In regards to the topic of how to handle early transition, commenter Daniel asked me this:
“Two other common methods for early transition are wearing the clothes of your target gender prior to medical treatment, or going on hormones but not announcing your transition until you have physically changed enough to pass.
Each has benefits and drawbacks, and I have seen feminists react negatively to all of them. There is a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation going on, and it’s not like there are official guidelines on how to handle this.
I’m genuinely curious, assuming someone has dysphoria and is transitioning to treat it, what would you like the early transition timeline to be? What do you think is the best course of action for all involved? This is not a settled question at all, and getting a gender critical perspective on it would be valuable.”
I think Daniel is talking about how if people socially transition for a while without medically transitioning, feminists keep pointing out that since their birth sex is obvious, it’s silly to call them by opposite sex pronouns. However, we also want people to take the time to think about it before medically transitioning, and as Daniel has pointed out before, socially transitioning is how people can tell whether medical transition might be right for them. So we pretty much object to any strategy they try.
Daniel asked for a gender critical perspective on how to handle early transition. My answer probably won’t be very satisfying, because the gender critical method of transition is to not transition at all. We view gender dysphoria as self-hatred and transition as the self-harm that results from that self-hatred. We just don’t want people to self-harm at all. Instead we want them to learn not to hate themselves.
I asked this question in a gender critical Facebook group to see what the response would be. I got the replies I was expecting, which was: don’t transition. We began comparing gender dysphoria to anorexia and one person, who agreed to be quoted anonymously, said this:
I think the problem is that transition doesn’t treat dysphoria any more than liposuction treats anorexia. Arguing that there should be a way to transition that we approve of is like saying “you don’t want us to get liposuction OR starve ourselves, so we are damned if we do, damned if we don’t”. It entirely misses the objection.
I think this sums it up really well. If you are female and you hate being female and you change your body so that you don’t look female any more, that doesn’t actually solve the original problem: that you hate your sex. You can’t actually become male, you can only look male from the outside. You’ll always be female, just with body modifications.
I have no doubt that people can find their dysphoria goes away or is lessened after they make body modifications, for the same reason that anorexics feel better after they lose weight. They wanted something, and they got what they wanted, and so they felt better. But the person who hates her body and feels good about changing it still has the same problem: she still thinks the body she was born with is wrong.
The gender critical perspective is that you should unravel the reasons why you began to hate your natural body in the first place and learn to change those feelings. We don’t believe that people are essentially transsexual, we think the transsexual identity is a social construction and that what’s real is the body itself. We want people to know that bodies are not wrong and that men and women can be any kind of people they want to be.
Daniel doesn’t describe dysphoria in silly sex stereotypes like “I knew I was really a boy because I liked wearing boxers,” as a lot of transitioners unfortunately do. He describes a severe mental illness that didn’t respond to anything else besides transition. So what happens if a person with dysphoria tries to reconcile with their birth sex but cannot? What then?
I’m a person who has had anxiety and depression for most of my life, and I’ve had internalized homophobia, and I was able to untangle the reasons for all that and learn ways of coping. Because I was able to do this, I believe that other people can do it, too. I think people can examine their underlying beliefs (usually with the help of a good therapist) and figure out why they ended up going down the path of self-hatred, and I think people can learn coping skills that help them manage long-term mental illnesses. I cannot give advice for dealing with gender dysphoria because I don’t have it, but there is a whole community of detransitioners who are working on this and writing about it. The only advice I can give is to look at what they’re saying.
Of course, we don’t live in Purple Sage’s Personal Utopia, (I wish!), we live in the real world. Some people are going to transition. I cannot say what the best method is for early transition, but I can say what my major objections are in regards to the way trans people often proceed.
My primary objection is the public trans activism that is being done that is taking away women’s rights. I don’t think that people trying to deal with their personal mental illness need to remove women’s rights to our own private spaces in order to feel better about themselves. Trans women who don’t pass should be able to respect that women don’t want to share a washroom with six-foot tall guys wearing makeup. They should have enough courtesy to use the men’s washroom or a gender neutral washroom, and instead of campaigning for being allowed into women’s washrooms based on self-declaration, they should be campaigning for single-user, unisex washrooms in order to balance their needs with women’s needs.
My second most important objection is the public trans activism that forces everyone to redefine male and female and pretend as though human reproductive anatomy is an unfathomable mystery instead of an accepted scientific fact. We shouldn’t have to force organizations like Planned Parenthood or midwife organizations to talk about “pregnant people” when only women can get pregnant. This removes women from a conversation about women and it causes both gas-lighting and bullying of women.
I guess if there is any such thing as a gender critical approach to transition, it would simply be transitioning without denying reality. Being a female with dysphoria is not the same experience as being male, and there is no harm is acknowledging this. Women with dysphoria don’t need to flip out when someone refers to women as the class of people who can get pregnant. The reason FtMs can get pregnant is because they’re female, and I think they can recognize this reality even while taking testosterone to help their dysphoria. If pregnancy would worsen dysphoria, then it’s a good idea not to get pregnant, however that doesn’t mean the entire world has to pretend that men can get pregnant. They can’t.
I think it’s entirely possible to think of gender dysphoria as an illness requiring treatment, rather than a sign of being essentially transsexual, or a sign of being literally the opposite sex. I don’t think we need to make up stuff about being “born in the wrong body,” when there is no such thing as a body being wrong. I don’t think any harm comes to a woman if she admits to being biologically female despite having a condition that makes her want to present as a man.
Transition is used as a treatment because we haven’t figured out how to treat people in any better ways. I think that when learning how to treat dysphoria, we should be taking clues from the way anorexia and dissociation are treated, and we should be listening to detransitioners.
What I would suggest (and this is, of course, some TERFy advice), is that if you feel you have to transition, you should still try to work on discovering the reasons why you started hating yourself in the first place, and you should still try to reconcile with your birth sex, even while transitioning. This may appear to be a contradiction, but I heard an interesting point from a FtM who might be considered a “gender critical trans man” who spoke to me in email a few times. She said that taking testosterone made her feel better about being female. That might sound odd, but I think what she did is take on the appearance that felt comfortable to her without denying her sex, and she felt better about who she was afterwards. I think people can be fully themselves, even while making body modifications, without denying their biological sex, and further, I think people are more fully accepting of themselves when they don’t have to deny anything. Even though I personally feel that no one should transition, I really appreciated hearing her perspective. My main objections are the removal of women’s rights and the denial of reality, so when someone is just doing what feels right to her without being misogynist or denying facts, I’m pretty chill about it. It’s a lot like someone getting a tattoo or a piercing—it’s her body, and it doesn’t affect me.
Socially transitioning usually means telling everyone that you have the wrong body and you’re going to change it and can everyone please refer to you by your new “gender” because that’s who you really are. Does it have to be presented this way though? What if the reason given for using your new pronouns is not that you are literally the opposite sex, but that you have a mental illness and this will help you cope? I wonder if people don’t do that because it’s harder to explain or embarrassing or something. I can’t say I know what to do exactly about this, but my general advice is: tell the truth. Every conversation about how to accommodate people with dysphoria should proceed from the truth. Then we might get somewhere.