Trans Analysis: Zinnia Jones on Dysphoria, Conversion Therapy, and Forgiveness

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TransEthics: At what age did you begin transition?

Zinnia Jones: I started medically transitioning when I was 23. I was living as a woman full-time for at least several months prior, and I was frequently being read as a woman in public for a couple years before that.

TE: Is your family supportive?

ZJ: My partner Heather has always been extremely supportive and encouraging. She gave me an environment where living as a woman was something comfortable, welcomed, and desirable. She was probably the biggest contributing factor to me finally finding the confidence to start HRT – particularly because we both knew that, if anything, this would make me even more attractive to her, not less. Our kids have been very understanding and it’s been a total non-issue. They’ve always known me as a woman and they were relatively young at the time I started transitioning, and Heather was able to explain it to them in a straightforward and age-appropriate way: that some girls have “boy bodies” and vice versa, and I was taking medicine to give me a “girl body”.

My father and his side of the family have been very supportive, almost unexpectedly so. I had very little idea of how this would be received by them, but they’ve always been respectful, used my name and pronouns, introduced me as a daughter/sister/aunt and so on, and have overall made this a much more comfortable process than I was preparing for. I’ve had some issues with one of my uncles, but he’s not very liked by most of the family so this hasn’t been much of a problem.

When I came out, it was unexpected for my mother – she had been under the impression that I was just a very feminine guy, and she wasn’t sure what other people would think about this. We did have some difficulties negotiating how to broach the topic with my very conservative and religious grandfather, although this was ultimately not that big of a deal – he was much more understanding of my need to transition than I expected he would be. Overall, family hasn’t been much of a problem area for me in relation to transitioning.

TE: How did you come up with the idea for your Gender Analysis YouTube series?

ZJ: YouTube videos are something I’m accustomed to doing – I’ve had a channel since 2008 and I’ve done over 450 videos with little break or interruption over that time. It’s more or less second nature and a matter of habit for me. I’d addressed trans topics before, but in an uneven manner and a relatively unstructured format. I realized that I could improve the quality, appeal, and reach of my content by putting it in an episodic format as part of a regularly published series, particularly given the increasing attention given to trans issues in the media. By condensing this into an established series with a well-defined focus, I was also able to monetize it more easily through Patreon – fans of the series have an opportunity to support it directly, and it’s been much more effective in funding continued production of the show than YouTube ad revenue sharing.

TE: Is it your goal with the series to make trans people more relatable to the general public?

ZJ: This is a theme of the series, but more than that, it’s a theme of all of my work. I’ve found that this is often a matter of actions more than words. Simply existing publicly as an out trans person means creating opportunities for people to become familiar with us – when they see me, they know one more trans person than they did before. They know about my life, my history, my motivations and ambitions, my unique and defining features and interests.

This is what it means to humanize a group of people in the eyes of the larger public. It’s easy to make quick and uncharitable generalizations about who we are when you have a near vacuum of actual knowledge about us as real individuals. Unfamiliarity reduces us to an abstract concept for the wildest array of misconceptions and fears to be projected upon, rather than actual people who are a lot like you and are sharing a world with you. My series more narrowly serves to highlight specific issues facing trans people – aspects of our lives that can be quite challenging, but that cis people would otherwise have no reason to consider or be aware of in the usual course of their lives. These are experiences that I want to convey to cis people – I want more of them to have a deeper and more meaningful grasp of what this is like for us.

TE: Along that line, how would you describe gender dysphoria to someone who isn’t trans themselves?

ZJ: Gender dysphoria is an experience that’s distinct for each trans person, even as there are often broad similarities. My experience wasn’t like the usual straightforward description of early affiliation with another gender, acute awareness that various sexual characteristics were wrong, and an urgent need to correct this both socially and physically. For me, the physical and even gendered aspects of dysphoria were largely secondary. I had some discomfort at puberty when my voice dropped and I began developing body hair, but ultimately these features were subtle enough that I could usually present and be seen as a woman comfortably and easily, even before medically transitioning.

The experience of dysphoria that I’m most familiar with is that of an all-encompassing distancing and separation from the world. Dysphoria is something that muted my experience of reality and even of my own self. Even before I was aware that this was gender dysphoria, I described this feeling as being like an impenetrable skin that surrounds me, letting me exist in the world while never being able to touch it or feel it. I was there – I existed – but it was like I didn’t belong anywhere. I couldn’t bring myself to care about my life, my goals, or what I was doing at any given time. Contemplating my future seemed pointless because my own existence felt utterly directionless and constantly uneasy, with (at the time) no idea how to fix this and no end in sight. My everyday life simply felt grating, and just getting through the day sapped me of what little energy I had to keep moving forward. Living in the world was so sterile and everything felt like going through the motions. My feelings were like faint and indecipherable echoes. I knew this was a problem, too – I often wondered why I simply couldn’t relax and have fun like other kids seemed to be doing, and how they were able to live in the world without always feeling like something was indescribably wrong. I eventually reached a point where I felt I had to accept this persistent negativity and fatigue was just a part of my personality, but I desperately didn’t want to keep feeling this way. I would have done anything to escape from it. I would compare it to the experience of depression – it’s just as insidious and corrosive to one’s life, albeit in its own unique ways.

While I’ve still struggled with depression and anxiety at times, HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) did so much to dial back this particular experience of dysphoria. I wasn’t even aware HRT could have these effects, so it came as a total surprise when that suffocating separation from the world suddenly lifted within the first week. One day, everything just started to be so easy, so natural – so normal in a way that I had never felt before, a way that I had only associated with other people. Everything that had been missing – the sense of purpose, the hunger for life, the drive not just to keep existing but to grow and thrive – started to fall into place almost effortlessly. I wanted things now, simply because I wanted them. Something as simple as wanting things had eluded my understanding for decades. There’s such a new richness and depth to my emotions and I love being able to feel things in so much detail – it was like discovering and exploring a new world within myself. And I’m so much easier to be around now, more pleasant and outgoing, finally able to relax and enjoy life while existing in the moment and not being distracted by my own unease. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this added so many new and important pieces to myself; I’m largely a different person than who I was when I started. Dysphoria had robbed me of so much of my life for 23 years. Transitioning gave all of this back to me, and let me live the life I should have had from the beginning.

In light of this, I would particularly ask people to consider carefully what they’re asking us to give up when they suggest that we should pursue some alternative to transitioning. It’s very important to grasp what this would actually mean for us, and why we know with such certainty that we can’t go back.

TE: Transitioning is the only known treatment for gender dysphoria that I know of. How would you make an argument against “Conversion Therapy” which is supported by most conservatives?

ZJ: I would ask them to contemplate how much effort another person would have to exert to persuade them that they are actually another gender and should live as such. Would the nature of such efforts make it an uncomfortable experience to be on the receiving end of this? Almost certainly – you would be asking a person to obliterate something that’s a core part of their self and both their private and public existence. You would be asking them to take on a state of being that they do not relate to at all, and publicly perform an identity that every fiber of their being is resisting. It would require convincing them to disregard their own internal knowledge of what is the most comfortable and effective way for them to live their lives. These are just some of the most immediately obvious reasons why “conversion therapy” is both ineffective and inhumane – it inherently entails asking a person to ignore their own humanity and what makes them thrive as a person, and subjugate this to someone else’s mere preferences for what they feel our inner selves “ought” to be. It’s an indefensible denial of the self, for the most unjustifiable and trivial reasons.

TE: What advice would you give to parents of trans children?

ZJ: Children who are trans experience better mental health and overall well-being in their lives when their parents support them in living as their gender. This is something you can do that is known to make your child’s life easier and more comfortable. Conversely, denying that a child is trans or depriving them of the ability to express their gender has never been shown to make children stop being trans. Rejecting a trans child will not give you a cis child, only a trans child who has now experienced a deep and painful rejection from their own parents.

Your child depends on you and relies on you for care and support. They are in the most vulnerable of positions, and telling them that who they are is “wrong” has a damaging impact that can last a lifetime. Treatments to block puberty at its onset are increasingly available at a growing number of pediatric endocrinology clinics, and these treatments help reduce trans children’s dysphoria and psychiatric co-morbidity by preventing the development of sex characteristics that are deeply uncomfortable and inappropriate for them. This can also help to reduce the need for more invasive, expensive, and painful transition procedures later. If your child shows an interest in this treatment or is distressed about the onset of puberty, you should allow them to pursue this and be evaluated by supportive and experienced professionals.

TE: Do you think Transition should be by informed consent, rather than through the current system (commonly called “Gatekeeping”)?

ZJ: I think there should be more room for trans people to exercise self-determination in how they want to transition. Informed consent transition care should definitely be widely available. General practitioners, nurse practitioners, and other providers are all capable of providing treatments such as HRT under an informed consent model – it would be extremely helpful to trans people if more of these professionals learned the protocols involved and began to offer this care.

Many trans people find that convincing a therapist to provide a referral for treatment can be an unnecessary obstacle to the care they already know they need. It can put trans people in the degrading position of being asked to “prove” who they are to another person as a precondition of receiving medical treatment. If a trans person feels they would benefit from therapy sessions or a longer period of consideration before making medical decisions, they should be empowered to receive that care from professionals who will facilitate them in clarifying and pursuing their goals. But there is no need to require all trans people to go through this.

TE: Shifting gears a bit, there seems to be a lot of in-fighting among the trans community. Why do you think trans people – we trans women in particular – seem to be quick to judge and slow to forgive?

ZJ: I don’t feel I have the experience or familiarity necessary to compare how judgmental or unforgiving trans women are compared to other trans people or determine that they exhibit these tendencies to a greater degree. One reason trans people can often be so “on alert” is that trans issues are fundamentally issues of our selfhood. When someone else makes claims about transness and trans experiences that seem to represent us inaccurately, it’s easy to feel like our very identities are being denied by them – and that can make it feel like they pose a threat to us. Another contributing factor is that there actually is a great deal at stake here. There are relatively few of us compared to the cis population, and so when they focus the spotlight of public attention on us, every individual has an outsized and amplified voice. It’s understandable that we would expect one another to exercise responsibility here – it’s very common for various media outlets or the cis public in general to take something that one of us says and run with it, believing that it applies to trans people as a whole.

More immediately, trans people typically have good reason to be very on-edge about being wronged: we’re dealing with being wronged by a largely unaccepting and hostile society on both an individual and group level, and on an ongoing basis. A person who is constantly under attack, and always being put on the defensive, will necessarily tend to be defensive most of the time. When every day is another round of repeatedly fielding the misperceptions and harsh judgment of many cis people, it’s easy for a trans person to run out of patience when we see one of us doing or saying something that appears to be harmful to us.

TE: How do we as trans people work to begin forgiving each other?

ZJ: It’s important to remember that people are capable of learning – really, it would make no sense to push for progress and understanding if you believe that a person can never correct their mistakes. We all started somewhere, and none of us sprang forth fully formed and possessing a complete familiarity with these topics. Trans issues are an incredibly wide and deep field and it is normal that a typical person will make missteps out of unfamiliarity – even a trans person. My own videos on trans issues from before I transitioned demonstrate this vividly. While I was supportive, I phrased things like a cis person with only a cursory knowledge of what transness is like and what it entails in someone’s life. There was so much that I had to learn, frequently through having to make an active effort at reading up on relevant literature and exposing myself to as many other trans people’s experiences and perspectives as I could find. Other people will be at various stages of learning as well. To me, learning is something that should never stop, and there will always be more opportunities to develop and elaborate on our understanding of these subjects. We should recognize when someone is making a good-faith effort to learn and to do better.

TE: That’s very insightful. Thank you for your sharing with us tonight.

ZJ: Absolutely! Thanks for having me – you’re a fantastic interviewer.

TE: Well, thank you!

Follow Zinnia Jones on Twitter.
Visit Zinnia’s website, Gender Analysis.

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One comment on “Trans Analysis: Zinnia Jones on Dysphoria, Conversion Therapy, and Forgiveness

  1. Pingback: An interview at TransEthics: Public outreach, healthcare, and community dynamics - Zinnia Jones

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