I developed an obsession with classic rock, and while searching the internet for photos of young Elvis Presley I found a website called Tumblr. I immediately noticed that on Tumblr, there were many accounts posting about 50s, 60s, and 70s artists and that best of all, they were other teenage girls. I made an account and began posting scans of some vintage pop magazines I had bought off eBay, and soon enough, these accounts were following me back. Between sharing photos, drawings, and fanfiction, these girls were posting about their lives and going into deep detail about their struggles. Many were social outcasts like me, also struggling with things like self-harm and eating disorders. Finding a community of such like minded people felt amazing, and I quickly began spending nearly every waking moment on Tumblr or messaging some friend I had met on there…
A major aspect of Tumblr culture has always been social justice ideology. Things that are now being played out and witnessed by the general public on platforms like Twitter and TikTok, like dissociative identity disorder LARPers, demisexuals, neopronouns, otherkin, and everything you see on @LibsOfTikTok, have long existed in an uncannily identical form on tumblr.com. The oppression hierarchy of racial and gender identities now being written into law in many of our once serious nations was the state religion of the People’s Republic of Tumblr long before your political junkie uncle knew the term “CRT”. As cultish religions tend to operate, open devotion to the religion is mandatory. Perhaps the outsiders most likely to understand the way social dynamics worked on that website would be survivors of Scientology or the Jehovah’s Witnesses. On Tumblr, the situation was such that any claim to being “oppressed” would accumulate social credibility, while any unfortunate “privileged” status was justification for verbal abuse. As a “privileged” person, you were expected to constantly grovel and apologize, you had no right to speak on any issue involving the group you were “oppressing”, and you could not object in any way to any mistreatment hurled against you because of your race, gender, or sexuality.
Helena, a white, boy-obsessed teenage girl from a middle class family, was privileged. However, she soon discovered there was an exception to the ordinary hierarchy on Tumblr. Anyone who identified as trans was almost instantly met with respect and affirmation.
You can’t change your race, pretending to have a different sexuality would be very uncomfortable in practice, but you can absolutely change your gender, and it’s as easy as putting a “she/they” in your bio. Instantly you are transformed from an oppressing, entitled, evil, bigoted, selfish, disgusting cishet white scum into a valid trans person who deserves celebration and special coddling to make up for the marginalization and oppression you supposedly now face.
For Helena, interest in being non-binary and then trans was connected to the world of fan-fiction where teen girls were writing about male/male pairings of various celebrities or fictional characters. That may sound odd but for Helena this was an escape from a real world in which real boys were attractive but also scary. She also did not feel good about herself or her appearance at the time.
It became this liminal space where I could explore what interested me about boys and fantasies about relationships, connecting it to whatever my media obsession was at the time, without the pressure of interacting with real boys, as real boys made me painfully bashful.
She goes into detail about how even popular stories like the Harry Potter books and movies became a place for her to imagine her own “head canon” (something different from the official story) in which Harry was a trans boy. Over time, the idea of being trans, like the boys in the fan fiction she admired, became a way to try to live out those fantasies. So Helena started using a male name and dressing more like a boy. She cut her hair and eventually announced to her mother, on a ride home from a supermarket, that she was trans and wanted to be known by a new name.
Her mother’s response was “No.” And that immediately played into things Helena had already read about parents not supporting trans kids and even disowning them. She went to see her guidance counselor at school and told her that her trans identity was not being affirmed by her parents. The counselor sided with her and helped her plan for how she could start taking testosterone without her parents knowledge once she turned eighteen.
And in 2016, after turning 18, Helena went to a Planned Parenthood in Chicago for her first testosterone injection. The nurse suggested starting out with a low dosage but Helena argued she needed to start with as high a dosage as possible and the nurse agreed. She was prescribed 100mg of testosterone, self-injected once a week.
A few days after starting these injections Helena started college under her new name. At this point the narrative becomes a bit harder to follow but basically it seems the testosterone only compounded her pre-existing issues and Helena wound up being isolated and doing poorly in school. It got so bad that she and her best friend (also trans) came up with a plan to abandon school and move to Chicago for a fresh start.
But ultimately you can’t run away from your problems, especially if the main problem is your own identity. Helena and her friend did move to Chicago but she soon she found herself working long overnight shifts and struggling even more with her mental health and isolation:
When I was emotionally overwhelmed, instead of easily crying like before I would start to feel extremely angry, and instead of hitting others or anything in my surroundings, I resorted to hitting myself. I would struggle against the anger by punching myself and eventually, after there was enough pain, I could cry and when I cried I’d cry for hours, often falling asleep and not remembering much when I’d wake up. I had these kinds of meltdowns about once a week or so, and regularly had bruises on my head and body from where I would hit myself.
One day she wound up hurting herself with a kitchen knife. Her friend took her to the hospital and she was put into the psych ward overnight and eventually given prescriptions for a bunch new medications including an anti-psychotic. During this entire experience, no one ever suggested her transition or her weekly dosage of testosterone might be part of the problem.
Gradually, she began to have second thoughts about her transition. The “a-ha” moment came when a friend put together a series of photos set to music which played out chronologically. As Helena looked at her own face from the time she’d started hormone treatment until the present day, she burst into tears.
I began to sob uncontrollably. At first, Jamie thought I was crying because I loved the video so much, but I quickly informed her it was something else, but I wouldn’t say what. I cried, and cried, and cried. Every memory those photos evoked was flashing before my eyes, all the pain I knew was behind my eyes was emerging vividly. I saw innocence turn to anguish and I knew I had been on the wrong path for a long, long time.
But Helena quickly learned that while announcing she was trans was cause for celebration online, announcing she’d had second thoughts led everyone to question if she was making a big mistake. This included her therapist who tried to convince her that “transphobia” was making her hate herself. She also had to tell her parents that after all the difficulty she’d put them through, she had changed her mind. She says they resisted the urge to say “I told you so.”
More than three years out from her decision to detransition, Helena now feels like she’s gone back to being the person she was before Tumblr:
I often felt that upon waking up from “the spell”, I was transported backwards in time into the consciousness of my fifteen-year-old self. Like all the years of being trans were not really me, and the real me lied dormant under it all, finally able to come forward once the false persona disintegrated.
It makes me wonder how many other people have fallen under this same spell who are only now regretting it. Here’s an interview Helena did talking about her story last May.
Via Hot Air