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Let's Talk About How We Talk About Detransition
People asked, and I have delivered. It's all you from here!
Retransitioners — the ones who aren't just “settling” with being perceived as the opposite sex because they have no other choice, but who were once critical of gender ideology and have completely gone back — often talk about how they were used by what they call the “anti-trans movement.” They’ll talk about how people in the movement wanted to keep them in a perpetual state of victimhood because they wouldn’t be useful otherwise.
They aren’t wrong about that. I thought they were, but they’re not.
I met good people very early on after going public, so I knew this wasn’t a universal experience. I know there are people out there who have gone above and beyond to care for me privately: who have driven out of their way to see me, who have called me when they were extremely busy, who gave me their phone numbers when I was in crisis, who check in when I don't seem well.
So I didn’t want to believe that a vast number of people don’t really care about me past my medical trauma. It was easy to ignore it early on, when I was angriest about what happened to me. In those days, I would’ve certainly gone on about how I felt like my life was “ruined.” But now I’m trying to heal. I’m trying to grow. And I’ve started seeing how the narrative created around both detransitioners (and transitioners) is, in my view, unhelpful.
As I’ve started pushing back on it, people have become hostile with me. There’s a suggestion that stopping more medicalization should be the focus, and, to some people, this kind of harm reduction is the only kind that matters. To them, once medicalized, our lives are basically over. I have seen multiple people tell detransitioners directly that it’s too late for us, and our only purpose now is to save the children. There is no circumstance under which this is an appropriate thing to say to someone.
I have enough self-awareness to admit that I’ve recently become hostile myself, even towards people who were not hostile to me first. I regret this. I try to keep to being a voice of reason, asking for nuance. It’s extremely frustrating, though, to be in an environment where people have been chanting “Listen to detransitioners!” and to find out the hard way that they only want to “listen” as long as what you say is politically useful to them.
There are three things that have been bothering me:
the use of graphic surgery results, particularly when sourced from personal accounts and used without consent
the use of emotionally charged language, particularly that which implies someone can never recover
the overall focus on the trauma and pain of detransitioners, with little boosting of our growth and resilience
I have also spoken before about the tendency for people to go to extremes about our futures: either pessimistically predicting that we will kill ourselves in the throes of regret or optimistically believing that we can somehow get our bodies back if we just have more medical procedures to “fix” everything. Neither view is helpful. That's not today's focus, though.
I want to start off by saying that I don't “cancel” people for not using the same political strategies as me. I’m not compelling anyone’s speech; I’m just asking that people consider what I’m saying. You’ll make your own choices at the end of the day. I will not come after you. I will not demand that people unfollow you. I will not contact the organizations you’re involved with and complain. I will not try to get your events cancelled. I will not declare you a safeguarding risk. Hell, I’ll probably even be nice to you if we meet in person!
However, I will block/mute people who do these things, because this behaviour isn’t conducive to my growth. We all say what we like, and we all have a right to personal boundaries. I do not have to put up with behaviour that causes distress, especially not from complete strangers. I do not owe anyone anything.
I also want to emphasize that I understand why people believe these are useful strategies. I don’t need that to be explained to me. I’m trying to explain why I think the harm they do overrides the help.
On its face, it is cruel and invasive to take images of a person — yes, even ones that were posted on public social media accounts — and repost them with the intention of publicly shaming their body (or their surgeon, but comments in response to these images rarely target the surgeon, and it’s not the surgeon whose body is being weaponized).
I am speaking primarily of people who still identify as transgender here. Even if one genuinely has compassion for a person who has been medically altered through transition, that person certainly does not see the sharing of their photos as “compassion.” They see it as harassment. It feels extremely threatening to have someone who clearly has a political disagreement with you to be collating information about you or images of you.
There were people who have been doing this for years, posting images of well-known transitioners next to text about how much the author pities them. Behaviour like this had absolutely zero contribution to my detransition.
The primary response I’ve gotten when I object to graphic imagery is that “they” need to see “the truth.”
First of all, who is “they”?
Surgeons? The surgeons who are conducting these procedures already know what the end results look like. They aren’t being shown anything they haven’t already seen.
Prospective patients? The people who are going to have these surgeries have also seen multiple end results. Transbucket, which is a photo-sharing site hosting transition surgery results, has existed for more than a decade. It was around when I was choosing a surgeon back in 2011. It’s short-sighted to think prospective patients aren’t doing the research.
Trans-identified prospective patients also aren't going to listen to people who are spending their time non-consensually posting surgery results. In fact, doing so only reinforces what "the cult" is telling them — that “TERFs” will steal your images and post them so that everyone can comment on your body. And these comments range from a mix of pitying “oh, so sad!” comments to disgusted “look at this freak” comments.
Trust me, this isn’t convincing them of anything.
So is it “normies” who need to be convinced?
I hate to break it to you, but normies are actually the people who have been the absolute cruellest to me. They’re rarely interested in “gender-affirming care” itself; they already think it’s a bad thing if you describe it to them (no pictures required); and they are the source of the worst comments because they have no skin in the game.
Now the second part of the excuse: the claim that sharing the pictures is telling “the truth.”
Well, kind of… but also, not really. The choice in images used is often manipulative in itself and is not actually the whole truth. For example, people will pick photos taken immediately after surgery, which obviously isn’t what the final result looks like. Many of the people who post these images don't have any real knowledge of what happens during these surgeries or what a normal outcome looks like versus a botched one.
For example, here's a photo of my chest one week after surgery:
And here’s my chest eleven-and-a-half years after surgery:
Obviously, immediately post-surgery, it looks terrible. Today, my chest looks like neither a man’s nor a woman’s chest (in my opinion), but it's not two huge, unhealed gashes either.
Both the surgeons and the patients know that what you look like immediately post-surgery isn’t what you’re going to look like forever. This type of manipulation isn’t fooling them, and it isn’t telling “the truth.”
Also, don’t think it has gone unnoticed that people seem to cherry-pick “pretty” girls for a before and after comparison. The focus seems less on the medical negligence and more on the loss of their sex appeal. Ironically, this is the kind of thing that pushes young women to get mastectomies in the first place.
If you are going to post images anyway, since I certainly won’t convince everyone, I am asking that you please try to minimize the harm you could potentially be doing:
use drawn images rather than real life photos, if you can
censor the person's face/identifying information (e.g., tattoos)
do not tag detransitioners when posting these images
if you’re including a caption, think carefully about the words you are using (see next section)
if possible, use photos meant for widespread public consumption
On that last point: there are graphic photos available in some research papers, on the results section of surgeon's websites, and even photos of detransitioners who have given permission for their images to be used in this way. These would all be more ethical choices than just taking from someone random.
Anyway, here’s a prime example of what not to do:
Detransition can be an emotionally-charged topic. Not everyone who discontinues hormones and reconciles with their birth sex necessarily has strong emotions about what they’ve endured, but many do. Despite the impetus to stop further harm from happening, it’s important to be mindful of those of us who are still in recovery (assuming you want us to keep participating in the discourse).
I don’t think it’s helpful to claim that people’s lives have been “ruined.” It’s not appropriate to refer to someone else as “mutilated.” That might be confusing to some, because there are plenty of detransitioners and people in transition recovery who refer to themselves in this way. Some feel like this kind of language has helped them to understand and accept that something terrible has happened to them. Other times, though, it’s being said in a moment of weakness, and they may change their mind later on.
Words like “ruined” and “mutilated” imply something that one can never come back from — so yes, there is some truth there. Of course, there are irreversible effects from hormones. Surgeries can never be reversed (i.e., restitutio ad integrum is impossible). However, when we are dealing with people who may have been traumatized by their experiences, we don’t want them to feel like life has nothing left to offer them… but we also want to validate the gravity of what they’re experiencing.
I’ve also seen a tendency for people to conveniently forget that detransitioners were once transitioners… so the language used towards transitioners with regard to their surgeries and ways their bodies have been altered affect us, too. (Not that it’s ever acceptable to talk about people in this way, whether you agree with them ideologically or not.)
It’s alienating to refer to someone who has had a mastectomy as “zipper tits” or to call the results of a genital reconstruction surgery (i.e., penile inversion) a “rot pocket.” These are more frequently aimed at people who are still living transitioned than they are towards people who aren’t, but there’s literally no difference. It’s the exact same surgery.
Again, when I object to these terms, I get people accusing me of wanting to use euphemisms and of demanding that people “lie.” And hey, once again, some people feel like those words are appropriate to their own situations. I’m not opposed to people using harsh language for themselves. Everyone in this “movement” has an issue with feeling like they have restrictions on what they can or can’t say. I don’t want to contribute to that.
But I’m thinking long-term here: what kind of narrative around detransitioning are we creating? What kind of world is someone stepping into when they realize that transition was a mistake? That’s such a difficult moment. Other people in transition recovery — we’re trying to create a soft place to land for those who are coming after us. I don’t want new people, fresh off of the realization that they’ve been harmed and feeling quite vulnerable, arriving in a spot where the only thing as far as the eye can see is just pain, trauma, and people describing them as “ruined.”
There was also another interesting line of questioning that came up when this discourse was happening at the beginning of June, which was the comparison to female genital mutilation (FGM). Particularly, do I think that’s an inappropriate term as well? At that time, I declined to answer, because I have not experienced FGM. I’ve since done a small amount of research that I think is worth mentioning.
“Female genital mutilation” is said to be an internationally agreed-upon term. It started being used as a replacement for “female circumcision” in the 1970s and has been used by the United Nations since the 1990s. Part of the argument for the term “mutilation” is indeed because people believe strong language is necessary to emphasize that it is a human rights violation. However, even the term FGM isn’t without controversy, and since the late 1990s, some prefer the term “female genital cutting” instead.
“There is concern that communities could find the term ‘mutilation’ demeaning, or that it could imply that parents or practitioners perform this procedure maliciously. Some fear the term ‘female genital mutilation’ could alienate practicing communities, or even cause a backlash, possibly increasing the number of girls subjected to the practice.”
It’s clear that acceptable terminology is very subjective. I think it’s worth pointing out that there has never been any sort of consensus on using the word “mutilated” to refer to the bodies of people who have transitioned, so deferring to a few people who choose to use it may end up estranging people who don’t want to be referred to in that way.
Again, I do have advice for alternative choices in order to reduce harm where possible, but I think this topic is a lot more nuanced than sharing images. So my advice is really just my own, and people may still not agree with me. For example, I think it’s better to target the action rather than the result, but vilifying surgeons may not be a good strategy in the long run. I really don’t know. (But honestly, I’m less concerned with the well-being of the people getting rich off of “gender-affirming care” than I am with the well-being of their patients.)
We can (and should) use strong language. Just aim it somewhere else.
Instead of commenting on people’s bodies:
Make judgements about the actions themselves
This isn’t a perfect solution, but calling the surgery “mutilation” is (in my opinion) slightly better than called a person “mutilated.” It’s a small, subtle difference.
Make judgements about the people who carried out the actions
Take a page out of JBP’s book, and call the surgeons and therapists “butchers and liars”
Make judgements about the environment that led them to surgery and exogenous hormones in the first place
Talk about how institutions have been captured by a pseudoscientific ideology
Talk about how society isn’t properly supporting people with mental health diagnoses
Talk about how gender non-conformity is perceived as a moral failing
Talk about how same-sex attraction is demonized
Talk about the pressures that are placed on girls and women, such as being expected to express ourselves in a way that is sexually appealing or to remain quiet, submissive, and obedient
We are doing our strong, independent girls a disservice by telling them they are acting like boys.
Talk about the pressures that are placed on boys and men, such as being expected to take responsibility for violence that they themselves have never committed or to suppress their emotions (whether anger, sadness, or otherwise)
We are doing our gentle, sensitive boys a disservice by telling them they are acting like girls.
Trauma Porn and Perpetual Victimhood
I have noticed over the past two years that our posts which “go viral” are almost invariably ones where we are extremely angry or extremely upset.
Our pain gets likes. Our growth gets crickets.
I’m not surprised that many detransitioners seem to disappear from the face of the earth once they start recovering. Being on social media isn’t all that beneficial to our mental health in the long run. We want other detransitioners to know that it’s possible to recover, but it’s disappointing to see how much engagement drops off once you’re speaking positively with a growth mindset.
The movement has created a whole narrative around detransition being purely doom and gloom with nothing else to offset it. There’s also this low-key implication that the regrets experienced by detransitioners will lead to mass suicides when everyone “wakes up” from this.
To be fair, I am quite concerned about a looming mental health crisis myself. I’ve said so before. However, when I’ve suggested that we try and change the narrative so that we can prevent that crisis from being as destructive as it might be, I am accused of either not wanting to stop further medicalization from happening or of weaponizing suicide to control people’s language.
This is completely unfair. Either we’re fragile, vulnerable victims on the brink of ending it all or we’re not. I won’t let people emphasize our pain while simultaneously dismissing our concerns about how that emphasis might actually contribute to more pain… not without calling them a damn hypocrite who doesn’t really care about us.
I’ve been criticized for not focusing on people (mostly children) who haven't been through transition yet. (The ones that can be “saved” and avoid my fate.) Sure. I’m definitely biased because of my position as someone who detransitioned two and a half years ago and who feels an obligation to create the resources people are going to need when they themselves detransition. I’m thinking primarily of the people who will surely be dumped to the side when the culture war has been sufficiently “won.” Most of the behaviour in the movement indicates that they clearly don't care about us. Someone has to care about them, so it's going to be me.
I’ve also been criticized for “attacking” people who are supposedly on my “side.” Presumably, I’m supposed to choose another battle.
Well, I tell my story so that I can effect change in the medical system, but I am here for other detransitioners first and foremost. If you perpetuate this narrative that we are beyond saving, if you keep detransitioners trapped in perpetual victimhood, if you care more about “winning” than about overall harm reduction, you’re not really on my “side,” are you?
I also have to ask an obvious question: who the hell would ever choose to detransition when the only narrative around it is how awful everything is? Why would you not want to stay trapped in the fantasy of “trans joy”? Is it any wonder people end up retransitioning? Why would you want to be called ruined and mutilated when you can have people tell you how beautiful you are?
I’ll personally never retransition because I value objective truth. But not everyone feels the same way that I do. Sometimes it’s easier to lie to yourself than accept reality. That’s how we all ended up transitioning in the first place.
Only one bit of advice here: share our wins, and stop predicting our deaths. Detransition is not a death sentence.
What those retransitioners I mentioned at the start have picked up on is that many of the people in this movement legitimately dehumanize anyone who has transitioned, whether they have detransitioned or not. Detransitioners might get a pass, but at the end of the day, we used to be “trans.” We are watching people say things about bodies that look like ours. We are watching them mock women who sound like us. We are watching them overconfidently give simplistic reasons for our behaviour. We are watching them make excuses for abusive parents who disown their trans-identified children.
It’s not surprising that this looks like an “anti-trans” movement. When this is how some people behave, others will see it for what it is. If you want it to look less like one, look at the people doing something ridiculous (like gluing her hand to the floor) and ask yourself, “What if that was my best friend?” “What if that was my sister?” “What if that was my daughter?” and then choose your words. You don't have to be nice, but you could at least assume she’s not being malicious.
People within this movement are often wrong, often manipulative, and often unnecessarily cruel. If you're going to be unnecessarily cruel, at least be honest that you’re legitimately anti-trans. Don't lie.
About a year ago, a news site published a story on a man in transition recovery who hadn't spoken to the author. He wasn't expecting the sudden attention, the article got several facts wrong, and there was already an article about to be released where he had spoken to the journalist. He expressed distaste for this.
This was around the same time a somewhat prominent YouTuber was publicly coming to terms with her own transition grief. The video went viral. A “meme” that included an screenshot of her crying from the video started to be passed around. She also expressed distaste for being used in this way.
I remember writing that if people can’t be respectful and treat people in recovery like human beings, we will stop talking publicly. And I remember someone got quite angry with me about this, declaring that if we refuse to speak up, we don’t care about saving the children.
Let me be clear: this is emotionally manipulative, and detransitioners do not owe the world a damn thing. We can walk away at any point that we decide to do so. We do not have to sit here and take abuse in order to be considered a good person.
Our lives have worth.
Our lives have meaning outside of advocacy.
We do not have to be martyrs for the cause.
Now, no one has to listen to us. No one has to change their language to please us. But this is a universal truth: if you cannot treat someone with respect, that person has every right to stop engaging with you.
That is not a threat; it’s a boundary. We are not friends. People don't get to act like I’m betraying them for saying no. They are using me. They are using my images. They are using my videos. They are using my story. I may have given consent for those things to be used, but doing so is a massive sacrifice on my part, of which some people clearly do not appreciate the depths.
I do not have to do this if I don’t want to. None of us do.