From the ashes: Butch lesbian & her family rebuild life after transition
Carol F. is a 39-year old woman (adult human female) from a conservative area in California. She was raised in a religious environment. From ages 35 to 38, she identified as a transgender male and lived her life being perceived as such. The disconnect between her lived experience as female and how she was treated while being seen as male caused her to begin to question the trans narrative. A few months ago, Carol began to detransition, after being on testosterone for almost 4 years and undergoing a bilateral mastectomy.
Carol has spent her time since starting detransition being vocal about how the push for transition harms women and girls, particularly those who do not perform femininity in the “traditional” way. In this essay, she talks about her own transition-detransition process, as well as the often negative impact of the transgender movement on the lesbian community, spouses, and family members.
Carol can be found on Twitter @SourPatches2077
by Carol F.
My decision to detransition began when I started taking antidepressants for depression and anxiety. A month into treatment I felt like my whole world had come alive. I could feel true joy for the first time in years and I could take pleasure in everyday things. I had struggled with being very angry and agitated and often had enraged outbursts over nothing, but it had begun to be less overwhelming and I found I could manage and control my emotions.
I suddenly–and with some horror–realized that I had never needed to transition. My life didn’t feel overwhelming anymore. I could feel my emotions more clearly and sort through what had seemed before to be a complete disaster of thoughts and feelings. I started to question my motives, my perceptions, and my feelings, not only around transition but around all the life decisions I had made. I began asking myself what it would be like to live as a woman again, but I had gone so far with transitioning. How could I admit just a month into taking anti-depressants that I was wrong, how could I turn back? No, I told myself, it couldn’t have been that simple.
We are told that being transgender is this deep-rooted thing, that it is part of our being, our core. It’s who we are, it’s our truth or truest self. I believed this when I started transition, how could this have been so flawed? How could my feelings have been so wrong? I kept these thoughts and feelings to myself and decided I would just continue living as a man, that it was too late to change this, I made my bed now I will lie in it.
I continued living my life as I had. I graduated college that spring and began working in the mental health field. I got a job working at a youth psychiatric hospital. This is when the second realization happened that made me question further being trans and trans ideology. At this hospital I saw so many young gender nonconforming girls come in claiming they were trans men. They wanted to go by male pronouns and male names. They were 13 years old, they were 15, they were 17. They all looked like little butch lesbians to me, and I felt a pang of shame and sadness. I saw myself in them. I saw their pain and fear and the abuse some had experienced. I saw the mental health issues they struggled with and how these issues left them longing for escape. They harmed themselves, they tried to end their lives, and they hurt. I wanted to reach out to them; I wanted to tell them it’s ok to be a lesbian woman. I wanted to show them a strong functioning butch woman. But how could I, when all they could see when they looked at me was a bearded man? How could I tell them what I couldn’t tell myself?
It was at this facility that I also began to work closely with men, something I had never really done before in my life. I had steered clear of being close to men in any way, although I had not realized I had done this; it was all unconscious at the time. Being considered “one of the guys” and having to play that role as much as I could left me with a deep sadness and longing for connection with women again. I knew I didn’t fit in. I hadn’t had a boyhood or been socialized as a male. I had had abuse and discrimination thrown at me just for being born a female, something they could never understand. Socialization makes up much of who we are, dictating the kind of path we are set on at birth. It has expectations and demands; it molds us and forms us in ways we are rarely aware of until you cross over to the other side in a kind of covert way. I often felt like an interloper in the male world–an alien observing private behavior and culture rarely seen by the outside world. This experience of being an intruder or imposter in the male world more than anything informed me that, yes, I was in fact a woman. There was no changing that. In a strange way this experience let me see how much of a woman I am. I had always labored under the impression that I was more male then female because of my mannerisms, likes, and way of dress. However, being on the other side with men solidified the truth that I was female and a woman through and through. My mannerisms, the way I dressed, and all the rest were just window dressing. It didn’t make me woman or a man, it was just me.
Then there were the London lesbians. There was the protest at London Pride where a handful of radical feminist lesbians stepped in front of thousands and made their voices heard. I had been following a well-known transman on social media and he had posted a story from Pink News. The headline went something like “transphobic lesbians storm the parade” or some kind of nonsense like that. I read the story but was a little annoyed because it didn’t say what they were protesting. Just that they were transphobic. I posted on social media asking others why the women had been protesting and what their message was. The response I got was basically “who knows, they are just transphobic and being hateful.” Well, I thought, maybe so but it’s always better to know the full story before making a decision to write people off. I began my internet search, and wouldn’t you know it, that led me to radical feminism. And that was the hammer that broke my illusion right open. The next several months was me and radical feminism and I heard the phrase I wish I had heard years ago, “The only thing that makes you a woman is that you are female.” A simple, to the point, and really quite obvious observation. How could I have thought otherwise? I agreed with it, but had still not taken the final step to detransition. But the push to do so began to be ever-present and its whispers grew louder every day.
My stubbornness is both a hindrance to me and my great strength. Sometimes it takes getting to the tender and protected parts of me to push me into a kind of submission, letting go of the thing I have been gripping so tightly for so long. It was the lesbian stand-up comic Hannah Gadsby who broke that grip. I saw her Netflix special, Nannette, and it hit parts of me I didn’t know were there. Her raw anger slapped me right in the face and told me something I hadn’t wanted to ever admit: Being a butch lesbian woman was fucking hard, it could be sad, it could be vicious, and it could break a woman.
When you walk through the world as a living example of everything that the world tells you is ugly and disgusting it can break you. And it had broken me. I knew, as I sat there in my room sobbing, that I had some real truths to face about myself. About my motivations for transition and the deep pain I carried with me. My internalized homophobia was something I always denied but it was damn strong and I had used it as another tool to hurt myself with. But the time had come to stop hurting myself, I knew this.
I contacted my doctor the next day and told her I wanting to quit my testosterone shots. It’s now been 4 ½ months since I last injected testosterone. I feel good and healthy. I’m on the mend and it’s wonderful.
ADHD is very misunderstood disorder by most people. It affects almost every aspect of your life. I was not diagnosed with ADHD until I was 36, but after receiving the diagnosis it made a lot of the way my brain works finally make sense to me. I now see that ADHD played a large role in my fixation and desire to transition. People with ADHD often get hyper-focused on a particular thing. That thing becomes an obsession and we think about it nonstop for days, months, or even years. I got it in my head at 22 that I was trans and there it stayed for 15 years until medical transition had become almost completely unregulated. When I was 34, I found myself in a very mentally vulnerable place. Often when people with ADHD become mentally overwhelmed, we go back to a fixation we might have had or one we have kept with us but maybe have ignored for a while. We go to these fixations for comfort and organization, to feel better and safe again. I went back to my ideas about being a trans man and transitioning.
Looking back now, I think this was probably one of the most devastating times in my life. I had recently become a parent, which although a happy life change, is also a very stressful one. Around the same time, I lost my grandmother (who was more of a mother to me). I cut ties with my mother because I could not in good conscience allow her around my child and for this my brother and sister refused to have anything to do with me. I lost my good friend and brother-in-law to suicide. My wife literally lost her mind with grief and I felt like I was drowning. I became very depressed and wanted out of my life. I isolated myself, watching transition videos nonstop for months. I wanted to kill myself but knew what a shit move that would be to my family, so I latched onto transition as a way to feel at peace again. ADHD also affects one’s ability to reason though things thoroughly. Even though we may think about a subject nonstop we are not actually doing any kind of real analysis. It’s more like a movie that just keeps playing our favorite scene. The scene I played was one in which I was a strong man who lived a happy life.
When you are told from the age of 8 that the way you walk, talk, and act is like a boy by your mother, your schoolmates and other adults, it’s so easy to buy into the idea that you really are a man and that makes you completely normal after all.
I was raised in a very religious household where we were taught that women were put on this earth to serve men. I was not allowed to cut my hair or wear anything but long dresses, as my body was deemed immodest by default. My father had died when I was 2 in an accident and my mother had remarried into this religious atmosphere. My stepfather and mother abused me extensively from the age of 4 to 9. I learned to cope with the abuse by detaching myself from my body. I took back my power by never allowing my abusers to make me cry, I withstood the pain upon my body by disassociating. I believe this early abuse and dissociation from my body gave rise to the feelings that my body was wrong, not my own, and some kind of foreign entity—the same things people describe when talking about gender dysphoria. The sense of “wrongness” that one feels with their body.
When I was 9 my stepfather and mother divorced. I had a little more freedom to be myself and I began to express my likes and dislikes, as is normal for children to do. I wanted to play football, I liked boys’ clothing and style and I loved the idea of having short hair. My mother, although not as religiously fervent as she had been with my stepfather, was still a staunch fire-and-brimstone Christian, and very homophobic. She would become angry at me for wanting these “boy” things and punish me if I behaved “like a boy.” She ridiculed the way I walked and my mannerisms, telling me that I needed to walk and act like a girl. I had one bright spot in my childhood, and that was my paternal grandparents. They allowed me to wear boys’ clothes when I stayed with them and do my hair any way I wanted. Of course, I had to be very careful that my mother never found out, and we all knew it.
My mother’s behavior introduced an internal hate inside myself as a gender non-conforming girl. This would later be compounded by the homophobia I faced when I came out as a lesbian. I had never given the trauma I had to go though as a young lesbian the kind of gravity it deserves. When I was 17 my mother was growing very worried because I was showing no interest in boys or men. She decided to set me up on a blind date with one of her friends’ 22-year-old son. I was sheltered and ignorant and scared of my mother, so I went out with him. She had never met the guy and had not actually seen her friend in years; they only occasionally talked on the phone. I knew within the first 5 minutes of being in the car with him that he was very dangerous and unpredictable. I could feel with everything that I was that he was fully capable of killing me. I knew I couldn’t set him off, he would use any excuse to become angry. I spent the next 30 minutes of the car ride being as polite and submissive as possible, all the while strategizing on how I could get out of this. When we got to a town I lied and told him my mother wanted me to call her and let her know we arrived and I faked exasperation with my mother’s request. I went to a payphone and called my mother. I told her I wasn’t feeling well and was coming home. I then told him that she had told me I needed to return home because her employer had called her into work due to an emergency and I had to watch my sister and brother. He was displeased, and I made every effort to ensure him of how upset I was that our night had been ruined and assured him that we would go out next week. The drive home was the longest drive I’ve ever taken. I made it home safe and for the first time ever I yelled at my mother for her stupidity in putting me in a dangerous situation. This showed me how expendable I was as a woman if I could not adhere to the roles expected of me. I was better off dead than a dyke.
When I finally did come out as a lesbian at 19 years old, I was put through hell by most of the people most important to me in my life at the time. I lost friends, I was told I was never allowed at family gatherings because I was sick and would cause harm to the little kids. I was ridiculed and called every nasty name in the book. I was propositioned by men who were sure they could make me straight if I allowed them to have sex with me. I was told I was too pretty to be a lesbian, I was trying to be a man, I had been turned by a child molesting dyke, and the list goes on. I faced harassment in public life, mostly by men who would yell out “dyke” to me as I walked down the street or became confrontational with me if I looked at their girlfriend or god forbid smiled and said hi. I was not even safe at my job. There were men who would make jokes about raping a woman who got out of line, men who called me “spike” and “sir” to my face and refused to work with me. Men who talked openly about beating up fags or killing their sons if they were gay. It was enough to make anyone want to escape. I just wanted to live my life, I wanted to be unnoticed, but I couldn’t be. I hated this, I hated myself, and I felt like I must be the most disgusting creature in the world—that I must be wrong.
Trans explains why I’m wrong
The first time I heard the word transgender applied to women was in 2002 when I was 22 years old. It seemed as if overnight the young lesbian community had started to embrace this trans idea. Most of the butch lesbians I knew refused the label “butch” and instead said they were trans men. My wife and I were friends with several lesbian couples at the time and every butch woman in that couple now claimed to be trans. The first time I was corrected by a young butch named Lacy, she said “Oh I’m not butch, really a trans man.” I had no idea what she was talking about so I asked. As I remember, she gave the simple answer, she was a man trapped in a female body. I was disgusted by this and repulsed even, but it never left my mind. I then began to ponder what it meant to be a trans man. A man who had a female body seemed to tick a lot of boxes for me. After all, I was always told I behaved like a boy. I walked like one, I acted like one, I was attracted to women. I liked men’s clothes and short hair. It started to make sense. It explained everything that was wrong with me. All the ridicule, all the abuse I had suffered through wasn’t my fault, or even the fault of the people who did it. What I suspected must be true, these people saw something in me that was wrong and broken. I latched onto the trans label very quickly and began telling friends and family that I was trans and that I wanted to transition.
However, this was 2002 and standards of care were still relatively strict compared to today. I had to see a gender specialist, live as my desired sex for at least six months, and undergo at least 6 months of therapy before being allowed to receive cross-sex hormones. I managed to find a gender specialist in my hometown and began working with her. She demanded that if I wanted hormones I needed to start living as a man, going by a male name and pronouns and being in male-only spaces. This was impossible for me. I had large breasts that could not be hidden and a curvy, obviously female body. I was also stricken with fear at the idea of going into male-only spaces. This seemed incredibly dangerous to me. I refused and decided to let go of transitioning. However, I always kept it in my mind as the explanation for why I was the way I was. I didn’t demand people recognize me as a trans man but I saw myself as such, and it brought me comfort that I was normal.
Transition wasn’t what I thought it would be
I made the decision to start medical transition in spring 2015 at the age of 35. Older than most transitioning woman to be sure, but not unheard of. Although many teens and younger women are transitioning, there is also a large population of adult women, mostly butch lesbians, who have also transitioned in the last 5 years or so. These mostly go unnoted because we are adults and already living on the outskirts of society. A simple look at a butch-lesbian dedicated subreddit or Facebook group will show many conversations about butches transitioning. The loss is very real and is leaving devastation in its wake in the lesbian community. I’m just one of the many. Only four months after I started testosterone injections, I had top surgery, or more precisely a double mastectomy. I hit the ground running with regards to transitioning. I couldn’t seem to do it quick enough.
Detransitioners know about the honeymoon period of transition. It lasts anywhere from 6 month to 3 years, depending on the person. Two years seems to be about average. Transitioning, although it ends up not helping in the long run, does help for a while. This is what makes it so hard to explain to those who are either still trans or those who have never been in this situation, because transition did help, for a while. I felt better when I started taking testosterone. I had more energy, I was less depressed, and my mood seemed more stable. I thought this meant I had made the right choice, and even my therapist and doctors saw this as proof that hormones were good for me.
I have done a little research into testosterone use in females, and although there isn’t much out there, what I have found seems to indicate that elevated mood and energy are some of the positive effects of testosterone use. Even males who use testosterone experience this. But what made me feel good was not some spiritual lining up of my brain with the right hormones (yes, a therapist did say this to me) but a simple side effect of a drug. No different than drinking alcohol or using any other substance to ease emotional pain. Another reason transition helped was that being seen as male enabled me to walk through the world like just another person. I didn’t draw attention and I got treated better than I ever had, by my co-workers and strangers alike. I have since heard of some trans-identified females who make the decision to continue living as men, not because they actually believe they are men but because they know it’s safer and easier for them than if they were to detransition and live as woman again. I honestly can’t blame them. It was wonderful to experience the freedom and safety of moving through the world being thought of as a man, if only for 3 years.
After about 2 years on testosterone I noticed that my anxiety had started to become much worse. I discussed this with doctors and psychiatrists, but they didn’t think the testosterone could cause this effect. As time went on my anxiety became worse, to the point where I was taking an anti-anxiety medication daily. It reached a breaking point when I could no longer leave my bedroom without having a panic attack. I couldn’t drive because that triggered a panic attack as well. I really couldn’t do anything but keep myself sedated on benzos and stay in bed. This is when I hit bottom. I went to a psychiatrist and got an antidepressant called Viibryd that is also used for panic disorders. Starting antidepressants is both mentally and physically hard. Those first 2 weeks on the medication were like hell. My brain felt like it was ripping apart and I had panic attacks that were so bad that I really did want to die so I would not have to feel them anymore. But by week 4 the side effects dissipated, and I began to feel joy, a sense of peace, calm and clearer headed.
On top of the anxiety and depression, transitioning had ended up making my dysphoria worse. Why? Because now I was worried that men would discover I didn’t have a penis when I used the male bathroom. Because I was smaller than most males. Because my voice wasn’t as deep. Because my hands & feet were smaller. Because my body shape was more feminine then male. Because the way I talked and gestured was seen as feminine. Because my chest had scars across it. Because I was soft spoken and not aggressive. Because I was raised as a girl and was never part of the boy’s club, so I didn’t know how to interact in male culture. Because every day, I stepped outside my house and was consumed with not being found out for what and who I really was: a woman. It seemed like I had switched one set of problems for another.
There were also the health side effects I was experiencing. My skin seemed to always have something wrong with it. The first year I had terrible acne, which is expected, but after that subsided, I always seemed to have some kind of rash or irritation that I hadn’t had before. My vagina was showing signs of atrophy and was painful all the time. To alleviate this, I would have needed to start taking a topical estrogen cream that you insert into your vagina. For someone with dysphoria around their genitalia, this is really the last thing you want to have to deal with. I was always aware of my female genitals because they hurt and were unhealthy. Again, not helpful if you have dysphoria around this area. I was also seeing my cholesterol climb every time I had a blood panel done, which was every six months. I knew it was a matter of time before I would need to be on medication for this. I was also starting to creep into the range of concern for diabetes. Additionally, I was quickly losing my hair and, in another year or two would likely be bald. All this happened in a span of 4 years on testosterone. I was completely healthy with thick beautiful hair before starting testosterone.
As of this writing, I have been a little over four months off testosterone. My cholesterol levels have dropped, risk for diabetes has gone down, and my hair is starting to fill in a little. The atrophy to my genitals and uterus has reversed and I am in good health. I feel happy and content. There are some things I will never get back, though. I had a double mastectomy only 4 months into transition, so my breasts are gone. I mourn this, I mourn that I will never get the chance to make peace with them like I have started doing with my sex and body. We all carry scars from life, and these are mine.
The family suffers too
I believe it’s very important to recognize the pain transition and trans ideology can cause to the family members of the trans-identified person. The families are the forgotten victims in all this, and this is unacceptable. The trans community takes little care in the impact transition has on not only the trans person themselves, but also their family. These are some common things I heard when I began my transition.
“You are the same person you have always been”
“You will be a better person/spouse/parent because now you will be living your true self”
“Your journey is important”
If the family is upset, sad, angry or generally just confused about the transition of their family member, here are the things said to the spouse/parents/child/family member.
“This isn’t about you, it’s their journey”
“You aren’t being supportive”
“You are being transphobic”
“They have always been this person, you just didn’t know”
This is so problematic because trans ideology is, at its core, extremely self-centered sometimes even in the narcissistic range. The trans person is encouraged to view the family’s emotional state as hateful or transphobic towards them if they experience normal human emotions of sadness, loss, confusion, or anger. Trans people are not encouraged by the community to see transition as the major life-changing event that it is. Instead, it’s downplayed and given the emotional weight of a new haircut or a change of clothes. The family members are expected to say nothing but positive things and show no “negative” emotions. They are shamed into silence. Mandated to keep their feelings to themselves lest they be labeled the most horrible thing one could be called in our society right now: transphobic.
When I began transition my wife who I had been with for 15 years was devastated, and rightfully so. In the beginning she believed as I did in most of what trans ideology had to say. She really did think I was trans and she was supportive. However, her life was also being turned upside down emotionally. She had lost her brother to suicide only a year earlier, she was a new mother, and now her wife was trying to become a man. She was scared, sad and feeling loss. She naively turned to the trans community for support during this time, trying to find other spouses of transitioning people to talk to. She thought these “support groups” would be a place for support. A place one could talk openly about the emotions they had as they went through transition with their family member. What she got instead was everyone saying how happy they were for their spouse and how exciting this all was. No negative emotions. When she started expressing her confusion, fear and anger over my transition it wasn’t long before she got the “TERF” word thrown at her. She had never heard the word before and after multiple people labeled her a TERF and eventually ran her out of the support group, she went online searching for “TERF” (as we all would if we didn’t know what something meant). She found gender critical and radical feminist information, chats and web sites. It was there she found support. I find it quite funny that it was the trans community itself that drove someone to turn into a “TERF”.
What I’m trying to show here is the very unhealthy & damaging effect trans ideology has not only on the trans-identified person but also their families. I really do believe this is cult-like, even religious behavior. It is divorced from reality, basing everything on a belief supported by feelings and very little science. It is faith-based and you must believe. It is all or nothing, good versus evil with no room for nuance or critical analysis. I’ve seen this before, as I wrote about in the beginning of this article, because I was raised in religious extremism. Trans ideology mimics this very closely. It can capture people on the fringes of society, people with mental health issues and people in pain from trauma. It promises relief from symptoms, an answer for which people are searching.
The community positions itself as the most oppressed demographic in society, while holding the people on the outside hostage with threats of suicide and blame for murders committed against the trans community. It showers acceptance and validation on its members as long as they adhere to trans dogma. The trans people who do not adhere to the ideology are called truscum, traitors or TERFs. People such as myself who detransition are told we no longer have a right to say anything about the trans experience because we are no longer trans or never were trans to begin with. Many of us are shunned from the community — like a dirty secret. This shunning of former members is a great deterrent to detransitioning for some. For those who do detransition, we usually slink away and are never heard from again. For those who do speak out we are labeled TERFs (a label that has come to mean nothing but a person who doesn’t completely agree with trans ideology), or ridiculed for not knowing we weren’t trans. We are told that we took valuable resources away from “real” trans people and that we should be quiet and go away.
I began as a true believer, I thought I had found my answers, I thought it all made sense. I had euphoric feelings of relief and happiness when I began transition. Four and a half years later, and I am rebuilding my life from the ashes. I burned myself and my family up into a million pieces and now we have to make sense out of the disaster. I am very lucky and grateful that I have a wonderful wife who has stuck with me more than she ever should have and a son who is immensely forgiving of his mother’s flaws. I find that every day is better than the last, if only by a half step. The resilience of the human spirit is amazing to me. Never give up.