An open letter to Jennifer Coates author of the “I’m not transitioning” essay
When I first read your piece, your heart breaking descriptions of your childhood were very familiar to me. Because of this, I shared your story enthusiastically on my Twitter account @closettransgirl, which has a large following from trans egg and baby trans people. I thought it would be useful for them to see someone with painful closeted experiences and know that they’re not alone.
However, upon further reading, I cannot endorse your essay. I understand that it was meant as essentially a diary entry that no one would read (as indicated by the edited note you’ve attached) but I’d be remiss if I left your conclusions unchallenged. To be clear, my main concern isn’t defending feminism or that sort, my concern is for the baby trans people that depend on me for support and the impact your essay will have on so many trans lives.
So my question to you is: how many? How many times will a closeted trans person read your essay and convince themselves again that not transitioning is the correct move? Closeted trans people are constantly thinking about whether to transition or not. I know because I was one recently. I’d read every piece of trans-related news available and wallow in my own self pity. “Look at all of those out trans people and how happy they are,” I would think to myself, “if only I had acted earlier, I could be as pretty or as happy as they are.” I had a very good life before I decided to transition, wife, kids, house, employment. I was the poster child for a trans person who shouldn’t transition an for a long time, I was determined that I never would.
That all ended one July mid-afternoon last year. It was the closest I’d ever come to killing myself, sitting in my garage with the car running and the garage door closed. I had never been suicidal before, in fact I’ve had a phobia about death since my grandmother died in 6th grade. But the thing about dysphoria that only trans people understand is that it only gets worse with time. Whatever dysphoria you feel now, it will be worse a year from now and the year after that. You should have a plan for that, it will happen to you too.
The thing about dysphoria is that eventually it becomes unmanageable through sheer will. Trans people who choose not to transition should prepare for a life of anxiety and depression meds, as well as bouts of uncontrollable sobbing and disassociation. Your body will fight to survive, it fights by using these sensations as warning signs. Trans people should heed their own bodies’ warning signs.
I read an essay once by a psychiatrist with a lot of experience with trans people and he read an account of a very powerful, high level manager at a Fortune 500 company who made the same promise not to transition (because she was afraid of losing everything). The closeted trans woman ended up having to lock her office door and turn out the lights so that she could sob uncontrollably in the fetal position while cupping her genitals with her hands for hours at a time. I tell you this because dysphoria is a fucking bitch that shouldn’t be trifled with and because transition is the only known long term treatment for dysphoria. I don’t write this for you, I write this for the baby trans people who follow me.
How many cis parents or spouses will do research and use this article against a trans person who is simply trying to come out as trans? I can see it already. When I came out, it devastated my wife. She tried EVERYTHING in her power to convince me not to transition. Any type of bargaining that she could reach for, she found for me. I don’t blame her, she was doing what she felt she had to do and I hold no ill will for her for that. What you may not realize is that somewhere a spouse of an emerging trans person has probably already read your essay and forwarded it. How many trans people will read your essay and decide to delay?
Trans people come in all shapes and sizes but it seems the number one most shared experience is regret. Regret for not transitioning earlier. The late transitioners are jealous of those that transitioned in their thirties, the thirties transitioners are jealous of those that did it in their twenties, the twenties are jealous of the trans teens and the trans teens are jealous of the precious few child transitioners. You will see for yourself one day. At the basic level, any delays will result in regret and possibly even self harm.
Which brings me to my last point. From reading your essay, I can tell that you are frustrated and upset. That’s normal for a closeted trans person, but I think you’re directing your anger in a misplaced way. You rage against feminists and point out “Not all men” constantly. This notion that “not all men” shouldn’t apply because some people that appear to be men may be closeted trans women is incredibly harmful. How many trolling men will now cite your essay along with their screams of “”not all men”? You are literally the one person for whom the ridiculous line of “why do you assume my identity?” applies. Instead of feeling the need to defend yourself with “not all men” why don’t you try to do something about changing other men? Instead of whining about how women shut you out of their feminism, why don’t you examine your own actions and words. You may personally identify as a trans woman, but that does not make you exempt from having misogynistic or harmful views.
I guess the part that most confuses me is how you complain about the “Oppression Olympics” and yet also blame your fear of society’s treatment of trans women as the main motivating factor in deciding not to transition. Which is it? Are trans women oppressed, or are we just competing for “oppression points”? You cannot have it both ways.
The truth that you haven’t realized yet is that the only thing standing in the way of your transition is yourself. It’s not feminism’s fault that you aren’t transitioning, it’s not cis people’s fault, it’s not the Oppression Olympics. I’m not here to convince you to transition, I’m here to ask you to consider the impact that your words may have on someone who is struggling on whether to transition or not. You don’t have to be a martyr to dysphoria, there is no heroism in your suffering like this.
I invite you and anyone else who is reading this to read my own essay that I never thought anyone would read: My Intersection with Being Trans and Fatphobia. The truth is, you are trans enough to transition, you are woman enough, I’d be happy to serve as your confidant while you’re in the closet, you’re going to need more than one to handle the dysphoria bouts.
My email address is katelynburnswrites at gmail dot com. I’m @closettransgirl on Twitter. My DMs are open.
Katelyn Burns, Trans Woman