Episode 45: Lee Jaszlics’s Detransition Experience
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Hello and welcome to Assigned Scientist at Bachelor’s. I’m Charles and I’m an entomologist.
And I’m Tessa, and I’m an astrobiologist.
And today we have a very special guest Lee Jaszlick. Lee is the nature photographer and technical writer. They have a bachelor’s degree in biology and their graduate studies focused on the evolution of crocodilian skull shapes. Lee, welcome to the show.
Hi, it’s nice to be here.
It’s fantastic to have you on. And this is a little bit of an unusual guest interview because we have brought you on not necessarily to talk about science, but instead specifically to talk about your experience being non binary and transitioning and detransitioning. But to begin with, why don’t we just talk a little bit about your background in science and your interest in science?
I have a background in herpetology and eventually ended up dropping out of the Ph. D. program because academia wasn’t really for me valid. So valid, but I’ve always had sort of an interest in the evolution of archosaurs and crocodilians specifically. And so I was just sort of looking at shape changes in skulls, and how those relate to feeding patterns and sort of evolutionary relationships between modern crocodiles.
I know that you take a lot of pictures of birds. Is that at all related to your interest in herpetology? Or is it just that birds are good to take pictures of?
So actually, it’s because when I finished my graduate work, I ended up moving to Australia for a year. And I moved to Australia, because as everybody knows, it’s full of exciting, deadly reptiles. And I think I saw four snakes the entire year that I was there. But it turns out that Australia is also full of incredible avifauna, which is everywhere. And so I brought my camera all that way, I might as well take pictures of them. And they really grew on me.
Do you have a favorite bird?
I think all kinds of kingfishers I can’t really narrow down to one kingfisher. But you know, they’re only three families. So that’s not that bad.
Tessa, what’s your favorite kind of bird?
Ooh, probably hummingbirds just because they’re cute. And they also do some pretty cool migration stuff. They go very long ways for very small birds.
My favorite bird is vultures, because I’ve decided to just lean into it and make, you know, trash eaters, my whole personality.
You know what, I respect that.
I mean, these are both really excellent choices.
Let’s get into it, could you talk more about sort of what led you to transition and then what led you to detransition?
So in terms of like my own self image, I actually think it’s been something that’s been relatively constant, like my whole life, in terms of my relationship with gender, which I use non binary, but agender is probably closer to it, in that I don’t actually really feel like I have a gender. But I was raised in a relatively conservative family and in a relatively conservative cultural milieu. And so my ability to understand and define that and how I related to it was, I didn’t really have the vocabulary, if that makes sense.
Just to interrupt, do you mind saying how old you are?
So I am 34? So yeah, so this would have been, you know, really coming to terms with it would have really started around puberty. So that’s 20 years ago, early 2000s. A fun time.
Yeah, I asked just because I think things have changed so rapidly over the past couple of decades, that sort of locating people what age they were at different cultural moments can be very informative.
Oh, oh sure. Yeah, like I said, I’ve had like this very sort of what I feel is a relatively stable identity, but didn’t have the vocabulary really to express it and really only came into contact with the LGBTQ community at all, like when I started college, so that would have been 2006 when I started at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and really met the first people in my social circle, who were gender non conforming, and the understanding that my assigned gender at birth didn’t match my internal sense of self. Like I was finally able to put vocabulary to it, and understand the things that I was going through that included things like body dysmorphia.
And at that point, the only real treatment option that I felt was really available for me was to start taking hormones. Because I was, again, at the University of Colorado, which was actually a pretty liberal place, it wasn’t really difficult for me to find somebody who would prescribe testosterone. And so I started on it, and was probably on testosterone for about five years, but sort of patchy on and off. And every time I would do it, I came to this place where it was like, I was happy with some of the things that were changing. And I was very unhappy with other things that were changing. And at the same time, I was also interacting a lot more with the LGBT community, and learning more about gender diversity and the options that may or may not be out there and how other people saw themselves.
And I kind of came to the conclusion that I was really liking the social aspects of my transition, but that a lot of the physical aspects weren’t resolving my body dysmorphia. And we’re making it worse in new and different ways. At that point, like when I kind of came to that realization, where it was like, Oh, this isn’t working for me in that way, I decided to stop.
Well, I’ve got a bunch of questions.
Okay, yeah, totally fair.
I guess we’ll start with the most obvious, which is kind of relating your experience to the whole hullabaloo that’s happening now. And how people are grouped together into the, you know, the umbrella category of deransitioners, are currently being weaponized against gender affirming health care access, primarily right now for kids, but as you know, as we all know, inevitably, the goal of these people is to prevent it for everybody.
Right, I mean, and this is like, why I think it’s so important for me as a person who’s gone through this to talk about it, because I think there’s this narrative out there, that detransition is a failure, and that people who detransition have irrevocably destroyed something or caused themselves, you know, irrevocable pain or something like that. And I think it’s really important to push back against that idea.
Well, that answers the perfunctory sort of first question, which is, how do you feel about this? So we’ve got it on the books: negatively.
Very, very negatively about that narrative. I mean, for my personal experience, even though hormones ended up not being the right solution for me, I would say that the experience of being able to have that freedom and the experience of being able to figure out what did and didn’t work in a way where I kind of had a visceral physical reaction and was able to actually narrow things down and figure it out was honestly a good one. I know that that sounds a little bit silly, because in some ways, it was very, like I said, induced, some, I guess, like opposite gender dysmorphia, from what I’ve been experiencing. And that’s not awesome, but…
I mean, it is also I think, very valuable to have your perspective on the podcast, because Tessa and I are both pretty straightforwardly binary trans people. And so the experience of going on hormones to deal with dysphoria, and then having different kind of opposite dysphoria is not one that I’ve had and test, I assume that you have not had either.
No, I can’t say that I have.
Well, I’m interested in what was your relationship like with your medical personnel? Like was there a feeling of being talked into or being talked out of anything?
I wouldn’t necessarily say that there was that feeling. I think I had come to a conclusion before I walked into my doctor’s offices about what I needed. And because of the environment in which I was, it was actually a very accepting environment where they were like, Okay, you’re sure, then let’s do this.
Well, another wrinkle is, of course, that when you were doing that you were a young adult, but an adult.
That is very true, yes. But at the same time, I would say closer in maturity, probably to the 13 year olds that they’re attacking.
And even another wrinkle is that sort of the argument is always that the changes that you get on hormones are irreversible. And I know from what you’ve posted on Twitter, that there are some changes that you are in the process of reversing. Could you talk more about that?
Yeah. So I mean, one of the things that really triggered my quote unquote, opposite dysphoria that I wasn’t expecting, was me developing facial hair. It wasn’t really something I had thought about, and which when I did think about it, I’d been feeling really neutral about it. But when it actually started happening, I realized that it really made me very uncomfortable with my appearance and with like, what I was seeing in the mirror every day. And so for the past two years, I’ve actually been doing electrolysis to remove all of my facial hair, which is is somewhat painful procedure, like, I’m not gonna lie about that. Yeah, I can attest to that. But at the same time, the idea that you know, this facial hair is irreversible is not true, I am reversing it. That being said, there are some changes to my physiology, which would be more difficult, if not impossible to reverse. But those are honestly things which I am not nearly as upset about.
If you’re comfortable, could you give some examples?
So one, one of the things that has changed, which I’m not reversing is the change to my voice, it has dropped about an octave from the testosterone. That’s something that I’ve definitely noticed. It’s not something that I want to change. But I can understand how some other people might want to change that. But even that, I think, is the change that’s not completely irreversible.
Yeah, I mean, speaking for myself, like I am literally, I literally sing soprano to in the women’s chorus, and part of so that is not something that is forever set in stone.
But again, this is one of the things that I think people will point to as a thing that’s totally unchangeable.
I’m curious, because you said that your sort of sense of self as being genderless, sort of your gender identity has been pretty constant, you know, through your life. Did you have in your mind when you started hormones when you went on testosterone? I don’t know that. I’ll like all of this, but I’m gonna try it anyway. Like, was that part of your cost benefit analysis?
It really wasn’t, I think, I went into it with the idea of, well, I know I’m not a girl, right. And I know that that’s not working for me, and it needs to change. And from where I was, at that point in time, hormones seemed like the solution to that problem. But I didn’t really go into it with the expectation that I was not a man. Because from where I was, and from the environment I was in that seemed like, sort of, again, that there was only a binary choice there, and I had to make it. And if it wasn’t x, then it must therefore be y.
What was your… cause there was a point when you stopped going on testosterone, right? Like, there was a point when you were like, this is in the past for me?
Right, I mean, I started and then I would, you know, fall off for a couple of months, and then I’d go back on it, and then I’d fall off for six months. And then I’d be like, No, I should really give it a try. The point at which I really realized that it wasn’t working was when I had moved to Portland, I’d found a new physician, gotten a new prescription and had been on testosterone for about six months, I would say, and I had just been waxing my face literally every day. And I just looked at myself in the mirror one day, and I was just like, I don’t want to keep doing this for the rest of my life. And maybe I should just stop. And just at that point, like, I was already identifying as non binary. And I sort of had this moment where I was like, I don’t have to prove anything to myself, like, there isn’t like a gray and being a good trans person narrative that I have to uphold in my own life. Like the whole point of this is that I need to be true to who I am.
I am interested actually, if sort of the post transition, detransition experience has opened up new social experiences for you, like your experiences of, for instance, going through electrolysis, if they’ve opened up new doors of friendship and commonality with like, also, trans women who have the same experiences that you have.
I think it’s made it very visceral, to me that that’s one of the things that trans women often do and having that just come for as a thing that I can relate to is something that I think I can share with some of my friends who are trans women, but at the same time, I recognize that my experience is radically different from theirs and I don’t have to deal with trans mice alternate which they do, unfortunately. So I mean, there’s a certain degree of sympathy there in the same way that I think trans women can empathize with a lot of things with sis women, you know, things like hormonal swings, and you know, all of the weird things that estrogen does to people. But I wouldn’t say that the empathy is perfect there by any means.
Fair enough. And as a bold ASAB official position. Trans misogyny? Get out of here. Bad. And we’re, it’s we’re not gonna back down from that.
Yeah, I do really hate the narrative, though, is that detransition and transition are somehow in opposition to each other, because I think well, I mean, there are two reasons people detransition. Unfortunately, I think mine were it’s the right choice. Maybe the rarer one. I think a lot of people may detransition, because the social pressures, keeping them in the closet are unfortunately, just too high. But that’s a separate conversation. But in terms of experiences like mine, I think that it is, in fact, very much in the same vein as transitioning where you have a sense of yourself, and you are being true to it. And it’s important to uphold that.
Well, because another part that I think gets sort of fearmonger about a lot is this positioning of that all or most or the most important, detransitioners are people who somehow think that they’re trans. They go on hormones, they realize, Oh, whoops, and then they go off of hormones and then identify, assess again. And obviously, you can’t directly speak to this experience, because it’s not yours. But I guess, do you think if you had gone through this, and then at the end of it, we’re like, actually, I’m just a sis woman? Would it have negatively? Like? It seems like a very rude question to say out loud, actually.
It’s okay. I think no, I mean, I think you’re addressing the elephant in the room. Right? Because this is, I think what turfs are often bringing up right is the idea of, I don’t know a traumatized 13 year old girl, right? Who is somehow convinced by social pressures that she’s trans, and goes on to, quote unquote, ruin her body and her desirability, and all of these things, right? And then, when she’s 18, or 20, she realizes that actually, she was meant to be a quote, unquote, true woman this whole time, and now her life is irrevocably ruined. Right? Like, I think this is like one of like those demons that they present as the argument for why this shouldn’t happen.
Well, it’s the, you know, it’s the cover of the Abigail Shrier book with the little girl with a hole in her abdomen.
Right. So I think there are a lot of things going on with this. Number one, there’s, I guess my question is, I don’t think that anybody probably sees transition as their first option, I really don’t think that the social pressure to be trans is as intense as you know, terfs would have you believe, I don’t really think that’s the thing. But even admitting that that might be a case of, I don’t know, weird, testosterone, pure pressure. I don’t think that’s the thing. But even if it were, the idea that people are in some way ruined by having experiences that may not always be perfect, but which shapes their identity and lead them to a better understanding of who they are and what they want, kind of doesn’t sit right with me. And then the idea that, you know, these quote, unquote, fake transitioning kids, I don’t even know how to say this in a way that doesn’t sound terrible, but I need to push back against it.
Like, I think part of it is like the idea of the their, you know, desirability to a heteronormative society will be ruined, and that’s the evil unless or that, you know, their reproductive ability might be harmed, and that’s the evil of it just, I think, reduces people to their value to like this heteronormative paradigm, as opposed to saying, you know, probably there’s a reason somebody thought there were, they were trans in the first place. And, you know, even if it doesn’t work, like it doesn’t reduce their value as a human being to have gone through an experience that ultimately failed, even and again, like this failure is vanishingly rare, I would say where people end up being actually cis, right?
Right. And I would also point out that I think you’re hitting a good point when you talk about and sort of this is a very heteronormative lens. It’s worth noting that while people tend to assume Abigail Shrier is a terf – strictly speaking, she is not she is politically conservative. And she’s very open about that fact. So it’s not too surprising that, you know, there’s a very sort of hetero patriarchal, underlying assumption about the value of these people, and how transition or whatever can change that negatively.
But I mean, I think, again, it’s really important to push back against that idea. Because I mean, those same people are the same people who would suggest that, you know, sis, butch lesbians have no value to society, because they’re not quote unquote, attractive. And that’s ludicrous.
And yeah, you can make the same argument about like cis women with PCOS, same idea that, Oh, these people are now apparently permanently ruined by having a hormone imbalance
That actually gets to another question that I had, which is about your experience and what you said earlier that you really enjoyed the social aspects of transition potentially less rockily than the physical aspects of your transition. Could you kind of expand on that?
Yeah, well, at the time, a large portion of this took place while I was in grad school at the University of Texas at Arlington, in the herpetology program, which is a pretty dude heavy environment and herpetology itself is a less so now, I would say, but certainly in some spaces, a pretty masculine dominated environment. And so being able to exist in that environment, not as the girl herpetologist was kind of nice. So that’s just sort of like in an academic setting, but also just going through my daily life, I did feel that I was treated more like just a neutral person than when I was going through as an overtly feminine presenting person, which is a sad reflection on society.
Yeah, actually, I mean, that kind of makes sense. Yeah, I was about to say, you know, the assumption that masculine is default. So yeah, but that logically lines up.
Right, but if you’re somebody who does not want to be perceived as having a gender at all, really, and who wants to be interacted with as genderless, which is pretty much what I would prefer for literally everything in my life. Unfortunately, presenting as masculine is much more likely to get you that then.
Huh. I mean, there’s a lot here. First of all, gender is very weird. And last of all, gender is a weird thing we do. Well, I’m, well, I’m also very curious if you’re willing to talk about it, how this whole thing has interacted with your sense of your sexuality and your romantic relationships with people. Because they know that you have a boyfriend, and congrats on that accomplishment.
Yeah, so in terms of that, I, honestly, the boyfriend is a fairly new development. I mean, we’ve been dating for three years, but I was single for probably 10 or so years. So almost entirely, like overlapping with this finding myself transition period, I sort of went from one serious relationship that ended just as this was beginning to being completely single, to then finally, again, starting this new relationship, really towards when it was all finished. So I didn’t really have any romantic relationships while I was in this process of figuring myself out. I think part of that is because I was really just sort of focused on my own personal pursuits. But it did really highlight how important it was for me to find a partner that I felt would understand and respect my own sort of sense of gender lessness and who would not treat me as a gendered human being? So when I was dating, I felt very difficult to find.
Well, I’m particularly interested because my own adolescence was spending a lot of it pretty confused about my own sexuality because it was very clearly attracted to men. But I felt like I shouldn’t be in a weird way because the only image that I had for how I might be in relationships with men was as a woman, and I was Like, no thanks. And so I wonder if you at any point had a similar experience of not being able to fully conceptualize yourself and sort of culturally understood relationship structures, because there was no place for you, for your particular gender or lack thereof?
That’s an interesting question. So part of the issue that I’m having with this is that, again, I was raised in a really, really conservative family. And the idea that I was going to date anyone before I was 18, was kind of completely off the table. So it kind of let everything kind of be just a theoretical abstraction to me. That being said, I was pretty adamant from my earliest memories, that pregnancy was not something that I wanted my body to be able to do. And I understood that it was expected that if I had relationships, that that would be a outcome that I was expected to go through with.
And so I think, like, I don’t know how much my just not wanting my body to be pregnant is associated with my gender, although I think it’s somewhat associated. I think that really just made me feel that relationships at all, or something I did not want. And it’s only when I really found that I didn’t really have to couple the biological expectations of relationships with who I was attracted to that I was even really allowed myself to think about attraction. And at that point, I think I had enough awareness that I could actually just be honest about my bisexuality with myself, I don’t know if that’s a helpful answer or not.
Yeah, I think it’s, it’s very helpful, because we often try very hard to draw a distinction between gender identity and sexual identity, and say that they aren’t the same, because they aren’t. But in many ways, in my experience, and then the experience of other trans people that I know, they’re not the same, but there is a strong relationship between them in terms of how you experience one affects how you can experience the other a lot of the time.
Well, I think in a society, like the one we live in, that’s extremely heteronormative, there are expectations for what gender looks like in relationships. And I think that can really strongly color how you can envision yourself in a relationship, I think, especially when you’re thinking about just the abstracts of am I attracted to men or women? I think because of the way our society is structured, you know, somebody asking that question might think, Oh, well, men in relationships look like this. Women in relationships look like that, you know, non binary people in relationships just don’t exist. And so, I mean, on a societal level, not like in terms of actually existing,
[jokingly] No, you don’t exist,
I don’t, I’ve vanished. I’ve just negated my entire existence. But I’m just sort of like trying to like think about like the in the abstract when people are defining their sexuality. I think there’s like this abstract idea of what relationships would look like, which when you get into the nitty gritty of particular people, like even I think the most sis normative couples don’t replicate it exactly. Right.
If you had been presented with more options, like you know, low dose testosterone, or some other different mix of hormones, or even more advanced medical technology that isn’t necessarily available yet, that could give you some aspects of physical transition, but not others. Would you accept it?
I think I would. I think I would, I don’t know exactly what I would have accepted. But like I mentioned, I do have some body dysmorphia, which is better than it was but which is still there. And there were some aspects of presenting as male that were really good for me. And so a perfect biological solution that let me sort of narrow in on exactly what was good. would be amazing. And I mean, everybody should have that opportunity right to narrowing in on what’s exactly right. Hmm.
Do you think if you had had access to medical tools earlier, like during your first puberty, that it might have made a difference?
I think it probably would have. I’m not personally an advocate of the idea that trans kids should just be on puberty blockers until they can decide what’s right for them. I think that for some trans kids starting an appropriate puberty during their teens might be the right solution. But I think, for me, something like a puberty blocker would have been really, really great. Because where I was emotionally, and having my body go through puberty was miserable, and…
Yeah, I think that is an important point. Also, with regards to people who are advocating against giving kids puberty blockers like saying, well just let them wait until they’re 18. And then they can decide whatever. And it’s, well, puberty itself is a very confounding influence of a lot. It’s happening mentally and emotionally. That makes sorting out how you feel about things pretty difficult day to day.
It’s, yeah, it was undoubtedly the most miserable time in my life. And I think for a lot of people it is, whether cis or trans, it’s not a great experience. And so the idea that you just have to compound that harm is inhumane to me.
Yeah. We are in agreement. Do you have sort of a takeaway message that you would like to end the episode with?
For the whole episode?
Detransition is not an argument against trans people. It’s an argument for being true to yourself.
So we’ve come to the final segment where we ask our guests to weigh in on one of our constantly growing list of sort of sci fi hypothetical questions. So is there one in particular that you would like to answer?
Well, given that I just suggested a new one for you, I think I would be remiss if I didn’t answer that one.
Perfect. So the new question is, which parasites if any, would you be a willing host for?
So my Twitter username is taenia, which is a genus of tapeworms. So the pork and beef tapeworms, and you know, I pick up one of those guys.
Okay, a follow up question would be, would you be active about this? Or would you just like be around pigs and pick up the tapeworm and then realize it was there and be like, this is chil?
I’m… so actually, I’m thinking more of that beef tapeworm. But either one is fine. It’s just in Jewish, so pigs are a little rough for me just on on that level. I don’t think in terms of deliberate infection that I could really make myself do it. But in terms of like, finding out that I had one, I’d be fine with it. I know that sounds a little bit silly, but I’d be fine with it.
Well, I, I don’t actually know a lot about tapeworms. Is there kind of a natural lifespan to them? Like it’s, can you tell us more about the lifecycle of one of these tapeworms?
Oh my gosh, it has been a while since I took parasitology. So I would have to look up a lifecycle chart. But what person is hosting is the adult worm in the case of these parasites, and so they are just kind of chilling in your intestine and absorbing nutrients. And really, they’re not doing that much damage unless there are somehow enough of them to cause an intestinal blockage. They can lead to some vitamin deficiencies, but other than that they’re pretty benign.
According to the CDC, “people with taeniasis may not know they have a tapeworm infection because symptoms are usually mild, or non existent.” So it is just like a chill buddy.
Yeah, it’s, it’s exactly a fun friend to hang out with.
A fun friend.
You’re never alone.
Well, here’s here’s an even more science fictional question, which is, it is a common common common trope in science fiction. There will be like an alien parasite that then causes either a literal pregnancy or something that is a very thin sci fi allegory for pregnancy. And you and I share the deep aversion to the idea of pregnancy. Right. So if you were, uh, what’s her name? The hot one in TNG.
[simultaneously with Tessa] Deanna Troi. You would say that you big lesbian.
Tasha Yarr is pretty hot too, I think.
I’m, I want to be clear. I’m not saying that Deanna Troi is the hot one to me. Obviously, the hot one in TNG is Picard. I’m saying the way the show portrays her in terms of her. always being not the uniform. But there’s the episode where Deanna Troi, like, gets alien impregnated, and she can vibe with the alien, and it’s a whole situation, but you know, basically, what would you do in that situation?
So I actually just in the middle of a tng rewatch right now, while I’m doing my cross stitching, so I got to this episode, and I was horrified by it, like, completely horrified. I, I mean, my normal instinct would be to say, I would absolutely terminate that pregnancy like the second I was aware of it. The thing is that it happens over like two days, so I don’t even know that I would have the time to do it. But absolutely not. No way. No, how. I don’t care if I’m vibing with that alien or not it – It goes.
Yeah, I mean, listen, if the alien could vibe, they should vibe to get consent, right?
I mean, consensual vibes only.
Well, Lee, you’ve been a great guest. Thank you so much for coming on and being willing to talk about your experiences. We originally talked about this about a year ago, and I dropped the ball on that one. So I really appreciate you being willing to come on now. And it’s been fantastic to talk to you. If people would like to find out more about your work and your photography, where should they look?
So I am most active on Twitter where my username is @taenia. And then I also have my photography web site, which is woodfernstudio.com which is a portfolio of my photography work.
It’s very good 100% I am on Twitter @cockroacharles.
I am on Twitter @spacermase or at my website tessafisher.com.
The show is on Twitter @ASABpod or at our website where we post show notes and transcripts for every episode, asabpodcast.com. If you like the show, please tell other people about it because word of mouth is the number one way that podcasts grow.
And until next time, keep on science.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai