Last week, I wrote an entry titled "How to Help a Friend who is Gender non-conforming." This is a continuation of the topic, but a little further down the rabbit hole.
So, let's use the same Brittneigh from Part 1. She now goes exclusively by male pronouns. Her new clique of friends have either transitioned, are seriously considering transitioning, or are genderqueer. She's been visiting online trans message boards, has started a youtube channel to document her transition, and her entire demeanor is different. She wears "guy clothes," has mostly "guy interests" completely hates her body, and doesn't associate with the genderqueer label anymore, owing to her desire to make a "permanent" shift to male.
As her friend, you've tried calling out sexism to her. You've assured her that you'll be there for her and support her. You haven't used her as a walking encyclopedia of trans concepts. You've asked her prodding questions and she is still steadfast in wanting to continue forward with transitioning despite serious risks to her health and safety. You've tried sending her feminist literature, music, and documentaries. No matter what you've tried, she finds it all a universe away from her because she claims that she just simply "isn't like those other girls." She's not a lesbian, definitely not a BUTCH lesbian (oh, the absolute HORROR), she's a MAN. Not a "girl" a MAN.
What is there to do? Anything at this point?
I hate to be the one to break this news to you, but usually if someone is this far down the road in the midst of a combination of factors leading up to this point, there isn't too much you CAN do from a radical feminist perspective.
To be honest, if a person is stubborn enough to want to do this to themselves, they are going to do it with or without your words of caution. I've seen radfems caution trans people and I've seen trans people caution trans people. If a person has their mind made up, there isn't much of a chance.
There are a few things you can still do at this point, though.
1. DO remind your friend that the dangers of transitioning are VERY real even though the medical industry tries their hardest to cover things up. Transition can and sometimes does go terribly wrong. Trans people often look the other way or they consider botched surgeries an anomaly that has a slim chance of happening to anyone else. Remind your friend that there are risks associated with any type of cosmetic or invasive surgeries, and transitioning is not exempt from mistakes.
2. DO ask your friend if they have directly spoken with anyone who HAS de-transitioned if not for any other reason than for knowing alternative perspectives. At some point in the future, I will have a list of blogs of detransitioners available for people to direct their friends towards. This step is imperative to your friend being able to make a TRULY informed decision, so as to avoid lectures beginning with "YOU MADE A MISTAKE. TAKE RESPONSIBILITY." It is important that ANYONE considering transition be able to hear the voices of people who ALSO genuinely thought they were the opposite sex and then had regret after transition. The more perspectives your friend hears, the better off they will be. Sometimes you just gotta hear the horror stories and the failed stories in order to realize that this isn't a cure-all zero-sum game. It's not a game at all. It's a life-changing decision - for better, but MORE likely for worse.
3. DON'T be too pushy. This one is HUGE. They do not want, nor think they require your advice or help. They will trust medical professionals, phamaceuticals, the porn industry, and their equally confused peers over the advice of you any day. Which is sad, but as radical feminists, you should be used to this by now. Don't come off too strongly or come off as judgemental because this will ultimately push your friend away and make her feel more isolated, alone, and depressed, which will just push her further towards transitioning and towards her new friends.
4. DO check-in with your friend as much as possible about other things in her life. One of the factors that trans people often cite for needing to transition is suicidality. They will often say "if I don't get treatment, I will kill myself." Often, when a person is suicidal, it's not just one thing they feel suicidal over - it is often a combination of factors stacked up to that person's breaking point. If your friend expresses suicidal thoughts, get them in contact with a national suicide hotline or The Trevor Project if you suspect they are being bullied. Show your support for their emotional well-being without necessarily encouraging transition. Ask her why she feels suicide or treatment are the only options she has. Ask her what alternatives she has considered BESIDES suicide or transition. Have her focus on those things. Remind her of things that are important to her (family if she still has good standing with them, friends, pets, hobbies, her job if she likes it, just ANYTHING that can keep her going and thinking about things besides transition). Take direct threats of suicide very seriously and seek emergency help when appropriate.
5. DO help her: If your friend engages in any other types of risky behaviors, including but not limited to drugs/alcohol, unprotected sex, eating disorders, spending sprees, self-harm/self mutilation, other types of addictions, etc, try to assist her in getting help for these external issues.
6. DO really open up to your friend. This might mean getting deeply personal about your own issues. If you feel discomfort about your female body, SAY SO. Tell your friend how you try to work through it yourself (or if you haven't been able to yet). If you don't like being touched sexually, and you're comfortable discussing this with your friend, tell her so. A lot of people who transition have "top and/or bottom dysphoria" and one of the results of dysphoria means they often shut down during sex or don't want to be touched. A history of sexual and/or physical abuse might be present. Talk these things out with your friend. Transitioning doesn't necessarily help the trauma magically disappear - in the case of FTMs it just raises the libido, which can make dissociation easier. Basically, get personal with your friend. Find out what stuff is going on that's leading to this decision.
7. DO take good self-care. Your friend might become deeply misogynistic in her attitude and opinions. She might distance herself from feminism if she was ever really attached to feminism at all. One of the things I did during my transition was I realized that my "passing ability" wasn't so much related to my physical features - my passing ability SKYROCKETED when I became a misogynistic ass. During my transition if I so much as MENTIONED feminism in a conversation with a man, I got second-guessed, I got suspicious looks, I got misogynistic questions thrown at me "are you a faggot? are you a woman? why do you care about feminism so much?" In short, your friend might or might not become totally different than anything you've known about her. Remember to be good to YOURSELF because you're dealing with all of this too, and no, it is NOT "cis privilege" to acknowledge YOUR feelings about how your friend's transition affects YOU. This is just called thinking critically!
8. DO remind your friend that you'll be there for her and stick by your word. I mean it. One of my biggest fears before I de-transitioned was whether the world was going to accept me again once I stopped. People often get told there is no going back with transition, and physically speaking depending on what steps the transitioner has taken, this is correct. However, in my case being candid and open to dialogue helped. I had NO troubles getting back to feminism and the lesbian community. THEY did not view me as a traitor (as I was told would happen to detransitioners), TRANS people viewed me as a traitor. Apparently there is no room for mistakes or forgiveness or even feminism in trans circles, but there are ALL of these things in feminism!
Part 3: "How to Help a Friend who is Considering DE-transition" will be up later this week.