Butch Lesbian, Radical Feminist, and Former FTM: Heath Atom Russell on Gender Dysphoria, De-transition and “Brain Sex”
March 27, 2013
Self-described “Unapologetic Butch Lesbian, Radical Feminist and Former FTM” Heath Atom Russell covers a lot of ground in this video as she discusses stopping testosterone and healing from body dysphoria in a woman-hating world. She applies her personal experience to critique the medicalization of gender, YouTube trans-trending, the homophobia of “Queer Culture”, misogyny, lesbophobia, the theory of “Brain Sex”, and the process of becoming a proud woman.
Heath is extremely thoughtful and well-spoken and intends to offer her perspective to others who are interested in detransitioning as well as offering “a word of caution” to the public at large. In the video she discusses the rape and death threats she has received from some members of the transgender community for speaking publicly about her experiences at her blog, which is here: http://nymeses.tumblr.com/
Heath discusses the ill-health effects of synthetic testosterone and breast binders on female bodies, including her own and the cultural explosion of gender-based medicine, especially among youth.
Click here to VIEW.
In correspondence with GenderTrender, Heath stated that what she really wants readers to know is “that doctors don’t always have people’s best interests at heart” and “long term synthetic hormone use is not exempt from the never ending guinea pig treatment that, overwhelmingly, homosexuals are subjected to receiving”. She would like to see more discussion of misogyny, homophobia, and internalized lesbophobia in the LGBT community- particularly their effect on the creation and exacerbation of sex-based body dysphoria and body dysmorphia.
She expresses concern about the medical industry trend towards pathologizing gender-nonconformity in children, adding: “ I’d also like them all to be made aware that the criteria for gender dysphoria is so purposefully vague that it can target ANY child that doesn’t rigidly conform to patriarchal gender roles and that drugging children isn’t the answer – overcoming misogyny and homophobia IS the answer along with letting kids just be kids for a while before messing with their health!”
Heath mentioned that some trans viewers have complained that detransitioners should not be given a platform to speak because they are not medical professionals, or because hearing about detransition may “cause” trans viewers to feel suicidal. GenderTrender disclaimer: Heath Atom Russell is Not a Medical Professional. Please consult your personal physician, not people on the internet, for your health care needs. Also, here is a link to suicide hotline resources and support: http://www.suicide.org/suicide-hotlines.html
I want to thank Heath for everything she is doing. Most detransitioners either choose or are forced into silence which makes it difficult for individuals considering transition to get an accurate view of the diversity of experiences involved. Her video is highly recommended for all female transitioners and for anyone interested in transgenderism. Please give her your full support. Thank you Heath.
“the worst part is, nobody in the community knows who I am anymore, so when I speak my mind and they yell at me, they just say, you don’t know, you’re cis you couldn’t possibly know.
but I know. I know too much and I wish I didn’t.
“I’ve spent the last couple of years obsessing over the idea of medically transitioning. For the past few months I’ve spent more and more time analyzing why I felt those things, and I’ve spent a hell of lot less time absolutely hating myself. It’s still a struggle because I’m not completely comfortable with my body, but at least I’m not lying to myself about feeling like a man anymore.
“They always say “there’s somebody out there for everybody!’
I have a hard time believing it. At least when I was calling myself a lesbian in the trans community there was this expectation that you could be a bit different, socially speaking. Now, I dunno. I realize now that I’m a heterosexual male. Straight women always want me to be more masculine, more like a real man. It’s not going to happen.
I don’t know, this maybe isn’t all that coherent, it’s just irrational thoughts maybe.
“There’s something brutally funny about, hormonally speaking at least, basically being on my third puberty. In all seriousness though, I need my natural hormone production to level out again. Mid twenties is just too damn old for this shit.
SUPPORT THIS BLOG:
Guest Post by Violet Irene.
To those who are looking for this information because you are wondering if you made a mistake starting “T” and are looking for guidance: know that you are NOT alone. Even if the people on the FTM forums say it’s incredibly rare and basically no one does this, that is NOT TRUE. I personally know a TON of women who took T and then for a variety of reasons changed their minds and went back to living as women. Some identify as lesbians, some are bi, some are straight. Some look butch, some look androgynous, some look completely “average” for their community and assimilated. Personally I identify as a bi-dyke and while no one is ever surprised to learn the “dyke” part, because it’s who I am and I don’t try to hide it, I also pass for just a matronly sensible feminist mom type too and no one would ever know I had spent time IDing as FTM unless I told them. If you want to stay more androgynous more power to you, but if that is NOT what you want, don’t feel like you have to! It was hard emotionally figuring everything out but pretty much as soon as I wanted people to see me as a woman again, it didn’t take much to get that.
I just want you to know you are NOT ALONE and you do NOT have to hate or blame yourself or feel like a freak or an outcast. You still have options. You still have a future. The rest of your life is waiting for you, there is ALWAYS hope. I thought I had ruined my life but now I have a beautiful family and amazing friends and a happy life and things DID get better. Hang in there—you’re strong and BRAVE—it takes so much courage to face yourself with the idea “I made a big mistake”–and you can make it through this terrifying moment.
And a disclaimer: I took testosterone for less than a year, so if you took it a lot longer, the effects may take longer to reverse for you. On the other hand, they might not take that much longer at all. Every body is different, some respond really strongly to female hormones or male hormones or both, etc. All the advice and experience here is just about what I lived through, I don’t claim to represent a universal or scientifically validated “what to expect.” Take it for what it’s worth because there’s not a lot out there. I hope others who have been through this will feel emboldened to come forward, too, with their unique experience. Also, I did not have any surgeries. I got pregnant less than a year after quitting T, and that I am sure had some influence over how the physical changes went for me, too. I quit T seven years ago as of today, spring 2012 (so I quit in 2005).
So physically, about three weeks after my last dose of T (I had been taking injections at the standard dose every 2 weeks) I started to feel hormonally weird, like a really strong PMS. This intensified over about the next month, as my ovaries got back into gear and produced I am sure a lot more hormones than usual to try to balance me back out. I felt every symptom you can think of associated with both PMS and menopause—hot flashes, sweats, crying jags, nausea, itchy skin, cramps, and migraine headaches. This was the really rough part because I was also struggling a lot with the emotional implications of what was going on. About 2 months after the last shot, I had a period. I then had another regular period the next month, and in general things started to even out at that point.
Let me warn you about that first couple of periods—they were really, really painful and intense. I think this has to do with the fact that your body has to overproduce the female hormones to bring things back into alignment, but I don’t know. I got a prescription strength NSAID from my doctor and that helped a lot. After that, my periods were like they have always been—bad but not horror show worthy.
About the time I got my period, my breasts started to look more like they used to. “T” had made them kind of deflated and floppy. At this point, they started to plump back up and eventually went completely back to normal. The facial and body hair that I had gotten on “T” stayed put, but the growth noticeably slowed down within about 5 months of quitting. I still grow hair in places I didn’t before (ie some patches on my wrists and thighs) but within a year-ish it was no longer coming in dark and coarse like male hair, but had changed to fine and light like the body hair I have everywhere else. My “beard” ditto—it changed over to that downy, fine stuff most women grow especially as we get older, with the odd darker, wiry hair. Because I prefer not to be scrutinized for it, I shave it off with an electric razor about every couple of weeks.
My voice was lower on T but I think not as low as it would have gotten. For a long time after quitting, I was stuck with a kind of awkward register, with a break in it so I had trouble singing. I couldn’t sing high, I couldn’t sing low, I had to cough and clear my throat to cover for some pretty awkward sounds when singing. When talking I just had to watch that I stayed in my mid-register for a while, going higher or lower would make me sound like a teenage boy. They SAY that never changes back, and maybe it doesn’t always. For me, though, while I don’t have the same voice I had before T, it sounds a lot higher and more decidedly female now than it did right after I quit. And the break went away. Because I love music, I kind of nurtured my singing voice until I got a normal low-alto that doesn’t break or crack anymore. Lower than average but not unheard of for a woman. I still sometimes get misgendered on the phone when I am trying to sound serious (so talking very low and authoritative) but I just correct them and try not to dwell on it.
When I was on T I had a lot of problems with my sinuses and blood pressure going up when I was stressed. The sinus problem cleared within two weeks of quitting. The blood pressure thing took longer.
If you’re hoping to have a baby, this is my experience on that. I got pregnant about 5 months after stopping T, after three normal periods. I “charted” my cycle to know when I was ovulating but that’s it. Stopping T can actually make you REALLY fertile as your body cranks out extra estrogen to compensate, so if you are active with men and don’t want to be pregnant, be REALLY careful. I chose not to tell my midwives about what I had been through. It was just too hard. If you want to disclose, please be careful and have outside support, because a lot of medical professionals WILL treat you differently or like you are crazy. It sucks but that’s reality. I learned the hard way, with a counselor and a doctor. You can seek out professionals who work in the lesbian community and sometimes, but not always, they will be more sensitive. Or you can keep it secret, because once your system has cleared the hormones it’s hard to say if there’s any lingering effect they need to know about. I had a normal pregnancy and a natural delivery. We had one unusual kind of complication happen, it wasn’t of consequence long term and we are fine now, but it is one that women with PCOS are at higher risk for so I did wonder if it had anything to do with the androgens that had been in my system before I conceived. I tortured myself about that, but since my child is fine now I have to just put it in the column of “if I had known differently, I would have done differently” and forgive myself. I didn’t have that problem with my next pregnancy. I was able to breastfeed normally and breastfed my baby exclusively for many months.
The hair on my head took a long time to get back to normal, oddly enough. I had a crewcut when I was trying to pass as male, and when I decided to quit it was important to me to start growing it out right away. It took a long time. I’ve had short cuts since then, while on my natural hormones, and before that, and they all grew out a lot faster. On T my hairline had started to recede just slightly, yes even after less than a year. So it grew back really, really slowly. If I’d thought about it back then, I would have tried taking some vitamins and using jojoba oil shampoo—those can both help a lot to bump along the female pattern hairgrowth as it comes in.
People say that when you quit “T” your sex drive will shrivel, but I didn’t find that to be the case. Once my female hormones were up and running I felt just fine, and still do. Everything went back to the way it was before as far as my personal odor and my vulva and so forth, too. Some sources claim it will be harder to orgasm when you quit T but I didn’t find that to be an issue at all.
My face softened up again within a couple of months, and my hips padded back out too. I may have lost muscle mass but if I did, it wasn’t noticeable, I stayed active and that was good enough.
I hypothesize that a lot of why things went back quickly for me was my cycles started up, so I was getting bathed in the normal levels of female hormones right away. If you have trouble getting your cycles back, I would advise that you see an endocrinologist or gyn about it because that’s going to help a lot. Maybe birth control pills could help, if nothing else.
7 years down the line the only evidence I ever took T is stuff only I would notice, like some body hair that wasn’t there before but which has lightened and softened up, a little extra soft facial down, and a slightly lower vocal range.
Social, emotional, and practical thoughts:
This part is where your mileage may really vary from mine. I’m not telling you what to do, just what worked for me.
It was important to me to immediately stop being seen as a guy or a trans person. I wanted to know that I COULD go back to how I was before, I was terrified that I had ruined parts of myself that were really important to me. I feared that I was locked out of “women” forever. I went through the seven stages of grief, for what it’s worth, and still to this day have feelings of essentially having survived a loss and a trauma. This is a big deal, so be kind and gentle to yourself.
In the “bargaining” and denial phase one thing I said to myself and others was “I don’t really care what I am seen as, I’m neither male nor female, call me whatever you want.” You might go through a stage like this too. It’s ok to then move on and say “no, really, I DO care.” You’re not “selling out.” You’re coming to terms.
I went and bought some really fancy, padded, push-up bras. For me, this was really helpful while my breasts were still really flaccid. It gave me the shape I was used to seeing before, and helped people realize that despite some androgynous traits, I am a woman. If you have had surgery or have very small breasts, you might consider going to a lingerie shop that helps women who have had breast surgery or masectomy, if you think this might help you.
I found it was helpful to immediately purge some clothing and accessories that I especially associated with “trying to pass as male,” like double-reinforced sports bras, baseball caps, etc. It’s not that those are male clothes—clothes are just clothes—but it was about what they meant to me. Getting rid of them and replacing them helped me feel more confident that I was really going to be able to come home. I do find that a lot of FTMs rely heavily on things like baseball caps to help them pass as male, too, so taking off the hat can help people see you better too.
It was helpful to me to dress more “feminine” than I otherwise might have, for a while, to get some confidence that I was going to still be “allowed” to be a woman in society. After a while, I felt assured enough I could wear more casual clothes like I usually do again, but that phase was helpful to get me out of despair. Once my hair grew out I kind of ended up using it as my crutch, to the point where I surprised myself by completely emotionally freaking out the next time I got it cropped short for the summer. Just something to prepare for, if you might be like me. That and a few other things are basically trauma triggers for me, if I am confronted with unexpected reminders of that phase of my life, I can have an emotional reaction that is rather overwhelming. No one warned me to expect this, but it seems pretty logical to me now that I think about it.
Another thing that helped me feel more “in control” of the kind of chaotic situation was learning to recognize the hormonal patterns in my body using fertility charting (aka natural family planning or fertility awareness method.) You can find books or web info on this.
I don’t feel like I can advise on handling the social aspects because I don’t know that I handled it well. I just survived through pure stubbornness. I told my mom and we cried together. She had always felt it was wrong and disturbing, my dad had always been all for it and relished bragging how he had a “son.” He pretty much wouldn’t speak to me after I went back. Other than that, I didn’t announce anything except to friends who I chatted with online. I just changed my name back, changed my presentation back, and basically gave off “FU” vibes that made it clear no one should dare to give me shit about it or ask any questions. I know a lot of people in my family decided at that point I was truly crazy, disgusting, depraved, and have treated me like garbage ever since—not surprising since a lot of the same folks were homophobes to start with. My really good friends I was able, eventually, to really talk to, and they stood by me. Pretty much all my other friends ESPECIALLY those from the genderqueer and queer political circles—I lost them. Slowly, painfully. They weren’t interested in me, they were interested in The Trans Show and once it was over, they were out.
I was called some horrible names and yes, threatened and told that I was an evil person, that I should kill myself, that I was a menace. Not by fundamentalists…by “queer radicals.” And some people claiming to be feminists. I don’t talk about this much unless I can be anonymous, as a result.
It was hard going from being essentially invisible in a good way, passing as a male, to being seen as a woman again, dealing with street harassment, having guys basically try to shoulder and elbow their way through me, having to fight to get my whole seat on the train, etc. I do still feel some grief, pain, and a lot of anger, about the freedom I lost and the fact that women are not yet free.
I haven’t really gotten into why I started T or why I went back, maybe we can talk about that another time. But this is a sample of what the experience was like, for one person. If you are looking for advice, please just listen to this: no matter what the specifics of your situation are, you can survive this. This is going to be a strange, scary rebirth. But you will make it. A day will come where you don’t think about it everyday anymore, every time you look in the mirror or sign a check. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, and if a day is too much to take at a time, take it an hour at a time. Make a list of things to do and get the little rush from crossing out each item on the list. Write a rant and post it online. Pet a dog or a cat. My dog saved me, again and again, because she didn’t see the clothes or the labels, she just loved me. Eventually it WILL get easier, and before you know it, you will be OK.
December 17, 2011
F2T exercising a choice that “transgender children” (who are sterilized before sexual maturity) never get to make. The choice to be a biological parent.
Watch these videos soon if you’re interested in viewing them. Detransitioners almost always delete their videos/blogs after a deluge of criticism from the trans community and shunning from those they thought were their friends. Like a cult, ex-members are antithetical to maintaining the one-sided thought constructs required to maintain a faith based genderist fantasy and philosophy. The trans community exists solely to support those who want to submerge themselves deeper into gender beliefs, and never ever to support those who have reached a stopping point, or who turn back. Detransitioners are the pariahs of the trans community. This young woman seems to have been very immersed in the trans trending youtube community, she vlogs frequently -and is often quite entertaining (unlike most of them) – so the loss of that support system might be very troubling to her. I wish her well, and commend her on her bravery of speaking out and breaking the biggest taboo of the trans community. Especially her re-clamation of the word “Lesbian” for herself, which is like fingernails on the blackboard to most of her peers. I was reading something the other day from a young, short, hairy, bald F2T who was discussing “The Oh My God What Have I Done To Myself Phase Of Transition”. Hopefully the young woman featured here will never have to “work through” that “part of the journey” instead putting on the brakes before it was too late.
The first vlog is her response to the public feedback (including a mention on Dirt’s blog) to her first statement about her intention of going off of testosterone which she made briefly at the end of her “One Year on T” video. The second is a follow-up video further explaining her detransition. She sounds like a typical exiting cult member, trying not to rebuke her former beliefs, trying to maintain good relations and a support system with her peers, while still trying to exit the cult trans machine.
Quote from the video: “T was not a mistake. OK I know that you didn’t talk about that or anything like that but I feel like –clarification for everybody. Of course I’ll talk about that in my “why I stopped T” video. But, I honestly believe that it was not a mistake. I feel like maybe I did stay on it for a little too long. And that I started a little too early. But, you know, I wanted to get T and what am I going to do if I want something? I’m obviously going to lie to my therapist. Like, who wouldn’t do that ? I’m sure a lot of other people have done that. And it has to stop. I completely agree of course. I don’t know who I’m agreeing with, but whatever. I agree with that statement that I’m just saying right now. I feel that there are a lot of trans people out there who do start transitioning way too young. Because they feel like they need to transition. Because they can’t, you know, be okay with themselves in their body. Which is absolutely horrible. Because then they might grow up, you know. Of course I truly believe that a lot of trans people are trans. Yes, you are trans. But such transition at a young age and stuff like that. I mean, I honestly don’t think that it’s pressure from the YouTube Community, but I feel – because there’s no one making videos “You Need to Be on T if you’re Fourteen”, you know, there’s nothing like “You Need to Get Surgery Right Now”. No, there is none of that. Maybe once or twice out of a million. It doesn’t happen. But I do believe that younger trans people looking at these videos might look at them and think “Oh my God this person has transitioned and they’re only 17, and they’re already getting their top surgery this summer and they’ve been on T for two years”. Stuff like that. A younger trans person might think “I need to be like this to be happy” when really, they really need to look into themselves. “
Although several of her peers are already clicking the “dislike” button I’m sure her detransition videos will be a source of help and comfort to others who struggle to detransition with no support whatsoever as all their trans peers abandon them. Here are a few comments left on them by other young women:
“hey man i was really surprised when i saw this video but very happy about it. i stopped T also a few months back and i feel the same way as you. theres more of us out there its just not talked about very often.”
“i definitely think you’re right that young transguys suffer unconscious pressures from within the community itself to transition medically with hormones and/or surgery. as a young transperson myself, i watched hundreds of transition videos where young, attractive, desirable transguys documented their experiences on t, their changes, and i wanted to be like that. i wanted something to happen in my life that would make me happy and i thought transitioning was going to fulfill that.
i thought that by transitioning and going on t i would share the same experiences of happiness and fulfillment i saw in these videos. but i was disillusioned by these experiences. i equated t with happiness. i saw top surgery as a way of feeling better about my body. and it is 100% certainly in no way ever the fault of the transguys who post these videos. it was 100% my deal. i had issues with my body and my life and my self-esteem and i was looking for a way to cure that. it seemed logical that by transitioning, i would experience happiness, because i saw it in so many other people’s videos.
their stories of happiness due to going on t and finally gaining the male sex characteristics they desired made me WANT those sex characteristics (i’m talking facial hair, low voice, body fat shape, etc) because i wanted to be happy, to fit in, to find an identity (which is so intrinsically linked to medical transition and taking testosterone in the ftm community) which i could relate to.
but my identity is my own, and i realised that t wasn’t going to make me happy – “becoming male” wasn’t going to make me happy (because that’s how i saw it; i saw myself as an unhappy person stuck in a female body and a female “role” in society wanting a trans body and a more liberal “male” role). only i could make myself happy. i felt trapped in the whole female role thing, i saw these transmen gain (SOME) privileges when they transitioned with t – they were unequivocally (in some cases, not all) read as male in society now, and they gained, or at least i thought they gained, a lot of privileges through that. i wanted to be male so i wouldn’t have to be female. but i realised, i don’t have to be either. even if people read me as a female, it doens’t mean i AM one. i wanted to transition because i wanted to find a recognisable space where my identity was accepted. non-binary, transfluid, genderqueer, agendered identities are not universially accepted or recognised in this age and time and i felt lost. i felt like i didn’t have a place, and i felt that by transitioning medically (and socially, tbh) i would gain the self-acceptance and fulfillment i saw in the vlogs of other transguys. but not every transperson is the same, and we all certainly want different things and think in different ways. yet i equated happiness with transition. and it was an illusion, and i realised that i didn’t HAVE to go on t to experience that.
and for the record, i am an XX-born person raised female as a child. i realised my rejection of a binary female identity from an early age and i came to (re)claim my identity as queer in both gender and sexuality from around the age of 14 or 15. i realised that i was at least genderqueer and/or wanted to do something about this around aged 17 and bought a binder, adopted a more androgynous style (although i was always dressing like a dorky skater boy wannabe anyway), and lived this aspect of my gender out online properly. (gender-neutral pronouns, neutral nickname/screenname, etc) it was only until the summer i turner 18 that i made the decision to transition to male. yes, “made” the “decision”. i decided to transition because i was unhappy with my life and i knew i would be starting university soon and i wanted to get an early start so i could avoid any awkward “oh btw you all knew me as a girl but i’m becoming a guy now thx” mid-semester transitions. yes.
i was pressurised into transitioning because i felt that people wouldn’t take me seriously if i STARTED uni as a girl and then transitioned to male. i thought i would be ridiculed or it would be harder for me, so i started uni as male. right from the word go, male pronouns (or at least, i tried, heh), male name, name gender on uni records. i threw myself into something that i thought was going to make me happy, but it made me miserable, socially anxious to a horrendous degree, and in a worse off position that i was already in. i felt pressurised to conform to a binary identity and a binary, “traditional” transition by getting an early start, going on t, changing my name and using male pronouns, because i thought nobody would take me seriously otherwise and because i thought it would cure my unhappiness. lo and behold, it didn’t. and again, this is in NO WAY the fault of ANY transguy who posts his transition on youtube. it was my own lack of self-esteem and self worth which made me think i had to change a major physical and social aspect of my life in order to be happy. but instead, it took me about a year and a half to realise that happiness comes from within. and just because i’m not using a male name or pronouns anymore, or have no desire to commit to medical transition any time soon, it doesn’t mean i’m not trans*. i’m still trans*. but now i’m just myself as well. and it doesn’t bother me that my identity isn’t recognisable. i’m just me. SOOOOOOORY for the huge mass of comments! i think i probably took up a whole page of comments, heh… in retrospect, it probably would have been better to post this to your page wall or message you, but i publicly wanted to express my experiences with the things you are saying because they relate a lot to myself. i’ve been looking for an outlet to get rid of all these thoughts because a lot of my friends don’t get it, and yet it’s so central to my history. so THANKS, and stay awesome, you <3”