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We need support to be men

The author, big hairy scary man

This month there has been a lot of talk about support for alternatives to transition. In Slate, Michelle Goldberg wrote about a group of “gender-critical trans women,” including several who identify as transgender or transsexual. In a reaction to the shutdown of the CAMH clinic, Alice Dreger talked about people who were gender non-conforming children and didn’t transition, linking to a book called Blood and Visions, a post by Debra Soh and an interview with Sarah Hoffman. Maria Catt wrote about her experiences taking and dispensing testosterone to female-bodied people. Joel Nowak hoisted a great comment by Juniper asking, “Where are the examples of (so many) people who have lived long and well WITHOUT surgeries or hormones?” 4th Wave Now expanded on Juniper’s post, highlighting the value of alternatives to transition in reducing the incidence of trans suicides.

We do need to hear more from examples of people who have successfully coped with gender dsyphoria without transitioning. So, let’s take a look at who’s represented in these articles:

  • Women who don’t suffer from chronic gender dysphoria (Goldberg, Dreger, Hoffman and 4th Wave Now)
  • Women who have dealt with dysphoria without transitioning (Soh and Juniper)
  • People raised as girls who transitioned to living as men, then detransitioned (Catt and the authors of Blood and Visions)
  • People raised as boys who transitioned to living as women, but are critical of transgender dogma and identify as male (the women interviewed by Goldberg)
  • People raised as boys who transitioned to living as women, then detransitioned (Joel and the author of Third Way Trans)

These are all important stories, important voices. But there’s a population missing: men who have dealt with dysphoria without transitioning. If people like Joel and Juniper are virtually invisible, people like me are actually invisible.

And yet our stories are hugely important. Most of the people I’ve mentioned have complained about transgender dogma, particularly as articulated by transitioned trans women, and particularly about the demands made by transitioned trans women for unconditional access to women’s spaces. Many have complained about the behavior of individual transitioned trans women, online and in person.

It’s very nice for transitioned trans women to be accepted (by some) as feminists. It’s absolutely essential for detransitioned trans women to be heard. But if what we’re looking for are alternatives to transition, we need to make space for people raised male to talk about how we deal with gender dysphoria without transitioning. And people need to listen to us, not just talk at us.

I’ve been blogging about this stuff for years, and for some reason I’m not mentioned by Goldberg or Dreger or Catt or Joel. I had some conversations with detransitioned trans men on Tumblr a few years ago, and they got very angry. I tried talking to the gender-critical trans women on Tumblr, and they ignored me. I tried to talk to Joel about this on Twitter, but he cut me off. I simply posted about my gender-related feelings on my own blog, and gender-critical feminists mocked me on their blog.

I don’t think it’s me, but let’s assume that it is. Let’s assume that I somehow came off as a huge asshole. Why am I the only one blogging about this stuff? Why haven’t Goldberg or Dreger, who are journalists, gone and found some male-bodied people who have dealt with gender dysphoria without transitioning?

I have a simple theory about this. It’s one thing to deal with women, even gender non-conforming women and detransitioned trans men. Boys are pretty safe, especially “pink boys.” If you’re willing to be flexible, transitioned and even detransitioned trans women can be seen as womanly enough. They’ve had hair removal and lots of female socialization. But it’s another thing to deal with men. Big strong hairy muscular men with deep voices, talking about sports or gadgets or hunting, some of us in dresses.

Third Wave Trans has written one of the wisest things I’ve read about this: many people, including me, have been traumatized by men in their lives. I’ve largely gotten over my trauma, but lots of people have a hard time trusting men. Some have a hard time even being in the same room with men.

I get this. I’m not asking anyone to go beyond their comfort zone. If some people are unable to relate to men without being mistrustful or hostile – or at all – I’m not going to demand that they do.
But someone needs to talk to us. Someone needs to listen to us. Someone needs to help us to be out and proud. Someone needs to tell the young trans women out there that they can be happy without transitioning.

Joel accused me of demanding “politeness.” I am not. I am also not trying to impose patriarchy or mansplain or dominate any discussions. To paraphrase the immortal words of stimmyabby, I’m not demanding anyone treat me as an authority, only as a person. I think it’s reasonable to ask people not to use us as insults to mock transitioned trans women. If you’re going to make pronouncements about what we should and shouldn’t do, you could at least ask us if we think that would work.

I am not writing this to criticize people for what they’ve written in the past, only voicing a plea for what they will write in the future. The bottom line is that if we don’t want all the trans women thinking they have to transition, or commit suicide, we have to make it safe for trans women to be men.

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  1. Couldn’t agree with you more! When my husband first came out as trans, I found nothing on living with the dysphoria without transitioning until I found your blog. Then third way trans. We need more. My husband is finding his way with me beside him, but it has not been easy. Thank you for continuing to push this issue. I think it is so important!

  2. I really appreciate your perspectives on here. I just recently came to terms with understanding myself to be transgender and have struggled with what to do about it. I am still not inclined towards a full blown medical or social transition given that the dysphoria I’ve suffered from has been infrequent and mild. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find many perspectives out there about living with transgender thoughts and feelings, but not transitioning. Your blog was the first one that I came across that even talked about it.

    I suspect that most people who don’t medically transition, end up not really identifying as transgender or talking about it very much, even if they fit within the broad definition. I think more than likely, if they’re out publicly, they will identify themselves as cross-dressers or gender-fluid or something like that. I’ve found a lot of value in their perspectives too.

  3. I also appreciate your writing about us (those who are trans but have no plans or need to transition). As Brynn Tannehill spoke about a year ago, we are also real, valid, and deserving good people.

    I do feel that being trans without transition is about coping. We are caught in the middle. In our society it would be better to know that I need to transition than to be where I am. But I don’t want to whine.

    You write very well. I wonder if you’ve considered sending your thoughts in an article to Huff Post TG? I would hope that they would provide you with a sounding board. I’d love to hear from you there, too.

    @Ashley: learning about yourself and what it means to be TG is a long and winding road. May I suggest two websites that might help:
    – (the Forums area)

    Both feature excellent discussions that you help you.

    Best wishes to all for 2016,


  4. Thanks for the link, Emma, but I don’t think it’s an excellent article at all! I’m not shedding any tears over CAMH, but Tannehill links to the same shoddy studies claiming that transition is the only thing that works, and anyone dissatisfied with transition must not really have been trans to begin with. She is not seeking the truth or what’s best for the kids any more than Dreger is. They’re both more concerned about their own ideological battle.

  5. Dear Andrea,

    Oh, I’m very embarrassed, sorry. I was so pleased to think I was contributing something useful to you and your followers. I’m very opposed to the belief or position that one must transition to be “truly transgender.” I know what I am and I am fairly certain that I will never do so.

    I’m hopeful that Brynn doesn’t mean to support that position. I have appreciated her writing and speaking and never got that impression. Perhaps I’m incorrect?

    Thank you for your considerate use of the exclamation point. It’s all too easy to mis-interpret the written word especially as we discuss topics like these and goodness knows I’m quick to assume the worst. 🙂

    Best regards,


  6. At the risk of another gaff I’d like to add another thought. There was something about the title of your post that unsettled me. At first I agreed completely that we do need support to be men, especially because we are men who are also transgender, who do not intend or perhaps even want to transition. But maybe I’m am confusing the word “man” for gender instead of for sex?

    In this thread that I am participating in I just added a post that may add some clarity. On the one hand these labeling words are just labels that only gain value by becoming part of the common lexicon. But for us to gain the support and acceptance we deserve we need labels.

  7. i’m glad you all pointed me over to Third Way Trans. That’s been some of the most helpful reading material to get a very nuanced perspective on everything. I found the blog entries related to transgenderism pretty useful too. Reading through Reddit, and impressions I’ve gotten from social support groups, you quickly get the impression that the dysphoria is going to get so much worse and that if you don’t transition now you will need to in the future, which almost leads to an endless thinking cycle that becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.

    Transgenderism and transsexualism really strikes me as just a big knotted ball of sociological, psychological, and biological factors that need to be somewhat untangled to get an idea of an appropriate response to coping, dealing and treating dysphoria and related psychological issues such as anxiety and depression, which really requires a good therapist willing to delve into all of that rather than just taking the approach of solving the problem with pills and surgery (which seems to be a typical medical model). In the end for most people, a tailored piecemeal approach really is needed for each individual, which thankfully the WPATH guidelines now encourages frequently throughout the document.

    I suspect a lot of the push to the full blown transition approach is rooted in the very binary social roles society imposes on us based on sex, even though the reality is that men and women (and everyone in between ) have much more in common than differences, with a dimorphism that only is apparent comparing groups rather than individuals. I’m hoping with a groundswell of younger people opening up more social acceptance of non-conforming gender expression and gender identity, that we’ll find fewer transitioning that don’t really need to. Time will tell on that though.

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