by Ky Schevers
The first version of this article was originally published in TransLash Zine Vol. 6: Anti-Trans Hate Machine (April 2023).
I spent around 6 years living as a detransitioned radical feminist and engaging in conversion
practices based on anti-trans feminist theory. Healing from that can be difficult because there are not a lot of resources or information about anti-trans conversion practices in general, much less those based on anti-trans feminism.
My old group, the detransitioned radical feminist community, made up many of our own theories and methods for dealing with gender dysphoria. We associated with anti-trans lesbian feminist communities which isolate themselves from both mainstream and queer/trans culture. Practically all the information pertaining to my old group was written by myself, or other people who’ve left, or from journalists and researchers we’ve spoken to.
Still, over the years since I retransitioned, I’ve managed to find many ways to heal.
I want to share what’s worked for me in hopes that it’ll be helpful for other trans people who’ve survived conversion practices. While some of what I discuss will be most relevant to conversion practices based on anti-trans feminism, I believe some will be more broadly applicable. I hope at least to show that healing from anti-trans conversion practices is possible. Often just knowing that another person has dealt with the same kind of suffering and gotten through it to a better place is enough to find relief.
CUTTING TIES WITH TRANSPHOBIA
Before I could start healing, I had to cut ties with my old group. I stopped talking to members of my old community and wrote to a few people who’d abused me and told them not to contact me anymore. I also blocked many transphobic detrans people’s social media accounts. Both people I’d known and those I’d never met. I needed space and safety from my old group, and transphobic detrans people in general, before I could start healing.
ACCESSING MENTAL HEALTH RESOURCES
Once I’d cut ties, I could start working through intense feelings connected to trauma from undergoing conversion practices and belonging to a high-control group. I’ve mainly done this through meditating and writing, both of which help me process my emotions. I’ve sat with feelings of grief, violation, sadness, regret, guilt, horror, rage, disappointment, and shame. I’ve written a lot about my feelings and experiences, both in private journals and also writing that I make public to inform people about what going through ideological detransition is like.
CARING FOR MYSELF WITH COMPASSION
As I work through my trauma and recognize how I’ve been harmed, I learn to feel compassion for myself. Feeling compassion for myself helps me develop empathy and solidarity with trans and queer people from a variety of backgrounds. I push myself to make connections with people who are different from myself, while also discovering commonalities. I use caring for myself as a starting point for connecting and working with others. After spending years living according to a strict interpretation of lesbian separatism, I savor the ability to connect with people from diverse backgrounds and experiences.
RECONNECTING WITH TRANS SIBLINGS
Connecting with trans people after years of distancing myself from the trans community is healing but difficult. I spent a season working on a farm with lots of queer and trans people, which was an amazing experience but brought up a lot of grief. I realized how much I’d lost in my years of being disconnected from other trans people and how distorted my views became under the influence of anti-trans feminism. Both were hard realizations but necessary for me to heal. I’ve also made connections with trans-friendly detransitioned people, who I still have much in common with.
BEING ACCOUNTABLE & FORGIVING MYSELF
Acting on my compassion for others means taking responsibility for harm I caused while I was a detransitioned radical feminist. I work to change myself and make up for my past actions. This includes apologizing for harm I’ve caused, both in general and to specific people. I also do opposition research and share what I know about the anti-trans movement with trans researchers, journalists, and the larger trans community to help resist anti-trans activism. Recognizing that I’ve hurt people is disturbing, but taking responsibility for that harm is ultimately freeing. I can’t start acting differently if I don’t admit to myself that my past behavior was wrong and damaging. Owning my past actions helps me move forward with my life. It’s some of the hardest and most healing work I’ve done.
CONTINUING MY TRANS EDUCATION
I’ve worked to unlearn transphobic and transmisogynistic beliefs I internalized while I was an anti-trans feminist. I’ve learned more about trans women’s history in feminism such as reading up on how activists at Camp Trans challenged the trans-exclusionary Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (which I presented at as a detrans radical feminist). I read the work of radical trans women activists and feminists from the 1970’s onwards, learned about trans-supportive cis and genderqueer lesbian feminists, and trans men who lived as lesbian feminists before transitioning. Contrary to what TERFs may claim, trans people have always been part of feminist and lesbian communities.
I’ve done research to better understand what I went through and dissect my old beliefs. I’ve read about conversion therapy, the ex-gay movement, cults, high-control groups, hate movements, ecofascism, and abuse. Two books on cults have been particularly helpful. In Bounded Choice, Janja Lalich describes how cults control people’s psychology and behavior while acknowledging that they still retain some degree of agency. Matthew Remski’s Practice and All is Coming was helpful because of how he connects cults with abuse culture. His book helped me make sense of how some members of my old group reacted once I left and began speaking out. I’ve also dug into the history of ideologies that inspired my old group, including lesbian separatism, ecofeminism, Neo-Paganism, and Dianic witchcraft. Understanding where and how ideas develop helps me detach and look at them more objectively, so I can come to new and better perspectives.
In a more cathartic moment, I ripped up my copy of The Transsexual Empire by Janice Raymond. Internalizing the trans-eliminationist ideas in that book caused me years of suffering, so it felt good to tear it apart.
CONTINUING MY HEALING JOURNEY
After spending years processing trauma and grounding myself, I felt ready to reread old journals, emails, and other writing from when I was a detransitioned radical feminist. Rereading that material was hard and brought up a lot of feelings but helped me deepen my understanding of what happened.
It has taken me years to fully understand how people harmed me and how much of my suffering was caused by their actions instead of absorbing it all as my fault. Realizing that I wasn’t “crazy,” and that instead I’d been abused and manipulated took time, reflection, and research. Another struggle has been realizing that how others hurt me still counts even if I have harmed other people. Acknowledging the ways I’ve been harmed doesn’t mean I’m dodging accountability.
Throughout my healing process, I’ve been learning to trust my inner voice. I’ve been talking back to the voices of specific abusive people and internalized group norms. At the beginning, the internalized voices were very loud but now I hear my own voice much more clearly. It’s an ongoing process that connects with creating my own story and understanding of what happened, as distinct from the story people in my old group wanted me to tell. Finding and trusting my inner voice allowed me to experiment with packing and binding—two practices that were stigmatized in my old group as “self-harm”. Retransitioning has meant integrating both my transition and detransition, and giving myself space to let my feelings about gender evolve as I figure out who I am and what I need. While giving myself freedom to be whoever I am, I also practice giving that freedom to other trans, genderqueer, and gender-questioning people. Everyone deserves the space to be whatever they are.
SUPPORTING OTHER TRANS PEOPLE
Closer to home, I’ve happily supported my husband Lee’s choice to take testosterone. S/he stopped taking T partially under the influence of propaganda from my old group. After spending years in radical feminist groups that exaggerate the risks of HRT, I admit I was nervous when s/he decided to go back on T but seeing how s/he benefited helped me work through and challenge what I’d internalized.
In the years since I left and started healing, I’ve been patient with myself, knowing that it’ll take time to heal from six years of conversion practices and ideological detransition. I take my time working through things, not pushing myself. My old group claimed to have solutions for my problems but instead, their ideas and methods ended up creating more suffering in the short and long run. So now I give myself time to figure out what’s actually going to help. I might spend a lot of time feeling confused or like a mess but over time the work I’ve been doing pays off as I find more healing and clarity.
To sum up, a lot of what’s helped me is working through and processing feelings, self-education to understand what I went through, creating a new story of what happened, taking responsibility and working to repair past harm, connecting with others and participating in queer/trans communities. It’s all part of a larger process that helps me reclaim myself, my voice and my life.
Ky Schevers (she/her) is a retrans genderqueer butch dyke who writes about surviving conversion practices/ideological detransition. She also does opposition research monitoring the anti-trans movement and works to create better resources for detrans and retrans people.