No questions permitted: Thoughts from a mother whose son transitioned

This comment was submitted by a reader today. Thank you.

Thank you for your blog, which makes me feel sane again. It’s so hard to escape from a world policed along very narrow, and in my view, very dangerous lines.

I am the mother of a young adult who decided two years ago, in the wake of a series of traumatic events, that he is female. He is being supported by two gender doctors who, he says, have ‘diagnosed him as transsexual’. This ‘diagnosis’ is merely an echo of his own interpretation of his own narrative. They say that he is transsexual because he says that he is transsexual. Yet, he hears this diagnosis as confirmation of his own belief that he must transition to survive.

His belief in the absolute necessity of transitioning is based, I believe, on the trans narratives that he has encountered on the internet.

By contrast, when his adolescent sister developed an eating disorder and then self-harmed,  she was supported to challenge her beliefs, support which allowed her – after a long two years – to recover. Only a belief that you are the sex that you were not born to is unchallengeable, lest you be charged with bigotry.

For my part, I have become increasingly convinced that gender dysphoria is a maladaptive coping strategy, prompted by very real distress, but not necessarily stress focused around gender. Yet our culture, which for the last century, has been obsessed with gender, cannot see the distress underlying these claims.

I think that the supposed parallel between gender transitioning and homosexuality is particularly unhelpful and misleading. Both narratives share a story of coming out, and of liberation from prejudice. But both are not necessarily the same.

Gay culture, despite – or because of — the suffering and persecution homosexuals have often faced,  revels in humour, which rests on lifting taboos and telling the truth. But trans culture is humour aversive, maybe because humour threatens to crack the fragile identities, uncovering a truth which cannot be spoken, a truth which threatens to launch the self into terrifying chaos. I think it is for this reason that trans culture cannot countenance questioning or debate.

A reminder about my comment policy

On the sidebar to the right of my blog posts, you will find the following:

The purpose of this blog is to give voice to an alternative to the dominant trans-activist and medical paradigm currently being touted by the media. I give preference to commenters who are also gender-critical, though respectful questions and comments countering this view will be considered. Please feel free to comment on older posts. This will often stimulate new discussion.

Some bloggers see their sites as a place for brawling, free-for-all commenting with no holds barred.

This blog is not that sort of place.

The Internet is bristling with cat fights about transgenderism (and yeah, I do consider it an “ism), about feminism, and increasingly, about the growing trend to medicalize “gender nonconformity” in children, teens, and young adults. If what you’re after is a place to castigate and shame the people who’ve found a voice here, look elsewhere. I moderate all comments. My primary goal is to provide a place where left-leaning people who are critical of the dominant transgender paradigm–especially as it pertains to young people–can have their say.

Does that mean I won’t consider publishing views counter to my own? No, but it does mean I’m not interested in hateful vitriol aimed at parents and family members who are supporting each other, and their kids, in finding an alternative to the trans narrative.

If you want to see your comment published here and join the discussion, be constructive. You don’t have to agree with everything you read here, but I’m not interested in providing a platform for finger wagging, holier-than-thou transactivists. Nor will I put out the welcome mat for the tiresome scolds who have nothing better to do than try to convince us they know our kids better than the intelligent and caring parents who form a community in these pages.

I make no guarantees to anyone that a particular comment will be posted. But if you’re a parent, family member, ally, or friend looking for an alternative to the galloping trans-kid meme, you’ve come to the right place. Welcome.

Exiles in their own flesh: A psychotherapist speaks

This is a guest post submitted by Lane Anderson (a pseudonym), a practicing psychotherapist who has worked extensively with “trans teens” and their families. She shares with us her clinical insights into her clients, adolescent psychology, and the impact of the transgender phenomenon on our society as a whole.

If there are other mental health providers reading this post, please consider guest posting or responding in the comments section below the article. See this earlier post featuring Dr. David Schwartz for another critical perspective from a psychotherapist.

I am extremely grateful to Lane and Dr. Schwartz for speaking up. Time is of the essence, since the American Psychological Association recently released new guidelines which will make it even more difficult for clinicians to step forward.

I am a licensed psychotherapist. I’m writing this post on my last day at a teen health clinic, where I’ve seen patients and their families for nearly a decade.

In the past year especially, it’s become increasingly clear to me that I cannot uphold the primary value of my profession, to do no harm, without also seriously jeopardizing my standing in the professional community.  It’s a terrible and unfortunate conflict of interest. I’ve lost much sleep over the fact that, for a significant portion of my clients and their parents, I am unable to provide what they profess to come to me seeking: sound clinical judgment. Increasingly, providing such judgment puts me at risk of violating the emergent trans narrative which–seemingly overnight and without any explanation or push-back of which I am aware–has usurped the traditional mental health narrative.

When I am suddenly and without warning discouraged from exploring the underlying causes and conditions of certain of my patients’ distress (as I was trained to do), and instead forced to put my professional stamp of approval upon a prefab, one-size-fits-all narrative intended to explain the complexity of my patient’s troubles, I feel confused.  It’s as if I am being held hostage. No longer encouraged or permitted to question, consider or discuss the full spectrum of my patient’s mental health concerns, it has occurred to me that I am being used, my meager professional authority commandeered to legitimize a new narrative I may or may not wish to corroborate.

It’s been perilous to simply admit to not fully understanding it all–let alone disagree with the trans narrative.  There was no training or teaching. I was just suddenly told that some of my patients thought they were trapped in the wrong body and that was that.

After much soul searching, I felt I had no choice but to remove myself from this crippling work setting. Being told to exercise my clinical judgment with some clients, while ignoring it with others, made me feel like a fraud.

Throughout my career, I have come to my work with these thoughts in mind: that life is complex, that people are complex. But in one way or another, most people tend to balk at that kind of ambiguity. I try to assist people in flexing a little, try to help them find ways to manage life’s gray areas, and the occasional distress that comes from simply being conscious. But at the end of the day, I couldn’t deny it was a little weird for me to go on believing I could effectively teach others to be less rigid, more free people facing their lives head on, when I myself, their humble guide, was being exploited, tongue-tied by a new party line.

There are so many complex forces, from many different realms, coming into play with this trans wave.  Most people are completely unaware of these intersecting interests.

Unfortunately the culture war has done a number on the concept of critical thinking.  I have considered myself liberal my entire adult life, and I still am. But for a long time I couldn’t find anyone questioning this trans explosion who wasn’t on the far right. It made me feel like only conservatives were allowed to think, to consider this issue, but ultimately their thoughts were rendered meaningless due to their branding by the culture war. It’s essential that left-leaning people model critical thinking for the masses in this regard.

It’s important to link people like us together, who have been silenced, so we can resume contact with our critical thinking skills and reduce our growing sense of self doubt.  Divide and conquer is best accomplished through silencing, through calling into question those who speak out. There is so much of this attached to the trans movement. Even just wondering about a profound concept such as transgender is  labeled transphobic. What I think has happened is that people are now phobic about their own gut responses to life. We are being systematically separated from our own intuition. This is fatal for a civilization, I think. Not that our intuition always tells the truth with a capital T, but it is a critical piece of who we are. Without it, we remain profoundly directionless, and more susceptible to coercion of all types.

What frightens me most about the trans movement is that the establishment has gotten involved and is leading it. I think that’s really weird. Clearly they are benefiting from it financially. So sad. It disturbs me to see how giddy my former medical director is to be part of this growing craze. We used to treat kids with mental health problems, but now it’s all about validating their emergent and shifting identities.  As professionals, if we don’t loudly prioritize their identities as being the most important thing about them (and identities do shift constantly in kids and teens), we risk coming across as unsupportive and even immoral. Identity development has always been a teen task, but in the past it wasn’t necessarily supposed to become a lifestyle, or colonize the entirety of your existence.

Our world is in a profound state of flux. We can’t begin to comprehend what the Internet has done to how we see ourselves. People are looking for ways to belong, ways to understand who they are in place and in time. They are looking to reduce the anxiety that comes when too much change happens all at once. I try and look at trans folks as people who are seeking to answer the new questions that have emerged in this early 21st century.  I have been trying to find a way to understand their urges to detach from their bodies, to undo that feeling of exile they experience in their own flesh.  We all want to get back to ourselves; it is our duty to reconnect with those weighty parts that inevitably sink to the depths of us, the parts too heavy to remain on the surface of our lives.

From what I can see, the age-old human task to reclaim that which has gone missing appears to be manifesting with great prominence in the trans community. The problem is this: we all look for shortcuts to finding the lost treasure. It’s human nature to resist the long and serpentine journey to our own sense of personal truth. In our fear, in our self doubt, we calculate the risk and often decide it is preferable to be shown what another person–a “helping professional” or an activist–bills as a sure thing, a direct path to what we sense we lack. We all, on some level, hold a childlike fantasy that someone else has figured it out and can provide us a direct map to ourselves. And that’s what the trans narrative does. It promises to guide the follower to their essential, authentic self.  But this, unfortunately, doesn’t happen, because the essential self, whatever that is, is not created from another’s road map, but can only be comprised of the trails we forge ourselves.

What saddens me the most is the way children are being trained to think their parents do not love them if mom and dad don’t jump aboard the trans train. To me, this is a brutal aspect of a near-dictatorship being foisted on everyone. The kids are too young to see that there are no other people who will have their backs, throughout life with lasting devotion, in the unique way their families will. They think these new friends they’ve made online understand them perfectly. And in believing this unquestioningly, they find themselves lulled by the frictionless experience delivered most powerfully by group think.

Of course, I’m describing the pull of all cults; that deep human desire to be known through and through and through.The cult experience seeks to end the frustration that naturally comes when we mature and begin to see ourselves as separate beings. In our separateness, we must do the hard work of truly learning to know another. Group think reduces the fear that comes when we are unsure if we will be located by another, when we remain unable to locate ourselves.

Cults and closed narratives neutralize and tame what we see as the unknown. I think somebody needs to put a refresher out there on the cult mindset and group think.  People seem to have forgotten that we are all very easily influenced by each other. Carl Elliot wrote about this in relation to body dysmorphic disorder (people wanting to amputate their own limbs because they disidentify with them) in the Atlantic, “A new way to be mad.”

One common trait I’ve noticed in nearly all the trans kids I’ve met has been their profound sense of being different, and too alone. They often have had little success with making friends, or what I would call contact with “the other.”  Because of their psychic isolation, they are prime targets for group think narratives. But in addition to looking for a way to belong, they are also craving protection and the stamp of legitimacy, perhaps because they feel a profound lack of it.

Now that the government and medical communities are involved in the creation of who trans folks are, this class of individuals have finally found their safe havens. Now, rather than being merely invisible and awkward, they have been transformed into veritable leaders of a revolution. Now, rather than cower in the shadows, they have commandeered the narratives of others into a similar dark and brooding place where they once were. The tables, as they lived and viewed them, have now turned.

It’s got to be dizzying for these formerly “ugly ducklings” to find themselves at the center of a flock of swans. To become a part of the movement, to finally be seen and found as whole, alive, and most importantly, wanted, all they have to do is renounce the very bodies in which they feel they have been imprisoned. In doing so, the promised payoff is very big, for they have finally found a way to render mute all those who once discounted and disbelieved them. Through silencing others who threaten them, they have unearthed a means of silencing their own self hate. Rather than being afraid of themselves, they make others fear what they have become.

Psychologically these interpersonal tactics would once upon a time have been categorized as immature, “primitive” defenses erected by an undifferentiated self that cannot see the self or others as whole creatures.  But as I witness it in my own practice, this is the basic thinking underlying the psychology of the trans narrative. In her recent blog post, “My Disservice to My Transgender Patients,” Dr. Kathy Mandigo talks about feeling threatened by some of her MTF patients.  Many of the trans kids I’ve worked with will joke about how they and their friends are dictators, “masters of the universe!” I find that clinically significant. This is something toddlers do when they are first discovering they are separate from their rulers (parents). Rather than fear the parent, they seek to control the parent, exert their will on the parent and co-opt the parent’s power as their own. In doing this they hide from view their terror at facing their own powerlessness.  Ideally, the child will gradually outgrow this urge to control, will gradually relinquish the dictatorial need to create safety through controlling the external realm. When that happens,  we say it is a sign of maturity. As our own sense of agency grows, we are better able to forfeit the habit of controlling others. We also begin to feel guilt at the idea of controlling others, as we begin to see them as separate from us, 3D human beings instead of mere props on our psychic stage.

Unfortunately some people have a hard time making this shift. They get stuck or addicted to manipulating their external environment, and will continue to create inner safety through the constant and relentless work of controlling others.

Last week in a team meeting, our medical director said he was meeting with a girl who identifies as FTM to discuss top surgery and testosterone treatment.  Apparently, according to the director,  the girl’s mom is slowing down the process of transition.  Bad mom, right? The director added that the girl’s mom told her that 9 out of 9 of her daughter’s friends also identify as FTM.

At this point I couldn’t hold my tongue any longer. I said, “Can we not be honest and see that we are dealing with a trend?” Of course, everyone else  at the table was mute.  Considering I’m leaving my post, I felt bold enough to say that I found it infuriating we couldn’t discuss this topic clinically. More silent colleagues (except their eyes were wide as if they wanted me to keep talking and taking the risk for them). I said that what we were doing as a medical community was potentially very harmful, and made mention of some of the videos I’d watched featuring transmen who decided to go off testosterone.  The medical director prides himself in providing special services for those patients he deems unjustly marginalized by society. But he can’t see how the medical community has become complicit in the oppression he earnestly seeks to remedy.

A large part of the problem comes with the revolution in health care. More and more, we are giving people the power to define their own treatments. This is good in many ways, but the trans movement is using this moment, and is actively recruiting young, psychologically undefined and frightened people to push their agenda through the medical community. It’s clearly not that difficult to do. These kids are just pawns. That’s how it looks to me anyway. The trans community needs more converts so that the narrative becomes more cohesive. I’m guessing the push for this comes from a need to further cohere so they will have more members to fully cement a fragile, constructed reality.

We–people who don’t identify as trans–are the external realm that must be controlled to bring the trans community the inner peace they now lack. But they don’t get that they will never find calm or strength this way. You cannot find yourself through coercing others. You cannot extinguish your fears by turning from them. The trans community must face their own fears, face themselves and their own demons. They can’t wipe out their fear that they are not really transitioning by censoring the thoughts and expressions of others. If they believe they are trans, they shouldn’t need to spend so much effort foisting that belief on others.

The fact that they do dictate to others is to me diagnostic of their very condition. They are uncertain about who and what they are. No sin in that. That’s human.  The transgression comes in refusing to accept this uncertainty, and in sacrificing the lives and consciences of others to nullify your own self doubt.

Coming soon to a state near you? Double mastectomy for your 15-year-old, without parental consent

“Top surgery”–the removal of both breasts with subsequent “chest reconstruction” –is the holy surgical grail for many females who identify as trans male.

Once strictly a prerogative for adult females in the United States, there is a growing trend for younger “trans teens” to pursue double mastectomy as early as possible. In the United States, the age of medical consent for major medical procedures without parental involvement is typically 18 years, with a few exceptions–notably for “emancipated” or married minors, and for contraception/birth control services, which are generally available to teens at an earlier age. There are also a few states with a lower age of medical majority, Oregon being one of them (age 15).

But the push is on by trans activists to lower the age of consent for trans-identified teens to undergo general anesthesia and major surgeries (both “top” and “bottom”), and to force both private insurance policies and taxpayer-funded state health plans to cover the procedures as a medical necessity.

Going under the surgeon’s knife is always a risky business.  Apart from the questionable wisdom of colluding with a pubescent girl’s notion that she is “really a boy,” mastectomy and general anesthesia carry risks of complications.  (Interestingly, “gender dysphoria” is no longer considered a mental disorder in the DSM-5, but a normal variant in the human condition–which somehow still requires extreme medical intervention.)

For any other condition, major surgeries requiring general anesthesia would be seen as last resorts.  It would be considered a miracle cure to be celebrated if a 15-year-old cancer patient were able to go into remission sans surgeries and chemotherapy.

For any other condition, everyone involved in the process–the patient, their families, doctors–would be looking for the least-invasive, least extreme, least permanent treatment approach. And the very last thing they would do is lobby legislatures for less parental involvement in these life-altering decisions that affect an adolescent girl.

As I have written about previously, these activist gender organizations are already proudly and secretly handing out free breast binders to kids with “unsupportive parents.” But they aren’t stopping there. They are doing their best–and succeeding–at further eroding the involvement of a child’s most trusted adults in permanent medical decisions.

Let’s take a closer look at Oregon, where, in 2014, TransActive Gender Center successfully lobbied the state legislature to include transgender hormones and surgeries for children on the tax-payer funded Oregon Health Plan (OHP), which is Oregon’s version of Medicaid for low income people. (There is not enough room in this post to cover the many medically necessary procedures that are not covered under the OHP.)

And TransActive just had another victory. Only a few days ago,  it was instrumental in ensuring there is NO lower age limit for “transgender surgeries” WITH parental consent. This means that a parent can decide (because let’s be very clear: when it comes to an 11 or 12 year old or even younger, it is the PARENT who is making the executive decision) to allow their young child to have even her ovaries and uterus surgically removed. Here we see Jenn Burleton, executive director of TransActive, celebrating on Burleton’s public Facebook page:

Burleton age of consent cropped

In the comments, supporters are jubilant. Only one injects a note of caution:

It’s good but I hope these parents and kids have the benefit of LOTS of counseling

In response, Devin Kit Crosland (scroll down for profile), a female-to-male trans-identified individual who heads up TransActive’s “In a Bind” free breast binder program for minors, helpfully points out that, in Oregon, kids age 14 and up can already get transgender counseling, without interference from “parents who aren’t supportive or aren’t educated on the issues.”:

Crosland gloats about 14 year olds and counseling cropped

On its public Facebook page, Transactive crows about the ways it has helped to make it that much easier for a young girl who wants to remove her breasts:

Transactive gloats about changes to OHP

We’re down to one referral letter (instead of two) for both cross-sex hormones and “top surgery,” on the taxpayer-funded Oregon Health Plan. What’s next on TransActive’s agenda? No letter at all? An online, on-demand dispensary for testosterone, and same-day, walk-in clinics for double mastectomies? No lower age limit for “gender affirming” surgeries without parental consent?

TransActive is aptly named. These are activists, and they want to make sure girls in other US states–your daughter, too–can get these surgeries without the pesky interference of any “unsupportive” mom or dad.

The same Facebook victory thread on Jenn Burleton’s public page shows supporters asking how they can change the laws in their own states. Burleton makes it clear that TransActive isn’t just some Oregon-focused local organization. No, Burleton wants to move this agenda forward across the nation:

Burleton pushing agenda

For those interested, TransActive Gender Center will share the testimony we prepared for adding and protecting this coverage in Oregon with anyone working on securing or interested in securing the same or similar coverage in their state. PLEASE… do not pursue this dialogue on Facebook!

Send an email to

So what are the gender nonconforming young people supposed to do while they’re waiting for the taxpayers in their state to pony up for their breasts to be removed? After all, these surgeries are expensive. In most states, unlike Oregon, health plans still consider “top surgeries” elective and not medically necessary.

The Internet is abuzz with ideas and resources. The site aggregates lists of “top surgeons” and self-funding ideas. Many people set up online charities for themselves, asking complete strangers on the Internet to donate to their cause. All the fundraising sites I found were fully publicly accessible, with not a few run by teens under age 18. A Google search for “top surgery gofundme” results in 1900 hits. The tag “top surgery FTM” turns up plenty of results on Tumblr. And a search of the GoFundMe site itself with keywords “top surgery” currently turns up 455 people looking for donors–with several of the potential surgery patients under the age of 18. Parents are even getting in on the act, putting up online fundraising sites for their kids, evidently even for young people with developmental disabilities.

Medical “gofundmes” are nothing new in the US, where plenty of people are still uninsured or underinsured. People needing cancer treatments or surgeries have been funding themselves through bake sales and online fundraisers for quite some time. And while, as I noted earlier, being “transgender” is now no longer considered  a psychological disorder, it is a non-disorder which requires extreme medical treatments, so it’s natural that people are hitting the interwebs to raise cash.

And what about the “top surgeons” who do the work? Space does not allow a full review in this post of the hundreds of top surgeon sites popping up all over the web, but it’s obvious this is a growing and lucrative business. To take just one example, Dr. Hope Sherie has a display ad that appears all over, with her own page on that site promoting herself as

Highest Level of Top Surgery Care on the East Coast

Dr. Sherie, along with the other surgeons featured on, posts before-and-after photos, including several showing the results of years of breast binding vs. the post-surgical results. She also helpfully lets us know that she’ll be at the Gender Odyssey conference, a pow-wow for transgender activists, medical providers, trans people, and their families that meets yearly and begins this Friday, August 21, in Seattle, WA.

A look at the advertisers on the home page for the conference shows several plastic surgeons, as well as some organizations–like the Center For Lesbian Rights–that might not be staying exactly true to their original mission, if you think about it; but that’s a subject for a future post.

gender odyssey

I want to close this post by addressing a few sincere questions to the transactivists and medical/psych providers who might have landed on this page.

I expect that most, if not all, of you feel you are doing the right thing for these girls. You are not monsters. But I have to wonder: do you ever engage in any soul searching? Do you ever ask yourselves, “Am I doing the right thing?” Is your sleep ever troubled by the suspicion that at least some of these young women will regret the permanent changes you have allowed them to make to themselves?

Many of the parents who write to me are losing a lot of sleep. They are constantly searching their own consciences, wanting only to do right by the children they have known for so many years. They know their children far better than you do. It seems to me that every adult who is involved in the weighty business of encouraging other people’s children to pursue a path of medical transition ought to just stop. Think.

It’s not enough that some of you are going to study these kids in the future. What of the people who may be irrevocably damaged by the treatments being administered right now?

Is this work you are doing something you will regret someday? Will you go to your grave confident you have “done no harm?”  You have the future of our precious children in your hands. Respect us–both parents and our kids–enough to honestly ask yourself: AM I doing the right thing?

Self harming as survival, not suicidal intent, in dysphoric young women

There is an interesting new comment up on the Guardian piece about the mother with the mentally fragile daughter who wants to transition. In fact, there are many good comments that have been posted since I blogged about the article the other day. The commenter–a woman who has been to hell and back–provides excellent advice to parents of girls who are engaging in self harm.

I have suffered mental health issues since I was a child and my self harm began aged 11, I continued in secret till my twenties.

If I could share one thing with you, it would be this; self harm didn’t mean I was trying to kill myself. It allowed me to survive. It allowed me to moderate and purge very strong emotions that I couldn’t put into words. I come from a dysfunctional home where no one taught me how to talk about my emotions or that I was allowed. It gave me back a sense of control over my own life, I belonged to myself, I wasn’t at the mercy of adults who abused me. It had an addictive physiological response, the rush and the soothing pain killing adrenal response. It was survival. It wasn’t a cry for help, for attention or to punish family.

Your daughter won’t be in a place to stop self harming until she has a viable alternative set of skills, identifying her feelings, being able to communicate, bring heard, building self esteem, feeling belonging. Those skills take time to build and she needs a professional to do it with.

Most of all, she needs a Mum to witness where she is right now. Not a Mum who wants to fix her (natural as that feels) or a a mum who will analyse what she says and tell her what means. Listen to her with kindness, non judgment, let her voice her feelings. Feeling like you are alienated from your body is painful, listen to it and witness it. That doesn’t mean you have to endorse a gender reassignment. But listen. Whether she means she wants to be a man, it is telling you something about how she sees herself.

You can make it through this. I got into therapy, off meds, I stopped self harming and at 31, I am a happy healthy woman. At 25, I had endured 5 hospital admissions and was crashing out of the psychiatric system. I was giving up hope. What changed that was being listened to and loved by people who focused on what was valuable about me, not what was wrong.

You can do it.

Comic relief? Or not.

For anyone who is not yet familiar with it, I recommend a stroll over to the Gender_Critical subReddit to enjoy a visit with its ever sharp and snarky denizens.  It’s primarily a collection of gender-related media stories, which the hungry subReddit piranhas attack with incisive zeal.

The moderator deirdreofthegaians has a special knack for creating snappy headlines that capture the sad absurdity of the gendered dystopia we find ourselves in today. Tonight’s selection is particularly interesting, in a brutal sort of way.  “FTM teen will just have her partner carry her babies, no big!” “MTF caught with huge cache of weapons and explosives.” “Internalized homophobia leads lesbian to identify as genderqueer after family stages intervention.”

Enjoy? Or not…

National Institutes of Health funds $5.7 million grant to study pediatric transition

This is big news. Children who have been diagnosed as “transgender,” who are currently being experimented on with hormones and surgeries, will finally be studied in (one hopes) a systematic way at several clinics across the U.S. over a 5 year period.

The good news? Someone will actually be collecting data and publishing research studies on these kids. The bad? The children are still the same guinea pigs, being treated experimentally with outcomes still to be determined.

The studies will run for 5 years, which will be enough time to yield some important information. But the real litmus test is what life will be like for these children when they grow up to be adults.  The younger children will still be adolescents when the studies end. One can only hope that the NIH will fund further longitudinal studies to follow these people–some of whom will be permanently sterilized–well into their lives as adults.

The study – which will begin enrollment in fall 2015–will include 280 transgender youth with gender dysphoria–those who are persistently distressed by the incongruity between their gender of identity and the gender they were assigned at birth. Participants will be those who seek medical intervention to align their physical bodies with their gender identity and alleviate gender dysphoria and its associated negative effects, including anxiety, depression and substance abuse.

The study will include youth from two age groups: younger children in early puberty, who will receive hormone blockers, called GnRH agonists, used to suspend the process of puberty – preventing the development of undesired secondary sex characteristics; and older adolescents, who will begin use of masculinizing or feminizing cross-sex hormones that allow them to go through the ‘right’ puberty – consistent with their gender of identification.

For the cohort in the earliest stages of puberty, the study will evaluate the impact of treatment on mental health, psychological well-being, physiologic parameters and bone health, and will document the safety of hormone blockers. In the older group, the study will document the safety of administering cross-sex hormones for phenotypic gender transition, as well as evaluate its impact on mental health, psychological well-being, and certain metabolic/physiological parameters.

Who will be conducting this NIH-funded research? The doctors who have made the biggest names for themselves in the new frontier of pediatric transgender “treatment”:

The multicenter study will be located at four academic medical centers with dedicated transgender youth clinics. The co-investigators and their institutions include:

Johanna Olson, MD, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California

Stephen Rosenthal, MD, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco

Robert Garofalo, MD, MPH, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Norman Spack, MD, Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School

These doctors have a lot at stake to prove that their experimental treatments will produce positive longterm outcomes for these kids–over the lifespan. Can and will they design studies that will truly be unbiased and well controlled? Will they end the studies and treatments early if negative outcomes start piling up? Will they be motivated to apply for more funding after 5 years, or will they declare 16-year-olds who began transitioning  at 11 successes and cease following them? Will they look closely at how natal males and females differ in their response to hormones and surgeries?

Time will tell. For the children’s sake, we can only hope these doctors will use the NIH research money ethically and wisely.

But given how much these doctors have already invested in administering hormones to kids and publicly touting the unmitigated good of “transition” and “trans kids,” it’s hard to see how they can approach this research without bias. If long-term evidence ultimately shows more harm than good resulting from this, they will be seen as providers who hurt innocent children–a much bigger stigma than harming adults.

Social networking and the implications for dysphoric teens

It’s a cliché now: Teens barely talk to each other in person anymore, nor do they call each other on the phone. Even when together in groups, they seem to be constantly looking down at their smartphones, absorbed in their separate little cyberworlds.

teens staring at phones

And many of us adults do much the same thing. We bemoan it at times, longing for the pre-Internet days, but it’s what we do. It’s just the way life is in the early 21st century.

But the findings from this new survey of 753 Canadian teens (grades 7 – 12) make it altogether clear: too much Tumblr and Twitter (and other social networking sites–SNSs) are very, very bad for the mental health of youth.

This study found that students with poor mental health are
greater users of SNSs. Results clearly show that youth who report use of SNSs for more than 2 hours per day have also reported poor self-rated mental health, psychological distress, suicidal ideation, or unmet need for mental health support.

And the dose very much makes the poison.

social media teen mental health

The numbers are stunning. Compared to their peers who were online 2 hours or less per day, teens who imbibed over 2 hours of social networking were:

  • over twice as likely to self-report “poor” mental health (29.3% vs. 13.8%)
  • over twice as likely to answer “yes” when asked “In the last 12 months, was there a time when you wanted to talk to someone about a mental health or emotional
    problem you had, but you did not know where to turn?’’ (45.6% vs. 21.3%)
  • over twice as likely to score high on a standardized measure of psychological distress, i.e. depression and anxiety (42.4% vs. 18.6%)
  • nearly three times more likely to answer “yes” when asked ‘‘During the last 12 months, did you ever seriously consider attempting suicide?’’ (24.9% vs. 9.1%)

And, as you can see in the table above, the differences are even more extreme when compared to young people who report “infrequent or no use” of social networking sites.

How ironic is it that the more teenagers use “social” networking, the worse their psychological (and therefore social) well being?

As SNSs are increasingly becoming an integral part of life
today, especially for children and adolescents, parents need to be more aware of the pitfalls of SNSs and actively engage
with young people in making it a safer and enjoyable experience for them. Parents should consider frequent use of SNSs as a possible indicator of, or risk for, mental health problems among children. Youth with mental health problems may be  frequently using SNSs to seek interaction or support.

For a depressed, socially isolated kid, it’s a lot easier to stare down at your phone and interact with your cyber”friends” than to deal with the stresses of social interaction at school.

Students who spend more time on SNSs also likely have less time to invest in other health-promoting activities … The cross-sectional nature of the data precludes evaluation of temporality and causality of the observed relationship between use of SNSs and mental health problems. Indeed, excessive use of SNSs could contribute to poor mental health and may be bidirectional. Use of SNSs can lead to poor mental health and poor mental health may be a reason why youth use SNSs.

In other words: heavy use of social networking and poor mental health appear to mutually reinforce each other. The worse the kid feels, the more they retreat into the Internet. It’s not a stretch to say that would likely mean they have fewer meaningful relationships IRL (“in real life”)–including, perhaps, those crucial early romantic or even sexual relationships that might ground them in their real-life bodies. Instead, they have a virtual existence as whatever online identity they have constructed on Tumblr or Reddit.

Is it a coincidence that the explosion of social media in the last several years is correlated with the steadily increasing number of girls identifying as trans, “genderqueer,” “demiboy,” or some other identity permutation? If desperate-to-transition-or-I’ll-kill-myself were not a social trend, the pre-21st century medical literature would be full of reports of such suicidal patients. Young women would have been saying to doctors and psychologists that if they could not live as the the opposite sex, they might as well be dead. But we find no such record in the clinical literature.

What do you get when you combine

You connect the dots.

A first? The Guardian allows skeptical mom to voice worry that her teen’s rush to trans is a form of self harm

The Guardian is generally known for its rigid adherence to the politically correct paradigm, so it was a surprise to see this (albeit in an advice column) from an anguished mom, whose situation sounds a lot like that of many of my regular readers. [Update 8/17/15: The comment section is still open, and the pro-con comments are far more balanced than I originally noted in this post.]

My daughter, who is 16, has a history of mental health issues. Her father is an alcoholic who left the family home when she was very young; she hasn’t seen him for some years and finds meetings with him upsetting. I am sure that this perceived rejection is at the root of her troubles as she suffers from very low self-esteem. She is overweight and was bullied at school, finally refusing to attend. She has been out of education since she was 12.

We have had some input from the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), but nothing has helped and she will no longer engage with them. She has never slept well and was prescribed melatonin. Then, last November, she was prescribed medication by a GP for persistent headaches and took a month’s supply in one go. To the family, this was the strongest example yet of her self-loathing and tendency to self-harm, albeit also perhaps a cry for help.

Following this, I had a telephone consultation with her psychiatrist, who raised the issue of autism – this has been a concern of mine, as she does display a number of traits associated with autism.

However, she is now convinced that she needs a sex change. Given that she has never previously shown any inclination to be anything other than female, it would appear that this is yet another form of self-harm and/or a cry for help.

I am worried that because of the amount of time she spends on the internet, she is being influenced to believing her intentions are correct.

She needs someone she respects sufficiently to listen to and open up to, who will dig deep enough to uncover the underlying issues, and help her to resolve them. I feel that, without such help, she will continue down her unhappy path, perhaps pursuing gender-change (without realising that this would not resolve any of her underlying issues), or leading to an even worse conclusion.

This worrying story has all the familiar plot points: painful childhood, mental health issues, self-harm, the sudden idea that “transition” is the answer from a girl who never mentioned it before. And let’s not forget the influence of the Internet…

As of this writing, many of the commenters (in so many words) either accuse the mother of transphobia, or insist that the gender dysphoria is the root cause of the teen’s other problems, although, interestingly, not a few do acknowledge that a trans identity seems to be pretty common in people on the autism spectrum–particularly natal females.  This comment is typical:

So many of the problems you have described could have a root cause of body dysphoria. Your child is struggling with something huge, distressing, and potentially life-changing, and little aggressions like misgendering or voicing doubt at their confession will not be helping.

Mom. Stop with the misgendering.  That’s a form of “aggression.” Don’t you know it’s against the rules of trans-parenting to  “voice doubt” about what your child is saying?

Your language choices really concern me. “I am worried that because of the amount of time she spends on the internet, she is being influenced to believing her intentions are correct.” – you’re worried that your child is finding people out there that make them feel supported? ” perhaps pursuing gender-change (without realising that this would not resolve any of her underlying issues), or leading to an even worse conclusion.” – you think that gender-reassignment is comparable to suicide or serious self harm?

Hey, the Internet is a benign force in the lives of young people. It’s just a support group! And the Thought Police don’t like your “language choices” when you talk about this person you’ve known for 16 years.

I think you should take a look at your fears and what they mean. What are you afraid of here? Is it truly that your child is just latching on to an idea, or is it the fear of the change that comes with a trans child? It’s a big thing to adjust to. Educating yourself will help, as will talking to other parents, and, of course, listening to what your child has to say.

Remember, mom: your child knows best. Let’s turn the spotlight on your fears, your lack of education. Maybe you’re the one who needs the psychiatrist?

There are a few who are pushing back, though. And very incisively.

.“…you’re worried that your child is finding people out there that make them feel supported?”

This kind of obsequiously emotive statement is so nebulous that it could just as well apply to a child communicating online to ISIS recruiters.

But the Tumblr and YouTube trans communities surely aren’t comparable to a destructive cult? 

She is clearly concerned about her child talking to an inherently biased group of people encouraging a specific pattern of thinking, rather than a medical professional seeking an evidence based diagnosis. That should not be difficult for you to accept, unless you are already biased towards a particular outcome.

Nailed it.

also encouraging a near irreversible change that a TEENAGER wants could also be seen as neglect and aggression.

Heresy! I thought the parents who DIDN’T go along with transition were the abusers?

Fact is 9 of 10 decisions a teenager makes are bad ones, it’s a time when we are are most suggestible and very, very easily influenced. a time where science shows that we are irrational and make bad decisions, I didn’t pick up a tone for the parent to suggest she is against trans, it was one of concern at her child making a rash decision.

Someone who actually brings up the fact of poor executive function in adolescents–another taboo topic allowed to surface in the pages of the Guardian.

And using the internet to self diagnose is all sorts of bad, she could have Aspergers instead, maybe she doesn’t, we don’t know. but she could go on a forum for that and find support, hell, she could find support on a website for those who want to commit suicide, doesn’t mean it should be welcomed.

The most forbidden topic of all: The cult of “transition or suicide” is exposed. Are the Guardian’s comment moderators asleep at the wheel?

Clearly she wants people to talk to and people who have undergone the change aren’t the ones to talk to as their advice to her would be biased, intentionally or otherwise.

But if she is serious about finding out who she is she should spend a few years actually in therapy and see what she wants and work out who she is that way, not through unregulated internet forums.

So this is a good start. Now can we see some of this un-Thought Policed discourse in the news or features section of major newspapers–not just in advice columns?

Abandoning the Ship of Woman: Guest post

On my Tumblr blog recently, I put out a call for stories from women who had lived for a time in the Abode of Childhood and Adolescent Gender Dysphoria–and who have returned to us, body and mind intact, to tell the tale. While I myself have always been “gender nonconforming,” I never seriously considered myself male, nor did I want to banish my female body. Which means I’m not the person to write an intelligent post on the subject.

I’ve now read dozens of accounts from formerly dysphoric women, but only on Tumblr and WordPress blogs. The trans-entranced mainstream journalists seem to have zero interest in reporting about the “ones who got away” and survived, reconciling with their female-ness to claim their place in the sisterhood of women.

I realize every day how incredibly fortunate I and my fellow baby boomers were to come of age when the Second Wave of feminism was cresting. One fundamental and deeply powerful message of that movement was that “woman” is a big, welcoming tent that all females can shelter under, no matter their physical or mental attributes. If you’re a double x, you’re in. The concept of  “gender nonconformity” would have been seen as pure nonsense by me and my companions when I was 20. And of course, it is still an absurdity, an invention of post-modernist Gender & Queer Studies academics (who, sadly, replaced the in-touch-with-reality Women’s Studies professors who raised the consciousness of and liberated so many women in the mid-20th century).

Women who once rejected themselves as female but returned to our fold are the guides our young “gender nonconforming” girls need today. I am very grateful to my online sisters who have shared their stories.  I consider them my teachers. If you are one of them, please consider submitting your own story to guest post here. I’d like this to be the start of a series. [To let me know you’d like to guest post, submit a comment to this article, and I will respond to you privately, without publishing your comment.]

Every woman who has experienced dissociation-from-female has a unique story to tell. While you may not relate to every aspect of Dot’s experiences in the guest post below, her repeated–and finally resolved–attempts to be other-than-woman is the universal crux of what too many of our young women are going through today.

Dot writes to us–young women and their parents alike–about her journey, from toddlerhood to adult woman, with this comment:

I tried to write these vignettes with the child and teenager I was in mind, but also as a means to speak to parents of these teens,  to provide some insight into these compulsions.

She entitled her piece “Stories from the 80%,” to acknowledge the well-researched fact that the vast majority of young females who have gender dysphoria eventually outgrow it–or at least learn to cope.

Stories from the 80%

by dot

Part 1: Tomboy

I’m 3. I’m screaming in a changing room because the dress I’m being made to wear is uncomfortable. Being girly means physical discomfort.
I’m 4. I’m popping the heads off all of my Barbies. Being girly means having pretty long hair, and I can’t relate to a toy that looks nothing like myself or any woman I know.
I’m 5. My mother disdains my love of bug-hunting and rough-and-tumble play with my mostly-male playmates. My carefree play-style requires her to painfully tame my long hair’s knots. I don’t understand why looking a certain way is supposed to be worth this pain. I cannot be decorative and adventurous at the same time. Being girly is antithetical to the exploration, curiosity, and physical play I love so much.
I’m 6. I’m refusing to use anything pink. Being girly means liking “feminine” colors. I don’t actually hate pink; I can barely see the color for what it is. I just know it is girly, and I am distinctly not girly.
I’m 7. I only enjoy the boy cartoon characters. They have fun and are funny. They get to move around more than the stiff princesses who I barely understand to be characters. They are elegantly moving statues used to dress up the set while the fun male characters have adventures and tell jokes. I am not girly. I’m like the male characters. I am physical, I am funny, and I have no interest in being beautiful. Maybe I am not a girl at all.
I’m 8. I am throwing a tantrum on the playground because my playmate wants to be Simba (the Lion King) this time. I always get to be Simba, so I relent and agree to play as Nala (the lioness)–this once. I feel profoundly awkward in the role. I tell her I refuse to play if I ever have to be Nala again. When I play as Simba, I scold my playmate for daring to sing “I just can’t wait to be queen” when I sing my number. That is not how the words go. Nala only becomes royalty by marriage. Ugh, girls are so stupid.
I’m 9, and my cousins are making me watch some obnoxious dance routine. I hate to watch them perform and don’t understand why they would do such a thing. I want to play video games, which they make fun of me for. My male playmates have largely abandoned me, pressured by each other into rejecting me. I’d never make my male playmates sit through stuff like this… so why am I lumped in with these cheerleading nitwits? Girliness appears to be a fundamental and natural part of girls. So I hate girls.

I’m 10. It’s already sunk in that my body is not for me to move around in without being harshly evaluated. I stop moving around and seek to shrink. My weight problems worsen, which only makes my shame greater. I further retreat into consuming and creating fantasy worlds that don’t require me to think about my body. I fail to see what this has to do with being a girl, mostly because I am not a girl.

Part 2: Dissociation

I’m 11. My female classmates begin to show an interest in boys. They ask me which celebrities I find attractive, which I can’t answer. I do not care about celebrities. To me, they look like aliens. I like some classmates, but I mostly just want to play video games with them. I miss my male companions. I cannot articulate any of these feelings, and so I’m bullied as a presumed lesbian. Joke’s on them, though! I don’t even like girls as friends. 
I’m 12. The family member who has been beating and molesting me for some years now tells me that I have a nice pussy. It was this pussy that allowed me to be his target. I don’t draw a connection between this and my nightly practice of lying in bed and dreaming of transformation. I want to be something with a penis and physical strength. I am fascinated with the Animorphs, which can turn into any animal they want. Surely I will grow up to become a shapeshifter, a cartoon character, an animal.
I’m 13. The fantasies are intensifying. They now include becoming a normal boy; attractive and assertive, gloriously my default self. Real boys are more interesting to me now. I want their attention, but not as object. I want to be engaged with as an equal. I reason that might not happen unless I am more like them. My fat, pubescent body is less compliant with that wish than it’s ever been, though, so I know I will look ridiculous even trying. I fantasize about slicing away chunks of my thighs and removing my breasts. Since I cannot be physically like the boys, I study them and pick up things I might have in common with them. I shift my tastes in video games, music, TV, and movies to be more violent. I mark myself proudly with shirts that advertise my male-friendly interests. I am one of the boys.
I’m 14, and at the peak of a period that I will later describe as dissociative. I am removed from my abuser, and basically without friends. The abuse has ended, but the coping mechanisms remain for years after. I am routinely suicidally depressed for years to come. I fail to see what any of this has to do with being a girl. Besides, I’m not really a girl.

I’m 15, and running into the arms of my first boyfriend. This is the first significant male attention in my life that is healthy. I try to be just like him. I am lucky, because this relationship is very nurturing. His home is the most stable I’ve ever witnessed up until this point. I might be a girl after all, but I’m a very unique and different type of girl.

Part 3: Not like the other girls

I’m 16. I finally begin to make friends again. Mostly male ones, since they seem to have come around to the idea again finally. They are just easier to get along with, you know? We have more in common, and I love the lack of drama. The drama that does happen is totally incidental. It has nothing to do with their maleness. They say I’m cool, because I’m not like the other girls.
I’m 17.  Much to my surprise, I’ve begun to figure out that I can, in fact, be attractive to people after all. It’s a rare combination to be both a girl cute enough to be objectified, yet to be fluent enough in male culture to be one of the guys as well. I’m different, so I get to be both. You can tell how different and cool I am since I actively and joyfully participate in the constant cruel commentary, jokes, and sexual ranking of women. I impress them by being the cruelest and most foul-mouthed among them. We’re talking about women, not me, so who cares? I’m drunk on the perception of being powerful for the first time in my life. I’m the one girl among the boys.
I’m 18. I’m beginning to understand that my position as a girl among boys is very conditional. If I object when they joke about making them sandwiches, their teasing only intensifies. It occurs to me that if I can be made the butt of these particular sexist jokes, maybe I am subject to all of those words that “weren’t about me” after all. I look at myself in a mirror. I am not the cartoon character or a genderless blob that I see myself as. Regardless of how I see myself, others look at me and see a girl.
I’m 19. I now suspect that sexism does, indeed, include me as an intended target. I stop complying with sexist jokes. In asserting this basic boundary, I immediately lose the majority of my male friends. I find myself very lonely and suicidally depressed. Even as I meet a lot of perfectly nice acquaintances at college, I fail to make female friends. I understand, now, though, that if my interior reality can be so easy to miss to an onlooker, I too must be failing to see people trapped in the bodies of girls and women. I consciously begin a years-long mission to begin seeing women as people.
I’m 20. I’m beginning to binge on liberal feminism. It allows me to unpack my fear of feminine clothes and accessories. I learn the origins of high heels and pink and blue as gender markers, and their scariness melts away. I’m so grateful for this first foray into feminism. I am a girl, and people hate me specifically for it.

I’m 21. I’m learning how to dress and carry my body in ways that allow me to achieve the desired effect I want to have on strangers. I marvel at the way wearing a dress changes interactions. I finally understand femininity as a costume, and one that doesn’t necessarily have to be physically uncomfortable. This discovery allows me to humanize women in a way I couldn’t before. I now have some female friends, but my relationships with them are somewhat awkward. It is hard when I look into them and see the ways that they are damaged, because they reflect the ways I am damaged. I am a girl, and embracing it doesn’t automatically improve this condition.

Part 4: Liberal feminism and its natural conclusions

I’m 22. I’m entering the workforce. Before, feminism was somewhat abstract. I am now beginning to acutely feel power dynamics and understand what they mean. My dress becomes more consistently feminine (why even bother with a day where I’m treated less well?) A boyfriend I love deeply pulls the rug out from under me by being very distant during a pregnancy scare. I begin to realize that even boyfriends who are very good to me can do this at any time I need them, at little risk to them. I stop having penetrative sex, never having enjoyed it in the first place. The guilt and shame over this failure as a woman follows me for years to come. Even though I’ve been a feminist for a while, I am just now beginning to understand how deeply patriarchy infiltrates my condition. It is a heavy weight. I am a woman, a person who is expected to take on bodily and emotional risk that others are not.
I’m 23. I’m diving further into liberal feminism. Through its language, I bond with other women for the first time. I begin to see that all of my adult female friends have stories similar to mine; nearly all of them were abused as children, have suffered dissociative tendencies, have been mistreated at work and in relationships. We have a lot to talk about. It is through these conversations that it occurs to me to call the abuse and molestation I endured abuse and molestation. Before now, I have not even integrated it. When I did think about it before, I utterly minimized it and made it out to myself like it was no big deal. Talk about dissociation! After years of effort, it is now much more natural to see the people living inside of women (even ones that do not seem relatable at first). I am a woman, so I have something in common with all bodies prone to our type of sexed trauma.
I’m 24. Through liberal feminism, I have been reading the works of anti-racist activists and writers for some years now. I have a firm grip on the social justice vocabulary, and have been actively trying to undo my racism as actively as I have been my internalized misogyny. And I’m now seeing a major upswell in a new topic that I am told must be central to my feminism: transgender issues. I instantly accept it, since it uses the same vocabulary and ideas presented to me by black feminists and womanists. My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit, lest minority women be oppressed all over again. I am a woman, and I commit serious time and energy fighting for justice for my fellow women.
I am 25, and I wake up anxious sometimes. Nonbinary and transgender people that I love and respect tell stories about their childhoods that sound suspiciously like mine. I hear the word “cisgender” defined as “identifying with the sex assigned to you at birth.” Having never felt at home in my female body, having never felt an internal experience of femininity in my life, I begin to worry. I utterly fail the “if you woke up one day the opposite sex, how would you feel?” test. Even with my hard-won love of women, I would still happily transform into a man if it were painless, riskless, and complete. The idea of being a man with a deep voice, no expectation of being penetrated, and power narratives on my side is obviously appealing. But I do not desire to imperfectly and riskily change my body. I do not want to wear clothes that fit me poorly. I tell myself I am agender inside. I have always felt genderless and default, after all. I have never felt comfortable in my body for a variety of reasons, but the shift in feminist culture causes me to chafe and I fall back into familiar old feelings that could be called “gender dysphoria.” Should I be claiming this discomfort? Should I be addressing it with my clothing choices? I’m just pretending to be a woman, for the best outcomes I can hope for with this body.

I’m 26, and I am the breadwinner of my family. This success is exactly what I have wanted my whole life, but I’m feeling like a failed woman. I did not inspire my partner to take care of me financially (although it is his gentleness and kindness that I admire most in him). I know this is bullshit, but every day I still feel hideous and ashamed of this arrangement. I fail to see that my success is a form of gender nonconformity. I fail to see that my directness, my agency, my assertion in the humanity and dignity of women are all forms of gender nonconformity. I fail to see it because mainstream feminist discourse on gender is very alienating to people who do not care as much about fashion or presentation. Women are oppressed because they are feminine, and I am not truly feminine “inside”. I don’t even know what a woman is.

Part 5: Relief

I’m 27, I’m 28, I’m 29, I’m 30. I am an adult. After years of occasionally and fruitlessly googling “what is a woman?” and permutations thereof, I accidentally stumble upon gender-critical discourse. I find the radical feminism that has been so ubiquitously deemed irrelevant and hateful by mainstream liberal feminism.

It’s hard to overestimate how much radical feminism is considered taboo. All I knew about Dworkin and Steinem was that I hate them. Because they are bad.  I don’t want to poison myself with hatred! It’s to the point where I had never even read a single thing by any person aligned with radical feminism before. After years of calling myself a feminist. I was trying to have a feminism without history, without context, and most bizarrely without an understanding of the root of women’s oppression.

Now I am beginning to see things differently, and recognize my body as the site of my oppression. Mainstream feminism has totally abandoned this concept, and it’s left countless young women like me without any tools to integrate their experiences as theirs. This leaves them totally vulnerable to the tidy explanation that “you aren’t actually a girl.”

But there is a moral imperative to resist this.

When females who do not fit the mold abandon the ship of woman, we also abandon young people who need to see themselves in others. Peers and adults who are able to integrate their non-conforming experiences as appropriate to their own body, and as a vital part of the experience of women, are crucial role models for girls and adolescents.

If woman is a category only occupied and defined by those who appear to embrace the gender stereotypes of women, we are doomed. It is non-compliance within the category of woman that reminds us that women are fully human, not just natural targets for subjugation.

Femininity as we inherited it (prettiness, submission, sacrifice, vulnerability, and a million arbitrary culture-specific colors/fashions/toys) was made up by people with penises specifically to subjugate people with vaginas. Specifically to render us compliant, decorative, and groomed for exploitation.


Of course you didn’t comply with it. Even if it has some fun stuff, it is completely natural to associate even the fun, harmless girl-stuff with the painful. It’s no wonder many of us reject it categorically.

However, if we flip the script and decide that femininity is defined by things by, for, and related to people with vaginas, femininity simply means human. There is nothing a person with a vagina can do that is outside of a true definition of femininity/womanhood.

The only reason it wouldn’t be that way is if we assume women are truly and naturally restricted and incapable of the full range of human traits, behaviors, feelings.

No amount of liberal feminism came close to providing the relief I felt by coming to understand this. By knowing that I do not have to occupy the male-created narrative of femininity even a little to be 100% justified in my body, no matter what shit I wear. By realizing that discomfort in the female body is the design of patriarchy, not my individual unique nature. By learning that not every language even has gendered pronouns, and to imagine that reality. By appreciating how truly neutral all fashions and colors are. To come to grips with the fact that gender is just a story to explain the shitty position of women, not some essence to be found deep within myself to justify some part of me that demands an explanation.

This sounds obvious, even trite. But if you do not see the profundity in it nonetheless, you have probably not appreciated the depths of the oppression of women as a sex class.

Part 6: Epilogue

The parts of me that do not comply with the gender stereotypes assigned to me (which were defined by dead men specifically to subjugate me, regardless of the fact that other women are often strict enforcers of them) are not “masculine”.

I am not a “tired husband” because I come home from work late and just want to relax on the couch.

I am not in “boymode” when I opt to wear pants and practical shoes.

I do not need to express every aspect of my gender non-conformity in the forms of fashion, pronouns, or hairstyles in order to be meaningfully dismantling sex roles.

I do not need to justify the gender-compliant fashion choices I do make by deciding that dresses and makeup are the very height of agency and rebellion. Trying to make my own daily life easier does not need to be justified or explained away by the idea of doing it “for myself.”

I do not need to pick apart every aspect of who I am, what I like, or what I do and decide where it lies on a spectrum from masculine to feminine.

I am all of these things, and so all of them are appropriate for women. All of these things are within the realm of suitable behavior, thoughts, and feelings for a person with a vagina to have. They are all a part of a complicated and complete single self, not a fragmented collage of things that do not belong together. No aspect of myself needs to be explained away. It all makes perfect sense, and none of it contradicts my nature as a person with my body.

Let’s stop trying to patch a broken system we all intuitively rebelled against with a million convoluted chutes and ladders. Let’s consider scrapping it altogether. Let’s start by rejecting the notion of a feminine/masculine spectrum altogether, rather than attempting to do away with the biological reality that made us targets to begin with.

Let’s start by integrating ALL of our experiences, behaviors, and personalities into our own self-images, rather than seeking to embody an image that “fits” better. We’ve all been tricked into believing “woman” is a far more narrow category than it is. We can all fit into it. We can dictate its shape. It’s ours.

Dissociative tendencies: Young women and “otherkin”

One of the roots of so much of “I’m not a girl” issues, I think, is dissociation. At least for me.

Not long ago I was curious about the therian/otherkin phenomenon. I sought out some reading material and videos with an open heart. My heart, once open, proceeded to break. I saw video after video of kids that looked almost exactly like I did at 15.

I recognized within them a loneliness, a perceived otherness, that they sought an explanation for. I saw the very same lack of understanding of their physical body that I exhibited at that age. I heard them speak of their animal counterparts within coming out to protect them. I saw teenagers who were probably abused.

As a child, I also pretended to be a dog or cat, even when alone. I often bit other children, well past normal biting age. When playing “house,” I would always disappoint my younger playmates by abdicating my presumed role as mommy and refusing to play unless I could be a pet of some kind. I identified exclusively with male characters, yes, but all of them were also animals. Since male animal characters were allowed to look more animal-like, I believe that my concepts of gender neutrality/maleness/animalness were all very intertwined.

My tendencies evolved as I aged and were very much exacerbated by the abuse I would face as an adolescent. When alone, I would bark, meow, growl, and exhibit other inappropriate behaviors well into my teenage years. I knew not to behave like this around people but I longed to meet others like me. In the videos of otherkin and therians, I saw kids who were just like me who did happen to have had their quirks externally validated (by each other). This is not a cruel or purposeful thing, but in validating our behavior in others, we validate ourselves. Once a small community is formed, feedback loops are formed. These behaviors go beyond validation and into identity cultivation.

I think that there is a certain type of young person with more difficulty, than average, seeing themselves in a meaningful sense. And this is a form of dissociation. Of course, they see people in the real world, and do not see them as cartoons. They know that cartoons and movies are not real. But when it comes to understanding themselves, they have greater difficulty imagining the self that others see. This is very common among “nerdy” types. There are even memes about this phenomenon:

bogart meme

I think this is the result of minds which tend to think very symbolically. I remember very specifically imagining how cool I was wearing a backwards hat as a kid, or later imagining myself as looking like a sexy catgirl when I wore a head-band with cat-ears. The reality of the matter was that I looked like a dumpy teenager with dirty cat-ears, not a lithe anime character I wanted to embody in those moments.

I have no explanation as to why some people think this symbolically when it comes to themselves. I have suspicions (trauma mixed with some sort of personality subset is my best guess). What I do know is that this type of person, in most circumstances, does not benefit from having their self-projections cultivated. Nor from having at their fingertips an infinite supply of validation for anything they could desire validation for. It leaves this type of person very vulnerable.

Their vulnerability is made even worse by the fact that they are generally quite intelligent and therefore able to rationalize anything to themselves. They, like most people, imagine themselves fairly immune from influence. I can promise you that at least one teenager with this sort of personality will show these words to their friends and laugh at the “condescending” suggestion that they are vulnerable to influence. Maybe it is condescending, but there is no non-condescending way to express such a reality. I can’t say that I, as a young person, would have read this essay or taken it seriously, either, though.

Invalidation will only bolster their fixation, giving it the aura of credibility manifesting in defiance.  Above all, they need time to work these things out without too much outside interference, and perhaps gentle but firm guidance to the reality that their self-perception and will is not something that others can or should be beholden to.

They do not lack empathy (and in fact can be quite concerned with justice and the feelings of others), but they lack some perspective-taking.

still have my sex-dysphoric and otherkin-type tendencies and feelings, but they have abated considerably. They no longer bother me at all now that I understand them as coping mechanisms largely developed in response to serious abuse in my young life. They were tools I built for myself out of self-preservation, which is its own sort of beautiful. Just like the therian kid has a wolf-self to protect him, I made these constructs to protect me. Free from toxic validation, I was able to have the time and space  to integrate them as part of my complex and whole self, rather than as my truest inner identity.

As an adult, I’m very grateful I was able to develop healthy, constructive creative outlets for them (not to mention a self-awareness that prevents me from ruining my life with inappropriate behavior). My adulthood would certainly not be as good as it is had my fantasy been indulged to the point where I could insist others (outside of the internet) see me as I would have preferred to be seen.

No other animal desires to be another animal. That experience is uniquely human. Coming to this was similar to my understanding that the ability to wish to be male when one is not male is an experience unique to those of us who are female.

I know that a lot of trans folk will find this comparison offensive, but it’s hard for me to overstate how much I related to animals and cartoons over people for huge chunks of my life. As an adolescent, these feelings about being not-human were very similar to my deep and serious feelings of being not-female. When otherkin-type kids say that they feel body-map dissonances similar to those described by trans folks, I believe them. I continue to feel both as well (fortunately, at greatly reduced rates and with no accompanying distress).

Internalized misogyny and the trap of the white feminist demon

A lot of very smart young female people get into liberal feminism, and think within a very brief amount of time that they have unpacked their internalized misogyny, but they still feel bad so obviously their pain requires more of an explanation than mere sexism.

In leftist circles nowadays, sexism is seen as one of the more frivolous oppressions, paling in comparison to race, class, and sexual minority struggles. I suspect this image of white feminists as privileged, perhaps even above white men, is popular because it is specifically the white man’s stereotypical view of white women. I urge you to question it, to fight it. White women of course have white privilege, which should always be scrutinized and unlearned. But none of this makes sexed trauma less real and serious.

“White feminism” is a useful description for a bundle of behaviors, values, and assumptions that have historically harmed women of color… when feminists of color use it. It has more recently been co-opted as a scapegoat by white liberal feminists, trans activists, and men. The White Feminist in popular discourse has basically become a silencing tactic, and a means to diminish the perspectives of anyone who doesn’t agree with a specific brand of liberal feminism. It’s important to be able to, as a white woman, accept the criticisms from women of color without caving to the temptation to dissociate.

Many young white women know they cannot un-white themselves, so they often proceed to un-woman themselves to avoid being the most privileged person at the feminist table. This is unfortunate, because they usually came to the table because they needed to in the face of their oppression. Since they are young and often traumatized, they are even more ill-equipped to integrate privilege into their self-concept than the average white person. Their legitimate problems along with their typical white fragility combine to make them want to dissociate. I theorize this is behind some of the uptick in non-binary and trans identities among young females (along with people claiming mental illnesses as part of their identities).

I honestly do not think young white women would be reaching so hard to claim other oppression-based identities if they understood and appreciated the gravity of the sex oppression they face. I suspect they suffer from the white man’s narrative that white women, particularly white feminists, are frivolous and just making too big a deal out of this whole patriarchy thing. This is just another facet of internalized misogyny, and it serves not only to de-center feminism from understanding itself as a movement concerned with sex-based oppression, but also to allow the would-be young white feminist to defer taking responsibility for understanding themselves as a person capable of racial oppression.

Many of their self-descriptions basically provide a laundry list of identifiers to make up for their bad one. It’s as if they say “I may be white and forming an understanding of feminism, but I’m not one of those nasty ever-so-privileged White Feminists. I’m just a poor little mentally ill, pansexual, non-binary, demiboy. Please accept the unthreatening posture these identifiers represent as a means to soften any racial privilege I might exude.”

It wasn’t until after years of exploring feminism that I was able to identify my sexual abuse as sexual abuse. And it was only after years of exploring feminism that I was able to make female friends. I believe you cannot understand a great deal of misogyny’s depths until you spend a good deal of time working outside of the home, or see yourself in the context of romantic relationships. These things take serious time and a lot of experiences to even begin unpacking. If you are thinking about transitioning or are calling yourself some other opt-out identity, do not rule out internalized misogyny. Do not rule out your own limited perspective on what a woman can or should be. Do not rule out your own oppression as less valid.

Ruling out internalized misogyny is a mistake for any person. To rule out internalized misogyny is to underestimate patriarchy. And trying to modify your own identity into a position of less privilege is just about the lamest and least responsible thing you can do.

And for crying out loud, do not “identify” as something other than yourself as a way to dodge your own racial, class, or other privilege. It’s a serious bummer to have to say that, and I know it will be met with indignation and fervent denial, but I’ve personally witnessed this happening among peers. It’s only human to be motivated by a desire for approval and belonging (especially among female-socialized people), so don’t be hard on yourself if you find this inside of you. Make peace with it. Own it. And heal.