I had a phase in the midst of my college education, where my gender dysphoria and my opposition to toxic masculinity combined into an ugly ruinous cocktail that’s still left me with some mental scars. I had a few advantages over contemporary “gender critical” writers: I had no online platform, so my assholery wasn’t being recorded; and I was sharing my opinion with woke feminists who were, still are to the best of my knowledge, cisgender. They were not directly impacted by my odious beliefs, how I wanted the entire establishment burned to the ground. All it took was for one of them to sit me down and say,
“Dude*, have you considered the possibility you’re trans?”
(*not misgendering at the time)
I blustered and immediately answered no. This was because I had three explicit memories of expressing gender dysphoria without actually having the word “gender dysphoria,” when I was 8, 14, and 19 years-old. Two of three incidents ended in violence; the third time it was still made clear that I didn’t want to transition, or so sayeth the person who wasn’t trans. Cornered by a psychological condition and the external pressures of toxic masculinity, I went through college thinking the only recourse was to burn the whole system to the ground. I was suicidal, depressed, and most of all, I felt like I couldn’t trust my own judgement because of the violence I experienced every time I admitted I had this feeling.
I owe my life to that friend who sat me down and asked me point blank if I considered I was trans. That it is an option to assert a different gender than the one thrust upon me. Transitioning didn’t have to involve adopting heterosexism. I could do it for myself. I could continue my activism against gender-as-tool-for-social-coercion, which I would later call a gender role, while asserting an authentic meaning in my own identity for myself. I finally “had permission” to explore that feeling.
Eventually I did. It took me a week. I didn’t sleep much during this week. The person who asked me point blank was the first I came out to. Then the rest of the same feminist group. One of my friends responded to my coming out by saying “I think I owe my boyfriend five bucks,” which is how you crack a joke about gender variance without being transphobic. I transitioned socially, bit by bit. Changed the name and pronoun with my friends, dog bless their hearts, who supported me.
So-called “gender critical” writers and speakers sound a lot like I did in college. I don’t mean to say every TERF is a closeted trans person. I speak only of my own experience. I wanted the whole gender thing gone because the option I wanted to take–assert a different identity–was constantly framed as an option I wasn’t allowed to take. I experience much greater internal satisfaction, even if I bristle against the sexist gender role now thrust upon me (when it isn’t known that I’m trans, in which case the role twists into something else entirely that looks like Schrödingers Gender Role). I still observe discomfort with the external expectations, even though I’ve now been on both sides of the toxic masculinity as well as the heteronormative femininity coins. I finally shared a characteristic with my feminist friends: they are folks satisfied with their social identities if not all the expectations that come with those identities.
Untreated gender dysphoria accounted for half of my miseries. The other half is accounted for by those who insist transitioning is not the appropriate response to gender dysphoria. Heads you win, tails I lose.