Dear Young Self: The Conversation

Note: I have recently been writing to my 18-year-old self, who wrote crazy journals in 1986. Here’s an excerpt.

Journal page from October 18, 1986.

March 16 2024 8pm

Young Self, you are oblivious to men’s interest in you. In this respect and a few others, you really are an idiot. Yes, it’s kind of charming: a kind of modesty, not full of yourself like other girls. But if you’re acting that oblivious just to support an idea of yourself as “modest,” an identity, then you are a narcissist. Fortunately that’s not why; you are genuinely, sincerely clueless.

Unrelated: you are also a narcissist. Don’t panic! It’s normal for 18-year-olds. Your depressions, which grow more severe, are abysses of self-loathing, which is self-obsession, which is narcissism. I know you don’t want to be depressed; you are a victim of mental illness. Unfortunately framing yourself as a victim is also narcissism. But don’t panic! You are ill, but you are also robust. You will recover.

It’s not like Future-Me saying this to Then-You would make any difference. It would just make you cringe and despair. There is a chasm between us, of Time, maturity, and recovery. You will cross that chasm but you can never go back. Sick mind doesn’t understand healthy mind.

Is it healthy for me to call you a narcissist? Maybe not. I am grateful every day I am recovering. When I consider how much less narcissistic I am today, I feel relief and peace; I smile. But you are still in the Bad Old Days. Your strong mind attacks itself, and the label “narcissist” is just another cudgel you will beat yourself with. I want to handle you with kid gloves, kid, but that won’t help you either. I want to save you, but only Time can do that.

Instead, let me enlighten you about men: they are horny. They desire women. You are an attractive young woman. Yes, your body alone is enough to attract men. You think men are like you: that they seek understanding, or at least compatibility, or meaningful connection. You think a man’s attraction to you signals he thinks you’re really awesome and special and worth some kind of risk. Actually, men do think that, for seconds or even minutes at a time. But it’s just their hormones talking. Yours do the same, except it takes weeks or months to really sink into your brain and alter your thought patterns even when the object of your infatuation isn’t present.

Men are not like you, no matter how male-identified you are. You think men are so awesome they couldn’t possibly desire awkward nerdy little you. Your mistake is that they do want you, but they’re not awesome. I see these men are giving you ample evidence they are both attracted to you and not awesome, and your oblivious idiot self gets it backward. Which causes you a lot of pain, I’m afraid.

Still, I blame hormones. When they finally release you (yay menopause!) you are no longer attractive to men anyway.

From ages 13 to 50 you will be in a hormone haze, attracted to men despite ever-accumulating evidence this hurts you. Somehow your life contains other items of interest, so it’s not a total waste. Speaking of total waste: your uterus! You have to menstruate for 37 years too, and it’s continually horrible. It never “smooths out” or whatever. Female bodies are made for having children. It infuriates you, having a female body. When you’re finally diagnosed with that giant cervical fibroid at 49, you learn pregnancy and gestation are prophylactics against fibroid development. The female body is like, make those babies or I will punish you myself.

You are at war with your body as well as your mind.

I have no solution for this, Young Self. Being human is hard. Having a body is hard. But this is, literally, Life. Suffering of one kind or another is normal; it’s inevitable. In Time, you will come to love and appreciate your body. At 55 I am much more comfortable in this old body than you are at 18.

You will make peace with your female-ness specifically. Fuck babies, fuck “moon cycles,” that all sucks for you forever. But you are still a woman, and you come to love and respect that. Many women your age today similarly hate their female-ness, and they are not so lucky as you. That’s because if they say they “identify as” boys, doctors will put them on testosterone and cut off their breasts. Yeah, I know you’d love that right now, but you’d still hate yourself and your body. You’d just have some irreversible medical damage and trauma to contend with as well.


I hear you saying,

“Irreversible medical damage and trauma? But it sounds cool! Maybe I want to be trans. No more periods, no babies ever, and I hate my breasts. I like gay men more than straight ones — I could be a GAY MAN! I already say  I’m a gay man trapped inside a woman’s body. Sign me up! What’s the problem??”

Okay Young Self, let’s have The Conversation. The one where I tell you about the transbirds and the transbees.

First, just because some people say you’re a man, and you really want to be a man, and you modify your body to resemble a man (facial hair is especially convincing), you will never actually be a man. No one will know that more acutely than gay men. Gay men like men, not women who look kind of like men. Not mastectomized, hysterctomized women on exogenous testosterone.

You already have delusional expectations of Life. Expecting to become a man, which is physically impossible, will put you on a path of continual, endless frustration and disappointment. It will make you angry and depressed — even more than you are already, although that’s hard to believe!

Don’t give me that look. Are you mad at me, telling you you can’t become a man? Maybe you think I’m the only reason you can’t, that if it weren’t for my negativity and “transphobia” you could be a man why am I saying no why do I hate you???

Young gender-dysphoric Self, Life has limits. Yes, you can overcome some limits, those imposed by human beings and society (called social constructs) if you are brave and believe in yourself. People say you can’t survive as an independent artist and cartoonist, but you will! They say you can’t make an animated feature film all by yourself, but you will! They say you can’t drop out of college and make something of yourself, but you will!

But changing sex is physically impossible. Sex is not a social construct (although claiming sex is a social construct is a social construct). Sex is a true limit.

You say,

“I’m not so delusional I think I can literally change sex. Obviously I won’t be able to father children, but I won’t want to. You’ve already told me how awful menstruating is, why wouldn’t you want to spare me that? And what use are these breasts? I just want to ‘live as a man.’ Looking like a man and being treated like one is enough.”

So, no stable relationships? No gay man will go for you, they require a working penis. And het men are turned off by masculinity.

You’ve already told me we never have a long-term healthy relationship with a man anyway, Old Self! So who cares? At least I won’t have breasts and periods.

Hmm, you make a fair point there, Young Self. Do you know about the myriad health complications of cross-sex hormones? Vaginal atrophy?

I’m not gonna use my vagina anyway, not as a MAN!

You are going to want to be as healthy as possible. Medical transition is unhealthy.

Being FEMALE is unhealthy! I have irregular painful periods. I have painful breasts—

That’s Fibrocystic Breast Disease, by the way. Yeah it’s bad. It goes away after your hysterectomy though. Yay menopause!

You’re saying menopause is so great, wouldn’t medically transitioning me just put me into early menopause? Sounds great to me!

Well, Young Self, medical menopause isn’t like natural menopause, it’s much harsher.

Harsher than 32 more years of this menstruation and hormone haze shit?

Okay Young Self, you are wearing me down. It’s late. Let me try to sleep on it and try to persuade you tomorrow.


March 17, 6am

You are 18. You won’t transition. You’re old enough to comprehend the consequences. Like I said before, a few years ago, when you were 13 or 14, you would have transitioned, had it been an option. But at 18 you’re already having sexual experiences with men. You currently fancy yourself “in love,” albeit with a man who moved to California over a week ago and still hasn’t even called. Meanwhile you’re hanging out with your male friends, soaking up their attention as you convince yourself it’s JUST FINE that R_____ hasn’t contacted you yet with a phone number or address. Your dorm friend Eric calls you a “stupid shit.” He’s calling everyone a that nowadays because he’s “divorcing” his girlfriend and is bitter. You think he’s funny. But here you are, Young Fool, absorbing his attention and that of ____ _____, with whom you will have a fling in just a few weeks or months. You stupid shit.

Detail, October 18 1986

As painful, delusional, and crazy all this relationship business is, you simply adore men and are hopelessly attracted to them. Transing won’t fix this. In fact, testosterone would almost certainly increase your sex drive. It would likely alleviate your depression temporarily, but in the longer run have a devastating effect on your fragile psychology. Yes, I’ve said you have a strong mind, but it’s also fragile, the “sanity” part. At 18 you know something is wrong, that your mental state is delicate, which is why you don’t use psychoactive drugs despite your fascination (you recently read The Doors of Perception, after all). Testosterone is a psychoactive drug and some women who use it are genuinely psycho, like “The Nashville Shooter” who shoots up her former school and kills 6 people in 2023. You care enough about your mental health to consider that a deterrant.

But the biggest transing-deterrant at 18 is you become aware that your female body is admired by men. You love men; men love your breasts that you hate, your curves that you hate, your femaleness that you hate. Using pure intellectual reasoning alone, you understand more men are het than gay, so if you like men, this female body of yours will help you “get” them. If you transition, gay men won’t be into your body no matter how much you masculinize it. If you transition, het men will be turned off by your masculinization. Your sexual experiences, fraught as they are, will get you more connected with your body and cure you of your adolescent fag-haggery as you discover het men are in fact good for something.

As for your uterus, if I could go back in time and get you a hysterectomy, I would (keeping your ovaries of course, you need gonads for health, as much as you hate your hormones you would have worse problems without them, like brittle bones). But they don’t let teenagers get hysterectomies even today, unless they claim they’re trans. Then it’s a medical free-for-all.

If you medically transitioned, your life would be much different. But it’s moot because in 1986, transitioning children and teenagers isn’t a Thing. For this reason, becoming a “transman” is not your story. It is the story of the similarly confused, depressed, alienated-from-their-bodies young women of today.


Author: Nina Paley

Animator. Director. Artist. Scapegoat.

One thought on “Dear Young Self: The Conversation”

  1. Thank you for expressing myself better than I could!
    I love your work especially the Mystic Symbolic Art generator!
    Seder Masochism is a Masterpiece!!
    This Land is Mine should be shown in History class.
    You are awesome!!!
    Trans-Humanist-Marxist-Mutilated-Women and Men will never be anything but freaks.
    The people who legislate “Gender Affirming Care” type policy for “The Mutilation of Children” are Criminals.
    The Doctors who think they can block puberty and re-direct biology are crazier than a Psychiatrist.

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