Feminists, wake up – gender is not a feeling

Debate article published originally in Swedish newspaper 31/05/2018

I know this is controversial to assert, but let me explain where my perspective is coming from: for years I lived as trans.

I’m a so-called detransitioner. I grew up as a typical tomboy and later identified as trans. I got my diagnosis, HRT and a double mastectomy. It was a long and difficult process, and when I started to pass as a boy, I was as happy as I could be. But at last I realized that it did not make my situation better and I had to come to terms with my mistake. Today it’s been two years since I stopped taking hormones and now I see myself as nothing but a masculine woman.

I wish I could say this story is unique; then I would be just be a negligible dot in the statistics, nothing that needs to be taken into account. Or that I was one of those who were full of doubt, unsure of my identification, or suffering from other serious diagnoses. But I was not. The truth is that we, detransitioners, have become an entire community on the internet that is constantly growing, and to continue to ignore us is beginning to come off as ignorant and on the verge of unethical.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of empathy for those who identify under the trans umbrella and are struggling with acceptance and body dysphoria. What worries me, and should worry everyone, is the still rapid increase of young people looking for gender reassignment surgery today. In just six years there’s been a 2,000 percent increase, and still growing. These are young people, mainly girls, seeking a lifelong dependence on healthcare, with increased health risks that we do not yet know much about, and a mental health that statistically gives a 20 times higher risk of suicidality. It’s serious, and we need to figure out what gender really is and how our understanding of it affects us.

When I re-identified, I did not just wake up one day and suddenly feel like a woman. It was a slow process that took place in line with my own transition, where I slowly but surely realized that despite my bodily changes and strong identification, I did not feel like part of the group of men. I blended in with my masculine style–and my typically male-coded interests and my romantic interest towards women felt more accepted. But there was a decisive difference in behavior among us that became more and more apparent the more I expected to be a part of them. The core was that while I was raised to take up less space than boys and experienced sexism throughout my upbringing, like all other girls, the group of boys and men were socialized into a completely different role, which I did not understand was so strong and different until I was expected to be part of that group.

This made me feel isolated and lonely, and I began to take on a critical view of what gender really is. If it is not only expression and identification, then what? The answer that I and many other detransitioners eventually end up with is that gender is not a feeling. Gender is a hierarchy in society where men have systematic power over women, and because I am born with a body that can bear young, I am subjected to female socialization. Girls are not born with a love for makeup and pink, we become socialized into it. Some of us resist from an early age. But the question is: when has it ever been possible to identify out of oppression?

My only way to take back womanhood for myself and get rid of my body dysphoria was to stop basing my existence on gender identity and instead see gender as a position I have in society, something I cannot change with neither pronouns or hormones.

Perhaps someone thinks I’m exaggerating about gender being so oppressive and having so much power over us? Then I would like to remind you of #metoo this autumn. A growing porn industry and the strong pressure to conform to today’s beauty ideals also speak for themselves.

This was not a controversial view before, before today’s wave of liberal feminism. But today it has become a near-extinct perspective. Feminists with this view on sex and gender are hated, no-platformed and called transphobic. A young girl who likes skateboarding and dressing in men’s clothes and wants to take hormones to become a guy is seen as nothing we should question, only validate.

But I wonder how long we can have such a narrow-minded debate. Because the demands trans activists are making are not completely unproblematic. In order to validate self-identification, it means you have to gender neutralize everything, and that one should have the ability to chose one’s own status of inclusion. We should say “uterus-haver” instead of woman, and transgender women should be allowed to use the ladies room. It may seem like just a question of readjustment and acceptance. But what happens when we lose the language of an oppressed group in society? When we start talking about “non-men” and “woman” just becomes a word for gender expression. What happens when the accommodations built over decades to ensure women’s security cease to exist?

Identifying as trans is a very profound experience, and I want nothing but for those who defy gender norms to be accepted. But I wonder where this ultimately leads us when we stop seeing gender as a form of oppression based on biology. What happens to the women’s movement when we lose our terms and our spaces? And when sex is considered just a feeling or an expression, who, in the end, is allowed to be considered a man and a woman, except the most stereotypically masculine men and stereotypically feminine women?