Discover more from Some Nuance, Please
Actually, I was just crazy the whole time.
(And honestly, it's really hard to trust anyone after that.)
My sudden desire to transition in young adulthood felt like an epiphany. I came across this concept—transgenderism—which, as I heard it explained over and over, increasingly sounded like something that might apply to me. The visualization I had of the moment I made the decision (because there is a moment in time I can pinpoint) was completely cinematic in my head and has an epic soundtrack.
The part of me that likes to see the positive in everything commends my younger self’s flair for the dramatic. I want everything in my life to go like a movie. I want everyone in it to automatically know what I’m thinking and how I’m feeling, I want everything in it to go exactly how I’ve visualized it a hundred times before, and I want my story to mean something because what’s the point of suffering this life if it doesn’t mean anything. (Sorry. Apparently my present self also has a flair for the dramatic.)
Otherwise, though, having the benefit of what I know today, remembering this moment is kind of sobering. I now understand all the moving parts that make up the so-called epiphany. I now understand how they all went together in a way that gave me the wrong answer. And I’ve also now learned a word for what I was experiencing: apophenia.
“Apophenia is the tendency to perceive meaningful connections between unrelated things.”1 It’s over-interpreting patterns from what is essentially just random noise. It’s the same concept that leads people to believe in conspiracy theories. At an extreme, it’s a type of delusional thinking… you know, like believing you’re not a woman when all of the credible evidence points to the contrary?
I didn’t have an epiphany. I had an apopheny.
When I was making the decision to transition, I came up with a list of evidence that I felt explained why I was not a woman (and was somehow a man instead). I now have better explanations for everything on that list.
I went from something that looked like this:
…to something that looks like this:
I hear frequently that I am meant to take “personal responsibility” for my decision to transition, particularly because I was an adult. This is my take on the situation: I became completely convinced about something that was ultimately untrue. It was a delusional belief. I brought that belief to health professionals who had been taught that it was kinder to affirm the belief than to question it. As a result, I was prescribed cross-sex hormones which caused irreversible changes to my body, and with my belief affirmed, I continued further, having surgeries that disconnected me even further from the reality of my femaleness.
I believe it was medical negligence for them to have failed to properly investigate my delusional belief. My argument is three-fold: “gender identity” is a faith-based belief, not an empirically-recognized condition, and when it comes to medicalization, it is unethical for health professionals to simply accept such a belief at face value; the evidence base for medical transition does not present a straightforward narrative where the benefits always outweigh the risks; and my consent could never have been informed without a proper and thorough exploration of what was affecting my mental health—particularly egregious was the failure to screen for developmental disabilities.
I don’t place blame in one single place. I don’t understand the purpose of yelling “personal responsibility” at me when it is clear that the health professionals who facilitated my transition had their own responsibility towards me. Particularly, I believe they had a responsibility to offer me the type of therapy that would have led to an understanding as in the second diagram above before proceeding to an invasive treatment with permanent effects.
I do have to take responsibility for something, though. Of course I do. I may have been delusional, but coming to the wrong conclusion was still my mistake. I have the responsibility of figuring out how I was able to make such a massive mistake. I have to learn from the process. I have to teach myself what critical thinking looks like. I have to recognize logical fallacies. I have to be able to identify abusive behaviour. I have to see red flags for what they are and not what I want them to be. I have to acknowledge that my voice of reason sometimes says things I don’t want to hear but which are true.
I think nearly everyone who transitions experiences that voice of reason. At least, when I experienced doubts about transition, people were certainly happy to remind me that everyone who transitions does. It’s just internalized transphobia. Maybe young transitioners don’t hear it as often, especially if they have a regular routine of people affirming them. As a transitioning adult, though, it’s a lot harder to live in the real world. It’s a lot harder to establish yourself in society. It’s a lot harder to find satisfying relationships. Over time, it gets harder and harder to ignore the fact that it feels like everything you’ve invested into this identity has been for absolutely nothing. All transition does is create virilized women and feminized men, and we have so few long-term studies about what lifelong synthetic cross-sex hormones does to a person. The whole thing is just one giant experiment.
Doubt is why so many true believers, when confronted with biology or the existence of detransition, feel like they have been traumatized by the interaction instead of being able to laugh it off. People who transition are invariably prone to rumination, and doubt can cause a spiral. Imagine the devastation if you are wrong. What’s been done to you. What’s been done to thousands of others. What we’re happily doing to naive little children. The thought would send anyone into a tailspin. Of course it’s easier to believe everything’s fine.
Imagine feeling your whole life like you’re “crazy” until you find a community who assures you that you aren’t and enables you on a journey of self-discovery, only to find at the end that… hey, you actually were crazy the whole time. It’s a bummer.
I don’t know if I’m succeeding at critical thinking. I have a difficult time taking hard positions on anything nowadays. Some days I’ll be really firm on one thing, and other days I’ll start to loosen up a bit. I’m worried about overcommitting… what if I make a mistake again? I second guess whether I’m doing the right thing. Sometimes when assessing people, I wonder if I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt or just ignoring red flags.
This whole ordeal has left me feeling like I can’t trust anyone, including myself. I had a hard time asking for help before I transitioned. Health care professionals felt a little safer. Now I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to forget the kind of recklessness they had with my life. People who loved me cheered me on as I nullified every body function that identified me as a woman, then berated me and claimed I had been radicalized when I shared that I felt like I’d been brainwashed.
How am I supposed to know who has my best intentions in mind? How do I know which authorities to believe? How do I know if the people I think are my friends actually care about my well-being? Which of these people just want me for my story? Who is safe to be vulnerable in front of?
Transition was a form of escapism for me, and escapism is still my coping method of preference. I’m still chronically online. I feel like most of my existence is just a concept on the Internet. Otherwise I’m just electricity auto-piloting a meatsack that barely feels a thing. Most days, it is so difficult to just be present.
I value material reality because it keeps me grounded. It’s good to have things that you feel you can safely put your faith in. I trust empiricism. I don’t trust me. I’ve let myself down too many times. But I’ll get there.
My writing will always be free to read. If you’re interested in supporting me financially, please donate to my fundraiser, which will allow me to cover costs associated with my legal action: https://www.givesendgo.com/michellealleva. Thank you.