politics

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.

Responding to criticism

Been receiving some criticism recently which is good. I’m glad to encourage discussion. I think this is something that is badly needed around trans issues. There is a troubling strain of thought that if one disagrees with the views of the trans community, one is transphobic. It is possible to disagree with someone and not be motivated by hate or malice. Indeed, my primary motivation in writing this blog is to help people with gender dysphoria. I feel that through my journey I have gained a map which might be helpful to others, so I present it for those who might find it useful.

A few people have said that they think I believe that because detransition is right for me, it is right for everyone. That is not true, I don’t believe my experiences are universal, neither do I believe they are unique. If you find my map to be valuable than that is great, if you find it partially useful use the parts you like, if you don’t find it useful than don’t use it. My map does not invalidate any of the existing ways through the difficult territory of gender dysphoria, I will repeat again that I support those that transition. I do apologize if I have been strident at times, sometimes I feel angry over some of what has happened, I am human and that comes through.

I do get frustrated when my positions are misrepresented, here is an example by Zinnia Jones. I attempt to further clarify in response to Zinnia what I am saying here.

Healing from Trauma – Safety

The most fundamental principle of healing from trauma is safety. Without safety no healing can occur. Further, this safety is not a concept. It is something which is viscerally felt in the body and cannot be faked, no matter what thoughts one has about it. Also, safety requires control. The person must be able to control their boundaries in order to heal. This is the antidote to the lack of safety and boundaries they felt during their traumatic incidents. Spaces where these conditions exist are the key to healing.

This is something that I believe to be at cause for much of the incendiary rhetoric and toxic debate that happens around trans issues. It is something that made me reluctant to enter this arena. Both radical feminists, and trans activists, as well as the entire queer community are involved in an endless debate on what it means to be a woman or what it means to be female. Argument after argument is made and nothing gets resolved, there are only angry feelings, and eventually insults and threats. No one can seem to find common ground.

That is because this debate is not really about a scientific question, but it is about an emotional need, and both groups contain a lot of people that have been traumatized, particularly by men, and both need safety. However, these needs are also fundamentally incompatible in some ways which leads to the current impasse.

Because safety is a visceral, embodied response, what is relevant to safety is how the body responds. This has nothing to do with identity. The body needs what it needs to heal, and it doesn’t have to be rational. This might mean this process might be impeded by the presence of a trans woman, even if everyone affirms their identity on a thinking level. That is really horrible, and totally sucky for trans women, but the visceral embodied response of safety cannot be faked.

This issue was really brought home to me in my first therapy placement when I was still presenting as a woman and nominally female-identified. I was constantly being assigned lesbian clients because hey they requested a woman and I’m queer and they’re queer so seems like a good fit. However, this did not work so well because for me to be a good therapist for them they must feel safe. I found it particularly strange that once I declared myself to be male-identified, I was suddenly ineligible to see these clients and now eligible to see clients that only wanted a male therapist, even though I was exactly the same person!

Trans women experience their gender identities under constant assault. Further, trans women are also often in need of their own healing and can’t find the spaces for that. I’ve known a couple of trans women who were sexually assaulted, and couldn’t find groups to participate in due to their birth sex which was horrible and retraumatizing! Also it is no wonder that they would react angrily to this exclusion, as many of them are also seeking shelter from men and male culture, and are denied even that refuge.

There is no easy solution to this, I think there is space for multiple types of spaces, some that are open to all, some that are open to all women and some that are open to cis(?)-women (I feel like there is no possible term that won’t offend someone here) only.

I hope that both sides can have empathy for the other and maybe see what the emotional needs that underly the rhetoric are. For radical feminists to perhaps imagine what it is like to need healing and be deprived of even the spaces that they have for healing. For trans women to have empathy for the need for safe space, and that this does not necessarily violate their identity, but only is an artifact of the way trauma works. I think it is difficult to create such an understanding, but that it could start by attempting to imagine and empathize with what the underlying emotional need is under the toxic rhetoric.