“Cheerleading” And The Dangerous Irresponsibility Of Jennifer Finney Boylan

Us trans folks, tossed aside from society’s central mass and out into the margins, shunted into relative cultural invisibility, have a very, very hard time finding ways to see ourselves reflected in our culture. When trans people appear in television, movies, comic books and other media, we’re typically portrayed as jokes, psychotic villains or “shocking” plot twists. In the few occasions that these portrayals are meant to be sympathetic, they usually nonetheless end up being glaringly inaccurate, offensive, patronizing, misrepresentative and still damaging in terms of the myths they feed.

Real life trans people in positions of success or power are likewise rare… not for a lack of existing, or for some kind of dearth of talent in our community (there are lots of really amazing trans folk), but due to the ways the usual forces of privilege, discrimination and bias operate to stack the deck against us achieving the recognition or visibility we deserve, and how recognition and success can often be conditional on keeping one’s gender status private. The net result is a community in desperate need of role models, figures to suggest that transitioning and living a trans life does not have to mean compromising your ambitions, interests or the rest of who you are, but for whom shockingly few such figures are provided.

So when certain trans people do arise to relative prominence, we end up investing them with considerable attention and significance. These few public trans figures end up meaning the world to us, playing very key roles in our lives, and making a genuine difference for us, especially during the early stages of our transitions. In virtually every transition narrative there is at least one such role model, a touchstone that helped provide us with strength and a realizable goal when we needed it the most.

We also look to these figures to represent us in the world as a whole, as they’re the only ones with the relative clout to not be shuffled into the general invisibility of our community. We depend on people like Kate Bornstein and Mara Keisling to do a good job on the Melissa Harris-Perry show. And we pour a lot of emotion into whether or not they do. “You’re us up there”, we think, “and we don’t get many chances. Please don’t blow it.”

With the incredible degree of personal, cultural, social and political significance invested in these figures by the trans community, there comes a great degree of responsibility. What these people say gets taken seriously… by trans people and even by cis people. And what they say has meaningful, real consequences. As the only real guiding voices of our community, whether they’ve opted for it or not, when they speak, they speak to and for all of us. So considerable care is demanded. When they speak recklessly, without thought to the consequences, actual people get hurt. Lives can be damaged. Even destroyed.

It’s due to this level of heightened responsibility that I feel it’s imperative that we hold our leaders and public voices accountable. That when they fuck-up, we make sure they know it. We need to ensure a dynamic in which they can’t simply self-appoint their position, and wield it however they choose, but instead remain accountable to the community they speak for, and made very aware that their status can be revoked. We need to provide consistent reminders of the potential consequences of their actions, and consistent reminders of the responsibility to wield their status with care.

If we instead enshrine them, and hold them as above criticism due to whatever personal significance they may have at one time offered us, then we are setting ourselves up for some very, very bad things to happen. The trans community is universally defined by precisely one thing, and that is its diversity and range. Having singular voices speak for us is already a dangerous thing, but to appoint unassailable pontiffs of transness, who needn’t be brought to task for the fallout of their proclamations, is potentially catastrophic.

On Saturday, one of these public figures, Jennifer Finney Boylan, author of the acclaimed transition-memoir She’s Not There (which undoubtedly aided many, many trans folk in negotiating their own decisions), posted the following on her Facebook:

An FB friend decided not to transition. I wrote her the following note:

“You take your time. You know the old saying– if you can’t transition, don’t. A more positive way of looking at it might be to acknowledge that all of this is f–king hard, and that cheerleaders on the internet notwithstanding, the world is full of trans people who probably would have been better off not transitioning. I don’t believe that the full switcheroo makes everybody happier; with my own eyes I have seen people who were not ready, or who did not know what they were getting into, or who did not carefully weigh what they gained against all that they will lose. In that last category are the inevitable changes to family and loved ones, and even in the best case scenario– which mine was, sort of– there are still plenty of tears to be cried and compromises to live with, difficult ones, every day thereafter. Here’s the thing: we always talk about how brave trans people are, how much courage they have to transition. But I think it’s the ones who don’t transition who are brave– men and women who continue to live their first life in order to protect themselves, and their loved ones, and that courage deserves to be honored. In any case, there are NO wrong choices here, and should you change your mind, or feel more ready later, well that’s fine too. There are a lot of ways of doing this, including not doing it at all, and in the interim, all we know is that whatever you do, you have to do it with love, and with your full heart.

Which was followed by numerous supprtortive comments, expressing a number of creepy extrapolations on the theme: a therapist(?) saying that she tells her clients that if they have any doubts they should cease transition, several people buying into the self-congratulatory, transier-than-thou trope that if you aren’t completely certain (as though they were?!) you should not push forward, the idea of transition needing to be an all-or-nothing binary commitment that you either make or don’t, the idea that transition should only ever be a “last resort” employed if you absolutely NEED it to survive (what if you WANT it? What if you don’t need it to survive but you need it to be genuinely happy?), plenty of puritanical praise of suffering as intrinsically noble, the idea that in transitioning one should only ever do “as little as possible”, that one shouldn’t listen to the “cheerleaders” trying to “push” you into transition, etc. etc. etc.

Before I proceed with addressing the problems with these concepts, and the problems with Jennifer’s original letter, I’d like to talk about the consequences. Consequences for which she deserves to be held accountable.

That evening, my friend Emily (who, yes, is becoming a bit of a regualar fixture in these posts, both explicitly and between the lines. She’s wonderful), after having an extremely bad day in terms of some serious setbacks in her own transition, was contacted by an early-in-transition friend of hers who had read Boylan’s post. She ended up crying, deciding that she probably shouldn’t transition, and prepared to cancel her endocrinologist appointment for Sunday. Emily managed to calm her down. On Sunday morning, I was contacted by my own young transitioner friend who I’ve been helping encourage through those difficult, scary, tumultuous early stages, who after being told by a friend that her voice sounds “fairly like a girl” and then reading Boylan’s post, had a similar crisis and began contemplating stopping, detransitioning, purging.

That’s two people, early in their transitions, in my immediate circle, who had been badly triggered by Boylan’s post and began considering ending their transitions. Why? Because we all have doubts. To reify those doubts, and suggest that choosing not to transition is somehow intrinsically the wiser and more noble choice? To imply (or directly state) that only those who are completely, totally certain (none of us) should ever transition? Of course that’s going to be triggering. Of course that’s going to cause harm. And Emily and I were left running damage control on the fallout from Boylan’s reckless post.

These two people, as said, were in my immediate circle. A circle that does not, by any means, span the entirety of the trans community, or even anywhere near the entirety of Boylan’s range of influence. I’m terrified to think how much unseen harm was caused by her words, and worse, how many people so affected had no “mentors” to contact, to talk them back from the ledge.

Boylan’s initial letter, on its surface, wasn’t all that problematic, and if it had been confined to private correspondence between herself and the person she was writing to as a gesture of support, there’d be nothing here to really criticize. Or at least no one would have noticed it. But she chose not to keep it private. She chose to make it public. And in doing so, she should have a mind to consequences, she should have considered what would happen. In the public sphere, the meaning of that letter takes on a very different nature. Suddenly it becomes a championing of suffering, an admonishment of transition, a confirmation of the myth of the regretioner (really, Jennifer? All these people who “shouldn’t have transitioned”? I’m sorry, but I don’t just take it at face value that they’d be any happier had they not), and something that will strike right into the fears, doubts and vulnerabilities of everyone in the early stages of the process who have not yet found their certainty in where they need to be.

What the hell was Boylan’s motive in publicly publishing the letter most definitely deserves to be asked.

Much of what drives the mentality behind Boylan’s post and the subsequent comments is the negative attitude towards “cheerleaders” (a disparaging term for those who attempt to encourage others through transition, and provide reminders of how much there is to gain, rather than amplifying fears of how much there is to lose). The idea here is a myth, based largely on the myth of regret being common (which I’ve discussed before… people who regret transition are astonishingly small. Likely far outweighed by those who regret having not transitioned), that there are people being unfairly “pressured” into transition when it isn’t really right for them. This is completely ridiculous. The truth is that our culture, as a whole, presents immense pressures to not transition. Being trans, and particularly a trans woman, is popularly, casually and ubiquitously regarded as one of the absolute worst, most horrible and most miserable things you could ever be. A few trans people trying to offer some encouragement to counteract this overwhelming deluge of negative, transphobic, cis-supremacist messages is by no means enough to actually drive a cis person into transition. That requires some kind of parallel universe where only the “cheerleaders” exist, our culture has a totally neutral value judgment on transition, and human identities are pathetically pliable. In the real world, though, if lucky such encouragement may be enough to help someone maintain commitment to the choice they need to make, for the sake of their own happiness.

That encouragement is typically exactly what early transitioners are seeking when they come to the forums and message boards and blogs and stuff. They’re looking for the one place where they feel their disclosures and expressions of desire (and expressions of doubt, fear, uncertainty) won’t be met with shaming and discouragement but instead with understanding and support. There’s a level of trust there, and to betray that trust, and enact a world where someone can literally find nowhere that is going to unconditionally accept and support their identity, is…well… it’s pretty hella fucked up.

And not only is encouragement and support exactly what they’re seeking, it’s typically exactly what they need. Transition may not be right for everybody. But of those who end up seriously considering it, and joining trans forums looking for answers, and struggling forward, seeking support, it will be right for the vast majority. At least partial transition will.

There is one genuine problem in terms of people being “pressured” into transitional steps that aren’t right for them, and that is the notion of transition being an “all or nothing” commitment in which if you are to transition, it requires signing up for (as Boylan so infantilizingly describes it) “the full switcheroo”. HRT, SRS, everything. Obviously not all available treatments are going to be right for everyone, so only offering transition as a bundle-deal is terribly damaging. But the answer to this problem, and helping create a situation where people can guide there own transitions into only exactly what feels right for them, is to break down the gatekeeping model and the myths that support it (like “lots of people regret it!” or “don’t try anything unless you’re completely, totally certain!”). The answer is definitely not to maintain a hierarchy where some people are “trans enough” and those who are “not trans enough” need to back down and consign themselves to pain and needless suffering. The answer is to be supportive of non-binary or differently-embodied transitions, and work to create a medical model in which these are available as options… a model in which you don’t have to make the choice between total commitment and total self-sacrifice.

Of all the various cissexist premises on which the gatekeeping model has been based and enforced, the one that always struck me as most intensely cruel and barbaric was the notion that one wasn’t “trans enough” to qualify unless one had attempted suicide or was on the brink of suicide. There is nothing intrinsically more natural, moral, beautiful or preferable about cisgenderism, and certainly nothing enough so that transition should be posited as so horrible, so disgusting, so miserable, so extreme, that no one should ever engage in it unless their lives literally depended on it. Why? Why say it can only be a last resort? Why say it shouldn’t be pursued unless needed to alleviate the worst imaginable suffering? Why not transition so as to prevent suicidality and that level of pain? Why not transition just because you want to? Why not transition just because it will make you happier? The ONLY answers to those questions that maintain the “last resort” mentality, or at least the only such answers that would be applicable across individual circumstances, are ones that play directly into cissexism and transphobia. Maintaining these concepts within our own community, and trying to bar people from finding the happiness that we’ve found just because we don’t regard them as having paid their dues in suffering, or having had the “certainty” that we can only falsely claim to have ever had, is internalized cissexism and kyriarchy in one of its ugliest and most-destructive forms.

Absolutely every single one of us has had doubts and fears. Boylan even devotes considerable attention in She’s Not There to discussing those doubts. I wonder, had she transitioned in 2012, and seen a note such as her own on the Facebook of one of the community’s leaders, how she would have reacted? None of us has a right to pretend we were above doubt and fear, and validate ourselves at the expense of others’ transitions, or at the expense of the truth of trans experience.

And honestly? Most of the time, when we say “doubts”, what we really mean is simply “fear of failing to meet cissexist expectations”, “fear of what people will think.” Acting like such “doubts” are somehow internally connected to the etiology of gender itself is to (horribly!) suggest, as so many have implicitly AND explicitly done before, that you can’t be “really” trans unless you’re going to totally fit seamlessly into cisgender, binary society and its expectations. It’s not all that unlike those doctors who refused to treat patients who wouldn’t be able to “pass”.

Much of the commentary on Boylan’s post (and part of the message in her original letter) surrounded the sacrifice of social capital and social privileges. The potential loss of jobs, friends, family, status. But truthfully, very few such losses can possibly outweigh the loss of your truth, of your self-determination, of your identity. And the fear and vulnerability that accompanies transition will invariably greatly exaggerate the perceived risks. Most of the time, we don’t lose nearly as much as we expect. We simply can’t know what we will or will not have to sacrifice beforehand, nor can we distinguish the warranted fears from the irrational ones. As such, “due diligence” and “carefully weighing the pros and cons” is effectively an impossibility. But we do know what we stand to gain, which is almost everything worth having. All the privilege and social capital in the world means nothing compared to it.

There are certain individual circumstances that can arise where transition might genuinely be the more painful decision. For instance, if transition requires that you never see your children again. But in order for someone in that circumstance to make the right choice, they need people speaking to what stands to be gained by transition, not simply what stands to be lost. There is already plenty in this world that will play the latter role. It’s ultimately they’re own decision, and only their own, and I would not ever condemn such a choice, but in so far as we choose to participate in their decision, talk to them, offer them support, they require both a prosecution AND a defense. And there’s very few people in this world willing to speak on behalf of everything great that transition can offer.

When I told Boylan about Emily’s friend, her response was a lovely bit of victim-blaming: “If a persons transition can upended by reading a post on Facebook, I wonder if that’s worth thinking about.” It’s about then that I wanted to spit at her.

Anyone’s transition can be upended in its early stages. Human beings are not perfectly rational agents, and we are especially not so when we are vulnerable. The early stages of transition are one of the most vulnerable times a human being can ever face. It’s scary. Terrifying. And your mind races for excuses to cut and run. It’s a horribly destructive thing to give them those excuses. And for that to come from a transitioned person? That’s denying them one of the most beautiful things you have.

I do what I do because I want other trans people to be happier than I was. I wouldn’t wish the years of suffering, denial, self-abnegation, and constant doubts on anyone. Fuck no I’m not going to tell them they need to go through what I did before they deserve to transition. I want to spare them that. I want them to know that it’s not necessary. I want them to recognize the denials as denials, to recognize that the fears exaggerate the risks well beyond proportion, to know that the joys and comforts of having your body be your own are immense and far more than worth the trouble, to be secure in their knowledge of what they need for themselves, to not endlessly pursue an elusive and impossible “proof” or “certainty”, to understand that doubt is a natural part of that process, to know they can negotiate the process for themselves and don’t have to commit to anything they don’t want to do. And most of all I want them to be happy. How any trans person can have the compulsion to squander this gift, and try to bar or discourage those who aren’t “sufficiently” trans, or not trans in quite the “right” way, or haven’t yet suffered “enough”, or simply have the same doubts and fears and uncertainties we all do, is incomprehensible to me. Incomprehensible and shameful.

Those few of us in the trans community who’ve been blessed with a voice, and a platform to speak, owe it to the rest of our community to counteract the immense negativity, hatred and discouragement baring down from all other points of this cissexist culture. We have a responsibility to refrain from perpetuating it. If we fail in that responsibility, and fail to make any effort to mitigate the harm we cause, we forfeit our right to believe our position and platform is deserved.


  1. Anders says

    Purging? I assume it means getting rid of everything that reminds you of your preferred gender, saying “If I don’t have it in my room/house I won’t have it inside me either.” Correct?

    The trouble with authorities is that they make people stop thinking. If we could teach people to respect only the argument, not the person, the world would become a very different and possibly even a better place.

      • Anders says

        And did you ever buy expensive clothes because “then I won’t be able to throw them away.”?

        Sounds like purging can very quickly become quite expensive.

        • says

          Fortunately for me, my purging was completely ideological. I used to have a female nym on some roleplaying sites I used to play at, and presented as a female. I also had my own male nym because my sister used to play as well so she wanted to play with me.

          I “killed” off those female nyms more times than I should have had to. Telling myself “this is silly” and trying every rationality under the sun except the one that I should’ve come up with.

          I did “purge” some clothes, but that was because my ex-boyfriend bought them for me and I never had the heart to tell him “these are hideous.” Also a group of outfits I’d bought were in my first days, women’s clothes designed for men – and I quickly discovered I’m not built like a man, cause none of them fit well enough. Women’s clothes fit better than men’s clothes.

          • Anders says

            I would never buy clothes for a partner without very extensive help from shop assistants or my sister-in-law. I have all the fashion sense of a rock… 🙂

            No I’ve never purged like that (for obvious reasons), but when I’ve been temporarily successful in my dieting I throw out all my large clothes to keep me motivated. It doesn’t work.

          • says

            Yea. Though he never really asked about it either so that was mildly creepy/disrespectful. Looking back at that relationship, there were so many red flags I should’ve picked up on. I was a doll to him…

            So let’s stop talking about that since I’m already in “I’m going to curl under a rock and die mode today.”

          • Anders says

            Ok. Want to hear my latest crazy idea? I got it from of Natalie’s posts so it must be good… 🙂

    • Eva says

      @Anders I love this idea, it’s pretty much how the internet works. Facebook is a little exempt because of all the focus on who says what.

      • Anders says

        I’d say that it can work that way, and not only on the Internet. Science, when it is good science, encourages criticism of authority. It doesn’t always work out that well, of course, but no system built and manned by humans works all the time. Humans are naturally hierarchical, it takes an effort to build more flat structures. But it’s worth it, at least in science. I can’t really say much about other places.

      • Anders says

        The idea is old, by the way. I think Plato was the first to articulate it. In the Phaedo, which supposedly takes place at Socrates execution, Socrates tells his followers that if they meet anything in the world that contradicts what Socrates says, they are to follow that and not Socrates. And he asks them, as he lays forth arguments for the existence of the soul, not to consider Socrates but the arguments.

  2. Emily says

    I spent much of this weekend in FB chat windows with people on three different continents who were feeling intense self-doubt and self-disgust *directly* because of this infamous JFB post — and the reasons for her having been made public, which was a private conversation, I am still not sure. My problem is that what may or may have not been good or bad advice (I’ll withhold judgment) to a *specific* individual was issued, with a good deal of self-trumpeting, in what basically amounted to a public edict.

    It is all very well for those who *have* transitioned (and made something of a social reputation out of having done so) to advise others *not* to do it? Like the Ancient Mariner telling the wedding guest, “I had incredible journey that, although filled with intense danger and crippling obstacles, has given me a level of inner peace that you can only imagine having. I *know* you need to go on this journey too . . . oh, forget it. Just stay at the wedding and have some more punch.”

    I mean, honestly. Chutzpah anyone?

    But these pre-transition individuals — rife with any of the doubts, fears, uncertainties, and heart-bursting worries that comes the profound metaphysical and social shift that is transition — were thrown into just such a panic . . . that they had come so close to losing their albatross, but at the same time were being advised, in sermonic tones, to keep wearing the dead carcass around their necks for an indefinite period longer.

    They have huge doubts. We all do. I cannot think of any rational way to rush into transition without having a serious think about the potential benefits, outcomes, and problems (disasters, even). Every. Single. One. Of. Us. Isn’t that why these ‘look at me! I transitioned!’ books are marketed to cissexist standards about ‘the amazing path to self-discovery’ and the ‘phoenix like rebirth of an x into a y’? Because they emotionally pander to a very basic humanistic narrative: doing the unthinkable, making the big change, taking the leap of faith, diving into the unknown . . . take every cliche ever about major actions done out of personal belief as opposed to calculated safety and they have been applied to we as trans people.

    So, yes, they had doubts. That does not preclude them from transition. That does not make them ‘unsuitable’. It is a terrible, terrible bit of misinformation to say — “If you are not %100 certain, don’t transition.” For heaven’s sakes, who ever possesses such a totalizing certitude about ANYTHING in this Eris-driven world? It’s the era of Kali-yuga. Even 10 months into my transition, I am not “%100 certain” about it — whatever that means. I fell down in the street and cried my eyes out, without a sense of shame or being stared at, because I wiped out my SRS fund paying off the first installment on taxes owing, and the sight of a stray dog–its gold fur wetted by spring rain–sniffing for food in the grass just, well, was the catalyst to make me unleash those intense feelings that transition will bring . . .

    thing is — at least when I cry now, I know *Who* is the one crying. At least the racking, lurching pain of those sobs come from a heart unmitigated by falsity, bad faith, and the panorama of lies and feints. At least I CRY now. Before, I just quietly ‘shed a few’ or ‘had water in my eye’. I cry. Therefore I am.

    And to somehow push someone away from that? To offer anything less that supportive encouragement? Fine — caution, discuss the possible negatives, consider the personal circumstances, tell them to take it at their own pace . . . this is sagely. But to prop up some martyrdom BS abut the braver act being to suffer in silence and crucify inside the one thing, the one thing any of us trans people want, to be ourselves? As my metaphors make clear, it sounds like too many of those ‘lessons from the saints’ manuals I was handed when I was younger.

    ANYONE who is at the point of seriously thinking transition — not just, “gee, what do girls do at sleepovers” occasional thinking — most very likely has bad gender dysphoria, one of the most soul crushing medical conditions out there. They may have family, friends, social capital, financial security, property, a good job, opera tickets, a wine cellar, and packaged ikea furniture that hasn’t even been opened yet . . . I don’t know, we all have stuff we stand to lose in this poker game called “I ain’t bluffing anymore, kids” . . . I am not dismissing that. But it comes down to this for me . . .

    Do you really want to go to your grave with the wrongname on your headstone. In an MtF case, do you really want your eulogy to begin “He was a great guy, kinda quiet and moody, seemed kinda sad, but a great man”? One of the last thoughts I had, as I was passing out from my suicide attempt, was this . . . I’m going to die without anyone knowing who I was that was living. I am going to deny in an act of annihilating denial. I will die without ever having given myself to live. As the night-train roar of the dark engining filled my ears with hell’s tinitus, that was my last thought, I tell you truly.

    So how could I *not* spend hour after hour this weekend counseling others, of playing ‘internet cheerleader’ . . . of saying the one thing that was said to me, when I was stumbling in the margins: “I did it. And you can do it too. And you will be a better person for it.”

    I am pleased to say that the girl who initially was experience panic attacks over JFB’s morally questionable post made it to her endo appointment. She received her first prescription for HRT. Another trans girl I was speaking with will make hers the same weekend . . . that’s two people, just in my tiny/no-fame circle of people, who almost denied themselves medical treatment because of a reckless FB post, of a private conversation served up for all to see . . . but she went as well. Her female name on the estrogen bottle. “I’M HERE!” she wrote to tell me.

    Isn’t that what we all want?

    To *be* here?

    Fully, self-determined, aware . . . scarred, perhaps. Scared, most assuredly. But fully here, as ourselves.

    JFB keeps saying ‘love’ in her posts. Love, love, love. Well, every religion in the world teaches that, without self-love, then the very word ‘love’ because a cheapened piece of vocabulary fit only for the doggerel of quick poetry.

    To be fully here, in love.

    I wish that for ever one of my fellow translings. And I personally salute Natalie Reed for her efforts this weekend. I don’t doubt she undid some ticking time bombs that, while maybe hidden away under business suits or whatever else, might have gone off in the souls of those carrying them . . . a year from now, 5, 10?

    It’s very warm out here, my sisters. And if you need an internet cheerleader, you know where to find me.

    • Emily says

      PS: I won’t even get into the strangeness of myself (or Natalie — it was hard to say) potentially being referred to as ‘man’ by JFB. As in “Hey, listen, man . . .” or some such thing. I didn’t pound the table about it. I didn’t cry mispronoun foul. It’s not a slur — I’ll just chalk it up as yet a silly Americanism that I am unfamiliar with, and that ciswomen around JFB’s part of the world routinely greet each other with “Wassup, man?” and that has entered colloquial speech as a gender-neutral (if also sexist) bit of slang.

      But given the context — and discourse is always contextual — seemed to be a poor choice of words, n’est pas?

      But poor choice of words seemed to be a theme of this weekend.

      Emily Aoife Somers

        • says

          Except, dude tends to be even more masculine than guy, especially since there are three different feminine forms cited (dudette is the most popular, compared to dudess or dudine). In short, I hate the word.

          • David Hart says

            About the only truly non-gendered informal word for persons I can think of is ‘folks’, as in, ‘what can I get you folks’ – which, annoyingly, doesn’t have a singular form, even if you take the ‘s’ off. Oh, and ‘peeps’ as well, but that one just sounds silly to me so I don’t use it.

            But as always, language is legitimated by use; I’m happy to be called a ‘folk’ individually if that’s the path of least resistance. A ‘peep’? Hmmm, let me think about that…

          • says

            You’re missing an obvious one: “peep” is just short for people / person. But I suppose you might not consider that informal enough. But honestly, why not just use the plural “you”, or “you all”?

        • Emily says

          I let the man thing mostly slide, although I offered her an opportunity to respond about her curious words choice . . . to which I got a type reaction.

          I concede that, having lived a great deal of my life in Ireland, the idea of referring to a woman in the singular with ‘man’ or ‘dude’ is very, very uncommon — if not outright awkward to my own Irish sense of language. But I can live with it. A few of my girlfriends go out to dinner and we’ll get “Is it four of you ladies tonight?” to “Decided what you want, guys?” from the same server. Fine. It’s a strange linguistic tic to me, but I can live with it.

          What bothers me is the context — for one trans woman to use ‘man’ in addressing another is, well, a poor choice of words. It was just outright callous, actually, and to my mind proved rather symptomatic of a larger pattern of carelessness.

          My point in this — I can only IMAGINE the holy howls of indignation, the sanctimonious calls to linguistic arms, if *I* began *my* response to JFB with, “Hey, man! This is some dodgy advice!”

          I mean, seriously — could you work out what would happen in such a case? I reckon no one would accept, “Oh, that’s just how we talk in my neck o’ the woods” kinda argument. No one.

          • Emily says

            “type reaction” — sorry, word deleted because server thought was a tag.
            She posted one word: ‘facepalm’. Not sure who it was intended for, or why. I rather expected more, given that she’s a professor of language and a published author, etc, etc, etc.

            Come back, Oscar Wilde, your people need you.

          • says

            More reason to consider the entire concept of “community leaders” suspect. It leads us to enacting and conferring privilege. Social inequities. Those who are “in” are endlessly forgiven (some of her defenders arguing DIRECTLY on the basis of her status and suggesting it means she shouldn’t be assailed by “lessers” such as myself. And even those in the thread agreeing with the criticism hedging their statements in deference to the Oh Great And Wise And All-Loving St. Boylan) and those who are “out” are to be dismissed, belittled and “>facepalm<". No need to even address their points. How trans people, of ALL groups, can recreate kyriarchies and invest themselves in them, is baffling to me. The ONLY kind of trans-feminism (that is, the only kind of advocacy on our behalf at all) that would actually functionally assure our universal rights and care requires total abandonment of such stratification. It demands acknowledgment of intersectionality. It demands rejection of the idea, conscious or not, that some people are above others. It must ultimately be based on the idea that all human lives, regardless of form, path or embodiment, are equal in their validity. Without that, cissexism will eventually worm its way back in. Just as the reverence for Boylan allowed cissexism to be enacted through her. With actual trans lives falling, as always, under its heel.

          • Anders says

            How trans people, of ALL groups, can recreate kyriarchies and invest themselves in them, is baffling to me.

            My guess is that it is because you’re human. Organizing in hierarchies seems to be a human trait. I’m not saying a non-hierarchy can’t be created but it’s a lot of work.

      • Emily says

        Wow. Amazing post.

        I don’t know JFB or follow her, but I shudder to think about how far back a comment like that would have put me early on. It could have very easily driven me to stay closeted again.

        Fortunately, I’m at a place where there is no way I’d consider detransitioning, and the person I’ve been helping in her early stages does not follow JFB either. Still, a message saying it’s better to suffer silently than to transition is a horrific message.

        • Emily says

          Dear She of a great namesake!

          That’s what bothered me. I was googling “reasons not to transition” every day. I was scared. And a post like that might have very much impeded the incredible happiness I now have.

          • says

            Ugh, I did this too. And things like “transsexual but not transition” (at least one of JFB’s supporters lauded a friend a for being just that, and incidentally invoked the “true transsexual” trope in the process), which I did find one example of, and her fear mongering did nearly undo me. Luckily, I was a member of a (non trans related) forum where a poster I respected and had interacted with on occasion had recently opened up on the forum about her trans status. Corresponding with her, hearing her experience of 5+ years, as someone who had transitioned with far more to lose than I did, greatly allayed my fears and allowed me to move forward (looking back, it was almost like I was lost in a thick fog, but talking to her blew it all away and the paths were clear to see). Yes, I could lose everything (and I have lost a lot). But what I could gain, something so simple, yet so fundamental that the majority of people so take for granted as to ignore it even exists, was worth all that. And so I was able, within days of coming out to myself, to come out to everyone close to me, knowing that I was doing this, no matter what. I was terrified of what might happen, of who would reject or vilify me, but it wasn’t going to change what needed to be done, only the circumstances.

            I’m so lucky that I only really became aware of people like JFB until after I had built a reasonably sturdy foundation of conviction (which yes, I admit can be rather shaky when things get bad). Otherwise, I might have been enamoured of her like so many others, and could have been set back at any point: what if my narrative and hers were too different? Would that mean what I’m feeling is real? What if I was still uncertain today and I’d read that post? What if… In the end, I’m glad I found the help I needed where I did, rather than looking to our self-appointed leaders for guidance.

          • says

            Hmmm… this second paragraph has me wondering whether it might be INHERENTLY harmful for trans people to have leaders at all. Like that it sets us up to compare/contrast ourselves with them, thereby invalidating our experiences and narratives. Perhaps to bolster a genuine sensibility that all experiences and iterations of gender are equally valid requires a sort of serious, total commitment to equality in status within the community. Need to think on this.

            Especially since it has potentially creepy implications for my own role. Am I causing inadvertent harm? Has anyone ever read my blog, and seen a disparity between their experiences and my own as a reason to regard themselves as “not really trans”, “not trans enough”, etc.? That’s a scary, sickening thought.

          • says

            I don’t know, but since you always point out that other trans women have different experiences, that probably helps. Also standing up for the women who did pumping helps mitigate this risk. Still, given your position here, perhaps you might want to give guest posts or links to people who articulate different experiences of being TS, even TG? Not that I can’t find them, but I mean, as sort of a supplement to when you bring in your own personal experience.

          • says

            I dislike the idea of the community having leaders as such. I do appreciate strong voices in the community, like yours, and while I have a huge amount of respect for you and your writing, I wouldn’t see you, or any one else for that matter, as a leader. I see the community working only when it functions as a consensus, where people can choose to opt in or out of the group as they will without censure. Of course there may be prominent figures, but in a community as incredibly diverse as ours, having leaders is very dangerous, and leads to the marginalization of identities within it. I do however, think you do a fantastic job of drawing attention to these things, and you never present your experience as anything but your own. Unlike some others… 😀

          • Anders says

            Perhaps we should distinguish between leaders and teachers. A good teacher is one who shares his experience with his pupils, but ze should also encourage them to think for themselves and try to find out things on their own. A dialogue rather than a monologue.

            A leader, on the other hand, tells hir followers where to go, and they obey. There are situations where leaders are necessary, but I don’t think the trans community is one of them (of course, I don’t exactly have a vast knowledge of the trans community so YMMV.) 🙂

            And of course it’s not as simply dichotomous as this. There are intermediary forms and other roles to fill.

      • Emily says

        Won’t make too much of the ‘man’ thing. As I said, won’t read it as a slur. Just laugh to think of the outcry if I began my response to JFB with . . . “Oh, come one, man, you’re telling your friend to . . .”

        I can only imagine the lava that would still be flowing . . .

        but since it was directed at Nat or myself . . . we’re relegated to having to accept it as “a figure of speech.”

        Know what I mean?

        Peace out, duderoos!

        • says

          I’ve had a long-standing habit of referring to groups of people, regardless of gender, as “guys”. Since I started reading Natalie’s blogging, I’ve begun converting that to “folks” when I can remember to.

          I have to say, though, that there aren’t many replacements for “man” in the context you’re talking about, that don’t make me feel pretentious/sexist at the moment, which is kindof ironic, I spose.

          • says

            I wish I could find a good alternative to “guys”. It does make me feel quite awkward… but “folks” has (to me at least) a kind of American flavour that feels odd for me to use it…

          • northstargirl says

            The use of “guys” as a catch-all term reminds me of too many chain restaurants I’ve been in where the server says “I’ll be taking care of you guys this evening.” It’s not only a little insensitive, but it sounds too much like an attempt to be my buddy. I don’t like it.

          • says

            Miri – while there are other options, and probably better ones than are coming to mind right now (“everybody” maybe?), I think ANYTHING you choose to replace the current vernacular is going to sound affected in your own ears until you get used to it.

            If you want to you folks, and somebody complains about it sounding too American, you can say “well at least I didn’t say ‘y’all'”.

          • says

            Yeah, good point. I rarely used “guys” anyway (since it’s extraordinarily rare I’ll address a group of people), unless it’s my brothers, in which case, well… it’s accurate 😛 Perhaps I could use “people”: it means the same thing as “folks”, and has the added “benefit” of making me sound like a high-powered business executive…

    • interrobang says

      For heaven’s sakes, who ever possesses such a totalizing certitude about ANYTHING in this Eris-driven world? It’s the era of Kali-yuga.


      Woo is pathetic, and so is saying that “Life is unpredictable OH NOEZ!” is the same as having grave doubts about assuming another identity (the difference between “who you are” and “what they call you”).

      I can counter your anecdotes with mine: I personally know one person who self-identifies as trans, and it would be a bad mistake for that person to even try to transition, on several levels. Then there was that sportswriter, who seemed to be a crossdresser convinced that he was a transwoman. I’m actually kind of glad he didn’t transition in the end, because, frankly, as a female person who wants gender to go the fuck away now please and leave us in peace already, with friends like that, who needs enemies? Seriously, if you think you want to be a woman because you like wearing skirts and heels and purses, UR DOIN IT RONG, pizzof.

      • Emily says

        Yes, really.

        The sportswriter you are referring to is, I guess, Christine (Mike) Penner — who committed suicide after *detransitioning*. Do you get that? She killed herself not for being transsexual, but for denying it . . . the regret that ensued must have been overwhelming. As for your insinuation that Christine (or Mike, as you seem to prefer) took “his” own life because he was a confused crossdresser, I’d say such a description is not only erroneous but defamatory. I’d be very careful how you speak of the dead, dear anonymous one.

        Whether or not to transition is an intensely personal choice that is best aided by expert guidance of someone skilled and trained in gender identity issues. I don’t consider your ‘counter-example’ a refutation; I know it to be a miniscule, minor percentile that the clinical research of GID doesn’t back up. Do your homework. The statistics of happy outcomes for transition are the envy of almost any other form of medical treatment.

        And your final comment — spiked with misspelled net-isms I can only guess are meant to imitate the (shudder) American accent — you’re returning to a specious tone that ill suits the importance of the conversation. I don’t many people “who want to be a woman because you like wearing skirts and heels and purses” who think very, very seriously about transition. There may be some, but it is a miniscule minority — your circle of friends included. And, besides, it’s not for you or me to judge the intentions of another tran’s persons heart. I invite people to explore the question, not retreat back into the closet because other people may not like the implications. As for “UR DOING IT WRONG” . . . please, my breath is truly bated, do tell us all “HOW U KAN DO IT R1GHT!1!!!1!”

      • northstargirl says

        I can safely say you’re not only being very disrespectful in regards to the Mike Penner/Christine Daniels matter, but you’re really oversimplifying a very complex and heartbreaking story. There have been some excellent and insightful articles written about this particular case, and it was also featured in a nice segment on “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.” I recommend you do some homework before leaping to any further conclusions.

      • says

        What’s pathetic here is this kind of bullshit heirarchism and policing of other people’s gender identifications.

        Likewise your total ignorance, and total lack of empathy, towards Mike Penner / Christine Daniels. Who did transition. Then felt obliged to detransition (due to the kind of invalidating hatred you’re presenting right now) and shortly afterward took her own life. The detransition killed her.

        Which is actually a fairly important point in this discussion, in spite of your total lack of understanding what it means.

        Sorry, but gender is not going anywhere. It’s a fact of being human, and you just need to learn to live with that. And certainly you need to knock it the fuck off with blaming trans people for it.

        I don’t tolerate ANY of this kind of shit here. This is your first, last and only warning.

      • Erista (aka Eris) says

        First, not all trans women wear skirts, heels, and the like. There are plenty of “tom-girl” trans women. Amazingly enough, being a woman isn’t about wearing skirts, heels, and so forth. Shock shock! If this is your understanding of trans gender, then you are woefully ignorant. I’m hoping that you are simply ignorant rather than willfully ignorant, but I know a lot of people who are the latter rather than the former.

        Second, I don’t even know what you mean when you say you want gender to go away. Now, when I say something like that*, I mean that I want women to be able to take on traditionally masculine roles and for men to take on traditionally feminine roles; I want people to have the right to choose to live as they want rather than having it assigned to them based on basically arbitrary rules. But if you meant what I meant when you made that statement, you wouldn’t care if XY individuals decided to wear skirts, heels, and call themselves “she”; after all, this would simply be another blow to this whole “XX = woman XY = man . . . well except in all those situations like androgen insensitivity disorder . . . no, just ignore those . . .” So I don’t know what you are trying to convey, other than possibly a desire to enforce gender roles by declaring that XY individuals are men and XX individuals are women, and that each group needs to act accordingly. Which I would hope is not what you are after.

        *I don’t ever say exactly that, because I find it marginalizing and offensive as saying that I, a white person, am don’t see race and wish it would just go away.

  3. says

    I have to say, as somebody trying to make a living with words.

    You’re really fucking good at this.

    Aside from that, I think that while the impacts of leadership are amplified in communities like the trans community, you comment about holding our leaders, spokespeople, and representatives accountable is something that we ALL need to take to heart, especially down here in the barbarian lands of the U.S.

    Thank you, as always, for your writing.

    • says

      Thank you! 🙂

      It’s funny how making a living with words can end up sort of just falling in your lap, long after you stopped thinking it would ever really happen. Keep pressing on. The chances to write are out there… they just often come in unexpected ways.

      (if you’d met the 16-year-old Me saying “I want to be a professional writer!”, and responded with “someday you will be, but it will be writing prose essays on transgender feminist theory within a secular-humanist context on the internet”, it would have been hilarious)

      Anyway, what I hope is that writing so often and regularly will gradually, over time, improve the quality of my writing. It’s very good practice. Especially for building and maintaining good habits, like being able to write consistently, even when I’m not “in the mood”.

      Thanks again!

          • Anders says

            Have you wondered if there was anything you could say to ‘him’ to convince ‘him’?

          • says

            Yeah. There’s plenty I could say to convince “him”, because I know “him” inside and out. But I’m not sure anyone else could.

            Also, I’d rather not mess with the space-time continuum like that. It would create a bit of a temporal paradox in that the earlier transition would annihilate the Natalie whose actions incited the earlier transition.

            Or maybe it could be one of those Hitler Exemption things where it would turn out my going back in time to try to convince me to transition actually scares me back into denial and I repress the memory, thus my own attempts to change the past actually PRODUCE the original timeline!

          • Anders says

            So you say… I wonder how well I know the man I was ten years ago.

            Anyway, you’re the Dr. Who fan fan here. Time travel should be your backyard (although I understand that in Dr. Who the possibility of changing the future is very much determined by plot.)

      • says

        Writing is a craft like any other, so repetition will make you better almost by default.

        You get better results if you target your practice more specifically, but since you’re writing for a purpose, you’re more or less guaranteed to keep honing that particular skill. I’m looking forward to what you’re producing ten years from now almost as much as I look forward to your next blog post 🙂

    • Emily says

      At the risk of more cheerleading — ach, FFS, cheering is what our embattled community needs — I wake up most days and read Reed first thing . . . and immediately think, “I can’t believe Ms Reed lives in my neighbourhood. And she enjoys coming over for tea.” Seriously. I have hope for the future of trans writing that will have some well-crafted edge and assertive passion to it . . . can’t wait for a new wave of trans poets/novelists/essayists to take over. Seriously.

  4. Abbie says

    This reminds me of an episode I’d forgotten. In high school, I’d asked a then-prominent transwoman online the usual, panicky questions… and her response was basically “don’t do it unless you’re TOTALLY sure.” And, not being sure, that was kind of devastating, or at least a set-back. (Ended up coming out 2nd year of college and transitioned at 23.)

    My only regret is not transitioning earlier (it kind of screwed up my college career) so AUGH.

    • A. Person says

      I think this is a common experience for our generation among those of us privileged to have Internet access during our younger years. I know this is why I “cheerlead” at a couple message boards.

  5. Sas says

    When I told Boylan about Emily’s friend, her response was a lovely bit of victim-blaming: “If a persons transition can upended by reading a post on Facebook, I wonder if that’s worth thinking about.”


    OK, I’m going to try and rein in the part of me that wants to scream and rage at this, and just say …

    Strength of will, certainty of purpose for a just cause, and the ability to ignore the pain people heap on you and still keep going, those are all virtues. They’re things that aren’t common in most people, cis and trans alike. They are by definition something above and beyond the “normal” expectations and abilities most people have. The idea that someone should have to be above-average to be allowed to have their basic needs fulfilled is disgusting. The lack of empathy for people who are going through the exact same situation is disturbing. I can’t look at another trans woman or a trans man, unable to transition because they were discouraged and torn down by others, and think of that as a good thing.

  6. says

    this reminds me of two things:

    for one, the stupid crap that the opposition is throwing up to Sweden trying to be come as gender-neutral as possible in regards to treating children (most importantly, creating a non-gendered pronoun), about how children will end up “confused” in this neutral atmosphere. when the existence of trans folk pretty much shows how fucking hard it is to “confuse” someone, even in the face of relentless pressure. no one is going to get “confused” about their gender if they grow up in a non-gender-acknowledging environment; really.

    and two, other narratives about how a minority group is “pressuring” people to become/be something non-mainstream approved (gay recruitment, or PP tricking people into abortions they don’t want, or how it takes bravery to be a Christian in the face of atheist peer pressure), all the while ignoring the massive, society-wide pressure that makes being non-mainstream-approved ridiculously difficult in reality

    • says

      Isn’t enforcing gender binary on children a fairly recent “invention” anyway? People learn who they are as they grow. No need to tell them who they have to be.

      • says

        No, it’s not… People have been rearing children in a “gender binary” fashion for a very long time. They are only trying to reinforce it under the false understanding that it’s the problem, or that there isn’t enough of it.

  7. Alan says

    “If a persons transition can upended by reading a post on Facebook, I wonder if that’s worth thinking about.”

    Really? Does JFB not remember life as a closeted trans at all? I remember just what you describe, Natalie — looking for any excuse to get out of this. Holding on to any words of discouragement about transitioning that came from an out trans person, even if I wouldn’t have taken their advice on where to go for dinner.

    That wasn’t brave of me. I want to be compassionate to myself, so I won’t call it cowardly, but it was certainly about not confronting this huge consuming fear, for years and years.

    And you know what, when I started to transition and live openly, I was met with a traumatically abusive and cruel response from my birth family, and the emotional shock and fallout set me back considerably in every part of my life including my relationship to my gender identity.

    AND DO YOU KNOW FUCKING WHAT, as I look back on all of that, and think of how much I used to care what those people thought about me, I wish I’d transitioned ten years earlier.

    • northstargirl says

      Oh, that makes two of us, for sure. Given a choice between the happiness I feel now and the deep relationships I have with those who know all about me and truly love and accept me, vs. the relationships that fell apart when I transitioned, it’s no contest at all. The more I look back the more amazed I am that I put up with all that crap for so long, and if I’d known it was going to be this wonderful I’d have moved entire mountain ranges to transition earlier.

      Regarding JFB, while “She’s Not There” was a good read (I was especially moved by Richard Russo’s beautiful afterword, which was why I kept my copy after reading it), for various reasons I had my fill of JFB herself long ago. This episode only cements it – and I too wonder what I might have thought had I been in my teens or early 20s and read what she wrote. The outcome probably wouldn’t have been as happy as it ended up.

      • Azure- says

        Could you (two) possibly speak more at length about this? I’m essentially still that closeted trans person who is terrified of losing their family and etc. by coming out.

  8. Eva says

    Conversely someone could feel utterly sure they are doing the right thing and still get it wrong.

    I hate my doubts, but the more I doubt the more I make sure that I’m doing the right thing with introspection and research.
    So it’s not all bad.

    I’m still envious of people who have always known, or seemed to have done so, from an early age.

    • northstargirl says

      A degree of doubt is always useful – the voice that asks every so often “hey, are you doing the right thing?” or “whoa, slow it up a bit” has saved me more than once from bad situations or outcomes. That’s a helpful form of doubt – it forces you to think, seek information and advice, and then act in an informed manner. Then, even if you run into trouble or resistance you are certain you chose wisely, and you can back your decision up or just quietly say “I know exactly what I’m doing.”

      There’s a difference between letting doubt be a guide and letting doubt take over. What worries me is that someone who’s on the path to do what’s best for them will read what JFB wrote, let their doubts get the best of them, and instead of keeping those doubts in perspective and using them as a means for self-exploration they’ll figure “well, you know, it’ll never happen, so screw it” or something like that, and never know fulfillment.

      That worries me because I had my own doubts back when I started – worries about what it would mean to my family, my relationships, my career, how I’d afford the transition, if I’d look like a decent woman, a hundred things. But I followed the transition process, listened to myself, and found ways to let those doubts lead me to solutions. The result: a happy life. But reading something like this back then might have scared me off, and I don’t even want to think about that.

  9. Aubergine says

    You make a point (or three) that I’ve always thought was valuable for anyone who is transitioning. The goal of dealing with dysphoria is to feel comfortable in one’s skin. That point will not be the same for everyone. There are plenty of steps along the way that could be taken. And as a result, there is a pretty simple way of rationally dealing with our doubts about transition. If you feel that transition is right but you don’t know how far you need to go, then take a step. Start with hormones, for example. See how it feels. Does it feel right and give you comfort? If it does then stick with it a while, and see if it resolves your dysphoria. If it does not, then take another step. And repeat as needed.

    The only time I had no doubt that what I did was right was when my dysphoria faded to insignificance. And I got there not by making an all-or-nothing choice up front but by doing it one step at a time.

    • says

      EXACTLY this. Exactly. If they have doubts, encourage a gradual, step-by-step approach. Don’t say “well you might as well just give up if you’re not sure you’re able to go ‘all the way'”.

      Hormones are also a hugely significant step in the process. For lots and lots of people, that is the point at which you end up knowing “for sure”, because they just feel so much more right. That’s how it worked for me (I had doubts and fears and uncertainties until about three weeks into estrogen when I suddenly just KNEW… it felt at that point, without even a hint of uncertainty, that things were moving in the right direction, and things were, from that point on, going to be a whole lot better), and also how it ended up working for lots of other people I’ve known. I also knew one person who ended transition, and opted to live as CD, because the hormones felt weird and wrong for him. Long before anything irreversible had happened, he also knew.

      • Anders says

        How common is that? Maybe we should just give everyone who comes in hormones and wait three months. If nothing has happened then the diagnosis is wrong.

        Or perhaps it’s better to say that it can’t rule out a diagnosis, but that it can confirm it? Diagnosis ex juvantibus as it is sometimes called.

  10. Alex says

    [blockquote] I want them to recognize the denials as denials, to recognize that the fears exaggerate the risks well beyond proportion, to know that the joys and comforts of having your body be your own are immense and far more than worth the trouble, to be secure in their knowledge of what they need for themselves, to not endlessly pursue an elusive and impossible “proof” or “certainty”, to understand that doubt is a natural part of that process, to know they can negotiate the process for themselves and don’t have to commit to anything they don’t want to do.[/blockquote]

    Exactly. We have enough doubt and questions without anyone else supplying them. What we need is encouragement and support from others who can actually understand what we are going through, even if thy are on the other side of the planet and we will probably never meet them IRL. The only way to know is by doing, doubly so for fundamental identity issues.

  11. jessicareardon smith says

    Thank you for writing this.

    I’ve felt that, if anything, we need more cheerleaders in our community. When I was first questioning, I got a lot of mixed messages from people. LOTS of “You have to make sure you’re ready” or “Don’t transition if you’re just a crossdresser”. I also heard a lot of terrible tales of pain and anguish, and even had an ex-trans woman tell me how he was really happy to have detransitioned, and told me to be sure before I went forward.

    There is a lot of pain involved with transition. It’s hard to claim anything else. We live in a world that truly hates us. But, it’s getting better. Honestly, it is. When I started 12 years ago, there was little out there at all. I was a terrified teenager, worried that my parents would disown me, that I’d have to leave school, or worse. I don’t even know what was worse, but I thought it would be. This on top of all my doubt and questions I had for myself, about who I was. There was the fact that I had only ever met one other trans person (a trans man), and they moved away after we met once.

    I’m getting away from myself.

    I wish I had more cheerleaders when I was questioning. Some of my cis friends tried to be supportive, but it wasn’t really enough. It wasn’t until the end of university (after a purge in my first year of university) that I actually realized that this was something I did want, and was best for me.

    I’m afraid to tell people my positive story of transition. I feel like trans women will look down on me for having a relatively problem free time. I feel like maybe I should have suffered more for this. But, I’m starting to realize that’s really fucked up thinking, and I need to work on it.

    The world instills enough doubt in us as it is. The trans woman community doesn’t need to help society with that doubt. The trans woman community needs to come together and actually celebrate who we are, and that we’re fucking here.

  12. Anders says

    Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.

    What utter crap.

    I wonder how much suffering one reckless post on Facebook caused. How much confidence was eroded by it. How many pre-transitioners were sentenced to another ten years in agony.

  13. Lucy says

    This isn’t particular to trans issues, but I have serious trouble with anybody who is 100% sure of anything. How is that possible? (yes, I know the answer and it isn’t pretty which is kind of my point). I read a lot of things along the lines of what JFB said a few years back and while it wasn’t the only thing that made me not transition then, it was certainly a factor that I thought it had to be a last ditch option.

    It’s mostly down to reading this blog that I’ve started to see how cissexist that is and that pretty much no cis person thinks about transition as much as I have in years past. It’s about giving yourself permission sometimes, and people holding up unattainable standards by which to judge yourself *really* doesn’t help.

    What she said is so damaging, and I’m not defending it at all. I don’t know anything about JFB, but in general there is something a bit iffy about the idea that once a trans person finds themselves with a voice by some chance, they are then responsible for a much broader group of people than they ever chose to be responsible for. I know they don’t get a choice, and that’s how the world works: cis people and early-transitioning trans people will see *any* trans person as a representative of all trans people, but I’m just pointing out that there’s something a bit messed up with that. Thoughts?

  14. says

    I keep hearing about these trans activists who try to drag people into the surgeon to set up SRS and peer-pressure them into never looking back as soon as they have a passing thought about being the other gender, but I never seem to meet these people A lot of folks on the Internet sure want to argue with them, though.

    • Anders says

      It would make a great urban legend… so this guy meets a couple of chicks at a party and they invite him to come home with them. Well, no red-blooded male would say no to that of course, so of they go. Once they get there there’s more partying and he suddenly feels strangely sleepy… and he collapses on the floor.

      When he wakes up the next day the girls are but there’s a strange pain from his nether regions. He pulls his pants down and takes a look…

        • says

          There’s a reason the popular version of this involves forced transitions, but tends to use magic or otherwise avoid the realities of surgery. The idea is either to explore the meaning of gender (including maybe teaching a sexist a lesson) or act as wish fulfillment for people who want to transition but are scared of the social and medical realities of the process. The forced aspect doesn’t reflect any real social fear people, which is why you don’t see it in urban legends much. The fears you see about trans people are more about them passing, which is why urban legends all focus around women’s bathrooms, horndogs picking up unknown women at bars and such.

  15. cami says

    go, team trans, go!

    2,4,6,8 what do we apreciate?

    If you desire a subject position,
    go ahead and transition!

    bodily autonomy is the key to my trajectory. go trans!

    don’t you listen to a grue,
    to yourself always be true

    transition aint utopia
    but it 86’s dysphoria

    Boom, chugaluga. Boom chugaluga. Boom.


  16. cami says

    I think whats most disturbing to me is how Ms. Boylan, and other rockstar type trans folks, are so quickly accepted as spokespeople and/or mentors. I would never go to Ms. Boylan for advice on any subject. She comes from a very stable, loving, upper-middle class New England background. She went to private (in other words: exclusive) schools and works as a white collar (yuppie) profesional. I can only assume that she owns her home, has insurance and a tidy retirement fund. I live on the fucking streets. I eat my garbage out of a dinner can. What the fuck kind of advice could I possibly get from her. Or from anybody with her priviledged background for that matter. I can only imagine it would go something like this: ‘Don’t you know you are in danger? You shouldn’t be homeless. why don’t you just get a job and rent an apartment? Eww, you do sex work? That’s bad!’
    I actively try to meet and reach out to dirty, gutter punk, gender trash kids. I tell them ‘fuck yeah kid. fucking go for it’. I love it when I’m the first person ever to properly gender them. Its so cute how their grime covered faces light up when you hand them their first bra and say “here, you’re gonna need this sister”

    But I cant be a cheerleader because, as an anarchist, I don’t follow, nor will I be, a leader. I would be more than happy to be a member of the cheering commitee, though.

    • northstargirl says

      By many accounts Prof. Boylan is an excellent teacher, much beloved by her students and recognized several times for her good work, and having read “She’s Not There” I know she’s a talented writer. If it’s a matter involving the writing process or the field of literature, I’d take her word for it.

      But when it comes to matters of transition, the only definitive word she can offer is on her own transition. Same as the fact the only transition I can authoritatively speak about is my own. Everyone faces different circumstances. Some people have easy transitions and face very few obstacles; others have to jump hurdle after hurdle. We emerge with different perspectives based on our experiences, and at best all we can do is offer those up for others to consider, hoping they will choose wisely according to what their own priorities are.

      This is part of why I cringe when someone gets perceived as a trans “spokesperson.” I’m happy some of us are so comfortable in the media environment and can communicate well and shatter some preconceived notions; that does some good, and I’ll give JFB credit for doing things like being on “Oprah” and showing that we’re not exotic creatures with lobsters growing out of our heads or anything like that. But in spite of all her fame and accolades, and the fact she gets to write columns that appear in national newspapers and so forth, she can’t speak for all of us; she can, at best, speak only for her own story and from her perspective, a perspective that isn’t mine or anyone else’s. We don’t all have the same stories, and therefore no one of us can speak for every last one of us.

      I hope this makes some sense.

  17. Brittany says

    First of all, I have been around the Trans community for many years and I have NEVER heard the “saying”: “if you can’t transition, don’t.” Where the hell did THAT come from??!!

    And then she says, “The world is full of Trans people who probably would have been better of not transitioning.” Really? What world do you live in? I have NEVER met anyone who ever transitioned who did not say that their ONLY regret was that they did not transition earlier!!!

    But I have to say that what REALLY bothers me is this line:

    “But I think it’s the ones who don’t transition who are brave– men and women who continue to live their first life in order to protect themselves, and their loved ones, and that courage deserves to be honored.”

    You have GOT to be kidding me!! It is somehow “courageous” to protect the feelings of other people at the expense of living YOUR own life??!! That is not “courageous” at all, but it IS both STUPID and COWARDLY. We ALL upset people in our lives when we transitioned. If we had taken that stupid advice none of us would have ever transitioned – including JFB..!

    Another very famous Trans author and activist (who I am also proud to call my friend), Donna Rose, once said the exact opposite:

    “Ultimately, for those who choose to ignore our ‘selves,’ under the guise of considering others at the expense of their selves, I think that one single painful emotion will be the last thing they remember before they die: Regret.”

  18. says

    Thank you for this post, Natalie, and others, and for standing your ground in the original thread.

    Reading Jenny’s book was the pivotal moment for me and my partner, in terms of moving towards transition, and I feel a deep affection for her, because of this and also because we were in High School together. I have heard her say “the people who don’t transition are the brave ones” before, and shrugged it off; that’s not how it was for me. I think it must be hard for her to be such a visible cheerleader, a position of considerable responsibility and vulnerability, and I suspect she’s had to take in some negative experiences as a result, which have probably made her overly careful in the advice she gives. I agree, however, that in responding to this she seems to have activated some of the internalized trans-misogyny that we are all raised into.

    Nor has my affection diminished because of her FB post, because when my heart is given, it’s given. All the same, I disagree with both her original post and with her defensive responses, and I’ve learned something from this discussion. I recently had a long talk with a trans questioner who closed down for a week or so afterwards, and didn’t respond to my calls. That activated my own self-doubt and even self-hatred, made me wish I could just shut up. At the same time, I could see that her doubts were coming from the kind of internalized cissexual privilege place you have clearly identified in your blog. Since then she’s opened up to me again. I feel a bit clearer about all this as a result of the lengthy dialogue we have all shared.

    Jenny isn’t any more perfect than any of the rest of us, we all have and can make these kinds of mistakes; I urge you not to hate her. I don’t think this needs to be a combat, and some gentleness will make it easier for her to learn something here too.

    Love, Chels

    • Sarah says

      When I saw the title with JFB in it, my heart sank and I thought “uh oh, what happened?” This story is all brand new to me, and it cuts pretty deeply right now.

      You see, I recently re-connected with a friend who I lost touch with many years ago. When I met her, she was a fiercely determined young trans woman who moved away all too soon to pursue her destiny. At that time, I was considering transition myself, but I had concluded (erroneously it now seems) that it was not for me, and so I really admired the way that my friend had faced down all sorts of daunting obstacles and abuse from people around her in order to live her truth. When I looked her up last week, I was stunned to learn that he has returned home and de-transitioned, perhaps forever. It seems like it may not be what he actually wants, but he feels he has no other practical option. It is a situation that makes me very sad, yet I see courage in his perseverance through adversity, and even if I do not understand his decision myself, I still have the utmost respect for my friend and for what he has endured.

      With that context weighing heavy on my heart, I can only concur with the criticisms that have been raised in response to JFB’s FB post, and yet this one part of what she said rings true to me:

      “…men and women who continue to live their first life in order to protect themselves, and their loved ones, and that courage deserves to be honored. In any case, there are NO wrong choices here, and should you change your mind, or feel more ready later, well that’s fine too.”

      I suppose JFB will have to take her lumps on this one, and I hope she comes around. When I read her book, I found some things in it that I don’t fully concur with, but there was also a person in the pages who I appreciate very much, ideological differences notwithstanding. I hope that person comes through this intact, even if some of her ideas come in for a good thrashing, and I think it would be a real loss for anyone concerned with these issues to allow disagreement, no matter how heated, to fester into enmity.

  19. Rilian says

    What does anyone think of Adam on Degrassi?

    So … personal crap incoming.
    What does “transition” mean? I suppose it means hormones, surgery, and legal name/sex change.
    Surgery is too dangerous, I think. I might get too sick of … those things … at some point, and change my mind. But for now, the risk of surgery is not worth it to me.
    Hormones would changes my voice. I like my voice! It could make me lose my hair. But I like my hair! It would make stupid annoying hair grow on my face. Basically, it would make my gender more believable to other people, but it would change everything about my body that I myself like.
    I also like my name.
    The only thing I have no doubts about at all is changing my legal sex.

    • says

      Maybe you could take really small amounts of hormones?

      But if physiological masculinization is uncomfortable for you, it’s probably a better idea to forgo T, even if it means you’ll have a harder time living up to cissexist expectations for what a man is “supposed” to look like. Meeting those expectations isn’t worth doing things to your body that would feel creepy or wrong.

      As for what transition means? Whatever you need or want it to mean!

      • JP says

        I agree wholeheartedly with Natalie’s advice, Rilian. I’m a cheerleader for a number of young, non-binary trans* folk, and many of them are ambivalent about hormones– they want some of the effects, but not necessarily all, and HRT is really a sort of roulette in terms of what you, personally, will get, and what you won’t. Specifically, I know several transmasculine folks who have amazing singing voices and don’t want to risk losing them by taking T. That’s a perfectly valid choice, and they’re pursuing other options in terms of what transition means for them.

        Transition can mean something different for everyone. In its broadest sense, it means finding ways to live, be seen, and become accepted for who you really are– in other words, living your fullest possible life, however that manifests itself. Transition is the process by which we become truly ourselves. For some people that involves surgery and hormones as well as social transition, for others it doesn’t. Social transition is a possibility for some people without surgery or hormones, and it’s becoming more possible all the time; just because it’s not the most common route doesn’t mean it isn’t a ‘real’ transition. It sounds like you have a strong sense of what you like about yourself already, and that’s a great start. More and more people are beginning to challenge our conceptions of the binary and of what it means to be male, female, both, neither, or all of the above. Maybe you’ll be part of that. Regardless, you seem like someone who has a clear idea of what they want and don’t want for themself, and that bodes very well for a successful transition, whatever that ends up meaning for you. I wish you all the best.

        • Rilian says

          Yeah, I know exactly what I want: My prepubescent body, except taller and I could stand to have wider shoulders; and for everyone to know and believe that I’m male.

          The problem is getting that. I need a fairy godparent!

  20. Sebor says

    I feel compelled to share a story about certainty and doubt.

    A friend of mine asked her mother when she knew with certainty that she wanted kids. To which her mother replied: “Honey, had I waited until I was absolutely certain you would not exist.”
    This is surprisingly easy to apply to the situation of people early in transition “If you wait until all your doubts are gone, you may never become who you are.”

  21. says

    Because I’ve been over this already, and was part of (one of) the non-public discussion, I’ll just re-post my comment to JFB’s original post:

    There is a certain kind of defeatism inherent in this, a suggestion that transition isn’t really right for all trans people, that there are some that really shouldn’t… I’m not sure if anyone has the right to be making claims that transition somehow is wrong for some people, that it doesn’t *always* result in a happier outcome… By all objective measures, my life is vastly worse than it was 6 months ago: I am broke, no job, no income, a substantial debt, no home… I’m experience panic attacks whenever I’m in public, I’m terrified of being seen by other people, I experience severed bouts of depression… but, for all this, I have an inner peace, a contentment, that was simply not there before. I am me, no matter the cost. I had panic attacks several times a day after admitting my transness to myself, horrified of rejection and vilification by my family, as has been the experience of so many others. And yet, the question to me was “what will I do if this happens?”, not “should I transition? because I could lose everything!”. Because there was no question. Living a life of “success”, with a family, a house, a career, and all the trimmings so valued by mainstream society, is a life of dust and ashes if it is built on a lie, if it’s the life of a false person, a shell, within which a terrified girl huddles in fear of the world. I don’t know… so many trans people have lost everything, have had to live lives of crushing hardship, and yet have not turned back. To suggest that someone is better off not transitioning because of what they might lose and the hardships they face is irresponsible in the extreme.

    Also… I really don’t think I can agree with Jennifer’s assertion about the “courage” of those who don’t transition. I dispute even the courage of us that do. I’m not brave or courageous. My transition is an act of desperation, of terrible need, not (at heart) a challenge to society and its norms. Given this, how can cowering in fear from living a life in which you can be fully present, fully engaged, as yourself, no matter the cost, hiding, denying, doing nothing, and justifying it with excuses about “protecting” loved ones from loss, and themselves from discrimination, when others have faced all these issues head on, be considered courage? It almost seems like advocating prioritizing the needs of others over your own, through denial of your very self, as some kind of ideal, an act of bravery… I have to call BS on this…

    Also, I thought that there was an interesting common thread in how most of those most aggressively in support were, older, white, and seemingly (from what was implied) reasonably well off (not that any or all of these things necessarily results in agreement). It’s curious to me that people of a vastly lower level of privilege, in any (or all) of those areas, frequently forge ahead despite the odds, while those far better positioned question whether “transition is right for some people” in a rather wishy-washy, hand-wringing sort of way…

    (That’s enough copying and pasting my own words for today :P)

  22. says

    Reading this makes me glad I had a supportive trans woman sister in my life who (literally) held my hands during all those dark, doubtful moments and helped me see it through to where I am today. Without her, I guess I would have gotten here eventually, but I know it would have been much more painful than it already has been and maybe I wouldn’t have been able to have kept as many of the other things in my life intact though that.

  23. says

    I’ll just add my quick 2 cents, which is that Boylan’s juvenile attitude to “the full switcheroo” – or that gender transition is always an all or nothing change – is precisely the sort of mistaken belief that reinforced my own doubts, and which ultimately held me back me for years from considering coming out as trans. That sort of shit is so not fucking helping, Jennifer.

  24. "Clarine" says

    [Apologies in advance if this reeks of privilege. It’s not cis-privilege but… well, if it’s there, you’ll know it when you see it.]

    Hello, Natalie Reed.

    I recently came across your blog, and it is my opinion that the public was in great need of so many of the things you have written on trans* issues. I couldn’t really find a way to fit these thoughts in until now though, as the topics either didn’t really seem appropriate for my comment or they were too old for anyone to check them. In particular, I wish more than almost anything that your “The Null HypotheCis” article or something like that was around about a decade-and-a-half ago for me to have found. It helped even now though, as though I’ve been on exogenous endocrine intervention for about twenty months now, I wasn’t so tremendously less unhappy while on it that I could point to the hormone pills and say, “That’s proves it! This is the only way for me!” (maybe it would have been if I had also started my social transitioning – I’m still in assigned-role hiding). I’m always full of doubts, second-guessing myself, so I could never feel certain with the reasoning tools I had, but that article punched a huge hole through that wall of questioning denial. That really helped solidify, more than anything, that any attempts to convince myself that I was cisgender or above gender concepts would be doomed to fail.

    Getting back to the contents of this article, I had searched for online trans* resources that decade-and-a-half-ago. And yes, I too had suffered from cis-alarmist scribblings. There were two things I came upon that, taken together, had convinced me that I was not trans/should not transition. One was that tired cis-narrative about only self-determining two-year-olds truly being trans* – nothing to do with this. But the other was the ‘advice’ of one of the few online transitioners at that time, who was offering voice-training materials on the side (no, not Ms. James’ roadmap – that site would have helped). This trans woman took the pains to admonish potential transitioners, taking great care to warn them in considerable detail about things they stood to lose (e.g. social standing, employment, family/friend relations, etc.). Being the impressionable doormat I was then, I took their words for it and suppressed myself for some ~12-15 years.

    And went straight off into cross-gender puberty.

    Masculine cross-gender puberty.

    Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?

    Of course, I’m being unfair – that little column was written for older transitioners, and I was too stupid and uncritical to have realized that none of that really applied to child-me, so in the end it’s still mostly my fault. And to think I believed everyone who told me I was smart back then! What a joke.

    I’ve been slathering on way too much pathos up there. It really hasn’t been as bad as I made it sound. Wouldn’t have been, except that a year or two after my voice died, I fell in love with classical choral music. You know, that form of music that strives so hard for beauty and accuracy? Fat chance I’ll ever have either of those in even the lowest of contralto voice parts now. Well, at least I don’t have to worry about forgetting the bad old days – all I have to do is listen to Mozart’s Requiem or Daley’s Rose Trilogy, like I do all the time, and all those memories will come rushing back to remind me of what I can’t do.

    That’s what I thought until just a few days ago. It may be that I’ve dodged a gigantic cannonball when it comes to this (sorry, but I can’t see being trans* in any way as ‘lucky’), but I finally worked up the nerve actually to talk to another choral director after being brusquely shot down by the previous one two years prior, and this time, I was told that my voice may not actually have been so deadened as I thought – that low-alto may even be possible with a few months of practice! It was a waterworks-worthy moment.

    So it turns out that all that awful lead-in might point toward an ending consisting of something other than bitterness (too early to say for sure – she might just be pitying me or leading me on). While I really am glad for that, I will always be reminded that I’ll never be able to sing professionally. And just forget about solos, of course. But who is to blame for this? I’ve always been told not to fault others for my own blunders, but maybe others reading this will think differently. Certainly, I think I would not have been so strongly deterred had writings like SNR’s “Essential Reading” been around those many years past. One thing I can’t deny though: anyone who genuinely believes that there is too much ‘cheerleading’ in favor of transition is simply not living on the same planet as me or countless others.

    So, thank you, Natalie Reed, for calling out such otherworldly pronouncements for what they are. I hope that one day, I may have the honor of chatting with you personally.

    Thanks to you all.

    P.S.: I apologize if any of the above comes off as an “Oh, poor privileged me!” screed (probably all of it, knowing how I am). I realize that fate has been far kinder to me in regards to cross-gender pubertal devastation than it has for many other trans women, not to mention countless other axes of privilege. I try my best not to take that for granted, though I may fail particularly hard from time to time.

    • says

      Your experiences sound somewhat familiar, Clarine… I’ve sung alto for over a decade, with occasional dalliances into mezzo-soprano land (not always convincingly), so it is possible to combine your love of classical choral music with transitioning. Choirs are generally as supportive as the culture instituted or encouraged by their dictator director, so shop around, if you don’t find your needs being met by your current choir. If there are any countertenors or male sopranos where you are, you might want to talk to them about anything they think would be helpful for you, say, asking if they have any recommendations for singing teachers. In singing as a soprano or alto you would exclusively employ ‘head voice’, so the range of your ‘chest voice’ tends not to have any impact on your ability to use the former. Best of luck.

  25. says

    I agree with you wholeheartedly. What upset me most about the JFB posts and the subsequent comments was the demonization of transition has a “harmful” byproduct of being trans. Culture is what causes trans people harm, and I found it upsetting to see people reiterate that rediculous trope of calling transition “potentially harmful”. It’s the biggest line of bullshit connected to the entire post/comments, and it’s also very malignant. I agree like you that not everyone needs transition and their degree of transition depends entirely upon the person.

    But her post made broad and quite cissexist assertions about transition that are more than just harmful, they are patently wrong. She made assertions not backed by evidence, like “the world is full of trans people who probably would have been better off not transitioning”, and “I think it’s the ones who don’t transition who are brave”. It’s the “just not trans enough” memes that really get my blood boiling like there is no tomorrow. I really feel as a trans person I have nothing to apologize for in “being trans”. I won’t apologize for my transition, or my need of transition, and there is absolutely no reason why I should have to placate cissexual culture to have my “need for transition” validated.

    Trans [people need to stop blaming themselves and perpetuating internalized transphobia, and be willing to critically analyze the “true cause of trans suffering”. To me that is a culture that makes life hard on trans people, not transition. However, this line of though has occurred with in the gay, lesbian and bisexual community with in the past 20 years, with similar ideas that one “didn’t try hard enough to be straight”, or “if you meet the right man/woman”, et cetera. Transphobia and homophobia have amazing parallels. But I find it appalling to make such a negligent error that essentially equates the problem of transsexuals as being because of transition rather than the social pressure of being trans.

  26. says

    I thought you would want to know, if it seems frustrating arguing against people out there who make it harder for us, that you’re actually making good things happen that start to make up for it.

    I thought you should know that after several years of vaguely daydreaming about transitioning, it was finding your blog that convinced me to start. (Specifically Seven things about being Trans that are Actually Kind of Awesome was a good cheerleading moment for me.)

    I’ve been mostly lurking and reading posts and benefiting from them, but I thought you deserve to feel any warm fuzzies you get from this. If Jennifer Boylan deserves blame, conversely you deserve credit; credit for more people than you’ll probably know about. There have to be several of me who are too shy for every one who comments to say thank you.

    You also deserve any fuzzies you get from knowing that approaching this from a skeptic perspective helped make it more believable to me. You helped resolve the conflict between my loyalty to objective reality and my loyalty to my own identity.

    So thank you. Seriously. You’re doing good work and you deserve to know how much you’re helping.

  27. Kara says

    And honestly? Most of the time, when we say “doubts”, what we really mean is simply “fear of failing to meet cissexist expectations”, “fear of what people will think.”

    Yes, yes, yes, this. Definitely this.

    After examining my own doubts for some time (where previously I’d been sort of accepting them uncritically), I’ve realized that my doubts all basically boil down to “I won’t pass well enough” and “Everyone’s going to hate me and think I’m a freak”. When I think, “Maybe I’m not really ‘enough of a girl’ to transition”, it means, “I’m worried because I don’t perfectly fit the hetero-/cis-normative stereotypes of femininity and womanhood that surround me”.

    The doubt has never been “would I prefer to be female”, the answer to which is definitely yes; it’s always been, “Can I deal with the crap I would have to go through to be trans”.

    Throw in exposure to some “transier-than-thou” exclusionary narratives saying “You are only a TRUE MtF transsexual if you cried and threw fits because you couldn’t wear high heels when you were four years old!” and I’m all, Oh… okay.

    • northstargirl says

      Two decades ago the exact same dialogue was taking place in my head – the fear of how people would treat me, the angst over how I would look, and all those other things. Over time the pain of not transitioning overcame my fears of what might happen, and I cast my lot. It took time and some self-examination, but it all worked out, and wonderfully so.

      I used to worry I’d turn out to be some kind of freak or that people would think I looked funny, and I’d cry because I’d never be petite like the women in the magazines. Back then, 20 or so years ago, I worried I’d just plain look strange. Cut to a week or so back when I had to get all done up for some function, and when I looked in the mirror I wondered why the hell I ever worried. It’s amazing how things work themselves out.

      (As for the “you’re only a TRUE TS if” narratives…they make me bristle. I have nothing kind to say about them, and they do a lot more harm than good.)

      I believe if you decide to proceed with transition – a decision only you can make, after careful consideration – you’d also be amazed and relieved how things work out. Please don’t let the horror stories frighten you away, because the horror stories usually don’t happen. It won’t be all easy; there will be obstacles here and there, but they can be overcome.

      And please don’t let the worries over “how will I look?” get the better of you, because I bet you’d find your own beauty that will work for you. A lot of us have been there; a lot of us overcame those fears, and it worked out, often far better than we anticipated.

      Whatever you decide, good luck.

      • Kara says

        Thank you for your reply: it’s actually extremely helpful. I do intend to transition–I just still need to sort out some issues.

        (One of those issues being the fact that I’m putting off transitioning by saying “I have to sort out some issues” :P.)

  28. Sebastian says

    Hey, thanks for this. I’m pretty sure I’ve said that every time I’ve commented but whatever. This stuff needs to be said and I thank you for saying it.

    I know personally as someone who is pre-transition/questioning sometimes it feels like I’m simultaneously sure and unsure. I know that at least trying something will be good for me but I need someone other than myself to tell me that for me to take it seriously 🙁 Every day I’m just grabbing in the air for an excuse to forget about transition.

  29. says

    The problem with some of the “Trans community” leaders is the same problem with the GOP. The Trans Community has leaders that are greatly separated in economics, position in life, and narrative from most trans women, just as the GOP is filled with wealthy old money, and have no clue how the less fortunate live. We have a narrow somewhat privileged group talking to the world about trans issues, the group who could afford SRS, FFS, BA, Electrolysis, et cetera. Mind you that not every advocate we have is that way, but I’d say the greater proportion of them are. Not that they don’t understand, but I’d say there narratives are hardly the average, the norm, or the majority. This is not to invalidate the way in which they transition, it’s the tendency to become “disconnected” with the vast majority of trans people, or exist in a class apart from most trans women.

    Remember, money talks. That doesn’t lessen their suffering or sacrifice, they surely lost things in transition as well. It simply means that they had more resources that worked for their benefit. Their resources made their transition easier, and allowed them to blend in more. More so than the general public, trans women are either unemployed, or underemployed, and they don’t have a lot of money. Many of us can’t afford extensive amounts of electrolysis, in fact I’d argue that the great preponderance of trans woman can’t afford more than just basic necessities and hormone therapy on their own. That is the picture I see of the world. Trans men aren’t all that better off, but they at least are less hated socially and are in a slightly better position. That is what is wrong with our community leadership sometimes. It’s not a question of decentralization, but an issue of kyriarchy and that potentially many of our leaders fall into those privileged classes.

    Of coarse transition is hard, but when those with privilege (either earned or given) make comments harmful to less fortunate trans people early in transition is where it crosses the line. An intellectual person knows that the discrimination that trans people face are an intersection of many forms of discrimination to include: sexism, cissexism, racism, classism, ableism, heterosexism to name a few.
    They simply aren’t going to understand the greatly intensified struggle less fortunate trans people face fully, and give it all due respect it deserves. They aren’t going to relate to the trans sex workers, or the trans people who can’t transition because they are homeless. They aren’t going to understand intimately the frustration of the “hormones-only” transitioner who will simply never be able to improve their situation enough to do much more. In the world, it’s only those with privilege who have “Trans Visibility” not the average trans person. That fact is true of other groups, not just trans people and is something we should all consider. The Gay Rights movement was once that way, but eventually average everyday gay people came out and had visibility. Transsexuals however, are slightly more problematic in those regards but that can, and will change with time.

  30. Vicki says

    What a baffling statement that is. If you don’t have doubts about transition, you probably shouldn’t do it until you get some doubts. The one thing that all the people I know who have regretted transition share is that they didn’t think through all the stuff that could go wrong. They were absolutely certain everything would go their way and regretted it when that didn’t happen.

  31. says

    This is so far after the convo that I don’t even know if I should post it but it goes with my mental theme of the week so I will.

    I am cis. I have no clue what doubts about transitioning feels like. I am poly. I suffer every day with the doubts about whether to pursue the relationship with my newest love. Those doubts in conflict with the absolute certainty I love her have put my whole existance in upheavel. The doubts have made me consider heavily the benefits of suicide despite the fact I can remember watching my mom attempt suicide when I was small. Despite the fact that i would never want my beautiful children to suffer like I did. Despite that the doubt in conflict with the reality has left me hiding in a bathroom with a knife against my wrist asking myself if I will really do it this time.

    No matter how much we are one thing we can doubt it. That doubt can kill us. Cheerleaders serve an important role. They did to me when I was seeking out both poly success stories and poly horror stories. They do for women considering an abortion. For men considering whether to fight for full custody of their children in a world that automatically assumes women are the best caretakers. For children/adults coming out as gay. And for men/women deciding to transition. All of these circumstances plus others have readily available “reasons to say no” around them. Cheerleaders are the support structure for the underdog in these fights.

  32. Sphex says

    I am so grateful to you for writing so well about these things.
    I have nothing useful to add, but man… You seriously rock my world.

  33. says

    What JFB should have said: “Close your eyes & imagine the best version of you possible. That’s who you really are, let go of any part of you that doesn’t believe it.” – C. Assaad

  34. says

    This notion of “cheerleaders” reminds me of a trope that was common when I went full time, the so-called “snowball effect.” There’s always been a bias to the effect that there are irrational forces influencing people in the direction of transition.

    • says

      Yeah, I think that one’s common in the CD community. The idea being that you absolutely mustn’t start thinking about transition and doing transitiony things because then they’ll “snowball” into actually transitioning (which is, of course, horrible horrible don’t-do-it horrible). DON’T DO IT! STAY CD! FOREVER! NO MATTER HOW UNHAPPY YOU ARE! WE CAN ALL BE UNHAPPY TOGETHER! Ugh.

  35. Someone Trans says

    > that one shouldn’t listen to the “cheerleaders” trying to “push” you into transition …

    I actually completely agree with this. One shouldn’t listen to cheerleaders. Or put more precisely, one should be able to distinguish between those who know nothing about a trans person’s personal situation and merely encourages the trans person to transition. That person does more harm than good in the long term.

    > The truth is that our culture, as a whole, presents immense pressures to not transition. …
    > That requires some kind of parallel universe where only the “cheerleaders” exist,

    Your statement is actually flawed. Granted that the entire culture opposes transition, but guess whose voice the transitioning trans person listens to the most? Guess whom kids (trans or non-trans) listen to – their parents or other kids their age?

    More often than not, trans cheerleaders are merely reaffirming their own decision against their own doubts while masquerading as supporters of hapless trans people trying to deal with their own self-doubts.

    The appropriate technique is not to encourage the trans person to transition, but rather to present all sides of the story. Tell the newbie all the crap that goes on, that their family, career, relationship, etc are all at risk, how they could have gone further, and how despite all the losses, their transition has helped them, somehow.

    I hear complete nonsense from cheerleaders. Some cheerleader posted just yesterday on reddit in response to a questioning possibly MTF newbie trans person that the newbie should repeatedly say to herself every waking moment that she is a woman and then she would begin to feel better about deciding to transition. That’s the most self-serving drivel!

    In addition, several trans cheerleaders tell newbies to start taking estrogen because that’s when they would feel totally right about their own bodies. You know what, estrogen changes the brain circuitry. Almost everyone questioning gender or without a firm male gender identity is going to have changes in neural circuits as a result of taking estrogen. And once they do, of course, they’ll get hooked on it and want to take more and want surgery.

    This is nothing to do with cisgenderism. It has more to do with the fact that most trans cheerleaders should not be doling out advice to newbies. They are not qualified to do so. So if you love your transition, either present all the negatives and positives of your own life without encouraging anyone to do anything, or mind your own business.

    • says

      Estrogen is now an addictive drug that “changes brain circuitry” and CREATES a desire for SRS where it previously didn’t exist?!


      Also… your username, “Someone Trans”… me think the lady doth protest too much.

  36. judifrances says

    Thank you for writing this, Natalie. The discussion is one we all need to be aware of, lest we unwittingly privilege ourselves over others.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *