Video: Crash on trauma and transition

In this video, lesbian detransitioner Crash makes some important points about how transition can be motivated by trauma and offers some kind words for people in this situation. Please watch and share!

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10 thoughts on “Video: Crash on trauma and transition

  1. This is so weird for me to watch. I was raised in an evangelical household, and the idea of any kind of divergence from cis and hetero as due to trauma, as a form of self-harm and self-hate, as something to be cured away was omnipresent there. (Hell, the very first book I ever read on homosexuality was “Love Won Out”, which is exactly this story.) The notion that someone could suspect themselves of being gay/lesbian or trans and *not* immediately jump to “it must be due to past trauma and will go away by itself once I work through that!” baffles me on some level even in the face of evidence.

    As a result, it basically always feels like an attack, no matter how carefully it’s couched in words like “healing” – all of that vocabulary comes heavily loaded for me. If I had been met with some inkling of that in my (state-mandated) therapy, I would have had an even harder time not freaking out about it all the time.

    Makes me wonder about ways to “catch” trauma without causing more anguish and without making trauma a thing to hide from professionals for trans people.

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    • Hi Skepto. I always find that I can only answer you in a really long paragraph, so here’s another one!

      Gender dysphoria and homosexuality are two very different things—the first is a mental illness and the second is a sexual orientation. I find that it’s impossible to compare the two.
      Just because there are some people who transition because of trauma, doesn’t mean that the trauma directly caused the transition or that all transitioners are traumatized. I’ve been reading a book on FtMs recently in which it’s reported that 60% of the individuals interviewed were abused as children (this number includes both physical and sexual abuse.) This seems rather high, approximately twice the general population. I do think that for some people, trauma plays a part in their discomfort with their bodies, and it certainly did for Crash, since she has said this herself. However, I think even in Crash’s case, trauma was not the only factor. She has also always been masculine and has been mistaken for a man a lot. If she had been a feminine woman, even trauma may not have caused her to have gender dysphoria. I think it’s important to recognize how trauma causes dissociation from our bodies. As for therapy, trans people should be able to disclose trauma and be treated for trauma, and this seems really important in healing from dysphoria, whether the individual makes body modifications or not. A good therapist will not force a patient to make particular choices, but will help a person identify their problems and select appropriate strategies. For Crash, transition turned out not to be a good strategy for her. I don’t think trauma therapy is a way of “converting” someone out of their identity, but a good therapeutic technique for anyone who is traumatized regardless of their identity.

      Homosexual sexual orientation isn’t caused by trauma, although sexual behaviour and choices can be affected by trauma in people of any orientation. Gender dysphoria can be exacerbated by trauma, but trauma doesn’t wholly explain gender dysphoria. It’s much more complex than just “Oh you’re this, you must have been abused.”

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      • “I always find that I can only answer you in a really long paragraph, so here’s another one!
        Same here. I personally consider it a feature, not a bug 😛

        “Gender dysphoria and homosexuality are two very different things—the first is a mental illness and the second is a sexual orientation. I find that it’s impossible to compare the two.”
        Regarding how some (sub-)cultures view and treat them, they have a lot in common. In this particular case, I was referring to how they are viewed in the evangelical circles I grew up in, and they certainly didn’t make a difference.
        (It’s also worth noting that the conflation of sexual orientation with gender identity has a long tradition and is still alive and well in many communities: gay men are not “real” men, lesbians are women who are bad at being women, and so on.)

        The classification (and conceptualization) of phenomena as mental illness is not absolute and not set in stone: as we all know, homosexuality used to be classified as a mental illness not so long ago, asexuality is in a gray area right now, and the diagnostic definitions and (sub-)categorization of many mental illnesses are in constant flux. “X is a mental illness and Y is not” is not a convincing argument by itself.

        I personally do consider the classification of gender dysphoria as a mental illness justified due to the fact that it negatively impacts one’s mental well-being. (This is not the same as considering being transgender a mental illness, of course: people continue to be trans after transitioning even if they no longer experience any gender dysphoria.)
        But this negative impact is hardly independent of the social environment, cultural beliefs, etc. In a homophobic society where gay people are routinely rejected by their family, cannot live openly, face discrimination and erasure on a daily basis, homosexuality certainly impacts one’s mental well-being, especially if those norms and beliefs are internalized, there is a lack of support, and one’s own goals (e.g. the desire for a family) are in conflict with what is possible in said society. In my opinion, it’s much the same with gender dysphoria – in a less gendered society (including socialization, segregation, gendered language, and gender roles and norms and so on), there would be much fewer situations to trigger gender dysphoria, and the impact on one’s mental health would diminish, possibly even beneath a “clinically significant” level for many individuals. After all, “I feel horrible when people use certain pronouns for me” is only a problem if those pronouns are ever used. (And this is true regardless of whether or how closely certain pronouns are connected to certain physical features!)
        This is one of the reasons I support the abolition of gender, and it means that there might not be much of a call for such a diagnosis to exist at all in an un-gendered word.
        (It’s similar for many other diagnoses. Mental illnesses, even more than physical illnesses, are strongly connected to society.)

        The numbers for abuse you report are very interesting. (Also horrifying, as always.) I wonder about the causal relationship there. For trans women, it seems plausible that being perceived as girly boys could lead to more abuse – I don’t know about the implications of being perceived as boyish girls, that’s probably more your area of expertise – , so in those cases, being trans could have influenced abuse just as easily as the other way around.

        In general, it’s pretty clear that gender dysphoria is comorbid with a bunch of other symptoms, with various plausible causal relationships. (Lack of support from families makes people more likely to be depressed and attempt suicide etc.)
        I don’t know much about dissociative symptoms in particular, about whether there is an actual distinction between dissociative symptoms and dysphoria and about how that could be diagnosed. Intuitively, it seems plausible that trauma-related association would only affect certain body parts if the trauma is connected to them, but not so much otherwise – I can’t think of a good reason why getting physically abused would lead to dysphoria about breasts, especially if the breasts were only grown after the abuse.
        This is were cultural notions of gender could bridge the gap: if weakness and powerlessness are associated with femaleness, trauma that made one feel weak and powerless could plausibly lead to one wanting to get rid of anything female, including things not directly connected to the trauma. (Reason #2 to abolish anything gendered.) I’m unconvinced about the relationship between this and transness overall, though, mostly because it doesn’t seem to hold true for trans women. (I don’t know the childhood abuse rates there, but purely from what I’ve heard, it’s high.)

        Regarding therapy, I’m worried that being helped in selecting appropriate strategies and being forced to make particular choices would amount to the exact same thing in practice, especially given current gatekeeping measures: if a therapist thinks transitioning is not an appropriate strategy, and their approval would be needed for transition, they are effectively forcing their client to make a different choice.
        (Maybe that issue could be circumvented if a certain number of therapy sessions is mandatory, and people have to get attendance slips signed, but approval of transition is not necessary and they’ll get to transition afterwards regardless of what their therapist thinks. That way, it would have to be an actual choice.)

        “Homosexual sexual orientation isn’t caused by trauma, although sexual behaviour and choices can be affected by trauma in people of any orientation. Gender dysphoria can be exacerbated by trauma, but trauma doesn’t wholly explain gender dysphoria. It’s much more complex than just “Oh you’re this, you must have been abused.””
        Yup, basically this. And it’s also more complex than “oh, you’re this and have been abused, your being this is certainly due to abuse and will be cured if we treat your trauma”. (Not to mention that even treating a certain illness is not the same as curing it, that it takes time and effort, that it is not guaranteed to work, and so on.)

        …sorry this got so long (again).

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        • It’s also worth noting that the conflation of sexual orientation with gender identity has a long tradition and is still alive and well in many communities: gay men are not “real” men, lesbians are women who are bad at being women, and so on.)
          That opens a whole can of worms. The thing about gender nonconformity and homosexuality is there is an overlap. A large number of FtMs are same sex attracted and would be considered lesbian or bisexual if they didn’t have gender dysphoria. Fewer MtFs are same sex attracted, but there are some. The blogger Crash developed an identity as a trans man in part because of being a masculine lesbian. There’s no easy distinction to make between a masculine lesbian and a same-sex attracted trans man. Some people identify as definitely one or the other, but some people spend time in both of these identities over the course of a lifetime and some people exist in a space in between, maybe getting top surgery but still calling themselves lesbian. Because of these people in the middle, it doesn’t seem to me that there is a definite transgender identity that people are born with, it seems to be that people come to believe they are the opposite sex due to a set of circumstances in their lives, and that this identity can sometimes change. I have written about a case where a masculine lesbian openly admitted to transitioning to male to fit into her workplace, and a case where an androgynous lesbian said she was happy to be a woman and a lesbian but got her breasts removed because she didn’t like them. In some cases, such as these, I think women are better off remaining as masculine/androgynous lesbians rather than getting body modifications.

          In evangelical circles, they might not see gender nonconformity as any different from homosexuality. They probably assume that all masculine women are lesbians and that all feminine men are gay. Hatred they feel for both trans and gay people might be the exact same thing: homophobia based on someone either being gay or being perceived to be gay.

          Re: gender dysphoria as a mental illness. So gender dysphoria definitely is a mental illness. I think it would be more accurately called sex dysphoria, because it’s a discomfort with one’s sexed body. Dysphoria means discomfort, so having discomfort and distress about your body, being unable to cope with having the body you have and unable to see it as your own body is a mental illness. Having a trans identity isn’t necessarily a mental illness, because some people don’t actually have dysphoria but have a trans identity. Some people are just cross dressers and aren’t actually in any distress.
          If gender dysphoria wasn’t considered a mental illness, then there would be no need to treat it and no reason for insurance companies to cover treatment.

          I don’t know about the implications of being perceived as boyish girls
          Wait… aren’t you an FtM? Weren’t you at some point a boyish girl?

          The numbers for abuse you report are very interesting. (Also horrifying, as always.) I wonder about the causal relationship there.
          The abuse generally doesn’t seem to have been caused by people perceiving them as boyish girls. They certainly were mistreated by their peers at school for being boyish girls, but at home the abuse was more to do with their parents. Some of the people interviewed were harshly pushed into the feminine gender role as kids but also some of them were not—some of them even had their masculinity completely accepted by their parents. The abuse they received from parents seems to have been the result of the parents’ own dysfunction rather than their kids’ characteristics. Those who were sexually abused by male family members certainly didn’t invite this abuse by their behavior. Their dads and brothers were just child abusers, and that is their own fault. Those who were abused by mothers generally had mothers who were mentally ill and who were dysfunctional parents. Some mothers were alcoholics or were severely depressed and took out frustration on their kids. I think where causation comes into it is that if someone is susceptible to developing gender dysphoria, growing up in an abusive environment makes them less resilient and less able to deal with being different, and more likely to want to conform to their desired gender in an attempt to find safety. Transitioning into a binary category rather than living as an oddity gives them at least some safety. So I think that people with dysphoria are more likely to want to complete a binary transition if they are people who have never had a sense of safety, and people who are comfortable and supported are less likely to need a complete binary transition. There are lots of factors that contributed to these individuals transitioning, and I think the primary ones are having a masculine personality and not feeling similar to other lesbians and having internalized homophobia. (The vast majority of them were same-sex attracted.) I am going to discuss all of this in more detail in further posts. The primary ways the abuse could have contributed to their identification as men would be that they did not see their mothers as role models because their mothers were depressed and unable to protect them from abusive fathers, and because being female was very traumatic due to sexual abuse, and because being male meant being powerful and not having your humanity denied. I think these things were contributing factors but they alone did not cause transition. Without the presence of gender dysphoria obviously no amount of abuse or internalized homophobia would cause transition.

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        • (Argh, can’t nest more replies and this will probably end up looking really bad. Sorry. Maybe I should take this into a separate post on my blog or something…?)

          The thing about gender nonconformity and homosexuality is there is an overlap.
          Oh yeah, gender nonconformity and homosexuality definitely overlap (which makes homosexuality so interesting in studies of gender). What I meant was gender identity – not the (statistically true) idea of gay men being more feminine than straight men, but of gay men being no real men at all.
          I think this might slowly be going extinct, and sometimes “no real men” is really just used to mean “feminine man”, but especially historically, it was meant literally. (There was a criminal case in mid-1900 or so where a man was accused of being a pimp, using a paragraph that applied only to “male persons”, and argued that he was not guilty because he was not actually a man because he was exclusively attracted to men, and the judge took this perfectly seriously and had him medically and psychologically evaluated. He didn’t claim to be a woman, it was not a case of transness by any definition – he just claimed that because he had a “female sexuality”, he could not be a man.)

          There’s no easy distinction to make between a masculine lesbian and a same-sex attracted trans man.
          I’d say there is a very easy distinction to make: one says “I’m a trans man” when asked, the other says “I’m a lesbian woman”.
          And I don’t think that contradicts the notion that there are people whose identity changes over the course of their life. I mean, this is not an uncontroversial issue among trans people, either, and influenced by the fact that some other people are more likely to acknowledge our gender if we can somehow convince them that we were born like this and never changed, but personally, I find the idea rather absurd that we should be born with a single piece of our identity that somehow perfectly matches a ridiculously binary, culture-dependent and constantly changing category. I’d say we categorize ourselves based on some facts about us and our experiences that fit certain concepts. Crash had experiences/feelings and knew facts about herself (e.g. always being a masculine child) that fit the concept of trans male, so she identified as trans male. Of course this isn’t independent of the cultural concept of being trans male, or the existence of cultural concepts of being a gender-nonconforming woman, a lesbian, etc.
          (It occurs to me that that might be what you meant – that it is not easy to distinguish between a masculine lesbian and a trans man purely based on their experiences prior to any decision to transition. If that’s what you meant, then I agree. What makes trans people trans in the literal sense is nothing more or less than the decision to identify as such and transition, socially or medically.)

          Because of these people in the middle, it doesn’t seem to me that there is a definite transgender identity that people are born with, it seems to be that people come to believe they are the opposite sex due to a set of circumstances in their lives, and that this identity can sometimes change.
          I’m not sure what you mean by transgender identity here – if you just mean “gender identity that does not match the gender/sex assigned at birth”, I don’t believe in such a fixed and innate identity either.
          (Which, I maybe should add, is definitely not the same as saying it’s a choice. I don’t think I was born hating the taste of olives, but that doesn’t mean I can just decide to like them instead. Something not being innate is not the same as people being able to change it at will.)

          I’m also once again confused about “believe they are the opposite sex”, but that’s nothing new.

          I have written about a case where a masculine lesbian openly admitted to transitioning to male to fit into her workplace, and a case where an androgynous lesbian said she was happy to be a woman and a lesbian but got her breasts removed because she didn’t like them. In some cases, such as these, I think women are better off remaining as masculine/androgynous lesbians rather than getting body modifications.
          That doesn’t seem to follow. If fitting in at one’s work place markedly improves one’s well-being and mental health, why shouldn’t it be the best possible outcome in that situation? If a body part bothers someone to the point where they want surgery (with all its risks), and they get it and they’re happier for it, why shouldn’t that be the best outcome?
          (That doesn’t mean the circumstances that make it impossible for someone to fit in as a gender nonconforming woman are okay or should be this way – nobody should have only these options.)

          In evangelical circles, they might not see gender nonconformity as any different from homosexuality. They probably assume that all masculine women are lesbians and that all feminine men are gay.
          I’m not sure about that. It probably depends on the factors of the specific situation, but just from what I remember, there were some interesting contrasts between their ideas of gender and the ones of Western culture in general – a woman with unshaved legs and armpits and no make-up probably would not have given people in church much pause, and the Christian ideals of masculinity I grew up with were vastly more “feminine” than most others (patient, kind, gentle, forgiving, sexually chaste and respectful, etc.).
          (I’m not saying that this is what Christian men are like, but this is the ideal of Christian masculinity I was taught.)

          But being trans, that is, actually identifying as a gender other than the one assigned at birth, that was mostly just seen as “extra gay”. (I have no idea what they’d think if faced with gay trans people, that is, androphilic trans men and gynophilic trans women. It would be fun to try but very likely not worth the effort.)

          Hatred they feel for both trans and gay people might be the exact same thing: homophobia based on someone either being gay or being perceived to be gay.
          Ts ts, it wasn’t hatred. It was love and compassion and a genuine desire for them to come to find joy in the LORD, listening to His words of wisdom, and living the life He has planned for them which alone will give them freedom and inner peace.
          (Which is written sarcastically, but also 100% serious. The people I grew up with genuinely believed that it was and is in gay and trans people’s best interest to not be gay and trans any more, just as you do regarding trans people. Good intentions simply don’t make for good actions, which is why it’s so important for people with good intentions to honestly listen to the people they’re trying to help and regularly critically re-assess what they are doing.)

          So gender dysphoria definitely is a mental illness. I think it would be more accurately called sex dysphoria, because it’s a discomfort with one’s sexed body.
          Not by the DSM’s definition. Can’t find the DSM-5 online, but the next best thing (https://psychiatry.org/patients-families/gender-dysphoria) states: “Gender dysphoria involves a conflict between a person’s physical or assigned gender and the gender with which he/she/they identify. People with gender dysphoria may be very uncomfortable with the gender they were assigned, sometimes described as being uncomfortable with their body (particularly developments during puberty) or being uncomfortable with the expected roles of their assigned gender.”
          This explicitly includes social gender dysphoria.
          (https://psychiatry.org/patients-families/gender-dysphoria/what-is-gender-dysphoria also helpfully states: “Gender dysphoria is not the same as gender nonconformity, which refers to behaviors not matching the gender norms or stereotypes of the gender assigned at birth. Examples of gender nonconformity (also referred to as gender expansiveness or gender creativity) include girls behaving and dressing in ways more socially expected of boys or occasional cross-dressing in adult men. Gender nonconformity is not a mental disorder. Gender dysphoria is also not the same being gay/lesbian.”)

          If gender dysphoria wasn’t considered a mental illness, then there would be no need to treat it and no reason for insurance companies to cover treatment.
          Which is another reason I support its inclusion. (Although this one just follows from the first: if it didn’t cause distress, insurance coverage would be more questionable, though I believe treatment should still be legally available.)

          Weren’t you at some point a boyish girl?
          I was mostly just a really weird kid. I was read as a boy by strangers sometimes, but I don’t think people who knew me better perceived me as particularly boyish? I was shy and quiet and bookish and into horses, and also tough as nails and fighting male classmates during breaks quite frequently and into Pokemon and super heroes and not at all into anything pink or to do with clothes or celebrities (which seemed to be what my female peers cared about). Kind of all over the place, gender-wise.
          Then when I was ten or eleven I made a new friend (a rather gender nonconforming girl) who gave me some gentle pointers on how to change my clothes and appearance so I wouldn’t get bullied quite as much, and I did that and presented fairly gender conforming for the next eight years or so, at least enough to fly under the radar.
          So in sum, I don’t really have experience with being perceived as a boyish girl.

          Some of the people interviewed were harshly pushed into the feminine gender role as kids but also some of them were not—some of them even had their masculinity completely accepted by their parents.
          Ooh, interesting.

          The abuse they received from parents seems to have been the result of the parents’ own dysfunction rather than their kids’ characteristics. Those who were sexually abused by male family members certainly didn’t invite this abuse by their behavior. Their dads and brothers were just child abusers, and that is their own fault.
          Yes, of course – I did not mean to imply otherwise.
          I was more thinking along the lines of abusers perceiving gender nonconformity as an acceptable target/excuse, or boyish behavior as a vulnerability (for example, a girl who wants to appear tough – generally a boyish trait – might be less likely to tell on abusers or exhibit certain signs of abuse, and abusers could realize this and take advantage).
          Of course this doesn’t make the abuse their fault. Nothing ever would.

          I think where causation comes into it is that if someone is susceptible to developing gender dysphoria, growing up in an abusive environment makes them less resilient and less able to deal with being different
          That’s pretty much true for all mental illness.

          and more likely to want to conform to their desired gender in an attempt to find safety. Transitioning into a binary category rather than living as an oddity gives them at least some safety.
          It seems counter-intuitive that transitioning would seem as an easier and safer path than conforming to one’s assigned gender and adapting in other ways. Maybe this is just due to my own history of success in that area, though.

          So I think that people with dysphoria are more likely to want to complete a binary transition if they are people who have never had a sense of safety, and people who are comfortable and supported are less likely to need a complete binary transition.
          Not sure what you mean by complete binary transition.

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        • Oh gosh, another huge comment! I do agree with a lot of points you made here. Some of this is about the differences between sex and gender and that’s an ongoing thing I’m always trying to explain.

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