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A story of desistance

I found this post on reddit from /u/PTthrowaway0 interesting it because it has a lot of parallels to my own feelings growing up, though a different outcome. Note when he says “dsymorphia” I’m not sure he means dysphoria or dysmorphia so I left it as is in the quote.

I am a straight guy and had issues with self confidence and masculinity growing up. Had issues of dsymorphia and gender identity that messed with my head constantly and I instinctively kept quiet. I can confidently say my issues surrounding this have have been a central aspect of my life for as long as I can remember. These started before I had any wider understanding of gender politics as a whole. This got incredibly worse once puberty started, a confusing time for any teenager. I also had minor depression and anxiety that I now link to self confidence and masculinity issues. Then I would feed into each other I’d become depressed and not like myself and wish I was a girl. Then I’d feel bad about myself for thinking this and my self confidence and self development would stay low. Why work on yourself when you don’t feel like the right person sometimes? Anxiety would make life too much at times and sexist elements of escapism would come in. Girls don’t have to worry about people liking them, people take care of you, so much less pressure.

And then boom porn. Puberty made the dsymorphia worse, better suppress sexual energy with obscene amounts of masturbation and porn! Except slowly my preferences changed to highlight dsymorphic thoughts rather than suppress them by just jerking off. The availability of porn and the idea of a community existing , even if I didn’t heavily interact with it was a huge problem it normalized it all. In hindsight I was addicted and the dsymorphia was a huge weight and drain on my life. I never told anyone in my family and only one friend when I was in my late teens. What kept me from going deeper into it was a good home life and amazing friends. Not because they supported me in dealing with it, but because I didn’t let them into it and I had a normal interactions not constantly centered around gender and identity. I lived in a moderately conservative household, I know they would have supported me no matter what I said, but they weren’t gung-ho social progressives. I never really seriously considered myself trans, I understood it was mostly a fetish but when it got bad it bled deeply into how I saw myself, and didn’t like the huge negative impact it had on my confidence. But I had developed a cycle of reinforcing it that I couldn’t break.

An aggravating sidenote is that I understood that this all was unhealthy for me as I lived it. In a short talk with a college therapist I laid out how I understood it was linked to my depressive cycles and I didn’t think it was healthy. Their response was to push acceptance and support groups. My desire to keep it private and me understanding it wasn’t a constant identity but rather insecurity made me not go. Reflecting on this moment makes me so worried that all the professional avenues for support simply make it worse for confused people.

What changed was I went off to college felt like a new person for a while got a girlfriend and it all went to the back of my mind. Amazing freshman year stellar confidence all the issues go to the back of my mind. It was like it was all over, huge weekly impact on my life was lifted from me. But then my relationship started going south in ways that hurt my sexual confidence. Just like that self image deteriorated and escapism came back while I was insecure and I indulged in the cycle again as the relationship died. Breakup happened, which was good, and despite a minor good period of confidence bad-hookups wrecked my sexual confidence again. The whole escapism aspect of it was so key in hindsight, feeling bad at being a guy and that it would be easier being a girl was huge. From bottoming out there I took it upon myself to face my insecurities and understand why I fed them and let them persist.

It took me until I was 21 to finally understand what I was doing to myself. What saved me was realizing that my depressive cycles led me to this escapism and dsymorphia, that I fueled my own dsymorphia with porn that reinforced it, building stable sexual confidence through comfortable confidence boosting hook-ups, and realizing it was a fetish built on insecurity and not an identity. Productive conversations with an amazing therapist that helped me unpack it all really cemented the progress I made. In the end I had to decide to be better. Cutting out behavior that reinforced it while building self confidence through exercise and a healthy relationship has led me to the clearest and happiest era of my life so far.

I found this post interesting because I saw a lot of parallels to my own story. He developed a fantasy that living as girl would be easier because he could escape from the pressures of being a man. This fantasy was connected to his self-confidence. Whether the fantasy is realistic or not, the pressures on young men to perform are very real. His fantasies got stronger during periods he was having difficulty with relationships and life and diminished during periods he was having success. The fantasies became sexualized at puberty, but existed prior to puberty.

However, he found a therapist who helped him to unpack everything, stopped engaging in behavior that reinforced his fantasies, and promoted healthy behavior like exercise and building relationships.

I think this was what I really needed at the time I was struggling with my gender, and I think there are people that could benefit from this approach. This man is still young and what will happen in the future is unknown. I suspect the fantasies might come back again for him, but ideally they can be managed in the same way if that comes up.

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.

No platformed!

Carey Callahan and I were scheduled to present two panels at the Philly Trans Health Conference. One of these panels was on detransition and the other panel was on alternative ways to work with gender dysphoria. We additionally gathered some other detransitioned and re identified people to present with us. The descriptions are below:

Detransition Panel

Detransition (reversing transition and returning to presentation as natal sex) has historically been a rare phenomenon. However, the numbers of detransitioners are growing. For the first time there are communities of detransitioners. Detransitioners face similar challenges to those that are transitioning as well as some that are unique to detransition. People detransition for a variety of reasons. Some people detransition for social reasons. Some people detransition because they discovered that transition was not right for them or did not help with their dysphoria. Some people detransition because they discover their original desire to transition was secondary to trauma or other issues. This panel will include personal stories, reasons for detransition, challenges faced by detransitioners, as well as the fledgling research into this community. Finding care can be difficult for detransitioners as there is little research or knowledge about the community. This topic can often be difficult to discuss in the trans community, leading to a sense of isolation and confusion among some considering detransition. This panel is for those that are hoping to learn more about this community, those that care for gender variant people, those exploring their own gender and those that are seeking cultural competence with the detransition community. This panel is open to anyone.

Alternative Ways of Working with Gender Dysphoria

There is much research available that shows that gender transition and medical treatments are effective in reducing gender dysphoria. However, some people find that transition does not reduce their gender dysphoria. Others are happy and satisfied with their transitions but still find they have lingering dysphoria and might want additional tools to work with their dysphoria. This workshop will cover various ways that those of us in the detransitioner and re-identifying communities have found to work with our dysphoria that can either be an alternative to transition or in addition to transition. Some of these methods include mindfulness, embodiment practices such as dance and yoga, expanding and transcending our sense of identity, working through trauma, working with internalized gender schemas, internalized homophobia, internalized misogyny or internalized limiting beliefs about various genders. This workshop will include a discussion of techniques that those in gender variant communities, no matter where they are on the transition spectrum, have found to cope with their dysphoria. It is intended to be a non-judgmental space where we can all come together and share what has worked for us.

I was wary of proposing these panels because I was worried about how they would be received, but a member of the planning committee repeatedly encouraged me to propose these panels, and I was hopeful that this would be a place for good dialogue. I am very interested in trans folk and detransitioned people working together to figure out the best ways to work with dysphoria. Both USPATH and the Trans Health Summit in 2015 had the courage to allow and even encourage such discussions to take place and they were well received. I thank them for their courage and particularly the people who encouraged us to do the panel.

Our panels were approved with no problem and we were making preparations to for the panels. We have spent hours working on the content and some of us have made travel arrangements paying for things out of our own pocket. We thought everything was set to go.

The first I found out that something was amiss was by reading a thread on Reddit’s r/asktg which was questioning whether the panels should be presented at the conference or not because they were presented by people that had “TERF-leaning” blogs. I am not a radical feminist, but they tend to place anyone who holds views they oppose in this category. One of them claimed to receive the following reply from the conference:

“Thank you so much for bringing this to my attention! Our workshops are chosen by our community run planning committee. They did not know the toxic nature of this workshop. We have decided to cancel their workshop and they will not be allowed to submit workshops in the future. We here at Mazzoni and at the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference extend our apologizes for letting this slip through. Thank you so much for keeping us accountable.”

We had not heard any news of this, so I asked my contact at the planning committee about it and she hadn’t heard anything either. Eventually it turned out this was not official, and the planning committee decided to vote on whether we should be included or not as they had received calls and emails complaining about our inclusion in the conference. The committee met and voted over the next few days.

A couple of hours ago I received word that the committee voted to cancel our workshops. We had worked very hard on this and much energy went into it. Additionally, some of us are out our travel costs as we were expecting these workshops to go on until just now, less than two weeks before the conference.

We were hoping to have a good dialogue and discuss these issues with the intent of sharing what we have learned, to help to discuss what we have learned and so that we can all figure out better ways to work with dysphoria and figure out more about who benefits from transition and who doesn’t. I say over and over again that I am supportive of trans people transitioning but that is not enough. Transition caused profound harm in my life, and I am not going to be quiet about it, but I also support those who do transition or take hormones, or engage in medical interventions. It is precisely because I care about people with gender dysphoria having the best outcomes that I take the risk to write this blog, risking my career and reputation by writing about very personal stuff and taking on all the risks of having “politically incorrect” research interests and views. As a graduate student, I am particularly vulnerable to this. I had made this blog semi-anonymous for this reason, but that is no longer the case as I do my academic work under my real name. I knew it was inevitable that this would happen, but it is even more important to not be silenced.

This is a risk that should not exist in a free society, our different views should engage with each other. People have said they thought my views are wrong. It is almost certainly true that some of my views are wrong, the trouble is I don’t know which ones. The way to figure that out is precisely through dialogue, through research and through debate. There is more and more no-platforming going on through our society preventing just this process.

Additionally, detransitioners are particularly vulnerable both being attacked by members of the trans community, and facing some of the exact same challenges that people in the trans community do. Many of us are gender-variant in some ways either in appearance or demeanor, many of us have to deal with the same kind of name changes and bureaucratic challenges, and having our name and gender changes exposed on background checks. We face much the same discrimination and trans rights are our cause too. Those that wish to silence us are censoring a marginalized minority group just because we are politically inconvenient.

I still hope that we can work together and dialogue with each other to create greater understanding and better ways to work with gender dysphoria for both those that transition and those that don’t. However, I am less hopeful of that than before.

Also, please share this widely if you care about the well-being of detransitioned people and those looking for ways to work with gender dysphoria, or if you care about academic freedom, and the open exchange of ideas.

UPDATE: The conference did offer to pay our non-reimbursable travel expenses.

Trans or just a fetish?

The question “Am I trans or is it just a fetish?” has to be one of the most common questions that is asked by people considering MTF transition. This question shows up over and over again on reddit’s r/asktransgender and other transgender forums. They almost always answer “yes, you are trans” and there is even this handy website to determine whether you are transgender or not. (Always yes!) (EDIT: the website is no longer around)

I think it is very important to deconstruct this question and analyze it as I think it explains some of what is going on around this issue. First, there is an implied hierarchy. One can either be trans or “just” have a fetish. The word “just” implies that this is a lesser state. Also you “are” trans but “have” a fetish. One of these things is an identity, and the other is a stigmatized mental illness. I know I would prefer to be something than to have a mental illness! There is also an implied either/or to the question. One is either trans or just has a fetish, not both. I’m not saying that having a fetish is a mental illness, just that is what is implied by the word.

People with trans identities are definitely stigmatized in many contexts, that is true. However, there are certain subcultures where being trans can be considered positively, perhaps in some queer, academic or liberal contexts. In nearly all contexts being viewed as a woman with an unfortunate issue with a wrongly sexed body, is much less stigmatizing that being viewed as a man with a fetish. This adds to the view that being trans is a more desirable state than “having a fetish”. Even in the fetish/kink community itself cross-dressing is considered one of the lower status kinks to have.

This hierarchy has existed in the trans community in a long time. Kate Bornstein wrote about it the 90s. Post-op transsexuals were at the top of the the hierarchy, followed by pre-op transsexuals, and then transgenderists (which at the time was not an umbrella category but instead was a state intermediate between transsexual and transvestite), followed by transvestites, and then fetishistic cross dressers at the bottom. This hierarchy creates a bias towards identifying as trans vs. “having a fetish”.

A larger problem is that emotionally charged words like “fetish” leads one into the realm of moral reasoning. In moral reasoning, things are good or bad, as opposed to analytical reasoning where things are true or false. Moral reasoning activates tribalism and divides us to moral tribes. When two opposing moral tribes discuss an issue it can be difficult to impossible to find compromise. The discussion of trans issues in an objective way becomes very difficult because there are factors on all sides that throw the discussion into the realm of moral reasoning. On one side there is the use of stigmatizing terms such as “autogynephilia” and “fetish” which are sometimes used by enemies of trans people to shame them. On the other side there is the use of social justice ideology which also throws things into the realm of moral reasoning. Once one side uses moral reasoning, the other side than also veers into moral reasoning and communication stops. Moral reasoning also trumps analytical reasoning which means that analytical reasoning tends to stop when moral reasoning is invoked. A good sign that you are in the realm of moral reasoning is when you believe that the “other side” is 100% wrong about everything, whether this be liberals, conservatives, men, women, trans activists, radical feminists, or who ever else. I recommend reading my favorite social psychologist,  Jonathan Haidt if you want to learn more about this issue.

My general view is that you don’t choose to have these thoughts and feelings but do have some ability to choose what to do with them. Some people have more ability to choose than others depending on their particular circumstance, this depends on the intensity of their feelings, the psychological circumstances that surround things, as well as their personal temperament. In many cases the “fetish” will be far less disruptive and be manageable. Transition creates many difficulties as well, and does not cure dysphoria, it only manages it. I think it is better thought of as a chronic condition that can be managed in a variety of ways, and the task is to figure out the best way according to your own circumstances. Also not only is term “fetish” stigmatizing it is incomplete, as there are often deeply meaningful psychological components attached as well and it is not usually just a sex thing.

This phenomena can itself be divided into several different parts some of which have the potential to cause problems others of which do not. Part of it all is simple fantasy. Fantasy itself is not harmful, and also cannot be controlled. We fantasize about what we fantasize about, and lots of people have all kinds of strange and wonderful sexual fantasies. This is just what happens when our modern brains intersect with our primitive sexual instincts. Fantasy itself is never a problem, it is only when it becomes combined with something else that it is a problem. Even for those with particularly unfortunate sexual fantasies that would cause tremendous harm to enact, the fantasy itself doesn’t harm anyone. Also, trying to prevent thoughts doesn’t usually work, and only strengthens them.

One example of when it becomes a problem is if it develops obsessive qualities or becomes compulsive. Another is if impedes the ability to form relationships. Yet another is if it causes one to violate the boundaries of others in some way.

If it is used as a coping mechanism, this can be okay in moderation. However, like most coping mechanisms there is a tendency to escalation and requiring more and more of the “drug” for the same effect.

Also, it can be tied into psychological needs. Sometimes it is tied into an experience of an “inner woman” which some people who experience this phenomena have. Jack Molay writes about this here and here.

I think Jung’s writings on the anima are very relevant here. Jung described working with the anima as important to the psychological growth as those qualities can be integrated and produce growth. The anima can be an important guide. However, Jung simultaneously warns about the phenomena of “anima possession” where a man can become taken over by the inner woman. It was actually reading Jung and his phenomena of anima possession which first knocked loose my transgender identification.

In summary, a “fetish” or cross-dreaming are not lesser states to transgender identity. This idea can lead to preferring transgender identity which could potentially be far more disruptive to one’s life. Also, shame over sexual motivations can specifically lead to the preference for a transgender identity over other possible outcomes. This is a place where trans critics sometimes go wrong, by specifically shaming the sexual aspects of trans identity, they may be creating more of the very phenomena they oppose.

For some more related reading I recommend this essay by Ozy “Trans as Choice” and this essay by Angus Grieve-Smith “On the Slippery Slope”

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Identity is not the same as authenticity

I have been again thinking about identity, because it seems to lie at the heart of all the recent discussion of transgender issues. I have also been thinking about how the way we treat identity with respect to gender dysphoria is very different from that with other conditions. In fact, the way we treat identity with respect to gender dysphoria is the polar opposite of the way we look at most other conditions. In many different contexts, I was taught the importance of not making an identity out of someone’s condition.

For example, we try not to say “schizophrenic” instead we say “person with schizophrenia”. We try not to say “a depressive” and instead say “person with depression”. However, with gender issues it is the reverse, we are encouraged to say “trans person” rather than “person with gender dysphoria” and also to affirm those identities.

The reasons for this disidentification process are several. One is to avoid distorting our perception of the person so we do not see them as just their condition. We must remember that they are so much more than that. Another reason for this practice is to avoid stigmatizing them, so they are not seen as being just that particular condition, they are a full dynamic human being with many different parts

Another reason for this, relates to the person seeking to work with their condition themselves. When someone identifies with something it becomes frozen. It is much harder to treat someone for depression if they identify with it. If they say “being depressed is just who I am, it cannot change.” that is much harder to work with that than someone who says that they “have depression”. One technique for those who are too identified with their depression is to externalize the depression. We try to get them to see the depression as not their whole self, and to perhaps say “that is the depression talking”. This tries to bring their whole self into the picture, rather than just the depression, as the rest of the self can get lost when an identity is formed.

I have talked about identities as self-concept in the past. However, another important aspect of identity which I neglected is group identity. A lot of identities involve identification with a group. When people talk about identities they are often talking about things like race, class, national identity, political identities and certainly gender. Group identities divide us into groups. They say who is “us” and who is “not us”. The desire to be part of a group is a very basic human desire. We are tribal creatures. However, when group identities come into play, they tend to override objective reasoning. There is a sense that our group is right and the other group is wrong. Reason is no longer used to explore the truth, but is instead used to support our moral position. Arguments become moral, rather than rational, and moral reasoning trumps objective reasoning. This is part of what makes discussion of trans issues so difficult. Identity comes into play, and discussion becomes very difficult.

Another problem with group identities is that they can result in a loss of individuality. Connecting with a group and being a part of a group can be such a good feeling, especially if it is a group of people that reflects parts of oneself that have not been reflected before. A lot of my own impulse to transition 20 years ago arose in part from my encounter with the community. It felt so good to encounter people that shared the same feelings about gender that I did, as my gender feelings felt like a deep secret that I would never share with anyone and did not share with anyone “real”. Talking to people who had the same feelings and could relate to my experience was so great. I do think it played a role in my adopting the transgender identity. I am not saying that I adopted this identity due to peer pressure, as the reason I adopted this identity also related to the deeply held feelings that I had. It is rather the intersection between my deep feelings ,and the group that led to my development of this identity. I think this is true of most identities, they are the intersection between biological factors, temprament, and social identity. Cross-gender feelings exists in all cultures but how they are expressed is different depending on cultures. In one culture one might be considered a shaman, in another an abomination, in another a transsexual. Cultures and subcultures say these feelings mean certain cultural identities and the ultimate expression lies at the intersection between the cultural ideas and the internal feelings.

In a way, there is something strange about talking about people “discovering their authentic identities”, because I actually see authenticity as something that opposes identity. I see it as something that lies beyond identities. Identities freeze things into place, and are almost like heuristics. They are shortcuts for who we are, that help explain who we are to others, but are always partial. So, affirming someones identities, is in a way taking them away from authenticity. It is not surprising that many of the people who write of detransition cite mindfulness as an important factor, because mindfulness is precisely a method for loosening identities and the holds they place on us.

I am not trying to say identities are all bad, indeed they are important. They are important because they allow us to feel a part of a group. They are important precisely because they act as heuristics. If we had to feel authentically into each moment of every day that would be a very slow, inefficient process, and probably quite difficult to pull off. Also there are problems associated with lack of stable identity, such as borderline personality disorder for example. Like Jack Engler said “you have to be someone before you can be no one”. Sometimes being authentic can be very difficult or impossible due to the pain associated with it, that can be a reason to live in identities. There is nothing wrong with that, it can be what is right for that time and it can serve an important protective function. Exploring identity is generally seen as part of normal adolescent development, because it relates to being in the world and playing roles in society. However, it seems like we have taken to reifying identities and mistaking them for the person themselves, when they can only be an approximation.

Can transition be the best solution? Yes, but I believe the answer lies under identity and not in identity, because that is where the creativity lies. So, I think it would be much better when looking at these issues to see someone as a person with gender dysphoria, rather than a trans person or a potential trans person. The same applies when exploring one’s own issues. This means the whole person doesn’t get lost and many solutions are possible. It also changes the question from “determining if someone ‘is’ transgender” to determining what the best way to move them towards wholeness.

A note for parents, friends, and loved ones of transgender

Several people have written to me who are the parents, friends or loved ones of someone who is considering transition, and are concerned about the idea and wondering what they can do. This is a complex issue. My own experience was that my parents did not take it well, particularly my mother. I have only seen her once in the last twenty years. Even though I eventually did resolve my issues in a different way and detransition, this was not helpful. Now we do get along better, part of it is time and part of it is my decision to detransition, but I still have some resentment towards her for not supporting me during that time, and it made it more difficult to detransition because I didn’t want her to be right. I do see that much of my own behavior at that time as selfish also. It can be a tricky question.

Still a few ideas:

Have compassion and love your child, and keep your door open to them. You do not have to approve of their actions, or pretend to, you have the right to your own integrity in that. However, it is important to continue to support them.

You can’t control the actions of your child, particularly if they are an adult child. They will do what they are going to do. If they are a teen, particularly a late teen they are soon to be adults and out of your control. You might be able to clamp down on what they are doing now, but in a couple of years they will be able to do what they want. Better that they explore their feelings while they still have your guidance, then do it when they don’t.

The issue of pre-pubescent children is a whole other issue. We know that historically most of these kids did not persist in their gender identity issues. (Around 84% in an older study) I worry a lot that transitioning these kids will increase the persistence rate. Also, I think the experience of puberty itself leads to the desistance as the biological instincts kick in, so preventing these children from experiencing at least some of this puberty might again make more of these kids transition than would otherwise.

This stuff is hard to deal with. I am critical of some of the ways the psychological community handles these issues and wish there were better alternatives to deal with it 20 years ago. I provide the ideas I have garnered through my experience and studies of psychology in the hope that others can be prevented from the suffering that I had. There are several people that have found them helpful, so I think I am on a good track, but I don’t think they will work for everyone. In particular these are deep-seeded issues that require more than blog posts to deal with. Some people will transition, and they deserve to have good lives. Much of the problems of transition have to do with social stigma associated with it.

Try to make sure they see a lot of different perspectives if you can. I do think there is a lot of groupthink happening currently, and I think it is important to counteract that. Do not trust any one authority on these matters, there are lots of crazy ideas going around, even in professional circles.

If you can meet them where they are, you should. If you don’t use their preferred name or pronouns it will just prevent you from communicating with them at all, and if you aren’t in their lives you don’t have any influence at all. Again this is a matter of your own integrity, but I think meet people where they are and giving them courtesy helps foster good communication.