Do No Harm: An interview with the founder of Youth Trans Critical Professionals

A new organization has formed for therapists, social workers, medical doctors, educators, and other professionals concerned about the rise in transgender diagnoses among children, adolescents, and young adults. Youth Trans Critical Professionals was founded by a psychotherapist and a university professor just a few short weeks ago. The organization has a website (already publishing thought-provoking pieces from professionals), a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and many followers. If you are a professional skeptical of the transgender youth trend, please visit the website and consider contributing to the effort. Your anonymity will be protected at your request.

4thWaveNow recently interviewed one of the founders of Youth Trans Critical Professionals. She is available to respond to your questions and remarks in the comments section below this post.

ytcp logo.png

Why did you start this organization for professionals skeptical of the trans-kid trend? What is your personal interest in this matter?

I’m going to start by saying something that I will probably say several times. Our main concern is with medical intervention in children and young people that leaves their bodies permanently altered and/or sterilized. We don’t have a moral issue with people identifying as transgender, and believe that those who do should be protected from discrimination like any other minority. However, the medical treatments for children who identify as transgender are risky, not approved by the FDA, and permanent. With any other condition, we would be bending over backwards to find other ways to support these children without resorting to major medical intervention, and would turn to puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and surgery in only the rarest and most extreme cases. It is very disturbing to the originators of youthtranscriticalprofessionals.org that these treatments, whose long term effects are not well-studied, are being offered very casually for a condition which isn’t even clearly defined.

I have a private practice where I work mostly with adults, although from time to time, I do see adolescents. I first became aware of this issue because parents were coming in describing kids struggling with gender identity. I started to notice a pattern: an anxious, depressed, or socially awkward kid who spent a lot of time on social media would announce that he or she was “trans,” often requesting access to cross-sex hormones shortly after this announcement. Every one of the mothers in my practice who reported this behavior was incredibly supportive of her child. These moms may have shared feelings of confusion or concern with me, but their initial reaction toward their child was always acceptance.

The first time I heard this story, I didn’t make much of it. It sounded like normal teenage experimentation to me, and I admired the mom’s openness to accepting her child. However, as I saw more of these cases – and I saw the cases progress to the point where the child was demanding medical intervention – I became concerned and wanted to learn more.

What I found once I started looking was that more and more young people are identifying as trans, often after bingeing on social media. For some reason that I can’t quite fathom, there is a tremendous feeling of excitement around this issue among many adults. I found out that administrators at private schools were boasting about “several kids transitioning” at their school. I heard this from more than one school while I was researching this. They shared this as evidence, I think, of how truly progressive and accepting their school is. However, I find it really odd that no one blinks an eye when four kids are transitioning in a grade of sixty kids. Given how rare transsexualism is believed to be, doesn’t that alone ring a warning bell?

The more I learned, the more disturbed I became. Where were the critical voices? Where were the adults familiar with child development speaking out for young people who are in danger of being swept along on a current that may carry them towards sterility before they have even finished high school?

I was shocked to realize that many of my fellow therapists appear to have uncritically bought into the narrative about trans children that goes something like this: 1.) gender identity is a legitimate thing. You cannot question it without being bigoted. 2.) Children know their own gender identity. 3.) If you do not immediately and uncritically affirm a child’s professed gender identity, you will be doing that child grave harm, and may even induce suicidal behavior, 4.)  The best and only treatment for a child who professes to have gender dysphoria or claims to have a gender identity other than that associated with his or her sexed body is transition – social, medical, or both. It doesn’t matter whether that child has comorbid mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, trauma, autism, substance abuse or bipolar disorder. 5.) Once a child has professed his or her gender identity, the adults around that child should follow his or her lead, providing whatever treatment and accommodations are requested by that child.

There is nothing about the narrative outlined above that is beyond controversy and shouldn’t be open to questioning. The construct of gender identity is poorly defined and lacks coherence. It surely shouldn’t be the basis for subjecting our kids to irrevocable body changes and sterilization. Assuming that children have some mysterious knowing about their gender identity seems like poor practice. Children are often very sure of things at one moment in time and believe something completely different a week, a month, or a year later. Child development is a fluid process. Refraining from immediately affirming a child’s gender identity brings with it no documented harm. The oft-quoted figure about suicide among transgender youth is a misuse of statistics. Many children (and adults, for that matter) feel significant distress about an aspect of their body or identity. Usually, therapists explore many ways to support a person facing this kind of discomfort. Sometimes medication can bring relief. Sometimes, exploration brings a new understanding. Sometimes, discomfort must be borne as we come to terms with a difficult or disappointing reality. Why the rush to change the body? Permanently?! Of course we as adults should be putting the brakes on a process that is leading toward permanent sterilization. Of course we should. Where were the other professionals who also believed this?

There is such a dearth of professional voices calling for restraint and caution in turning to medical intervention. Pediatricians, social workers, psychologists – most professional groups state that we must affirm a child’s gender identity. While we appreciate the intention here to be supportive of gender non-conforming kids, it seems the greater value ought to be protecting children from unnecessary medical procedures that often result in sterility; a central aim of youthtranscriticalprofessionals.org is to raise awareness of this.

Yes. Where are the child and developmental psychologists on all of this?  Much of what transgender activists promote seems to fly in the face of what we know about child and adolescent developmental psychology. It has been understood for decades that young children confuse fantasy with reality; that adolescents try on and shed different identities;  that children are conditioned by what they experience; that a child or adolescent’s sense of self is anything but rigid. Have you heard from any skeptical child psychs, and what will it take for some of them to start speaking out?

So far, I haven’t heard from any, but I imagine we will. You are right, and you phrase the issues very clearly. Kids do try on different identities. And we as adults don’t do them any service by privileging gender identity as some special, separate category. There is nothing innate or special or sacred about gender.

And kids have very strong feelings about what they want, and they often confuse things they want with things they need. It is so incredibly difficult to watch out child be in psychic pain. It can send us flying into action as we try to make their suffering stop. But part of our job as a parent is to use our discernment as the adult who knows them best to learn when to listen to the manifest story they are telling us about themselves, and when to listen to a deeper story underneath that.

I was talking recently with a friend who has a daughter in college. She was telling me about the awful, awful time she went through when he daughter was 13. The girl was obsessed with getting an iPhone. She cried nightly about how terrible it was for her not to have one, how it was damaging her social life and making her isolated and depressed. She was visibly distraught over this issue being any reasoning. She begged for it literally as if her life depended on it.

Thinking of this issue with trans kids, I said to her, “At least you knew that she wasn’t going to come to any grave harm if you didn’t give her an iPhone.”

My friend surprised me by saying that at the time, she felt confused about whether she was doing great harm to her daughter by not giving her a phone. “Between the peer pressure and the advertising, I was almost convinced that I was doing her grave psychological damage.” Imagine how hard it would be to stand up to a teen’s desperate demands for hormones if you had mental health professionals telling you that you were damaging your child by withholding them!

I suppose the point is that just because our kids want something very, very badly doesn’t mean that we have to capitulate or surrender our adult judgment. Teenagers don’t have a fully developed prefrontal cortex. We can’t abdicate our responsibility as their parent to say no when what they fervently desire may be harmful for them, or at least may have consequences they aren’t capable of fully appreciating.

Do you believe there are truly transgender children? Are they different from the teens who claim to be trans because of social contagion?

What a complicated question! Let me break it into a couple of parts.

First of all, there is no question that there has been a huge increase in kids identifying as trans. Much of this increase is certainly due to social contagion. Kids are getting exposed to this on social media, where they are taught that “if they are asking whether they are trans, they probably are.” Look, most teenagers go through a period of feeling intensely uncomfortable in their own bodies. I think that for many of these kids, this is an expression of that discomfort. Forty years ago, maybe more kids developed eating disorders. Twenty years ago, they were cutting. This is the current way to express that nearly universal adolescent discomfort. We all need to feel that we fit in, and that we stand out. Identifying as trans hits both of those criteria big time. You go to school and announce you are now Joe instead of Jo, and let people know you want to be referred to by a different pronoun, and in many schools, you are met with excited acclimation from peers. You are different in an exciting, trendy way. At the same time, you can feel a part of the other kids who are also embracing different gender identities. It must be very heady.

So I do believe that there is a huge social contagion piece, and this is one of the things that I don’t hear other people talking about much. This matters a great deal, because it has probably happened that some anxious, socially awkward kid has come out as trans as a way of gaining acceptance and belonging, and has gotten so much support and affirmation that she has continued down the road to take hormones. In short order, she had permanently altered her body – a deepened voice, facial hair, baldness, increased risk for certain diseases – and maybe this wasn’t for her, really? Or not for her forever? But now this person has to live with those consequences forever. Testosterone and other cross-sex hormones are not tattoos that carry trivial risks, or can at least be hidden easily. This ought not to be a life-style or fashion decision, and for some kids at least, I am convinced it is. I realize this is an incredibly unpopular stance, but this is what I am seeing from my little perch.

Of course, there are those who identified significant distress with the sex of their body before transgenderism became a cause celebre. I have read the stories about two-year-olds who ask why God made a mistake. Some of these stories are pretty compelling. I am not an expert in this area, and when I read these stories, my strongest reaction is that I am grateful I have never had to be the person responsible for making a decision about such a case. I’m not at all sure what the right thing to do is, but I will say that I could imagine that transitioning might be right in some cases.

There is an Atlantic article about this from 2008 that I found very interesting. It profiled several of these kids who are “persistent, insistent, and consistent” starting at an early age. Some of the Canadian kids were treated by Dr. Kenneth Zucker. The article describes some of the things involved in the treatment such as “taking all the girl toys away.” I admit that made me cringe. Really?! Who would want to do that to their child? However, at the time the article was written, Chris, the child in question, had grown up to be a gay, effeminate man who had a healthy, intervention-free body.

My understanding is that when Zucker’s team assessed a gender dysphoric child, they closely examined the family system, considering carefully different dynamics that were in play, and then crafting an individualized treatment plan that might involve several different kinds of interventions. I believe that enforcing gendered toys was something that was done in some cases, but was accompanied by other therapeutic interventions that took into account the whole family dynamic. The ultimate aim was to help the child feel comfortable identifying with his or her natal sex.

The article also followed an American child who had been affirmed early, and had begun to live as a girl. And it made reference to the social media star Jazz Jennings, who was profiled by Barbara Walters. I found the reaction of the Canadian parents to this practice of early affirmation very compelling, so let me quote from that part of the article. (The bolding is my own.)

The week before I arrived in Toronto, the Barbara Walters special about Jazz had been re-aired, and both sets of parents had seen it. “I was aghast,” said John’s mother. “It really affected us to see this poor little peanut, and her parents just going to the teacher and saying ‘He is a “she” now.’ Why would you assume a 4-year-old would understand the ramifications of that?”

“We were shocked,” Chris’s father said. “They gave up on their kid too early. Regardless of our beliefs and our values, you look at Chris, and you look at these kids, and they have to go through a sex-change operation and they’ll never look right and they’ll never have a normal life. Look at Chris’s chance for a happy, decent life, and look at theirs. Seeing those kids, it just broke our hearts.”

So I think, if I had a little boy who insisted he were a girl, and I could do this terrible thing of enforcing gendered play, or I could do this terrible thing of altering his body and destroying his ability to have his own children, which would I pick? If I knew I would have a healthy, happy, whole gay man at the end of it, if I had a reasonably good guarantee that would be the outcome, I would much rather pack away the Barbies. The personal and social difficulties of back-tracking on a childhood or adolescence spent transitioning will inevitably be immense. If a child has been transitioned from a young age how will they know, or be able to begin to articulate, that a mistake has been made? At a recent at Cambridge University seminar entitled ‘Gender Non-Conforming Children: Treatment Dilemmas In Puberty Suppression‘ it was stated that 100% of children on puberty blockers go on to transition; it’s clear there is absolutely no going back on medical intervention.

In any case, those of us who started youthtranscriticalprofessionals.org would argue that transition is always an option into adulthood. I am familiar with the view that when someone transitions as a child, they have a better chance of “passing” in adulthood, but given the very real risk of later regret, I think we might decide that medical transition is a choice to be made by full-fledged adults only.

How do you answer charges that you are promoting harmful reparative therapy on trans youth? How is this different from trying to turn gay kids straight?

Well, I’m not sure I believe that we should try to “talk kids out” of believing that they are trans, first of all. If a fourteen year old kid came into my office and said, “I’m pretty sure I’m gay,” or “I am gay,” I would say, “Tell me about that! What is that like for you? How long have you known? What lead you to first wonder about your sexual orientation? What is hard for you about knowing this? What kind of support do you need?”

If a fourteen year old kid came into my office and said, “I think I am trans,” or “I am trans,” I would ask similar questions: “Tell me more about that? What does that mean to you? Help me understand your internal experience that leads you to know yourself as trans? What kind of support would be helpful in addressing this? When did you first start to wonder?”

The purpose is both cases would be to do the thing that therapy is meant to do – to explore our experience so that we can understand it more deeply.

There are a couple of differences. First, while I would be interested in hearing from the gay child about his particular way of experiencing his gayness, we all have a pretty clear idea of what that means. A gay boy experiences sexual attraction to other boys, and not so much with girls.

The notion of gender identity, however, is much less clear. If a boy of fourteen were to tell me he is really a girl, I would want to know about that experience. What does that mean? In what way do you experience this inner sense of femaleness? How does this experience manifest for you? What are the different ways of understanding this experience? Is it a consistent experience, or is it subject to variation? How does this experience influence your understanding of yourself?

Sexual orientation and gender identity are actually quite different and these differences justify different approaches. Sexual orientation has shown itself to be quite stable. Most gays and lesbians knew from very early on that something was different. These feelings aren’t dysphoric, although they may cause distress because of homophobia. It isn’t dysphoria, it is just an awareness of who you are. It isn’t a sense of being wrong, or in the wrong body. And it doesn’t tend to change. These feelings are generally stable throughout the life span.

This isn’t the case for gender dysphoric kids. We know that a majority of them will naturally desist. Unlike sexual orientation, gender identification does tend to change for the large majority of dysphoric kids.

The other major difference – and this is the heart of the artichoke – is intervention. Gays and lesbians are not seeking intervention. They just want to love whom they love. My hypothetical gay boy client and I would be free to discuss and explore his experience of being gay and his coming out process without any high stakes medical decisions hanging over our heads. If I knew that my hypothetical trans patient would not have access to medical intervention until she was, say, 25 years old, she and I could spend our therapeutic hours exploring her experience as a trans woman, and I could offer support for the difficulties involved in being different in this way.

My goal for therapy with a trans kid would be to provide a warm, judgment free space in which they could explore their gender identity and what it means for them without a rush to medical intervention. I wouldn’t aim to convert. No. But I wouldn’t want to close in on this being the final answer, since I know that so many gender dysphoric kids will desist of their own accord.

I would hope that no one would ever be shamed or persecuted or made to feel unworthy or respect and love because of these feelings. I would argue that there is another approach in between rejection and affirmation, and possibly the word for that would be acceptance. I accept you as you are. I support you. I am curious about what you are going through. I want to hear more about your experience. And I accept that your sense of your own identity might change, and I will accept you then as well. But in any case, I would hope to delay medical intervention until the person was at least 25 years old.

Maybe the last thing to say about this is the most controversial. It isn’t really clear what exactly “gender identity” even means. It appears to refer to a subjective inner state, but when pressed, those who identify as trans will often resort to gender stereotypes in describing their discomfort. Forgive me, but I am not going to want to send any person down a conveyor belt toward permanent mutilation and sterilization over a self-diagnosis of an inner state.

Gender is a social construct. If gender is the problem, why on earth change the body? Is seems obvious that the right thing to do is to change or even abolish the construct altogether. Changing the body to fit the social constructs we have around gender only serves to further entrench the constructs we are trying to escape – and these are socially, not biologically constructed; there is no evidence that gender identity is innate.

What is your vision for Youth Trans Critical Professionals? What do you ultimately hope to achieve?

Initially, we are hoping to solicit posts from 100 professionals writing on the trans child trend from how they see it. By doing this we aim to assemble the first collection of voices of Youth Trans Critical Professionals to evidence our mutual concern. There is a meeting being planned, and we are also discussing the possibility of co-authoring a book. Ideally, we would like to help move the needle on this conversation, hopefully resulting in clearer standards of care that protect gender dysphoric and nonconforming young people from unnecessary medical intervention and permanent sterilization.

How can a group of anonymous professionals make a difference? Without a public face and voice, who will believe you are who you say you are?

Anonymity certainly limits our credibility at this point. Many of us are contending with constraints of professional institutions which broker no dissenting views. It is our hope to speak out publicly once there are more of us. In the meantime, I hope that we will be judged by how we write and think. I believe that people that read the site will know that we are striving to do this in order to protect children from unnecessary medical procedures and permanent sterilization, not out of hatred or bigotry. In addition, some professionals working with us are also friends and relations of children and young people identifying as trans and need to remain anonymous to protect their loved one’s privacy.

In the few weeks the site has been live, have you heard from other professionals who want to be on-board?

The site has been up for less than two weeks, and it has already been viewed over 2,000 times. The overwhelming majority of the comments have been positive. (I have not deleted any comments, if that tells you anything. One person wrote a critical comment, which I approved.) And yes, professionals are reaching out and asking how they can be involved not just from professions allied to medicine, but teachers, youth workers, practitioners of law, artists and writers and so on.

How can parents find therapists and other medical providers who will resist the current trend to diagnose kids as trans? There are no public directories, while there are tons of  published resource lists of “gender specialists.”

What a good idea! Perhaps we could gather the names of such providers and maintain a directory. This would be a great resource because families are telling us they reluctant to access services because they do not trust service providers to tread a sensitive line between gender confusion and medical intervention.

As a therapist, how would you suggest a parent deal with a child insisting they are trans? The current trend seems to be “affirming” the child’s identity, no matter how old the child is.

Well, this is another complicated question. Obviously, we always want to communicate love and acceptance of our children. We can accept and affirm our child and respect their struggles and personhood without necessarily affirming a professed identity.

Part of what makes this a thorny problem is that there is no neutral stance. If we affirm the kid’s gender identity, we likely tip the scales in favor of a trans identity. If we look for other ways to express our support and empathy for our child, we likely tip the scales the other way. Given that even doing nothing is not a neutral intervention, we have to ask a difficult question. Is desistance a better outcome? If we had to choose which way to tip things, what is the right way? For me, it is clear that, all things being equal, desistance is a better outcome because it avoids invasive medical procedures and sterilization. Whenever a young person is engaged in keeping the conversation about their trans identity open, they may feel comfortable deferring medical intervention which will have the side effects of irreversible sterilization – at least this puts growing maturity on their side.

There is also the very critical issue of social contagion. I believe that many kids identifying as trans for the first time as teens – and perhaps many younger kids as well – have “picked this up” from social media. Parents are not infallible, but we are likely the best judges of whether our kid is truly suffering from deep-seated gender dysphoria, of whether the gender issue is a way to express other issues.

If a parent has a teen who comes out as trans, I would be interested in knowing the following:

  • Has the child been anxious, depressed, or struggling socially?
  • Does the child have other mental health issues, such as PTSD, substance use, or bipolar disorder?
  • Has the child been spending a lot of time on social media? What sites? How much time?
  • Are the child’s peers (or desired peers) coming out as trans as well?
  • Did the announcement come “out of the blue,” without prior indication that the young person has ever struggled with their gender or identity before?

If the answers to these questions are pretty much “yes,” I would actually suggest that the parent state firmly and clearly that they do not support their child’s transition. I realize this is heresy. I would, as David Schwartz suggests, stop talking about gender. Anxious and depressed teenagers may learn that they can get a rise and a reaction out of adults when they mention gender. Addressing only the gender dysphoria instead of the underlying issues does these kids a huge disservice.

We know that social media sites like Tumblr and Reddit are fertile ground for social contagion and that many children start talking trans following immersion in these worlds. We know it’s easier said than done, but disconnecting them from the internet, especially social media, does give space for developing more self-reliant thinking. For some families it may be possible to remove a young person from their environment completely. Three months spent in nature away from screens, or overseas, or volunteering in a challenging environment may serve as a “hard reset,” allowing them to focus on something other than themselves. (After all, gender dysphoria is in essence very solipsistic.) Of course not all families have the networks or necessary resources to broker new horizons for their child in these ways. Parents are telling us it is extremely difficult to work out the best ways to support their child. But we are gaining increased confidence that saying ‘no’ to your child’s trans aspirations can inspire your child’s confidence for reflection. All parents try to keep their children away from dangerous trends sweeping youth culture and the trans trend requires the same vigilance.

I do believe that parents can have an impact. Letting a kid know that you don’t buy the gender identity drama, stating plainly that you love them as they are, but you don’t want to see them destroy their health and sterility can have an impact. They might roll their eyes, but I believe they hear you. At least if they ever look back in regret and despair they will know that you tried to protect them.

How can we support you?

If you know a lawyer, doctor, therapist, academic, nurse, teacher, guidance counselor or other professional who deals with young people and questions this trend and is thoughtful, please send them to our website! We are hoping to solicit 100 professionals to post on the site over the next few months. They can reach us from the site, and can send us material to post – anonymously if they wish.

Send parents, trans youth and their allies to the site too. Our aim is to cohere strength amongst and between us to bring serious, committed and critical attention to the dangers of trans orthodoxy.

What the hell are you talking about? No. You’re a girl.

In this guest post, 25-year-old Charlie Rae (a pen name) shares her experiences living as a gender-dysphoric girl with a no-nonsense mother who didn’t for a minute subscribe to the notion that Charlie was really a boy. 

Charlie credits her mom, along with her training in martial arts and a peer group full of rough-and-tumble girls, with helping her realize who she really is.

Charlie is available to respond to comments and questions in the comments section below the post (her WordPress screen name  is artistarmy).


by Charlie Rae

I suffered from undiagnosed gender dysphoria for the first half of my life. I still often have the feeling that I am trapped in the wrong body, and that there is, somehow, another person living inside of me that my body isn’t represented by. I still try and change who I am all the time, endlessly searching for a way to look that fits who I feel like I am, but to no avail. It’s confusing, and sometimes painful, but I’ve come to see that it has more to do with society than with me as an individual.

It started as young as I can recall, in my family, where any and all activities were sex segregated: boys/men doing one thing, girls/women doing another. The older we got, the less accepting the boys were that a girl wanted to be around them all the time, and the harder it got to live in my own skin. I basically ignored my girlhood; I didn’t speak of it, and when they joked about it, I would ignore them. I didn’t want it to be a topic of conversation. I just wanted to be a boy. I thought something had gone wrong when my mom was pregnant with me.

Girls always talked a lot, about clothes and boys. They would try on outfits and go shopping. I would ask them, “aren’t you bored?” but they always said they weren’t. Once, at the beach, I tried to lie around and tan with them. “This is what you do all day?” “Here,” they said, and drew a little picture on my stomach with sunscreen. “Now you just wait until you’re tan enough to see the picture.” I thought, “I’m definitely not a girl,” and went back to playing pickle, and football, and getting dirty.

When I was in elementary school, the sex-segregated spaces continued. At recess the boys would play soccer, and the girls would be on the jungle gym. Once when I tried to play soccer, the boy who I was told had a crush on me (and that’s why he picked me), close-lined me as I was running for the ball. Everyone laughed. I was already in Tae Kwon Do by then, and I had been told never to use my skills to hurt anyone unless I really had to. So I didn’t. I just left. At recess, I started walking the perimeter of the field alone.

My mom never did entertain my idea of thinking I was a boy. Instead she just put me in martial arts class, which helped me in many ways but also perpetuated my confusion. As inclusive as Tae Kwon Do could be, some parts were still sex-segregated. Girls couldn’t fight or partner with boys. I was way too strong for the girls, and I was told to hold back on them. I would get pulled aside by the instructors and given talkings-to. “I’m a boy,” I thought, and I would ask, “Why can’t I fight a boy?” “It’s against the rules,” I was told.

But that changed as I rose higher and higher in rank. It was a fairly new martial arts school, and I ended up being the first person ever awarded a black belt at 8 years old. Something shifted then because I became such an authority. And my instructor started letting me fight boys. I felt somehow…accepted. That I had proven myself. I acted “like a boy” in mannerisms and speech, I fought “like a boy,” and I trained like the male instructors did, but I was the only girl. And I was only 3 feet tall.

I started to become somewhat of a freak show, the girl who was really good. I was featured in demonstrations, because, “look at that little girl!” I wanted to stop being a girl, though. I wanted to be taken seriously.

When I was 9 or 10 years old, something happened to me that must have deeply impacted me. There was a male-to-female transgender person named Kate who we met when my mother was taking care of a dying old woman named Pat. I only vaguely remember Kate. He sort of looked like a woman but he had man hands, and big feet, and something looked different about him. He was transsexual, and he had gotten all of the surgeries.

According to my mom, Kate went to my mother and said, “your kids are asking me questions, can I tell them?” My mother said, “yeah, tell them whatever you want.” My mother didn’t hide things from us; she didn’t whisper under her breath or spell words to keep things secret. She was flat out. She answered our questions, and she let other adults talk to us candidly.

He evidently told us he regretted transitioning. That after everything he’d done to his body, he said “I don’t know what I am.” He also said he knew he was a man, that it was never his body that was wrong. He called himself a he-she. I don’t remember this story. Maybe it was over my head at the time.  I do remember hanging out with Kate, and him laughing when I would ride Pat’s wheelchair around the apartment. I think I block a lot out because I loved the old lady, Pat, and Pat died. But I have no doubt that it had an impact on me.

Now’s as good a time as any to tell you more about my mother. I haven’t mentioned her much in this story so far because being a boy was just not something she entertained. My mom was a full-disclosure kind of mom, and she was also frank, and certain. About everything, it seemed. She would say, “What the hell are you talking about? No. You’re a girl.” She didn’t have an existential crisis, she didn’t send me to therapy, she didn’t sit me down to talk. She answered the question like she answered any other questions: to the point, with conviction, and then went on with her day.

She also blurred the lines of gender for me. I didn’t grow up with a father, and when I would get sad about it, she would tell me, “I am the mommy and the daddy.” She wore suits sometimes. She cut her hair short. She talked like my uncle, sometimes, when she was angry. She used body language that men used. I just remember thinking, “alright.” Because that’s how it was, she’d told me the answer, and I accepted it. Even though it didn’t feel that way, and I still hated it.

When it came to Tae Kwon Do, she’d say, “you’re not a boy, you’re better than the boys.” She was always proud to have two daughters. When everyone would make fun of me for wanting to do stuff with the boys, mom would say, “Rachel can do whatever she wants.” She was strong, and fierce, and when she was around, what she said would go. When people would make fun of me, she would say, “Fuck ‘em.” She never called me a “tomboy,” she mostly called me peanut and babygirl.

She wasn’t afraid of what people thought of her. I started to pick that up from her. People would get on her about how open she was with us, about swearing, about “adult stuff” and burping, and how rude we seemed to other people. “Oh, get over it. They’re kids,” she would tell them, and she would write them off.

When I wanted to cut all my hair off, she just told me how good it looked on me. It wasn’t an ordeal. None of my “boyish” qualities were an ordeal. They were what they were, and I was a girl.

When I got to middle school, and I found other girls who were weird, and wanted to be weird, and get dirty, and be unlady-like, was when I started cherishing the idea of being a girl. I kept my hair short, and everyone called me a dyke. I didn’t know what that meant, but it was okay, because I had all of my weird friends–all girls, 10 of us, and we called ourselves the Golden Mangoes. Four of us were what would be considered “tomboys,” and none would have been considered “girly girls.” We started food fights, got into trouble, loved rock climbing in gym class, and we didn’t talk about clothes and styles. We made sculptures out of garbage and told people off that were picking on us. We weren’t afraid to get dirty when we went outside for science class. We were loud and obnoxious. For the first time in my life, I recall loving being a girl, because it meant I could be in that group.

One of the Golden Mangoes started to transition to male in high school. It caused a huge rift in the whole group. She would get angry with us when we would misgender her, and I mean, really angry. This was when the idea that I was not a boy really sunk in. I saw her desperately trying to convince everyone that she was a boy, and we all knew it wasn’t true.

The group started meeting behind her back, not to be cruel, but to talk about how uncomfortable we were with it, and how mean she was to us about it. We didn’t try to misgender her, we had just known her as a girl for so long that it was hard to change. There were other things as well. She was touchy-feely with us. We had all always been touchy-feely with each other, but, we thought, if she wanted to be a boy, the rules would have to change. We didn’t want her to touch us anymore, we didn’t want her to be at sleepovers. Everything shifted in response to her anger at us. I knew that if I joined her thinking I was a boy, that would happen to me too. I gave up thinking I was born in the wrong body then.


I’m telling you, it’s all about finding your place. That’s what gender dysphoria is all about. I mean it.

It’s literally in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. If your daughter or son’s self-actualization depends on having friends, feelings of accomplishment, recognition from society, and they can’t get those things in the body they are in, it makes perfect sense to me that they would think they are born in the wrong one.

Maslow

I chose to do a speech about hair removal for my public speaking course last summer. I had read about a sociology professor who would get her students to change their shaving rituals for the remainder of the class. She remarked how she was surprised that the women quickly bonded over their behavior of not shaving. Though I’ve only taken intro level sociology courses, this didn’t shock me. We are reflections of our environment, always. When the environments change, we change, if only sometimes marginally.

The energy and attention around the trans issue isn’t just something happening in the home, it’s happening in society at large. See, some radical feminists (I think a little crudely) call liberal feminist ideologies “Special Snowflake Syndrome,” but in a way, they’re right. And it’s a paradox. Everyone does want to be special. That’s absolutely obvious in everyone’s life, even those of us who know that certain things are false because of the knowledge we’ve acquired. The paradox is, we all have a context in which that specialness is able to blossom, and self-actualization doesn’t come until we are accepted somewhere for who we are, for all of our special talents.

My conclusion is this: in society, and in the home, we are giving trans issues too much of our energy. Period. On a social, activist level, everyone seems to be in lockstep, because the trans platform is national and pervasive. It’s a fight that needs to be argued with logic. But in the home, especially in the sense of what’s actually happening around us in real life, we’re all becoming obsessed with a complete lie. Our bodies are our bodies. Period. No one was “born in the wrong body.” Body mutilation is body mutilation.

That’s easier for women, for feminists, to realize when we think about how we react to breast implants, and Botox, and all of these surgeries and medical mutations women are going through because they’re brainwashed by society to think they have to be beautiful and perfect. The trans thing is no different.

But the thing about thoughts is, the more weight you give them, the more important they become. That’s why mass media is so repetitive. It won’t stick the one time. You have to say something so many times to make it important.

The advice I would give to mothers, in all honesty, is stop taking this so seriously. I don’t mean to be callous, or write anyone off, and if it’s a struggle for you, then there certainly needs to be work and research done behind-the-scenes to deal with this.

But as a thought experiment, what if your 13-year-old daughter came to you and told you she wanted breast implants. Would you take her seriously? Or would you say “absolutely not, go do your homework”? Kids are uncomfortable in their bodies. Always. Being alive, growing up, is uncomfortable. To have intense reactions to this, to send kids to therapy, is to make it a big thing. It puts importance on it. Not all of kids’ thoughts are valid. They might mean something to them, but that doesn’t make them reasonable. Kids go through all kinds of phases. This might be one of them.

There’s something my mom used to tell me when I wanted something that she didn’t want for me. “When you’re 18, do whatever the hell you want.” This was how it was. My mom didn’t let me convince her that I knew more about the world than she did. She never let that get into her head. She let me get my ears pierced, but when I was 18, I could do whatever the hell I wanted. She didn’t take me to get my body piercings, she made me wait.

But when I was 18, she didn’t take me to get my piercings, she wouldn’t pay for them, sometimes she would say, “what are you doing to your beautiful body?” But I got some. After a few years, I took them out. They were uncomfortable. I couldn’t really move when I had them. And they were impermanent.

Injecting kids with hormones or giving them puberty stoppers isn’t good for their bodies. You don’t need any other reason not to let your kids have these things. Let them wear what they want, dress how they want, don’t make a big deal out of that.

But find them a place that they fit in. We are social creatures; we need that in order to become ourselves. You and your daughter need to find girls that like to do what she likes to do. And then give that all of the attention.

Guest post: I put the shotgun down

This personal narrative by Juniper, a frequent commenter on 4thWaveNow, touches on and corroborates several themes that have been previously written about on this blog:

  •  A formerly dysphoric girl child (now in her mid-40s) who comes to terms with and accepts herself as female—but only after weathering an intense personal struggle in adolescence and early adulthood.
  • A lesbian identity that was not fully claimed until early adulthood, with a first sexual relationship at 19—right on target with the data showing that same-sex attracted women are late to fully realize their sexual orientation. (If Juniper had been born later, it’s likely, as she herself says, that she’d have been identified as “transgender” and in need of medical intervention, long before she came to terms with herself as female and same-sex attracted.)
  • Shame and shunning due to “gender nonconforming” behavior and homosexuality, which led to self hatred, self harm, and even suicide attempts.
  • The profound and currently unmet need of dysphoric or “gender nonconforming” girls to have adult role models and mentors who aren’t egging them on to “transition.”

 Juniper makes a strong case, as I have, that medical transition ought to be an adult decision, made (if at all) no earlier than one’s mid-to-late 20s. Her story is a testament to how much things can change in a young person’s mind as their mental capacities mature.

 And her story is a reminder of how very important it is to experience the storms of adolescence, because out of that struggle is born a depth of character and self-realization that might not be possible otherwise—that is, if puberty were “blocked” and a childhood insistence on being the opposite sex were coddled and celebrated.

Juniper is available to respond to comments and questions below her piece.

Update 2/7/2016: Please see the comments section for an in-depth discussion and expansion of the many points Juniper introduces in her autobiographical account.


by Juniper

I grew up with a twin brother; I’m female, and we are fraternal twins. My brother was sensitive and gentle, while I was tough and rugged. At age five, I remember the two of us looking into a mirror as my brother said, “I should have been the girl and you should have been the boy, because I am the pretty one.”  Indeed, my brother was prettier than I was and I nodded in silent agreement.

We were socialized in a restrictive, gender stereotypical home.  My brother watched wrestling on TV with my dad while I made breakfast with my mom. My dad was into health and fitness and I was allowed to do push-ups and sit-ups with them but I was scolded if I ever did more reps than my brother. My brother was ridiculed for crying or showing signs of weakness. When we went off to grade school, my brother was bullied.  He would run to me for help, and I would then confront the boy who was picking on him, even if it meant that I would end up in a fistfight. Before I knew it, every little boy came running to me if a larger boy was after him. I became the kid who would protect the ones who were being bullied. My brother made me promise never to tell our parents and we agreed this was best for everyone concerned. We kept our secret. My brother thought of me as a brother and not as a sister.

I felt like god must have made some type of mistake and that surely, a miracle would happen and I would awake one day as a boy. At a very early age, perhaps age 5 or 6, I began to self-harm. I felt such intense shame about my body and sex-related anatomy. I wanted to scrub those parts away. I would scrub until I bled from the abrasions.

I began puberty at a young age and started menstruation in the 4th grade, before any sex education at school or “heart-to-heart talks” at home. I was devastated to learn that I had become a “woman” despite my prayers, despite my efforts to stop the changes. My parents and other adults seemed displeased with my inability to adopt or cultivate some semblance of femininity. My body had betrayed me. Because I developed early, I was targeted with harassment and unwanted sexual attention from boys (and men.) This contributed greatly to extreme feelings of isolation and hopelessness.

The self-harm escalated and became much more serious at age 11. I began contemplating suicide and made several unsuccessful attempts. I began to wear my clothes as baggy as possible. It became commonplace that I was mistaken to be a boy by people who did not know me.  (Today, I am still most often called “sir” by clerks in stores and other strangers.)

I began to come to terms with my history of sexual abuse at about this same time: age 11 or 12. Meanwhile, my brother began exploring his own sexuality and started cross-dressing and experimenting with my mother’s make-up with another boy while my mom was at work. (My parents had divorced by this time.)  My brother and the other boy were chased down and threatened. They were called “faggots” by a truck full of young men one day when they decided to venture outside while cross-dressing. My brother became more cautious, closeted and secretive about his cross-dressing after this incident.

After puberty, we remained close as siblings. We loved each other, but his friendships with other boys became increasingly important to him and he began to prefer their company instead of mine. At age 12, the bullying stopped for my brother as he began developing into a very muscular young man. Unfortunately, he also seemed to pair his new masculinity with misogyny and violence.

When we entered junior high school (now called “middle school”), my brother and his friends no longer wanted to associate with me because I was a “girl.”  I had been considered a gifted student through grade school but I began to struggle to concentrate on my studies. The boys lifted weights and did “guy things” without me. I felt intensely isolated. I became increasingly introverted and depressed, and I continued self-injurious behaviors. The suicidal ideation intensified and I developed bulimia. I would sneak out at night to take long runs of 10 to 20 miles, several times a week.

At 15, I became very involved in religion. I was quite fanatical, and this was a new escape from my struggles. I also began working after school. I found ways to keep myself as busy as possible so that I could avoid thinking about my body, my past history of sexual abuse, and my feelings of loneliness.

At 18, I began to come to terms with my attraction to women, but I had not yet acted on my feelings.  I told my youth pastor that I was concerned that I was homosexual and he told me that I would not be welcomed back until I was straight. This was a very dark time for me and I attempted to overdose on a mix of aspirin and Tylenol.

At 19, I fell in love with a young woman.  I began a relationship and as the result of this, my church rejected me and my closest friends abandoned me. My family was also very unsupportive.

When the relationship ended, I felt ashamed and hopeless and I decided to end my life. I loaded up a shotgun and I was ready to pull the trigger when I suddenly realized that “this is it … there’s no turning back.” Something told me “You could pull the trigger and have a shitty ending to a very shitty life, or you can decide to live and have a chance of changing the story.”

I put the shotgun down.

This was my final suicide attempt.

I told my mom and stepdad what had happened. They were angry with me, and said they would keep the rifle loaded in the house, where it had been, and that I had no right to touch it. I finally realized that they were toxic people and I could not continue to be around them, since they contributed significantly to my depression.

My brother had gotten into drugs and joined a gang by now; he was gone and I was completely on my own.

I moved out and rented a room. I worked two full-time jobs and started to build a new life. As my confidence grew and as I learned to not be ashamed of my sexuality, I grew stronger. I began to wear the clothes I liked, “men’s” clothes. I cut my hair very short and I finally felt comfortable with my appearance. I became healthier as I started to lift weights and feel better about my body. I was able to free myself of my eating disorder – on my own. I started to make friends who accepted me. Most were lesbians.

I made a few friends in my early twenties who confided that they were transgender. These friends came out to me because they thought I was also transgender. This has happened several times over the course of my life, and I have questioned my gender very seriously. This was before it was common to hear of transgenderism.  I could have easily succumbed to the pressure to transition had I been younger or less confident in my identity. I felt at one time in my life that life would be easier had I been born male, but looking back over the last two decades, I see that my brother had his own struggles and that his life is not enviable.

Ultimately, I realized that I was a strong woman and that I did not identify as a man. My path has not been easy. I have been “gay bashed” several times.  I have been blatantly discriminated against at work and in housing (before laws included sexual orientation as a protected group.) I lost most of my friends from high school, as they were all very religious. But I moved forward and I eventually built a good life with my partner of 13 years (who is now my legal wife thanks to recent marriage equality laws.) I have created a life that is meaningful – a life that helps others. I have created a life worth living. My wife and friends today accept me completely for who I am.

My brother eventually found his way also.

The story of my brother and me is not picture perfect. (Most people’s true stories seldom are.) But we were able to find our way and make choices about our bodies and our gender identities, as we matured in our adulthood.  We both now identify comfortably with our birth sex.

I have friends who are transgender, who have personal stories that are similar to mine but who pursued transitioning in adulthood. Some have de-transitioned; others work to manage serious health conditions that have resulted from the use of hormones. We deal with similar social issues despite the fact that we have taken different paths in life.

Transition brings new challenges that are unexpected. Hormones and surgeries have limitations and complications. Still, I support everyone’s right to make their own choices about their bodies and identity. I think that for the great majority of people, with the exception of some children who are medically defined as intersexed, it takes time –perhaps well into one’s early twenties to sort out one’s identity in relation to gender, physical anatomy, and sexual orientation.

As difficult as my past was, I am grateful that I was not rushed into hormone blockers, hormones, or sex re-assignment surgeries.  For me (and my twin brother), this would have been a grave mistake as our issues with gender identity were rooted in traumatic histories and external societal pressures, which resolved when he at (age 12) and I (in my early 20’s) found kinship and support in our communities.

Societal pressures are even more complicated today because the transgender narrative omits stories like my own.

My oldest niece ended up being very “bookish.” She was also artistic and enjoyed wearing make-up and following fashion trends. Her younger sister loved athletics and hated anything “frilly or foofy.” Their mother was supportive and loving toward both of her daughters. She also had no problem with me, a “gender nonconforming” lesbian, being in the girls’ lives. She asked only that I never talked about “gay stuff” around them as she held the belief that homosexuality was a “sin.” She was a good mom who never pressured either child to conform to gender stereotypes. She seemed to love them both and did not prefer my “feminine” niece over her “rough and tumble” younger daughter.

Still, my athletic niece was taunted at school and her sister sometimes teased her at home. One time, when I came to visit, we were walking and I heard my older niece teasing her sister. My niece, who was eight at the time, ran up to me sobbing. “My sister says I am a boy!” I was in my early twenties and without thinking replied gruffly, “You aren’t a boy, you are a tomboy like me and that’s alright.” At that point, my young niece stood up tall, marched back to her older sister, leaned into her face and repeated what I had said to her, putting a quick end to their quarrel.

I didn’t think much about the incident but years later, when my younger niece came out as lesbian, she told me how important that brief conversation was. She said this was when she “knew” that she was “like me.” My niece was about twenty when she came out. I asked her during our conversation about gender and sexual orientation, if she ever wondered if she might be transgender. Without hesitation my niece said “No, I’m just a regular ole’ lesbian.” That gave us both a chuckle, but I assured her that I would love her either way. After a brief pause, I added that I was glad she would not need to change her body.

If my niece had told me that she was a boy at 8 years and that her sister was insisting that she was a girl, I would have asked the two what it means to be a “boy.” I would have explained my own past and how lots of people thought I was a boy and still seem to think I am a man when they first meet me. I would explain that for me, this does not affect my identity as a woman. I would explain that we are all different and that this is what makes us so amazing.

To crush every doubt: Just pronouns and a name

This is a guest post by commenter thissoftspace, a woman who experienced gender dysphoria, began transition to FTM, but pulled back to embrace herself as female.

This account is a bit different from the previous two in my ongoing series of guest posts from women who’ve experienced dysphoria or dis-identification from female. Woven into the narrative are vignettes from thissofstspace‘s mother, who shares her own thoughts and feelings about her daughter’s journey.

Parents and their offspring who decide to “transition” are sometimes ripped away from each other in the process–whether the transitioner is a child or an adult with the right to make her own medical decisions. Some online trans activists even encourage young, questioning people to forsake their “transphobic” families and seek community only with strangers on Internet forums. This account from thissoftspace and her mother is a testament to the bond that endures between us parents and our kids—no matter what decisions are made, or how well we understand each other at a given time.

I’ll be publishing her piece in two parts. Here, in Part I, thissoftspace takes us through her “gender nonconforming” childhood and on to identifying as an “asexual agender aromantic.” Part II will chronicle her decision to transition and begin testosterone–until an epiphany one night leads her to return to her original female self.

thissoftspace will be available to respond personally to questions and discussion in the comments section below.

Please also visit her on WordPress and Tumblr, both blogs entitled “Nurturing a Healthier Habitat for Female Human Beings.” And if you know any young women who struggle to identify as female, send them here for a boost of self love.


Part I: There and Back Again

by thissoftspace

I can only tell the story as I experienced it. I can only tell how I grew up, how I came to view myself through the lens of others, how that led me to identify as transgender, and how I found my way back to myself. I’ve been living with these issues for nearly four decades, though the height of my gender identity crisis happened within the past two years. My mother, with whom I share a home and a close friendship, has been along for the journey, and I’ll be including some of her thoughts.

There is no definitive path for any person who identifies as transgender for any length of time – there are too many variables involved – but I hope this account gives some perspective on the internal and external forces involved, what I was going through while I was identifying as trans, and the hope there is to find another way.

My mother’s words:

I did not wish to see my daughter change into a man. She was my child, a young lady whom I admired. Why did she have to be a man? Yet I did not wish to lose her. I was afraid of her emotions, worried about her stability as a person. I wanted her happy and to be able to be a person who could function in the world.

It began with my name.

My first and middle names are both old, traditional feminine names. Looked at objectively, they really are quite lovely together. My first name happens to be similar to that of an international personality, and when I was very young, I was often (and still am) called by her nickname. The problem was, when I looked at her on television, I saw the pinnacle of what a woman should be. She was blonde and blue-eyed, gentle, poised, elegant, gracious, always dressed to a T. Flawless. Beautiful. Every time I was called by her name I felt an uncomfortable dissonance. I was nothing like her. Why did people call me by her name?

I was a kid in jeans and a sweatshirt with an oft-uncombed pageboy haircut, knee-deep in the pond after polliwogs. I was hollering as I set off fireworks with my older brother and I was galloping around the fields like a horse. I was climbing trees, pulling night crawlers out of the soil on damp summer nights, playing with Erector Sets, Legos, Transformers, model airplanes. Growing up, I never imagined any difference between my brother and myself. I have no memory of being held back from any activity because I was a girl, though I’m sure there were occasions. If there was a reason he played football and I didn’t, I never thought about it. When he removed himself as my playmate in his teens I felt an immense loss, and never could fathom why he had left me.

I didn’t think much about being a boy or a girl. I was what I was. My concept of what it meant to be female was fuzzy and confused from a young age, my default always leaning towards male. The only stuffed animal in my massive pile of furry friends that I called “she” was a dog that had puppies zipped into her tummy. Back then I couldn’t yet argue with biology. All of my other stuffed animals were male, to the point of cutting the “feminine” eyelashes off a toucan with scissors.

Away from home, I crashed into femininity in church and at school. I hated the tights and the dresses and the shoes I had to wear for church, always so itchy and restrictive and uncomfortable – and I was so terrified of spilling my Sunday School juice on them. On my first day of kindergarten, my grandmother had to drag me out from under her kitchen table and carry me onto the bus.

I was lost at school from the beginning. I had no idea how to relate to the other girls, watching them skeptically in their dresses and skirts with little colorful clips in their long hair, playing clapping rhyming games I’d never heard. I felt like a visitor from another planet and just kept trying to do my usual things. I got in trouble for taking a group of kids back to the stream that ran behind the playground and for keeping a grasshopper in my desk. Though I tried, I never seemed to have more than one real friend at a time. I remember going to a girl’s birthday party and being so overwhelmed and feeling so out of place I had My Very First Panic Attack and threw up. Social anxiety starts young.

The sense of otherness slipped into more than just social roles. When we would line up to be weighed for our yearly physicals, I always seemed bigger and heavier than the girls around me, though I was fit. I remember turning to the nurse, feeling self-conscious, and saying “I have big bones.” My body wasn’t even like their bodies. They were so small and delicate. I was… something else, broad-shouldered with big hands and big feet. I came in for picture day in 4th grade after being out sick, wearing jeans and a sweatshirt. The teacher asked me, “Are you sure you don’t want to have it done on the rain date?” I said no, I was fine as I was. In the picture, I look like one of the boys. It’s one of my favorite pictures from elementary school. I was comfortable, a big smile on my face. I was me.

 

My mother’s words:

My daughter was a bright-eyed, inquisitive, joyous little girl. I was confused as to why she didn’t like dolls, as I had loved them when I was a child. However, she did have many other interests and toys, including many beloved stuffed animals. When she began coming home from school early due to stomach pains, and when she was sick at a little girl’s birthday party, I did have my concerns. Her first grade teacher debated whether she should be placed in the gifted program due to her intelligence and creativity, or tested for learning disabilities due to her distraction and lack of involvement at school. I worried about her dislike of school, as I had always loved school myself, but she always succeeded in her classes. She remained happy on her own and when playing with her brother or a few special friends.

Then one night while lying in bed I felt something funny in my chest – a little bump right under my nipple. Nancy Reagan had been on TV talking about breast cancer, and I was filled with fear. Absolute terror. Something was very wrong with me. My mom took me to see the school nurse, who examined me and said it was perfectly normal. I was just developing, going through puberty. I was becoming a woman. I thought of Nancy Reagan and breast cancer and did not want to become that. I was terrified.

I never have lost the sense of something being physically wrong with me. Hypochondria has been with me for as long as I can remember. Worries about breast cancer still float through my mind almost every day.

With puberty came the further separation between girls and boys, and consequently between the girls and me. Girls spoke of liking boys and I didn’t understand what they were talking about. In the girl’s lavatory one day while a group of us were gossiping, my best friend at the time said to me, “What, are you gay?” No no, I quickly retorted. No, I just didn’t like that guy you were talking about.

But… I liked Mozart. I liked Edward Scissorhands. I liked the Phantom of the Opera. As my friends found their feminine identities and began wearing skirts and makeup and dating boys, I came to identify with a collection of eccentric male characters, so often misfits and underdogs who loved the girl but were denied her affections. I could relate to them. When I began writing stories, the first-person voice was of a 14-year-old boy. His presence as I grew older served a dual purpose: through him I could have some sense of freely expressing myself, and due to my preoccupation with this male character, no one would assume I was gay.

Of course I didn’t realize any of this at the time, all of these subtle coping mechanisms. Being a lesbian wasn’t an option for me. I had no reference for it; I didn’t know of any lesbians in my community. Sometimes kids would snicker and point at a gym teacher, but no one mentioned homosexuality openly. The homogeneity of the surrounding population was overwhelmingly white, straight, middle-class, and religious – nothing else was spoken of in anything but hushed whispers. I knew nothing other.

I watched Ellen Degeneres come out on her sitcom and lose her show. For some reason it made me incredibly angry, but I didn’t know why. I listened to Melissa Etheridge and thought she was awesome, but wouldn’t think about how she was singing the songs I loved to women. I got my hands on a copy of Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle when my brother’s girlfriend was reading it for a college class. I read it in a few days, enthralled. But I never could make the leap to applying any of it to me.

 

My mother’s words:

Having been a 6th grade teacher, I had often picked up on little girls beginning to like little boys and vice versa. My daughter did not seem interested at all. When boys would express an interest, I would wonder, “He’s such a nice boy, why doesn’t she like him?” I wondered if she did not know what getting kissed, dating, etc. was all about. I worried about her appearance, looking square and boxy in large men’s shirts, and tried to encourage her to choose dressier clothes she liked and felt comfortable in. She had to wear dresses or skirts for band and orchestra concerts, and I thought she looked beautiful, but she clearly preferred the pantsuit we bought for her senior picture. In high school she had a number of friends from the marching band and gifted program, and I thought these were the intelligent, creative people she needed for her friends, which provided a supportive group for her. When others wondered why she was not dating, I spoke honestly that she was more involved with her interests and hobbies – writing, drawing, and art – than boys, and that was fine with me as long as she was happy. I was concerned, however, if she would be able to handle life away from home, as she spent so much time alone with her creative pursuits.

At college, I avoided male attention like the plague, which wasn’t difficult since my “masculine” dress and lack of interest served as a kind of ward against their gaze, as it probably had been – possibly intentionally – for a long time. I couldn’t help but be envious of all the other girls, though, and how effortlessly groups of students, male and female, came together so naturally. There were girls I desperately wanted to get to know but didn’t dare approach; after all, I didn’t want to be misconstrued as gay. My best friend at the time seemed to assimilate without much difficulty, and gradually abandoned our regular hangouts to go on dates with men and out for drinks with women with whom she related better. We eventually fell out; she would be the last close friend I would have for a long time.

I dropped out of college after two years, never fitting in, never getting a foothold on figuring out what I wanted to pursue. I had become painfully self-conscious about how I looked and presented myself. I dressed “too masculine” in flannels and jeans, yet I loathed my wide hips and big thighs. I began a continuous cycle of exercising and dieting trying to get rid of the natural fat on my legs, even though I was never overweight according to the scale. I felt caught in a place between what looked like “male” and what was supposed to be “female.” I plucked my naturally full, dark eyebrows almost out of existence, because looking “male” was so wrong though I disliked looking “female” as well. Even my voice seemed too low for a woman’s, but I hated the thought I might sound like a man.

Anxiety followed hypochondria followed panic attacks followed depression. I got a diagnosis of panic disorder and some pills but no one ever offered therapy. I wonder now if that wasn’t a blessing, if it wouldn’t have put me on the path to identifying as trans at a much sooner and more vulnerable time. Instead of therapy, I ended up on the Internet.

Thank goodness for the Internet in so many ways, because it finally gave me a community outside of the conservative pocket in which I lived. I found others who loved writing, drawing, building things, creativity, video games. I found stories that introduced me to women who loved women in a way I could finally grasp, and at last – at 30! – I was able to accept and explore the idea for myself. Coming out as gay was like a new life blossoming. Though I still had to deal with the conservatism of my family and surrounding environment, I could at least drop the pretense of being straight and explore parts of myself I’d repressed for a very long time. My mother was supportive. I was open with my new friends. I wrote stories about lesbian characters and drew their portraits and it was wonderful.

My mother’s words:

When my daughter told me she was gay, I was relieved and happy, as before that time she had often seemed angry and withdrawn. Once she opened up about it I knew I could support her in whatever she was working through, and I let her know I would welcome any female partner she brought into our lives and our home. Of course, I had some fears and preferred to keep quiet about the subject. I did not want anyone to attack our way of life, including her brother due to his religious beliefs. I have always liked and admired the gay people I have met in my life, but I have also been aware of how people have attacked them due to their difference. I did not want to see her hurt in any way. These were my worries as her parent, and I understand now how my concerns might have been frightening or stifling to her at the time.

Yet I could not find a foothold in the gay community, a role model or identity to connect with. I looked online, joined this forum and that, talked to people, read articles. I was turned off first by the overt sexuality I saw everywhere, the importance placed on physical attractiveness, just like the mainstream media. But worse, I could not find myself among the plethora of gay faces. The butch/femme divide looked too much like straight gender roles to me. I was not a lesbian in makeup and a dress, after all; neither was I the picture of butchness with a buzzcut and men’s button-down shirts. Frightened by those apparent “gender roles” looming in front of me, I shrank away from a lesbian identity. There was too much I couldn’t come to terms with, not only in the homophobia in the world around me, but also in the sense that I wasn’t butch enough or femme enough – not man enough or woman enough (and definitely not “sexy” enough) in my mind. It was the same struggle I’d always had, and in retrospect a terrible misunderstanding of what it means to be a lesbian.

Then, a few years ago, I got the flu. While I was lying on the couch recovering, I was watching one of my favorite TV shows, featuring one of those slightly eccentric men I had always idolized. Maybe it was the haze of the flu, being tired, being stressed, being unhappy, but I looked at him and I thought, “Maybe I should try to be him. Maybe that’s the answer. Maybe I should grow my hair out and wear paisley shirts and just be him, and maybe then everything would get better.” It was that simple, that sincere. I had run out of solutions to try to fix my conundrum of not fitting in until this one last possibility occurred to me: Maybe I was transgender. Maybe I never should have been a woman at all. Maybe I was supposed to be a man.

I dipped my toes in a little at a time, reading, watching, learning from the Internet. I was both filled with hope and terrified. I made no big moves. I got together with some of my online friends but told them nothing of what was lurking in the back of my mind. But in the back of my mind, I felt so very different from them, more than ever before. Because now it was a big deal. Now they were “cis,” and I was “trans.” Now I was on a journey none of them could understand. It was especially alienating being with my female friends, some of the best friends I have ever had. It was heartbreaking to sit beside them and think, “You don’t know it yet, but I’m really nothing like you.” I felt sure all of my friendships were soon to come to an end.

So I withdrew to explore the idea of being transgender and figure out how to rebuild myself from scratch. It was a good time for it; my previous online community had dissolved and my work was in flux, leaving me socially isolated much of the time. Exploring all these little things that made me different filled the gaps. I ended up on the AVEN forum – the Asexual Visibility and Education Network community – because I had never had an intimate relationship. That’s where I was introduced to the plethora of labels. Within a week I had discovered I was an agender aromantic asexual. There were so many like me! It was wonderful. A vast community of people coming together to celebrate labels without ever really wondering why they needed them.

All I can say about this crucial turn is this: When I felt like I could no longer be identified by others – whether due to social isolation, mental illness, trauma, sexual orientation, lack of gender role conformation or a combination of all these things – I became desperate for some way to identify, to validate my unique existence. I felt unidentifiable, and the current “queer theory” offered identification and validation. There are so many labels to choose from. From the moment I picked up “agender” I severed myself from identifying as female, and all of the confusion and embarrassment that came with being female began to evaporate. It was easy then to try on new pronouns and names; with the backing of so many others who also identified as agender, I no longer felt afraid to try it myself. Remarkably, when I announced to my mother and my friends I needed to be called by another name and gender-neutral pronouns, they were more supportive than I ever imagined.

My mother’s words:

When she came to me with the different name and pronouns, I was skeptical, but I also wondered if this was the final answer. Had she had finally worked out what had been holding her back for so long? The names she experimented with were never fully male names, and with the gender-neutral terms and her physical body, I was relieved she was keeping a little part of her femaleness and not going 100% male. I could support the name, the clothes, the haircut, as she never did seem to be trying to be just like a man, though I felt I had to handle all of this with kid gloves. All the information she gave me was so positive, but her enthusiasm did not seem entirely natural to me, and I wondered what exactly she was doing. As her mother, it did not seem quite right, but what did I know?

It seems like such a small thing, just a handful of words, just pronouns and a name. But those words, when spoken by others, validate every belief and crush every doubt. Those words were a statement of who I wanted to be. And when you have never been able to be yourself, finally having an identity recognized by others is the most precious thing.

But everything after that becomes an effort to support and maintain that identity.

 

(continued in Part II)

 

Nothing wrong with your body that the truth can’t cure: Guest post

This guest post by “fightingunreality,” a regular commenter on this blog, is the second in an ongoing series of accounts by women who at one time experienced gender dysphoria or the desire to become the opposite sex—but who turned away from “transition” without undergoing hormones or surgery. (The first in the series is “Abandoning the Ship of Woman,” by guest poster “Dot.”)

I am looking for more guest posts from formerly dysphoric women and girls, of all ages, who did not take steps to “transition” medically. There are some fine writings/blogs authored by detransitioned/detransitioning women who did embark upon medical transition but returned to embracing their femaleness; I will leave it to those women to continue elucidating their experiences for us. One excellent blog by a detransitioned woman is that of Maria Catt, who wrote powerfully yesterday about the hazards of transition and specifically testosterone—both from the perspective of someone who has used “T” herself, and as a worker in a medical clinic which served transgender people. Another fine blog by a detransitioned woman is “Hot Flanks,” who writes sensitively about her journey home to female after years of trans-identification.


Nothing wrong with your body that the truth can’t cure

by fightingunreality

As one of many women who have faced some of the issues confronting teenagers who call themselves “transgender,” I feel reasonably certain that, had these girls been born in an era before the all-out indoctrination that has taken place in the past decade, they would not only not be seriously considering altering their bodies; they would be developing a framework for understanding why they ever felt the female sex was not their own.

Such dysphoric females would most likely eventually connect, as I have, with other women who had the same difficulties–even if those difficulties remained unspoken. Instead of demanding hormones and surgery, these girls would be learning to cope with the ongoing changes that take place as they gradually mature, physically and socially. And it wouldn’t be easy, but nothing of importance ever is. Especially during the teenage years.

I imagine a self-identified trans teen reading this and thinking, “Eh, what could she possibly know? She was never ‘really trans’.” In response, I ask: What IS “really trans”?

Dysphoric teens often talk about depression and anxiety spiking during their middle school years, when their bodies begin changing in ways they don’t want and can’t stop; changes that feel wrong.

Do you have any idea how common these feelings are? For the longest time, I wouldn’t talk about them because I thought they were weird and embarrassing. But it turns out that a lot of my friends felt the same way and weren’t talking about it either. Nothing seems right when your body starts to change, and it doesn’t help that the hormones that are causing the changes fuel emotional highs and lows that are really intense and hard to handle. I know it doesn’t really seem like it, but things get a lot easier to deal with. It just takes time.

I remember this time period very well. I panicked. I was depressed. I didn’t know what to do because I could not imagine myself becoming what I believed it was to be a woman. I was neither like the women I knew nor those I saw on television. The idea of having to buy or wear a bra was repugnant. As a result, I did the only thing that seemed logical at the time: I hid my breasts and tried to carry on as if nothing had changed. I wore layers and vests and spent a lot of time worrying about other people noticing.

I remember feeling ashamed, especially when my older sisters made fun of me for trying to deny this development, or alternately, for acting or feeling like I was a boy (something that I never verbalized for fear of perpetual teasing). I had been obsessed with becoming a boy prior to hitting puberty, and what I considered to be my body’s betrayal seemed like the ultimate cruelty. Like some sort of unfair punishment.

Remembering those times, I wonder what it would have been like if I’d had someone I trusted who I could talk with about it–someone who understood the depth of my despair, who’d been through something similar. I did not have any such confidante. Yet in retrospect, I consider myself extremely lucky, because what I also did not have–which virtually every other child and adolescent has now–is someone who would have reinforced my belief that I really was meant to be a boy; that I was “trans.” I have to tell you, I would have bought into that belief with everything I had because I did not want to be female. I did not want to wear dresses or makeup, bleed every month, date boys or get married—ever. Being “trans” would have been the perfect out for all of those things, and once your body starts to develop, the pressure is on. Everything changes.

Thinking back, it was around age 5–the time when I started kindergarten –when I began to realize I wasn’t quite like the other girls. To be honest, I can’t even remember what activities the girls engaged in because I didn’t pay much attention. I guess it must have been dolls, since the note inscribed on my very first report card said that I didn’t like to play with them, but instead played with “trains and boys’ toys.” It made it seem like it was a bad thing–like I was bad–and I can recall from that point on a growing alienation from whatever it was that “girl” was supposed to mean. I actually remember at one point feeling sorry for *them,* for the girls, as if I weren’t one myself.

By the time puberty hit, my friends were all boys, so I guess you can imagine the additional issues that started to develop right along with my budding breasts. Suddenly the pressure was really on from the adults to act more ladylike, and there came rules about spending time alone with the boys and separating us for activities. We couldn’t play together as easily. There was increasing snark from the girls at school who marked me out as “other” for my failure to socially conform. I didn’t really need to hear their comments, though, because my changing body was a constant reminder of how I was supposed to behave and look which had nothing to do with how I felt about or saw myself. I felt trapped.

Worse, it wasn’t just the girls who had become suddenly self-conscious about their increasing need to conform: the boys who had been my peers and best friends began to see me as “other,” too. It didn’t matter that I was just as good as any of them when it came to sports, or that in a fight I would most likely win. I was a girl, and that alone altered the dynamic in our little group. It was even worse outside of our circle of friends. Individually, my friends seemed the same, but around the other boys, it was like they had to prove something to each other. Influenced by their own surging hormones, some of them began to make sexualized comments to impress each other with the pretense of worldliness, and the situation became increasingly intolerable. Former friends would dis me in the presence of others in order to get a laugh or to prove their masculinity. Hanging out with a girl wasn’t cool at this age unless it had some sort of sexual connotation. My sense of betrayal was devastating and complete.

It was at this point that I found myself alone. No longer accepted as a peer, I was closed out of the boys’ club and realized that I had little in common with the girls.  I hadn’t really learned the rules very well, and from what I saw, I didn’t want to. Girls seemed helpless sometimes–interested in things that were incomprehensible to me. They began to cover the backs of their notebooks with popular boys’ names, plus theirs, surrounded by hearts. I just didn’t get it. It was pretty clear that I did not really fit in: I was not like them, and I certainly wasn’t going to grow up to be like their moms who I understood even less. I had no role models–I knew no one like me. As an adult, I can acknowledge a multitude of contributing factors, but at the time I could see only one real source of my pain: my body had betrayed me. I was alone, I was depressed, and I couldn’t see any way out of my situation. I felt like a mistake and I too often just wanted to be dead. As it was, I did what I could to simply hide. I sought invisibility and spent a lot of time by myself.

What if, along with my rejection of my maturing body, my growing depression, the loss of my peer group and my increasing alienation, I’d been told that there was a cure? I, along with a number of my friends, have asked that question. What if I’d been told that I must have a “male brain” or that there was science that showed that I had a “medical condition” that caused all of the problems? What would I have done? It didn’t happen, fortunately, but I think I understand my former self well enough to know: I would have attributed all of my social difficulties to that “condition.” I would have believed that if I could just fix that “condition,” all of the other issues would be resolved or at least lessened. They were, after all, entirely related to being the wrong sex. Weren’t they?

Having been raised in a very religious household, I actually believed as a young child that god would give me a boy’s body if I prayed often enough and hard enough. As a result, every time I was made aware that I was, in fact, a girl, I would repeat my litany with the sincere belief that my prayers would be answered. I would imagine myself as having changed, as having all the qualities I believed that entailed. When I showered, I’d plaster my soapy hair to my head so it would feel and look short. I’d shape lather on my face in the form of a beard, imagining how I would look when things were “fixed.” Each time, as my fantasy washed away, I would experience an even greater disappointment in the reality I faced. The more I engaged in the fantasy in its varying forms, the more distressed I was at what was: my body seemed to grow worse and I prayed even harder. I bargained with god, formulated deals, but each morning I awoke to the same disappointment. Despite my lack of progress, I continued praying for a few years because I convinced myself that my long-term dedication would somehow prove my faith, and that would make a difference. It was only the loss of that faith which eventually caused me to give up: I became convinced that god couldn’t hear me. I hadn’t lost my body shame, only the idea that there was anything I could do about it.

Testosterone and mastectomies don’t require a god or magic–just money and a psychologist’s approval. It’s a real thing that you can find out about now without even trying. You can watch hours of videos online as some girls/women sprout beards and their voices are lowered. You can see them pose with fading scars, pectoral muscles now hormonally enlarged and visible in the absence of those hated breasts. You can read all of the accompanying comments supporting her choice and your desire, and you can find a ready-made community to replace the one you lost, to accept and agree with the idea that something is terribly wrong with the way you are now that can be fixed with hormones and surgery. They’ll even tell you how to go about getting them. This is a real thing. But the magical thinking involved is the belief that you can actually change your sex; that you will be indistinguishable from actual males. The unreality of this is easy enough to overlook if you want something bad enough, even if you have no way of knowing what it actually means to be what you want. With “gender reassignment” and T, there’s no need to ever give up hoping for a miracle, because unlike god, the purveyors of gender change are listening very closely. They even advertise, making sure you can hear them. They are waiting for you. They’ve published books to help you, a teen, lay out all of the talking points that will help you convince your parents that you need this “cure.” They’ve made it easy.

As it was, as a teen, I had nothing of the sort. Oh, I’d heard of “sex change” operations, and for awhile clung to the idea of one as I tried to maintain that possibility, but the reality was that they were still really rare and impossible for someone so young and with no money, and there was no question that my family would not approve. As a result, I was forced to face reality. I was female, and I had to accept that and do what it took to learn to navigate the world as such.

One of the interesting things that happens when someone wants something badly is that they begin to fantasize about having it. They imagine themselves in possession of their want and it gives them pleasure, the fantasy itself becoming the reward. Unfortunately, reality is not changed and it often seems even worse or even less real when compared to what has been imagined. For myself, I know that the more I visualized myself as a boy, the worse I felt about who I actually was. The more I saw myself as being what I wanted, the more that want took on the characteristics of a need, something that I had to have; that I could not live without. I was wrong, of course, but had “gender reassignment” existed back then, it would have served as the material manifestation of that need –the promise of a wish fulfilled, that which god would not grant me. There would have been no reason for me to resolve the conflict that I had with my body. The time and experience I had which allowed me to come to terms with my sex would have been spent instead on fueling the same fantasy which had intensified my previous despair: my fantasy visualization would have prolonged my rejection of my body, and the degree of my dysphoria and dysmorphia would have increased.

As it was, I went through an intensely lonely and depressing time, but at some point, after about a year I guess, one of the girls in my class decided to befriend me. To be honest, I think it was because she felt sorry for me, but really, I didn’t care why. What mattered is that through her I gained entry into her circle of friends and my isolation ended. It would, of course, be convenient to slap some happy ending on the story and tell you that all was happily ever after from that point, but I think that kind of thing only happens in made-for-TV movies. I was still a teenager, with adolescent mood swings and depression, and I still was not one with my body. I had my issues, and so did my new friends. We were all pretty messed up, but at least we were messed up together.

In retrospect, I think it’s highly likely that I would have been dragged irretrievably into the world of crime and drugs that many of them fell into had my love of sport not provided a diversion from complete immersion into that subculture. Title IX had just been passed the year before, and even my small rural school was forced to provide some girls’ sport teams in order to comply. It wasn’t the football or baseball that I had formerly enjoyed playing with the boys, but basketball provided me with the opportunity to develop and prove my strength and my skill in a way that as a girl I had been denied. Not only did the physical activity help me gain a new relationship with my body –which believe me, was a very, very big deal. But for the first time, I was in constant contact with other girls whose strength and ability I admired, and with whom I could develop a sense of camaraderie and teamwork. I think maybe it was the first time I really realized that female was something to be.

The bravest and smartest and strongest people I have known have always been women. I just had to open my eyes to see it.

I am not “trans.” I never was “trans.” I was a girl, a female who’s grown up in a culture that makes us feel like less because of our sex. It is a world that teaches us that our opinions are not valued, that our knowledge is incomplete, that we are weak and that we are never safe if we go out alone. It is a place where we’re made to feel that merely being female is an invitation to men to do what they will despite our objections. To be female in this age and this place is to be convinced that the more we mature, the more limited our options become, and it is this belief we must resist, not our sexed bodies.

For myself, I was lucky. I managed to arrive at maturity at a time when women were actively fighting to shatter these myths and I was able to hear their voices over the constant murmurings of those who had and would define me by my use to them. These women were not popular then—they were mocked and reviled just as women are now, but they would not be silenced. Their words let me know that I had truly never wanted to be a boy, but rather that I didn’t want the limitations that were being forced on me as a girl. I was–we all are–more than our culture tells us we can be, and ultimately, there’s nothing wrong with your body that the truth cannot cure.

If you can manage to listen to the voices of the strong women who came before you, voices that are currently being drowned out by the popular trans-narrative, you may just hear them, too.

UK pediatric transition referrals DOUBLE in SIX months, girls far outnumber boys, many under 10 years old

Scanning through my Twitter feed this morning, I nearly scrolled past this little news item tweeted by the Guardian:

According to a freedom of information response obtained by the Guardian, the number of children referred to the Tavistock has jumped from 314 referrals in 2012-13 to 697 referrals in 2014-15. In the last six months the service has seen a further increase in referrals with 634 children referred between April and September.

Children? LITTLE children:

Many of the referrals – 151 from 2012-13 to 2014-15 – relate to children under the age of 10, including one three-year-old and 12 four-year-olds.

Yesterday, I posted about a very recent research survey conducted by members of the Dutch team of clinicians who pioneered pediatric medical transition. They found that, worldwide, there is a growing sense of unease amongst clinicians working in child gender clinics. It is widely acknowledged that there is no long-term research to support the current medical paradigm for “treating” children with gender dysphoria–to the point that some providers are even forming “moral deliberation” groups to “rethink” aspects of the pediatric “treatment” protocol.

Does the Guardian article hint at any such doubts? To be fair, the director of London’s Tavistock clinic, Polly Carmichael, does hint:

“The increase is challenging,” Carmichael said. “We are keen to provide space for young people to fully explore their options and find their own way forward. It is a very complicated issue.”

If Guardian reporters would bother to read the 17-clinic survey study, they might be able to expand a bit more on some of these “complicated issues.” Oh wait, they do–in one paragraph, written in the passive voice, accompanied by a glamorous photo of Laverne Cox:

Increased media interest, the proliferation of social media where children and young people can discuss gender identity issues, and the prevalence of trans figures in popular culture such as Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox, is thought to be part of the reason why there has been such a significant increase in these referrals.

“Thought to be”–it is thought by whom?  Couldn’t you find anyone to go on the record to say this publicly? And just how ironic is it that this reporter touches on “increased media interest” without even a phrase devoted to her OWN role, in this very article, in promoting the media circus.

But never mind, because the rest of the article makes clear that the real issue is how important it is to serve all these kids and parents who are demanding transition services.

The Tavistock and Portman NHS trust gender identity development service in London has said that attempting to meet the demand from children seeking their services has put them under huge pressure…

A spokeswoman for the Tavistock said: “Gender expression is diversifying”, adding that it was important for young people to explore and develop their own path.

Let’s see: Should some of those kids with their “diversifying” identities perhaps just be advised to be comfortable in their own bodies?  Is it the duty of the NHS to be “candy sellers” (to quote the wise ethicist in the Journal of Adolescent Health survey) vs. raising a few questions with primary-school children and their doting parents? If question-raising or encouraging other, less extreme options is part of what “support from specialist services” means, it is certainly not stated in this article.

Instead, we get to hear from none other than Jay Stewart, of “Gendered Intelligence,” that NGO which has been teaching preschoolers to obsess about gender for the last 7 years.

Jay Stewart, director of Gendered Intelligence, an NGO that promotes greater understanding of gender diversity, said there are now more than 50 gender options on Facebook rather than the traditional two.

Tail wagging the dog much? Kid signs up for an account on Facebook. Kid has 50 “identity” options to choose from. Hm, kid ponders. Guess this gender thing is really something I need to worry about.  Guess I need to decide whether my body is some alien appendage attached to my all-knowing, gender-generating mind. Because I can’t possibly actually BE my healthy, evolution-crafted body, can I? I am only my ideas, my notions–one of the “identities” Facebook helpfully cooked up with the help of trans-identified employees.

This is the tip of the iceberg of what gender identity is going to look like in the future,” [Stewart] said. “Young people have a very sophisticated understanding of gender yet the world is lagging behind. There is poor understanding of these issues and a lot of hostility and discrimination. Everyone’s gender identity and journey is unique and the numbers of children and young people wishing to transition are going to keep going up and up.”

If it wasn’t clear from other statements Stewart has made publicly, this paragraph crystallizes the matter. “Gendered Intelligence” is not in the business of helping children (with their “sophisticated understanding”) feel positively about who they are. Stewart isn’t teaching 4-year-olds to break gender stereotypes. Right here in black and white, we see that children “wishing to transition” is what those drug-company-taxpayer-funded “lessons” are all about. Because the word “transition” means only one thing: rejecting the sex you are to become one you aren’t.  And as we know from the story reported a couple of days ago, granting childish wishes is what Stewart and his minions are all about:

It’s so important to be teaching children in schools that they can be anything that they want regardless of the gender that they have been given at birth.

Seems Jay Stewart might as well be appointed as a government minister in the UK. Yesterday’s Guardian also featured Stewart as the key advocate for what sounds like soon-to-be-implemented governmental oversight of social media for UK residents who use Twitter, Facebook, or other online networking sites:

Jay Stewart, the director of Gendered Intelligence, a transgender youth group, agreed that more needed to be done about transphobic abuse online…

…“There needs to be more regulation. If people behaved like that in a school or at work it would be dealt with.

Dealt with how? Jail terms? Firings?

“People also think that being trans has something to do with child abuse or they obsess over gender reassignment surgery. All of this comes down to an educational issue and the government can do more here,” Stewart said.

Seems like the government is doing quite enough, paying for Gendered Intelligence to propagandize children in the UK schools, and providing free-at-point-of-service medical transition. But hey, a new Ministry of Thought Police would give taxpayers more bang for their buck, with Stewart at the helm.

Returning to today’s Guardian piece, what about the surge in girls “wishing” to transition, a trend that is being noticed around the world?

According to the Tavistock figures, more girls want to become boys (893) than boys want to become girls (579). Carmichael said the larger number of girls was likely to have a complex explanation. “It might be to do with increased confidence in natal females coming forward but there are lots of unknowns. But we’ve seen a large rise in natal females coming forward, which deserves fuller exploration,” he said.

At least this spokesman thinks the issue “deserves fuller exploration.” But the Guardian reporters aren’t going to do that exploration, now are they? ARE they?

Because, right. It’s just that girls who hate their bodies are feeling more “confident.” Confident of what? Certainly not that it’s perfectly ok to be a “gender nonconforming” female without spending the rest of your life injecting testosterone, undergoing surgery after surgery, and, oh, maybe regretting the kids you never got to have because your parents and people like Jay Stewart–and the “charity” Mermaids–thought it was a brilliant idea to sterilize you instead of allowing you to go through natural puberty.

The charity Mermaids, which provides support to children and families on the issue of gender transition, says children who want to transition can be given gender hormone blockers to prevent the onset of puberty followed by cross-sex hormones. The former are reversible but the latter are less reversible. Currently cross-sex hormones are available from the age of 16 on the NHS.

Signal boost, parents and teens! Just letting you know to come-and-get your free-at-the-point-of-service testosterone when you turn 16! But cross-sex hormones are “less” reversible. That’s a pretty wishy-washy way of saying that your beard, deep voice, and a host of other things that haven’t even been researched are going to be permanent changes. Oh, and then there’s that pesky little problem I keep harping about: that when you follow blockers by cross-sex hormones (as casually mentioned in the paragraph above) you won’t be able to have any kids of your own. But you couldn’t have mentioned that, could you, Diane Taylor, the author of this piece, with your “particular interest” in “human rights”? How about the human right of not being proactively sterilized and permanently altered when you’re too damn young to understand what you’re doing?

Susie Green, the chair of Mermaids, said:“Our children are being failed on a daily basis … There is a crisis. NHS primary care services often don’t understand what is going on with these children and can be dismissive and say, ‘This is just a phase they’re going through.’

Mother's Day card offered for sale by

Mother’s Day card offered for sale by “Mermaids” on their website

Except that the people who know the most about these issues, including the Dutch clinicians who started this whole pediatric transition thing, say, over and over again, that most prepubescent children ARE usually just “going through a phase.

Parents, family members, reporters-with-a-conscience, child development specialists: Are you going to let this continue? Are you going to let the media just go on racing ahead with its propaganda, while the rate of children who “wish” to “transition” doubles, triples, quadruples–how many is too many?

And in case it isn’t painfully clear, you bet I am writing this post in anger this morning. When even some of the people who administer these “treatments,” who are profiting from them, are expressing doubts, but the lazy mainstream (and even the supposedly “feminist” media) continues to behave as de facto propaganda organs for adult trans activists, it’s hard not to become infuriated.

I keep thinking I’m past outrage. But the blood pounding in my ears right now tells me I’m nowhere near Peak Trans.

Abandoning the Ship of Woman: Guest post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stories from the 80%

by dot

Part 1: Tomboy

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

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

Part 2: Dissociation

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

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

Part 3: Not like the other girls

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

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

Part 4: Liberal feminism and its natural conclusions

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

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

Part 5: Relief

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

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

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

But there is a moral imperative to resist this.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Part 6: Epilogue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  
Dissociative tendencies: Young women and “otherkin”

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

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

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

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

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

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

bogart meme
​​

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Internalized misogyny and the trap of the white feminist demon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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