Community, Responses

Ad feminam: four examples of awful reactions to detransitioners at the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference

Here is something that may come as a shock to some of you:

Detransitioners can read the things you write about us.

In the aftermath of the cancellation of two detransition-related panels at this year’s Philadelphia Trans Health Conference, I am becoming less and less certain that people on the internet are aware that we’re literate. Or maybe it’s not that they think we’re illiterate. Maybe it’s just that they fail to realize that we’re real people.

The Philadelphia Trans Health Conference–or Philly, as it’s often called–is now over. Over its three days, detransitioners’ stories remained unvoiced, and online critics of the planned and subsequently canceled presentations remained vocal. And they have vocalized some profoundly upsetting things. The majority of that commentary exists in comments in Philly and WPATH-related Facebook groups, so it’s not widely accessible. But its comparative obscurity does not make it okay.

I’m not going to explain why canceling the panels was inappropriate–I may go into that in more depth later, but other detransitioners have covered it well already. I also won’t link to the comments I’m talking about or post screenshots from these closed Facebook groups, since I believe it would be rude to do so–though again, I may reevaluate that decision later. Instead, I’m just going to list and then describe the four specific comments I found most offensive.

This kind of rhetoric is unacceptable. It needs to stop.

 

 

1. Detransitioners are mostly female because they’re just trans men who have been gaslit by TERFs into stopping transition.

The most common argument against listening to detransitioned voices is, absolutely, the TERF mouthpiece argument, and unsurprisingly, this argument drove much of the Philly vitriol. Yet at least one comment in that vein was more personal–and more misogynist–than any other expression of the TERF mouthpiece argument I’ve seen before.

A user in a WPATH-related group proposed that the majority of detransitioners are female because we have all been “gaslit” by TERFs into abandoning our trans lives. This is patronizing, inaccurate, and personally painful.

For those who are unaware, that that’s not at all what gaslighting means, and I’m disappointed at that kind of misuse of precision language in a professional group.

Also, this argument is simply untrue, because not only are there many detransitioners who aren’t women, but also even among female detransitioners, politics and motivations vary widely. And none of those politics or motivations come from external actors. Many detransitioned women wind up with changed politics after they detransition, but  we don’t detransition because someone told us to. Many of us don’t even tell anyone we’ve decided to detransition until after we’ve made that decision. While I was deciding to detransition, the only person I talked to about it was my mom. And no–my mom is not a TERF. And she has never altered the light level of my living space to make me believe I was going crazy, or done whatever your misdefinition of “gaslight” is.

Detransitioners–especially detransitioned women–are some of the most introspective, well-reasoned people I’ve ever met. This argument devalues the work we have done in processing the trauma and dysphoria and struggle that led us into transition, and it erases the arduous journey back out. Detransition is a deeply intentional process. It’s callous to pretend we haven’t done this work on our own.

It’s similarly callous to project a false experience of gaslighting onto a group of women who have almost universally been previously physically and emotionally abused. Almost all detransitioned women have experienced some sort of abuse, whether by an intimate partner, a family member, or a social group, and the trauma of those experiences is often directly related to our dysphoria. It’s painful for the reality of our trauma to be ignored while a false trauma is invented for us.

Also, it’s simply dismissive and misogynist. We’re (almost all) adults with our own words and opinions. There’s no need to be patronizing.

 

2. Detransitioners who didn’t have surgery don’t count; they’re only pretending to have been trans.

That same user moved on shortly after the “gaslighting” comment to questioning the veracity of one of the presenters’ transitions. They posted a link to a blog post by a well-known “gender critical” blogger whose gender criticism seems to focus more on shit talking trans men than it does on any sort of coherent activism. The post cites years old statements where the presenter expresses having feelings about the US Women’s National Soccer Team’s victory and where she mentions sleeping with men. It then claims that, in combination with the fact that the presenter was “only” on testosterone for nine months, this means she never really transitioned at all.

Full disclosure: the presenter in question, whose transition wasn’t real enough for the internet, is a good friend of mine. I know her well enough (and in person, unlike these malicious speculators) to tell you that her transition did indeed happen, and that it has had a lasting effect on her life.

And she had to read that series of comments in a professional group in which she retains membership for the sake of her career.

The absurdity of this argument should be obvious on its face. It’s remarkably hypocritical to use such a “your transition is invalid” argument in the context of a movement for trans rights that emphasizes an approach where there is no wrong transition; where any trans person is trans in exactly the way that they say they are. Apparently, though, that stops being true when a trans person later decides she will detransition. Then, her transition was so wrong that it wasn’t a transition in the first place.

I’m particularly angry about the irony of this argument assuming that nine months of high-dose testosterone is irrelevant and ineffective, given that one of the major reasons these presenters were planning to attend Philly was to advocate for more research on the long term effects of discontinued hormone therapy. We simply don’t know what effect nine months of testosterone has on a woman. But perhaps if these presentations had gone ahead, we could have taken one step further toward finding out.

 

3. Detransitioners are in league with Jewish TERFs who control the media.

Later in the same thread, a different user posted two comments in quick succession. One comment suggested that the detransitioned presenters were “some of Ben Shalom’s little bunch” (presumably in reference to visibly Jewish self-identified “penis-exclusionary radical feminist” Miriam Ben-Shalom). The next stated that the user thought it was suspicious how detransitioners’ stories were all over “the media” just when so many trans rights laws are in question across the United States.

The juxtaposition of these two comments demonstrates an implicit anti-Semitism that underlies several attacks on detransitioners I have seen in the past, yet never so clearly as this. This rhetoric very clearly recalls the common anti-Semitic talking point wherein a cabal of Jews controls the media, manipulating public narratives for whatever nefarious purposes white supremacists want to pin on them that day.

This is an assertion that has caused actual, measurable harm to a marginalized group of people. It blows my mind that someone who is presumably interested in social justice would think it’s appropriate to express such a stance. I should not have to explain why this is gross–especially now, when anti-Semitism is on the sharp, sharp rise.

 

4. Detransitioners are just like white supremacists if you replace the word “TERF” with “white supremacist.”

Though this comment was by a different user, it is absolutely directly related to the previous one on an intellectual level in that it is a fundamentally anti-Semitic argument to make.

This user analogized the supposed relationship between the detransitioned panelists and radical feminism to the relationship between public figures like Richard Spencer and white supremacy, equating allowing detransitioners to speak at a trans health conference to inviting Spencer to speak at an Anti-Defamation League event. There are many issues here.

Many detransitioners are not white. Many detransitioners are Jewish. Many detransitioners are gay or lesbian. Almost all detransitioners belong to categories white supremacists (and fascists more broadly) would like to see wiped out. It is outrageously offensive to equate a group of people under threat of a hate group to that hate group. I believe this is a conversation we’ve been having widely in response to white supremacist violence against protesters. The same is true here.

It’s also exceptionally dismissive toward women who have been working very hard to eschew ideological frameworks and politics in the way they discuss their personal narratives. As detransitioners, we know radical feminists would like to use our stories to gain political capital. We also know that trans activists would like to spin them in a different direction and do the same thing. Most of the work of speaking publicly about detransition from a personal perspective is in preventing the political use of our stories for others’ agendas. We’re not interested in being politically useful for anyone, TERF or otherwise. We’re interested in addressing specific experiences that happened specifically to us, and in figuring out how to prevent the pain of those experiences from affecting anyone else. Calling us TERFs (and, by implication, white supremacists) ignores the tremendous amount of work we do to avoid political affiliation with any ideology.

And regardless of detransitioners’ interaction (or lack thereof) with radical feminists, it does not justify comparing us to Nazis.

Radical feminists are not morally equivalent to Nazis. You may hate those who subscribe to gender critical ideology as much as you like. You may find their sex-based analysis and dismissal of transgender identities odious and horrifying, and you may talk about that at length with as much rage as you want to muster. But here is a key difference: radical feminists, even those who believe trans women are not women, do not want to systematically murder all trans people, as Nazis do Jews, people of color, and so on. Radical feminists do not have or want the power to drive physical violence against trans people solely by claiming that trans women aren’t women. Radical feminists are not a material threat to anyone’s life. This is a substantial difference, and ignoring it minimizes the threat of genocidal Nazism.

 

 

I saw many more awful comments in discussions of the events leading up to the conference, but I’ll leave you with these few examples. I think you get the idea.

It’s obvious, in my opinion, that the detransition panels should not have been cancelled. The detransitioners who planned to present them are well-spoken, thoughtful mental health care professionals with an admirable agenda: they wanted to share their stories and to elaborate on how those stories can influence the collective work towards better outcomes for all dysphoric people, regardless of whether those dysphoric people want to or are able to transition. This is not a hateful position to take.

The presenters are people who want to build something that can help. They’re not here to tear anyone down. And the way other professionals in the field–other adults, other human beings–have spoken about them is reprehensible. It’s dehumanizing and offensive, especially considering that all these comments took place in a venue where the presenters in question are community members, and thus where they’ll obviously encounter them.

Remember, please, that detransitioners can see what you write on the internet. We can read. And we are absolutely real people with real emotions.

 

 

 

 

 

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