Detransition: I wouldn't like to have it any other way.
Polska wersja wywiadu jest dostępna tutaj.
Eli Kappo: There is an inherent power in altering your body or just accepting it and even liking it. Despite everything, despite being perceived as wrong and bad and sick I wouldn’t like to have it any other way.
Interviewer: Dag Fajt
Ilustration by MNV, @koryaginabumage
Eli Kappo is 29 y.o. Master’s candidate in biology, currently working at Hamburg University and a detrans activist. You can read her short essays at shesindetransition.wordpress.com
The interview consists of two parts. In the first one you will find questions from the tranzycja.pl community and various Polish support groups. The second part is an in-depth conversation relating to Eli's writing.
For starters, can you tell us a bit how looked your transition/detransition timeline?
I came out socially and started to pursue medical transition at 19 y.o. in 2011 - so I was born in 1992, now I’m 29 y.o. I got my first T shot in 2013 and my top surgery took place in early 2014. I considered myself a binary man, I passed, I had my ID gender marker officially changed. In 2016 I stopped taking T and came out as a non-binary man and in 2018 - as a non-binary woman.
Nowadays I'd say I'm done with my physical detransition but my gender is still kinda fluid - I'm both a man and a woman. I’m currently female-presenting and using she/he pronouns. This is how I describe it in very simple terms. My detrans activism of course stems from me being still a trans person. I find it very important to say, especially seeing the rise of many publications, articles about detransition that are openly anti-trans. In Germany as well the topic is appropriated by right-wingers and conservative Christian groups.
How does the process of transitioning in Germany look like?
You have to do psychotherapy for one year, it is not very frequent, not very intense. I would say kinda superficial but you have to attend for a prolonged period of time before you get hormones or are allowed to do surgery. It is demanded by health insurance.
In my case, it was once per month only per one hour. So I did that. The German term is Begleittherapie which is like "accompanying therapy" and they ask you different questions. It wasn't super invasive, hurting the privacy of a person. They ask you for how long you had "it", how do you feel about this-that and this is kinda what I hated the most. There is a power imbalance of another person asking you those things and you having to give a correct answer to get what you need. This is what I criticized the most about the process.
I was in a very bad place mentally - in the darkest depression, suicidal and at that point, I just wanted to get it done and be over with. I was kinda too afraid to have therapy regularly - not for transition, just a normal therapy. This is one of my regrets, I think I needed it generally speaking. I only went to compulsory therapy and after one year I got hormones.
That was at the beginning of 2013, I got my first testosterone shot. It was the most standard testosterone shot one can get - namely a very convenient three-month t-shot. The main downside is that you always have a kinda high level of testosterone so it isn't a way to microdose. Side effects tend to be more intense at the beginning as well. Like you have a peak and then it goes down. For those who want a high dose of therapy is kinda great, in my case I just went through it because I wanted changes faster.
Microdosing wasn't something that people talked about back then. Maybe I would have done it in hindsight however I am very satisfied by the effects I had on testosterone, I don't regret that at all. I was actually okay with everything I had except for a couple of side effects like acne and stuff like that. Then my main transition goal was to have top surgery. It was very important to me, I had very severe chest dysphoria. I had issues with my voice, with my face - stuff like that, I wanted to pass easily as a man which was already pretty much dealt with thanks to testosterone. Chest dysphoria was very very painful to me and I wanted to get that done.
I had a letter from my psychologist one year after I started T. Rules of health insurance are that you have to be in therapy for two years before you have the surgery. In my case that was too happening completely by schedule, not a day earlier. Some detransitioners say "I walked in there and they gave me hormones" - that is not the case at all.
I had top surgery in very early 2014 and that was basically it for me. Over the course of my transition, I got rid of practically any bottom dysphoria that I had. I realized that I can live as a man and not be bothered by having genitals that are kinda rare to have for a man. But I was very okay with my body at that point, my dysphoria was pretty much resolved. I was happily socially, medically, legally transitioned. I had my legal name and gender changed which you can do without having bottom surgery which is a new change to the system.
When did you first realize you might not be cisgender?
So I would say that my onset of what I experienced as my gender identity, like my feeling of being something else than a little girl started extremely early, even before I got into school. I felt like this in kindergarten already. What’s important I still have them and I still use the label “trans” when referring to myself. They just developed over time. My whole life I knew it was there and it got worse with the onset of puberty. I had very strong dysphoria, I was in a very bad state mentally, I was very unhappy.
I tried to communicate that to my mother, my family and they wouldn't hear me so to speak, they wouldn't take it seriously. I also didn't have terms to describe it back then, I just said that I was a boy or wanted to have my hair cut short. You know - classic stuff. I wouldn't say I fit all the cliches - I loved Barbie horses, color pink. I was always a mixed bag but I knew that I was at least not only a girl - also something else.
When I started puberty it got worse and by age of nineteen years, I was basically suicidal. My thought was that either I can transition or I will take my own life. That was my mindset back then so I needed to transition, I had to.
When and how have you felt that something is not right after you transitioned? What were your feelings?
[laugh] So basically it all started out during those times when you're not sober and you have thoughts that pop up and this is not something you allow yourself to think normally. Sometimes it's just random thoughts and sometimes they just all go in one particular direction. So it can be anything - maybe embarrassing sexual matters, maybe... all kinds of things. And my thoughts were "what if I, for example, stopped taking T", "what if I come out as non-binary", "what if I have my facial hair removed for good".
In the beginning, these were like silly thoughts you have when you're not sober and easily pushed away when you sober up. And they turned into things that would keep me up at night. Dreams. Things I randomly wonder and muse about - all those “what ifs, what would that mean”.
I had a longer period of questioning and it was not quite like questioning my transness beforehand - back then my main question was "Am I going to act on it or not, am I going to transition or not". I was sure about that, I knew that I have this other side of me, I knew somewhere there is a man that is me. In that regard, my trans questioning process was unlike my detrans questioning process. In my detransition there were some things that kept me away from exploring those questions deeper, I was afraid of them. The idea I might detransition was very, very scary. But I had these random thoughts. It was around 2016.
I sometimes tell people the story of when I went to see the movie "Danish Girl" with my then-girlfriend. I know the movie is very problematic and I see that critically in hindsight but at that point in my life, I had an emotional reaction to it. I am a big fan of the 20s and 30s, I feel a very strong emotional connection to that time and everything, the whole iconography of the film, the whole setting, and this experience that was portrayed there - and I see the critical stuff about the film - but like just seeing a woman that was trapped in her life as a man spoke to me on some very deep level. I understood back then that even though I was a happy man, even though I was satisfied with my transition outcome, I had a very loving girlfriend, I had a very okay life… something was inside me that wanted out. And it was the breaking point. Make no mistake - it wasn’t about something like things that are considered feminine in a society and that you can’t do as a man without having social repercussions because we have a shitty society - it’s completely not what I mean. Like I wore make-up. I was openly cross-dressing, my girlfriend was super cool about it, she's also a queer person. But my female self is not the same as feminine things I like.
Thank you. So how do you feel about yourself compared to pre-transition times?
Okay, so that's an interesting question. So my first answer is that I never went to being the person I was before. It is because I aged of course - back then I was a teenager and now I'm almost thirty so that's obviously completely different.
My identity as a woman is very much unlike what I had before my transition. The transition gave me experiences I couldn't have had otherwise I would say. It all formed me in a way that allowed me to discover a new kind of womanhood - womanhood that encompasses my male self as well, that is way more mature than the previous state, my pre-transition self. It's fundamentally different, I'd say.
What were your main fears in regard to detransitioning?
My main fear was that I can't go back. I was afraid that I have a mental health situation, that I will regret detransitioning, that I will come to my senses again and then I will understand that I fucked it all up. I was very close to being what I envisioned as myself before transitioning. Basically, everything worked well and I thought "I must be stupid to give it all away". "I have a good life, I can't risk it by detransitioning and what will come after this”. How am I going to be okay as a woman even though it's not like I didn’t experience being a woman".
It was awful. I was often asked by my psychotherapists - I've done therapy after transitioning because I was in a bad spot - and my psychotherapist, he always said that I might not fully accept my womanhood because that would mean I have to understand that I damaged myself - and it was a far cry, it wasn't a case really. It wasn't my main problem. Stuff like grief, regret - all of that is there yes, but I was just very scared to give up my male identity, that was basically my main fear.
Can you describe how do you feel dysphoria?
So I had social dysphoria but I also had very, very basic physical dysphoria. My upper part of the body, which is kinda public, I would say as opposed to private - like my face, neck, chest - those things made people assume I was a woman and I hated that but it was something that bothered me even when I was alone and staring at the mirror in the bathroom. I couldn't stand seeing what I saw. It was a very deep, visceral, physical feeling.
It wasn't just about "I want everybody to say - that's a man, he/him and if that happens I'm all cool about my transition". It was both. I had some dysphoria regarding genitals and functions of those parts but it wasn't the main problem. My transition was very healing in regard of me incorporating these parts of myself into my manhood. I can see myself as a man with those parts, even have sex and I don't have to alter anything. But I had bottom dysphoria at the beginning of my transition. I wasn't sure I want any kind of surgery because I was afraid of them and it wasn’t my main issue.
How did your top surgery affected you - comparing the state from before transitioning, in transition, and right now, when you function in the sphere of femaleness? I also see that you have very beautiful tattoos - how do they play into all that, is this also a way of combating dysphoria?
So you see, nowadays I'm wearing kind of a sports bra with a very very small cup - this is what I do in order for people not to stare at me oddly. As long as I have something on, everything is normal no matter what bits I have underneath. This is how it works! I know it's absurd but it's true. This is just something I do socially because like at a beach or sauna when I'm completely naked with nothing at all [note: Germany has a lot of nudist beaches] people still kinda stare but I really don't care. I'm very happy with my body as it is right now and I think I don't need breasts in order to be a woman, it isn't requisite.
Before detransitioning, I was extremely uncomfortable with my breasts as such and it had deep psychological meaning, having a lot to do with my self-image as a man - but not only that. I really needed that particular surgery, it was always obvious that having breasts is extremely bad for me. I did it because I had to. Surgery alleviated my dysphoria and enabled my male passing. The flat, boney chest tipped me over to passing as a male. People were on the fence and they stared at my face, then at my chest, and were like "okay that’s a man". I hate it but it's how it works.
I had a very huge scar that I then covered up with tattoos. When my scar was rather fresh, people staring was really uncomfortable, like at the beach but still felt much better than having breasts. It was extremely liberating for me to just not wear a binder which I hated a lot or anything else such as a swimming top.
The surgery, the scar, the numbness, the weird feelings, the pain it was very unpleasant I would say. I had a high degree of sensitivity and unpleasant feelings and it wasn't something I foresaw before the surgery. People were like "yea, you're going to have this-that, scarring, numbness, swelling” and I was like "whatever".
Basically, I didn’t really understand that emotionally, I just heard it but it didn't seem to matter to me and then I kinda felt it and had to deal with it. It got better with time, right now after 7 years. It kinda got back to being just not a surgical sight but a normal part of my body. The scars faded, the weird feelings faded as well and it got normalized for me. Now I'm fine with it. The tattoos were something that had to do with dysphoria, interestingly I got most of them after the surgery to cover the scars. I did it for aesthetic reasons but also I felt very vulnerable there. The freshly operated part of my body felt really raw and vulnerable and I tried to protect myself with a layer of something - that was my emotional meaning to it. It's my armor.
Are you still friends with the people from the trans community you met during your transition?
Yes. It's a very clear answer, yes. Actually, my circle of friends is mostly trans and non-binary and consisting of people I've met beforehand. Maybe it has to do with the fact that they're also trans activists? Activists always feel like family in a way, although it's not always a good way - sometimes you simply can't leave, you know? I have a very good friend, my ex-partner who is also a detrans person and non-binary person nowadays so yeah, I even know other detrans ppl who are still a part of the trans community.
How did your closest circle in terms of friends and family react initially to your detransition?
A little bit confused, uncertain what to do now. I was afraid that people wouldn't take me seriously anymore. The most irritating reaction was from my older relatives who just took it for granted and that made me feel they never even accept my transition in the first place. Basically "the girl is now back to normal". I hated that, I really hated that.
My younger friends, people of my generation just kinda heard what I have to say and were like "okay, interesting, okay, sure, yeah" - I never had any kind of negative reactions at all. I had some fears before that, it felt like I was going to lose my face, my credibility - first you need to prove to everybody you're actually a man and then you take it back and it's really, really embarrassing.
Are you open about your transition/detransition status among the cisgender people you know?
People who knew me long enough and saw it - of course, they know. I don't always tell the new people I meet. It's a bit of a problem. Not that far into my detransition, I was still very ambiguous looking in my understanding, I still had facial hair, shorter haircut - people wouldn't read me as cisgender. Nowadays it has changed - some people are still confused but it fades away quite quickly, I'm mostly read as a cisgender woman, nothing really happens much. Very funny is that some people mistake me for a transfeminine person. Sometimes I don't even correct them, especially if it's just somebody I know, not a close friend. I guess I let them have their fantasy y'know.
Most people know I'm transgender, I have a trans flag and such so they pick up I'm some flavor of a trans person, they just don't know the details, sometimes I prefer not to disclose it to them.
How do you deal with detransition stuff in regards to your romantic relationships if you pursue them?
Well, I have a cisgender boyfriend who is not really into queer topics, so he’s practically living as a straight person, even though he's technically not. What he does sexually is not heterosexual as such but he lives a heterosexual lifestyle. We met when I was already out as a woman but my physical characteristics were still kind of in-between - not by any universal measure, it was how I perceived myself. I had facial hair, was thinner too so my silhouette was bonier, not very curvy and I had short hair. He has read me as a woman, I was at that point very femme.
He didn't really get detransition stuff at first, he understood something was kinda off, something was not really cis but he wouldn't really acknowledge it. "You're basically a woman to me and nothing else" is what he said at first and it took him some time to accept my non-binary identity.
My detransition worked in a way that is favorable for him when he wants to pass as a hetero couple because nowadays I look very much like a woman. He also made an effort to understand I'm much more than just that and being non-binary is still a very important topic to me and hears about my activism. It's a bit of a struggle but yea, this is how it goes. Previously as I said my ex-girlfriend of mine was very open about it all. We didn't break up because of my detransition and we're still close friends, she's one of my best friends. Then I had also a cisgender boyfriend who was very open to it, accepting.
It depends on a person, it’s not like people are super shocked by that but I definitely prefer people who are just queer or open to it.
You say in one of your essays that transition is a loss of self — A part of me actually died, physically, it has been cremated. A part of this Jewish daughter of this Jewish mother has been burned, went up in ashes. — and your woman-self being your mother. To what degree your Jewishness is tied to your gender? Or the deep rift from being post-Soviet human in Western, German society?
Goodness, that's a big question! Thank you for asking. It's actually very much an element of my gendered-self and identity. It's all interwoven and very hard to untangle everything, hard to make sense of everything at once. I think if I tried to, it'd end in folly.
I grew up as a little girl who was a migrant. My family wasn’t very religious, practicing - we were more of a Soviet Jews who were both an ethnicity and a cultural group, a very difficult to understand, mixed identity. But I knew I was Jewish because we were migrants on the grounds of our Jewishness - it was a legal case in Germany, you could get asylum if you could prove you're Jewish. In my case, it was from my mother's side. My grandfather was a Dagestani Jew. What I got from that is me looking quite stereotypically Jewish and knowledge of being Jewish devoid of religion as such. It was very hard to understand for a very long time. Unfortunately without wasn't really aware of that, I internalized a lot of specifically Soviet antisemitic tropes. It was everything from appearances to alleged mental health issues as well as male Jews being feminine - which was something I managed to reclaim in a way. Yay! /s
So yes, I have internalized a bunch of Soviet antisemitic stereotypes, tropes, including all of the jokes and everything but when I was younger I had no idea how to make sense of it. It was inside me and I didn't understand it. It took me many years, way into adulthood until I finally untangled the whole situation and understood that it wasn't all light-hearted joking and they were actually serious attacks on my identity and my people - if one can say that considering Jewish people are not an especially homogenous group.
My post-Soviet, migrant identity is a Jewish one - I will never be able to erase that fact and it is deeply tied to me being a woman and me being marginalized as a Jew and as a migrant in Germany. This is the second component. Out of all places we could've migrated to, we went to Germany. It was by accident, Germany was just the first country to give us asylum - and it happened to be on the basis of us being Jewish. In the 90s quite a lot of Soviet Jews migrated to Germany, they were granting asylum rights extremely quickly. We were ready to go anywhere. It was 1992, after a counter-revolutionary military coup in August 1991. For my family, it was the last impulse to leave post-Soviet Estonia. Even after its separation from the Soviets it didn't feel safe, so we ended up in Germany. It isn't bad but it's also a country that feels like a nemesis to Jewish people. It was a source of big internal conflict I had to deal with and yet didn't fully understand for a long time. It was a deep, inner tension I felt - being at once German, migrant, Jewish, Soviet, even a bit Russian, it is after all my mother tongue. I didn't find a way to reconcile all of that, you know what I mean?
Being Jewish in Germany is a position of weakness, just as being a woman in this society is a position of weakness, at least perceived weakness. I don't underestimate the strength of every individual person that is a woman or a Jew - or both. I just say that it's all historically something connected to victimhood.
There's so much that's both privately psychological and also cultural in me surrounding all the situations [sigh] I can't put it in simple words
I get it, it's a big question alright.
It's a big question and the short answer would be - I transitioned from being a Jewish girl to being a German man. I assumed the position of power by being a German and being a man. I thought I could leave the Jewish girl behind and in the end, I couldn't. What I eventually became was both. Both man and a woman, both Jewish and German. I also had to work through my own internalized antisemitism and misogyny and as everyone doing such work is aware, a seemingly endless list of “and’s” so I could stop seeing myself as exclusively a victim. I needed that, it was extremely hard for me. But I still had to transition - and still gain the experience of being a German man. And it felt great!
But eventually, I understood that I can be a Jewish adult woman and German, and a man.
In a way I tried to get rid of something that was so heavy and cultural and filled with personal meaning - and I got rid of some of it but not all. In the end, I just found an alternative way to reconcile it.
My second question is related to a quote from one of your texts:
In changing rooms and public toilets I am a mutist again, like in my childhood. When my co-workers, women my age, talk about their pregnancies or about the brilliant book “How to Be Successful Without Hurting Men’s Feelings”, I’m not sure whether it’s just me who feels left out or if it’s them gently excluding me with looks and gestures.
I feel the same. At first, it was token Weird Kid, later on, Trans Guy in rather feminized, activist spaces, which were different in how it felt to be treated: trash and then porcelain. What difference do you feel between cis fragility you felt as a trans man and now, as a detrans person? There’s also the difference you feel when you’re still in cute twink stage and then with the progress of transition end up masc enough that even in those feminist, activist spaces something changes, an undertone of perceived danger. You’ve been onto this sinusoid of safety-threat division more than anybody I know.
Absolutely, one hundred percent this. I think this is something like transmasculine activists occasionally talk about but cis people don't hear enough. When you're androgynous, young, and cute, you're like a special kind of person who was to be treated right and everybody minds your pronouns. "I will protect you, my little one!", you know? [laugh]That's absolutely true. And then the other thing, you're just mansplaining all the time, yea?
What I'm especially interested in, whether you felt that kind of protection, infantilizing after you started to detransition? Was it in any way a mirrored experience?
Actually, I think that in all those cis feminist spaces I kind of escaped that because I ended up being read as a transfeminine person. Not only random cis people mistook me for a trans woman but also like well-informed, woke feminists also mistook me for a trans woman but since I was mostly quiet, shy, and very thin at that time, they didn't perceive me as anything threatening. I don't have a direct comparison to my early days of transition because I wasn't that active in feminist spaces back then, I only became engaged further into my transition but then I openly spoke about my transness. Sometimes I had this caution around me, I wasn't definitely perceived as small, cute, and sweet which was great, I hated that.
People definitely went weird around me while trying to do it "right", not to say anything wrong around a trans person - which I understand. However, I never got very very manly [macho perhaps] so I didn’t experience very adverse reactions to myself, only caution. I never got that problem to its full extent. I was always kind of queer, I was always kinda slightly feminine so I never felt the full impact of that kind of transphobia.
Nowadays, I would say I am mostly perceived as a cis woman, so people are just neutral, not seeing my transness. Around trans people, folks read me as some kind of trans initially but I communicate my identity openly in those spaces, I have no fear of disclosing the history of my detransition. In real life, I never got any bad or even just weird kind of reaction regarding my detransition in trans spaces, at all, ever.
Thank you for your answer. For the next question, I need to preface that in my spare time I love to write horror and while reading your assorted texts I really loved this excerpt, it’s a great summary of the basic principle of queer horror:
If the trans body being rendered cis-ish through black magic and weird science is considered the Happy Ending by cis society, nothing can be worse than the image of the cis who accidentally transed him- or herself. In a world in which only an invisibly trans body is socially acceptable, and in which the story of a cis person subjecting their body to gender-related physical changes seems to fall right between Kafka and Cronenberg, I might just flip one day and say: “I was a young girl alright, I just transitioned to own the Cis.
Trans body monstrosity has been weaponized against us countless times, it’s basically the cornerstone of trans representation in any mainstream medium. You weaponized it back. It’s amazing! But what helped you to gain that outlook?
You know, I kind of understand what it feels like to be perceived as non-normative and I think it has a lot to do with being a Weird Kid as you said before. I understand how it feels like to be in an outsider’s position even without bringing the whole trans situation into the context. When you're told you're wrong your whole life, you try to make something off it. And you see, I went through very, very edgy phases in my youth, I was a metalhead.
When I was fourteen, the emos were. Raging. They were all over the place and I wanted to be tough, weird and dark, and sinister. Appropriating this monstrosity trope is kinda my thing in general and when it comes to my body as such, I am very okay with how I am today and yet some people find me weird. Now it's not even about a band t-shirt or studded bracelet, combat boots, anything like that I did in my edgy youth but just my body as it is. I find that to be a very interesting experience. I think people with body mods must have this feeling a lot as well and in this text, I had fun with the idea. [laugh] But I think it's a very important aspect - being non-normative in any and every way is still such a taboo, especially when it comes to things around the body as-it-is. It can be anything - a disability, being outside current beauty standards. And there is an inherent power in altering your body or just accepting it and liking it even. Despite everything, despite being perceived as wrong and bad, and sick. I wouldn't like to have it any other way.
Still moving inside the topic of monstrosities - what you have said, your whole outlook really, have reminded me of Xenofeminist Manifesto with its lovely:
When the possibility of transition became real and known, the tomb under Nature’s shrine cracked, and new histories–bristling with futures–escaped the old order of ‘sex’.
It’s really about escaping that monstrosity into something completely unknown, unable to be described for cis folks. Do you still vibe with such stuff, meaning queer horror, post-bodism, Porpentine, VanderMeer, etc?
I can't say I'm strongly involved but I genuinely like those ideas. My whole life I had this fascination of anything that is beyond human and yet still human. Body horror is especially something that I feel right in, this is my type of fiction, literature. However, I'm not that well-read, maybe not enough but it's definitely a topic of interest. This is also actually one of the reasons why I chose to become a biologist. Life itself is so interesting in its diversity and its potential. I don't think biology needs to be overcome, I think it has to be understood.
Thank you, it's very interesting. What I also related to in your writing was the post you wrote after going to the sea for the first time post top surgery. It was a great intersection of what we talk about - monstrosity and what I love especially - an experience of the sea as a transient space for trans people, where we can shed everything. It's not really a question, just a thought that occurred to me.
But wait - I actually want to tell you what I haven't written down back then on that topic. When I was pre-transition but already out as trans, I had some experiences of going to a lake, in the middle of the night, completely alone and just swimming in dark water. And it was kind of a dare for me, I was always afraid because yes, complete darkness is scary but there are also real threats around... like humans [laugh]. But I still wanted that and did it a couple of times. It was mostly just local lakes. And it was incredible! These were truly incredible experiences. Most of all this was liberating. I understood that even as my body as it is, as a newly out trans man before medically transitioning, I can still access a body of water, I can still find a way to swim, to feel the water around me.
In the very same essay, you have written that:
I had sacrificed so much and still had pains with every step I took, but I was free, had to finally be allowed to be free. I could cry when thinking about it, even to this day. [...] My anger will never be anything but the anger of a wounded animal. But I still live. I still have a chance to scratch out their eyes.
With that outlook, with conscious & continuous discomfort to cause goes a lot of anger. With my own anger, I consider it my main driving force but I’m afraid it can burn me out so much. How’s this with you?
I have lots of thoughts about it actually. First thing is, I started to see I can't be absolute in my beliefs -at times people that are incredibly dear and close to me will have some views I find problematic and anger won't solve it. I learned to live with occasional ambivalence, I learned to understand I can hate this particular view of this particular person and I'll try to talk them out of it but maybe I won't succeed and maybe that's just how they see the world. Maybe that's just how it is. I learned that sometimes my anger can't be productive, can't change the person I love. This was very painful and sobering but.... it helped me as well.
When it comes to anger on a larger scale, anger against something that is out to destroy you, I see as well as you that it can be a very creative force. I think what's most important is having something of a home base to return to. You need to try and find a space where you're safe enough and don't have to be angry. When I wrote this text and prior to it, the feelings I expressed were those of general unsafety. I got two points in my life and one of those points was in my detransition actually, where I felt that the world is pitted against me and everything is hostile. That was extremely frightening. But it was also kind of true - I wasn't wrong, I wasn't making it all up. What my psychoanalyst told me back then me very angry at him and I included those feelings in the text - he wasn't consciously gaslighting me but he didn't know any better. In a way, he was talking from the position of the person who will never know what it's like.
The reason why I also talked about racism etc. in the text is because well - anti-Black racism is not an experience I will ever go through, even with my migration history and Jewishness - it is something on a whole different level of severity - and yet I found it so relatable. I had a very distinct emotional and physical reaction to it all. What else I'm trying to convey is that there is solidarity to be found in anger and what my psychoanalyst did, convincing me it's just my perception of things and I don't have to be like that all the time - is a shitty thing to say. The world is objectively more shitty to some people and you may not understand it or not understand all of it and it's very important.
Thank you a lot. Now onto my actual last question - reading through your essays I wanted to ask what is the relationship between your transgender identity, detransition, and eating disorder - along with that ubermenschian ideal, the transition from Jewish girl to a German man. Was there continuity, any kind of positive replacement in going through transition, calming this illness down - or a faux way of calming it down that was not a permanent solution but just shoving things back to the closet?
It's important to talk about - there's a cliche floating around trans people with eating disorders. Depending on where you stand, you either accuse trans women of that or say it's specifically trans men. But it's a cliche. Yes, sometimes it rings true because food and looks always tend to interact with your gender to some degree, eating itself tends to be gendered in this society as well. In my case, it was deeper than that. I had an eating disorder since early childhood and it has mostly to do with my mother's behavior.
In one of my posts about antisemitism, you can find the picture of me at the peak of my illness - I'm facing the camera directly with very dark eyes. That's how thin I got. From the outside, it may not be a typical shock picture of anorexia but it was still very painful and hard for me in that period of time. I always like to start talking about the topic by saying the eating disorder is not about behavior, it's about a relationship with yourself, how you feel inside. In my case it wasn't about looks as such, about meeting beauty standards - it was more about power and control. For me, it was about controlling my body and how people react to it.
I wanted to prevent people from perceiving me as vulnerable and this is kind of what I tended to associate with femaleness - my feminity felt really vulnerable at that time. What helped me to overcome these struggles - mind you, not completely erase them but stabilize my ED is understanding that I can be this confident, loud woman who can defend herself. I can exist in a world as a woman and not have to disappear somewhere, not starve myself away. I can be in a world, counter any attack coming my way - at least any verbal attack - and don't need to hide anymore. Making myself small resulted in me being not seen as much, that was the motivation behind my eating disorder, this fantasy of shrinking and disappearing. Becoming invisible.
When it comes to relating to those ubermensch ideals - I'm kinda scared but also very flattered that you read my essays so close - I never thought anybody would understand this on such a level. But here we go. Thank you.
I've read a bit about the theory of fascism and I was especially into the works of Klaus Theweleit, which in Germany is a kind of celebrity but I don't know whether he's known elsewhere. He peaked around the 70s and 80s and was very novel for his time, formulating different theses about the origins of fascism which were very interesting in relation to gender. His main theory was a psychoanalytic one, about masculinity imagery in fascism and what that means. To describe it in the shortest form, fascism is the fight against anything that is perceived as feminine, soft, weak, and wet. The fascist kills those in himself and outside of himself, they're a threat to his outer shell, his hard outer shell.
I very much related to this. I understood that the Soviet ideas of a perfect human - being ready for war at any time, the whole militarism fetish - have actually a lot of common ground with German fascism, breathing the same air so to say. Then there is of course a personal aspect of not needing love or food - me not needing anything means I'm in power and have control. In that way I'm also not vulnerable - if you need something, food, somebody feeding you, somebody caring about you, loving you - you're in a vulnerable position. Because of my own difficult childhood, including the relationship with my mother, this is both very traumatic and formative for me.
My eating disorder is to a degree tied to my masculinity but it doesn't really fit the popular image of transmasculine ED, the common idea of a man starving the feminity off himself. For me, it wasn't about getting rid of the curves or anything like that. I was a chubby man at the beginning of my transition and I was happy with that - as a man, I finally allowed myself to eat. That was very liberating. I didn't feel like I have to deny myself food, love, anything because I reached safety, I wasn't a little, vulnerable girl anymore. I could just go ahead and get what I need. It's complicated. Gender is definitely there somewhere. The whole ubermenschian stuff is also me being just an edgy kid but there's truth in it. There is this aspect to my personality.
Thank you a lot for the interview.