I want to write this like a story, but it’s not. I lived it, I’m still living it. It was a choice I made and, now, I’m here.
I came out (for the first time) as a lesbian in 2012. I was 22 and had already had a lot of reckless adventures. I had previously dated mostly men, but never felt right about it. Growing up, I experienced a lot of homophobia from my father and the church we were in. I repressed my sexual orientation for a long time, smothering the flame of my true nature in order to keep to the standards I was raised with. But, slowly, the cage I had built up slowly began to crumble. I tip-toed out of the closet and nervously started dating women exclusively. It never occurred to me that I’d still have to navigate males in my dating pool, until I met a young transwoman. Her profile said nothing about being trans, so I was more than surprised on our first date. In fact, I felt a bit deceived. It seemed like anyone other than women shouldn’t expect to be dating lesbians.
I asked her a lot of questions, some of which were definitely inappropriate, but I thought it went well aside from the fact that I didn’t feel attracted to her. The only exposure I’d had to the T part of LGBT was through the ever-glamorous Maury and Jerry Springer. I’d never met anyone like that in person. I quickly began to feel pressured by her to have sex. She insinuated that I couldn’t be a lesbian if I wasn’t attracted to transwomen and went as far as to tell me she’d self-harm if I didn’t sleep with her. I didn’t pick up on it at the time, but all the tell-tale signs of abusive behavior were there. Regardless, I wanted to be an empathic person, capable of understanding the journey of others. I dug deep by watching YouTube videos and getting into Reddit discussions. I started becoming interested in the stories of female-to-male transsexuals and reached out personally to some of them. The more I talked with them personally, the more I felt I could relate to them. In these personal exchanges, they revealed so much of what I found in my own story- young women from abusive homes, girls with eating disorders, women who walked throughout the world, looking to shrug the spotlight off for just a moment of peace and quiet.
Since I was four, I can’t remember a time I wasn’t sexualized by an older man. First, I was molested by my father. He often made comments about how I was going to grow up to be a prostitute or how I deserved to be raped. I got a lot of these comments from other adult men in my life, too, from such a young age. I was raped for the first time when I was fourteen, and then raped by three other men at separate times. That shit sticks to you.
I’d do anything for a family that didn’t shuck me like corn. My parents raised me in their own brand of Christianity with very rigid gender roles. I was homeschooled until the age of twelve, with very limited interactions with the world. All I knew was that I wasn’t like the girl my parents wanted me to be. By the time I was seventeen, my father found out I was dating a girl and kicked me out. For a long time, I felt homeless. It’s no wonder I was so easily lured in by the “chosen family” of the transgender community.
Many transgender people find their place in the community through social media, particularly Tumblr. While I had individual communications through Reddit and emails, I didn’t get very involved in other modes of social media. Instead, I relied a lot on psychological and medical journals. For me, statistics and scientifically-framed information has always gone further to change my mind than personal stories. I fell into the belief that the brain is heavily influenced by sex, and that transsexuals have a diagnosable different-sexed brain pattern.
I started testosterone three months after the first time I’d heard anything about transgender identity. I saw a therapist for a month before I was approved for a prescription. At the time, a person was supposed to live in the role of the desired sex for 6 months before receiving the letter that allocated approval of hormones for a consenting adult. My therapist, after a few sessions, decided we could lie about that. Any practitioner who is willing to lie about your health, saying it’s for your own benefit, is either misguided or blinded by another motivation. My therapist was connected to a primary care physician who was known to prescribe hormone therapy with a very quick turnaround. My first visit, I was so nervous. I wanted to make sure I knew all the right things to say. The goal was to get the testosterone and I was willing to fudge a bit in order to get what I was so convinced I needed.
After starting cross-sex hormones, the changes came on fast. My voice dropped within weeks. It was crackling and unfinished. I started growing facial hair shortly after. My body fat changed from hourglass to pole, no thanks to the eating disorder that continued to aggravate my mind. My body started to change so quickly, I got whiplash. My mental health, which was pretty bad to start with, started to get worse. I had thought I’d get better. I thought I would begin to think clearly, be happy in my own body. I even thought I’d be more comfortable with men, as though I would be more comfortable with men if I could garner more respect as a gay man than as a woman. But everything started to get worse. I couldn’t recognize myself, on top of feeling like my skin was on fire and the piercing sting of the groping eyes of men hadn’t gone away. Learning that being female means oppression is innate, that is a hard lesson.
Year after year, I kept up my expectations that things would get better. And, year after year, the anxiety and depression of starting something that would never be finished took hold. But, really, I could never escape the prison of an oppressed body. I couldn’t escape the violence and abuse I’d experienced, and the world didn’t see the new me as anything different. I got to bathe in the light of trans oppression, which I never really faced. The most I got was being intentionally misgendered and, boo-hoo, that didn’t really change my life for the worse. Sticks and stones, right?
After years of hoping and waiting and nothing inside myself changing, I started to feel like something was wrong. The doctor never told me about health problems like increased risk of heart disease, stroke, or osteoporosis. Nevertheless, I believed my doctor when she told me that the worst to come was balding and body hair. Presently, there’s still not much information about the effects of taking cross-sex hormones and long-term health. Eventually, the health issues popped up like fucking daisies. I hurt all over, I was tired all the time, I got jaundice and urinated blood. I had a series of three trans ischemic attacks (otherwise called “mini strokes”), kidney infections, and liver failure. This was the first indicator to me that something was truly wrong. I was twenty-five, on a healthy diet and no other medications. After a consultation with my doctor, she proved unhelpful beyond telling me I should drink more water. I decided to lessen my testosterone dosage, though my doctor wouldn’t offer me an endocrinologist referral. I noticed a significant difference in my health, so I decided to stop hormones altogether. In 2019, the American Heart Association confirmed in an article that individuals on cross-sex hormones are at a higher risk of cardiovascular problems. Although there is still so much unknown regarding the health of females who take testosterone, I have no doubt in my mind that it negatively impacted my long-term health. The only prescription I was on- a high dose of depo testosterone. So, I decided to slow it down and eventually quit. I had no guidance from my therapist, who thought it was a bad idea. Or, from my primary care doctor, who refused my request for an endocrinologist and was not about to give me a detransition action plan. I had to figure it out on my own. So, I once again turned to research.
I read stories on women whose names I won’t mention here for their own privacy, but they spoke words that I understood. These women had come into trans identity much like myself, with histories of pain, looking for family and truth. But they made a point that should have been obvious from the start- changing your body doesn’t change the damage you hold. I was scared that I was falling into the same trap of finding empathetic souls who understood me in a field of shallow lies. Still, I caught whatever bug they had and started to feel more secure as a woman. And, I became angry. Angry that I had been told that I needed to fix my body in order to be happy and treated right, not told that I was deserving of human kindness and that my body was my own to lay the boundaries for. I decided to detransition altogether. The feeling of being out of control of my body didn’t just go away, with either my trans identity or with my initial detransition. I had to wrangle that horse on my own, and I’m still working with it.
I get asked so often “If you knew _____, would you do it again?” The answer is, yes. I would do it again. Because I would not know what my body or my mind or my spirit of endurance could handle if it hadn’t been for transitioning. It broke down my last resources to run away from the cruelty of how I’ve been treated for being female. It wore down the walls I built around my sexual orientation. It left me raw and without any other fast fixes, or insta-cures. I had to deal with my shit on my own. And that’s all I can say. Get therapy. Face what’s been done to you. It’s awful and it deserves the respect of being awful. You get to mourn. But you also get to be free.
Rachel is a 30-year-old woman living in the Pacific Northwest. She identified as transgender for 5 years and has been detransitioned for 3 years. Rachel works as a preschool teacher and enjoys film, videogames, and spending time with her pets, a parrot named Ziggy and a dog named Sputnik.
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