The question of defining the detransitioning person
Snickers and jeers rule such a public declaration whether true or not. Last week another of many discredited announcements declared that Caitlyn Jenner intends to detransition as publicly as Bruce transitioned to Caitlyn.1
Her cohorts have blasted various “official” announcements, most notably Jennifer Finney Boylan who voiced her objections on Twitter.2
Others more distant from Caitlyn like Gwendolyn Ann Smith, the founder of the International Transgender Day of Remembrance, also dismissed them in social media.3
But apart from the hoaxters, the prospect of anyone detransitioning, a process that a small minority of those who entertain transition go through at times, raises an important question: could such a person still be considered part of the trans community?
The answer makes a difference both in the way transpeople accept such a person and how that person accepts other transpeople. More importantly, it makes a difference in the way we respond to one another. If detransition disqualifies a transperson from being trans as some would assert, most of whom oppose transpeople on religious grounds, then any affection transpeople have for one another must necessarily be conditional.
That translates into a fundamental weakness, pun intended. Typical Evangelical fundamentalists tout the idea that they stand to actuate the “unconditional love of God” and through acts of open hatred and spite claim that they “unconditionally love.” Whether or not the claimants fool themselves is beside the point. Conditional love within the ranks of transpeople cannot in any way translate into anything but a weakness of inferiority.
In the case of Caitlyn Jenner, not a few transpeople have voiced vehement opposition, calling her at times, “transphobic” or “a false spokesperson.” Caitlyn has at times faced open protest by transpeople denouncing her.4 In most cases these opponents have formed their opinions on nothing more than jealousy.
It’s a jealousy that has at times manifested in shibboleths that have kept community from being realized altogether. Whenever a transperson pops the question, “Who’s your electrologists?” or “Who’s your surgeon?” silence is my answer. The reason eludes the vast majority.
Too often such questions lead to recruitment, sometimes induced by monetary incentives imposed by service providers who have no interest in benefits to anyone beyond their own patients and businesses. They also foster an expectation of elitism, cultural and corporate cultism designed to benefit the service provider alone. The same elitist attitude necessarily resents anyone who may come out better, especially one who lives a charmed life like Caitlyn Jenner.
While it’s true that Caitlyn is rich, famous, and knows how to milk the media through reality programming as a member of the Kardashian clan, it’s also true that as one transitioning she has needed lots of good help and mentoring. Did she transition differently from others? Of course. But this shouldn’t matter because transition is never the same between any 2 individuals. Every transsexual must find her/his/eir own path and every transsexual must engage this path alone without interference one way or another. Caitlyn has deserved the same consideration all along.
Additionally, the right to transition which every transsexual claims also inherently impliest another right: the right to detransition and even the right to re-transition, a right asserted by many ex-transsexuals and ex-ex-transsexuals.
So can an ex-transsexual no longer be considered part of the trans community? The answer depends not upon one’s status as a transsexual but upon one’s commitment to community in principle. If one’s detransition is designed to either remove one’s self from the trans community or to become an enemy of the trans community, then that person should not be considered part of the trans community. If one detransitions but still supports others in their transition or practice as transpeople, as would an ally, then such must still be considered part of the trans community.
The trans community has never been restricted to those considered trans in the first place. What about those who love transpeople, either as lovers, spouses, or family members? They also face a hostile world for their affections for transpeople. An Army squad murdered PFC Barry Winchell because of his love for Calpurnia Adams.5 We would be amiss not to consider him a member. Likewise any friend or ally who stands with the trans community should be accepted as members in a principle of broad support because, believe me, they need it as much as we do.
It should be so because our assertion of ourselves as transpeople carries with it a rejection of the vernacular pretenses of love in favor of something greater: an inclusiveness that transcends what churches claim to offer because claims seldom, if ever, align with reality. But I digress.
Indeed, not all transpeople need to or should transition. After all, the idea of trans doesn’t stop with the transsexual. Gender identity has never been the only definer of transpeople let alone surgery. Gender expression, sex, and sexual orientation have always had their components in a spectrum of existence within the entirety of what has been called, “trans”.
The decision to detransition may result from honesty in coming face to face with the hard issues of transition. It’s an adult decision. It’s one reason the Harry Benjamin Standards of care have asserted that candidates for surgery must have 2 letters from mental health professionals, one before hormone replacement therapy (HRT), and the other assessing a real life test that must take place a minimum of 1 year prior to surgery. It’s done that way so medical practitioners can reasonably justify the surgical route.
Conversely, not all detransitions have been approached with the correct motives, resulting in what could be compared to an unhealthy round of purging such cross dressers often find themselves. By purging a cross dresser collects and wears the accouterments of the opposite sex only to get rid of them again and again in what could become an endless cycle. Some who detransition do so to satisfy the demands of a hostile religious organization, a family member, or to simply shrink away from the costs and hardships of transition.
In which case, one does not automatically reject a cross dresser because of purging but counsels concerning the unhealthy nature of purging so that person can find a level of self-acceptance. The same would apply to those detransitioning when those cases may be comparable to purging. While such may justifiably “need a breather,” such also deserve the same care as would be offered to the more beloved and committed transsexuals.
Detransition has at times turned deadly. In 2005 a Los Angeles Times sports reporter, Mike Penner, announced to the world an intention to transition. Christine Daniels, the reporter’s name as a female, would not only write as a sports reporter but write about her transition process. But after a photo shoot in a crew member uttered an unkind remark about Christine’s “passability”, Christine announced detransition. The following month the Times reported their reporter’s suicide.5
It must not be an arbitrary acceptance like a child pulls the petals of a flower saying, “My own… my own not.” We should be bigger than that. If indeed Caitlyn Jenner ever detransitions, reverting back to Bruce my inclinations will be the same. So long as a Bruce Jenner continues to receive transpeople as friends, I will continue to accept Bruce Jenner as one of my own. Who knows? A re-emergence of Bruce Jenner might not mean Caitlyn no longer lives. Caitlyn may appear from time to time according to her own choosing and I, for one, will welcome her.
1. (n.a.) Caitlyn Jenner Is Getting Man Parts Back and Transitioning Back To Bruce Jenner (May 16, 2016) Report Quickly http://reportquickly.com/caitlyn-jenner-is-transitioning-back-to-bruce-jenner/ . Retrieved May 16, 2016
2. Boylan, Jennifer Finney. Tweet (May 14, 216) Twitter.
3. Smith, Gwendolyn Ann. Tweet (May 12, 2016)
4. Ungerman, Alex. EXCLUSIVE: Caitlyn Jenner Confronts Protesters at Chicago Event Who Call Her ‘An Insult to Trans People’ (November 12, 2015) Web: ET Online http://www.etonline.com/news/175940_caitlyn_jenner_confronts_protesters/ . Retrieved June 1, 2016.
5. Adams, Calpurnia. Soldiers Girl – The Reality (n.d.) Web: Calpurnia.com http://www.calpernia.com/aboutme/soldiers-girl/ . Retrieved June 1, 2016.
6. Fries, Steve, Mike Penner, Christine Daniels: A Tragic Love Story (August 19, 2010) WEB: LA Weekly: http://www.laweekly.com/news/mike-penner-christine-daniels-a-tragic-love-story-2166467 . Retrieved May 21, 2016.