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It’s quite astonishing how unchecked thinking can carry its way into adulthood. Even as a young adult, when turning off the hallway light, I would sprint up the stairs in case any imaginary monsters bit my ankles from the shadows. As soon as I got into my room, I’d shudder after slamming the door. Even though every part of my brain knew the fear was absurd, my body believed in it. Just like I believed for years that there was something wrong with me.
The fear of becoming a man didn’t sprout from nowhere. Like damp in a dingy dark room, the idea was infectious and had ample ground to grow. Unchecked, it overtook me, and by my early adulthood I had already travelled far down that path which was to lead to my body’s destruction in the name of gender dysphoria.
In 2018, I underwent a surgery I regretted instantly. My testicles were severed, the erectile tissue was ripped away, my penis was skinned and inverted, but I suppose ‘bottom surgery’ or ‘SRS’ sounds much politer. It’s an insane surgery, and I should never have had it. And for what? For an idea. For the idea that I was really a woman and needed to alter my body to match how I felt on the inside. My nature clearly needed to be medicalised.
Growing up in a barren place
Today, I’ve come to the realisation that not everything is black and white. It may seem obvious to you, but not to my absolutist mind. It took many years and hard lessons to realise that there are many shades of men and women.
Those who seek out transition, as I did, often do so from a desperate place of isolation and anxiety. It’s all blamed on dysphoria, of course, not on the horrific things they endured growing up. Most, though not all of my cohort, who transitioned in 2012-16 were on the autism spectrum, experienced heightened anxiety disorders like obsessive compulsive disorder, bullying, problems at home, with peers, many different things.
«Those who seek out transition, as I did, often do so from a desperate place of isolation and anxiety.»
My own story begins in the back end of the 80s, in a small mining village in Northumberland, England. It’s a bit of a culture black spot and had suffered quite heavily with a lot of the local industry coming to an end in the 80s and 90s.
By the early 2000s, the area had become a bit of a time capsule in terms of culture, much like many small towns in the UK. As such, it was a tough place to grow up in, especially if you weren’t tough yourself, and were soft as shit like me. The men in my family didn’t have that problem, they were all fairly stereotypical working-class men, who loved to scream at a football game on TV could could seemingly build just about anything, especially with a garage full of tools and oily rags. My older brother is a lot like them, tough and practically minded. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t be like any of them. I related more strongly to my mother, and given the choice to go with my dad and brother or my mother, I’d pick her. It felt easier, as did hanging around girls and women as I grew up.
To everyone but me, it was fairly obvious I was going to end up gay. I had the stereotypical pipeline: wanting to dress up, play with the toys that were marketed for girls, to sing and dance. Yet that was just some of the time – for the rest of it, I was also a typical boy. Trucks, cars, diggers and legos, I loved them all, and back then none of it meant anything.
The fear of being gay was strong, and it controlled my anxiety and obsessive thinking. I knew it deep down, especially when I fell in love with one of my friends. I was alarmed that that feeling just wouldn’t go away. He made my cheeks hurt from smiling, and I just wanted to be around him non-stop. The budding aspects of my sexuality filled me with a terrible worry, knowing that I was in love with him. Why terrible? Maybe it was that unchecked thinking from a throwaway comment I heard as a kid, or the constant use of the word gay to mean something negative. All I knew was, it wasn’t a good thing.
Amongst Strangers and Youth
I turned to the online world for an answer. Like a lamb, I wandered into a den of wolves. AOL Chatrooms, Yahoo Answers, MSN Messenger, ICQ – the very early forms of social media captured my interest in the most catastrophic way. With my heart beating inside my head, I would have the mouse ready to close the window of the Gay chatroom I was about to enter, the only place I could ask questions. It was the very early 2000s, and I didn’t know who I was talking to.
As a teenager, my parents divorced, my brother who had defended me my entire life was off to war, and I was suddenly having to fight my own battles. I wasn’t good at it, and the others knew. Like my brother’s, my puberty was late for natural reasons. But unlike him, I wasn’t good at socialising, understanding jokes and was extremely naïve. High school was a battleground to me. By the time I left it, I was an anxious mess.
Was this all toxic masculinity? Possibly, for it was all very hypermasculine. The abuse I had in school very rarely came from girls. It came from other boys, of course. I was tortured physically, set on fire, sprinkled with acid, pranked, lured into traps and, naturally, would melt down, to the merriment of everyone.
I’m old enough to remember the sound dial up Internet, the glorious electronic orchestra of twisting noises, confirming the connection had been made. The computer and Internet offered an out, escapism. I spent the best part of my childhood indoors, behind a CRT monitor, talking to adults online, spilling all my fears and anxieties, thinking the safety of my room offered ample separation. It didn’t, no one knew how they could reach you there too, and they did. I don’t think that was the main cause of my transition though. Realising that I was ‘turning gay’, I tried my best to unlearn it through pornography. None of it satisfied me, especially as I was browsing the heterosexual categories. So when I got going, I would always end up in the gay section. Every single time. And afterwards, I’d feel immense shame and guilt.
I think pornography does have a part to play in the motivations behind transitioning, but it’s not the key ingredient. The feeling of being a lesser man was installed well before I had that internet connection, though perhaps the latter intensified the former. In any case, there is a common knee-jerk answer given by some observers looking into experiences they themselves never had: to blame it all on porn. However, the main cause is not porn, even if it may be partly to blame. If you’re asking me, I think all porn is abhorrent, especially the ease with which it can be accessed. It’s a generational MKUltra-like experiment that’s warping a lot of young minds.
A cult with easy answers
The danger was that when I started to seek out treatment for my crippling mental health issues in my early twenties, I got lost on the way, and my obsessive mind found the concept of gender dysphoria. “Bingo!”, I thought to myself. “This is it. This is the reason, and not all that has happened to me, nor all the years of isolation and anxiety. It was of course all because I was in the wrong body. Duh!”
Like a born-again Christian, it gave me a fresh slate, free from the constant punishment of self, a new start. I immediately sought out how to transition, with nothing but this new obsession driving me. I was determined. This is life or death, I said to myself. My life was miserable, and everything I read about being transgender rang true to me.
When I told my brother and mother I had something to tell them, they both instinctively said “You’re gay, aren’t you?.” To which I very proudly responded, “No, I’m transgender!” Of course they doubted it – they knew me better.
Yet, the people online, the community that was available 24/7, did not. The Gender Clinic didn’t either. In fact, they would say multiple times how I was an ideal candidate. When I had surgery in 2018, I told them that I regretted it immediately and was told it wasn’t regret but OCD, and not only OCD, but a new diagnosis of unstable personality disorder!
Byways with no exits
“But you had so much therapy,” people will say. I saw a fucking gender therapist. It’s like going to see a priest if you’re thinking about leaving the religion. It’s insane. And none of it – not the hormones, voice exercises, lasers, nor even when the surgeon removed my testicles, inverted my penis, and shoved it back inside my flesh and called it a vagina – made me a woman.
It felt like a solution, a shortcut even, but it’s not. Instead, like going down an old country lane to circumvent the traffic of life, you find yourself mired deep in mud, with punctured tires and no one to help you. And those that do hear your calls ridicule you for taking that route. It seemed like such a good deal for all of us. It wasn’t. We have debts, measured in lost flesh, which cannot be repaid.
So many young men are being castrated, their faces carved up, the bones shaved away. I won’t even get into the issues of the surgery I had, because it gets far worse than what I cope with. On the scale of damage, I’m actually one of the luckier ones, since despite the pain, incontinence and anguish, it still could be far worse. There are many examples to prove this.
But what drives us here? Porn? Toxic Masculinity? Trauma? I’d argue it’s a great mix of ingredients that make up a chemical soup, causing the right conditions for what has been coined gender dysphoria.
Yet, we are not offering much of an alternative to us soft boys. Our own sex looks down on us for our effeminacy, our lack of strength and, in many cases, our submissive nature. They are quick to dominate us, and outsiders are equally quick to blame us for allowing such domination to take place. So retreating into a Trans identity makes sense, and it also makes sense why so many young, un-masculine men are taking this road. Whatever anyone’s path in life, no one deserves to be harmed or misled. Nor should they be punished for doing so. Many of us have already paid too much.
Which brings me onto my final and most pertinent point. The number of young men who are gay and falling down the abyss of transition is miniscule compared to the typically heterosexual transitioners getting surgeries. Yet they are not given the same credence. They’re viewed as less than human, often equated with sexual predators. I feel for them, because it’s a large silent majority that have ways which are very similar, and they too are being harmed, but aren’t the right type of victim.
Even now, gender non-conformity in males is treated with a benign mistrust. ‘Dress as you please’ seems to have gone out the window. I very rarely wore dresses, but I did have one summer dress that I liked a lot. It even had front pockets. Pockets! But if I was to wear that now, I’d probably get accused of either retransitioning or being autogynephilic.
Again, I understand why people stay in their Trans identity – we don’t have much of an alternative. And by “we” I mean my tribe. The soft boys, tomgirls, the nerds, the ones most likely to fall prey to this idea, the ones most likely to have already experienced rejection, and who can see the appeal of something that has a set of pre-packaged instructions and a community on hand for any doubts 24/7 every day of the year.
I don’t know what the solution is. But I know it’s starts with being honest. And the truth is, I’m still afraid. Just not for myself.