Lisa Marchiano, LCSW is a psychotherapist and certified Jungian analyst. She blogs on parenting at Big Picture Parenting, and on Jungian topics at www.theJungSoul.com. You can also find her at PSYCHED Magazine and @LisaMarchiano on Twitter. Lisa has contributed previously to 4thWaveNow (see “Layers of Meaning” and “Suicidality in trans-identified youth”).
Lisa is available to interact in the comments section of this post.
In recent years, stories of young children socially transitioning have been increasingly common in the mainstream media. Frequently, the focus is on the child’s preference for toys, activities, hairstyles, or clothing more typical of the opposite sex. Critics of these articles sometimes insinuate that parents merely need to reinforce that non-stereotypical toy and clothing choices are acceptable, and this will resolve the child’s distress. “Why don’t the parents just buy their son a doll instead of agreeing he is a girl because he doesn’t like trucks?” is a typical critical statement. But it is my belief that in some cases, such criticisms oversimplify the complexity and difficulty of situations in which a young child experiences severe dysphoria.
There are certainly cases where parents hastily infer that a child is transgender and ought to be transitioned based on non-sex-stereotypical choices on the part of the child, and these are troubling indeed. To take but one example, the mom interviewed about her nonbinary child in this BBC story was looking into blockers for her daughter partly on the basis of the child preferring pirates to princesses.
But closer attention to the details in some of these stories reveals a more complicated picture. For example, there are media stories about children who appear to despise their own genitals. In this account, according to his mother, a little boy attempted to cut off his penis at age 4 with a pair of scissors.
Clearly, a parent facing a situation like this would want to seek out professional help, and might understandably conclude that the child is suffering from intractable dysphoria. It’s worth noting, though, that the current trend in the US focusing on gender affirmation makes it difficult to consider alternate explanations for such distress in a child, including co-occurring mental health problems—or even more mundane explanations. See, for example, in this piece, the observations of a parent of such a boy, who discovered
…the importance of asking “Why?” Had I asked that when [my son] told me that he wanted to cut off his penis with a pair of scissors, who knows what I would have learned? But I didn’t ask because I thought I knew precisely what he meant. Applying an adult perspective, and my own views on gender, I immediately concluded that that remark was a rejection of his birth gender. But maybe he had a urinary tract infection and his penis was sore. Or maybe he had been wearing a pair of pants that he had outgrown and they were uncomfortable in the crotch. Or maybe having a penis made him feel like he didn’t fit in with his sisters and cousin, and he thought that if he looked more like them then they would all get along better instead of squabbling. Who knows. But we should at least have had the conversation. The same way we would if he had said “I’m sad” or “I’m angry.”
But setting aside for the moment alternative explanations for why a young child might want to mutilate his own genitals, it seems to me that in at least some cases where young children have been transitioned, these kids were experiencing a significant amount of distress over their sex. They may have suffered from a deep feeling of having been born “wrong.” They may have a powerful feeling of really being the other sex. They are likely subjected to significant social stress at school due to not fitting into gender expectations. The pain experienced by these children – and families – is very real and sometimes quite extreme.
I imagine it would be very difficult to be the parent of these children. One would have to bear with so many unknowns. Will the dysphoria resolve itself? If so, when? How? Will my child be subjected to bullying? How can I protect him or her? What if the dysphoria worsens? What will happen at adolescence? What is the right thing to do?
Above all, a parent in this situation would be subjected to the horrible reality of having to watch their child suffer each and every day.
Childhood Transition Solves Some Problems…
Although affirmation and social transition are frequently prescribed in todays’ activist climate, we do not have any good long-term evidence to support social transition among pre-pubertal children. The clinical practice guideline of the Endocrine Society recommends against doing so. The Dutch researchers who developed the use of puberty blockers also recommend against it. Nevertheless, I can certainly understand why social transition would be an attractive option for parents.
First, it would resolve ambiguity. One would know what course their child would be on, and could embrace the new reality and adjust accordingly, rather than have to tolerate the agony of not knowing. Consider for example the following excerpt from a 2013 story from The New Yorker.
One mother in San Francisco, who writes about her family using the pseudonym Sarah Hoffman, told me about her son, “Sam,” a gentle boy who wears his blond hair very long. In preschool, he wore princess dresses—accompanied by a sword. He was now in the later years of elementary school, and had abandoned dresses. He liked Legos and Pokémon, loved opera, and hated sports; his friends were mostly science-nerd girls. He’d never had any trouble calling himself a boy. He was, in short, himself. But Hoffman and her husband—an architect and a children’s-book author who had himself been a fey little boy—felt some pressure to slot their son into the transgender category. Once, when Sam was being harassed by boys at school, the principal told them that Sam needed to choose one gender or the other, because kids could be mean. He could either jettison his pink Crocs and cut his hair or socially transition and come to school as a girl.
Hoffman ignored the principal’s advice. She told me, “Are we going to assume that every boy who doesn’t fit into the gender boxes is trans? Don’t push kids who aren’t going to go there.” Still, as Hoffman’s husband said, “It can be difficult for people to accept a child who is in a place of ambiguity.” A kid with a nameable syndrome who requires a set of specific accommodations at school (recognition of a new name, the right to use the bathroom and locker room he or she wants to) is, in some ways, easier to present to the world than a child who occupies a confusing middle ground.
Above all, it must be extremely compelling as a parent to know that there are simple steps you can take that will resolve your child’s unhappiness in the short term. Many parents in these stories report that their child immediately become happier, more playful, and more joyful as soon as they were allowed to wear dresses full-time, or cut their hair short and choose a new name. It is hard to argue with what looks like success.
…And Creates Others.
While I have a great deal of empathy for parents who, in the face of their child’s overwhelming distress, decide to allow a social transition, there are serious risks to doing so. As human sexuality researchers point out, every parent in this situation must weigh the immediate suffering that their child is experiencing against potential future suffering of regret or medical complications. There is accumulating evidence that Lupron may have serious side effects. Testosterone and estrogen may increase risks for heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes. And of course, as has been pointed out even by gender specialists themselves, the child will become permanently sterilized if puberty blockers are followed immediately by cross-sex hormones.
What an agonizing choice. Such parents believe they can relieve their children’s distress for at least a while, but there may be real consequences down the road. There is very little evidence to help a parent make this decision. We simply don’t have good criteria for decisively determining which children will persist in a cross sex identification into adulthood. Though some gender therapists claim those who are persistent, insistent, and consistent will benefit from transition, the evidence we do have indicates that this is not a fool-proof criterion.
The second significant risk in facilitating a social transition among pre-pubertal children is that transition almost certainly increases persistence. If a five-year-old boy is “affirmed” that he is the opposite sex, and is addressed by a typically female name and pronouns by the adults around him, it is very likely that the child will be reinforced in his belief that his body is “wrong.”
Moreover, the surge of endogenous hormones at puberty rewires a young person’s brain in complex ways. It is likely these hormones and the changes they bring that in part account for desistance in the roughly 80% of children who grow out of dysphoria and come to feel at home in their natal sex. By blocking these pubertal hormones with Lupron, it is probable that clinicians and parents are setting the child’s cross-sex identification in stone.
The Stories We Tell
Therapists like to remind our clients that there is the thing that happened, then there is the story we tell ourselves about what happened. The stories we tell can make a huge difference in how we feel and respond to events–and the options we have.
For example, if a friend doesn’t call when she said we would, we could tell ourselves any number of stories about that. We might imagine our friend forgot. She’s been busy lately. We might call her instead, or we might move on with other things, intending to catch up with her later.
But what if we tell ourselves a different story? What if we decide that she probably didn’t call because she is angry? Or has decided she doesn’t want to be friends? Then we might find ourselves upset. We may experience a significant amount of unnecessary distress as we react to a situation that is mostly of our imagining. We might even make a choice – such as avoiding or confronting her – that might wind up bringing about the very outcome we feared.
A lot of what therapists do is help people to generate new stories that can maximize the potential for positive outcomes. Roughly speaking, there are two main criteria that make for good, adaptive stories. First, does the story more or less reflect reality? Second, does the story open up new possibilities for response?
Reality, of course, is sometimes a matter of opinion. It isn’t always possible to judge what is “real.” However, in general, those beliefs that do not line up with objective reality are often not very adaptive. If we believe, for example, that no one ever gets into college without straight A’s, we may feel as though our efforts at obtaining a university education are futile, and we will be more likely to give up.
An exception would be the coping strategy referred to as denial, which can be adaptive if it shields us from realities that are too harsh or painful to tolerate right now. However, even denial can be maladaptive, since it may encourage us to ignore or avoid important realities. Imagine, for example, someone diagnosed with cancer, who decides to forgo the recommended treatment of chemo and use ineffective herbal remedies instead.
Telling—or agreeing with–a child that she is a boy in a girl’s body doesn’t pass the reality test. It may be true that a child strongly feels she is the opposite sex. It may true that she feels very uncomfortable with her body, or the social roles ascribed to her. But to assert that she is really a boy is to deny objective, material reality. It sets a child up to manage massive cognitive dissonance, and to be at odds with her own biology.
We only have one body. Part of being a parent is teaching our children how to accept, love, and care for the one body they will have throughout their life. Believing that there is something fundamentally wrong with our body, such that it might require drugs and/or surgery to be corrected, makes it more difficult to accept and care for ourselves properly.
A good story increases our options. Generally speaking, one story is better than another if it allows us to generate more possible ways to respond. Returning to the example of our friend who doesn’t call, if we believe she didn’t call because she hates us, our one option may be to sit home and feel miserable, sad, and angry. If we believe that she may be busy and perhaps she forgot, we have other options. We can call her right away. We can wait and call her tomorrow. We can decide we are tired of her being forgetful, and decide we aren’t going to call her until she calls us.
Having multiple choices increases our agency, and gives us an internal locus of control. Psychologists believe that developing an internal locus of control is one of the key variables that determines resilience. We experience ourselves as active participants in our lives rather than passive victims.
Affirming that a child is transgender is a story that reduces rather than increases options. If I tell a five-year-old that he is a girl in a boy’s body, then the choices become transition, or be miserable. The internet is quick to tell young people that their choice is to “transition or die.” Many parents who have decided to support social transition report that they believed they would either have “a dead son, or a live daughter.” When there are only two choices and one of those is suicide, then there really is only one choice.
In contrast, if the story we tell our child is that he has gender dysphoria, suddenly a range of possible options becomes available to us. We can support him in managing his distress. We can work to challenge rigid gender expectations. We can try to find him like-minded peers, and adult role models of feminine men. We can teach him self-soothing skills. We can work with the school to reduce bullying. And of course, the option to transition will still be there.
When Pharma Shapes the Story
Influential journalist and author Alan Schwarz convincingly traced the explosion of ADHD diagnoses to Big Pharma’s aggressive marketing of stimulant medications for the condition.
“A.D.H.D. Nation” focuses on an unholy alliance between drug makers, academic psychiatrists, policy makers and celebrity shills like Glenn Beck that Schwarz brands the “A.D.H.D. industrial complex.” The insidious genius of this alliance, he points out, was selling the disorder rather than the drugs, in the guise of promoting A.D.H.D. “awareness.” By bankrolling studies, cultivating mutually beneficial relationships with psychopharmacologists at prestigious universities like Harvard and laundering its marketing messages through trusted agencies like the World Health Organization, the pharmaceutical industry created what Schwarz aptly terms “a self-affirming circle of science, one that quashed all dissent.
Our children look to us, their parents, to help make sense of their experience – to know, in effect, what story they should tell themselves. The marketing messages of pharmaceuticals change the stories we tell ourselves and our children about their suffering.
When our toddler falls and bumps herself, she looks at us to gauge our reaction. If we reassure her that she is okay, she runs off and continues playing. If our face reveals fear and alarm, if we rush to her and ask worriedly whether she is all right, she is likely to burst into loud wails.
Before 2007, when Lupron was first used in the United States to block puberty for gender dysphoric children, kids who experienced even extreme distress over their sex were probably rarely socially transitioned. After all, the physical changes of puberty were inevitable. Before Lupron, there were very few “transgender children.” There were certainly gender dysphoric children, whose parents likely did the best they could to help their child navigate distress.
Lupron is a profitable drug. The drug’s manufacturer AbbVie reported making $826 million on Lupron sales in 2015. New off-label uses for the drug, such as helping kids grow taller or delaying puberty in gender dysphoric kids, have certainly provided new markets. The annual cost for Lupron for a transgender child can be around $15,000. The story that tells us we need to arrest puberty for dysphoric children or risk dire consequences directly benefits the pharmaceutical industry.
The treatments available to us shape how we conceptualize our symptoms. Pharmaceutical companies magnify this influence through marketing and hiring of physicians as consultants. As the image below shows, mentions of the term “transgender children” was nearly nonexistent in published books before 2000 – not long after the Dutch published their studies about using Lupron to block puberty. The mentions rise sharply around 2007 — the year Norman Spack began using Lupron for gender dysphoria at his clinic in Boston. Google’s Ngram had data available only through 2008. We can only imagine what the mentions must be like in recent years.
With the ability to suspend puberty granted by the magic of pharmaceuticals, a whole new treatment pathway has opened. I fear that the temptation to take this route may be strong, even though there is little empirical evidence about where it leads.
Psychotherapists know that often, the answer to dealing with discomfort is to learn to sit with it. It must be excruciating as a parent to watch a child suffer with dysphoria. The temptation to end the suffering with a quick pharmaceutical fix must be immense. But I can’t help but think that at least some of time, it might be better to sit with this discomfort rather than reaching for a drug.
Having a young child with severe dysphoria presents an excruciating dilemma for a parent. I can’t say without any doubt what path I would choose, as I have not been faced with this very difficult decision. I do believe that those supporting these families ought to offer them honest information about what we do and don’t know, both about gender dysphoria, and the effects of transition.
Thank you so much for your sensitive and interesting treatment of some of the psychological issues involved for parents of potentially transitioning children. We do indeed need to be mindful not to over-simplify anything involved with this, and your article is very helpful in suggesting ways that we can all think about these things in a more sophisticated and nuanced way. I am especially impressed by the analogy to the friend and the phone call – that really makes the whole topic much easier to grasp as it is a very accessible and intuitive way to think about it.
Good and necessary work! Think about how much more beneficial and detailed analysis we could have, and how much better treatment these kids would receive, if professionals such as yourself were actually set free to bring their good minds to bear on the topic, rather than being shut down and erased with false charges of phobia.
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What a fantastic post! Dysphoria as a feeling should be listened to and taken seriously—the patient needs to understand the feeling of distress and what is causing it. A feeling of discomfort is telling you that there is something wrong that needs to be addressed, and confronting it is an opportunity to take care of oneself. Only after exploring the feeling can the patient begin to figure out how to treat it. The treatment might be any number of things, and there are detransitioners who have suggested things like meditation, yoga, gardening, getting a rescue dog, accepting oneself as lesbian/gay, and dealing with dissociation caused by sexual assault. The treatment probably looks different for different people—just as with depression and anxiety, there is no one-size-fits all approach. I don’t think we should dismiss someone’s genuine distress, but that doesn’t mean we should push medical transition immediately without considering other, less invasive and less permanent options. I don’t think that transition should be marketed the way it’s being marketed—this is being done to line the pockets of the pharmaceutical companies, not to help people. That’s what happens in a for-profit health system, there is a focus on selling profitable “cures” rather than actually making people well.
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Thank you PSF. I love your blog, so your comment means a lot!
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>>> We only have one body. Part of being a parent is teaching our children how to accept, love, and care for the one body they will have throughout their life. Believing that there is something fundamentally wrong with our body, such that it might require drugs and/or surgery to be corrected, makes it more difficult to accept and care for ourselves properly. <<<
This is what really resonates with me. Thanks for such a thoughtful post. It says everything that I have wanted to say, but much more eloquently than I could.
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Thank you so much for this post!! It gives me hope that there are actual professionals out there who see gender dysphoria in a much more nuanced and careful way. I have told my 19 year old daughter that there are other treatments for gender dysphoria other than hormones and top surgery but she just says “ok Dr Mom”! A very typical response for a 19 year old!l Lol! The one and only thing that ever seems to make her stop and listen to me is when I tell her to stop worrying about how her body does or doesn’t look and instead worry about what it allows her to do everyday. Pushing born in the wrong body theory is just so cruel and irresponsible!! It goes against every instinct loving and supportive parents possess. Hopefully the media will soon open their eyes to what they have been very one sidedly promoting!!! Thank you so much Lisa!! My daughter starts family therapy next week and I am hoping we can make some progress! Some days I really feel like she would like to just drop this whole thing but I think she feels almost trapped by identifying as trans because she made the unfortunate decision to come out on social media. I have mentioned before ,on another post, that social transition can be very very difficult to back away from even for older teens. I really believe this is part of the reason for her increased anxiety. Such a mind trap😞
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“Mind trap” is a good phrase for it!
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I agree with Awakened. I almost feel like my daughter (who is only just 14) has to keep up this idea that she is transgender whether she really feels it or not. Last June she was a happy and healthy 13 year old , (although I do believe suffering from a level of anxiety). Just 11 months later she is unhappy, now on anti depressants and her whole life seems to be upside down and chaotic. Not to mentioned what’s it’s doing to the stress levels of the family. Until last June she never once mentioned anything about hating her body or being trapped in her body. I totally blame the internet and involvement with Instagram. This website really gives me strength. Thank you to all its contributors from End of my tether mum in sunny London !
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This phraseology strikes me as part of the problem. For instance, a child’s preference for looser, more comfortable, protective clothing isn’t more typical of the male sex than the female, it is simply assigned as a stereotype to the male sex (and not the female) in order to create and maintain a gender hierarchy of male over female.
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Toy and clothing choices have definitely become more gendered recently, and it does seem to me that this is part of the problem. We ought to be loosening gender strictures, not reifying them.
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I agree. I like comfortable clothing too, and it doesn’t mean I’m a man for wanting functional clothing and shoes I can walk in that won’t cripple my feet. Gendered clothing for children is a more recent invention (~1950s) and it’s all about making money. Same with toys being gendered.
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Thank you for this post. One thing I have noticed is that young children are more likely to desist or detransition when they know someone who has desisted or detransitioned. When all they know are people who are pushing trans, they are much more likely to commit to that path.
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Has anyone ever tried to map out the whole structure of transgenderism? The main players, how they are connected, what universities, organisations, companies and other institutions are involved. The government personnel and agencies that allow and encourage this. Where the money flows. If nobody has, maybe we could get one of those writers who like doing deep-dive investigations interested.
Also, has direct neural intervention like transcranial magnetic stimulation ever been tried to treat dysphoria?
Agreed with your first point, that there is a whole structure of players, institutions, financing and politics underlying the current mania, that has not been fully explored or mapped, and that will provide fruitful investigative territory.
Also agreed with your second point. I have a piece (yet to be published) on the whole issue of why “full-scale medicalization” is the only acceptable response to a transgender identity. It would seem to me, and you, and many other observers, that there are so many tools that could be tried to heal this “mind/body divide” far short of the gruesome procedures that are now in place. In fact, the trend in medicine nowadays is to use integrative techniques to bring the best practices to bear, in helping the mind to heal the body. In the transgender context, and only in that context so far as I can tell, is the emphasis ONLY on a traditional Western, highly-technical, invasive approach.
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I am a 54 year old gay man who is very concerned with the trans agenda that my ‘community’ is pushing. Most of my gay friends are blissfully unaware of the relatively new focus on child-transitioning, and no one has even heard of Lupron or enforced sterility. It seems that with the SCOTUS decision on marriage equality in 2015, our large lobbying organizations are running out of platforms on which to raise the millions of dollars needed for their own survival, and so the focus has moved to trans advocacy almost overnight. There is a large segment of the gay/lesbian population who are not jumping on this bandwagon, but we are cowed into silence by SJWs. I fear that we will be held to account for these atrocities, and it’s not as if any of us had a vote in adding the T to LGB.
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Tim- there are other LGB people concerned as well. There probably needs to be a nonprofit organization set up as a watchdog organization around transitioning youth. But that will have a much stronger foundation if there’s some hard evidence that early social transitions and Lupron are actually grooming some children for sex reassignment surgery that would’ve grown out of gender dysphoria. My main goal right now is to try to figure out ways to prove or disapprove that. If desistance rates start to go down that’s going to be a big red flag. You should contact me if you want to actually do something about that. There are other people motivated not to just complain about this on the Internet but to confront the situation head-on. Email me anytime contact at thehomoarchy.com – my post on this topic here. http://www.thehomoarchy.com/do-youth-transgender-diagnoses-put-would-be-gay-lesbian-bisexual-adults-at-risk-for-unnecessary-medical-intervention/
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“In this account, according to his mother, a little boy attempted to cut off his penis at age 4 with a pair of scissors.”
Many people on twitter/reddit and even here I think have pointed out that parents ALWYAS claim that their sons tried to cut of their dicks with scissors and other objects but miraculously the parents are always there to prevent it. t’s always the same kind of story. Nope – I’m not buying it.
Also IT’S the parents who contribute to children dysphoria by telling them they are born wrong or that they can’t wear certain clothes or use certain toys. If a child has issues with their body – you go to a THERAPIST because they may have been sexually abused. You don’t support their delusions.
The parents are complicit. They are NOT innocent bystanders.
(I’m not talking about teenagers because the internet trans mania in another can of worms)
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Furthermore, it’s not clear from any of these articles that these boys spontaneously expressed a desire to get rid of their penises.
As we saw during the Satanic ritual abuse hysteria, very young children often respond to leading questions with the answers they think adults want to hear – and the more the questions are repeated, the more likely the kids become to confabulate.
Look at this article, where a mother asks her very young “transgender” son a series of questions – in front of a reporter! A total stranger! and then claims to be surprised by his reponses.
Similarly, consider the UK case where a mother insisted her young son was transgender, even though a custody case finally found that there was no reason for this believe. She claimed her son expressed “disdain” for his penis.
It’s a mistake to take small children’s reports of Satanic abuse at face value. It’s also a mistake to take small children’s reports of physical dysphoria at face value – especially when those reports are filtered through parents who believe in trans ideology.
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You said: “Look at this article, where a mother asks her very young “transgender” son a series of questions – in front of a reporter! A total stranger! and then claims to be surprised by his reponses.”
That article is about Jazz Jennings and family.
Here’s another one of the early articles withe mother of Jazz.
Yes, that Broward Palm Beach New Times article is about Jazz Jennings, long before his “Jazz” name and persona had been created. What I find interesting is the revelation that it took only one session with three-year-old Jazz for Dr. Marcia Shultz to be convinced that Jazz had GID.
One session with a three-year-old was all it took for a GID diagnosis! These are the conditions under which so-called professionals are making life-altering decisions about very, very young children.
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I agree that the scissors anecdtes stretch credibility, and that some of these cases give credence to the notion of Munchausen’s by proxy.
That being said, though, parents aren’t always complicit. There are many potential sources of indoctrination as this epidemic unfolds. Not just social media, but now even grade schools and therapists.
It’s the mother to the miraculous rescue that always stops me believing it… really, every time? Did the child only make one attempt to self-harm, and all the scissors were removed from the house? Why are they never a second too late, and the story follows up with a trip to the hospital? Also, why scissors? That’s not a logical(child logic) connection to ‘deliberately cutting one’s body parts’. Even as a small child, I knew knives were used for cutting people(talking about hospitals). Scissors were for cutting paper or fabric.
Increasingly, I believe all gender dysphoria is self-induced, if unintentionally. Teens and adults become obsessed with a body(theirs or other persons), and fixate on the idea of changing it to the point of wanting to self-harm. It is very much comparable to anorexia. So many who were “cured” of gender dysphoria say that they got out of the community and just lost interest… ie, stopped obsessing about it. Though of course that’s easier said than done.
But parents of small kids with these stories? Fully believe they’re just attention-seeking liars. That, or they’re transferring their own gender-obsession to their children.
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Thank you so much, Lisa, for putting this so succinctly. There is so much wrong in the world when we parents have to defend OUR actions to protect and raise our kids on a healthy, non-destructive way. When doctors, therapists and pharmaceutical companies, not to mention governments, have more rights to push this new craze on innocent, easy to influence minors, something has gone completely off track.
You said it well: “We only have one body. Part of being a parent is teaching our children how to accept, love, and care for the one body they will have throughout their life. Believing that there is something fundamentally wrong with our body, such that it might require drugs and/or surgery to be corrected, makes it more difficult to accept and care for ourselves properly.”
Thank you for continuing to speak out for common sense and rationality.
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Yes, we are off track indeed!
Thank you so much for this post. I hope your thoughtfulness will resonate with other people in your field.
Yes, we only have one body—and one brain for that matter. It is clear that many parents create and reinforce this trans narrative with their young children. Perhaps they are unaware of how they do that.
The teens and young adults are influenced by peers, websites, and political groups.
And for those affirmers out there, how many more young people will be lost by social contagion? Every time there is one affirmation, it affects many, we lose many– we all lose.
I think of the old saying, it takes a village. I think it should take a village to confirm a narrative. Some of the young people have totally skewed their real identities via social media viewing. Shouldn’t everyone who has ever known our precious child weigh in?
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There is so much duality and conflict with the narrative around trans kids and it astonishes me that there isn’t dissonance all over the place:
You should love and accept your child as they are; you should affirm your child’s belief that their body is wrong.
(Christian parents) Homosexuality is a sin; the Almighty made a mistake in creating your child or placed his/her soul in the wrong body.
Gender is a social construct;there are pink girl brains and blue boy brains that drive our behavior.
Transwomen are women. Trans men are men. You are if you feel you are; you may need to hire a coach/hypnotist/stylist to teach you how to act like your chosen gender.
If your child had diabetes cancer would you withold lifesaving treatment?
Cancer and diabetes require absolute medical confirmation by a doctor before any treatment can begin; transgenderism requires only a child’s say so and in older kids treatment begins virtually right away.
I’m sure there’s stuff I missed but those are the big ones. As you said, I don’t believe these parents are ‘abusive.’ I believe they are desparate to help their kids and are being sold a bill of goods.
“If your child had diabetes cancer would you withold lifesaving treatment?
Cancer and diabetes require absolute medical confirmation by a doctor before any treatment can begin; transgenderism requires only a child’s say so and in older kids treatment begins virtually right away.”
This is a good point. The comparison to cancer or diabetes would only work if we routinely allowed people with cancer or diabetes to self-diagnose. Sure, “trans kids” often have to speak to a psychologist, but every internet activist knows that if they say they’re trans, they are, even when the therapist disagrees.
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One of the saddest things I’ve read in a sparkly princess fairy boy article, and I’ve read this more than once, is a religious parent comforting a “trans” child by saying “God doesn’t make mistakes.”
Not to mention that injecting someone who is not diabetic w/insulin is fatal.
Yes! For heaven’s sake, there are pathology reports that are the basis for cancer treatment, not just a child’s subjective experience!
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I guess I’m not one who thinks “social transition” includes the blockers and hormones. My daughter currently presents as a male (she’s tall and pre pubescent with a buzz cut) and answers to both genders. She was adamant that she is transgender earlier this year but she’s not consistent. There’s no way she could transition without everyone knowing anyway because we’ve lived on the same street her whole life. There are a few kids in our three block neighborhood doing this. I know it’s real to them now, but I won’t agree to blockers or hormones at this age. She’s 13 and hasn’t even started her period yet. I don’t give a toss about her personal style. We have been seeing a counselor and psych for depression, but I researched it very well and found some who don’t push the transgender treatment. They do discuss dysphoria and positive coping skills. She stayed in the girls bathrooms and locker rooms, willingly. I’m not going to worry about haircuts and clothing, and her name is pretty gender neutral. I do feel for her and I acknowledge her struggle, but she’s going to have to be grown for medical transition. Bottom line. I do tell her that I love her unconditionally and will support her choices when she’s an adult.
I hope she will love herself and come to understand that there are many ways to be a woman.
Sounds like you are managing the situation well. I doubt many readers of this blog would care at all how kids dressed or wore their hair absent this trend where adults in positions of authority tell kids that they need to undertake medical intervention on the basis of this. Kudos to you for finding the line and holding fast to it.
Reblogged this on KITTY NOLAN and commented:
A helpful, measured piece on dysphoria in children.
I just keep coming back to the idea that we have one body and as parents we need to teach our kids how to accept, love, and take care of our one body.
My daughter has gotten very into punk rock through Against Me (fronted by transwoman Laura Jane Grace) and has asked me several times if she can get her eyebrow pierced. I am pretty clear that the answer to that is a big fat no because it is my job as a parent to keep her body safe. My stance is no permanent body modifications while she is at home and underage. She can wear whatever clothes she wants and can do whatever she wants with her hair. She does have pierced ears, but that’s it. No hormones. No binders (although she favors tight sports bras). No tattoos.
This seems to be working for us. My daughter seems to be drifting back away from id-ing as trans.
As a society we talk about how women (and men) come in all shapes and sizes like in the Dove soap ad campaigns. I just really feel like a lot of this is fueled by teenagers feeling weird about their bodies — which is totally normal. As a society (and individually as parents) we need to reassure these kids that there are many kinds of normal and you are okay the way you are.
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I feel so old-fashioned for how I waited till age 23 to finally get my nostril pierced. (Next month will make 14 years, and I’ve never regretted it.) All these kids today are getting body mods in junior high and high school, even piercing or tattooing themselves if they just can’t bear to wait. Even more horrifying are the stories about minors getting double mastectomies, orchiectomiese, and the surgical inversion of the penis, Any kind of body modification should be undertaken by adults and adults only, and only after taking a long time to think about it. The “I want it NOW!” attitude doesn’t make anyone look very mature or ready.
I once again see parallels between the trans trend and body mods. While I developed a genuine, lasting love for the culture and history of body modification, many other people only do it because they think it’s cool and all their friends are doing it. For every so-called “true transsexual,” there are at this point probably thousands of transtrenders who’ve been led to believe they’re “trapped in the wrong body.” And unlike a piercing, which can always be retired, or redone if you change your mind again, removal of healthy body parts and the effects of cross-sex hormones and puberty blockers are permanent.
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I’m so grateful to have found this blog and rely on it and the similarly situated and like minded community I find in these comments. My teen daughter recently announced she is a trans boy after moving to a new alternative high school in our city, a decision I initially supported as it was ostensibly about academic preferences. She had never conformed strictly to feminine “norms” and I always supported her interests no matter where society said those interests fell along gender lines. She came out as a lesbian two years ago and we embraced her girl friend without hesitation. Shortly after moving to this new school, she dumped the girl friend and old friends and began associating with a group made up entirely of trans boys. Again, we accepted this without hesitation. When arranging the logistics of a hang out with the parent of one of her new friends I was startled when this parent insistently referred to my child by a different male name. This led to the comversation with my daughter when she informed us that she had decided to transition and wanted us to affirm her new identity with pronouns, new name etc. She went on to insist we should support her desire to start hormones and get top surgery when she turns 16 – in 6 weeks time. None of this seemed healthy to me and I went searching and found this blog which so perfectly captures my own feelings about what is happening to my child. Frustratingly her school has put their institutional seal of approval on her social transition and her counselor responds to my every inquiry about my daughter whom I refer to as such with her new name and pronouns. Interestingly a few years back as a pre teen my daughter also requested we use a new name she picked for herself because the beautiful culturally important one I picked to reflect our heritage was just too hard to get others to pronounce properly and always prompted questions about its origin and meaning which she found annoying. I wouldn’t acquiesce to this request either, conforming to the predominant cultural norms didn’t strike me as sufficient reason to hide her own cultural identity. Just as I feel being frustrated by society’s messages about what it means to be a woman are not a sufficient reason to deny and extinguish a woman.Alas, my ex, her father played along and is again choosing to do so. I feel so alone in this. I know my values are good and my love is strong but everyone else around us has decided to collude on something I just can’t abide by. Since refusing her demands our once incredibly good, close relationship has dissolved and my daughter has become closed, distant, depressed. Yet I’m terrified of looking for help in therapists more likely just to affirm and press her ever on to the transition she desires right now. Thank you so much for contributing this important voice to the dialogue that seems so lop sided.
I really feel for you as we are in the same situation except my daughter has another two years before she is 16. She is adamant that she is going to take testosterone at 16 and I am really worried for her. One side of my family think the whole thing is ridiculous and saying we have just got to deal with it. They are being quite unsupportive (in my view) and the other side are feeling pressured into call her, he, in order to bring her happiness levels up. I just cannot bear to and I too feel very alone. I wish I could shout to the rest of the world – what on earth is going on here? Something is very wrong! As I have said many times, this is a great website. Good luck to you.
Thank you. You’re not alone, I’m not alone. It does feel overwhelming trying to stand fast in the crowd. So thank you for the empathy. I hope your daughter’s wish for hormones and surgery simmer down and go away, as I hope the mania around this whole issue does too. We have no intention of paying for any medical intervention at 16 or 18 for that matter, but I worry about the larger push to have insurance coverage for it.
Welcome RR – and so very sorry you and your daughter have found yourselves in this situation. Your instincts to avoid gender therapists are extremely good and you should follow them! Otherwise your daughter will likely wind up fast-tracked into physical transition and what a mistake and a nightmare that would be.
Please know, because I think it really helps to know this, that it’s incredibly tough being a young lesbian today. It was never exactly the *popular* option, there was always a fair degree of misery and pain associated with it, but now, since any “boyish” trait automatically raises the trans suspicion, the pressure on girls has risen exponentially. Being trans is cool, trendy, fun, affirming… plain old boring vanilla lesbian is not. At all. Believe it or not, homophobia is not dead, in many ways it has just transmogrified into this idea that your desires can be made acceptable by changing your body. Kids pick up on this as much as anyone. We shouldn’t fool ourselves that homophobia is over just because these kids were born after the turn of the millennium.
Your daughter is almost certainly receiving tremendous peer pressure for the idea that she is trans and in fact, if she were to decide that she wasn’t actually trans, she might even lose her friends! Which of course is almost the worst thing that can happen to a teen. Sometimes what parents do in this situation is remove the child from that particular peer group atmosphere – I don’t know whether that’s an option in your case but it might be worth consideration.
The best thing you can do is to play for time, and to see whether you can help your daughter broaden her interests beyond her gender (you can read through some of the great input on this board for different ideas). And of course you don’t have to pay for, or authorize, hormones and surgery if you don’t think they’re warranted! I don’t care what anybody says, that would be insane.
I do truly believe that for the vast majority of the parents on this board, the day will come that our children thank us for standing strong.
Thank you for this reply and encouragement. I am trying to execute a well thought out plan to get her away from the peer group without being too overt about it, wish me luck! You hit on something that I’ve been considering as well, trying to stop the fixation on this one facet of her life, gender. Besides causing her clear distress it strikes me as being some kind of hyper focus on oneself that isn’t natural or healthy. I never thought I could be nostalgic for the kind of hard won existence we had as kids and young adults, where the things we learned about ourselves just sort of fell out of all the experiences. When this first started to happen I told her and continue to tell her the plain truth, that I’m holding a space open for her to move around in if she ever wants to change her mind. Right now that face feels weighty even as its empty, but I cant in good conscience let her be penned in by everyone into this one decision.
Oh, and I’m starting to understand what you and others are saying about the challenges she may have faced being a lesbian. I assumed that because we were fine with it and she had chosen to live openly in these times she was likely happy. But increasingly I’m surprised by what I didnt know had become trendy and what new forms of homophobia had emerged. Before she shut me out I actually said to her its ok to be a lesbian, worried that some how I hadn’t been reassuring enough. She snapped back , I’m not a lesbian! So ferociously I was stunned. I never really considered some internalized homophobia as a factor, but now I definitely do.
Rr – Scary!! My daughter says and acts the same exact way about being called a lesbian! What’s wrong with being a lesbian??? I thought our society was supposed to be so open and accepting. I can’t tell you how many times I have read from other mothers the same exact words. I’m truly beginning to see just how destructive the trans movement is to gay and lesbian children, teens and young adults. I just wish the mental health profession would open their damn eyes to the fact that they are enabling these kids to self harm😡
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It really does make one wonder. What script are they all reading from?I’m so relieved to have found this community!
Just read this again. such good analysis, Lisa, thank you. key point: ambiguity is hard, for both kids and parents. I absolutely see the appeal of “pick a side,” esp when doing so in the trans direction gets you a lot of positive strokes from progressive folks.
I know my gender-defiant teen (now 18 nearly 19) gets the “pick a side” message all the time. Interestingly, despite periods of threats to immediately visit the clinic — which she could certainly do as a non-minor — she has opted not to do this. She is still (if barely) identifying female with her female name, despite her “masculine” presentation and her decision to bind. I have pointed out to her that this strong desire generally arises only in times of unusual stress, and challenged her to consider why that might be, why particularly stressful times make her think she has to become another person to cope when the rest of the time she’s OK riding the wave?
The story we have told her, our view, is that — despite the internet encouragement to view her state as an intractable condition, like a birth defect, that has only one solution (transition), we believe gender dysphoria is a more squishy concept with many possible causes. We have challenged her to reframe her self-concept as “a person with gender dysphoria” rather than “a trans person.” We’ve suggested that she consider it as an adaptive behavior of some sort, and provided her with extensive materials on the medical/psych consequences of transitioning, and also info about brain development and people’s judgement skills continuing to develop as they reach their mid 20s. And links to vids that would counterbalance some of the many laudatory “my journey on T” videos.
I do not know how much of this stuff she has actually read or looked at, but I really hope at least some of the “reframing” notion has penetrated, because I think it’s powerful. Our bottom line: we’ll always love you, we’ll always want a relationship with you, and we can’t stop you from doing this (though we will not pay for it). But please consider exploring “do the least” options for coping with GD, before going nuclear. You only get one body, and when you’re young it’s hard to conceptualize stuff going medically wrong, but that is a very real possibility here.
Jury’s still out. Living in the ambiguity with the kid. sigh.
Great article but it didn’t have evrygthine-I didn’t find the kitchen sink!
To Ms. Marchiano or 4thWaveNow
I am a transwoman, recently read this article, and would like to add my own thoughts & perspective to this article, some in agreement, many not so much. I sat down to write my thoughts, and it wound up being a five page word document, a bit too long for the comments section. I was wondering if either of you is open to dialog and thought, civil of course. I hope only to offer another side of the coin. I am reluctant to post my primary email in a comments section, so if there is another way to dialog with either of you, please let me know.
Well another girl gone…, my 19 year old refused family therapy and told the therapist she would only agree to one on one therapy. After a few sessions she went to an informed consent clinic and is now on testosterone. She wouldn’t even talk to me about the health risks. So now I’m sadly waiting for her voice to disappear forever. It is the most horrifying experience I have ever felt. Thank you so much Lisa and 4th Wave for continuing to speak out. I cry for all these families and beautiful young lives being experimented on and I have soooo much anger at the professionals who completely dismissed all my concerns. All I can hope for now is that my child will eventually learn to value a healthy body over this whole ideaology of born wrong. In my mind she allowed the bullies to win because she didn’t do “girl” the way society pushes. So damn sad
I’m so sorry, Awakened.
I’m so sorry, Awakened. My heart hurts for you and for your child … and I once again wonder how long it’s going to be until I have to post a message like yours. A lot of days, it feels inevitable.
You have a right to your sorrow. One of the most maddening things about this whole phenomenon is … you are supposed to watch your kid metaphorically kill herself … kill the “her” in her … and not feel (let alone express) sorrow. On the contrary, you’re supposed to be cheerleading this on her behalf.
What a world, what a world.
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Hello – Thank you 4thwave for this site and Lisa for the article. I dont think i’m posting in the right area of this so apologies if that is the case.
I need help! I just found out on my sin (14) phone that he thinks he is a demiboy – born male but feels female. Over the past 2 months he has explored this extensively through online chat rooms. Like a lot of other posts, this is very sudden, he wrote that it started when he fancied another boy during PE at school. I have spoken to him a little as I told him that i saw notifications on his phone. He chats regular to a girl who he calls his girl-friend who also identifies as non-binary who lives in another country (we are uk she is South Africa). I basically do not know what to do – any advice guidance would be appreciated so much. Should I restrict his access to these chat rooms or could that push this under-ground. Should i talk to him? SHould i see a councillor? am i over reacting? is he curious/exploring his sexuality and I shouldn’t worry? He is 14 and going through puberty. This has come like a bolt from the blue and my life has tilted.
Thanks for the well reasoned and compassionate article.
It reminds me of a phrase used by a therapist I know, “withstanding the child.” If we are to succeed in teaching our children to withstand troubles and doubts, we must teach by example. We must learn to withstand the tests our children put us to, and our doubts about our ability to withstand those tests, as well as the societal influences that capitalize on that doubt. If we can’t withstand our own temptation to cop out, we’re no example to our children. Of course it’s easier in the short term to allow ourselves to be pulled by our children’s vascillating whims, but our duty is to take the heat and teach our children how to withstand things they’d rather not withstand–even if it sometimes means being disliked for awhile, or standing up for truths that we we wish weren’t true.
When industries and communities and political movements add their screaming voices to the tantrum, it makes it all the more tempting to just give in. And all the more crucial not to.
Ambiguity complicates the matter, it’s true. We hear a lot about kids’ ambiguous feelings about their bodies, and about growing up. Fair enough. But fear of ambiguity isn’t the only problem going on here. Sometimes we indulge in ambiguity to the point of addiction, and see it where it isn’t. That’s the basis of postmodernism. If everything’s ambiguous, then there’s no truth and no obligation to cultivate a relationship with it. So, when we’d rather not accept a difficult challenge, we can pretend it’s more ambiguous than it is, pretend our hands are tied by doubt when really we simply don’t want to admit something we know is true.
We hide in the forest to avoid a tree.
And the tree is this simple truth: Sex is not ambiguous. Boys who love ballet costumes are boys. Girls who hate their breasts are girls. They may not occupy the center of the bell curves for their respective sexes, but so what? The middle of the bell curve is defined by the ends. Neither can exist without the other. There could be no concept of average if there were not an abundant world of un-averageness against which averageness could be compared and discerned. Femme boys and butch girls have been a staple of human experience since time immemorial. As have childhood doubts and parental challenges.
Challenge isn’t the same thing as ambiguity, and it certainly isn’t pathological. It’s just part of life. What’s pathological is the idea that there are a whole bunch of different bell curves, a whole bunch of different realities, a whole bunch of alternatives to being honest with our children, and a whole bunch of justifications for taking the easy way out when our children make our job difficult.
Thank you for giving us the tools to stand up to this.