Discover more from Some Nuance, Please
Coming to terms with being a late-blooming lesbian after detransition
I often go back to the moment I decided to detransition. The conversation that led to me breaking down in tears was one in which my main concern was whether women would even accept me anymore. I missed that solidarity of knowing we were kindred – similar rites of passage, similar expectations placed upon us, similar changes to our bodies, similar experiences interacting with boys and men.
There was deeper fear there, though.
I didn’t only want to be accepted by women. I desired women, and I wanted to be desired back. And I feared that my altered characteristics rendered me unattractive to them permanently.
Although it was a very big piece of the processing I did afterwards, I’ve never written about this aspect of my transition and detransition in detail. One of my personal boundaries involves ensuring I don’t drag other people into my advocacy by talking about them, and it’s difficult to talk about sexuality without doing that. The other reason, though, is that I experience a lot of shame around having desire. I have talked about what I didn’t want, but very little about what I did want.
The sense that I might not actually be sexually attracted to men started a couple of years before I began transitioning. I’d just left a years-long relationship that had interrupted my life, was controlling and manipulative, and afterwards left me with a sense of uncertainty about who I was or what my future might look like. It also wasn’t the first relationship in which I was disinterested in sex. I started reflecting.
I often enjoyed attention and affection from the men I dated, but I didn’t want to be sexually intimate with them. When we did, I usually dissociated. My mind shut off. I felt pain rather than pleasure. Nearly every time, I cried either during or after. Some of the men I was intimate with were not even aesthetically attractive to me, suggesting “attraction” wasn’t the motivation.
So I wasn’t sexually attracted to men. What about women, though?
I liked attention and affection from women, too, though none had come onto me at that point in my life. I had a crush on a high school friend who admitted, many years later, she’d also had a crush on me. I wonder how my life might be different if we’d dated, even just briefly. But I didn’t particularly want to have sex with women either. (The crush comprised primarily of thinking about how beautiful I found her, desiring physical closeness with her, and being jealous of other friends spending time with her.)
I concluded I was not sexually attracted to anyone, and I must be asexual.
In the 2008 LiveJournal entry where I first announced I was adopting this label for myself, I talk about my attraction to women, but go on to claim that it “doesn’t quite reach a sexual level for me.” Later in the entry, I write, “I actually prefer the female body to the male body... I remember this confused [my ex whom I never wanted to have sex with] because on DeviantArt, I watch a couple [female photographers] who do artistic nudes very often. He kept saying ‘...you’re a lesbian, aren’t you?’”
Around this same time, 2008-2009, I was part of a photo-sharing community for “girls who look like boys” on LiveJournal called “birls.” The vast majority of women posting pictures were lesbians. A small number were females identifying as trans. I don’t believe I ever posted anything myself, but I did spend a lot of time just looking at pictures of women. I even had favourites whose posts I bookmarked to come back to later.
I walked away from that, again, with the wrong conclusion. This time it was that I must be trans. (There’s certainly no other reason to be obsessed with masculine women, right?)
The two conclusions were explicitly linked. A lot of my early conversations about gender identity occurred on an asexual forum (and Tumblr). I later became convinced that my low libido was related to my being transgender. In my mind, being seen as a woman when I (supposedly) wasn’t a woman was why I was failing to connect during sex. I didn’t want to be asexual, and a part of me hoped that taking testosterone would fix it.
My libido didn’t change much on testosterone, but it’s hard to say in retrospect whether my attraction changed. My journal entries suggest that I was feeling more positively about the few sexual encounters I had (which continued to be exclusively with men, although not straight men anymore). I seemed to be feeling something like enjoyment, but most of this was sort of... in the moment. Outside of the moment, I remained fairly uninterested in sex. Was it “attraction,” or was it just wanting physical closeness and learning to cope better?
I did feel more motivated to explore, though. I started occasionally touching myself, which was extremely rare before transition. Sometimes I watched porn. When I did, I was ultimately only interested in women. I reasoned that I was imagining myself in her position. Perhaps it’s odd for someone who didn't consider herself to be a woman to be projecting onto one, but I wasn’t entirely delusional. I knew I had the same type of body as her, and the way she appeared to be enjoying herself was similar to how I enjoyed myself.
I reasoned that I didn’t necessarily want to be with her; I just wanted to experience what she was experiencing. (I mean, I also knew I liked women. This was just my faulty reasoning for why I was only interested in women in this particular circumstance.)
When I reconciled with being female, I immediately took a break from my regular social media accounts. For several months, I mostly watched content rather than engaged with it (Twitch, TikTok, YouTube). I was obsessively looking for lesbian content, though (...not porn). It was very cliché. Feel free to imagine me frantically Googling “am I a lesbian???” and you’re pretty close.
I watched a couple of lesbian YouTubers. I was particularly interested in women who came out later in life, hearing their experiences and comparing them to my own. The TikTok “For You” algorithm devotedly fed me more and more short videos about #latebloominglesbians. A couple months into 2021, my roommate moved out, and my new roommate was a lesbian who enthusiastically introduced me to “The L Word.”
I opened a new Twitter account in May 2021 when I felt like it was time to talk about my detransition, and right away, I was pretty open about being a lesbian. However, returning to social media meant encountering a million and a half opinions about everything, and one of those things was who is allowed to call themselves a lesbian.
I was sure – and remain sure – that I fit the definition (a female exclusively attracted to other females). However, I started to come across the claim that if you’ve ever been in a relationship with a man, you aren’t a lesbian, because a “real” lesbian would be repulsed by the very idea. I was brainwashed into believing I was a man, though, so I have a hard time believing it’s impossible to be brainwashed into thinking I’m attracted to them.
Twitter is full of people invalidating each others’ experiences and insisting that they know complete strangers better than those strangers know themselves. It gets tiring. I stopped saying I was a lesbian by the end of 2021 just to avoid the possibility of having to defend myself (which would require me to go into details about my life that I didn’t want to share yet).
I was also becoming stressed about the idea that people might treat me as a spokesperson for lesbians who have detransitioned, and I didn’t feel capable of being that representation – particularly since I had kissed a grand total of two women in my lifetime, and it had never gone further than this. How much insight could I possibly have?
I started making stronger connections with people the following year and becoming very fond of some of the people that I met.
For a long time, there had been very few people I was regularly interacting with, and it was difficult for me to judge my new friendships objectively since I had so few to compare them to. I couldn’t really distinguish between feeling attracted and feeling anxiously attached. I was excited about making new friends, but I was also very worried about losing them. I could feel myself over-investing in the people I liked the most.
One of these supposed “crushes” was on a man, which sent me into a panic about being wrong about myself again, but a later crush was on a woman, and what struck me about my interest in her was how it differed from my “crushes” on men. I certainly wanted attention from both people, but I only became aroused when I thought of her. It was also quite a strong feeling, unlike anything I’d experienced in my life to that point.
This was almost enough confirmation for me, and I tentatively started telling a few friends privately at the beginning of this year – often with caveats. (“I think I’m a lesbian.” “I’m probably a lesbian.”) A small internal voice told me I’d still never been with a woman, and I could still be wrong.
I wanted to wait until I had the material proof. I wanted to consummate my identity, you might say.
I did finally get the opportunity earlier this year to do that.
I’m a lesbian.
In the aftermath, I was left with a lot of thoughts about my life, who I am, and how I got here.
Firstly, though I’ve spent a lot of time on all of the different contributing factors to my pursuit of transition, I’ve not thought in depth about internalized homophobia. I have mentioned it, but I had very little analysis of how it affected me personally. I still don’t think I can talk about it without more time and experience.
The environment I grew up in was not overwhelmingly homophobic. Discussion of gay people was mostly just absent. I didn’t watch sitcoms as a child, and there certainly wasn’t any representation in children’s media. Most of my knowledge likely came from Internet chatrooms.
Just before high school, one of my closest friends told me she was attracted to girls, but although we were extremely similar people, I didn’t relate. I did realize I liked girls a few years later, but I struggled to even call myself bisexual. I didn’t take the crushes I had on women seriously. Instead, I dismissed them as impossible or pointless.
My best guess for this kind of repression is that it relates to the peer abuse I experienced right around puberty. I was bullied by both boys and girls, but girls often tolerated me before backstabbing me. One particular incident left me telling myself that I had to shove down every positive feeling about a close friend who’d abandoned me because of how painful it was to remember anything good about her. Perhaps my subconscious felt that, if I could stop myself from ever connecting with another girl in this way again, I would protect myself from ever feeling such agony.
I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts in the future. In the meantime, I’ve gone from downplaying the role of my sexuality in my transition to feeling like it was a main factor practically overnight.
Secondly, I don’t think I could have connected with women in this way during transition. My appreciation for the female form has risen dramatically since reconciling with my sex. It’s what I’m attracted to, but it’s also what belongs to me. For me, being completely at peace with both of those things required the kind of self-love that I didn’t have access to.
Nearly everything about intimacy with another woman reminded me that I am myself one. Our bodies mirror each other. I remember what I looked like before surgery. And if I put my hand between her thighs, it gets warm between my own – where I know we are the same.
That said, my last train of thought involves feeling markedly different.
It’s been eleven years since my breast removal, and I’ve adapted. I was almost indifferent about not having them when I first detransitioned. I’d already looked like this for so long. I knew transition had been a mistake, I knew that having a flat chest would be a hindrance to being perceived as female, and I wasn’t happy about that – but emotions around my chest were not high. I hadn’t encountered many situations where my breasts (or lack thereof) felt relevant to me. Being intimate was probably the first time I had strong emotions around them.
I felt grief that my ability to experience intimacy in this way has been lost, but also shame that my mistakes have altered the way she experienced my body. I deserved my intact and unmarred body, and she deserved my intact and unmarred body, too. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
How would things would have played out in my life if I’d stopped at a wardrobe change – embracing being a gender non-conforming woman? I look at the photos I took when I was still experimenting, just before I committed to cutting my hair. I love how I looked at this time. I’m angry that I felt like it wasn’t enough.
I could have figured it out with more time. I was so close.
This is how it is now, though, and there’s nowhere to move but forward.