Discover more from Some Nuance, Please
No, you can't always tell.
Yes, I am going to die on this hill.
People get my sex wrong frequently.
It happens almost every time I interact with cashiers. When I went to the veterinary clinic in my town, one of the techs referred to me as my dog's "dad" – then suddenly "corrected" herself mid-sentence and called me his "person" and started using they/them pronouns. The first time I went to the gym, the woman I spoke to told me where the men's change rooms were as part of her introductory spiel. My neighbour and I were friendly for months before I shared about my detransition – and what triggered the conversation was her asking if I was a transwoman.
This is what happens when you're on exogenous hormones that change your body. Your secondary sex characteristics become more ambiguous. My voice has permanently been deepened. I had a mastectomy, so I'm flat-chested. I'm tall for a woman – five-foot-nine. And to be frank, the shape of my face has never been extremely feminine. All those things contribute to me appearing kind of androgynous to many people.
Let me emphasize something, because whenever I talk about this, people assume that I'm complaining.
I am not bothered by strangers calling me "sir." I expect it! I don't fault people for getting it wrong. I never correct anyone. I don't raise my voice, I don’t sigh, I don't huff, I don't roll my eyes. I carry on like absolutely nothing out of the ordinary happened – every damn time. I know they aren't trying to offend me, and I'm genuinely not offended. But I spend all of my free time either talking with detransitioners or talking about detransition, so I don't want to be educating people in my real life. I just want to live quietly.
Of course, I don't love the fact that I can be mistaken for a man. It reminds me of what I've lost through the transition process. I use the (women's) change rooms at the gym now, but when I go in, I don't make eye contact with anyone, I use a cubicle to change, I get in and out as fast as I can, and I don't speak out of fear that I'm going to make someone uncomfortable. It's the same thing when I use public bathrooms.
When I first detransitioned, I did hope that I was going to "pass" better once I grew out my hair and started to present more feminine. When that didn't happen, I admit that I was disappointed – but not in other people. I was just disappointed to realize that synthetic testosterone did so much permanent damage.
Could I do things to feminize myself further? Sure. I could wear makeup. I could wear jewellery. I could get my ears pierced. I could wear prosthetic breasts. I could train my voice. I could wear more feminine clothing. I could switch to bright colours. I could change my glasses. I could put my hair up for a trip to the grocery store. I could smile more. But here's the thing: I wasn't doing any of those things before I transitioned, and I wasn't getting mis-sexed then. I don't want to completely change myself just to be perceived correctly by people I spend less than two minutes interacting with.
And besides, what if I do all of those things, and people still default to thinking I'm male? What then? How many times do I have to change myself just to be disappointed that it didn't work? Between my own comfort and strangers mis-sexing me in very short interactions, I'll take my comfort every time.
In the past few days, I have had a lot of conversations about this idea that people can "always tell" someone's sex. I've had some people admit that they know they can't always tell, but I've had others insist that people can, in fact, always tell. I’ve been lectured on evolution and told it's human instinct to be able to correctly identify someone's sex. They went on about skeletal structure, the width of shoulders and hips, gait, mannerisms, etc.
I agree that people can correctly identify someone's sex the vast majority of the time. I even agree that the majority of people who have transitioned usually have "tells" that indicate their sex (though I do think females on testosterone tend to fly under the radar more often; testosterone is a hell of a drug). I've also conceded that prolonged interactions with someone will likely reveal much more than two-minute ones.
But when I say that people frequently get my sex wrong, I don't understand why people can't just accept that people frequently get my sex wrong. Instead, I just got a million excuses. "They could tell, but they were just being polite/afraid to get it wrong" as if people were incorrectly clocking me as a transman. "Have you checked their eyesight?" as if it's reasonable to believe every person who referred to me as male for the past twelve years was just a bit blind.
I try not to use the word "gaslighting" very often because it has a very specific meaning, but holy shit, I've never had so many people be so insistent that they understood my life better than I did.
You know what I think is happening? People who are heavily involved in gender ideology discourse are hyperaware of sex traits. We all talk so much about the differences between the two sexes because, of course, it's important. But it’s apparent that many of these people have fooled themselves into believing that everyone else in the world is just as good as they are at detecting sex characteristics on someone who is ambiguously sexed as a result of hormones and surgeries.
Humans might have evolved to quickly discern the difference between males and females, but medical transition is a man-made intervention, not a natural one. We didn't exactly evolve to be able to tell who has been injecting exogenous hormones into their bodies. Yes, there are certainly signs – I personally think I'm pretty good at picking out people who have transitioned because I spent years around them – but the truth of the matter is that most people out there in the world don't give it a second thought.
That's why I get mis-sexed. Not because people are trying to fall over themselves to be polite to me. Not because they all have poor eyesight. Because outside of this weird online battle, most people just don't give enough of a damn to look closely.
So why am I so insistent on dying on this hill?
The fact that I often do not "pass" as my sex permeates my entire life. I stopped taking testosterone six years ago. This is something I am going to be dealing with forever. I have to think about it every time I enter a female-only space where people do not know my history. Because I don't want to make other women uncomfortable.
So when I say "actually, no, you can't always tell" – because I personally know that is the truth – and some self-declared feminist announces to her followers that my refusal to agree with her somehow makes me a safeguarding concern, that fucking hurts.
The day I decided that I was going to detransition, the feeling that drove my decision was missing the unspoken solidarity I had with other women. I’m fairly certain that, now, my voice and appearance mean I will never have that with women who don’t know me. Some of my biggest regrets about my transition have to do with social cues. There are a lot of aspects of being female that I don’t experience anymore (or will never experience) because they have literally been removed from my body, and just like before transition, I sometimes feel like I am not a woman, but rather something either separate or inferior. (My connections with other detransitioned women are so important in countering this feeling.)
Unfortunately, it has repeatedly been shown to me that there are certain ideologues on Twitter who only care about solidarity between women as long as the other women adhere to their particular dogma. My experience as a detransitioned woman is only useful to them if I am talking about how culty the trans community is or about the medical abuse I have faced. My experience living as a woman whose body has been influenced by exogenous hormones and medically unnecessary surgeries, though, is apparently not useful if it contradicts their go-to lines. My ability to recognize cult-like behaviour is not useful if I'm using it to point out how they're behaving exactly like trans activists – jumping to conclusions when someone says something they don't expect (even if that person is on their "side"), taking arguments from people they deem "oppressors" in bad faith, and putting people on blast as dangerous or harmful when they disagree.
I'm a pitiable victim of the gender industry when it suits them. When it doesn't, I'm a sex-confused former cultist who was tricked into mutilating herself, and my opinions can be safely dismissed.
The most bizarre part of this particular ideological battle is that everyone who has come at me agrees that someone passing as the opposite sex doesn't actually matter. Sex is what matters. It shouldn't matter if people think I look like a man or not. I still belong in female-only spaces, and males do not, even if they have made themselves look indistinguishable from women.
We should instead be asking why people want to die on the hill that you can always tell when (1) it is easily disprovable and (2) appearance is irrelevant at the end of the day.