Dagny on social media, gender dysphoria, ‘trans youth,’ and detransitioning

Dagny speaks at the Croatian Cultural Centre in Vancouver at #GIDYVR: Gender Identity and Kids, May 9, 2019

This is an edited transcript of a talk given by Dagny on May 9, 2019, at the Croatian Cultural Centre in Vancouver, B.C. The audio from the full event, #GIDYVR: Gender Identity and Kids, can be found on YouTube.

My name is Dagny, I’m a detransitioner. I’m here to demonstrate what can happen when we allow a teenager to make major medical decisions that will affect her body for the rest of her life. I’m also here as one-fourth of the Pique Resilience Project, a coalition of four detransitioned young women — Jesse, Helena, Chiara, and myself. We all identified as transmen in our mid to late teens, and by 19 or 20 we had all desisted, detransitioned, and returned to being women. Three of us took testosterone for at least nine months, and I actually started testosterone six months before I turned 18, after my therapist diagnosed me with gender dysphoria at 16. The Pique Resilience Project was founded in January after we all came together to share our stories, our similarities, and our differences. We discussed what we could do to share our stories with everyone — with the people that need to hear them.

As we’re all aware, this is an extremely heated debate, and I’m going to say some things that a lot of people are going to disagree with. But ultimately, everything I’m going to say comes from my own personal experience and from what I believe as a result of that experience — an experience that too many people are unwilling to take seriously. We, the Pique Resilience Project, have been called liars, attention-seekers, right-wingers, and bigots.

We’ve unfortunately been profiled numerous times on far-right Christian journals, and not once, to date, on mainstream, leftist news media, which I find interesting, given the amount of coverage trans issues have received these last five years. I think that this indicates a fear of straying from the path — a fear of saying something, even if true, that goes against the grain. We’ve been absolutely inundated with one narrative, one option, one story, since this issue hit the mainstream. We’ve been given only one option, at the risk of unspeakable, devastating consequences: if a teen says she has gender dysphoria and wants to be a boy, then she should — must — be allowed to transition. That’s the story we’ve been sold, and it’s the only story we’ve been sold. And detransitioners are an inconvenient contradiction to this story.

I’d like to discuss my experience being a trans teen. I did have early instances of what would now be called gender dysphoria in my childhood. At 11 or 12 I felt incredibly humiliated by the fact that my breasts were growing, and that I would have to start wearing bras. My period was a source of angst and hatred from the moment I first started menstruating. I’d heard that these things were supposed to be exciting for young girls, but they just made me angry and afraid. I thought there was something wrong with me for feeling that way. And maybe most predictive, I had a Yahoo answers account, and when I was in grade seven, I made a post with a title that was something like, “I’m a 12-year-old girl but I want to be a boy.” I remember that the answers were mostly dismissive, but there were a few that instructed me, a 12-year-old, to look into transsexual surgeries. But I didn’t like any of the answers; I wanted there to be a boy-button — something I could click that would just make me male. My family wasn’t religious at all, but I remember being that age and lying in my bed at night, and telling God in my head that I would start going to church if I woke up a boy.

My dysphoria exploded when I turned 15. This was when I started to actually identify as trans. Like so many other trans teenagers, I first started courting my own trans identity because of of two factors in my life: One, I had trans friends — two of them, both older than me, both female-to-male (FTM), like me, and two, I had a sharp increase in my social media use. I was never very active on social media before I turned 15, but within months of creating an account on tumblr and following several LGBTQ resource blogs, I had decided that I was non-binary.

This identity felt like a game to me. It was a fun distraction — a quirk that made me special and interesting, if not to others, then at least to myself. But then that wasn’t enough, and I wondered, “Should I take this further? How far can I take it?” Then I graduated to fully identifying as a transman and I threw myself headlong into the traditional process of being trans: new name, new pronouns, new clothes, new binder. I started to get very, very serious about starting hormones. And it stopped being a game.

The first place I tried on this new identity — a transman — was online. And I just want to say that I think that it’s incredibly important for everyone — parents, yes, but also teenagers and therapists and lawmakers — to understand what kind of impact social media can have on a developing mind. I, in essence, became a different person after I started using tumblr. It’s an unhealthy, upsetting, and toxic environment to even observe, let alone participate in, as a teenager. Unfortunately it’s also way too broad of a topic for me to fully cover right now, so I’d recommend reading Helena’s exposé on tumblr’s culture. Part one is available to read on our website, and there are two more parts to come. It is vital reading if we’re going to begin to understand how so many teenagers feel and how they regard the world after using social media.

My online experience, having been affected by that level of group think, that level of moral policing, and the constant implicit threats of social exposure and ostracization made me an intensely internal and anxious person. It made me paranoid about the motives of people around me — I saw my parents as bigots because tumblr told me to; because they held out for so long to prevent me from starting hormones. Anyone that slipped up and misgendered me was, according to tumblr, an enemy. One incident — one “she” — had the ability to make me absolutely hate someone. Tumblr’s version of morality and justice made me — an impressionable, insecure teenager — feel like my only safe place was in my head, where I would never be misgendered. I didn’t feel safe online either, but I couldn’t allow myself to critique my online peers. Even though I had learned all these unhealthy beliefs and behaviors from them, they had also taught me that they held the moral high ground. So I adopted and parroted tumblr’s ideals, and my identity was unconditionally validated.

One of these unhealthy beliefs I held was the belief that if you have gender dysphoria, you must transition. And anyone that appeared to stand in my way was a transphobe — an alt-right bigot. If I, myself, questioned my actions, I was suffering from internalized transphobia. No matter how much genuine concern others may have had for me — by now, a miserable 16-year-old — they were committing an unforgivable act if they just asked me, “Why”? Why do I want to be a boy? Why do I want to change my body?”

My answer was invariably, “Because I have gender dysphoria and I have to.”

And that’s the context we’re living in now, the only one that we know. Until now, with so many detransitioners coming out, the only narrative we’ve really heard has been the same, over and over and over: I had gender dysphoria, and so I transitioned. I had gender dysphoria, and so I transitioned. That’s the context we’ve been living in for about five years now. But we have to move past that. It’s been three years since I detransitioned, and I still have gender dysphoria. It’s rare for me to make it through a single day without thinking, at least once, “I wish I was a man.”

But it’s so minimal compared to what I felt at 16. And now, I have no intention of transitioning. It was ultimately a mistake for me to transition in the first place. I thought, at the time, that I had no other choice. Living and being content without medically transitioning didn’t feel like an option for me, or for so many other detransitioners.

It’s time to change that. It’s time that we become aware of how much pain and negativity this narrative is causing. The fact that I thought I had only one option was an incredible source of misery, desperation, terror, and obsession for me. I was already an unhappy teenager; I didn’t need the added pressure of a life choice I felt had to be made and carried out immediately. And this — my experience — was back in 2013. A long time before now, when we’re transitioning eight-year-olds in California, and giving thirteen-year-olds mastectomies. I can only imagine the pressure that kids feel now… That parents feel… It’s time we stop telling kids that every single one of them that experiences gender dysphoria as a 15-year-old will still be experiencing that same level of gender dysphoria at 21. At 20, or 19. That’s what I was told — by activists, and peers, and medical professionals. When I went to my endocrinologist for the first time, my dad asked him, “If my child goes off testosterone, what changes will be permanent?” And the endo essentially cut him off and said, “Oh. No one ever goes off testosterone.”

There’s this belief that telling teenagers that their dysphoria may pass is wrong — ethically and factually — and I just want to know why? What’s so wrong with telling a teenager, “One day you will feel better.” There’s nothing wrong with that. I think that if the activism that pushed for teenagers’ ability to medically transition truly cared about kids affected by gender dysphoria, they would allow for a discussion that doesn’t manipulate teenagers — that didn’t make impressionable, insecure, unhappy kids feel like they have to transition now, or else.

So we need to change the narrative. That’s my intent. And that’s a larger intent of the Pique Resilience Project: to diversify the narrative. We only have one mainstream story, and we need more. And slowly, we’re getting more. The detransition narrative is growing. It’s getting bigger — more people are hearing detransitioners’ stories every day. And, by extension, we’re starting to see the first glimpses of a third narrative. The PRP has received at least two messages from parents telling us that after watching videos about detransitioning, their teenagers decided that they have Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria and that they would not transition. They realized that pursuing different options was a better solution for them and their experience.

One fix is not going to solve everyone’s individual problems. Medically transitioning is not going to help every teenager feel better. In my view, the proclivity to provide teenagers with hormone replacement therapy and instant affirmation ignores the larger problems. Why did I want to change my body? Why did I hate being a girl? Why was being a man so much more favourable?

Ultimately, the opportunity to transition made my teenage dysphoria worse. This narrative told me that my hatred for my female body was justified — positive, even. It told me that the only way to feel better was to destroy my body — my female parts. My role models were all older transmen who had, like me, been lonely, angry, weird girls. Hearing and identifying with their stories taught me only that holistic self-acceptance was a sham and that real authenticity could only come from synthetic hormones and surgeries. There was no room for me to love myself if my identity depended on self-hatred.

We need to start treating teenagers with patience and compassion and maturity. We need to stop telling them that their suffering will last until they buy a new body. More than anything, we need to stop telling them that they have only one choice, and only one chance.

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