I’ve been seeing more and more articles about people who “detransition”, who begin on the path of medical transition then stop and go back. Most of these articles have been in conservative and mainstream news outlets, like “The Economist” and “Rolling Stone”(I’d give a citation if I had one available to me) which has caused me to question the motivations behind publishing the article. However, I recently read an article about it in an excellent commie rag which has been very pro LGBTQIA2+ and publishes articles that are critical of the transphobia inherent to mainstream American culture. (News and Letters. “Detransitioners Speak Out”. Nov-Dec 2019. Vol 64 No 6. Pg 2.)
Which means, I’m finally putting on my critical thinking cap when I probably should have done so quite a while ago. I’ve been hesitant because thinking about it is kinda nightmarish for me. I’ve felt so out of place because of my femininity for so long, I can’t really imagine what it would feel like for being transgender to have not been the answer I desperately needed. Thus, up to this point, my lack of consideration for detransitioners has had more to do with my own unarticulated fears and insecurities than anything else.
In prison we have people who declare themselves as trans, and then after few months, claim not to be trans. with little or no explanation. I’ve observed this a few times and, up until recently, I thought what was happening was mostly specific to prison. But now, perhaps not. Now I’m beginning to think that many people are transitioning, then detransitioning because they started down this path for the wrong reasons or with insufficient knowledge. I have come to this conclusion based upon more than just my experience as a trans woman, but also my experience as a witch.
In Wicca, we have a thing called “dedicate”. It is what we call a person who is interested in possibly becoming a witch. A dedicate spends a year and a day studying paganism, and other religions, before they are considered to have sufficient knowledge to make an informed choice about initiation, about becoming a witch.
I am not saying that a person has to jump through this that and the other hoop, because gatekeeping is a bully. Instead I am saying that everyone should be allowed to explore gender without any stigma and if a person seems to enjoy that exploration, they should be encouraged in it. However, their explorations should happen with the support and wisdom of others who can keep them from making choices that could cause them permanent harm.
I think this is what is missing for people in prison, and probably in society as well. The concept of transgender has, in the past few years, gotten a lot of media attention, but only in the “crossing the gender divide” sense of the word. There has been very little discussion of other queer identities, like gender neutral or butch or femme identities.
Many people will probably disagree with the following but, I see no reason why a cis woman couldn’t transition into a femme identity or a cis man transition into a butch identity. So of course a cis woman could transition to butch or a cis man to femme without any thought to change of pronouns or medical transition.
I think that one of the reasons there are many detransitioners is because there is not a social norm of exploring what it’s like to move through the world with different gender expressions just because one can. Instead, the social norm is that a person has to insist on being the opposite gender AND live up to the social expectations of that gender (which is BS).
I recognize the flaw in my argument. I’m pointing at labels which create stereotypes as being a problem, then suggesting more labels as a solution. Which means I’m just redefining the problem in a way that makes it slightly more manageable without inherently addressing the underling coercion of western civilization.
As with many of these highly complex social issues where we, as a community, are having to navigate it as we’re inventing language to discuss it, I don’t have the answers, I just have a feeling of in what direction some answers might be in. I haven’t even touched on the issue of people who are attracted to trans people claiming to be trans to try and get close to us and possibly victimize us (which is a serious issue in prison and happens quite a lot). I don’t know how to approach this second thornier issue, but it is decidedly something to consider.
Like I said, I don’t have answers, but I hope I’ve complexified the debate in a useful way.