Philly Follow-up

This is a followup to the recent no-platforming of our two workshops at the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference. More details here:

There has been a lot of discussion across various forums about the detransition panel. A lot of people providing support and criticism. Some of it for things I actually believe, and a lot of it for things I actually don’t believe. This unfortunately is par for the course for Internet discourse and for discourse in general in the West. I actually think this is a much larger problem than detransition issues and sometimes I think I should focus on that instead. People dividing more and more into ideological camps and being unable to communicate with each other is a huge problem. People always have different ideologies and disagree about stuff. People with different ideologies observe the same world differently. They literally have different facts. That is part of what makes communication difficult. The challenge lies in interpreting the statements of the other charitably, assuming that they have a good intention even if it alien to you. This can be challenging but is an important practice. Some people really don’t have good intentions, in which case the best thing to do is maybe not communicate with them at all. However even many people that are lashing out in some way there is usually a pain or hurt behind that, and the person will soften if you acknowledge it. For Game of Thrones fans this is the exact opposite of Littlefinger’s advice. ☺

If you are critical of things I say I welcome dialogue, I hope that you would approach me with the lens that I am flawed human being trying to do what is best for others and myself in the world, and I promise to approach you in the same way.

One of the things that I find a particular blessing in my work is that I come in contact with a lot of people with a lot of different worldviews. People I would not have encountered in the past as I have spent most of my life in a liberal bubble. I feel my perspective has broadened in talking to people of all different orientations from all different walks of lives. I have come to see the value of the conservative viewpoint as well as the liberal. I also agree that our political views are mostly related to the moral intuitions that come from our different temperaments that again creates another barrier for us to communicate with each other. Though I am a liberal by temperament, I see these other views as important and valuable. I am not a relativist, I believe that things are better than other things, It is just that neither the left nor the right has a monopoly on that. If anything, my number one political issue is stand against those who seek to impose their views by authoritarianism and censor others against those that believe in ideological pluralism. That is not a left vs. right issue.

Now I would like to respond to some of the common themes I have seen in the discussion. I don’t speak for my co-panelists, only for myself:

“This presentation is a secret front to promote TERF ideology”

This idea came up a few times. The idea was that we were actually using detransition as a distraction to promote radical feminist ideology. There was no political intention behind the presentations at all. As I said, I am not in any way a radical feminist and therefore don’t promote their ideology. The presentations were about exactly what they said, no more no less. Some of my co-presenters may or may not have radical feminist views, there was no political litmus test to participate in the panel, nor should there be. Detransitioners are in a very difficult place regardless of their political affiliation.

If you wish to dislike me because of my political beliefs, you can dislike me for not being a pure Leftist. Most people in this discussion are on the Left. (trans people, detransitioners, radical feminist, clinicians). Ideological monocultures are dangerous when looking for scientific truth, because they lead to groupthink and blind spots. We all have blind spots; hopefully we can find people with different blind spots and dialogue with them.

“Detransitioners are a hoax perpetuated by radfems / detransitioners have been brainwashed by radfems which is why they are all AFAB (natal female) and young.”

This comes in two different flavors from people who have noticed that the majority of detransition blogs are from younger AFAB people and many of them have radical feminist leanings. This is definitely true. Not all AFAB detranstioners are radical feminists, but many of them are. It also true that the majority of detransitioners are AFAB.

I saw two different criticisms to explain this, the first was that these people are fake and are a hoax perpetuated by radical feminists to discredit trans people. They are not a hoax, there are a growing number of their videos on the Internet to prove that they exist. I have myself been accused of non-existance a couple of times, which is one of the reasons I made a couple of videos.

The second criticism is that they have been “brainwashed” by radfems in order to stop them from transitioning or their detransition is legit but they have been co-opted by radfems. This is getting cause and effect backwards I think. They can tell their own stories, but I think for many of them they found that the radical feminist ideology served the same function as their trans identity did as the past, to make sense of difficulties around being female in our society, and from bad experiences with men. I think the fact that there does seem to be a pattern of detransition centered around this demographic is concerning, especially because this is the exact same demographic that has greatly increased in presenting to gender clinics. So much so that it has flipped the sex ratio of these clinics. This wave of detransitioners comes before the peak of this trend, so if there is a true pattern here it is likely to grow a lot larger. If that happens, it is pretty important for the trans and detrans communities to work together to find constructive solutions to this, or otherwise there will be the kind of arbitrary gatekeeping that no one wants. It is not a good outcome if someone undergoes medical interventions, decides they don’t want them, and suffers from permanent lifetime consequences.

It is also clear that there are young AFAB folk that are happy with their transitions and interventions, so I am not saying this is true for all of them.

I am AMAB (natal male) and middle aged so I am not part of the typical demographic of detransitioners. I am also encountering more male detransitioners than I did in the past, but it doesn’t seem to be a systemic thing like it does with the AFAB folk. I think trans identity in AMAB and AFAB folk don’t parallel each other for the most part, and we shouldn’t take generalizations from one and automatically assume they are true for the other.

“This presenter is anti-trans and wishes to stop people from transitioning.”

Even though I say it nearly every post, people keep seeming to think I have the secret agenda to stop people from transitioning and throwing roadblocks in their way. Someone even used a post where I literally said some people should transition as proof that I “opposed transition”.

It is true that I am interested in finding ways for people to work with dysphoria without transitioning. I wish I had learned what I learned before I did it. But, the whole point of that is to create additional options for people, not to take options away. I support you 100% if you choose to transition in the way you see fit. I also thinking finding ways to work with dysphoria is applicable for people who undergo medical transition as well, because many of them still have dysphoria, even if their transition significantly helped reduce it. I think any of us that have dealt with dysphoria know how difficult it is, which is a difference between most detransitioners and other critical folk.

I do think we should try where possible to sort out who might be at a higher risk of eventual detransition, or who have other issues which interact with their dysphoria, or who can deal with their issues in other ways. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have agency over their own lives. Adults at least, are ultimately responsible for their own choices. Also, we don’t really know how to do this, so the only practical thing you can do is try to clear out as many confounding issues as possible, while keeping in mind that the person might be unable to do that depending on the severity of their dysphoria.

The whole reason I create this blog is to try to help people with gender dysphoria live the best possible lives. The evidence is clear that transition and medical interventions help some people, I just think we are throwing caution to the wind, particularly as there many, many more people presenting as trans than there used to be, and the reasons for this aren’t fully worked out.

“These presenters are bunch of crackpots who think you can cure dysphoria with yoga and dance which is false and unprofessional.”

This came up a lot, someone even referred to it as “yoga for dysphoria”. I think people completely misunderstood the intention for this panel. I wrote the description so that is my responsibility. I don’t think anyone would suggest that you can do yoga and poof your dysphoria will go away, that would be silly.

The intention behind the panel was to attempt to make a bridge between the detransitioner and trans communities because many of us have or continue to deal with dysphoria. Even many people who transition and find it helpful in dealing with their dysphoria still have dysphoria. Even many people who detransition still have dysphoria. Detransitioners have found some ways to work with their dysphoria, and I think some people who are happy transitioners have also found some ways to deal with their dysphoria. It was intended to be a bridge between the two communities so we could talk about what worked for us. I think people interpreted it as if I thought people could “cure” themselves with yoga or dance or something which is not the case. For people who are happy with their transition, the goal was to help people find ways to work with their remaining dysphoria, this is something that is almost never discussed in the trans community. There is also no research on it that I know of.

The specific things that were listed were things that many detransitioners have reported were underlying causes to their dysphoria. For me, personally when I am talking about dance, what I am actually talking about is embodiment, which is the antidote to dissociation. When treating dissociation we often get people engaged with their sensory experience some way, in a safe space. Dance for me was the vehicle for embodiment; I am not saying “dance your dysphoria away”. Many people report becoming less dissociated after transitioning, but some people report being more dissociated. I think reducing or eliminating dissociation is a sign that you are on the right track.

In any case the main point was to talk about coping with dysphoria whether you are happy with your transition, considering transition, or detransitioned, not to “cure” you of your transness.

“This presenter is bad because he is supported by radfems, this is proof of his evil intentions. He should denounce them and not associate with them.”

This is the guilt by association piece, saying that I am responsible for who likes my blog. I have also had people think I am responsible for the full contents of every article I have ever linked to. When I link to an article I am not always endorsing it, and even when I endorse an article it doesn’t mean I think that every point in that article is 100% correct.

For the second point, absolutely not! One big problem is that is happening right now is that there are all of these decentralized groups running around on the Internet, they are leaderless and people become members just by identifying with them. Opponents of these groups find the worst members of the group and then treat their actions as representative of the group. The “leaders” of the group are whoever is most popular, which is basically whoever the Internet decides are there prominent spokespeople. One thing I have found when interacting with groups whether they are trans activists, radfems, liberals or conservatives is that they are very diverse, and contain both extremists and reasonable people. I am open to dialogue with any reasonable people, and have had good conversations with radical feminists. They are not a monolith. The same holds true for trans people, I don’t hold all trans people responsible for the actions of the activists that cancelled my presentation. Likewise no one elected me a spokesperson for detransitioned people, so the things I believe should not be taken as representative of all detransitioners.

I will however condemn people who engage in hate. Those who mock, shame and belittle trans people. Those who call trans people mutilated, and condemn them as freaks and sexual deviants. That I do denounce, clearly and fully. Some of these same people call detransitioned people mutilated too, and use our stories to make political points.

“We are okay with detransitoners speaking, just not these ones who are promoting toxic ideas.”

This is a great piece talking about the “good detransitioner vs. bad detransitioner” framework. In other words, detransitioners are welcome as long as they don’t have any problem with what happened to them, and don’t criticize what is currently going on. As long as detransition is just a personal choice it is okay to talk about, if we are critical of some of what happened to us then it is not okay to talk about. Only certain kinds of detransitioners are acceptable. Many of us feel harmed by what happened to us, and are critical of things told to us by the community or therapists and that is part of hearing our stories.

“Detransition is just another stage on some people’s “gender journeys” and should be supported. We should honor their journeys and find speakers who see it that way.

This is similar to the above point. Detransition is much less threatening if it is framed as part of someone’s “gender journey”. In other words, this framing said we had a different kind of gender journey, adopting a trans identity and then a different one. Preferably a non-binary one. There are some people who have exactly this journey. It is also not much of a problem if this happens.

However, there people who feel profoundly harmed by what happened to them. Sometimes I communicate with detransitioners who are so full of regret that they are at the point of despair and suicidality. To call what happened to them a “gender journey” is an deep insult, and trivializes the pain that they are in. It is affirming something as a “journey” that was destructive to them.

This presenter is dangerous because the ideas in his blog might delay people getting traditional medical treatment causing them harm.

This is a potentially serious criticism. In reading the discussion around our conference, someone reported that my blog caused them to delay the treatment that helped them. This person eventually went through medical and social transition and reported that this was highly beneficial to them, and that they had delayed treatment based on the blog. They said I was being irresponsible because “transition is the only way to deal with gender dysphoria.” I was really troubled by this, because the last thing I want to do with my blog is make people suffer more.

There is both scientific evidence and many self-reports that people’s lives are improved by gender transition. I do not think that all people can deal with their dysphoria by means other than transition and medical treatment. There are many people for who that is the only way, and even for the people that are looking for other ways we are just beginning that process and just have the ideas that have worked for us. That is what this is.

However, the statement that “transition is the only way to deal with gender dysphoria for all people” is not true. Dysphoria is on a spectrum, it ebbs and flows, and has more or less intensity. There have always been people who had dysphoria and have not transitioned or felt the need to. Some of these people cross-dress, some of them just have fantasies, some of them take low-dose hormone therapy, anti-androgens, or anti-depressants, some of them choose a different name, some of them find the drawback of medical transition to outweigh the advantages, some of them just cope with their dysphoria and find it manageable. Some of these people identify as non-binary and trans, some don’t. At least a couple of dozen people have told me directly they have found the things I said to be very helpful in dealing with their dysphoria, as an alternative to transition, so they are out there.

So, my position is that it is true that at this time there are people for whom transition is the only way or the best way. It is not however true that this is true for all people with dysphoria. Also it shouldn’t be a requirement that this be true for someone to undergo medical transition. Having more agency and choice in ones life is always a good thing.

It is also true that sometimes parents and loved ones read my blog and are distressed by their loved one’s impending transition and think that the blog will help them. Maybe or maybe not, it is not some magical cure. If you do feel like something I said was harmful, please let me know. I would like to know how to present things in the best way in order to help the people that will be helped by what I say and not harm the people that it will not.

21 comments

  1. Personally, I don’t see any reason to try to appease the Transsexual lobby, so I gave up tiptoeing around the subject. I suffered from Gender Identity Disorder as a young man, and I sought help to undergo gender reassignment therapy. Fortunately for me, at this time (the early 1980s) there was very little financial help available, and I was unable to afford the physical therapy.

    I was, however, lucky enough to find a therapist who was able to correctly diagnose me as dissociative, and specialized in treating early childhood trauma, which I had suffered from and which I believe is the underlying cause of both the dissociation and my feelings of gender dysphoria.

    I have known a number of people who have physically transitioned personally (I was romantically involved with a male to female transsexual) and I am convinced that in no case that I have known personally has a physical transition been an effective therapy for the issue of gender identity disorder.

    I don’t claim that my experience is statistically significant. But it is my experience. What is more, I have noticed that the majority of the high profile trans celebrities are people who are pre-operative. There is a lot of talk about the hopes and dreams of people who are looking forward to the process and very little follow up afterwards.

    I am not anti-trans or transphobic. I am pro therapy that works. I know what worked with me–therapy that focused on teaching me to love and accept myself as I am. I am not a therapist or a clinician. I do, however, believe that patients have a right to know all of their treatment options and to also be told the long term prognosis for each. Patients suffering from Gender Identity Disorder are not given the information that they need to make rational choices regarding their own care.

    1. I think it is very important that more stories like this be out there, and particularly that people look at issues of dissociation and childhood trauma, which is what my issues all related to as well. I find it maddening when clinicians don’t even look at these things and wish I had found such a therapist. I am glad you found the therapy you needed.

      1. I agree: Gender dysphoria and gender reassignment are sequelae of childhood sexual trauma and dissociation. It is terribly frustrating that mental health professionals refuse to address these developmental issues prior to approving gender reassignment.

        1. “Gender dysphoria and gender reassignment are sequelae of childhood sexual trauma and dissociation”

          While this may be true for some people, it is not a general truth. It would be useful if a study were carried out to gather evidence of how prevalent it is.

          I subscribe to the idea that there exists a great deal more child abuse than is officially accepted. Not only is this supported by various charitable organisations, but as a counsellor who practiced in the areas of bereavement, LGBTI and generalist, I found that maybe 60% of clients disclosed some kind of childhood abuse.

          Can I ask what your sources are for your two assertions? The first is simply not a general truth, while the second does not match the anecdotal evidence that I have from exchanging personal experiences in the trans community.

          1. “I found that maybe 60% of clients disclosed some kind of childhood abuse.”

            The operative word here is “disclosed”.

            Unfortunately, trans clients have good reasons for failing to disclose a history of child abuse, especially childhood sexual abuse. Such reasons include:

            1. Fear that one’s trans identity will not be taken seriously or considered genuine if such history is disclosed.

            2. Fear that disclosure will preclude regender reassignment.

            3. Fear of being labeled as mentally ill.

            4. Embarrassment.

            5. Humiliation.

            6. A desire to self-define; meaning, one would rather be trans because one chooses such an identity rather than to admit one is quite possibly trans due to psychological damage caused by one’s perpetrator.

            Given this, please understand that, as a mental health practitioner, you are one of the last people a trans person would disclose an abuse history to. This is because trans people think of all mental health professionals as gender reassignment ‘gatekeepers’.

            So, if you found that some 60% of clients diclosed abuse, I think we might agree the true figure is much higher.

            Personally, I am a full thirty-years post transition. When I transitioned, I was not fully cognizant of my abuse history and how that formed my trans identity. Given this, I did not disclose an abuse history of any sort, leaving my therapist to wonder how I had gotten from Point A to Point B, so to speak. Now that I am ‘safe’ on the other side of the transition fence, I recognize and acknowledge openly what happened to me, and why I believe my gender dysphoria was (and is) caused by childhood sexual abuse.

            Out of curiosity, I queried over many years all of the trans people I met or spoke to via the Internet. All but three admitted to a history of childhood sexual abuse. The three who did not admit to abuse turned red, averted their eyes, and refused to answer my question. One of the three (a physician) responded, “Don’t mention such a paradigm! Such a topic leads to trans and gay people being labeled as pedophiles. Don’t you realize how many years we have fought to lose that label?” Further discussion led her to obliquely admit to abuse.

            Admittedly, this is not a proper study. However, as an ex-graduate student of psycology and a graduate student researcher at NASA for several years, I must tell you that psych studies are, for the most part, not a be-all end-all to this sort of question – not only due to the reasons I listed above but because psych research is often, for the most part, not terribly sound. Hate to be pessimistic about such research but, I must admit, that this is one big reason I switched to graduate work in mathematics.

            1. That people would not disclose their abuse histories to their therapists is very true. Especially, if there is something they really want and their therapist has power over that (like hormones). Even under normal circumstances it takes time to trust a therapist. I have had several clients disclose abuse issues later in therapy, initially presenting with different issues. This is normal, because it takes time to trust the therapist. If the therapist has some power of approval as well, it is likely to never happen.

              In my own case I wasn’t even aware of the connection between my trans identity and my experiences of being bullied for being sensitive and nerdy. That only happened years later when I went to therapy initially for unrelated issues (it was a school requirement, and I wanted to work on relationship difficulties).

              1. “In my own case I wasn’t even aware of the connection between my trans identity and my experiences of being bullied”

                In my experience, most trans people have yet to play ‘connect the dots’ when they start the trans process. This is why therapists must address childhood issues prior to signing off on hormone treatments.

                Worse, trans people tell each other not to disclose anything in therapy that might preclude hormone treatment or surgery. In this respect, we are our own worse enemies.

          1. Yes, my gender dysphoria started very early, too. What I hadn’t realized, though, was that my first molestation experience happened even before that point.

            I just didn’t put two and two together until after my transition.

      2. You’re undercutting yourself. Where’s the condemnation of the counterfactual narrative that no one is helped by transition? This is why people are wary of your perspective. There’s hints of bias towards anti-trans perspectives in your writing.

        1. I haven’t undercut myself at all. There is no contradiction between the view that some people are helped by transition, and that people whose gender issues are secondary to other issues would benefit more by working on those issues first. Even in that case there are some people that will be unable to work on their trauma issues without transitioning as the distress is too high otherwise.

  2. I am on your email list and so received a link to this article.

    It seems you just jumped right into your arguments without defining your thesis and such. For instance, “Philly Followup” – Philly what? What happened in Philly? What “detransition panel”? What exactly IS a detransition panel, anyhow? For that matter, what is “detransition”?

    What happened to get you all riled up? Some sort of argument, obviously, that the rest of us are not privy to.

    Also, it would help if you would define some of your abbreviations. I am thirty years post-transition but I have no idea what you are talking about.

    Thanks for pondering.

    1. This was a reply to some of the discussion that was generated when my two workshops were cancelled at the last minute by the Phily Trans Health Conference in response to complaints from trans activists. I added a link to the previous post.

      Sometimes you are so caught up in this stuff that you forget there might be people who don’t understand all the players. 🙂 Are there specific abbreviations you are confused by?

  3. I’m glad you’ve taken the time to make a site and give your perspective. You’re a thoughtful and intelligent guy that brings a lot of insight into the discussion.

    However, I agree with the no-platforming at the Philly trans conference. I agree because I think you chronically ignore the fact that anti-trans bias is a huge problem and cause of transgender problems. You also downplay the role that embodied sexual expression plays in human behavior and well-being. Its significant and giving more people the chance to find alignment is a good thing.

    I actually agree with you that there is an aspect of social contagion going on. But that’s what happens with any movement. Any movement oscillates between casting a larger net of influence than it should, and not enough of one. This will be exaggerated among teenagers. I don’t think you can fault a movement itself for this. It’s just how social movements work.

    We need to give space and support for people to find themselves. Yes, this will create more false positives. But I believe false positives are much less dangerous and cause much less harm that false negatives aka repressed closet cases. I think a lack of an ability to freely identify when it comes to sexual orientation and gender leads to, on average, very destructive people. I’ve met too many bitter, mean spirited, and compulsive closet cases.

    That’s largely why I’m against having the detrans panel at the Philly trans conference. I think you’d be well served to come to better terms with trans identity as not lesser than, or non-ideal. The vast majority of problems trans people face come with the negative attitude and behavior towards trans people. If this blog highlighted that and that transition isn’t right for you or everyone, I’d be much more supportive.

    1. I agree completely that discrimination and prejudice are big problems for trans people. How could I not? I lived as a trans woman for 20 years, when things were much worse for trans people than they were now. I had people not want to associate with me and suffered from a lot of social discrimination. My career was mostly okay, except I did lose one job opportunity directly after a background check revealed that I was trans.

      I do however strongly disagree that false positives are less dangerous than false negatives. In the first case a person has to suffer from permanent medical consequences, in the second case the person has some additional suffering which is not a good thing, but they can still transition later. I also understand that particularly for MTF people that the age-related effectiveness of hormones makes transitioning later to not be as effective for MTF people, making things complicated.

      I don’t think trans identity is lesser or non-ideal, I do think however, that given the limitations of the technology, that all other things being equal it is better to have a non-medically altered body than a medically altered one. That is only if all other things are equal of course, for some people medical transition is the right solution.

      1. My perception of your thinking with respect to alternate ways of dealing with gender dysphoria, is that it is still fairly within a framework of the available options being transitioning or not transitioning. That may be a misconception of course. However, I’m interested in your thoughts on ‘third ways’ of dealing with gender dysphoria which still involve some form of expression of transgender identity or other alternate gender expression if it’s not conceived of as a transgender identity as such. I socially but not medically transitioned for instance and I prefer to think in terms of being rather than in terms of transitioning or not.

        1. Yes, there are a lot of other options, some people take low-does hormone therapy, some people cross-dress, some people just have fantasies, some people present themselves androgynously or in a cross-gender manner, some people choose to do nothing at all and decide other things are more important than their gender.

    2. Also I think embodied sexual expression is critical, one of my main points is the importance of embodiment. As I said before becoming more or less embodied is a good sign you are headed in the right or wrong direction I think.

  4. How can the rest of us help?

    I mean transition has been right for me, but I don’t think it’s right for everyone, and it isn’t always possible for everyone. So trans health resources ought to include pause and detransition resources.

    I wrote to the Mazzoni Center, but I’m not sure what else I can do.

    And a lot of these reasons wouldn’t be good reasons to cancel the talks.

    How are they going to build or improve detransition resources, without hearing from people who needed better resources?

    How can anyone write guides to considering transition, and recognizing if it’s working out or not, if they don’t hear from people for whom it didn’t work out, or if I’m not misreading your about, did work out for a time?

    1. Thanks for the support! I appreciate your writing to the Mazzoni Center.

      Over time, there will be more detransitioners and eventually there will be a reckoning of some kind. I hope that it can happen in peaceful constructive way rather than the way it has been happening so far.

      One thing I hope to learn is by comparing happy transitioners to detransitioners we can get a better sense of what factors lead one to be happy with transition. I don’t think there is currently evidence of that.

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