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We Shouldn't Have to Be Here
Reflections on being public about transition grief and detransition
This is a transcript of the video I posted on May 5, 2023.
In the middle of February, I asked a journalist friend to break the story on my lawsuit. I'd just gotten home from vacation and needed to immediately distract myself. I wasn't prepared for the response that I got. It went live on Tuesday night, and by Friday morning, I was overwhelmed.
I'd been publicly talking about my detransition for nearly two years, and I'd never had a problem with it before. But suddenly, it was like I could hear this sound, which had probably been there the whole time, but I'd never tuned into before.
And it sounded something like this: “Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!”
For some of you, I might have to provide some context. Jerry Springer was an American talk show that ran from 1991 to 2018. It was known for covering controversial topics like adultery, incest, cross-dressing... Guests got hostile, got into fights, and when the audience got particularly excited, they'd chant. It was basically a televised freak show.
So you know where I'm going with this.
I had this overbearing feeling that every single person I've ever known was all talking about me at the same time. All of them learning that in my early twenties, I had a mental health crisis in which I delusionally believed that I was the opposite sex, and then pursued surgeries and hormones to try and make myself look and sound more like a man.
I've compartmentalized that really well, but in breaking what anonymity I had left, it really did hit me all at once that I have now reached the point of no return. There is a possibility being a walking freak show is going to be my brand for the rest of my life. How do I proceed with my dignity intact?
My mind went into emergency shutdown mode. I started ignoring new media requests; I cancelled every interview and podcast I had planned; I certainly throttled my own crowdfunder. And that felt better – the noise got quieter – but I was feeling extremely self-reflective.
And I was in two minds over cancelling everything. It felt like a test of my values – my sense of justice versus my sense of self-preservation. Should I be proud of myself for being assertive and drawing a boundary? Or should I be disappointed with myself for dropping out early and being a coward?
About a week after I shut everything down, I watched an interview of a detransitioned woman. It was an old interview, I'd seen it before, and no one in it did anything wrong but I was looking at it after I'd felt more jaded than I ever had before, and I hated it.
I hated that we provide the three pictures - before, during, and after transition - to really spell out exactly what happened. I hated that her life has been flattened by this visualization of "female to male to female." The people she needs to convince don't know what's happening at all. The people who do already have their minds made up.
She has approximately seven minutes to provide the context of who she is as a detransitioner - which is predicated on the audience knowing what transition is as well - before explaining what she's arguing for in a niche field of medicine and why regular people should care. She has her work cut out for her.
And I'm angry because her qualification is her lived experience of what is arguably medical trauma. She's a layperson who did her own research. She hasn't been trained in public speaking. She doesn't have a PR team behind her. She's been harmed by the people who swore an oath not to. She isn't even done recovering. And the weight she has on her shoulders...
She's impressive as hell, but she shouldn't have to be there.
My impulse in that moment is to pull her out of there and put her somewhere she'll never have to do something like this again.
And I realize two things:
That impulse is why I went public in the first place – I can't save her, but I saved someone else from having to do what I did.
I'm not a coward for wanting to save myself.
We shouldn't have to be here. There shouldn't have to be such a thing as detransition advocacy. It is incredibly messed up that health care is doing so poorly that victims of negligence, malpractice, misdiagnosis, iatrogenesis...insert your word of choice... have to beg to be taken seriously. And it isn't being taken seriously, so there's a sense of urgency.
And that urgency means that public-facing detransitioners are largely doing advocacy while they’re still in the process of healing. So instead of fully recovering from everything they've been through, and then stepping forward to talk about it after finding their feet, a lot of them are still very unstable. And there is nothing stabilizing about going public.
Now you're entering the discourse, which means you're inviting unreasonable levels of scrutiny upon yourself from pretty much everyone, including the people who claim that they're on your side.
You're going to be surrounded by people, the majority of whom have never transitioned themselves, but who think they definitely understand why you did it better than you do, which effects hormones had or didn't have on you, and whether or not you "passed."
People will demand every detail of your story from you. There are ones who've made a snap judgement about you and become obsessed with catching you in a "lie." And there are ones who will listen to you but maybe feel like their sympathy entitles them to details you aren't ready to share.
You can do everything right, and people will still criticize you. You can talk to all the right people, and when the wrong people inevitably use your story without permission, you will be told you should have known better.
Because of the ideology attached to the negligence, there are always people who will never fully trust you. You used to believe the bad thing, so you're automatically in danger of believing the bad thing again. To these people, sometimes you're a helpless victim and sometimes you're a former cultist. They'll use your story in one breath and weaponize it against you in the next.
They're also ruthless against the people who do still believe in the bad thing, and they'll conveniently forget that you went through a lot of the same experiences. So prepare to watch people who had the same surgery as you be called degrading nicknames like "zipper tits" and have graphic post-surgery photos plastered in your replies.
People on all sides hold standards of purity, accuse others of guilt by association, and publicly shame the people they've decided don't do activism in the right way. It's imperative that you're able to trust your own judgement because you will not be able to stay grounded without it.
Throughout it all, you might get placed next to people with real credentials, and then feel like you need to keep up with them somehow, feel worried that you said something the wrong way, and that you need to get better at this because it's the only thing giving your life meaning, even though the truth is you're an autistic trauma survivor with no training and a frail support system, and if anyone is expecting you to be anything else, they're going to be be very disappointed.
People keep asking where all the detransitioners are when, really, it's surprising that anyone would willingly submit themselves to this.
We shouldn't have to be here.
I am here, though.
I don't regret being the canary in the coal mine. It taught me who I am, what I value, and what my limits are. It gave me real life examples of my own courage. I came into the discourse trying to manifest nuance, and I got it for myself.
There has never been another point in my life where I unconditionally care about so many people with so many different perspectives. Before a couple years ago, nearly all of my conflicts ended with the dissolution of the relationship. Now most end with the mutual understanding that we're good people who had a miscommunication or one of us overreacted (usually me).
I grew up with a lot of unhealthy beliefs about myself, the most enduring ones being that I'm irredeemably unlikeable and even repulsive. But I stood up and demanded to be taken seriously, even as people laughed in my face, declared me a bad person, and called me a freak, a thing, and an "it". And the words don't hurt anymore because I know they're wrong.
It's not all bad. This is the most personal growth I've had in years. But still, advocacy should not be a step in the healing process.
We shouldn't have to be here, but we do have to be here.
The question I'm concerned with, though, is: do I have to be here?