A careful step into a field of landmines

by Jenny Cyphers

Jenny Cyphers is a homeschooling parent. She has been writing about that experience for many years, in various online forums. Jenny has been married for 24 yrs to the father of their two children, one adult and one teenager. They all live, work, and create, in Oregon. Jenny is available to interact in the comments section of this post.


“Jenny, you’re wrong. You’re playing with your child’s life. It’s that simple. Putting your misguided beliefs before your child’s well-being could cause irreversible harm.”

This scathing judgment came from another mother in a trans-support group for parents. I’ve seen many fads and trends over the years, but I’d like to talk about the transgender fad, which has impacted my life.

I have a transgender teen. My teen has held tightly to this identification for just over 2 years. Throughout this time, I’ve heard many stories from parents whose children are gender non-conforming or questioning their gender, their identities. Like most parents, we want to support our children and help them through their obvious suffering and pain.

In order to examine the “Jenny, you’re wrong” statement, I need to address what causes “irreversible harm”. Within the trans support groups, there are two diametrically opposed camps. One–and this is important because it is the predominant narrative–is the camp that believes If a child or teen says they are transgender, the protocol is to confirm, affirm, and transition. If parents opt to not transition their child, it puts you in the other camp.

What is transgender? That’s the crucial question. As far as I can tell, the answer is a definition based off individual philosophy. I’ll let others do the defining. One aspect that’s generally accepted is that a person can be transgender whether or not they medically or surgically transition.

But there’s one exception to that accepted definition: a transgender child or teen. As the predominant narrative goes, we’re supposed to confirm, affirm, and transition a transgender child or teen. But the irreversible harm I want to avoid for my transgender child is medical and surgical harm. I made the error in a trans support group of admitting that.

“Jenny, so your support is conditional based upon what you chose to believe. So what makes you qualified to make that decision for your child aside from being the parent?”

What makes any parent qualified to make any medical decision on behalf of their children? This is both an honest question and a rhetorical one. Parents get to make all sorts of decisions for their children. We decide what to feed them, which doctors to take them to, and how and where they’ll be schooled. We decide whether to circumcise and whether to vaccinate. Both of those are medical choices fraught with contention in either direction one chooses.

Jenny cap 2

How do parents make these choices? We talk to our doctors. We talk to our own parents. We talk to our friends and people we respect. We read books. We ask questions. We research and research. The more controversial, the more we research. What parent would NOT do these things?

So, what do I believe? Nobody asks that in honesty unless they are friends who genuinely care. Trans support groups do not care what individuals believe, especially if it questions the necessity of medical intervention for a transgender child.

I’ve had surgery. I know how traumatic it is. I’ve had to take medication with terrible side effects. I know how it feels to be dependent on medicine that makes you feel sick. That experience caused me to question the side effects of drugs used to transition children. What I discovered was surprising.

“When it comes to situations that may require medical assistance parents have the responsibility to seek professional advice.”

“Your support is absolutely conditional. You have essentially decided to control how your child transitions based upon personal belief and nothing more.”

“You’ve drawn a line in the sand with nothing more than personal belief to back it up and you’re controlling how your child transitions despite what the medical establishment recommends. Disagree all you like but your prejudices should not be more important than the wellbeing of your child.”

When I started to ask questions, I found it difficult to get basic answers to the most basic of my questions. It was especially hard to get that information from trans support groups and doctors. I expected to find experts who had done their research. I did get answers, but not the sort I was looking for. I wanted to know actual data and statistics about safety of cross-sex hormone treatment. Instead, what they insisted, without corroborating evidence, was that it was safe and not a big deal at all. Given my own experience with taking medication, I did not automatically believe that. I dug deeper.

I had only ever heard of puberty blockers from knowing a child with precocious puberty. The puberty blockers had dangerous side effects. I knew that already from listening to the mother of that child and hearing her weigh the pros and cons of whether the puberty blockers were worth the risk of broken bones and eventually needing a wheelchair to support fragile bones. These are the exact same puberty blockers being used on transgender children. That alone gave me pause. My own kid was already about a year and a half into puberty, so we weren’t looking at blockers anyway.

While reading about puberty blockers, I also learned that in the United States, nearly 100% of children who choose to take puberty blockers then go on to use cross-sex hormones. So, despite hearing that blockers are meant to give a child time to figure things out, that is not actually what happens. When you stall puberty, you go on to transition. All data that I’ve read, anecdotal and otherwise, supports that. What surprised me even more, in researching, is that when a child uses puberty blockers and then goes on to transition with cross-sex hormones, it results in permanent sterilization.

That fact deeply disturbed me. Bringing up the subject of sterilizing children also brings up the question of ethics and eugenics. Currently, from what I’ve seen, we- the collective we- are okay with sterilizing transgender children. I was surprised to find that many parents were okay with this. It didn’t bother them in the least.

My personal belief, and I do believe I’m entitled to one, is that sterilizing children is wrong.

If an adult is allowed to be transgender without medically or surgically altering their body, then a child should be allowed the same. Furthermore, my bias is that children should not be medically and surgically altered based on being transgender.

I didn’t come to that decision overnight. It took a lot of research and a lot of reading. My teen may have been too old for puberty blockers, but still wanted to transition through hormone replacement therapy. But there is a huge risk of sterilization from hormone replacement therapy. It’s not 100%, all the time, but the percentage is high for all people who do hormone replacement therapy. At 14-years-old, my child didn’t care about sterilization. Very few young teens want children; it’s not on their radar, which is totally normal. That’s why parents make life-altering decisions for their children. Parents are able to see the larger picture.

“So, your answer is that you have no credible information that supports your child because everyone who says you should can’t be trusted?”

“It really sounds like you want to wear the label of supportive so you can feel better but don’t want to “walk the walk,” as they say.”

Let’s talk about support. What is valid support for a child dealing with this?

When our child told us they were transgender, we’d already experienced many teens changing their names and adopting nicknames, which made it easy to adopt a new name for our youngest kid. The insistence of pronoun changes was difficult, but we tried. My husband,who’s a lot like our child, was a champ at being supportive.

The steadfast identity of being transgender grew over time. Nearly every conversation I had with my child was like a careful step into a field of landmines, in which everything was about being trans, but we couldn’t actually discuss it without upset. The only acceptable discussion was my being supportive. One time, when I tried asking my kid honest questions, I realized I had stepped on the landmine known as being one of “those moms”. The unaccepting ones my kid was reading about online, who didn’t accept their kids’ trans identity, and who made their kids complain about how terrible and miserable their lives were because they had bigoted parents who didn’t accept their trans identity. The reality of how our actual relationship had always been up until this point was ignored in favor of feeling oppressed. Being transgender became the focus of every aspect of life.

We were already used to doing life a little differently to accommodate a sensitive child’s odd quirks. Accommodating transgender was just another step down this path. Right up until we could travel no farther down the path. And this is important. The insistence on personal gender identity is so pervasive that one cannot question it. To question it is tantamount to cruelty and violence and bigotry. Transgender is a deeply felt sense of self. Questioning a person’s sense of self is a personal violation. Framed as a personal violation of self, questioning the transgender identity invalidates their very existence. In social groups, both in person and online, there is one accepted dialog: that identities are to be accepted at face value. For most involved, it’s already an accepted truth that anyone can be whatever they identify as, that this is healthy and good and right.

jenny nat geo coversRight around this time, National Geographic put out a specialty magazine about transgender and other identities. When I studied the cover, it was glaringly obvious to me what wasn’t represented, a regular run of the mill female person. Of the kids and teens and adults represented, there is a female identified person, and it isn’t a natal female woman. There is a transman. There is a person marked as male, but nobody marked as female. To be fair, the magazine did some in depth coverage of the material reality of being female across the world. However, the cover was a tiny glimpse into transgender ideology, in which women are being erased- unless of course a transwoman identifies as one.

From that point, it was like a cascade of ideas came into focus for me. I had small epiphanies about how this all impacted civil rights. The transgender politics and policies have the potential to undo civil rights for all people. If civil rights are not based on material reality, then anyone anywhere can undo them and change them. This seemed extremely dangerous to me. When that idea hit me, it was like a sucker punch; it was the pulling of the thread that began to unravel the tapestry of transgender ideology.

Just before this time, my kid was insistent on seeing a gender therapist and getting into a gender clinic to start transitioning. I dragged my feet. Doctor appointments cost precious money we have little of. We finally did make the appointment, and my kid started seeing a regular therapist also. This is when the massive anxiety and depression started taking hold. The combination of seeking out a gender therapist and the deeply held identity of being transgender caused so much distress, which led to more anxiety and more depression. But seeing a therapist was a good thing, anyway. Right?

The cascade of ideas swept over me, just as coverage of the BBC Two documentary “Transgender Kids: Who Knows Best”. I watched it, and then rewatched it with my transgender teen. It’s no longer available to watch, which is really unfortunate. It’s a well-done documentary that helped bridge a conversation gap with my child. The unsupportive parents in the documentary really made my kid mad, and we were able to talk about their feelings. For my part, I was looking at this trans issue in light of civil rights issues and bathroom bills, and the documentary opened up a way for me to discuss civil rights with my kid. The documentary was the first and only really in-depth discussion I’ve been able to have with my kid about transgender issues.

bbc trans kids who knows best

In the profound conversation that came out of that documentary, in a moment of very deep pain, my child shared that no amount of wishing or believing or transitioning would ever make her into a he, even if they looked the part and acted the part. It was a moment filled with tears and vulnerability, as my child admitted aloud that she would never be biologically male, even with surgery.

My child was very sad about this, and I could see the struggle. The struggle is very real. Every parent who has a child going through this will understand this feeling, this pain, this struggle. This is what drives parents to do anything to make that pain stop. I get that completely. And deep inside of me, I knew there were answers that didn’t involve medical and surgical transitioning. I talked about it with my oldest daughter and she said something really important. She said, of her sibling experiencing the pain, “What’s wrong with that?” and what she meant was that it’s normal for people, for kids, for teens to feel pain and express it.

I tried to understand where this was coming from, this desire to be male, to change this body, this personhood so drastically. For years, I’d been looking at what drives individual behavior, in part to ease the frustrations my child had from being a sensitive person in a callous world. Had there been an inciting moment that had caused the identity crisis?

When this child was 11, and in the throes of the onset of puberty, I almost died. I had two heart attacks and emergency double bypass heart surgery. I didn’t make the connection right away. Nobody seems to look at underlying trauma of trans-identifying kids. I brought the subject up with both the regular therapist and the gender therapist. The gender therapist we found was surprisingly thoughtful. I didn’t expect that. I shared with her my reservations about allowing my child to transition without first addressing underlying issues. I shared with her my feelings about how impulsive this particular child was and how firm they held ideas they impulsively grabbed onto. I suggested this may be one of those ideas. She took my feelings into account when I told her I was wanting to wait until my child turned 18 to transition, that I wanted everything to go very, very slowly.

My kid was mad at the therapist’s final assessment that waiting until 18 was prudent. I made all the therapist’s paperwork available to all medical professionals that were to be working with my kid, but the pressure to transition didn’t stop.

In Oregon, the age of medical consent is 15. Since medical professionals were unwilling to read available medical charts explicitly recommending waiting until age 18 to transition, I made sure that I had access to all medical care and records. I had my child sign all medical release papers for that to happen. Every parent living in a state with low consent age should do this.

When we went to doctor appointments for totally unrelated things, they would refer my child to the gender clinic, even though we’d already been, and tell my child they shouldn’t have to suffer and that they could easily take testosterone to alleviate these horrible symptoms like periods and breast development. But they wouldn’t actually prescribe my child testosterone; they’d instead just reiterate that it was an option. My child already knew that this was an option, but that the gender specialist had said to wait until age 18. It felt like hope being held out of reach, like a cruel bait yanked away.

It happened every time. The doctors wouldn’t stop dangling the bait. Because of the turmoil this caused, I had to stop taking my child to the doctor, unless it was an emergency.

“So let’s not pretend you are supporting your child. You’ve clearly convinced yourself that you are but the fact is that you could be causing your child grievous harm and you seem totally unconcerned.”

Meanwhile, I intentionally started focusing on big-picture ideas with my kid. We acquired a telescope and fixed it up. Now, we discuss stars and planets and the universe. We used our now freed up money, that we were spending on doctor appointments, to take more dance classes. My husband, a musician, includes our kid in making music. I bring my kid with me to help in the theatre I work in, where their quick engineering skills are valued. We support their new interest in herbs and plants and research how to care for them and what to use them for. We use websites and books to identify rocks and stones. We drive to visit friends that live in nearby cities, for a change of scenery.

When we started on the new transgender journey, together, my child and I decided that no matter what, this was not going to be the life focus. We opted not to join any queer youth support groups. What I’ve seen in those groups is that life becomes very narrow. One doesn’t play music, they play queer music. One doesn’t do art, they make queer art. My kid even began to notice this and didn’t want to make life all about being transgender. A too-narrow focus goes against the very fabric of our family life, the one we built by bringing the world to our children and our children to the world. Our life has evened out a little.

Our teen is now desisting. The goal wasn’t desistence though; it was to prevent irreversible medical intervention of a teen, whose identity is malleable and in flux, as all teens’ are. If one can BE transgender based on feelings, deep seated and strongly held and persistent feelings, then why must the push be towards chemically and surgically altering one’s body? If we are to accept each person’s identity at face value, what does it actually mean to BE transgender? If my child desists, does that mean they weren’t ever transgender to begin with?

If I’d opted to follow through with all the current protocols, my kid would be taking testosterone right now, with an eye towards mastectomies and a hysterectomy. If we’d done that, and my child desisted, would they have been truly transgender? What if I’d gone into the gender therapist’s office and pushed for transitioning? If being transgender means that one is the other gender born into the wrong body, but not everyone fully transitions medically and surgically, then why must children do so to be truly transgender?

I’ve been accused of causing grievous harm to my child by not following this path of hormonal and surgical transitioning. I’ll be the first to say, I could’ve been super supportive of transitioning my child. I could have entered that gender therapist’s office and insisted that we jump through whatever hoops were necessary. I know of people who have done that. I’m sure that’s what my kid expected me to do. I’ve been accused of being unsupportive of my child by not confirming, affirming, and transitioning my child. This is laughable that anyone who knows me would say such a thing. My kids are my life, literally and figuratively. I think that’s true of most parents, even the ones who make terrible mistakes that destroy relationships. Even those parents who are lost and don’t know how to deal with transgenderism, but love their child and don’t readily accept whatever their kids say. Even parents who are religious and object on moral grounds. Even parents that are very liberal and accepting.

For every parent reading this, remember that most mistakes are recoverable. You can apologize and move towards restoring the relationship. Don’t buy into the emotional blackmail so common among the transgender community. Keep your children close. Make all the choices in the world to build up your relationship. Do it as if their life depends on it, because it does. If they can wait until they are older, and they do end up transitioning, they will need you as their support. Let me be very clear here. You do NOT have to agree with the choices your adult children make while still supporting them as people. If your focus is on imparting bigger ideas than self-identity, there will always be ways to support your child, no matter what choices they end up making.

I’m much more concerned with mental health and maturity to handle the long-term effects of transitioning, than I am about identities. Identities are always changing as you grow and learn, and while some aspects of your past will always remain a part of you, some things you choose to discard when they cease to be relevant. Teenhood and childhood are all about trying on ways of doing and being in the world and seeing how it works.

You cannot discard a body that’s been altered to bring back the old one.

Get angry, read, research. Seek help when you need it, from people you know, trust, and respect. Then get out there and focus on the things that bring you joy and include your children. Be brave. Most of all, don’t be afraid to question the prevailing narratives.

jenny landmine

 

An open letter to the medical profession

“I know better than most how precious a career in medicine is and I am willing to risk it for the sake of preventing harm. Why aren’t you?”


This fine article (reblogged below) launches a new website by a detransitioned Welsh medical student, “More Rote Than Meaning.”

In her first paragraph, MoreRote mentions the case of Helen Webberley, the UK GP under investigation by the UK General Medical Council for prescribing cross-sex hormones to 12-year-olds. In the US, gender doctors do the same with impunity–with no media or medical-board scrutiny in sight. We tweeted about the stark contrast between the two countries here:

Many thanks to MoreRote for telling her story, and for raising crucial ethical questions about medical transition of children and young adults.


 

More Rote Than Meaning

In recent years, the presence of transgender issues in the public consciousness has seen a seemingly exponential rise. There has been a concurrent rise in referrals to the Tavistock and Portman paediatric gender clinic, with almost two thirds of those referrals being for natal females (1). Though there is currently no NICE guidance governing the treatment of trans-identified children, said children are routinely treated with GnRH analogues (aka puberty blockers) from as young as the age of 12 and cross-sex hormones from the age of 16 (2, 3). This policy is next up for review in 2019, and a number of transgender charities are calling for the age limit for cross-sex hormones to be lowered, with some demanding hormones be freely available over the counter (4). A private GP, based in Wales, recently took matters into her own hands, prescribing cross-sex hormones to children as young as 12, despite an…

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It’s not conversion therapy to learn to love your body: A teen desister tells her story

Maxine [a pseudonym] is the 14-year-old daughter of Brie Jontry, spokesperson for 4thwavenow (see here for more from Brie).

Maxine believed she was male for 2.5 years, from age 11-13, but has changed her mind. In a Skype interview (transcribed below), we asked Maxine to tell us about her journey towards a trans identity, and how she came back home to herself as female.

Maxine, along with her mom Brie, are available to interact in the comments section of this post, as their time allows.

All artwork in this post is by Maxine.


For a couple of years, you thought you were transgender. How did it start? Why did you think that?

It started when I was 11. I thought I might be trans after spending time online where I saw people saying that if you feel dysphoric, you must be a different gender. So many people were saying it, that I came to believe it. At first, I identified as agender and then after thinking about it more, I realized I was a boy because I wanted to be “masculine.”

What did that mean, be “masculine?”

 For me, it meant wanting the physical characteristics of adult males: a beard, being taller and strong. And being masculine was about feeling safe.

Were you dysphoric?

I felt like I didn’t want to be in my body. I didn’t like it. It kinda felt like my body wasn’t mine and I wanted a different one.

What was going on that made you feel like that? What was it about your body that “wasn’t yours?”

A few different things. Mostly, it was previous trauma and being in the early stages of puberty. I don’t know anyone who isn’t uncomfortable during puberty, but at the time, I thought the way I was feeling was something extreme and different.

I used being trans to try and escape being scared about being small and weak. I thought that if I presented myself as a man I’d be safer.

What first got you thinking about being trans?

Things online. First, it was on DeviantArt. It’s an art-sharing website, but the DA communities I was in, which were made up of kids drawing animals and other original characters, went from sharing and commenting on each other’s art to being super dramatic and depressed. It also turned into a disrespectful “call-out” culture.

noor color cat

Some of the people I was watching, whose art I admired, came out as trans. Some people posted about how much they hated themselves and how badly they wanted to transition. Some started to transition and talked about how amazing they felt. Suddenly, a lot of the people I knew on DA were making transgender artwork.

Why do they call it “DeviantArt”?

There are some “deviant” areas of DA but the places I spent time in were for kids sharing art but I don’t think it is the main focus anymore. It was originally a great art site and I made a lot of friends there and everyone was very nice to me. I liked it. It was a friendly art community.

But now it’s mean. And it’s also a place for kids to post about all their self-diagnoses and identity issues. I know lots of kids who post about their self-diagnosed schizophrenia and other mental illnesses.

All these self-definitions, are they real?

I think the kids believe they’re real. But I don’t. If someone calls themselves “schizophrenic,” I believe they believe they have it! But it isn’t a disorder a teen can self-diagnose.

Were there other online places besides DeviantArt that influenced you?

I started to use Tumblr, also because of the art. Reading people’s bios, I learned more about being trans and that what I was feeling is called “dysphoria.” There are a lot of artists there expressing their dysphoria in comics and I identified with some of the things they were saying

From Tumblr, I found YouTube transition videos. When my dysphoria got worse, I started watching a bunch of FTM videos. All of the ones I watched were like, “I feel amazing!” and “I am finally my true self!” I thought it was weird that no one regretted anything but I wanted to believe medical transition would help me too. I started wanting hormones and maybe even surgery later.

I also talked to some of my friends. I was in a homeschool group and lots of the kids there were also trans.

“Lots” of the kids were trans? How can that be, when trans make up a miniscule proportion of the population?

 I wonder how accurate the data is that tells us only a “miniscule proportion of the population” is trans, because most teens I know identify as anything other than “cis.”

Hollow wolfIn my homeschool group, there were only two girls who didn’t have trans identities. Talking about gender identity and sexuality was very popular with my friends and also some of the parents. There was a parent who identified as pansexual and “demi gender” or something like that. She came and talked to all of us about using preferred pronouns and sexuality stuff. She was a facilitator there but not for my group. It was just a bad time even though I had a few really good friends there. There were some kids who were always talking about how oppressed they were and they weren’t. At all. They thought disability and mental illness were cool. They’re not. It was hard for me to hear them talk about all their self-diagnosed issues when I had to give myself insulin every day (I’m diabetic) and I hated my body. Also, my grandfather had just died. My mom started not wanting me to go there because I would get really anxious and have panic attacks and she would come pick me up early.

 Trans activists and some gender therapists insist that some people are “born in the wrong body” and that causes terrible dysphoria. They claim this is very different from not just conforming to gender stereotypes (even though many published accounts of dysphoric people also include stereotypes). Is dysphoria real?

It is definitely a real feeling! But being uncomfortable is part of being human. If you can’t cope with those feelings, then you need help learning better ways to cope. My psychologist understood I had dysphoria and we worked through the trauma that caused it.

Feelings are feelings. Feeling something doesn’t mean it is true or real. I didn’t understand that at first.

noor catAnd I thought that I would feel better as a boy. I wanted to stop my natal puberty because I didn’t want to be female. I thought taking testosterone would make me male. But now, I don’t think it’s healthy to be hurting yourself with hormones. Taking T is a very harmful thing to do to your body. There are YouTube channels where they’re talking about how great T is. But I wonder what they’re going to say in a few years? I wonder what’s going to happen to their bodies? If they say it’s totally safe, they’re wrong. I wanted to medically transition, so I looked up a lot about it. All I found was, “oh this is safe for you, you’re gonna feel better.” But then I found some other articles, that talked about heart disease; things like needing a complete hysterectomy in 5 years if you’re on testosterone because of what it does to your uterus and ovaries. My mom found other things for me to read. But you know what? At first, I didn’t want to believe that it was dangerous. I even thought I could block puberty forever and when my mom said that wasn’t true, I argued with her.

I talked to our friend who is a scientist and she told me more things about blockers and my brain development. I trusted her and I trusted my mom so I knew they were telling the truth but I didn’t want to believe them.

In my homeschool program, I tried to talk to my friends about this stuff but they said it was transphobic and I was wrong.

Do you think there are some young people for whom transition is a good choice ?

I know one person who’s on testosterone, and I believe transition is the only way for him to be happy. At the same time he’s very aware of how it’s going to hurt him.  I think he’s very young to transition, even though he’s 19, it’s very young. But he believes something bad will happen to him without testosterone.

Some people may need to transition but it should always be a last resort.

How is your dysphoria different? Why is medical transition not appropriate for you?

Extreme dysphoria might mean you can’t get out of bed in the morning or function at all.  But thinking about it in a more critical way, what teen doesn’t experience being uncomfortable about their bodies? Dysphoria is just an extreme version of that discomfort.

It was that bad for me for a while, and sometimes it can still be bad, but I’ve learned to move my body when I feel that way and do other things that don’t feed the feeling.

What kind of things do you do to work with your dysphoria?

I draw. I pet my animals and play with my Madagascar hissing cockroaches. I don’t lay in bed doing things that make me feel worse.

I used to watch FTM transition videos when I felt dysphoric. They made me feel even worse and also jealous and anxious that I might not transition soon enough and that I would never be masculine enough.

I know this sounds cliché but you have to find something to love about yourself instead. For someone like me, who thought I was FTM, think about the ways you’re already “masculine.”

Discomfort about your body and sometimes dysphoria are a normal part of being a teenager and having your body change.

I know some people who feel so wrong that they want to mutilate their bodies. That was me for a little while but it isn’t me now. Even when I was wearing a binder, I thought I looked physically better but I still hated my body.

So the image you presented to the world was “better” but it didn’t make you feel any better?

I remember being 11 and it was the beginning of summer. I was downtown with friends and their parents and one of the men made a joke about the way another little girl was dressed in short-shorts and a tank top. He said something like “I’ll never let you dress that way” to his daughter even though her brother was already dressed just like that! Then, a little bit later in the day, when a woman walked by he said “I love booby season.” That’s the kind of thing that made my dysphoria worse and made me sure that I would be happier as a boy.

noor muralIt made me think of myself a little better when I was wearing a binder but it wasn’t a good solution because it was physically hurting me. They’re not comfortable. I didn’t care then that it hurt to wear it and it didn’t really help wearing it, because I knew I still had boobs. My ribs still hurt and sometimes it is still hard to breathe even though I haven’t worn a binder in over a year.

The kids I know who are trans brag when they’re having a hard time breathing. They act like it is a cute little “trans-relatable” experience when they feel like passing out from wearing their binders for too long.

What made you change your mind?

 I realized that the only reason I was trans was because I wanted to feel big and safe and also, I didn’t conform to what I thought being female looked and felt like. But then I learned that being female isn’t a feeling. It’s a biological reality and I could feel however I feel without it meaning I was male.

Also, I have type 1 diabetes. On my five-year anniversary of going into the hospital to be diagnosed, a friend who was on testosterone injections texted me to complain about her monthly shot (she has detransitioned and uses female pronouns now). When I read her text, I felt anger, but I knew she wasn’t trying to hurt me or be mean. But I was so jealous. She didn’t have to get shots. Why would anyone want to be dependent on medication if not absolutely necessary for a serious medical condition? I saw everything clearly. I changed my mind at that moment. I would never transition medically.

At first, even though I knew there could be side effects with blockers and testosterone, I was okay with going ahead with that. Because if I hurt my body, I was in control of that. When I identified as trans, there was always a way I was hurting myself: wearing a binder, pinching myself, picking at my skin, cutting.

But why should I hurt my body to feel control over things around me that are messed up?

I remember driving to one of my homeschool programs and I was telling my mom that I wanted to transition because I would feel safer. And my mom said something about me turning my back on other women. I also realized that I was wrong thinking transitioning would make me safer. It wouldn’t. And I’d also always be afraid of not passing.

Your mom told us she took you to the Philly Trans Health Conference so you could learn more about trans issues—you even had a pizza party with Jazz Jennings. It sure sounds like your mom was open-minded about all of this.

My mom was always very open minded. She never pushed anything on me or tried to push any ideas away from me, unless it was something dangerous, like crossing the street without looking.

One of our friends posted my mom’s interview on Facebook and one of the comments was “this mom is pushing things on her kid.”  It was never like that at all. My mom wanted me to explore the thoughts I was having. She just didn’t want me to medically transition but even then she was being supportive. She never flat out said “no,” she just said that I needed to think about it and research it.

Do you think if she had been more resistant, if she’d said, “no way we’re going to that conference” or “no way you’re a boy” do you think that may have made you want to do it more?

I definitely think that. You know, as a “stubborn teenager” I would have wanted it more.

What was it like going to that trans conference? Did you feel connected to the other kids there?

All the kids were really friendly. But I did feel some pressure after talking to kids there to “look more masculine.” It was interesting. It wasn’t a bad experience.  But most of them were like Tumblr-SJW trans; I definitely got that vibe from them. When I was identifying as trans, I was what they call “truscum” or “trans-medicalist:” you have to have chronic dysphoria to be trans, and you definitely want to get some kind of help for that problem—not necessarily hormones, but maybe talk therapy if you just want to learn to cope with your dysphoria.

Philly trans health banner 2015

None of those kids were trans-medicalists like I was. I hate saying the word “snowflakes” because it seems rude, but…There was stuff like, “you can’t be a trans boy unless you get your head shaved and dyed.”  It’s like the trans-boy starter pack. They all had the same haircut. I don’t remember if anyone said exactly “you need to cut your hair and take hormones” but I felt that vibe from the other kids who were all talking about their anxiety over passing and being more “masculine.” I wasn’t wearing a binder yet but I was sure I was trans. I had long hair and I loved my hair so I didn’t cut it. Even then, I thought it was silly that all the transboys I knew had the same haircut, shaved on the side and dyed blue or green or some blue streaks, and that they thought boys had to have short hair.

That sort of made me question. I mean, all these kids were following the same exact trend. I never wanted to brag about being trans. Stuff like pronouns was the least of my concerns; I just wanted to deal with my dysphoria.  Because that’s a mental feeling, something people can legitimately feel.

In the banquet hall where they had a pizza party for trans kids and their parents, a few of the moms had their kids pull up their shirts to show off how great their binders worked to flatten their breasts. My mom remembers that a few transboys also showed off their bare chests and people talked about what a good job their surgeons had done. Some of them were like 14 or 15.

So did that event push you more or less in the direction of thinking you were trans?

It pushed me toward wanting to medically transition, but I saw what those kids were doing as trendy. Like, there was a whole line of penis packers there, in different colors and sizes. There was a neon pink one hanging up on the wall. It was horrifying. There were some for 6 year olds. Six year olds shouldn’t be worrying about what’s in their pants unless there’s a problem going on. I think it would make little kids sad to think about having to fake it.

Did you want one?

God, no. During that time I did want a penis, but not a fake one.

So you eventually wanted surgery?

No, I didn’t want bottom surgery. I just wanted to be a biological male.

So the gender therapists and activists might be saying right about now, ok. This kid figured out she wasn’t really trans. No harm done. Mom and dad, chill. Use their pronouns. Take them to a trans conference or a gender therapist. No harm done.

I think if I had gone to a gender therapist, I would still think I was trans now. If my mom had thought that hormones and blockers were the best solution for my anxiety and dysphoria, I would be taking T right now.

I’m glad she didn’t believe I was a boy trapped in a girl’s body. I’m glad she found a psychologist who saw how scared and angry and hurt I was and who wanted to help me with those things first instead of also helping me transition to be a boy.

But parents should be supportive and respectful of their kids. They should take them seriously and learn about side effects of transition and alternative opinions about gender together. Let them break stereotypes and talk about those stereotypes and where they come from and how they hurt people, not just girls, boys too. And kids need good therapists who will ask them questions they never thought of.

Until quite recently, believing oneself to be the opposite sex was considered a mental disorder and treated as such.

It is a mental disorder sometimes. People who feel mild dysphoria are like “I hate this thing about my body” which is different than “I hate this thing about myself and I am willing to hurt myself to relieve the feeling.” The second is a mental disorder. Somebody wanting to hurt themselves is a mental disorder. Dysphoria always has a deeper root.

“Trans” isn’t the right word. We’ve learned to know it as trans but really what I think some people feel is extreme, chronic dissociation, possibly from trauma and PTSD.

And for adults, it is different. Adults can do whatever they want, even if they don’t have dysphoria or other mental health issues. But kids need their parents and sometimes a psychologist to help them think about why they feel the way they do.

I don’t know any trans kids who have gender-critical therapists. And by the way, being gender critical wasn’t pushed on me either, but my mom and my therapist and other friends would gently suggest that I think about things beyond just “being trans.” They’d say I should think about why I felt that way, the reasons for feeling that way, and any other perspectives or reasons someone might feel that way. And that I should also think about my history and my experiences and relationships and why I might feel uncomfortable or not want to be a girl.

Parents who put their kids on hormones are trying to take care of their kids. I know they want to do the best thing. But what if they haven’t heard other ideas and they don’t understand about being gender critical, or about how to see their kids’ identity or presentation without stereotypes?

Most parents just want their kids to be happy, and their kids say “I need hormones to be happy.” Some kids even threaten to kill themselves if they don’t get the treatments they want. I’ve also seen kids say that after they started cutting, their parents took them seriously, and let them take hormones. There are places online that tell you, “This is how you come out to your parents to get hormone therapy.” I always hated those, because it was always … just threaten something to get what you want. That’s just putting so much pressure on your parent to make an impulsive decision and it’s such a terrible thing to say. I know people who’ve killed themselves and also people who have tried to kill themselves. People who are suicidal need help and love but using suicide as a threat is manipulative and cruel.

 Did you see a lot of that online?

 Oh, everywhere. Everywhere. Most ways to come out were like, “say this, you’ll be sure to get them to take you seriously.”

We see this in every news article—“Would you rather have a live daughter or a dead son?” It’s why most parents decide to agree to medical transition. It’s the worst thing that could happen to a parent. It sounds like people are being coached to say they’re suicidal, when they aren’t?

 I think being truly suicidal is rare. Like the true trans thing.  Some trans identified people I’ve known will threaten to cut or hurt or even kill themselves when they would never do any of those things. For the few that are serious, it ties into mental illness: If you are going to kill yourself because of gender roles, or stereotypes, or even dysphoria, that’s a mental illness. And it can’t just be fixed with a bunch of medication. Some of the accounts of boys trying to cut their penises off in the bathtub—that’s clearly a sign of mental illness.

You’re 14. Pretty young still. How do you know you’re not going to change your mind again or want to go on testosterone?

I’ve read a few comments on Facebook about my mom’s interview. One was really insulting because it said that I’m too young to know what I want and that my mom is manipulating me.

But if I had said I am trans, I’m sure that person would believe me and not worry that my mom influenced me. So, can’t I also know that I’m not trans?

How can any thirteen-year-old or their mom know that they’re “really trans” either? That’s why you shouldn’t make any permanent changes to your body at such a young age. I don’t know anyone my age who hasn’t felt uncomfortable about their bodies at some point. Everyone I know wishes there was something different about their bodies.

If it is on your mind 24/7 and you feed that idea, you give that idea power – and you start to feel like you need to do something to your body to feel better.

The idea of gender is harmful. It encourages dysphoria. It locks people into stereotypes.

Some people say that you shouldn’t help kids feel comfortable about their bodies or even feel okay with being a little uncomfortable. They say that’s “conversion therapy” to talk someone out of wanting to hurt themselves. It isn’t conversion therapy to learn to love yourself or at least, feel like you can live in your own body without hurting it on purpose.

That was Dr. Ken Zucker’s goal: to help younger children, especially prepubescent children, come to feel peace about themselves and in their own bodies. He says that in childhood, gender identity is subject to change, and if you can help a child not become a permanent medical patient, that’s a good thing.  It was controversial, but in at least some cases, he discouraged “gender nonconforming” behavior in young kids—things like toys, haircuts, and clothes more typical of the opposite sex. What’s your opinion on that?

 Toys and clothes don’t have genders. Kids should get to play with whatever they want and wear whatever they want. Kids should be allowed to explore the things that they find interesting. When I was little, I didn’t see clothing or toys as gendered. Parents need to keep gender ideas like that away from their kids. “Female” isn’t a way of dressing.

I was shopping with my mom when I was little, before I thought I was trans, and we were in the “boys” part of the store because I liked those clothes better. They’re more comfortable and have better pockets. And a salesperson came up to us and asked my mom, “What is your son looking for?”

I wasn’t offended. But it’s silly that she thought because we were looking at comfortable clothing we were shopping for a boy.

And agreeing with a girl that she is really a boy because she doesn’t like to wear dresses might lead to going to a trans support group or seeing a gender therapist and other things that result in a kid thinking they need hormone therapy. If medical transition wasn’t available,  I don’t think it would matter if a girl thinks she’s a boy for a while, because she wouldn’t be encouraged to do things that are harmful.

Parents should give their kids more choices about more things in life but not about things that will harm them.

What would you say to other girls who think they are boys? Any advice for them?

 There’s nothing wrong with your body. To be straightforward, you will never be male. You will never have a Y chromosome. You will never have a real penis. Stop hurting yourself. Not wanting to be female doesn’t mean you’re really male. Not wanting to be female makes sense when girls are sexualized before we’re ready to even feel sexual, and when people think we’re weak both intellectually and physically, when people don’t take us seriously, when people tell us to smile and be nice.

You weren’t born in the wrong body because that’s not possible.

You were born into a society where looks mean everything. But really our bodies are just what keep us alive. Why don’t we fight back against the idea that any person looks wrong as they are? Your “outside” doesn’t need to “match your inside.” The outside isn’t important enough to hurt yourself over.

Get angry at gender stereotypes. You can dress however you want but that’s called “fashion” or presentation. Your identity should be who you are and the things you do, not what you look like. I have resting grouch face. I don’t need to train my face to look kind or have surgery to make my face look kind, I just have to be a kind person.

You think, how can I act male? There’s no such thing as acting male. Male is a biological sex and you will never be that. Just act like you.

Go outside. Move your body. Make art, do something. Don’t spend time with other people’s stories about self-loathing and self-diagnosis. Stop feeling oppressed when you’re probably not oppressed. I know transitioning can make you feel like you get a lot of control but medically transitioning doesn’t give you power. It just makes someone else money.

Find people to talk to and ask for help if you need it. And find people who will ask you hard questions.

No glitter life: Don’t be swayed by middle-aged transitioners–including me

by Helen Johnson

As time permits, Helen will be available to interact in the comments section of this post. As always on 4thWaveNow, comments that challenge the author will have a better chance of publication if they are delivered respectfully.


My name is Helen Johnson and I am a trans woman.

That’s partly true. I am trans, but I’m not telling you my real name. After you have read my piece, I hope you’ll understand why. Transgender activists reserve a special kind of treatment for apostates who speak out against their dogma. I have no wish to deal with their threats and intimidation, but neither can I remain silent when those transgender activists are driving a contagion that is consuming our young people.

Much has been written about the explosion in the number of children who have come to believe that they were born in the wrong body. I’ve said nothing because — like other trans women who transitioned as adults — I’ve nothing to offer. I’ve no childhood experience of living as the opposite sex and my own kids are thankfully unscathed by this epidemic. I can therefore only sympathize with other parents whose children are struggling with their gender. Some have asked me directly, but I have always suggested that they seek support from other parents in the same position. Certainly not from me.

Unfortunately, other trans women think differently and some of them seem to think they know best. Entire pieces have been written about trans activists like Rachel McKinnon,  who told trans kids to dump their moms on Mother’s day and join the “glitter-queer” family of adult trans activists. Worryingly, Dr McKinnon is far from alone. The message is pervasive, and it is sinister: transition your kids or lose them. Sometimes it is subtle.  For example, Julia Serano, a leading figure in the trans community, suggested that children will grow distant unless parents affirm the transgender behavior. Others are more blatant. Caitlyn Jenner is one of many who throw suicide statistics around like confetti.

None of them are experts. All they have to offer is their own experience of growing up. But if they can do that so can I and, unlike deluded fantasists like Zinnia Jones who thinks they actually were an adolescent girl, I am in touch with reality.

Gender dysphoria was present in my earliest memories; it persisted throughout my childhood and stayed with me in adulthood. It made me socially uncomfortable and I struggled to make friends. My dreams of becoming a girl were never fulfilled and I reluctantly accepted that there was no alternative to becoming a man. I’ll say no more about that. The trans narrative is repetitive and it is tedious. But just like McKinnon, Serano, Jenner, and Jones, I survived childhood and everything it threw at me. Yes I had difficulties, but lots of children have difficulties. Growing up is hard.

Today’s youngsters are being fed dangerous and fallacious nonsense. Society has been infected by post-modern, post-facts, post-truth ideas that spread unchecked on social media. Opinions and feelings are on the ascendancy, while facts and evidence are cast aside. For socially awkward children struggling to understand themselves, McKinnon’s “glitter-queer” family may look superficially attractive; an easy escape from reality. But it comes at huge cost.

I am glad that I did not succumb as a child.  Male puberty was a mixed blessing for me. It changed my body in ways that I did not like, but it enabled me to have my own children. Today they are my pride and joy: fine kids who are now making their own way in the world.  They would not be here had I been transitioned in childhood.

It’s now becoming all too clear that the first generation of child transitioners may have thrown away more than the chance to be parents.  Sex reassignment surgeons need material to work with. Only after male puberty did I have sufficient tissue for my vaginoplasty. Children who never experience natural puberty, like Jazz Jennings for example, are finding that they have a serious problem. To be blunt, there is no way that a functional vagina can be created from a penis only two inches long and an inch and a half in circumference. Sadly, Jazz may never be able to enjoy the sex that adult male-to-female transitioners take for granted.

Even transitioning later is a mixed blessing. I am in remission from the gender dysphoria but that is only half the story. My life is harder in other ways. Whenever I am clocked as trans I am treated differently, and not better. Mostly I deal with this by living in stealth. In my day-to-day life I just don’t mention it. People can’t discriminate if they don’t know. But that brings troubles of its own: when I’m asked about my childhood, I obfuscate; when asked about my children, I fudge; when asked about my private life, I create back stories. I hope they are consistent. When acquaintances become friends, I anguish over whether to come out to them, then when to do it and finally how to do it. Lying about your past is not great, but admitting it is harder especially in the early stages of a new friendship. Securing a life partner is something else. Trans people are seen as exotic curiosities rather than possible suitors. Rarely are we seen as human beings, usually as trans human beings. Not quite the same and not quite suitable.

But, people say, at least I have found my true self. Maybe, but I’ve always been my true self. I transitioned to escape the pressures that I faced but I will never really be a woman, I merely live as one, and I am always one step away from being outed. It works but it’s an expedient tactic rather than a fulfilling solution.

But you must be sure, they say. How can I be sure? All I have are circular arguments: because I needed to transition I must be a woman, and I must be a woman because I needed to transition. But I can never know what it is to be a woman. All I can know is what it is to be me. My experience will always be different from the women around me. It isn’t a glitter life, it’s a hard life. It works because I make it work, but it’s not great.

To kids contemplating transition I have no answers, only questions. Do you really need to transition? Give up the chance to grow up and form relationships as a human being rather than a trans human being? Have your own children? Have sex like other adults have sex, and live free from lifelong medication? If gender expression is the issue then be yourself and embrace your gender, but don’t try and change your sex in the process. One day, society may free itself from the shackles of gender norms, and feminine men, masculine women and gender-neutral members of both sexes will be able to take their rightful place in it. Make it your generation that does that, not the ones that follow you.

To your parents I would say, give your children a hug. Love them and nurture them. Let them be free to explore their gender and help them make that break from the crushing weight of society’s restrictions and expectations. But steer them away from transitioning from one gender prison into another, certainly before they can experience what it means to be an adult. If their gender dysphoria persists, as mine did, they can always transition in adulthood. That option will always be there. If it desists, then they will have avoided making a truly catastrophic mistake.

But above all, parents, don’t be swayed by middle-aged transitioners. That includes me, but it also includes McKinnon and the others. You know your children, we don’t; you brought them into the world, we didn’t; you love them and care for them, we don’t even know them.

Have confidence in yourselves because, when it comes to your children, you will always know better than people like me. Never forget that.