We need support to not transition

I was disappointed to read in Helen Boyd’s blog that people have been attacking Christine Benvenuto for writing about the destruction of her marriage.

I was also very disappointed that Helen’s main solution was “People need to transition younger so that some of this can be prevented.”

That’s it? Transition younger?

I was glad that Helen posted (in comment number 3 on her post) a poignant anonymous reply from a closeted, non-transitioning trans person, that included a call for better counseling:

Treatment has at least gotten to the point that no one seems to believe that you can reroute our brains back to our genetically assigned sex. But the truth is, I simply don’t see anything in “treatment” that is helping us to find a path in the binary world that we don’t feel like we belong to. I love my wife and I love my family. There has to be some type of counseling to help the “responsible” TG family person and their families move to a place of less discomfort, less of the all or nothing options that seem are there for us today. Solid and consistent counseling to help us is desperately needed. It seems as though so few of us ever find peace with who we are, and to be pushed to choices that are also quite binary (closet or transitioned) seems ludicrous to me.

Sure, some people could avoid this particular class of tragedy by transitioning younger. But others, including people who missed their chance to transition younger, have chosen not to transition. They – we – can honor that choice, that commitment that we made to ourselves and our loved ones, and do what it takes to keep that commitment while still honoring, loving and respecting ourselves.

We can learn that transgender feelings are not static, but rather change with circumstances. We can learn about gender fog and the slippery slope, and how they affect our feelings and actions. We can structure our lives so that we enjoy them the way we chose to enjoy them, with the people that we love.

This is not repression. It’s not self-denial. It doesn’t mean being in the closet, hating yourself, living a lie. You can be out, trans and proud without transitioning. You can be true to your self. You can have the authentic life that the Transgender Law Center promises us.

And just like gay marriage doesn’t “destroy” heterosexual marriage, choosing to live as an out trans person without transitioning will not destroy other people’s transitions.

Is it disappointing? Of course. Is it frustrating? You bet. But it’s not depressing, and it’s not a life full of fear and despair. Show me the transgender life that doesn’t have its frustrations and disappointments. Show me the human life that doesn’t.

People can do this. It’s not for everyone. But for a lot of trans people it’s the best option. And the anonymous commenter is right that we need expert counseling. I’m not talking about reparative therapy or any of that self-denial shit. We need people who can help us navigate a path between repression and family disintegration, to avoid the slippery slope and identity fatigue, and to cope with gender fog. We need this to be included in the menu of “transgender health” options offered by clinics and covered by insurance.

Before we can do this, though, we need one very important thing. We need to smash transgender essentialism. We need to get rid of the idea that every transgender person has to transition. Transition helps a lot of people, but it’s not the only choice, and it’s not the best choice for some of us.

If you agree, please comment, link and reblog this, and post your own thoughts. And then, every time you see something that implies or assumes that all transgender people transition, please question it. Nothing will change if we perpetuate that fiction. If you do, email me at andrea@grieve-smith.com, and I’ll have your back.

Transgender Verbal Hygiene: Feelings or Actions?

I first posted this on May 6, 2006, and I’m surprised I haven’t reposted it here. Thanks to various people from the My Husband Betty Message Boards for helpful feedback.


In linguistics, there are many who frown on the idea of conscious control of language use, individual or collective, such as in the book published in 1950 called Leave Your Language Alone. People who try to control language are sometimes called prescriptivists, a term that conjures up images of stuffy grammarians writing pedantic articles about punctuation. However, in her 1995 book Verbal Hygiene, Deborah Cameron argued that there are all kinds of reasons to advocate or attempt language change, and some are good (eliminating sexist generic statements like “A good doctor talks to his patients”) and some are bad (using natural variations as shibboleths to discriminate against people from stigmatized ethnic groups). Cameron’s point is that the important thing is to be aware of the reasons and to subject them to an open decision-making process.

With that in mind, I have some things to say about the use of the word transgender. I am not doing this to discriminate or belittle people, or out of blind deference to tradition. I’m also not out to demonize anyone or blame anyone else for these problems. I have specific reasons for arguing against a current change in usage, and for a specific way of thinking about the term. I also want people to be aware of the effects of the language that they use, and the consequences of their choices. I’m going to be drawing on the field of lexical semantics, which itself draws on psychology, artificial intelligence, computer science and philosophy. Continue reading “Transgender Verbal Hygiene: Feelings or Actions?”

Why regret matters

I was hoping not to have to write this post, but recently I’ve noticed a tendency for some transpeople to dismiss stories of transgender regret. I’ve seen a couple of blog posts that attribute regret concerns primarily to “people who think transition is bad,” and criticize regretters who claim they were deceived. I don’t think there’s any malice intended, but it’s not a good thing.

A lot of transgender politics is based on the idea that MTF transpeople are women, and FTM transpeople are men, and thus that anything that interferes with transition is thwarting their destinies, and amounts to a crime against nature. Figuring out which gender-variant people are “really trans” and thus deserving of this categorizational boost is tricky, and the subject of endless flamewars, but what seems to matter most are action and intention: if you live full-time or have concrete plans to do so in the near future, a lot of transpeople will admit you to the club.

(As an aside, I have a fairly fluid, Roschian definition of “man” and “woman” that seems to please nobody but me: I believe that everyone is a woman in some ways and a man in others, and everyone’s balance varies. It’s not even the same for a single person from day to day. I just want to go on record that I am not interested in denying anyone’s claim to be either a man or a woman. What bothers some transpeople is that I’m also not interested in helping them to repudiate their categorization in the other gender.)

What causes a bit of a problem for the transgender worldview is that there are people who were once considered “really trans,” went all or partway through transition and became dissatisfied and regretted transitioning. There is a range of actions in response to this regret, just as there is a wide range of actions in response to transgender feelings. If they can manage and/or afford it, some will have surgery to undo or reconstruct as many of the body modifications they’ve done. Others will quietly share their feelings with their loved ones. Most people seem to be somewhere in the middle. No one knows how many cases of regret there are (Principle One), but I personally know of at least five, and there have been others documented by David Batty of the Guardian. Five people have recently come forward to accuse English gender psychiatrist Russell Reid of encouraging them to transition and have body modifications that they later regretted. (For balance, you can read testimonials from some of Dr. Reid’s satisfied patients.) Continue reading “Why regret matters”