There are so many more important things to talk about right now. But this the biggest thing that I have the authority to talk on. Joyous.
If somehow you’ve been out of the loop, allow me to fill you in: for quite some time now, J.K. Rowling has been fighting for relevance outside of the Harry Potter series, and seems to have found it in a new community: gender discourse. Specifically, she’s been engaging in bad faith arguments about the mythical Evil Transgender Woman who brutalizes innocent children and cisgender women in the name of the Evil Transgender Agenda (patent pending).
And if you’re trans, you’ve known about this for a while. Rowling’s transphobia has been overt for many, many months, on top of her already overt and rampant racism and antisemitism. But for whatever reason, this past week’s comments have become much more widely scrutinized and more discussed. In short, one tweet mocking the phrase “people who menstruate” became Rowling’s hill to die on, culminating in a separate writing in which she defended her transphobia as not transphobia, but as concern for innocent women and children (as it always seems to be).
I am not going to be linking to any of her tweets or her writings. At most, I will be quoting only when relevant to this piece, because the only way to deal with TERFS and transphobes is to completely deplatform them.
That being said, in the agonizingly long in-defense-of-myself piece, Rowling brings up medical transition and specifically the phenomena of detransition:
“I’m concerned about the huge explosion in young women wishing to transition and also about the increasing numbers who seem to be detransitioning, because they regret taking steps that have, in some cases, altered their bodies irrevocably … The more of their accounts [I’ve] read, the more I’ve wondered whether, if I’d been born 30 years later, I too might have tried to transition. The allure of escaping womanhood would have been huge.”
So, alright. We’re going to unpack all of that.
Now, J.K. Rowling is not the first person to bring up detransition as proof of the Evil Transgender Agenda, but she’s certainly the reason that the discussion has been brought into my immediate sphere for rehashed discourse. In case you still aren’t clear on the term, to detransition simply means to go back to identifying/presenting as your assigned birth gender.
I know a handful of people who technically ‘detransitioned’; they never took any medical steps, but they socially identified as male for a while before deciding that it wasn’t who they were.
And I know only one person who detransitioned after medically transitioning. They detransitioned after moving back in with abusive, transphobic parents, and spoke very little openly about it before pretty much vanishing from my online sphere.
Now, are there people who detransition willingly, after realizing that identifying as transgender is not what makes them happy? Of course. And there is nothing wrong with that, either, I want that to be clear.
I’m in full support of people trying out identities to find what makes them happiest, and I would never look at a person who detransitioned as lesser. Sometimes people detransition because it’s what makes them happy; others stop medical transition for health reasons, others because they simply can’t afford it or for literally any number of other reasons.
The problem with the detransition conversation is that it is so often taken over by transphobes and TERFS; in an effort to show that the Evil Transgender Agenda is destroying children, people point to detransitioned people as proof. They claim it’s just too easy to medically transition, and that the “influx” of people doing so is evidence that not only is it easy for men to lie about being transgender women in order to molest “real” women and children, but it is easy for society to convince self-hating women into “being men”.
While my own story can only speak for what transition was and is like for me, on the West Coast of the United States in the late 2010's, I still feel like it gets my point across enough.
I realized I was a man in late 2017. I was then closeted for a year; it wasn’t until I went to college in mid-2018 that I could look for transition resources. The first place I tried required you to call as soon as they opened, first-come first-serve, and did not otherwise make appointments. Planned Parenthood, the second place I tried and ultimately chose, also required appointments.
My first appointment with Planned Parenthood saw me in the waiting room for at least an hour, filling out paperwork that was general as well as specific to transition. I had to read through all the known effects that testosterone would have on my body, and acknowledge the possibility of other side effects that were lesser known. I had to sign off that I was not under any mental duress. Upon meeting with the practitioner, she also asked questions to see if I had a support system, that I knew what I was doing.
Then came the bloodwork. Once my hormone levels were known, then I was given the prescription. Every few months, I haggle with my insurance company to cover it, because it’s the difference between $10-$20 and well over $200.
Every four to six months, I get my bloodwork done again, to make sure that my testosterone levels aren’t too high, and that my organs are healthy. Every few months, I go back to that Planned Parenthood to check in, at around $100 a visit (without insurance). Every few months I need to buy my own needles and syringes, as well as disposal containers for them.
Currently, I’m shopping around again, this time for an endocrinologist; I’ve relocated out of the city where I was going to college and where my Planned Parenthood was located, and now need to go through the process of insurance, appointments, and likely bloodwork, all over again.
All this to say: transition is not easy.
And I think my transition story was easy, in a relative sense. In some states, you need a therapist’s note in order to medically transition. If you’re a minor, you need parental consent and months of mandated therapy. I often read about the situation in other countries, where trans people sit on a waiting list for years in order to finally be granted their resources. Getting a chance at hormone therapy can be a years long venture.
By the way, I haven’t even covered legal name changes, top surgery, vaginoplasty or phalloplasty, hysterectomy, or the variety of other surgeries that are available; all of which cost upwards of tens of thousands of dollars, even if you’re lucky enough to have insurance which covers them (most don’t). I haven’t even covered the possible financial repercussions if your transness means you get fired from employment, if it means you can’t even get hired, and what that means for a person’s housing and quality of life, what that means for your capacity to begin or continue transition.
So when Rowling expresses “concern” that people are transitioning too easily, she’s fucking lying and doing so maliciously.
When Rowling says she might’ve tried to transition if she were a young adult today, she’s lying. I do not for a second believe that she has the patience and perseverance to medically transition.
Transgender men are not women crippled by self hatred. Transness is not and never has been quantifiable by hatred. We aren’t women who hate ourselves, we’re men who love ourselves. To take the unfortunate experiences of a vocal minority and use it to cast a wide net over the entire community does immense damage and I have no doubt that that is intentional. Transition is not as simple as walking into a building and asking nicely for drugs, but accept this arduous process nonetheless and dedicate ourselves to it because we know we deserve to be happy.
There is nothing financially or socially easy about medical transition. In many places, to transition is inherently revolutionary because to transition means to immediately expose yourself to potential violence and possible murder. Everything about transition is hard and requires immense bravery. To insinuate anything less is bullshit.
Part of the problem with talking about transition and, subsequently, detransition, is that there just isn’t a lot of information out there.
Between the two, detransition is perhaps the least well documented, and that opens the gates for fear mongering. There aren’t reliable numbers on how many transgender people there are in the United States, which means we certainly don’t know how many people choose to detransition. We do not know how many transgender children there are, or how many continue to identify as such into adulthood.
Rowling cites a woman named Lisa Littman when she talks about the false phenomena of bandwagon transition, and that’s its own whole thing. All you need to know is that in 2018, Littman surveyed around 250 parents of transgender children, and claimed that the “[transgender] youth have created insular echo chambers” for themselves, and thus social media is in some ways responsible for children incorrectly identifying themselves as transgender. On top of the fact that Littman surveyed the parents and not the children, the study has overall been widely panned for being unethical, and had to be republished with clarification on the study’s methods and conclusion.
Of course, Rowling totes her as an unsung hero, abused for daring to speak out against the Evil Transgender Agenda.
Going along with that, when doing research for this piece, it became clear really quickly that detransitioned people split off into two main groups. There’s those who have seemingly continued about their lives, and those who have, for lack of a better term, overcorrected. Whether you want to call them TERFS, radfems, gender criticals- a very specific subset of FtM detransitioners are outspoken against the perceived Evil Transgender Agenda and how it affects women.
One article- that I am again choosing to not cite- chronicles a panel by these women, who call affirming surgeries “castration”, said that surgeons who practiced on trans people who detransitioned “should be put in prison”, said that transgender ideology is a movement against gays and lesbians, and that surgeries for transgender men “[don’t] make you any less female”. And yet they reject the idea that they’re transphobic for reasons I do not know and likely will never understand.
I’ve talked about radfems briefly before (click here, if you like people dunking on Kalvin Garrah and the like), but I’m once again struck by how immediately I recognized their rhetoric against transgender men as the same rhetoric that truscum use; the idea that you’re just a girl deep down, suffering from internalized misogyny, hoping to escape womanhood through transition even though you aren’t ““really”” a man. Both target the inherent self doubt that comes with acknowledging that your true identity is completely different from what you were born into. Both target the fear that there is a chance, however small, that you aren’t really trans.
Again, written about this before (here), and I’ve even contemplated that fear explicitly- “that little voice in the back of my head persists that one day when I’m in my 30’s, I’ll wake up and realize this was all a mistake”.
The thing is, I get why detransition is a touchy subject. Transgender people are constantly subject to harassment based on their birth gender, and we must constantly fight for our space to be heard. And so the possibility that we might not be happy in transition is inherently scary. And if you go through years of medical and social transition, only to find unhappiness, I can only imagine how scary it would be to have to walk back on it. I completely agree that it’s a phenomena that needs to be looked at and discussed, but not in the way it’s being done now.
With the detransition ‘debate’ being co-opted and led by “gender criticals” and other explicit transphobes, the conversation becomes not about how medical professionals are often not equipped to deal with trans people, but instead how trans people are the ones forcing others to transition blindly. And that’s just simply not the reality of the situation.
First of all, by and large, we know what we’re doing when we transition. We think about it long and hard. We’ve listened to doctors explain the risks to us and we’ve accepted them. If I were to ever be unhappy in my transition, I would be the only person to blame; not the doctors I’ve had, not my therapists, not any of my transgender friends, me. Because I chose to make these changes, and I am responsible for my own actions.
Ultimately, detransition should be one of many transgender issues that need to be taken more seriously by the medical profession as a whole. There needs to be better training and better resources so that they know how to treat us and communicate with us. I don’t believe people should have to adhere to a lengthy, mandatory waiting period before gaining access to medical transition, but I also think that we do need conversations and structures in place to make sure that people understand what they’re getting into. If a doctor meets with a trans person and isn’t telling them the risks and benefits of medical transition, if they aren’t telling them that medical transition cannot in of itself make you happy, then they’re a bad doctor; they should not be the norm.
Considering how short this piece was in comparison to what I usually write about trans issues, I was surprised by how many mini-mental health breaks I needed to take while writing this. Transphobia still isn’t fun to submerge one’s self in, I guess.
So should detransition be talked about more? I think so. Though, I think so in the same way that I think everything about transness should be talked about more; but we just don’t have the numbers to talk about this objectively right now, and so all we’re doing is flailing around in the dark even with the best of intentions.
Flat out, you should know that transition alone will not make you happy. And it should never be the first thing you do. If you aren’t supported by those around you and if you aren’t actively seeking therapy in some form, then taking testosterone or estrogen isn’t going to be the cure-all for your unhappiness. I completely accept the idea that people can buy into transition as their sole way to self acceptance, and are then left disappointed and disillusioned; that isn’t other transgender people's’ faults, though.
I am not transgender because of misogyny. I lived in the world of women as a woman for nearly all of my life, and despite my ability to partake in femininity, existing as a woman was to exist as a square peg in a round hole. Believe me that I tried desperately to make it work, but I was just not meant to be a girl. No amount of feminism or introspection would ever make me comfortable with being referred to as a woman when I have the ability to be referred to as a man instead. And that’s me, that’s not because some stranger on the Internet convinced me it was so.
If you are a person who wants to detransition or has already done so, that’s fine. You have more courage than I will ever have. And I’m on your side that there needs to be more educated medical professionals to help us along, because we cannot be our own doctors here. We need to be making studies happen, getting the numbers, learning the best ways to keep our brothers and sisters happy and healthy and alive. Trans people and detransitioned people should be working in tandem to create the best possible healthcare system in order to prevent horror stories.
But if you detransition and weaponize your experiences against transgender people, that’s unforgivable. I hope that nobody ever gives you the time of day.
And, until next time, these are my final words of wisdom: