To transition or not to transition?

From the November-December 2015 issue of News & Letters

by Adele

Review of Blood and Visions–Womyn Reconciling with Being Female, edited by Autotomous Womyn’s Press (2015).

Blood-and-Visions cover color

Some internet commentators refusing to read this 65-page zine have automatically denounced it as “anti-Transgender.” In reality, the pseudo-nymous writers say that it is not intended as any statement about the experiences of all Transgender people, not even all female to male ones. Rather, these are the intense, painful, personal stories of young butch and “gender non-conforming” (GNC) Lesbians who experienced great pressure from society, their own LGBTQ communities, and medical and therapy professions to identify as Transgender men. Some had medically transitioned and explain that this did not ease their feelings of gender dysphoria, even when their dysphoria was physical.

As the writers explain, “the trans community contributes to backlash against itself when it refuses to acknowledge that there are problems, that not every person who comes out as trans or transitions is really finding themselves.” And “If trans dudes and butch, ‘masculine’ and otherwise unconventional females are going to coexist, we need to talk about this shit.”

The writers describe being incessantly labeled as Transgender instead of as butch by members of their Queer communities, none of whom were Transgender. They could not find role models in other butches since the only ones they met were also transitioning. The possibility that they were Transgender seemed at first to explain their feelings and offer a better way of life.

FOR THEM, THE SEXISM DISAPPEARED

They describe how passing as male eliminated the daily humiliations our society heaps upon women. They were suddenly treated as competent and intelligent and allowed to speak without interruptions or put-downs. They were treated as complete human beings, not sex objects. This was especially important for those who were sexual assault survivors. At the same time, people, including LGBTQs, now reacted with admiration instead of hostility to their butch appearances and mannerisms and to their displays of romantic affection.

However, they state that in making themselves more socially acceptable, they were only conforming to a “masculine” role in place of the equally false “feminine” role that everyone had previously wanted them to play. For them, going further socially and medically into transition served as a distraction from dealing with trauma and stress caused by oppression. While they acknowledge that other people may find other solutions, they began to find healing through the difficult process of detransitioning. The writers share the ways that they cope with their dysphoria through meditation, exercise, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

EXPANDING WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A WOMAN

They define detransitioning not as about adopting “feminine” mannerisms but as about just being oneself. This can be hard to do when you are in public, being judged relentlessly by others, but the writers assert that being butch, “gender nonconforming,” or even a former female to male is not “masculine.” Instead, they emphasize that they expand the idea of what it means to be a woman.

The writers strongly caution readers to not make them into “political ammunition” for their theories, not even feminist ones. They say that it is important to allow detransitioners to analyze their own experiences, feelings, and choices, which are diverse, and to create their own political theory. They tell allies to read many detransitioners’ stories. They do not necessarily “regret” their transitions, which were often survival strategies and a step towards finding themselves. They do not want to be seen as dupes, casualties, or cautionary stories but as survivors.

The writers say that the most important way they can find healing and affirmation as detransitioners and as butch and GNC women is by forming community. This are also role models for women like themselves. They provide websites where detransitioners can share their stories as well as ones that celebrate butch and GNC women.

Blood and Visions has been so eagerly received that it sold out almost immediately and is on its second printing. It is a milestone in a very important conversation by a diverse and insightful group of women struggling out of oppression and marginalization.

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