I hated her guts at the time: A trans-desister and her mom tell their story

 Sarah R. is 19-year old lesbian from the US Midwest. She says: “From ages 14 to 16 I believed that because I was gender non-conforming, I was a transgender man. Gender critical theory saved me from potentially mutilating my body irrevocably. Today, I share my story in hopes that other young women can also overcome the hatred we are told to have towards our bodies, and to remain unapologetic about being gender nonconforming females.”

This post originally appeared in a different form on her blog, here. For 4thWaveNow, she expanded some sections, particularly to do with her thoughts about her mother’s role in her temporary identification as a trans man (and her eventual abandonment of that idea). We also invited Sarah’s mother to contribute her own views, which you’ll find in in this updated article. Sarah openly acknowledges how much she detested her mother when she refused to agree to transition, but things are different now.  

Sarah R can be found on Twitter here.


by  Sarah R.

Tumblr is a cool place:  writers, artists, activists. Lots of people find solace there. I tried to, when I first made an account in 2013, when I was still in middle school. Actually, it wasn’t so cool back then. Hordes of young girls like me, with their newfound platform, curated ‘Black-and-white’ blogs (just check out some of the usernames), impressive collections of grey-scaled gifs, a smorgasbord of para-suicidal images: self-harm, handfuls of pills…

Thankfully, vices on Tumblr quickly find themselves replaced by new fads; gone are the days of glamorized self-mutilation– hello, fandom! (My own guilty pleasure was House MD, if anyone’s curious. Dark, dark days.) But like black-and-white blogs before them, these profiles were also quickly replaced. This time? by SJW blogs.

Now, granted, not everything about the new justice craze sucked. For one, it’s where most of my peers and I found Feminism 101, even if it got some things quite wrong (e.g. feminism is for men, too; makeup is empowering; kinky is progressive, etc.), and the general atmosphere of tolerance allowed for young gay teens like me the freedom of expression that wasn’t as safe on Twitter or Facebook at the time. Still, a lot of crazy shit came out of SJW tumblr.

When things like otherkin, fictionkin, and aesthetigender (for full effect, I’m going to have to ask you to go through the pain of scrolling through the whole list on that last one), are accepted as anywhere even near the realm of reality, it’s no wonder that ‘Woman’ has become distorted, conflated, and commandeered.

aesthetigender

My own personal attraction to the booming trans trend is obvious in retrospect. Teen girls are taught to hate everything about themselves. None of us can win. Even the thinnest, most clear-skinned, prettiest of girls find an enemy in the mirror. Imagine my horror to look at my reflection and see a fat, short-haired, lesbian staring back. In a world where my style, my interests, and my attractions weren’t fit for a girl, transgenderism offered the perfect solution: Be a boy.

It wouldn’t work, of course. How could it, when all of my problems–the struggle to meet the expectations that society had for me, my depression, my anxiety, my dysphoria, and my dysmorphia, all of my unhappiness–had nothing to do with how I identified and everything to do with what I was: female. Of course, as a 14-year-old, this didn’t occur to me quickly. My transition to ‘boy’ was my ticket out of Self-hatred-Ville, and you’d better believe I was going to take it.

To exactly nobody’s surprise, Tumblr was ecstatic at my ‘realization’. A plethora of congratulations, encouragement, and support was sent my way–something that girl-me never got for being exactly the same as boy-me, save having a different name and pronouns. So of course my new identity felt right. How couldn’t it, when my mannerisms and appearance, which had previously othered me, were now suddenly in congruence with my gender, and my ‘bravery’ was being applauded by all the people I looked up to– both bloggers online and friends in real life.

Something that I feel like a lot of adults get wrong about this phenomenon is that people like me were bullied into identifying as trans, but I don’t think this is the most accurate way to put it. There’s a very specific kind of mental mind-fuck that went on on Tumblr during this time that cultivated the perfect atmosphere for confused, self-hating teens (which is like, all of them) to somehow come to the realization that they’re transgender. First came a kind of twisted rewriting of history, women like Joan of Arc or Christina, Queen of Sweden (who once wrote she was “neither Male nor Hermaphrodite, as some People in the World have pass’d me for.” Interesting… maybe society has always been telling GNC (gender nonconforming) women that they aren’t true women…) now became ‘trans men who didn’t know at the time, because it wasn’t accepted’. By telling GNC women, who weren’t around to ‘defend’ their womanhood, that they were men, is it any wonder those of us who were around started to think we must be men, too? Another thing was the constant validation of trans people. In order for me to become instantly ‘valid,’ all I had to do was be a man. How could I do that? By feeling like one.

What did that feel like? I don’t know, since I didn’t feel like a woman, which I now realize is because I can’t; woman isn’t a feeling. The most harmful message to come out of the cultist ideology of trans rights is that you are x because you feel like x. But in the same way that I didn’t feel working class, or feel like a white person, or feel like a Midwesterner, I didn’t feel like a woman, which according to trans ideology, meant I wasn’t ‘cisgender’, and so from that the leap was easy for me to make: I must be a man. What’s glaringly obvious to me now though is that feeling didn’t play any factor into my status as any of the aforementioned descriptors. I simply was those things, and reality didn’t give a shit whether my feelings aligned or not.

It at the time all seemed very progressive: by ignoring history and biology, we could rewrite reality, and anyone could be anything they wanted (might I remind you of this list once more). What was really going on though was the complete opposite.

First of all, words didn’t have meaning anymore. According to new gender logic, even male and female were fluid. A trans woman was now female by virtue of identifying as ‘woman’. All attempts at any kind of discussion about gender and sex were rendered impossible, because 1. Any disagreement labeled you a transphobe and a TERF, and you were quite literally ostracized, and 2. gender didn’t mean anything anymore (save some mysterious, cryptic feeling that refuses to be defined, apparently).

By the time my mother figured out what was going on with me, I was in deep. Female-to-Male transition videos filled my Youtube suggestions, and I had already decided I would want a metoidioplasty over a phalloplasty (a decision that I now recognize as a desire for my maleness to be real, not a section of skin from my arm or leg, an impossible desire that could never be fulfilled, I know now, because I’m not male). I decided to take my first physical ‘transition’ step by getting a binder. Just one problem– being 14 meant I had no job, and no money. So, I improvised. As a blogger with several thousand followers (nope, I’m not going to link myself, as I would be chased off and/or doxxed in approximately .00023 seconds), I put out a quick plea for help in buying a binder. Within a few hours, a well-meaning follower asked my size and told me it would arrive in a few short days. Unfortunately, or so I thought at the time, I was unable to intercept the package before my mom did.

Accidentally being outed sucks. I remember getting a text from my mom while in school which said something along the lines of ‘We have something important to talk about when you get home,’ which, to nearly any teen, could mean a multitude of terrible things, and exactly zero good things. Throughout this whole story, my mom approached things really well, but I see that in retrospect only. I hated her guts at the time. She picked me up from school and let me marinate in the soul-crushing silence until we were about half-way home. She got straight to the point and told me that she had opened my package and found my binder. I immediately went into panic mode, so I don’t exactly remember how she coaxed a confession of transgender out of me, but it involved a lot of blubbering. She let me know from the get-go that she thought my ‘felt like boy’ spiel was all a load of crap, though to be fair, put it much less insensitively, but asked me to show her videos and literature about it. I did.

She wasn’t impressed.

I remember being afraid that this meant she was now going to make me grow out my short hair, or–god forbid– start wearing dresses, in an attempt to stifle my ‘transness’, but that wasn’t the case. It was hurtful to me that she wouldn’t use my new name or pronouns, but I was allowed to continue to be as GNC as I saw fit, something that I know helped my self-acceptance as a woman today. She made it clear that medical transition was not going to happen, which felt like the end of the world to me. In the same way you wouldn’t tell a schizophrenic that their delusions are real, she took no interest in pretending that male was something that I was, or ever could be. But most importantly, she let me know that that was okay. That I could be masculine, that I could like women, and that I could exist as myself, in my body and that pumping myself full of hormones and cutting off my flesh would change my appearance, but not me. My mom helped me understand that if I was ever going to be happy, it had nothing to do with my pronouns, or my genitals, I had to accept the female, and the woman, that I was.

As I was writing this piece, I asked Mom what she had to say about our journey together:

“When you first told me, I was really lost. I didn’t really even have any idea what [being transgender] meant. I mean, like if it had to do with you being gay or what. Of course the first thing I did afterwards was research it heavily. That scared me even more! The videos [of FTM transitions] you sent me were nice and the people in them seemed happy, but the first thing I thought was ‘what if I lost my daughter’s voice like those mothers did?’

I know at the time you thought I was prejudiced and that’s why I made the choices I did, but I didn’t have anything against transgender people, I just wanted to do the right thing as a parent, and letting you do things to yourself that you could never change even if you felt differently down the road was not the right thing for me to do. But your happiness was the only thing behind my decisions. If you ended up being genuinely transgender and that was the only way you could be happy then I would’ve been able to live with that. I just knew you were too young to be sure about something like that. If by the time you turned 18 and could do what you wanted [medically] you still wanted to get testosterone I wouldn’t have stopped loving you. Of course. I’m glad to still love my daughter more than you could know.

It still keeps me up some nights thinking about ‘what if I had given in?’. The only important thing though is that you are happy now.”

And her advice for parents in similar situations:

“I can’t tell anyone what is the right thing for their child. But it was hard to stay strong in my decision against what other people thought. It was made out like I hated transgender, or that I was abusing my child by not letting her make decisions to cut off her breasts. Stay strong. Wanting what is best for your babies isn’t prejudice. Also, be prepared to be hated by your kid too. Any teenager doesn’t like her mom. Not letting her go to a friend’s house that you know is bad news is enough to make her hate you. Not letting her change her entire body is even bigger.”

Our relationship is wonderful now, but Mom’s right about me hating her back then. And yeah, maybe I would’ve hated her anyways, at least according to her theory that all teens hate their parents, but in my situation, I could name directly and specifically why, and that gave it a lot of power. I remember posting all the time online about how abusive she was for deadnaming me, or not letting me bind, which I now feel terrible about. I didn’t feel like I could talk to her about anything (especially gender things) because I had made up in my mind that she thought my very existence (as a trans person) was invalid. Her resolve was beyond admirable, though, as well as her patience for my angsty bullshit.

Not everyone was so hesitant to accept my identity as my mom, though. As I mentioned, the internet was enthralled, but my friends in real life ate it up, too. Whether intentional or not, most young gay people are in social circles comprised of other gay people. Not all of my friends were necessarily gay, but even the ones who weren’t were into the same SJW ideology as I was. They readily accepted my new trendy name, and did their best to use my pronouns. Even though they messed them up a lot, I wasn’t accosted like when my mom didn’t use the right ones, because I knew that they still thought of my identity as real. In retrospect, their support didn’t help my journey of desisting, but I don’t think they hindered it much either. They were being good friends, and for that I’m grateful.

Almost immediately after my coming out, I was put in therapy. Despite my own desperate requests to go to a therapist who specialized in gender issues, so that I might acquire that coveted letter of recommendation for HRT, I instead was taken to the general therapist I had visited sometime earlier for self-harm issues. At the time, like so many other decisions my mother made, it felt invalidating, and upset me, but also like all of her decisions, I’m now grateful for it. Going to someone who would try to get to the root of my identity and dysphoria and resolving that cause itself instead of validating my mental illness and okaying a lifetime of hormones, mutilation, and sterilization was paramount.

For the first few sessions I was still angry about the therapist choice, but once I began to open up, I was surprised to find the doctor wasn’t dismissive of my feelings like I had thought she would be, but seemed to understand and coaxed a lot of more out of me about my transness than I had thought about myself. The most helpful thing she did for me was make me examine why I identified as a boy, and what that meant. By being asked to define what being a boy felt like without using anything that I already knew was only a stereotype about boys, and my subsequent failure to do so, I eventually came to terms with the fact that I couldn’t be one.

tenacity-clipart-sisyphus

Freeing yourself from the task of climbing a mountain whose peak can never be summited is your only chance of ever actually being happy.

One of the biggest problems I think with being transgender is it comes out of an unhappiness, and that the impossibility of the accepted solution amplifies the unhappiness. Having short hair doesn’t give you an adam’s apple, testosterone injections won’t change your bone structure, a phalloplasty won’t let you produce sperm. The closer you get to the real thing, the bigger the gap between you and being a real male grows. Freeing yourself from the task of climbing a mountain whose peak can never be summited is your only chance of ever actually being happy.

I eventually stopped looking for validation as something I would never be, and started the process of loving myself. There’s no real how-to I can give for overcoming gender dysphoria and accepting your given gender, but there are some tips I can spare.

Firstly, be patient. Whether it’s you or someone you love who is trans, one conversation, experience, or epiphany is not going to change anyone’s mind. Secondly, and this is geared towards trans-identified females: Get into gender critical theory. Liberal feminism tells us that women are oppressed because of their gender, but that isn’t true. We’re oppressed because of our sex, by means of gender. It was hard for me to give up the imaginary solution to my oppression before I understood this. Thirdly, think long and hard about why you feel trans. What is the feeling? What would it feel like to be ‘cis’? If your answer is ‘comfortable with your sex/body’ then hardly a single woman falls under that category. Is it to feel comfortable with the expectations, limitations, and stereotypes of your gender? Once again, nary a single female applies. The hardest and final push for me to ‘detransing’ was realizing and accepting that whatever I was ‘feeling’, it wasn’t ‘boy’. It was dissatisfaction with the constraints of womanhood, as in the stereotypes, expectations, and roles that it accorded me. Understanding that is the most important step in becoming happy with your femaleness.

For a long time, I’ve been hesitant to talk about my experience with trans. I was embarrassed, for one, into being duped by an agenda that wanted to convince me I was something I’m not, nor would ever be. I was afraid, too, of backlash. The climate among my peers these days is such that disagreement of nearly any variance means public ridicule, and being shunned. I thought people might try to tell me that I wasn’t really, truly trans (though no one has seemed to come up with what that means), or that I was just unable to come to accept my transness. I’ve decided I have to cast these doubts aside, though, because there’s something more important at stake: young women learning to love themselves. If I can convince even just one girl to love her body for what it is, and to know that no amount of dissatisfaction with stereotypes, or love for suits and sports, or short hair, or discomfort with her anatomy makes her less of a woman, then any shit cast my way is worth it.

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Top gender doc dismisses 203 detransitioned women as “not regretters per se”

Note: All screenshots in this post were taken from the publicly accessible WPATH Facebook page on 9/3/2016. Please visit the thread in question for full context and to see any edits and/or additions that have been made since this post was published.

UPDATE 9/4/16: Several allegations have been leveled at the writers of 4thWaveNow and Cari in the most recent comments on the WPATH Facebook page. We invite you to read our post, Cari’s survey results, and the WPATH thread, then decide for yourself whether there are any distortions of fact in our reporting.

4thWaveNow would like to address the fact that the parents who create and manage this blog use pseudonyms; we also protect the anonymity of our commenters. All of us are keenly aware that we have no right to expose our children–some of whom have a social media presence–to the harsh light of public scrutiny. Our primary concern is protecting their privacy. And in this age of the Internet, compromising our privacy will compromise theirs. One has only to look at the history of what trans activists have done in their attempts to silence critics in the past, which have included vicious attacks on not only the adults who have spoken out, but at times upon their minor children. We are simply not willing to expose our children to this risk.

If it were possible to have an “honest dialogue” with the activists and public figures who are having such a huge (and in many cases, deleterious) impact on the lives of our children, we would welcome that. If we saw, even once, professionals acknowledging that there is indeed a social contagion going on amongst teenagers; if we heard any of the points we make being honestly engaged, it would be different. Instead, what we get are unceasing ad hominem attacks, professionals and journalists who should know better yelling “TERF!”, and constant accusations that unless we get behind the medical transition of our own children, we are driving them to suicide. This is not an atmosphere for reasoned dialogue. And that is why this blog came to be in the first place.

We will continue to provide a platform for people like Cari and others who have been frozen out of the public discussion on the issue of pediatric transition. Until mainstream journalists are willing to present a more balanced picture of this very serious and increasing trend in Western society, that work will be left to bloggers like us.


Two weeks ago, Cari, a 22-year-old former teen client of TransActive Gender Center in Portland, OR, announced an online survey designed to better understand the experiences of detransitioned women. She has completed work on this phase of her project, and today posted the survey results, with a detailed interpretation, on her blog.

I won’t be going into exhaustive detail about everything the survey revealed; Cari’s blog post provides an excellent write-up and analysis. What I will be doing, instead, is reporting on the reaction (posted on the public WPATH page) of Dan Karasic, MD, top gender specialist and UCSF psychiatrist—which amounts mostly to minimizing the significance of Cari’s work and attempting to discredit several of her most important findings.

Cari’s survey ran for only two weeks, from August 16 – 31. Most surveys recruit participants for months or even years. That over 200 women responded in such a short timeframe should put to rest any notion that “desistance is a myth.” And the fact that the survey was shared on social media means that it likely reached a demographic that most trans activists deny exists: young women who became interested in medical transition due, in part, to social contagion (a phenomenon currently being studied by a researcher at Mt. Sinai). As Cari notes,

 “Leaving aside all the other data this provides, the sheer number of responses is pretty amazing. Given that the survey was open for 2 weeks and was shared through a couple of Facebook groups, most of which were private, and Tumblr, I think we can safely say that detransitioners are not quite as rare as some would like to have us think.”

In his Facebook post, Karasic attempts to dismiss the 62% of respondents who said that “political/ideological concerns” were a factor in their decision to detransition– by implying that these concerns are on par with people who reject their own homosexuality due to religious beliefs!

Karasic OP

To be fair, Karasic does say that “some exploration” of negative reactions to hormones is appropriate (albeit in the no-gatekeeping, informed consent model). But comparing these women’s thought processes to evangelical Christianity? This is an astounding leap. “Political/ideological” concerns could mean any number of things, including that these women began to think more critically; that they began to question some of the rhetoric of transgender ideology and came to realize that they were, in fact, women–no matter how fervently they once believed otherwise. In fact, this is rather the opposite of someone going back in the closet because their religion told them they were evil sinners.

But that’s not even the worst thing about Karasic’s opening volley: He fails to mention that respondents could choose more than one reason for deciding to detransition. It’s either a willful or clueless misinterpretation of the data to imply that the only–or even the main— reason these women detransitioned was because of ideological concerns.

Reasons for stopping data

Of at least equal significance is the fact that 59.4% of respondents found alternative ways to cope with their dysphoria. For any other situation involving drastic medical interventions, the possibility of an alternate solution or “cure” would be of great interest. But no one on that WPATH Facebook thread is celebrating; in fact, they don’t even mention this key finding.

Karasic also dismisses the survey as “skewed” because it was posted in forums where people critical of transition could easily find it. This is rich. The few studies we are beginning to see of trans children and teens are being conducted by researchers using their own patients—children who have been socially and medically transitioned by parents and clinicians heavily invested (ideologically and financially) in the business of pediatric transition. And Cari’s survey looked at detransitioned people who, by definition, are rather more likely to be critical of transition in general; such an obvious point seems to be lost on Karasic and the other commenters who pile on to say the sample is “unrepresentative.” Unrepresentative of what?

In a followup comment, Karasic plays the well-worn “they weren’t really trans” card with another misread of the survey’s data.

Karasic most not male

What? A whopping 48% of the women in Cari’s survey formerly identified as trans man/FTM—nearly half.

FTM identity

It’s odd to see how easily Karasic discounts this group of women, given that “informed consent” based on self-reported identity is the standard of care he and others at WPATH increasingly support.

But here’s where Karasic’s reaction gets really interesting. Cari’s survey found that 42% formerly identified as nonbinary or genderqueer. So that’s 90% who did not identify as female. Just from reading Karasic’s comment, we might think he would not support transition for those 42%. Yet only a few months ago, he argued that medical transition should be freely available, via informed consent, to people who identify outside the binary.

nonbinary people

Which is it, then? These detransitioned women weren’t really trans, so they goofed—but how can they have goofed, when Karasic actively promotes medical transition for anyone who wants it? Because who could possibly be excluded from self-identifying as “nonbinary”?

One of the most important findings in Cari’s survey (utterly ignored by Karasic and the other commenters) is that the majority of respondents not only had very limited therapy (aka “gatekeeping” in current trans activist lingo), but also believed, after the fact, that the counseling they received prior to transition was inadequate—as Cari herself has said about her experiences at TransActive Gender Center. Cari writes:

  “117 of the individuals surveyed had medically transitioned. Of these, only 41 received therapy beforehand. The average length of counseling for those who did attend was 9 months, with a median and mode of 3, minimum of 1, and a maximum of 60. I’d like to have something cool to say here, but I’m honestly just stunned at the fact that 65% of these women had no therapy at all before transition.”

Why is it that Karasic and the others on the thread have nothing to say about this key finding? Given that this is a survey of people who chose to detransition—many of whom were quite unhappy about their transitions and the services they received from gender specialists—wouldn’t it be worth exploring the idea that some were perhaps too easily granted the opportunity?

What’s more, these women have, by and large, a very negative view of their transitions.

feelings about transition

But Dan Karasic, like most activist-clinicians, is not really a believer in gatekeeping. As he said in another post just a few days ago, easy access to medical transition and cross-sex hormones is something to be desired—hopefully at the first follow up visit.

Dimensions clinic

Presumably, the young clients at Dimensions seek medical transition to relieve their dysphoria. Interestingly,  Cari’s survey found that the majority of detransitioned women saw improvement in their dysphoric symptoms after beginning to detransition:
detransition helped dysphoria

“…cumulatively, 88% of the individuals surveyed experienced physical sex dysphoria. Individuals who experienced only social dysphoria were more likely to report that their dysphoria was improved by detransition (91%, versus 73% for individuals with sex dysphoria), and none of these individuals indicated a worsening of dysphoria, however even among those with sex dysphoria, only 9% reported that their dysphoria had increased since detransitioning.”

The implications of this are profound. If 59% of the sample found “other ways to deal with their dysphoria” which led them to detransition—and then, having detransitioned, found their symptoms improving still more—one would think this data would keenly interest Dan Karasic and his followers. What if there are cheaper and less drastic ways to deal with gender dysphoria?

To Karasic’s credit, he does concede—while stopping short of admitting that “real” trans people might actually regret their transitions– that some formerly trans-identified women do end up feeling their medical transition “wasn’t right for them.” But he manages to minimize even that.

Karasic regret rates are low.jpg

It’s apparent that that Dr. Karasic, along with other WPATH members (in the comment below, “liked” by Dr. Karasic), don’t really see what the big deal is if some women change their minds about the hormones and surgeries that have forever altered their bodies. try it out.jpg

They can just change back or quit hormones—what’s the worry? It’s all just an experiment anyway, kind of like tattoos and piercings.

These people seem not to be familiar with the growing number of detransitioned women who have their own blogs and websites, wherein they speak of their sadness at the irreversible changes wrought upon their voices; the body hair; the loss of their breasts; some have gynecological difficulties.

Activist-clinicians are invested in the idea that regret rates are low—even though this generation of young people is the first to experience medical transition. There is no data on long-term regret rates for these young people, and Karasic knows it, as do most other gender doctors. They don’t know. No one does. Cari deserves enormous credit for sticking her neck out to do this survey, because the gender doctors sure as heck aren’t going to do it for her and the other women who are in the same boat.

One wonders: How many of these women will it take for doctors like Dan Karasic to take them seriously? 500? 1000? Will there need to be 5, 10, 20, replicated studies, conducted over decades, thousands of women, before these gender specialists take their needs seriously, once they have detransitioned? (I will note that most of the studies utilized by trans activists and gender specialists to support what they’re doing consist of very small cohorts, with “low quality evidence,” as recently pointed out by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, but it’s convenient to dismiss data that doesn’t fit one’s narrative.)

So,  what would constitute regretters “per se”? How many? What percentage? What criterion will satisfy Karasic and the other activists and clinicians piling on the Facebook thread to essentially say that Cari’s data (and Cari’s own experiences, presumably) are bunk?

Update 9/5/16: One very telling answer to the “How many?” question comes from a WPATH commenter who pontificates:

Increase your sample size to 12,000 and follow the subjects for 20 years, then report back to me with your findings. Maybe then, I might value your study.

Cari (who has joined the conversation on the Facebook page) replies,

12K trans men.jpg

And who is writing NIH grants to study thousands of detransitioned trans men? Who has in the past? It’s easy to sit on a high horse and shoot down the efforts of a 22-year-old who suffered medical harms and is interested in delving more deeply into the experiences of women like her. Easier still to tell her those harms won’t be worth taking seriously for 20 years, until there are thousands of regretters “per se.” In the meantime? Business as usual.

It’s predictable that trans activists are loathe to admit that detransitioners may be more common than they they think. But medical doctors? Wouldn’t one think that MDs, psychiatrists, and other gender specialists would demonstrate appropriate concern about people who went through medical transition but expressed profound regrets later on?  Even more importantly: Why don’t people like Dan Karasic see it as a good thing that the women in Cari’s survey found other ways to deal with their dysphoria  besides drastically altering themselves with hormones and surgeries?

How about showing some respect for this one detransitioner, Cari, who cares so much about this issue that she has created and written a fine analysis of a survey about detransitioned women? Rather than glibly dismissing her work as just another worthless TERF thing that can be safely ignored, wouldn’t it behoove Karasic and his followers to take her seriously? Why would a 22-year-old woman who had undergone years of testosterone injections, a double mastectomy, and who is now speaking out publicly via YouTube go to this much trouble if there weren’t a real issue here?

Why doesn’t WPATH as a whole start earnestly figuring out how to provide services for people who regret their transitions, or who need help and support for re-identifying with their natal sex? After all, the gender specialists got these people into it; do they feel no responsibility whatsoever to help them get out of it? Is the “care” provided by gender doctors a one-way-street? Apparently, if you ever decide to get off the trans bus, you’ll have to find your own way home.

The activists and clinicians piling on the Discredit the Detransitioner Survey thread seem a lot more interested in denigrating and dismissing the reality of detransition than attending to the medical and psychiatric needs of people harmed by medical transition. Activists pushing an agenda? Yeah—don’t want to talk about this. But doctors? Where is their commitment to learning the truth, however inconvenient that truth might be?

But then, the line between activists and clinicians seems to be rather blurred. I’m not sure there is much of a difference anymore.

Announcing a new online survey for detransitioned women

Cari is a 22-year-old detransitioned woman who was interviewed recently on 4thWaveNow about her experiences as a former teen client of Transactive Gender Center in Portland, OR.  Cari wrote to us today to announce an online survey she has created for women who are reclaiming themselves as female.  I’ll let her introduce her work in her own words shortly. But first, if you have not had a chance to watch Cari’s very powerful YouTube video,  please do so. In it, she deftly takes apart a post on trans youth, desistance, and detransition by trans activist MtoF Julia Serano.

Cari is not the only detransitioner talking back to Serano. Several other women have come forward in recent days to eloquently and incisively describe the many facets of the female detransitioned experience, including Maria Catt and crashchaoscats. Transgender Trend also posted an excellent response to Serano.

Now I’ll let Cari introduce her Survey of female detransition and reidentification. Please share widely!


This survey is for anyone female/AFAB who formerly self-described as transgender. This includes women who transitioned, whether socially and/or medically, and have subsequently detransitioned, as well as individuals who still identify as nonbinary or genderfluid, but have desisted from medical or social transition. The purpose of this survey is to provide information about the demographics of those who detransition and reidentification, motivations of individuals to detransition, and survey general attitudes of female detransitioners towards transition.

I’m posting this as a way of getting some data about detransitioned women where none seems to exist, particularly regarding motivation to detransition and the efficacy of managing dysphoria without transition. This survey is short due to surveymonkey’s question limit, and not very scientific, however I may create a longer and more controlled one in the future, should there be interest in that.

Jenn Burleton, director of youth transition org, dismisses ex-client’s complaints as “TERF infestation”

This is an update to Friday’s post. Please read it first for background.


UPDATE June 14, 2016: TransActive Gender Center and director Jenn Burleton have issued public statements on their Facebook pages. TransActive has labeled 4thWaveNow an “anti-trans hate site” because we have provided a platform for Cari to tell her story.

TA statement June 13 2016

It’s a common tactic of trans-activist organizations, which can tolerate no dissent, to dismiss critics of pediatric transition as “transphobic” or “hating trans children.” We at 4thWaveNow–the majority of us being concerned parents of gender nonconforming youth–invite all readers to investigate the posts, interviews, and research-based information on our site and decide for yourselves whether 4thWaveNow “dispenses anti-trans youth rhetoric.”


Cari, a detransitioning 22-year-old ex-client of TransActive Gender Center,  has written on her Tumblr blog about her dissatisfaction with the services provided by that organization when she was a gender-dysphoric teenager.

Jenn Burleton, director and founder of TransActive, chose to respond indirectly to Cari via a public Facebook post. When reading Burleton’s screed, bear in mind that Burleton runs an organization which has considerable influence over the lives of gender-defiant youth. In addition, Burleton is an advocate for lowering the age of medical consent nationwide, and was instrumental in changing Oregon law to allow teens as young as 15 to obtain surgeries (including mastectomy and “bottom” surgeries) without parental consent. Burleton also believes (and has stated on the WPATH public Facebook page) that TransActive’s no-questions-asked youth transition program disproves decades of peer-reviewed research demonstrating that most gender-dysphoric youth desist. In the linked post, Burleton claims a 0% desistance rate for clients seen at TransActive. Clearly, Cari’s case calls for–at the very least–some soul searching and re-evaluation of TransActive’s policies and public statements.

Burleton’s public Facebook response—aimed at a 22-year-old who was only 16 years old when she was encouraged and enabled by TransActive to medically transition–refers to Cari’s Tumblr posts as a “TERF infestation” and a “harassment campaign.” Decide for yourself, after reading Burleton’s Facebook post and Cari’s response (which Burleton has not made public), who is the injured party in this situation.

Cari told 4thWaveNow that she is grateful for any support readers can offer in publicizing her former and now current experiences with representatives of TransActive Gender Center. At her request, we are reproducing screenshots Cari posted on her Tumblr blog yesterday.

Burleton screed 1.jpg

Cari’s response, sent to Burleton via Facebook Messenger:

cari response

Cari response 2

Cari response 3

Therapist letter.png

TransActive doubles down on fast-track transition policy with clueless reblog of ex-client who decries their lack of gatekeeping

UPDATE June 12, 2016: Jenn Burleton, Director of TransActive Gender Center, has responded. See this post for details.


Regular readers will recall ”In praise of gatekeepers,” the 4thWaveNow interview with Cari, a former teen client of TransActive Gender Center in Portland, OR. In her interview, Cari, now 22, told us that TransActive “counselors” made it far too easy for her to  be referred for medical transition at age 16; she started testosterone at 17 and moved on to “top surgery” (double mastectomy) soon thereafter. In retrospect, Cari wishes there had been a lot more gatekeeping at TransActive—especially because her counselor never suggested investigating whether Cari’s history of trauma and comorbid mental health issues might have played a part in her desire to transition.

A few days ago, Cari wrote a post pointedly criticizing TransActive’s gatekeeper-free teen transition policies.

Kari on TA

Kari on TA addendum

Whoever manages TransActive’s official Tumblr blog reblogged Cari’s post, but instead of addressing her concerns, they simply doubled down on their propaganda:

Kari on TA 2


Either this TransActive employee has trouble with reading comprehension, or they just figured that spamming Cari’s Tumblr followers with their superRAD!-no-mean-cis-gatekeeping policy would somehow drown out her silly concerns. But either way, as Cari told 4thWaveNow, “This should give people some insight into how TransActive treats detransitioned ex-clients. Whoever runs their social media accounts has so little empathy, they reblogged a post by a woman who was irreparably harmed by their org and acted like I was praising their services.

Additionally, Cari told 4thWaveNow that she had previously written to TransActive to ask what services they could provide to someone who was unhappy with transition and wanted some support for  detransitioning. TransActive’s response was to send Cari a list of therapists—all of whom were trained by TransActive, and one of which is an employee of the LLC, BraveSpace, a newly established trans youth counseling org which has replaced TransActive’s in-house therapy program.  “This concerns me,” Cari told us. “While I’m speculating here, I know many detransitioned women I’ve spoken with have issues with therapists who think they are simply experiencing “internalized transphobia” or social pressure and therefore try to convince them to retransition.”

Given TransActive’s track record of spurring kids and teens on to hormones and surgeries—as well as the complete absence of any acknowledgement that regretters or detransitioners exist (let alone listing any resources for detransitioners on their very professional looking website), it’s unlikely an unhappy ex-client like Cari would find a sympathetic ear from any of the “counselors” affiliated with TransActive.

A couple of days ago, Cari tagged TransActive (i.e., she invited them to respond) in a followup post with a very clear message about the failings of her former TransActive “counselor” Sheryl:

Kari on TA 4.jpg

As of this writing, TransActive hasn’t reblogged nor replied to Cari’s latest post. Maybe they’ll be better at taking a hint with pictures than with words? Stay tuned.

Kari on TA 3

Shrinking to survive: A former trans man reports on life inside queer youth culture

Max Robinson is a 20-year-old lesbian who recently detransitioned after 4 years of hormone replacement therapy. She underwent a double mastectomy at age 17, performed by plastic surgeon Curtis Crane in San Francisco. Max reports that her gender therapist wrote letters verifying the immediate medical necessity of these treatments.

Max currently works to provide direct support to developmentally disabled adults living in group homes; she detransitioned on the job in December 2015. Her novel Laika, which tells the story of the little stray dog who was sent outside Earth’s atmosphere in a Soviet satellite, is available digitally or in print here. In addition, Max and her partner collaborate on many graphic art and creative writing projects.

 Max, like many young lesbians of her generation, was led down the path to FTM “transition” as a teen, effectively short circuiting her chance to fully integrate her orientation as a same-sex attracted female.  As detailed in her account, the difficulties many young trans men face in queer communities are not widely known; and the less-than- rosy experiences of FTM teens are certainly not discussed in the many mainstream media stories which unquestioningly celebrate testosterone and surgery as welcome treatments for dysphoric girls—many of whom are same-sex attracted.

Max’s story will also appear in an upcoming anthology to be published within the year.

In the meantime, Max is available to respond to your questions and discussion in the comments section below this post.

All of us at 4thWaveNow are very grateful to Max for her courage in writing this post.


by Max Robinson

When I was 5, I led a girl rebellion. We put on capes and chased some boys in capes around. Whatever they said we couldn’t do, we did. It was mostly push-ups or holding bugs. I could hold any bug. My dad still has a picture in his office of me at a science fair, hands full of hissing cockroaches.

I hated to be told there was something I couldn’t do. In first grade, I’d go home from school all in a huff because the girls’ bathroom pass had pictures of bows on it, while the boys’ had soccer balls. My teacher wouldn’t let me choose which pass I wanted. I played soccer!

When I was in third grade, I drafted letters to the author of a children’s book series. I was bothered by the constant underlying sexism in her books about a family rescuing animals. The mom and the daughter were always secondary, sweeping or cooking in the background, while the father and son saw all the action. What troubled me most of all was that these books were written by a woman. I didn’t understand why she couldn’t create a single interesting female character.

Around the same time, my mom finally let me buy a pair of boys’ shoes. They were red and black, and I didn’t have to tie them. I wore them all the time, so often that the plastic frame of them tore through the fabric. It cut into my feet, but I didn’t tell my parents. I thought I wouldn’t get another pair. They didn’t find out until they saw the back of my ankles, torn and bleeding. When I told them why I hadn’t said anything, they got me another pair. This is my first memory of hurting myself on purpose so that I would feel better about my appearance. Later, there was tweezing, high heels, waxing, shaving, running, and trying to starve myself. In all of those, at one time or another, I was encouraged, but they really weren’t for me. I wanted to choose to hurt myself in my own way.

When I was 16, I talked my older sister into ordering me a binder, and I wore it as often I could. It hurt like hell. I insisted it didn’t. The pain made it easier to think less, which was nice, especially at school. Class was boring and I couldn’t focus, so I would always spend the whole day winding myself up with some thought obsession or another to keep busy. I would ask the teacher for bathroom breaks, and then used them to cut myself, just because I was under-stimulated and unhappy.

After school, I read Autostraddle articles and dozens of pages into the archive of FTM blogs. I was glad to see some women who looked kind of like me, saying that they had futures now. I wanted what they had, and I hated what I had. I think I was 15 or just barely 16 when I started checking this stuff out.

The longer I thought about it, the more sure I was that it was true. At first, I thought I might be genderqueer. Then, I wanted to go on testosterone for a while, but keep my breasts. Next I was sure that I wanted them gone. I would confess these changing thoughts anxiously to other trans-identifying friends online. They would reassure me that this happened to a lot of people, and that the dominant transgender narrative was oppressive.  Then I began reassuring others of this, too. We all agreed that being trans was very special and difficult.  Before, I had never felt special or that my pain mattered.

Some part of me knew I was talking myself into it. I ignored that part.

For the first time, I had a community that paid attention to me, at least online. We talked about our feelings and we listened to each other. This was my first real experience with Internet culture. I loved having friends. It wasn’t like school, where I was irritable and weird, floating between tables at lunch. People actually liked me on Tumblr. Almost all my friends were female and trans-identifying.

max jpg

I didn’t know anything. It was just so comforting to think that I was born wrong. If my body was the problem, it could be solved. Transition had clearly defined steps. Everybody chose from a set list, and when it was over, they were properly assembled.

When I renounced my connection to womanhood and what I shared with my sisters, I sealed away important parts of myself. I thought I was turning away from the hurt that came from being seen as a woman by men, but it was too late for that. That hurt has been inside my bones for years. After transition, I kept quieter than ever before. Always afraid, always afraid. Brought back into line.

Transition was supposed to fix things. That’s what I believed and that’s what doctors told my parents. I was 16 when I started hormone blockers, then testosterone. I was 17 when I had a double mastectomy.

If I didn’t look like a dyke and act like a crazy teenage girl, there would have been nothing to fix.

To fund my surgery, I started a blog where I posted print-to-order clothing and gifts, pandering to the interests of the people I saw on there. It worked pretty well. I got a bunch of money, but not quite enough. My parents used some of theirs, and my grandma helped, too. After all, this was a medically validated condition. I had been to appointments with professional after professional, all of whom agreed this was the way to go.

But it turned out to be cold comfort, removing hated body parts. Breasts marked me as a woman dressed funny. I wasn’t afraid to be anesthetized or cut open. The day of my surgery, after the doctor drew the lines of the incisions on my skin in Sharpie, I asked him where the tissue would go. He told me it would be incinerated as medical waste. I cackled. When they led me back to the operating room, I was confused. I thought there would be a silver table that I had to lie down on. I told my doctor this. He told me it wasn’t an autopsy, and laughed.

My first post-op memories don’t start until a day or two later. The pain wasn’t bad, and emptying my drains reminded me of using a menstrual cup, just with a lot more yellow stuff. It felt better than trying to live as a man with breasts. I couldn’t lift my arms to wash my own hair for a couple weeks, but seeing a flat chest was a breath of fresh air. It felt like it made sense after I had been watching my old face disappear, cheeks narrowing, beard coming in, because of testosterone. I didn’t want to be seen as a woman–as a lesbian–and I didn’t want to ask why.

Or maybe I just didn’t know who to ask. I did try. Before I started medical transition, I asked my gender therapist, a trans man, about internalized misogyny. The question was dismissed. I didn’t even really know what internalized misogyny was, but  I wanted to understand. Instead, I was assured that it probably wasn’t that. I got a letter for hormone replacement therapy, and later, for the top surgery. I was grateful.

It took years of testosterone for me to finally realize it was okay to live in my own body without it, that making this peace with myself was possible, and that I deserved that chance. I didn’t know it was okay to be a dysphoric lesbian, that I could survive this way. I was almost 20 when I stopped hormones. I had been 20 for a little while when I stopped understanding myself as a trans man.

Things changed. My mind changed.

There’s a species of rotifer (microscopic zooplankton) called Bdelloidea. A male bdelloid has never been observed. They’re all female, reproducing exclusively through parthenogenesis for millions of years. How did they survive quickly evolving parasites and rapidly changing environments without the adaptability afforded by sexual reproduction? Bdelloids shrivel up under stress. In anhydrobiosis, they’re easily carried away by the wind. For up to nine years, they’ll stay alive like this–barely living, but alive. Shrinking yourself to survive is a legitimate strategy, and sometimes it works.

After I detransitioned, I started a new job where I was known as a butch lesbian. At first, people treated me worse than when I was “passing” as male. Nobody trained me. They tried not to look at me at all. They didn’t relax until I started talking, talking like I had in high school. I made jokes and people laughed. I told them about my childhood when they told me about theirs. I did more than listen, finally. People actually liked me here, the same people who looked at me funny when I first started the job.

It had been so long since I had said anything outside my home without worrying about whether I “sounded male.” I hadn’t realized how much I had been holding back since I decided to transition. I hadn’t made new friends, except online, in years. In a couple weeks at this job, I got rides home and wedding invitations. I thought I was incapable of connecting to anyone in person, but I was just incapable of connecting to anyone as a man — because I’m not a man. I can’t pretend to be one without hiding an essential part of my nature.

I thought “woman” was wrong for me, because of how I dressed, how I related to my body, how I resented the expectations society had for me as a woman. I didn’t realize that my horror at my body could be caused by the horror of living in a world that wants to control all women.

If “being a woman” really was nothing but an identity, if I had been raised in a world where it really did just mean calling myself a woman, I never would have transitioned.  I would never have attempted to surgically and hormonally erase my femaleness. My drive to be anything but a woman was rooted in the material reality of being a woman, a material reality that cannot be identified out of. Trying to live in a fantasy where everything women have suffered for being female is null and void, even as misogyny continues to shape our lives, was valuable only in that I finally learned how incredibly valuable it was to name myself as a woman.

There is power in naming. It’s how we find each other, how we connect to our histories, how we connect to our futures. Driving us apart from each other is the easiest way to keep us from learning to recognize attempts to redefine our realities.

I didn’t know this then. I subscribed to an incredibly misogynistic set of beliefs for years. “DFAB privilege” was a common phrase in our community – “designated female at birth privilege.” It was accepted fact that being born female gave you a lifelong advantage over a male who transitioned. This included men who used transition only to mean using different pronouns on Tumblr and having an anime girl as their avatar. We believed that, as “dfabs,” we needed to shut up about our petty problems. We could never have it as hard as any “dmab women or non-binary people.” Everyone in the trans community agreed that it was our responsibility to uplift “dmab voices.” None of this seemed outrageous or strange to me; it felt pretty intuitive. Growing up under male domination is a grooming process that leaves many girls and women extremely vulnerable to manipulation.

The first experience that did make me start to feel suspicious of male transition was when I was 18 and a genderqueer-identifying man who had never pursued any kind of transition raped my best friend, a woman unacquainted with insular trans community politics. I had indirectly introduced her to this guy via mutual friends. After the rape, she told me what he did; I had been in the next room the whole night, awake, talking to someone I didn’t even like. I had no idea it was happening. When she let our mutual friends know, we both assumed they would have her back; after all, they referred to their apartment as a safe space for rape survivors. But instead, her rapist changed his pronouns on Tumblr, claimed to have schizophrenia, and then said that he couldn’t possibly have raped her, because of the power dynamics between a “cis” woman and a transwoman. He moved back to LA a few months later, without ever taking any steps towards transition. When he got there, he told his old friends he wasn’t schizophrenic or trans anymore.

Years before that, two different transwomen I knew had pressured me into sending nude photos of my breasts to them. I messaged them first, as a 16 year old, after seeing them repeatedly posting about being horny and suicidal, and how only nudes would make them feel any better. They didn’t even know who I was. To one of them, I submitted the nudes anonymously. I didn’t want to talk, I just wanted him to feel better. I thought it was my responsibility. It might still be posted somewhere, I have no idea.  Both of the transwomen who sexted with me identified as lesbians at the time and knew I was a transman. They didn’t care, as long as we were talking one-on-one.

I didn’t fully see the value in differentiating male from female until a traumatized and disabled lesbian I knew well, K, finally admitted to me that her transwoman partner M was beating her regularly.

For three years, she lived with steadily escalating physical & sexual violence, the details of which were originally included in this article but have now been removed for privacy reasons. Suffice it to say – it was an intimate portrait of what radical feminists understand as male violence.

It’s been two years since she moved in with me, away from him, and she’s still recovering from what he did to her. She had two decades of trauma before that, but nothing ever broke her like this did. Calling that relationship “lesbianism” left her stranded from the framework she desperately needed in order to contextualize her experiences as a survivor of captivity. It destroyed her ability to call herself a lesbian or a woman for a long time: if lesbians like to sleep with transwomen and were repulsed by the supposed maleness of transmen, how could she be a lesbian herself? If women are what her ex-partner M was, then she, K, must be something else entirely. The language of transition lends itself readily to abusive gaslighting that disguises and distorts women’s ability to name what is happening. What was done to her was extreme cruelty of a distinctly male variety, cruelty she was especially vulnerable to because of her lifelong history of trauma at men’s hands.

The more I started to understand that M could not have been female, the more I understood why I was. One’s actual sex matters. Running from its significance prevents you from doing anything but continuing its cycles of destruction. As soon as a transwoman said, “No, I’M not a man,” we instantly lost our ability to protect ourselves from him. Women who never transitioned in these trans circles believed their “cis privilege” rendered them man-like in their power. For those of us females (mainly lesbians) who did seek transition, we were often told that, as transmen, we were exactly as bad as any other men.

Loading the language was an incredibly powerful tool. I was a lesbian trying to save my friend from domestic violence at the hands of a man she had partnered with out of intense desperation, facing immediate homelessness as a severely mentally ill woman with limited mobility. Understanding this could have connected us to our foremothers who struggled through similar battles to protect each other from abusive men. Instead, we felt completely adrift. Other women dealing with abuse perpetrated by transwomen have described a similar sense of being in entirely uncharted territory, terrified to speak first, unable to find anyone else sharing experiences; they’re all too scared of being labeled an untouchable “trans-misogynist.”

In the 21st century, intelligent and capable adult women are having to relearn what “man” means, with fear at their backs every step of the way. We were among them, exploring radical and lesbian feminist ideology online and marveling at how decades-old works precisely described circumstances we had thought of as occurring only recently. Janice Raymond’s discussion of transexually-constructed lesbian feminists in The Transsexual Empire was startlingly relevant. She saw this coming. As lesbians, we have a rich history of theory that had been completely denied to women who came of age when K and I did. All either of us knew about Janice Raymond, until last year, was that she was evil to the core; a horrible transphobe. We believed this because we didn’t know any better.

Deprogramming took almost a year. Both of us were terrified just to read dissenting opinions. K, me, and another lesbian exited from the radical queer scene began moderating an online support group for anyone dysphoric and born female, including many who still identified as trans. When that group started, I was still one of the transmen. All of us were so incredibly relieved not to be alone. We disagreed on a lot of stuff, but we were all tired of what we saw happening to females.

When our remaining friends from the transgender community found out that we considered transwomen capable of male violence, and that we were concerned about transition’s effect on young adults, almost all of them deserted us immediately. Female trans-identifying friends who knew K’s history of homelessness and our currently rocky financial situation started talking publicly to each other about how we literally deserved to starve to death.

Losing these friends hurt enough on its own. Being cut off from them just when we had begun to see the severity of the situation within these groups was so much worse. I have a list of 20 intercommunity predators, mainly transwomen who prey on females — women or transmen. Eleven of them are one or two degrees of separation from us. So many women in our community had themselves been pressured to share nude photos, coerced into unwanted sex, or outright violently assaulted by males describing themselves as transwomen, but they still didn’t feel able to challenge the narrative they were being fed. These women, our friends, had been there with us. They saw transwoman predator after transwoman predator being named by their terrified female victims. The “call-outs” (a word used for anything from hurting someone’s feelings slightly to brutal rape) usually only happened once several victims of the same predator found each other and made sure they had friends on their side. When victims couldn’t be sure they would be supported, they didn’t come forward. The political climate made it doubly difficult to “call out” a transwoman. We were constantly being reminded that transwomen are harmed by the horrible stereotype that they’re all rapists or perverts, and we were taught that we needed to be constantly policing ourselves to avoid perpetuating this idea.

The silent victims of transwomen had good reason to keep quiet. We all saw transwomen using the language of “cissexism” and “transmisogyny” against anyone who named their behavior as harmful. Even transwomen dating other transwomen experienced abuse at their hands. In the resulting fallout, it was never clear who the true aggressor was; both of them would immediately begin using identity politics and “privilege dynamics” (i.e., someone poor can never hurt someone rich, under any circumstances, etc.) in a way that was very effective at obfuscating the truth. Our friends had been right beside us for all of this, and they still damned us for beginning to name what had enabled this wide-scale intercommunity violence.

Young lesbians in the “queer community” are known by many names: if you want to avoid scrutiny for not hooking up with transwomen, you’ve got to get creative. Some of us call ourselves queer, bisexual, or pansexual, because there’s no word for only being attracted to females, and you can’t be a lesbian if you date transmen or avoid dating transwomen. A lot of us, having been told that we can opt out of womanhood by choice, decided that we never want to be called “she” again. Young women who cling to the word “lesbian” find themselves increasingly pressured to sleep with transwomen, because—according to trans dogma–they are supposedly more vulnerable and oppressed than any “cis” lesbian.

Many transwomen seem to view dating a “cisbian” as a uniquely valuable source of gender validation. After all, lesbians only date women. There is no acknowledgement that, under some circumstances, some lesbians can be coerced into relationships that they are incapable of experiencing as anything except traumatic. I have never seen a transwoman from these circles ever express the possibility that this might be true. By all appearances, they have never considered it. Running from unpleasant truths is something that a lot of folks who transition (me included) tend to get very good at.

The insistence that lesbianism is not a strictly female experience runs so deep that transwomen, even those who only date other transwomen, often refer to themselves as “transdykes.” This includes those who are not transitioning–men who can literally only be differentiated from any other man when you ask his preferred pronouns. Many women believe that these “transdykes,” even those who have never been identifiable as anything but straight men to the outside world in any way, are more oppressed than any “cis” woman, specifically on the axis of gender. The level of gaslighting taking place here is difficult to overstate.

From the outside, now, I can finally see how ridiculous it is. Realizing this took months and months. It took us a year of exploring the feminist theory that had been forbidden to us before me or K could even call any transwoman a man without having a panic attack.

At first, when I started learning more about opposing viewpoints, I identified as a “gender-critical transman.” I knew that the transgender cause had been used in a lot of disgusting ways, but I still believed transition was the only way I could survive, and I was trying to reconcile seeing myself as transgender with believing that the vast majority of trans activism was harmful to women. During this time, I really looked up to gender-critical transwomen–transitioning males who were usually at least marginally more sympathetic and thoughtful than most men. I tried to reconcile our respective identities and our needs, as we understood them, with the needs of women as a class.

I failed. At the end of the day, I just don’t want anyone male in the bathroom with me. I don’t want them on a women’s volleyball team. I don’t want them at Curves. I don’t want them in a lesbian book club. The experience of being male is fundamentally different from the experience of being female — even if a man passes, even if a man has surgery to more closely resemble his idea of a woman. I don’t say this out of a hatred for transwomen. I say this out of love and respect for women. What we are cannot be conceived nor replicated in a man’s imagination, and it absolutely cannot be formed out of male tissue on an operating table.

The sympathy I feel for men harmed by gender, to the extent that it means I encourage male-to-female transsexualism, is in direct competition with the sympathy I feel for women harmed by gender. Everyone is entitled to make their own choices about their bodies. Everyone is also entitled to have opinions about the choices that others make about their bodies. I feel that transition is a treatment with far-reaching harmful side effects — not only for the individual receiving treatment, but for those around them.

Lesbians who see their sisters disappearing are more likely to try to erase themselves. Lesbians who are forced to welcome men into their spaces will never be able to see or understand the value of female-only space, having never actually experienced it. Transition does not cure the irreconcilability of our selves with our environments. Gendered identity crises are very real to the individuals experiencing them, myself included, but this energetic drive towards change is not best spent reforming ourselves into someone who can assimilate into the world men have built. We need to use this energy to work towards restoring balance to a sick world.

Many young lesbians (and some older lesbians caught up in a youth-oriented trans/queer culture) hold political views diametrically opposed to our collective interests. We genuinely believe some off-the-wall garbage, like that it’s wrong and evil not to be attracted to penises because of “internalized cissexism.” We have been successfully brainwashed to serve males at the expense of our own health and sanity.

I have so much empathy for other women who believed transition was their best choice. I lived that. The fact is, loving a woman does not automatically mean agreeing with her. I believe that all of us deserve better. We deserve to experience autonomous female space. We deserve the opportunity to experience our bodies as a part of nature worthy of celebration, not objects to be “reconstructed.” The energy we spend trying to run from our own bodies is better spent working to support each other.

Those of us who make it out of communities like the ones I was in often only manage to do so because of strong female (in my experience, lesbian) support networks that help us relearn how to think for ourselves without getting angry when we make mistakes in the process. I hear political opponents of the transgender movement calling it extremely cult-like and in the same breath damning the women, usually lesbians, who fall into the trap. This reinforces the learned hatred of anyone who disagrees without creating any opportunity for victims of this ideology to ask questions and explore viewpoints that—while the victims have not yet extricated themselves–genuinely feel like some kind of blasphemy to them. The pace of progress needs to be determined by the individual. Frustration with the behavior of young people in the transgender community is very understandable, but even the most righteous anger is unlikely to change minds when it’s directed at someone who has been manipulated into believing that dissenting women are literally equivalent to murderers.

The beliefs they have internalized are harmful to all women. No one is obligated to subject herself to being triggered or re-traumatized by the virulent misogyny that trans activists tend to espouse, even in the name of reaching out to a sister in crisis. Taking care of yourself has to come first. I try to stay available for conversations with questioning trans-identifying females, but I can’t always be there. I need rest, too.

As I move away from viewing myself and my body as an object to improve, I’m realizing more and more how much of my energy has been devoted to appeasing men in some way. By and large, that was a waste of time. I’m working on using my emotional energy for the benefit of myself first, and then for the benefit of other women.

While I was transitioning, I was terrified of eventually regretting it. I sure as hell didn’t let on much about my doubts, for fear of losing access to medical treatment, but I was consumed all the time with obsessive thoughts about it. I didn’t understand how I could go on living as a woman with no breasts. What man would want to fuck me? Never mind that I didn’t want to be fucked by any man; that didn’t feel like a good enough answer.

I am so incredibly grateful that I learned that there was more to being a woman. Transition was absolutely not the easiest way to learn this, but it was how I learned it. It was how I learned that I could survive without men viewing me as a piece of meat. I never shaved my legs or armpits again. I stopped tittering at their stupid jokes. I dress practically. I’m grateful that I learned it was okay to exist as I am.

For me, transition was a processing of distancing my true self from my body and my environment. Detransition has been the opposite: learning to participate earnestly in the world again. For me, this isn’t about undoing my transition. I’m not seeking any further changes like electrolysis or breast reconstruction. I am a woman, even if my body is recognizable as the body of a woman who once thought transition was the best choice available to me. My body has known tragedies, but my body is not a tragedy. When I catch myself slipping into deeply misogynistic internal tirades about the aspects of my appearance that changed during transition, I practice thought replacement. I am not a waste of a woman.

I’m so grateful for all of the incredible women I’ve connected with who are on the other side of transgender identities now. Some of them are women I met years ago, when both of us were still pursuing transition. Transition doesn’t have to be forever. If transition makes you sick inside, you don’t have to live and die with that sickness. There is community. There is processing. There is genuine healing. More and more of us are waking up, each with her own story. We question and disagree, with our enemies and with each other. We learn. Together, we are moving forward.

In praise of gatekeepers: An interview with a former teen client of TransActive Gender Center

Cari is a 22-year-old woman who previously identified as a trans man. She pursued medical transition at 16, with the support of TransActive Gender Center in Portland, OR. She was on testosterone by the age of 17, and had “top surgery”(double mastectomy) a few years later. Cari says she has been moving towards detransition for over a year now, and started taking concrete steps towards it a couple of months ago, including stopping testosterone.

In this interview, Cari shares her thoughts on transition, parents of trans-identified kids, and her experience with TransActive Gender Center, with a particular emphasis on that organization’s exclusionary focus on medical transition. For gender-dysphoric young people, Cari advocates for greater mental health support, as well as the chance to explore alternatives to hormones and surgery as treatments for gender/sex dysphoria. You can read more of her thoughts on her Tumblr blog.

Cari brings up a number of interesting and controversial points; your comments and questions are encouraged, and Cari is available to respond to them in the comments section of this post.


How old were you when you first began working with TransActive? What brought you there?

I was 16, and I had come out as transgender about a year prior. I found them through a friend who had received therapy there. They were the only gender therapists I could find who offered a sliding scale, which was huge for me since I was paying for my own therapy.

What services did TransActive provide or recommend?

I was given therapy there primarily for the purpose of transition care—getting a referral to an endocrinologist for hormone therapy, and a letter to change the gender marker on my driver’s license. I had been hospitalized about a year prior to starting counseling there due to suicidal ideation and non-suicidal self-harming behavior, but this was not a focus of treatment, other than discussing ways that transition would help with my depression. I was not receiving any other form of counseling for my mental health at the time.

They also recommended their therapy groups and “FreeZone,” which is a social group for trans children, their parents, and TransActive staff, but I didn’t attend those. FreeZone struck me as kind of a weird thing, since it would entail seeing my therapist and probably her other clients in a social setting.

transactive counseling

Did any counselors there attempt to explore whether there might be other underlying issues which could contribute to you claiming a transgender identity? Was there ever a concern that other mental health problems could interfere with a “successful” transition?

My counselor did not explore this with me, other than what seems to be the standard, cursory question of “Would you be able to be happy being a butch lesbian?” or something along those lines. It seems like everyone asks this question, thinking it’s somehow going to help dissuade people who are transitioning for the wrong reasons, but with all the other positive things that are said about transition, it doesn’t really work. I didn’t know that I was a lesbian until after I had started to detransition (primarily due to dating trans men), so this question didn’t strike me as relevant at the time, and there wasn’t any discussion of alternative ways to deal with sex dysphoria. This may simply be because there isn’t much information about alternative treatments in general.

However, I also had an experience there which I believe to be directly negligent on the part of the therapist. During the course of my therapy, before I received a referral for hormones, I began to have trauma flashbacks, which I hadn’t previously remembered. I brought these up to my therapist, and her only response was to devote one or two sessions to it, and then continue with the transition therapy process. This process seemed to be primarily about validating pretty much whatever I said about my gender/planning and mapping out a timeline for my transition, and it was not brought up at any point that prior trauma might have anything to do with dysphoria. The implication that was always present, in therapy or in the other trans-related discussions I was part of, inside and outside of TransActive, was that if I was trans (and my therapist never gave me the impression that I might not be), my options were “transition now, transition later, or live your life unhappy/commit suicide.” To a teenager who is struggling with mental health issues, this is a very attractive proposal: “This is The Cure for all of the emotional pain you’re feeling”.

How did your parent(s) feel about your trans identity? Were they supportive? How do they feel about your decision to detransition?

My parents were supportive of (if a little confused by) my “social transition” (using my male name/pronouns, binding, etc) but thought that I should wait to transition physically until I was over 18.  The staff at TransActive told me I didn’t need their permission for hormones, however, and that they would refer me, so I think eventually my parents may have just gone along with it because they know how stubborn I am.

My parents are supportive of detransition, but told me they wanted me to make sure I was certain about it before “coming out” again. It’s kind of hard to explain that no, your son who used to be your daughter is now your daughter again.

This might be a good place to mention that I pretty recently came to the decision to detransition, so my experiences and opinions are influenced by the rather fluid and unsettled stage of life I’m in right now, and probably not representative of someone who has had more experience living as a detransitioned woman. I can speak as someone who feels that TransActive did not adequately prepare me for transition or present me with alternatives, but I don’t want to try to present my experience as an example of detransitioned women in general, only representative of me, one detransitioning woman.

It seems that many gender specialists, and certainly many activists, are highly critical of attempts to “pathologize” people who identify as transgender. In fact, there is a movement afoot that says attempts to “gatekeep” trans-identified people with other mental illnesses is a form of “ableism.” and that even a person with Down Syndrome or on the autism spectrum should be allowed to medically transition, even as a minor. What are your thoughts on this?

I don’t think that people with comorbid mental illness should necessarily be barred from transition. What I do think is that there should be significant attempts to treat those conditions first, to rule out their involvement in dysphoria. I’m ultimately of the opinion that adults are allowed bodily autonomy, no exceptions, but that if we’re going to medicalize being transgender (which is the basis for having insurance cover it, having it be a protected identity, receiving any kind of special consideration under the law for anything, really), then there needs to be a standard of care that includes ruling out less invasive forms of treatment. It’s not considered best medical practice to jump to major surgery for any other condition, if there’s a reasonable possibility that medication or lifestyle changes could provide the same benefit.

I think that in my case, it’s entirely possible that I would not have been responsive to the idea that transition was not the only means of helping me. I know myself, and how stubborn I am, which I can’t blame TransActive or WPATH or ICATH or the APA or anyone else but myself for. But I do think that they need to be at least exploring these options. If I had been exposed to the idea that transition was not the be-all end-all of treating dysphoria, and that there were other viable options like treating my underlying mental health issues, I would be much more comfortable with their practices. But I wasn’t.

Trans activists vociferously deny that social media/trends could be a factor for some teens wanting to transition, yet it seems obvious to outside observers that the huge increase in girls identifying as trans is at least partly a result of immersion in Tumblr, YouTube, and other online forums. Did “social contagion” play a role in your own identification as trans?

I believe that it’s an oversimplification to blame social media for the increase in early transitioners. I think it has definitely played a role in younger people finding out that transition is a thing they can do, which to my mind isn’t an entirely negative thing—this is the same platform that allows LGBQ youth to connect with others who have similar experiences and find community. I think the increase is probably similar to the increase in teenagers going through a “bisexual phase”—it doesn’t invalidate the experiences of people who really are bisexual and discovered this in their teens, but it does mean that with the increased visibility of LGBQ people, that there is a higher incidence of teenagers questioning their sexuality. Now, with information about transition being readily available online, and a growing community of trans people to connect with, more young people are questioning their gender. The only difference being, questioning your orientation doesn’t make you want to pursue permanent medical interventions to your body, and it isn’t posited as a necessity for an LGBQ person.

To answer the question that you actually asked, though, online forums did play a significant part in my decision to come out as trans. I wasn’t so much into YouTube, though, and this was before Tumblr was a popular site. However, once I actually did come out, many, if not most of my formative interactions with the trans community (i.e., ones that influenced my decision to transition) were in-person ones, either through support groups or social events or LGBTQ youth spaces.

You no longer identify as transgender. What was your process of deciding this wasn’t right for you?

Actually, this is kind of funny, since your last question was about social media influencing people to transition. My decision to detransition was largely informed by social media, Tumblr in particular. Not that the detransition community, such as it is, convinced me to do so; my interactions with other detransitioned women have been limited since it wasn’t until recently that I stopped just reading and actually started interacting. But in the short time I have been communicating with other detransitioned women, I haven’t really ever felt any kind of pressure from them to do something particular about my transition, or to subscribe to any particular ideology. Rather, my experiences of reading the writings of detransitioned women were influential to me because they gave me what organizations like TransActive never did: images of women who had experienced the same things I had, who had struggled with dysphoria, and had found methods of making peace with their bodies in a way that I was starting to realize transition never would for me. Transition was very helpful for me in a lot of ways, and I wouldn’t say that I regret my decisions, but at some point it just ceased to be helpful to me. I think it helped me to be comfortable with my body and at some point I realized I was comfortable enough that I could stop, that I was ready to recognize myself as female again.

Do you believe some kids or teens are “truly trans”? Do you think gender identity is innate or “baked in” at birth? And if so, what differentiates true trans from people who thought they were trans, but eventually decide to detransition?

I think the scariest thing for me in my decision to detransition is that I haven’t really seen a whole lot to differentiate people who transition and are content, and people who transition and realize they made a mistake. I’ve seen people who checked all the “true trans” boxes, who were “transmedicalists” or believed themselves to be “just men with a medical condition,” who later detransitioned, or reidentified with their sex, or at the very least expressed serious doubts about their own motivations for transition, whether they pursued those doubts or not. I’ve also seen people who really didn’t seem to check those boxes, who had been transitioned for years and were still very happy with their decisions. I’d like to say that I know exactly how to tell the difference between the people who will end up happy with their transitions, and those who realize it isn’t the right choice for them, but the truth is I don’t. I think that all we can really do is to ensure that there are attempts being made to present all options, and to rule out other issues that might need to be treated first.

I also think that there are people for whom transition is the best choice, or at least the best choice they could have made under the circumstances. I’m coming to terms with the idea that I really just don’t have conclusive answers, that it doesn’t seem like anyone does, and that perhaps the best we can do in these situations is to try to make peace with our bodies as best we can. That perhaps there just aren’t any easy, unambiguous, black-and-white answers about why people are dysphoric or whether transition is the right choice for them. That’s what I wish organizations like TransActive would embrace–not “this is your only choice,” not “this is not a viable choice at all,” but instead, “we don’t have all the answers, but here’s what we know about your options.”

Partly due to lobbying by TransActive and its director, Jenn Burleton, the state of Oregon now permits trans-identified teens as young as 15 to obtain surgeries (including mastectomies and hysterectomies) without parental consent. TransActive is networking with activists and lawyers in other states to push for lowering the age of medical consent nationwide. Given your own experiences, do you think there should be a minimum age for medical intervention for trans-identified people? What age is appropriate to begin cross-sex hormones? To receive “top surgery?” To undergo bottom surgery and/or hysterectomy?

I think the idea of someone being able to get transitional surgery underage is concerning—in the state of Oregon, you can’t get a tattoo underage even with parental consent, but you can be permanently sterilized at 15 without any parental input. This is built off the law that minors 15 and older can consent to their own medical and dental diagnosis and treatment, up to and including surgery, but it seems to me that these kinds of surgeries are things that can wait until someone is at least 18. You can’t diagnose many mental disorders, such as personality disorders (which I have personally seen as a contributing factor in people incorrectly thinking they are trans) until the age of 18, and it seems reasonable to me that permanent surgical interventions for what is arguably a psychiatric issue be held off on until that age. I don’t know what I think about underage hormone treatment, but I lean towards the idea that it should be available, but that again, proper alternative treatment and safeguards need to be in place, that it needs to not be the sole focus of treatment or option presented.

What advice would you have for parents who are concerned about the seeming trend in kids identifying as trans? There is very little support for parents who don’t simply go along with their child’s announcement.

I think it can be a very delicate thing, as I’m sure you know. Children and teens who are questioning their gender are usually in a very vulnerable state. I think they often feel that the people around them can’t understand what they’re going through, and that leads to feeing very alone and isolated. I know I felt that way, and when I encountered resistance to my transition, it really made me feel that interacting with those people was unsafe or that they felt contempt or condescension for me and for what I was feeling. I did cut off or restrict contact with a lot of people due to them not supporting my transition.

So I think it is of the utmost importance that parents go about it with a lot of respect for their kids and validation that what they are going through is an incredibly difficult and painful state, without that necessarily meaning you’ll go along with their desires unquestioningly. I think it’s possible to have a child-centered process without it being all about transition. Brainstorm with them about what they might be able to do to help them cope with their dysphoria, support them in going to therapy, but suggest that they examine other modes of treatment in therapy before seeking transition, things like that. Try to make yourself a safe and supportive person for them to trust with their feelings—this not only allows you to make suggestions to them and discover their underlying feelings and motivations for transition, but also means that they might not be as scared to say, “hey, I think I might have made a mistake/I have these questions and the community isn’t answering them.” Knowing that my parents supported me making my own choices and weren’t about to say “I told you so” was a huge factor for me in feeling comfortable when I told them about my decision to detransition

That said, I think it’s entirely reasonable to set the boundary that you aren’t comfortable allowing them to medically transition while underage. As my parents explained it, once you’re 18, you can make whatever decisions you want, but this is something that you should take responsibility for as an adult person, rather than us signing off on it for you. Of course, this didn’t end up working for me, since I lived in Oregon, a state that allowed underage consent to transition. But regardless of that, I think it was a good thought for them to have and express.

Do you think parents should buy binders for their daughters who identify as trans men? Some parents feel it amounts to a “slippery slope” that may lead to their child seeking top surgery.

I don’t know that I think a parent “should” give their kid anything other than, you know, the things any parent should give that have nothing to do with gender identity–food, clothes, medicine, age-appropriate activities, an allowance if you can afford it, etc. I always bought my own binders, and paid for my testosterone prescriptions even when my parents were paying all my other medical expenses. I do think it’s invasive that a lot of parents will cut up their children’s binders or confiscate them. I think if a kid buys something for themselves that’s helping them cope and not making permanent unhealthy changes to their body, then it should be tolerated.  Doing something like taking a binder away is really only going to deepen the distrust the kid might have. Obviously if they’re binding with Ace bandages or tape or something, that should be discouraged, but I don’t see an issue with a teenager having a safe means to bind. As to whether it’s a “slippery slope,” I suppose it’s possible. I think I would say the same thing about letting your child bind as I would about anything transition-related: I don’t think it’s right to bar your kid from expressing themselves or exploring their identity, but that the more important factor is making sure they have proper information and resources, including the ways they could cope with their body without these interventions, and ideally, role models who have found a variety of ways of to cope with their gender nonconformity and/or dysphoria.

Suicide risk is often given as the main reason children and teens should be “affirmed” in their trans identity. What do you think about that?

I think it’s something to approach with caution. Suicide risk is a good reason to treat a lot of mental disorders and medical conditions, and I think the fact that gender dysphoria is one of those disorders is not necessarily cause for alarm. Someone being a suicide risk without psychiatric medications is a good reason to give them psychiatric medications, someone being a suicide risk because of neuropathic pain, which isn’t likely to physically kill you, is a good reason to give them pain medicine. Someone being a suicide risk due to feeling disconnected from their physical sex can, I believe, be a good reason to give them cross-sex hormones and surgeries, provided other courses of action have been examined in an objective way, and having really looked at those other options, medical transition still seems to be the best choice.

What I think is more concerning is the trans community’s tendency to present suicide as basically the only alternative to transition, and to martyr trans individuals who do commit suicide, as I think we saw pretty strikingly in the case of Leelah Alcorn.

Trans activists decry “gatekeeping,” with the current trend moving towards “informed consent,” trust in self identification, and earlier and earlier medical intervention, even for children. Do you agree with this trend? Why or why not?

I think this has been pretty well addressed with my answers to other questions, but to make it explicit, my opinion is that gatekeeping is absolutely necessary. Denying someone any kind of care for their issues is medical neglect. Forcibly trying to change someone’s mind about being trans is medical abuse. Showing someone all available options, following a standard of care that takes all of them into account, and ruling out a differential diagnosis that could be treated without permanent bodily alterations, is neither of those; it’s just part of providing good healthcare.

There has been some tension between gender critics—especially gender-critical feminists—and women who have detransitioned. I have read that some detransitioned women feel they are used by feminists to make a point that all transition is harmful. Quite a few detransitioned women write that self hatred and/or internalized misogyny or homophobia were factors leading them to transition in the first place, but when these same factors are pointed out by gender critical feminists, detransitioned women sometimes object. I wonder how much of the tension is down to a generation gap? Some Second Wave feminists who experienced gender dysphoria as children believe that if medical transition had been available at the time, they’d have jumped at the chance and likely been diagnosed as trans. On a political level, if detransitioned women and gender critics could unite, they could have the potential to make important changes in how children/teens are currently treated. How can this rift between gender critics and detransitioned people be healed?

I believe you included this question to address my stated uncertainty about doing this interview, due to my experiences being co-opted by radical feminists in the past. However, my experience of this happening was while I was still in transition, so I don’t have personal experience of what you’re describing.

From what I’ve seen, I think a lot of the backlash from detransitioned women has to do with the, honestly, very unkind and insensitive way that some radical feminists talk about transition—saying that trans people are “delusional,” that transitioned/detransitioned people are “mutilated,” etc. Whether or not transition is a good idea (for anyone), this kind of attitude really trivializes the emotional pain, the social struggle, and the complicated and messy ways in which people come to the decision to make these changes to their bodies. In my own case, I believe I made the best choice I could, given the options I was presented with. I don’t appreciate being called “mutilated” for doing what I felt I had to in order to survive.

I think it’s really great that radical feminism focuses on the social roots of these issues and doesn’t just go with whatever choices people feel like making without examining them critically. But I also think that sometimes can lead to a lack of compassion for the people who make those choices, and a lack of allowance for nuance and grey area around how people interact with and cope with their social realities regarding gender. I don’t have a concrete answer for you about how radical feminists can ally themselves with detransitioning women, but I think it has to start with a good hard look at the way these issues are talked about, to make sure that we’re having these discussions in a way that shows empathy for the people who are affected by this, whether they’re questioning or transitioning or transitioned or detransitioned

How are you doing now? Have you received any support from doctors or therapists/counselors for your detransition? Does TransActive provide any services for people who change their minds?

By the time I decided to detransition, I was not receiving gender identity-related therapy. However, my current therapist knows of my detransition, and is fully supportive of it. In fact, he told me he would not have signed off on my transition if he had been my therapist when I was transitioning, given what I’ve told him of my circumstances.

TransActive does not, to my knowledge, provide any services for transgender adults, so I wouldn’t expect them to provide anything for detransitioning adults. (I’ve recently contacted TransActive asking if they have any services/could refer a detransitioning person to services, and will update this response once they reply).