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Let's talk about detransitioning
Don't worry, I'll keep it light
Hello, lovely people. We’re bout to delve into some sticky, tricky business.
Yes, in this week’s post, I’ll do my very best to discuss transness and detransitioning in a way that leaves your spirit light, because here at JASPER we don’t do heavy. Deep? Oh, absolutely. But heavy…nah.
It’ll be a challenge, but we’ll be golden (you may even leave smiling). If you don’t believe transness is “real” or whatever, maybe you’ll learn something. Maybe not.
Oh! I should warn you, there are cringeworthy levels of optimism ahead. Okay, I think I covered the basics.
Let’s get it…
I just painted my nails this dazzling, chrome blueish, purple-y, green. Lovely. Every time I look down and that pearly green goes blue, my heart flutters. I let them dry, smiling. Days go by, maybe even weeks. I shine. Then, slowly, surely, my nail color chips and fades. There comes a time I can’t possibly pretend I’m serving any longer, so I pull out that polish remover and get to wiping. And guess what?
The nails revealed underneath can never, ever be the same as the ones I painted over. Quite literally, in fact. Fingernails grow about a tenth of an inch a month. So they are not the same. But they are still mine. Always mine.
Y’all see where I’m going with this.
I stay changing. We all do. As Octavia Butler said, change is the only constant life offers anyway. Which leads us to the term of the hour:
In my home state of Tennessee, along with several others, lawmakers have taken special measures to outlaw gender-affirming care for both minors and adults in an attempt to force detransitioning.
I’m here to tell you that it is impossible to force a trans person to detransition.
Listen. Who we are inside persists. We change, grow, and evolve, and yet, remain ourselves the whole time. It’s truly iconic stuff.
So you can pass laws to block our gender-affirming surgeries, hormone replacement therapies (HRT) and even try to block social transition measures in schools, but your attempts to erase us will fail.
Now, I don’t think the anti-trans girlies (used gender-neutrally here) realize that our ancestors didn’t have (nor did they need) gender-affirming care.
But this current world is not conducive to our survival. I’m not sure everyone gets that when we say we always been here, we don’t mean like this.
We mean that long ago, we could simply be without interruption, without armor, and without attack. And as time goes on, no matter how much we’re heckled, harmed, or hounded, we’ve persevered. We survive.
I think that scares a lot of people.
For trans folks to be an ever-evolving community whose ancestors found creative ways to survive amid growing disgust at our existence? It’s a powerful thing, indeed.
So when I think about the term “detransition,” about laws put in place to enforce it, I often laugh at its ridiculousness, before I cry. Because we trans folks don’t go backwards. It’s against evolution, of transformation, which are so intertwined in the history of trans survival.
Now, I don’t believe in going backwards in life at all. I should be clear on that. I’m of the belief that, trans or not, we’re all in transition. I’ve made this point before.
We are all continuously becoming more of ourselves every single day, and however we define this is our choice.
But I’m sure some of you are thinking, what about the folks who truly have detransitioned, on purpose?
We can go there, sure.
What about the people who detransition, hmm?
About 1 percent of people who transition express regret. Of that group, some decide to detransition.
I want to be clear that “detransitioning” in this context means either to stop or “reverse” gender transition, whether that’s socially, medically, or legally.
According to a recent study, the vast majority of people detransition because of societal and family pressure. In fact, most folks who detransition say they “do not regret initiating treatment” because they felt it helped them better understand their gender-related needs in the long run.
I find that discussions around detransitioning, especially among folks with anti-trans biases, imply some sort of failure or retraction of trans support.
But as a trans person who’s been off-on-off-on-and-off HRT, as an avid reader and researcher, and as a Black American in tradition with my ancestors, this to me is not failure. It is another kind of evolution into being, and another form of survival in this currently anti-trans world.
This concept of detransitioning then seems a counterintuitive term that implies an undoing of self. It serves anti-trans movements quite well because it implies the ability to erase “the lie” of trans identity. As if transness is something you can put on and take off.
People who struggle to understand trans identities get wrapped up in aesthetics. We clock those who we think “look trans” and those who “pass as cis.” In our own ignorance of the vastness of humanity, we often get it wrong.
We harm Black and brown folks, intersex people, Black women (see: Caster Semenya, Serena Williams, and others) with our assumptions.
Sometimes we’re all so caught up in what we think transness looks like that we fall into whirlpools of gender confusion. We panic at the thought of some poor trans child “ruining” their body for the sake of a “possible phase” so much that we ignore our own biases towards colonialist or conventional ways of looking and being.
I want us to think bigger.
Outside of this narrow assumption of what transness looks like is a whole world in which far fewer trans people experience gender dysphoria because society accepts their physical form as it is, without violence or harm.
This world I mentioned is a fantasy right now, but it wasn’t in our distant history. Still, it exists in the imagination of thousands of trans folks and our allies until the rest of the world catches up.
And I should be clear that even in our current reality, many of us trans folks have absolutely no interest in fitting anyone’s gender expectations. Many of us want nothing to do with gender affirming surgeries or hormone replacement therapy and simply want social acceptance to exist as we are without brutality. Brutality is, in fact, our greatest barrier to freedom.
So then, folks who detransition tend to do so for their own protection.
I said, people who detransition tend to do so for their own protection.
Imagine that. Dampening a part of yourself to regain the ability to be.
Having the ability to physically transform in the ways we can now is a newer reality for all of us. Many of the terms we use to identify our expansiveness are also new, relatively speaking. But transness is ancient.
When I think of transness, I think of the truths we still carry from our (trans)ancestors. I think of remnants of the pre-colonial West African tongue weaved through American Gullah people’s use of “e” as a gender-neutral pronoun, even today. In the current existence and rich history of Māhū people in Hawaii and the two spirit folks of many indigenous and First Nations tribes.
Transness is bigger than the body. It is as old and constantly evolving as humanity.
Some people fear that transness, genderqueer-ness, blurs the lines too much. That the more visible we are, the more it erases cis men and women. But I’d argue that it is transness, not a binary system, that leaves immeasurable space for everyone.
And so here again, I find myself towing the line between worlds.
In one world, where we simply exist as we are, however that manifests, this entire rant is unnecessary. And then I also live in this current world. The one full of labels created to carve out space for so many of us that history has tried to erase.
This is why the words we use are so very important. It’s why “detransition” can be a harmful term, though we all, as a society, have agreed to it. We’ve attempted to make space for the people among us with whom transness is not afforded with a word that calls change, failure.
This is not an argument to eliminate this word, but an urge to expand our thinking around it. Because when you are in between worlds, removal is far more difficult than expansion.
As we trudge through this in-between time, I remember that space is freedom. The movement is growing, and that means progress, no matter how turbulent.
I live in Tennessee. I can’t even play like I don’t get scared. Can’t play like we trans folks are all good out here. But I remind myself constantly that trans people’s mere existence shakes the proverbial table, and that movement is good.
So the next time you hear about another anti-trans law or about some dear soul sharing their detransition story, I hope you consider all of this.
I hope you think of the many of us trans people who know our power, our truth, and our history. Trust. We ain’t going nowhere. “Detransition” be damned.
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