the retransitioners

Twitter trolls love talking about de-transition. What about retransition?

TRANSCRIPT

Callie: [00:00:00] Hey friends. I wanted to let you know about a cool fundraiser I’m helping with a good friend of mine that works for an organization called women’s crisis center. They’re a community organization that provides all kinds of services to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. I’m helping them raise money because I believe in the work they do, and I’d love to help them out.

If you’re able to contribute head to bit.ly/calliewcc to make a donation that’s bit.ly/calliewcc before we jump in today, I just want to let you know, this episode is kind of heavy. It contains talk about suicidal ideation, all kinds of transphobic attitudes, and it contains a description of a sexual assault.

Please take care of yourself, friend. My name is Callie Wright, and this is Queersplaining. One of the things I’m most grateful for in my life is the immediate support I received. When I came out that set the stage for everything that was to come. I had a home base for when shit went wrong. The hard shit was still hard, but I had a solid crew of folks that had my back and I had a soft place to land and that let me flourish.

And I know not everyone is that lucky. And that’s why I get so angry when trans discourse turns to people who detransition. That’s one of the foundations of anti-trans arguments, right? There’s just so many people who transition then detransition and the assumption among those folks is that people do transition because they figure out they weren’t really trans the whole thing’s bullshit.

Right. And they get held up as evidence that transness isn’t real, that transition is a harmful process, tantamount to medical malpractice. What gets completely lost in that conversation is the reason these folks actually report for their detransition. Overwhelmingly it’s because they found the world too difficult, a place to exist in as a trans person, they meet so much hate and resistance.

They calculate that being miserable in the closet is less bad. Then being miserable and hated for being openly trans, many of them even retransmission later in life when they find more support. But we never really hear about that. And this is such a common occurrence in the trans community. I think we sometimes take it for granted.

We probably all know of stories about folks trying to come out. It doesn’t go so well. They go back into hiding and then come out again later. But those stories tend to only be told in passing in these larger conversations. So that’s the topic for today? This is my new friend, Aurora. 

Aurora: [00:02:38] You know, there’s that whole like dopamine feedback loop of like having the community celebrate every step along the way.

And I mean, a lot of that, it just didn’t exist a decade ago. And for a lot of people, especially in my generation or older, um, transition has been not a clean process. Um, I’m 34. Um, I was born in 1985, so I am a Reagan baby millenial. My first childhood queer memories were the AIDS crisis. Like that was what I came up in, like from an Evendale cold, fairly conservative background was this was this biblical plague.

It was a very scary thing to be a small trans queer child that didn’t really understand that I could have a place that there could be a community. Um, there was always like this strong place of shame. 

Callie: [00:03:35] And so you were having queer and trans feels very young then? 

Aurora: [00:03:38] Yeah, I would say, um, some of my earliest memories, honestly, my mom was what they call a Jesus freak, which was kind of like this, like post hippie.

Like you could be coming up here, you could be kind of evangelical. It was like a way to be spiritual, but not new religion. You would have this like strange thing where your mom would be like, you know, seventies feminists, but. Still trying to enforce like certain gender roles, like past a certain point, you know, like I could play with girls and I could play with more toys.

And there was this whole thing where like, you know, boys can play with dolls and all that stuff. There were just barriers between boy, world, and girl world. I remember distinctly in school, seventh grade, I started to play with concepts of gender expression and a big thing then was painting my nails. Uh, there was like a little kit of makeup and nail polish and stuff that was like in the shared bathroom.

And I just painted my toenails one day and my parents saw that and they. Don’t it’s this whole thing where they tell me that they don’t remember at all. Now of course, of course, at that point in time, they like sat me down and had like, you know, if you get sat down as a child, they’re already communicating something to you.

Like they said, they stand over you. They ask you serious questions. And as a child, you’re just like, okay, this is a bad thing. How do I get out of this? How do I make sure that they don’t punish me further? How do they not know? I internalized that for a very long time, I was sent to a therapist around that time.

He wasn’t like explicitly a conversion therapist, but he was just assists male therapists working with a kid who was gender non-conforming, you know, he’d kind of like steered me that direction. I had just started going to a private school and private school. They had school uniforms. I remember being caught up in this way that none of the other boys were at like girls could wear a skirt dress, could wear like a little sweater thing.

And boys always had to wear a blue jumper, like gold buttons and like the tie. Puberty was happening and it wasn’t happening in the same way for me. And I could just tell that was when I finally realized that there was a difference, you know, that like I was on a different path than the girls that I had known growing up all around me.

There was so much shame. There was a lot of transphobia and homophobia. Yeah. At that point in time. And I remember like praying to God that I would wake up and my body would be. Adjusted and, you know, like I would like live the way that you wanted me to, but like, if you made me feel that way, you know, it must have meant something, all that stuff.

I was, you know, I was a Jesus kid that was really deep in it for awhile. It’s very much like the hero’s journey or whatever, you know, you keep on gaining the fact that it’d be beat down and then you get back up and I don’t know. Um, I didn’t really know how I was on the path at that time, because like, at that point, like the dominant experience was shame punctuated by exhilaration that I now is, I don’t know is euphoria, but I spent a lot of time feeling like nobody could know.

Um, I didn’t have a word for transgender yet. The word at that point was transsexual. Right? If you were a transsexual, you, you know, you went on hormones, you went stealth, you did the, you got the operation. Like that was your life. You like trans was a phase and then it was over. Everything else was. Like non-binary identity just didn’t have a space.

going into college. I had just come from a suburban setting, I guess, at that point, like, you’re really trying to figure out who you are. I could sense that it was a strong part of my identity. But the shame kept me from actually incorporating it into my public life. You know? So for awhile it was just something that I held, like all of my friends, regardless.

I spent all of my time in the girls’ dorms. I, when I went to the boys dorms, I complained about how stinky they were and how like, I just like, it was, it was just as far as fuck, every time I was in the boys dorm. So I just would like have sleepovers and crash. All the time. And it was just this comfort level.

I met somebody and we had a, like fairly intense relationship and I ended up going to another school and neither of those schools had any resources for trans people. They barely had an LGBT center. They would have like a room with like a couple of like pink triangle posters, then like a huge wall of pamphlets about AIDS.

I met somebody who was really sweet, who was Bi and just open about things in a way that I hadn’t been in. She worked at an LGBT center in Madison and I ended up spending time there. And there’s still, there wasn’t any information on trans stuff. I was an ally. I still have a shirt that like, I never wear that says gay fine by me. And it just really communicates that whole. You know, like everything was from the SIS head perspective, it was all like in judgment. And it was kind of like, if you like qualify as the kind of queer that I’m okay with that. And like, I accept you. But when I was with her, she would call me pretty.

And she’d like, make little comments about like girly features. And I just get such a thrill. Eventually I felt like it was something I had to tell her. It was my deep, dark secret. It was my shameful thing that I was going to take to the grave and I wasn’t ever going to tell anyone. And then, then I did, I came out to her and I came out to our dog and I told my dog I’m a girl.

And it was just one of those things. I came out to a very small select group of friends. Um, there’s something in like the older gay community, like in the seventies. And before that, that was called open secret, where basically everyone in your social circle like knew that you were gay, but then like the greater world, you know, there was this whole cover, this duality to it.

I was elated, but I was so terrified. 

Callie: [00:10:24] Yeah. 

Aurora: [00:10:25] I was ashamed to admit that I wanted all of it. Like, I’d only read about hormones. Like in the strangest back alley forums, to me, they seem like something magical that couldn’t possibly happen. And then I’m surrounded by all these women that are talking about hormones.

It’s like the worst thing that’s like just ruining their day. And I’m very, uh, partners time would kind of test me. They would ask what I wanted and then I would share. Up to a certain point that celebrate it and then they would like pull it away. And then that like that withdrawal of support would make me know how far I could go.

There was resistance in partners and there was resistance within myself, you know? And there just wasn’t a community. There were the occasional support groups. Which would have like maybe six to eight people in them. And that would be all of your trans people for like a 60 mile radius. You know, people would drive in from like a couple hours away.

There would be like, you know, like a small clique of people that knew each other, but mostly strangers, mostly people that like, like a lot of people would like pop into the bathroom, put their makeup on, like go to the meeting, go back into the bathroom, take it off and then go about their lives, you know?

I was the only trans person, like my age. I was 20, 21 years old. Everyone was 35, 40, 50. They held a lot of pain. Um, a lot of trauma that society had, blah, blah, blah. And I didn’t think I could handle it. My experience in high school was I had a very small clique of. Like a queer Indi, um, leftist friends. And then there’s like this larger group of people that like glommed onto me somehow that were just like the most terrifying, like, like right-wing like scary racist dudes where I didn’t know how to get away from them.

And they were just around me for awhile. And I remember. Being afraid of someone seeing a picture, someone like, like finding out that I had transitioned and coming to try to kill me, because I had heard that, you know, I’d heard them in lunchrooms. I’d heard them in cars. I’d heard them, you know, late at night drunk talk ramble on about what they would do to someone like me.

If they found out. 

Callie: [00:13:01] But despite all of that Aurora pressed on, as we do all the hate in the world, doesn’t change who we are. 

Aurora: [00:13:09] I think a lot of what people do before they medically transition and socially transition on a greater level is try to prepare a foundation. You know, it’s nest, it’s nest building.

Creating something that can protect us from the star. I got a job at a local co-op. That was very liberal, which at that point in times in as progressive and cool was I could get, I found friends that were accepting and I came out at work on a very small level. Like I came up to my assistant manager and some of my coworkers.

I felt okay, cut me out to my assistant manager because he was gay. This is a cis gay man. Like this is an ally and his eyes went wide and he was just kind of like, Ooh, I should tell the manager this. I was naive. And I thought, okay, this is good. This is it. Won’t have to come out to one more person. You know, I was so coming out is such a continual process.

Of just opening a door and going through a room and opening a door and you’ve never seemed to get out of the building, you know? 

Callie: [00:14:18] Oh yeah. I so know what you mean.

Aurora: [00:14:21] So at work I started wearing, um, trans and proud, like a little pin at night when my main manager wasn’t around anymore. I would like wear a little bit of eyeliner, you know, just really simple things.

But, you know, every single one of them seemed like it was this like daring move that was like, Oh, they’re going to get me. You know, around that time, I also started a relationship with a girl that was very beautiful and also completely transphobic. 

Callie: [00:14:55] When we first come out, we often run into these things where it’s like, if any, one of those things happened on their own, it might be annoying or hurtful, but it’s almost never just that one thing.

And they all build on top of each other. 

Aurora: [00:15:10] I would go out to the club and I would dress up a little bit and people would see me and they’d be like, I don’t know what you are. 

Callie: [00:15:17] Right. 

Aurora: [00:15:18] Or, you know, like, A lot of my encounters with the LGBT community in the early two thousands were gay men that tried to convert me and told me I was just a twink, you know?

Like I was in French friends groups with lesbians that were like, I accepted you’re trans, but like, I would never get with you all that stuff. I would go like, you know, go for a stroll with my friends who were lesbians and they’re holding hands. And like people would like cat call them from their cars and stuff.

And I was just like, well, I mean, if this is their experience, I met somebody and. She offered this kind of like middle way. That was a complete compromise of my identity, but I didn’t understand it at that time. You know, I met her, I told her I was trans. She said that she was married. We made out it was strangely poetic and it’s on way, at the time.

And

I don’t know. Like, she was like five years older than me, like really on the line between gen X and millennial and said very particular views on everything really, and just really shaped my identity for a long time. Um, I just lost myself in her, in that relationship. I traveled to central America. I spent some time trying to get.

Away from the United States, from imperialism to find some place that was safe. And I just couldn’t find a place that was safe .

Callie: [00:16:57] And all of this culminated into two events that led Aurora to stop her journey entirely for a bit. I’ll reiterate my content warning from the beginning. You’re about to hear a description of a sexual assault.

Please take care of yourself. 

Aurora: [00:17:11] There were two incidents. This was like my early twenties, you know, early twenties is. Strange like hookups are times when you’re with somebody and you’re not exactly sure. It’s just kind of one of those things, like she’s cute. You’re cute. Whatever, like all of, all of this, you know, my first transition was before me too.

I didn’t really understand what consent meant for me as like someone in a boy body, you know, like it was just if my body responded. Must’ve implied it or something, you know, we hooked pu, it was fun. And we like met up another time. And that time we were, we were 69-ing on my bed. I was wearing socks and I was wearing socks because I had sparkly pink nail polish.

I could continue to do it in defiance of my parents. I would paint by toenails. I would never completely discard my trans identity. You know, I would just send it deep, deeply underground. I, you know, I wanted to be played. So I took my socks off because who wears socks during sex and we’re 69. So she just.

She’s just looking directly at my feet and then like, we stopped. I’m like, what’s going on? And she’s just like, are you wearing nail polish? And it just, it becomes this whole thing where I have to explain very quickly. And you know, there’s like this whole moment where I’m like this person, I don’t know this person super well.

I don’t feel comfortable. I don’t know if I trust them. I fucking bite the bullet. If I’m with somebody, they should know it. It was still a place of shame. It was still this like, No I’m doing it for them so that like they can know to back out if they need to or whatever, you know, for, for their honor, I guess she just thought I was cute or whatever.

And she wanted to give it a chance, but like she massive reservations. She just thought I was a gay boy at that point. One of her friends that was like gay boy, like gave her the same, like confirmed her suspicions and it was this whole thing. And. I didn’t feel comfortable. You know, I was dating her for about a month and she came over and I broke up with her and I told her very clearly that like, this is because I’m trans, this is because you don’t accept my trans identity.

And this is, you know, it matters to me. And that was one of those courses. Right. And I really, I couldn’t process it. I put a lot of time into work and stuff like that, but I was depressed and I was not doing well. We broke up, but that I internalized so much stuff. Like I didn’t, we didn’t break up immediately.

It was, I was still with her for some time, you know? And every moment that was a complete betrayal of what I was. 

Callie: [00:20:03] Was it one of those things we hear about where she’s like, well, no, like you’re a man and I’m going to prove it to you kind of thing. Like, 

Aurora: [00:20:11] I don’t really know. I think it was more like her own security.

I think that me being a trans woman triggered insecurities in her own identity as a cishet woman. And like, this was her way to like reassert that I don’t think she was thinking of me in that moment at all. It was just an object to be used the whole time I was telling her, no, please stop. Don’t do this.

This is wrong. 

Callie: [00:20:35] Yeah. 

Aurora: [00:20:35] And asked afterwards, she asked me why. I said that and had me try to justify it for her. You know, it broke me. 

Callie: [00:20:47] Yeah. 

Aurora: [00:20:48] There was that. And the workplace that was at, um, to like compel me into therapy and just a really unpleasant scene, I ended up like I was fired, but it was this whole like compelled resignation situation.

Like fun times. For some reason, the general manager got called down and, uh, they had a police officer and squirt me to my locker to get my things and to leave. I had to like explain to this police officer that like, I’m not suicidal. I’m fine. I’m doing okay. Cause like I had expressed, but

I just I’d had ideation. Um, That’s a common experience for people that have detransitioned. Uh, yeah. And I didn’t know how to put the words into it and stuff like that. My manager found out about it and freaked out, you know, it’s Madison, it’s a very small town and it just, I don’t know how to explain it.

Exactly. It was just, it was a series of personal and professional disappointments where I felt like I couldn’t be trans. I couldn’t be safe. No, I, and I, unfortunately, a lot of the things that I was afraid of happening during my first transition that I avoided have happened to me during my second transition, I’ve been assaulted.

I’ve had surgical mishap and did something that I could be discouraged by. I could just go back again if I wanted to, but it’s too important. Like, there’s an inner peace. There’s a calm that I’ve discovered that I need, even if turmoil everywhere else, you know, there’s that little central kernel that I kind of hold on to.

Callie: [00:22:37] And so she went back into the closet for nine years. 

Aurora: [00:22:41] It was a limbo. I had a lot of mediation. I had therapists that I could talk to that I couldn’t go very far. Um, all that other times I would tell people like, you know, sure. I’m trans. Like, obviously, like, I’m a boy, but like if like I had a chance to go back from the beginning, I’d be a girl.

Um, so, but like, you know, my boy parts aren’t like invalid so I guess like both are valid, so I’m not going to do anything. And this, this therapist would like, look at me like this is normal. This is good. Like that like six. So just so many, like people that want that little check, Mark. And their thing that says like, you know, it’s like skilled in trans care, but they don’t know shit!

In 2018. I got my, I got my first house with partner and I say first house, like optimistically. Cause it’s my last house too. But. I finally felt like I had just enough sanctuary, like also up, you know, there were always roommates and landlords and somebody that could find out and know, like even now I’m in a place by myself and I still get in that mindset, you know, like I’ll, I’ll look up something that’s like on the Alicia Venus and not like, you know, close my laptop just a little bit instinctively.

And it’s just right. I don’t know how to get out of that mindset because like, especially those nine years, like I taught myself how to not be girly. How’s that sound girly. How not to not give away my thoughts, you know, but I finally felt safe and I thought I was safe with my partner. Like we were steady. It was one of those things where.

We built something together and built a life together. And she knew who I was. I didn’t think that the changing in my form would change things. Cause we always talked about like that spiritual energy that like partner does or whatever, you know, there was a visibility event in October of 2018 and it was all these people on like street in Minneapolis.

And I went with my sign and I wrote. It made like a trans flag and I painted it and I painted, we were always here and I expected to see the usual six to eight people spread along this giant road. You know, like I really, I didn’t have a clue that there were so many of us for so many of us that could live publicly that could be safe, that there was like real community and culture being built.

I was on the outside. Consciously avoiding trans issues because they made me hurt. And it was hundreds of people, maybe thousands, you know, like trans non-binary intersex, age, gender partners, family, you know, allies. There were flags that I’d never seen before. And it’s amazing because I identify with like some, like, Three or four of them now, but yeah, at the time, like it was just, it was eye opening to all the potential that was out there, but also that there was safety in numbers, which I never felt like I had before, especially in the Midwest, it felt like there was safety in numbers and like maybe San Francisco, maybe like New York, like you’d have to glom up next to the gates.

And it’s just different. It’s different that there’s like so much nuance to trans. Culture that like there’s trans fem culture. There’s non binary culture. There’s all these little pockets of Xeno genders that like, I haven’t even encountered yet, but it’s rich and vibrant and growing and it’s so cool. Um, 

Callie: [00:26:32] it is fucking cool. Honestly. 

Aurora: [00:26:34] It is. 

It’s a Renaissance, it’s a, it’s a fucking gender Renaissance and we should embrace it. Like, I just like, anytime somebody shares their story and they say, I am valid and I am good. And I feel happy about this. You don’t ever touch that. You don’t fuck with that. You know? I think this is the most important thing is to maximize the number of people that can feel that way.

Callie: [00:27:00] And this is the conversation our society doesn’t seem to want to have in all of these op-eds about de transitioning and all the turf. Talking points. We almost never hear about the re transitioners. We rarely hear about the fact that the problem is a lack of support, a lack of community, a lack of proper care.

Aurora: [00:27:21] There’s a lot of people that have retransitioned. There’s a lot of people that are considering it, you know, And like, if we get this idea that like being trans is this ideal window of 20 to 24, where like, you’re just hot shit. Like it’s leaving out the vast majority of the experience. That was the whole point of having community.

That was the whole point of having this culture is that we could have a space for ourselves, you know? 

Callie: [00:27:50] Yeah. And, and I feel like it’s such a rich example of being trans. It does not difficult because being trans is inherently difficult. Being trans is difficult because the world makes it that way. 

Aurora: [00:28:04] Yeah, it’s the social pressure.

It’s the lack of resources. It’s the way that every single transition seems to be completely different. Like you can have two people go to the same gender clinic and if they see a different practitioner, they might go completely different directions, you know? It’s hard to process. 

Callie: [00:28:23] And so what does it feel like for you when you see this discourse about detransition?

Like what goes through your head when you see that? Cause that’s like, it feels like every few months there’s some big blow up, like, you know, an op ed comes out or something like that. 

Aurora: [00:28:37] It’s scary because the narrative is completely detached from trans culture. It’s something that affects us, but we’re not featured in the stories.

Like even the stories of the day transitioners seem to be hijacked by transphobes and they get some people that want to see the worst in this situation. You know, they see that maybe someone didn’t get the proper care that they needed and they don’t say, okay, we need more resources. We need to make sure that this care is better.

Or they say we need to withdraw forever. There’s definitely a need for outreach. There’s definitely a need for continuity for people that do choose to detransition for people that are seen as outside the community, but they have been touched by it. You know, there needs to be some sort of understanding that transition won’t always be right for everybody that like the circumstances that make it not right, can be familial or environmental or personal.

I don’t like seeing any, anybody that has ever identify as trans as upon. I don’t like them. I don’t like seeing us being used. 

Thank you for sharing your story Aurora. And thank you for listening friend. Don’t forget. I’m helping raise money for women’s crisis center this week. If you can contribute head to bit.ly/calliewcc that’s bit.ly/calliewcc. If you want to help this show continue, please consider heading to patreon.com/queersplaining, making a per episode donation to help support the show. Shouting us out on social media is a huge help too. Before I go, I want you to know that if you’re lost, you’re hurting, you’re scared.

If you feel like no one cares and no one understands, you need to know there’s a community out here that loves you cares for you knows that you’re capable of amazing things and that you are worthy of love. If you’re struggling, please, don’t be afraid to reach out. Until next time friend, my name is Callie Wright and this is Queersplaining.


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