Friday, June 30, 2017

stop pitting detransitoners against happily transitioned people

People have been asking me to respond to The Stranger's recent "The Detransitioners" article, especially because I am quoted in it. So this is a (not so brief) statement to that effect.

A year ago I wrote a long-read essay called Detransition, Desistance, and Disinformation: A Guide for Understanding Transgender Children Debates - it was my attempt to address the many issues that are usually overlooked or erased in sensationalistic & fear-mongering articles about people who detransition. Between that piece and a shorter follow up post, I felt like I said just about everything I had to say about the subject.

For those of you who haven't read it or don't want to read it, here are a few of the points that I make in that essay:

1) People detransition for a variety of personal and/or social reasons.

2) Cisgender people who are trans-antagonistic or trans-suspicious desperately want to use the existence of people who detransition as evidence that "cisgender people are being turned transgender," perhaps because of peer pressure or a lax/reckless/immoral transgender healthcare system.

3) While there may be a few instances out there in which someone who detransitions feels (at the time of transition, or in retrospect) that they were pressured into transitioning, the vast overwhelming majority of social pressure happens in the opposite direction - that is, systemic transphobia ensures that way way way more people either delay their transition or detransition in order to meet our society's cisgender norms (i.e., cissexism or cisnormativity) than there are people who feel pressure to transition.

4) Rather than pit people who detransition against happily transitioned people (as the media and anti-trans forces are wont to do), we should instead strive to "minimize unwanted irreversible changes - whether it be preventing unwanted puberties in strongly cross-gender-identified trans children, or in reducing the chances that people who will ultimately not be happy with physical transition follow down that path." And I made the case that the gender-affirming model achieves this better than gender-reparative therapies or a stricter gatekeeper system. I also argued that there should be increased information and resources for those who do decide to detransition (and the therapists/healthcare providers that work with them).

About a month ago, Katie Herzog (who wrote the recent The Stranger detransitioner piece) contacted me. Herzog mentioned reading my aforementioned essay, and asked to interview me. I gave permission to quote from my piece (since it's already out in the public sphere), and said that I might be open to answering further questions since (based on their initial email) Herzog acknowledged that this was a "fraught and complex subject."

A week or so later, Herzog emailed me to ask if I had a response 'to the idea that "social contagion" has something to do with the growing number of folks coming out as trans.' The question obviously flew in the face of the arguments I painstakingly laid out in my Detransition, Desistance, and Disinformation essay (see points #3 & #4 above). I started to write a response, but it basically just reiterated all of the same points that I already made in my essay (which Herzog had already read). I had no desire to be a part of a trans = "social contagion" article, plus I was extremely busy with other matters at the time. So I decided at that point to not participate in Herzog's article (and I did not reply to Herzog's email).

Fast forward to this week: Herzog sent me an email with a link to the article and mentioning that my essay was quoted in it. I was too busy writing/publishing/getting word out about my latest essay (Debunking “Trans Women Are Not Women” Arguments) to read it. But in the last 24 hours or so, I've seen lots of negative reactions to it, and people are now asking me about it (since I am quoted in it). So I read it tonight, and here are my initial thoughts upon first reading:

1) Some people detransition. And their stories should be heard. We can potentially learn from their stories.

2) But only one type of detransition story seems to be told here: people who transitioned and it didn't feel right for them and/or people who detransitioned and now no longer identify as trans. But what about the many people who detransition because of societal transphobia, or because of pressure from their families/workplaces to *not* be trans? Or the numerous people who physically detransition yet still identify as trans and continue to participate in trans communities? Or what about the many people who detransitioned at some point in the past, but then later retransitioned? Where are their stories? They are barely mentioned or not mentioned at all.

3) The lack of these latter stories would not be so concerning if this was just a "Hey, some people detransition, how can we better understand their experiences, learn from them, provide them with more resources, etc." article. But Herzog's article was intentionally framed as a pitting-people-who-detransition-against-happily-transitioned-people debate, and as a lax-versus-strict gatekeeping/trans healthcare debate. And in a mainstream publication like The Stranger (where the overwhelming majority of readers are largely unaware of trans perspectives on these matters and the complexities of our lives), this will no doubt play right into the "cisgender people being turned transgender" trope that many cisgender people want to believe, and which I thoroughly deconstructed in my Detransition, Desistance, and Disinformation essay.

4) Points #2 & #3 are problematic enough on their own. But they are horribly exacerbated by Herzog's legitimization of the argument that "social contagion"/"trendsgender" is possibly/likely turning people transgender. In my mind, that aspect of the article is entirely reckless. While Herzog may not personally believe it, putting it out there as a potentially legitimate theory is akin to giving equal time in an article to scientists who don't believe in climate change or who think that smoking-causes-lung-cancer is still up for debate.

Let's play a quick game: go to Google, type in "peer pressure to be", and see how it autocompletes the phrase. Here's what I found:

I tried this on multiple browsers, and had friends carry out the same search, and we all got pretty much the same outcomes more or less: "gay" and "transgender" were always in the top 5 results. While we can all agree that there is a huge amount of social pressure put on all of us to be thin or skinny or perfect, there is little to no social pressure put on people to be gay or transgender. In fact, it's the exact opposite: homophobia and transphobia constantly pressure people into *not* being gay or transgender, respectively. So why do "gay" and "transgender" repeatedly show up in autocompletes to the query "peer pressure to be"? Simply put, this is what anti-gay & anti-trans forces want people to believe, and they've created numerous articles and webpages to propagate these falsehoods.

Are there *some* people who have detransitioned who feel (at the time of their transition, or in retrospect) that they were pressured into transitioning, or swept up in a "trend" or "social contagion"? Sure, I don't doubt it - people have a wide diversity of experiences, and opinions, and interpretations of their past life decisions. But there are also people who currently identify as ex-gay who will say that they were pressured into it, or that they were duped by the homosexual agenda. In a homophobic world, writing an article about ex-gays or people whose sexual orientations shift over time is perfectly fine, but framing it in terms of 'is there a "social contagion" or "trend" that is "turning people gay" ' is downright reckless and arguably homophobic.

Trans people are a marginalized group. People who detransition are also a marginalized group. Here is my advice to all journalists who may want to write about this subject in the future: STOP PITTING MARGINALIZED GROUPS AGAINST ONE ANOTHER!

Sometimes happily transitioned people and people who detransition feel threatened by one another, and we may even express concern or hostility toward one another. The ONLY reason this happens is because YOU (i.e., the cisnormative majority) KEEP PITTING US AGAINST ONE ANOTHER. If you all weren't so dead-set on compelling us to fit into your perfect little gender-conforming world, we wouldn't have to justify our identities to you. We could explore our genders without constantly facing transphobic social pressure, or pressure to adhere to in-community ideals (which arise almost entirely in response to systemic transphobia). If it wasn't for YOUR strict adherence to cisnormativity, it wouldn't matter so much if we appear somewhat gender-non-conforming because we took our sweet time before deciding to transition, or if we ultimately decided to detransition because it wasn't quite working out for us.

So, my dear journalists, instead of framing this debate in terms of "trans people versus detransitioners," please focus on the real debate: YOU (cisnormative society, media, and institutions) versus US (the diverse trans people, people who detransition, and/or gender non-conforming people that you relentlessly exoticize and delegitimize).

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