that you sincerely believe your mind knows better than your body;  that you think your body is alien and wrong.

But I don’t believe the intense desire to be something you are not means you are actually male.

I wish there were more therapists and caring adults who could support  teens in exploring options apart from “transgender.” Breaking out of gender stereotypes is a good thing, a brave thing for a teen to do.  But where are the non-trans-identified role models for these young people? Where are the YouTube stars who have chosen not to transition? Wouldn’t it be great to see a series of vlogs that aren’t “one year on “T,” but “one year in my journey to reclaim myself as a strong and independent girl?”


Nothing wrong with your body that the truth can’t cure: Guest post

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

by fightingunreality

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.

Parental homophobia is never examined in triumphant transition stories

Someone recently took me to task for daring to criticize PFLAG for abandoning parents of young lesbians, and for daring to suggest that parental or clinician homophobia might play a role in the increasing number of kids and teens who are medically “transitioning.” This first-person piece in the Advocate, written by the mother of a young lesbian who decided to “transition,” is a good case in point. Mom wonders “what she did wrong” to make her child turn out gay. She feels intense shame at even the word “lesbian.”  But when her daughter decides she is actually a guy, not gay, mom’s main worry is that her straight son will have a hard time finding someone to partner with.

The Advocate, first published in 1967, was originally the flagship publication for the gay and lesbian community. Back in the day, a mother admitting openly to homophobic feelings in the pages of this journal might have been challenged. Perhaps we would have seen her coming to terms with those feelings, before overcoming them and embracing her daughter’s lesbianism. It’s unlikely that the Advocate of the 1960s or 1970s would have published an Op-Ed celebrating a lesbian turning into a straight man.

What about the fact that mom only turned to PFLAG after the child came out as trans; could her lack of support for her daughter’s lesbianism have had any impact at all on her child’s desire to become male?

But this is 2015, not the dawn of the gay/lesbian liberation movement. Transition stories–particularly of young people–are gobbled up like candy. The reporters at the Advocate obviously didn’t think the mom’s discomfort with lesbianism was worth looking into. In fact, I haven’t seen a single journalist in any media outlet raise the question of why, perhaps,  this or that lesbian in the latest trans confessional story couldn’t just stay a lesbian and skip the hormones and double mastectomies.

While this particular piece is an Op-Ed and not a news story, the unfortunate thing is that celebratory feature and news stories about lesbians “transitioning” to male are no different, and no more balanced, than first-person accounts like this one.


when my daughter came out as a lesbian, that same voice echoed in my head, reminding me of the honor of our family name.  This elder had long ago passed away, but his words lived on.

For months, that voice drove me into the closet. I couldn’t say the word “lesbian”; in fact, it made me cringe. Publicly I walked around feeling dishonest, carrying a secret I wasn’t ready to share, and privately I cried as I searched to learn what I had done wrong to cause my child to be gay. I was lost, I was alone, I had no idea how to support my child, and so I quietly criticized myself for my failure as a mother; I was ashamed.

When my daughter revealed to me that she wasn’t a lesbian but was actually a transgender male, even more fear and sadness entered my life, mostly for my new son’s happiness and well-being: How would my new son find someone to love him and a society to accept him?

I turned to PFLAG, a national organization that brings support, education, and advocacy opportunities to parents, family members, and friends of people who are LGBTQ. PFLAG helped me tremendously as I looked for information, worked to raise my awareness, and discovered new ways to support my child.”