Jenn Burleton, director of youth transition org, dismisses ex-client’s complaints as “TERF infestation”

This is an update to Friday’s post. Please read it first for background.

UPDATE June 14, 2016: TransActive Gender Center and director Jenn Burleton have issued public statements on their Facebook pages. TransActive has labeled 4thWaveNow an “anti-trans hate site” because we have provided a platform for Cari to tell her story.

TA statement June 13 2016

It’s a common tactic of trans-activist organizations, which can tolerate no dissent, to dismiss critics of pediatric transition as “transphobic” or “hating trans children.” We at 4thWaveNow–the majority of us being concerned parents of gender nonconforming youth–invite all readers to investigate the posts, interviews, and research-based information on our site and decide for yourselves whether 4thWaveNow “dispenses anti-trans youth rhetoric.”

Cari, a detransitioning 22-year-old ex-client of TransActive Gender Center,  has written on her Tumblr blog about her dissatisfaction with the services provided by that organization when she was a gender-dysphoric teenager.

Jenn Burleton, director and founder of TransActive, chose to respond indirectly to Cari via a public Facebook post. When reading Burleton’s screed, bear in mind that Burleton runs an organization which has considerable influence over the lives of gender-defiant youth. In addition, Burleton is an advocate for lowering the age of medical consent nationwide, and was instrumental in changing Oregon law to allow teens as young as 15 to obtain surgeries (including mastectomy and “bottom” surgeries) without parental consent. Burleton also believes (and has stated on the WPATH public Facebook page) that TransActive’s no-questions-asked youth transition program disproves decades of peer-reviewed research demonstrating that most gender-dysphoric youth desist. In the linked post, Burleton claims a 0% desistance rate for clients seen at TransActive. Clearly, Cari’s case calls for–at the very least–some soul searching and re-evaluation of TransActive’s policies and public statements.

Burleton’s public Facebook response—aimed at a 22-year-old who was only 16 years old when she was encouraged and enabled by TransActive to medically transition–refers to Cari’s Tumblr posts as a “TERF infestation” and a “harassment campaign.” Decide for yourself, after reading Burleton’s Facebook post and Cari’s response (which Burleton has not made public), who is the injured party in this situation.

Cari told 4thWaveNow that she is grateful for any support readers can offer in publicizing her former and now current experiences with representatives of TransActive Gender Center. At her request, we are reproducing screenshots Cari posted on her Tumblr blog yesterday.

Burleton screed 1.jpg

Cari’s response, sent to Burleton via Facebook Messenger:

cari response

Cari response 2

Cari response 3

Therapist letter.png

TransActive doubles down on fast-track transition policy with clueless reblog of ex-client who decries their lack of gatekeeping

UPDATE June 12, 2016: Jenn Burleton, Director of TransActive Gender Center, has responded. See this post for details.

Regular readers will recall ”In praise of gatekeepers,” the 4thWaveNow interview with Cari, a former teen client of TransActive Gender Center in Portland, OR. In her interview, Cari, now 22, told us that TransActive “counselors” made it far too easy for her to  be referred for medical transition at age 16; she started testosterone at 17 and moved on to “top surgery” (double mastectomy) soon thereafter. In retrospect, Cari wishes there had been a lot more gatekeeping at TransActive—especially because her counselor never suggested investigating whether Cari’s history of trauma and comorbid mental health issues might have played a part in her desire to transition.

A few days ago, Cari wrote a post pointedly criticizing TransActive’s gatekeeper-free teen transition policies.

Kari on TA

Kari on TA addendum

Whoever manages TransActive’s official Tumblr blog reblogged Cari’s post, but instead of addressing her concerns, they simply doubled down on their propaganda:

Kari on TA 2

Either this TransActive employee has trouble with reading comprehension, or they just figured that spamming Cari’s Tumblr followers with their superRAD!-no-mean-cis-gatekeeping policy would somehow drown out her silly concerns. But either way, as Cari told 4thWaveNow, “This should give people some insight into how TransActive treats detransitioned ex-clients. Whoever runs their social media accounts has so little empathy, they reblogged a post by a woman who was irreparably harmed by their org and acted like I was praising their services.

Additionally, Cari told 4thWaveNow that she had previously written to TransActive to ask what services they could provide to someone who was unhappy with transition and wanted some support for  detransitioning. TransActive’s response was to send Cari a list of therapists—all of whom were trained by TransActive, and one of which is an employee of the LLC, BraveSpace, a newly established trans youth counseling org which has replaced TransActive’s in-house therapy program.  “This concerns me,” Cari told us. “While I’m speculating here, I know many detransitioned women I’ve spoken with have issues with therapists who think they are simply experiencing “internalized transphobia” or social pressure and therefore try to convince them to retransition.”

Given TransActive’s track record of spurring kids and teens on to hormones and surgeries—as well as the complete absence of any acknowledgement that regretters or detransitioners exist (let alone listing any resources for detransitioners on their very professional looking website), it’s unlikely an unhappy ex-client like Cari would find a sympathetic ear from any of the “counselors” affiliated with TransActive.

A couple of days ago, Cari tagged TransActive (i.e., she invited them to respond) in a followup post with a very clear message about the failings of her former TransActive “counselor” Sheryl:

Kari on TA 4.jpg

As of this writing, TransActive hasn’t reblogged nor replied to Cari’s latest post. Maybe they’ll be better at taking a hint with pictures than with words? Stay tuned.

Kari on TA 3

8-year-old “trans advocate” releases book: “It’s not something we can just switch off.”

For the former child star at the age of ten, the experience of going from a “neighborhood kid” to a famous TV personality overnight was life-altering. Cast on a hit TV series, he recalls the reaction after the show’s debut. “When I went outside the next day, my life was different . . . And the first thing that I knew, ‘Holy Toledo, I’m famous!’.” …Celebrities become accustomed to looking into a crowd and seeing the adoration in their eyes. “You know they know who you are.”

–Donna Rockwell, PhD, and David Giles, PhD. Being a Celebrity: A Phenomenology of Fame

“Who they are,” in the case of famous trans kids? Trans forever. And the message they’re selling is: That won’t change (even though decades of research studies beg to differ –and even the top pediatric gender specialists admit they don’t know which kids will persist in believing they are the opposite sex).

Celebrity Willa truly who i was

We don’t have a disorder & you can’t change us

UPDATE June 6, 2016: Commenter atranswidow tells us this:

The Maltese Commissioner for Children has joined in the official praise of Willa and Willa’s parents, but has become concerned about the effect of using a child as a transgender symbol. The Commissioner’s office has issued a statement  which calls for the general public to be sensitive to Willa when publishing their reactions, saying that the family and child are vulnerable because of the controversial aspect of the story written by Willa.

The Commissioner felt the need to add that ”there is also the possibility that future complications may arise because in later life some children may once more return to their gender at birth and it is known that some cases have happened”.

Ask Transgender Europe (TGEU, Twitter: @TGEUorg) why they are using an 8-year-old child in a PR campaign.

Like so much else related to the trans-kid/teen phenomenon, the (abundant) anecdotal and (sparse) research evidence we have about the negative impact of fame on child and teen celebrities has been utterly ignored. (Maybe not so surprising, since actually scrutinizing the effect of media attention on trans kids would require the media to scrutinize itself.)

I don’t think I need to list all the former child celebrities who have been buffeted by troubled waters as they moved into adulthood. Now we have a whole crop of famous transkids and teens. There’s Devina, the 6-year-old “trans princess” and her family’s successful reality show.  Media darling  Jazz Jennings probably cannot go out in public anywhere in the world without being recognized;  being the most-celebrated “trans teen” on the planet is parental/societal approval (quite literally) on steroids.

But while Jazz Jennings is at the mega-fame end of the spectrum, the young people being used in political ads and trans activist campaigns are in just as bright a spotlight.

Willa happy as a girl

Even the young people featured in glossy magazine features (like the 14-year-old adopted survivor of fetal alcohol syndrome whose double mastectomy was covered in the San Diego Union Tribute a couple months ago) become icons for the cause.  They are being used to promote a product—that product being: gender is innate, immutable, unchanging. No matter how young, a trans kid won’t change their mind about who they are.

The child pictured in the YouTube clips in this post is Willa Naylor, a Maltese  “trans activist” for Transgender Europe (TGEU) who was featured in a 4thWaveNow post last November. Willa was already a celebrity last year, when a gender identity law in Malta “dedicated to” Willa  was passed. The Maltese law is considered “the most comprehensive” in Europe, even allowing for gender/sex to be left undefined on birth certificates.

Willa’s fame is on the rise. Just two days ago, the child—now 8 years old—was interviewed by the Times of Malta about a self-authored storybook called “Truly Willa.” The book has been available on Amazon since March.

Civil liberties minister Helena Dalli said: “I hope this book will help other children in Willa’s situation feel empowered. For adults, who can sometimes be prejudiced in their views about how life should be, this book shows that we do not choose how we’re born and opens our eyes to other realities.”

There it is: “born that way.” I wonder if Transgender Europe—or for that matter, the US State Department, one of the key funders of TGEU via the Global Equality Fund—can point me to the research proving a person is “born” transgender? They shouldn’t have too much trouble finding data suggesting an alternative outcome: That Willa, if left alone to grow, change, and explore, might grow up to be a gay man as most gender dysphoric boys do.

The Malta Times article includes a video interview with Willa and parents. In it, Willa tells us a bit about “Truly Willa,” and says she hopes it will “help a lot of kids and [that] a lot of people buy it.”

celebrity willa malta times

To their credit, the interviewers in the video do ask mom and dad about the possible impact of all this media attention: “Do you worry that this level of exposure could be difficult for a young girl?”

“I think at first, we weren’t people who wanted to jump into the media, but then it just sort of happened. She’s always wanted to share her story…I don’t worry about it too much. Obviously we’re very sensible about which media we allow her to do…It’s wonderful for her self confidence….that’s the reason she speaks publicly. She wants to be the voice for the children. She gives voice to the people who’ve gone through similar experiences whether they’re children or adults….that’s empowering for her, and now it’s not something we can just switch off because now she wants to advocate for these people.

celebrity willa parents

And indeed, Willa is advocating for quite a few of “these people,” as the Malta Times tells us.

Their fight led to the Gender Identity, Gender Expression & Sexual Characteristics Act , made law in Malta in April 2015, being dedicated to her and she was the first child invited into parliament to watch the vote as it passed into law.

Willa has a YouTube channel, is a “family outreach officer” for Gender Liberation, and is involved in several media projects for Transgender Europe, including radio, television, and Internet ad campaigns.

celebrity willa advocacy

There’s also a website featuring Willa’s new book and information about the political advocacy the whole family is involved in. The site also provides the back story on Willa’s social transition:

Meet Willa Naylor. She is an 8 year old trans advocate from Malta in Europe, and is determined to make a difference in the world. She was assigned male at birth and despite raising her as most parents would raise any male child, her parents could see she had issues with the gender that was being placed on her. Amongst preferring to play with girls, care for younger children, choosing more stereotypically girl related clothes and toys, her parents were also very concerned by her lack of socialising with other children, crippling shyness, anxiety driven temper tantrums and the trauma she seemed to experience on having to leave the family home.

Stereotypically girl related clothes and toys,” indeed. And the behavioral and psychological issues are used here to obviously promote the idea that the only solution for this child was to put him on the road to social transition (which very often leads to later medical transition).

Willa is featured on several other websites, including GLSEN , where I was struck by something s/he said about social transition:

Even the pain of having to go to school with really short hair. I felt like a girl with my hair taken from me. I know people treat people like me not very nice, and that needs to stop. People need to understand what hurts trans children and what situations they might have gone through. I think kids like me need books like mine to show them they are not alone, and society doesn’t have to win. You can be who you are, who you know you really are!
Why did Willa, as a boy, have to go to school with “really short hair”? Who said he had to? In so many of these trans kid stories, the child’s resistance to gendered expectations seems to play a major role in why they decide they are the opposite sex.  Maybe if Willa had been allowed to have long hair, he would have felt he could be who he “really was” as a gender-defiant boy.

As for Willa’s book, it’s aimed at children of all ages:

This is a journey of what it means to be an affirmed transgender child, created by a transgender child, with her parents support. The book also has simplified quotes at the top of each page for the benefit of any younger readers, with the main paragraph having more detail, so children of different reading levels can still read along.

Coincidentally, the parent-run Transgender Trend has just launched a campaign in the UK to protest the release of a new children’s story book (“for ages 0-5”) which promotes the idea that young children can be born in the wrong body. Unlike “Truly Willa,” the book (published by BloomsburyKids) “Introducing Teddy” was written by an adult, not an 8-year-old child. Indeed, who would protest a book written by a child? Maybe this will be the start of a new trend by trans activists—more books authored by trans kids themselves.

celebrity willa truly willa

Celebrity does a huge number on adults. What might the effect be on kids and teens?

In their paper Being a Celebrity: The phenomenology of fame, Rockwell & Giles describe some of the tensions famous adults have experienced:

The celebrity experiences being put on a pedestal, “and there are people who love to knock us off the pedestal.” Paradoxically, along with all the adulation—gratuitous and genuine, no matter what the celebrity does, someone, somewhere, will be disappointed. In order to create a balanced life, famous persons struggle to maintain their own perspective. [Fame makes you] extremely vulnerable. And you can really take it to heart and get your feelings tremendously hurt. I stopped reading e-mail very quickly because I couldn’t take some of the negative stuff . I wanted to write and say, “You don’t know who I am. Why are you doing this?” And it was all about who they thought I was . . . You have to be very thick-skinned.

How thick-skinned can a child be when the inevitable tumble from the pedestal takes place? How thick-skinned should anyone want them to be?

Obviously, Willa’s parents—and the parents of other celebrity trans kids–think they are doing the right thing by their kids; they likely believe they are also doing a good thing for the world at large. But do they ever wonder whether the very act of setting their children up as role models will make these kids feel they cannot ever question what they’re doing?

Celebrity aside, no one is receiving grants to study the impact of social media, peer pressure, or parental approval on the rate of persistence in trans kids’ believing they are the opposite sex—influences brought to bear on all young trans kids, not just those who are in the media spotlight. How much more intense must the pressure be for the ones who are put on pedestals as paragons and proof of Innate Gender Identity?

Celebrity Willa Gender ID bill

How could a kid who has been made a media star, who is constantly praised for their bravery in proclaiming they are the opposite sex, have an easy time switching back after all of that, no matter how much they wanted it?

Transgender activists have very cleverly, and very effectively,  pinned their cause to the coattails of the gay and lesbian liberation movements. But there is one thing the pre-trans LGB movement didn’t have: Eight-year-old proto-gay/lesbian child celebrities bought and paid for by deep-pocketed lobbying groups.  Given both the anecdotal and  research evidence that most gender dysphoric kids grow up to be gay or lesbian, the LGB movement would actually have had a pretty strong case for such a child-focused campaign.  You could take the trans activist kid videos we now see and simply replace the narration with:

“Here’s little Johnny who likes to play Barbies and dress up in fairy costumes with all the girls in his kindergarten class. Johnny is likely to grow up to be gay, and if you don’t accept this right now he’s going to kill himself.”

Or how about:

 “Here’s little Judy, always climbing trees and refusing to wear dresses and hair bows. She’ll likely be a lesbian woman—unless you force her into that dress, which will guarantee she self harms.”

In the halcyon days of the gay/lesbian liberation movement—which was and still is driven by the theory that sexual orientation is innate–it would have been seen as highly inappropriate to use young children to further a political aim. Building a PR campaign around anything remotely related to a child’s present or future sexuality, puberty, or body parts would have rightly been seen as unethical.

Why isn’t anyone outside the gender-critical blogosphere asking whether it’s appropriate to use “trans kids” as media shills for the transition-or-die transgender rights movement?