The zine Blood and Visions: Womyn Reconciling With Being Female is a collection of writing from ten women who have experienced dysphoria and/or transition, and who have stopped transition or decided not to pursue transition. Most of them currently identify as lesbian and most of them identified as trans men or genderqueer for a time.
I heard about this zine from the bloggers I follow on WordPress, so thank you for the recommendation! I would like to pay it forward and recommend it again. Reading this writing was very moving and I will read it over and over again.
The writing is based on personal experience and thoughtful analysis of some of the themes present in the lives of women who transition, such as not conforming to social standards of what a woman is, the humiliation and shame of being female in a patriarchy, trauma and dissociation from the body—often due to male violence, internalized homophobia, and self-hatred. They have also shared some things they have found helpful in returning to being able to live in their bodies and accept themselves as gender-non-conforming women. The writing is very poetic at times, in the sense that each sentence is packed with powerful truth and emotion. It is to be read slowly and carefully, while taking in the impact of every sentence and every word.
A lot of these women received little social support for being dykes but lots and lots of support for being genderqueer or trans men. They saw no representation of butch and/or masculine women anywhere and didn’t realize other women like them existed. Transition seemed like a way to join a socially recognizable gender category, one in which they would be respected as human beings, and “fix” the problem of being female. Some of the writers lived as trans men for a few years; others barely started to transition before deciding not to.
The reasons for not continuing to transition were often because they didn’t truly want to fit in with men and be seen as male. Fitting in with men and not being found out as a biological female often meant participating in misogyny. Sometimes it meant being a female survivor of rape in an all male environment and hearing rape jokes and feeling unable to speak out against them from a “male” perspective. Some of the women began to detransition when they discovered that transition did not help with dysphoria, and when they found other methods that helped more. It sounds like none of these women is completely free of dysphoria—one even stated that she is still not even coping—but there are things that help a woman who is dissociating from her body, such as meditation, exercise, psychotherapy, political analysis of gender, meeting other women in similar situations, and learning to direct her anger at the culture who did this to her instead of directing her anger at herself.
There was a question asked in the book but not resolved. I don’t think there is any answer to this, but I am interested in this question, too. Why is it that some butch dykes identify as female while others transition to male? They are in similar situations, it seems. I suppose the difference lies in the amount of dysphoria that she feels. A butch dyke might love her female body and feel at home in it even though she faces discrimination and hatred from her society, while a FtM transitioner does not feel at home in her female body. It’s hard to know why this happens to one woman and not another. More positive representation of butch and/or masculine women would certainly help both groups though. Women deserve to know that lots of us are not Barbie dolls and that we can be strong and powerful and love other women.
There was one piece that gave advice to radical feminists on behalf of FtM detransitioners. Radical feminists tend to love hearing from detransitioners but we also sometimes treat them as tokens or sources of information rather than as comrades. Some radfems will pick and choose quotes from a detransitioner just to support her own ideology while not behaving respectfully toward the woman she is quoting. We can be condescending by calling a sex-change operation “mutilation” even if the woman doesn’t see it that way, or by saying detransitioners “regret” their transition even though they may not. None of the women who wrote for this book said they regretted their transition or wished to reverse it. They simply found a new way forward that is different from what they previously had envisioned. Detransition is not a return to what they were before or a move backwards, but is a new way forward and a new journey.
One of my favourite quotes in the zine is by Crash [blogs here] who wrote this stunning paragraph:
“What happened? Why did we stop after finding such relief? What we had forced down rose back up again and again. The attempted murder of our former selves proved uncompleted and we could only turn away from her for so long. The dyke inside would not die and she was stronger than medically sanctioned endocrine disruption, the latest in many attempts to erase and take her power.” (16)
I have read this quote over and over and over. There is so much here in this little paragraph. The idea of finding relief in transition but then also finding that the dyke within “would not die” is so powerful! I am savouring these words and finding that they make me proud and awed and full of love for lesbiankind. We lesbians are strong and powerful—more powerful than we realize and certainly more powerful than men believe.
Reading this zine made me feel similar to the way I feel when reading Stone Butch Blues. It is heartbreaking but somehow beautiful, too—it captures the terrible experience of being female in a patriarchy in a profound way, and it speaks to the lesbophobia that still crushes many of us, but it also speaks to the incredible resilience that women have. How I wish that all women could grow up knowing their appearance and personality are just fine the way they are, and that they can be any kind of woman they want to be.
Everyone interested in lesbians, FtMs, and detransition should buy this zine. You’ll be very glad you read these women’s words.