Sam (not her real name), 22, identified as trans between the ages of 16-19. A relieved desister, she enjoys tidying, writing, and watching the weather. She lives in the United Kingdom. Sam is available to interact in the comments section of her article.
Sam joins several other desisters on 4thWaveNow who, along with their parents, have shared their experiences of rapid onset of gender dysphoria (ROGD) in adolescence.
I was not a trans child. I was a gender-conforming little girl, as far as children are ever completely gender-conforming. I liked pretty clothes but I also jumped in the occasional mud-pit. I didn’t play with Lego very much, because I wasn’t particularly good at it, but who cares? Not I. I felt no discomfort with being a girl. I felt little discomfort with anything, really; I was a bossy, blunt, stubborn little girl with very important opinions about everything.
I was not overjoyed about puberty. I don’t think I’m alone in that! Bras–miserably restrictive. Periods–horrible. Men followed me home from school even when I was twelve and thirteen; I in my uniform was not a very pretty child, but that didn’t seem to be the point. I didn’t like high school because I didn’t understand how I was supposed to act. Being overtly smart, because I was, made people dislike me, so I tried being stupider, but even then, I was still doing it all wrong. I thought I wasn’t on the same wavelength as everyone else, which, of course, is what loads of people feel like. But I didn’t know that. My relationship with my parents wasn’t perfect, but it was good, and we all got on.
When I was in my teens, I got into a disaster of a relationship with a girl. I was no longer in control of myself, of my body, of when I slept and when I ate and where I could be when. Things got very difficult. As the situation became increasingly unhealthy, over a very short space of time I became deeply dysphoric. Suddenly I loathed my female body and its nauseating shapes and its catastrophic frailties with a vehemence I had never known before. I stood in the bathroom and knew I needed to wash but I couldn’t take off my shirt, I couldn’t, because of what was underneath it, so I went out foul. I lost a lot of weight–partly from stress and partly to prove I could still control one aspect of my body. The new flatness of my chest only relieved me, it felt good like nothing else in my life felt good. As my legs got scrawny and the line of my figure straighter I felt only relief. I dressed only in masculine clothing, chopped my hair very short, felt like it made me tough, mean, safe. I still remember the exact moment a man said, “Excuse me, mate” to me as he passed me. It felt so much better than being hit on, even if nothing felt very good anymore.
God, everything hurt. I was desperate, unspeakably desperate to be in control of my own body, in the middle of a situation in which I wasn’t. I wanted to be strong, but I wanted even more to disappear. I wanted everyone in the world to go away. If my body was different, I knew I would have power, to walk away, to STOP IT.
I knew a little about what this was that I was feeling, I’d looked it up online –oh, I’m trans. I tried to tell my girlfriend that I was trans, that I wasn’t a girl. She carried on as if I had said nothing, wouldn’t humour me by using my new name. I was stung, confused. A friend gave me a binder. I got thinner. I was “he”, or maybe “they”, yes, that was nice, like a cool drink of water; just anyone not called “she”. The “she” I was walking around in felt disgusting to me. “She” was all wrong. Skinny male me, pleasantly mistaken for a boy, felt like a port in the storm, if still not enough. I wanted control, control, of my body, of my life, but not to be me as I had been, because whoever that was far away, getting further away all the time, waiting for all of this to be over. I wanted like hell to be everything I wasn’t, and I didn’t know that other people felt that way too, not just transgender, but apocalyptic, so I was all alone.
The relationship ended. I was in a bad way. I’d made a Tumblr blog, looking, really, for a space that I could have to myself to vent, and I found myself on it a lot more. There is good stuff on that website. But the nasty stuff is so easy to find and so hard to wriggle free of if you’re like I was: lonely, miserable, hollow, and utterly lost, uneasy about everything, because now that she was gone I wasn’t quite so sure about being a boy, but I knew very definitely I couldn’t be a girl. Everything was still all wrong.
It’s difficult to explain what the “nasty stuff” is if you haven’t spent time on there yourself, exactly how pervasive and focused the brainwashing is, how perverse and suffocating and addictive it can be. The convoluted and illogical discourse, the constant shifting of goalposts so you are always on your toes to know what can I say? What am I allowed to think? What does this word mean today? So many lies were told to me about gender, sex, oppression, people, love, health, and happiness. I didn’t get better, and neither did anyone else I spoke to, but we were assured that this way–with our made-up pronouns and our made-up genders and our self-diagnosed illnesses–was the right way. It was a real crabs-in-a-bucket mentality, where any criticism, even of downright abusive behaviour, was transphobic and/or ableist and/or racist. To suggest improving oneself, sorting out your life, was cruelty of the highest order; we were perfect as we were, they cooed, and anyone saying otherwise hated us and everyone like us. Narcissism ruled supreme.
We copied the writing style everyone else used, and we copied what they said too. They said and then we said we were beautiful. They and then we said we were against the world, the cis world, the hateful world, the world that wasn’t ideologically pure like we were ideologically pure. Nobody suffered like us. We were martyrs, floating high above reproach and deserving, more than anyone, of every good thing in the world: comfort, other people’s money. We deserved to have every rule bent for us, because we were right and they were wrong.
I could go on, describing every argument they used to justify this attitude, but I doubt they’d work on you. A lot of us were young teens, vulnerable in some way, whether abused or ostracised from society or just weak-willed. They gave us a new self, and all the power in the world. We thought so ruthlessly, that people against us didn’t deserve to live, reasoned it out in our mad non-reason –horrible, horrible, icy, inhumanly mechanical thinking that I have never encountered anywhere else since. We didn’t think about what we said, we just repeated what we knew we were supposed to say, and really, truly thought we were expressing our own thoughts.
They told us that we could choose a gender, any gender, out of countless, that we could make up our own and they would be taken seriously; they were, but only ever by others on there. Words on Tumblr ceased to mean the same as in the real world. Words were made up. They said if we wanted to wear make-up, or pink, or feminine clothes, we had to have a label for that, and if we wanted to have short hair, and wear masculine clothes, we had to have a label for that too.
I am not even touching the language around sexual orientation, because that is a whole other article. If we liked to switch how we “presented”, we would have a label to describe that we switched, and we could also change our labels and our pronouns day-to-day to describe how we felt (FELT! That is the crux of all of this nonsense) each day. It is so, so exhausting to be constantly examining every desire, thought, inclination of your shifting, constantly changing adolescent self, trying to find a word to fit, only to question yourself again the next week, or day, or hour. We adjusted our entire sense of self once, again, again, again. Every time, distancing ourselves a bit more from the person we used to be, that we couldn’t bear to be anymore. (I think we knew the old us would be ashamed, so we hid our faces from them.)
The time I wasted! Years on this! The energy! They say “agender” means I don’t have a gender. Do I feel like that? How do I know? How can you “feel” that? They said this was freeing for us, to finally know what to call ourselves, but the boxes they said we had to choose from were so tiny we couldn’t fit, unless we had a hundred, and even then we didn’t feel satisfied. We were forcing ourselves apart into splinters until we weren’t people any more, just words, and words that didn’t mean anything.
Why on earth weren’t we happy? We were children who knew so little about the world, and we believed everything everyone on Tumblr said. They–and then we–all spoke with such perfect arrogance, like we knew everything. We knew we did. There was also an awareness we had–although never, ever voiced, even to ourselves –that if we were just a white, normal, “cis” kid, we couldn’t be part of this club. We were part of it because we were special, and we were special because we were part of the club.
I questioned nothing. I didn’t have one original thought. And I didn’t really feel a thing.
I never looked at myself and thought: girl. That wasn’t right, and what’s more, it was vile. I was something else. I knew it.
Well: my parents knew I was sad. All that I told you about above didn’t fulfil me, although I knew it had to, because I had nothing else. My misery was obvious. One day, I stopped being able to smile. I was so emotionally numb, and that frightened me. I just couldn’t make my face smile. As I spiralled deeper into the trans-cult, my parents & I had arguments over everything. I was snappy, I was mean, I was acting recklessly, I was telling them off for using language that the trans-cult said was bad, I was ignoring all of their eminently sensible and kind advice. I tried to tell them I wasn’t a girl, to use different pronouns when they referred to me.
While they weren’t angry, just bemused, and while they really did try, I never felt my parents’ efforts were good enough. It was horribly unfair of me to treat them this way when I myself was always unsure. Even when someone in the real world “validated” me, it didn’t feel as nice as it was supposed to. Why not? I didn’t know. Were they lying? Did they really get it? Why didn’t I feel happy for more than a few minutes, did it mean I was using the wrong words? I crawled back onto my online spaces for further fruitless introspection. Over time, I lost contact with virtually all my old real-life friends – I was no longer invited to anything. I must have been annoying as all hell.
One tiny event in particular– my poor parents, poor me, poor all of us– sticks in my head and makes me feel sick whenever I think of it:
I was in the car. They were driving me to a college lesson because I hadn’t got up in time, because I wasn’t sleeping. I hadn’t washed. Before I got out of the car, my mother gave me a five-pound note.
“It’s the “cheering-up Sam” fund,” she said.
I suppose it sounds silly. But it burns. I’m looking down at that five-pound-note in my hand, and it’s breaking my heart. They knew I was so sad, but what could they do? They loved me so much, but what could they do? What were they supposed to do? How could they possibly help me? I couldn’t hold a civil conversation with them. I was mad, wildly irrational. I knew I was in the wrong but my pride was searing me full of holes. I lost my temper when the conversation became stressful, I walked out of the house and wandered around, alone, sick to my stomach with anger.
I became convinced that T was what I needed. I felt sick at the thought sometimes, but other times I would feel giddily sure, so eventually I summoned up the courage and called a clinic to make an appointment to start testosterone. But before the clinic called me back, something strange happened.
My dysphoria went away. It just went! Why or where it went I can’t say. I was 19 by this time, still clinging to my “trans identity”, insistent I wasn’t “cis”, but the feeling of wrongness about the sex of my body was gone and has stayed gone since. I didn’t love my body in the slightest, but I no longer hated it and think it completely, fundamentally wrong like I had before. I struggled with my weight for a long time then and after, but I began to realise I was female.
My close brush with acquiring testosterone shook me back into my senses somewhat. I was conscious as I came back into my body that I had almost made a huge mistake. The fear of what could have been stayed with me, that as my dysphoria passed I might have been trapped in a body more foreign to me than the original, a body like a boy that my brain no longer actually needed. The irreversible changes that would have occurred weighed on my mind: the voice no longer mine, the man-face, the dark, thick hair. So anxiously, I thought – that’s not me…
I very slowly, not quite realising it, was distancing myself from the trans-cult and its thinking.
Well, this and that happened, I struggled on, I had a few setbacks, I struggled on a bit more. I got a proper job. This was the kick in the backside, the firework up the arse that I had needed. I was busy. I was tired. I was called “she” – I was too embarrassed to ask for special pronouns. I had to wear work clothes like everyone else. I took my work seriously, but I had to listen to people chatting in such a heretical way! Saying things that I hadn’t dared to even think, for so long! Talking about men being men, and women being women, so casually using language I had forgotten I could use. At some point, I started to agree with them. The hours I worked kept me off Tumblr and Twitter. The real world beamed blinding, hot sunlight into the dark and cold and dusty parts of my world. And one day, I simply deleted all of my social media. I can’t remember why – I just knew I had to. I didn’t stay to say goodbye to anybody I knew, I just wiped it all. I have never missed it since.
My relationship with my parents recovered. It’s a lot better now than it was before, somehow. They know I’m myself– a real, human woman who knows it– again. I started tentatively using the words daughter, woman, girl, sister to describe myself in conversation. Even now when I say those words I feel them in my mouth. I worked, shopped, ate, and I was doing weird things I did before; laughing like a horse, telling off-colour jokes to make my parents snort.
I had spent a lot of time at home, and perhaps the loveliest thing is that I ended up spending much time with my mother, while I was unemployed and recovering. We talked and we argued. But we talked far more than we argued. Sometimes I fell asleep while she was talking; she has a very soothing voice. Sometimes she fell asleep while I was talking – maybe my voice is soothing too. I loved my mother before, but I didn’t know how much I could love her, because I had never tried to understand her. I wonder, if I had breezed through my teens and headed out, unhesitating, into the great beyond, would I talk to her so fondly and treat her so kindly as I do now? Every cloud.
For a long time, I was a shell of myself. But the bossy, blunt, stubborn girl wasn’t all gone. The trauma I went through took time to fade to something I could manage, but I forgave her and I forgave myself. If I met her in the street I really think I could chat with her. I go stretches of days without thinking about it for more than a few seconds. At first my views on, well, everything, flip-flopped wildly. I went to a much wider variety of websites, I read books, I learned about things happening that I had missed, or worse, things where I had believed completely untrue versions of events.
The world had been such a hostile place when everyone was supposedly out to get me, and the only safe space was my Tumblr, where people only ever told me I was right. I learned that people thought a lot of things, had a lot of opinions, and get this: that some people could think one thing I agreed with, as well as another thing I disagreed with. I had been divorced from humanity in the trans-cult, and I was shocked at the empathy I found in myself for people, shocked at all these people, walking around, all with their lives and their feelings and their hearts. The “privileged” people actually suffered; I had believed they couldn’t. There was so much more suffering than I’d known there to be, but there was also so much more goodness. Every morning I realised my horizons were broader than the morning before, only to discover by the evening there was still so much more I hadn’t the faintest clue about.
Turns out, being a woman? You can wear anything you want, and you’re still a woman. You can do what you want, and you’re still a woman. Reality never needs to be validated.
My ability to think critically returned bit by tiny bit. It took time for me to get used to asking questions, checking sources, not believing every little thing I saw or read. I had been taught to believe unquestioningly and I had to wrestle myself out of the habit. Even now, I remind myself I can have opinions and I can disagree with someone, and they can disagree with me, and it doesn’t mean I’m a bad person; it just means that people are people, and I’m a person, and I have to deal with them being people just as they deal with me, because we have a great deal more in common than not. Through it all I have had the support of my parents – we can talk now.
I’m here now. I’ve slowly, quietly rejoined the human race as a woman, knowing it a miracle, holding both the stubborn determination of my childhood and the grateful joy of my young adulthood. The old me I was once so ashamed to face is here, and we are one again, baptised in fire and back fighting.