“Reportable trauma”? US gender docs “train” judges & call CPS on balking parents

The meteoric rise in kids diagnosed as transgender in the last five years has caught many parents by surprise. Gender specialists, trans activists, and their media handmaidens explain this accelerating trend as simply the welcome result of society becoming more accepting of trans people; a continuation of the tolerance that ushered in same-sex marriage. Indeed, activist-clinicians are quick to claim equivalence between trans and being gay or lesbian, despite their fundamental differences.

For one thing, lesbians and gay men ask only to be accepted for who they love, while we are asked to believe that being “authentic” as trans may require us to approve drastic medical interventions–for our own kids. And no mental gymnastics are necessary for parents to see with their own eyes when a daughter or son is homosexual. But a sudden pronouncement by one’s kid that they are really the opposite sex requires a suspension of disbelief; a demand to ignore one’s own insight, perception, and knowledge in order to “validate” the “identity” of our kids.

Despite the insistence that hormones and surgeries are “life-saving” medical necessities, the push is on to “depathologize” trans identity as a “normal human variation.” Yet nearly to a one, the parents who have gathered on- and offline as part of the 4thWaveNow community report a history of mental illness, social difficulties, frequently multiple diagnoses that predate the sudden announcement “I’m trans!” Indeed, a cursory hunt through decades of medical and psychological literature reveals that gender dysphoria occurs with troubling frequency in concert with a range of other mental disturbances, including personality disorders, depression, anxiety, and autism. To take but one example, this 2003 survey of nearly 200 Dutch psychiatrists found that a large majority of people with gender dysphoria had comorbid psychiatric problems.

2003-dutch-psychiatrist-survey-mental-illness

What has actually changed since 2003, apart from trans activism overruling sensible debate and clinical experience?

Given the experience of so many parents, corroborated by research evidence and clinical experience around the world, is it any wonder parents might balk at the idea that their (often troubled) tween or teen needs immediate “affirmation” and “validation” of their trans ID—complete with puberty blockers and/or cross-sex hormones?

But in 2017, at least in the US, pediatric gender specialists see co-occurring mental illness as no barrier to prescribing puberty blockers or cross sex hormones–even in the case of obviously troubled young people who have undergone multiple psychiatric hospitalizations. To these gender clinicians, puberty blockers are absolutely vital—even when the psychiatric team isn’t on board. (And even, apparently, when new information has come to light about the serious adverse effects of Lupron on children and adults.)

The inaugural conference of USPATH, the newly formed offshoot of WPATH, was held the first weekend of February in Los Angeles. At a session entitled “PUBERTY SUPPRESSION IN THE UNITED STATES; PRACTICE MODELS, LESSONS LEARNED, AND UNANSWERED QUESTIONS,” gender doctor Michelle Forcier presented a case study of a young teen “K.” who had been seen in Forcier’s gender clinic. K., born female, had been hospitalized multiple times for suicidality, cutting, an eating disorder, and other self harm. K’s mother was reluctant to use a male name and pronouns, and was not initially willing to consent to Lupron.

During one of K’s months-long hospitalizations, Forcier pushed for the child to start blockers, despite the fact that the psychiatric team caring for K. was not in agreement, but was intent on medically stabilizing the child before contemplating other interventions.

After the child was released from hospital, the mother eventually consented to puberty blockers; the child was hospitalized again a few weeks after the Lupron injection. In her presentation, Forcier said that the time spent without blockers was one of many “missed opportunities;” she used the case as an example of how psychiatrists need to be better “educated.”

This notion that “gender care” (Forcier’s term) is the curative elixir, the pharmacological key to solving a whole host of other psychiatric issues, is a common refrain with US gender specialists. Parental reluctance to go along with this recommendation is viewed with, at best, condescension, and at worst, bald contempt. Do these providers stop for an instant to think maybe, just maybe, these parents have some wisdom regarding their own kids, whom they have raised and loved from birth? Nope.

Even young people who identify as “nonbinary” are encouraged if they choose hormones—or even surgeries. The USPATH conference devoted plenty of time to medical interventions for youth who want to dabble in irreversible chemical or surgical interventions:

Balking parents must be “educated”, cajoled into going against their deepest protective instincts. If this indoctrination process doesn’t work, there’s the frequent threat your kid will kill themselves because of your hesitations. This weaponization of adult self-harm statistics is wielded by activists, clinicians, and the media alike, to terrorize parents into handing their offspring off to be drugged, sterilized, and (increasingly) surgically “corrected” by therapists and doctors who are confident they know best when it comes to other people’s children.

Never mind that there is scant evidence that medical transition cures self harm in the long run; never mind that the constantly quoted 41% trans suicide attempt rate didn’t control for mental illness (a flaw readily admitted by the survey authors). Never mind that the 41% survey was of adults over 18, not kids. Never mind that there is no prior historical evidence of “trans kids” so desperate to escape their “wrong” bodies that they become suicidal; never mind that the highly publicized clusters of transgender teen suicides have mostly been young people who were supported in their desire to transition. Never mind that no one is studying the mental health of formerly trans-identified youth who were fully supported in gender nonconformity but not endorsed as being in the “wrong body.”  And never mind that only mentally ill people see suicide as a solution to life’s frustrations.  (As an analogy, the suicide rate for white Americans is much higher than for other ethnic groups, who by any measure face more discrimination and difficulties, yet manage to maintain more psychological resilience.)

But none of this stops irresponsible journalists and activists from spreading suicide contagion to vulnerable gender-confused youth.

dead-daughter

When it comes to coercing parents, the suicide trump card usually works. The daily onslaught of celebratory “trans kid” stories often includes a statement by a parent that they’d “rather have a live son than a dead daughter” (or vice versa).  Not surprisingly, scaring parents with their worst possible nightmare has been quite effective in many cases (including that of Ryland, one of the better known celebrity trans kids).

Hillary Googled the word “transgender” and came across a horrifying statistic: 41% of transgender Americans attempt suicide.

“This made things very clear to me,” says Hillary. “Did I want a living son or a dead daughter? I wasn’t going to take the risk by waiting around and doing nothing.”

So Hillary and Jeff spoke to psychologists, psychiatrists and gender therapists, who all reached the same conclusion: Ryland is transgender. As Hillary describes it, “Although Ryland was born with the anatomy of a girl, her brain identifies with that of a boy.”

That day, Hillary and Jeff – both churchgoing Christians who were raised in conservative families – made a vow: to bring up Ryland as a boy, without any strings attached.

Not only do the people most invested in medically transitioning children push suicide or transition as the only two alternatives; they are not shy about blaming the parents themselves for the child’s self harming behaviors.

judge-order-hormones-remove-child-from-house

Towards the end of a USPATH session, ADDRESSING SUICIDALITY IN TRANSGENDER YOUTH: A MULTI-DIMENSIONAL APPROACH, presenters Elizabeth Burke, Matthew Oransky,  and Sarah McGrew touched on what to do about parents who weren’t on board with “gender care.”­­

And the final piece on suicidality is family non-acceptance. This is where you have a family who is saying, no, no, no…and then you realize that actually the family is contributing to some of that negativity at home. So the family is creating a toxic environment. And that’s where we have let the young person know the potential ramifications of calling DHS and saying that this is an unsafe environment.  And that we’ve given the family every chance. To learn, to grow. And they’re continuing to be part of the problem. So thankfully this was an important time when I realized it was worthwhile in starting the clinic at children’s hospital to have lots of meetings with the lawyers in  risk management. To be able to say, “alright. I have the ethicist, I have the lawyer, I have the guru from risk management, I’m gonna sit down and say, I need to describe a case to you and make sure this is actually parents being negligent in the healthcare needs of their child.

Thankfully we’ve had a lot of support in that realm.  Because of the trainings we’ve done with DHS workers in Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. DHS workers will go and say you’re creating an unsafe environment for your child.  And we need to have that stop.…unfortunately staying in that home environment is going to result in a child’s suicide.

So we see that gender specialists and activists are being proactive about going after parents who are saying “no no no” to the dictate that they must “affirm” their child as the opposite sex. They are “training” child protective services workers to pressure parents into “gender care”—or risk losing custody of their sons and daughters.

This isn’t a brand-new strategy. For example, at least as far back as June 2015, Jenn Burleton, an MTF and director of TransActive Gender Center, put out a call for attorneys to intervene in custody disputes involving “trans kids”, to enthusiastic responses on Burleton’s Facebook page.

Asaf Orr, for those who don’t know, is the lead staff attorney for the inaccurately named “National Center for Lesbian Rights” (NCLR). Given the fact that an increasingly large number of same-sex attracted adolescent girls are being transitioned, it’s hard to imagine any organization straying further from its mission than NCLR.

Regular readers of 4thWaveNow know that Burleton has been in the business of sneaking behind the backs of “unsupportive” parents with TransActive’s “In a Bind” free binder distribution program. Previously offered to young women 22 and under, the program now only sends binders to 18 and unders—secretly, if need be, subverting the will of parents who might have concerns about the unhealthy effects on their daughters: crushing pubescent breast tissue, bruising ribs, breathing and musculoskeletal problems, and more.

The topic of bending reluctant parents to the will of gender experts is a popular one for WPATH. In mid-February, we find some familiar people scheming away about what to do about parents who won’t give in, again including Jenn Burleton, who has had “some success” in convincing authorities that a parent’s unwillingness to approve hormones for their minor children is a form of “reportable trauma.”

At the February USPATH conference, Drs. Johanna Olson-Kennedy and Michelle Forcier, during the Q&A portion of their aforementioned talk on puberty suppression, tell their audience that they’re not afraid to involve the courts when they must to “bring along” the “recalcitrant” parents.  One questioner, a psychologist who runs a gender clinic, wants to know whether there is a way to legally “force parents” to go along with the recommendations of a gender therapist to administer puberty blockers.

OLSON-KENNEDY: I can say that the stickiest situations I’ve had is where one parent is supportive and one isn’t and they share medical custody. And so we work really hard to bring both parents in and bring them both on board. Because even if you get a court order, the most protective factor for a good outcome is parental support.  So it’s not my first line to go to court to get somebody what they need.  But it is my second line and I will do it.  We’ve been pretty successful in 5 or 6 situations where…we really had a recalcitrant parent that we just could not bring along.

For her part, Forcier says her team has been busy training family court judges in her region:

FORCIER: Yeah, there’s no precedent but you can again work with the child protection team for medical neglect. Work with one parent…at least to get things started. And again, you can do some education. We did education with judges in Rhode Island. We spent a half day with family court judges, telling them this is what gender and transgender is

So there we have it. Activists/clinicians aren’t content to simply “educate,” cajole, or negotiate with parents. If parents aren’t terrorized into medically transitioning their kids by the relentless scolding that the only alternative is suicide, these people are perfectly willing to call the authorities on you; even to try to take your children away from you. And woe betide you if you’re a divorced or divorcing parent trying to put the brakes on hormones or surgeries for your minor child. The likes of Asaf Orr and other assorted attorneys assembled by adult trans activists will intervene in your custody dispute. (How ironic is it that an organization purporting to protect lesbian rights can be instrumental in forcing parents of lesbian teens to “transition” them to the opposite sex?).

Lest we simply dismiss all this as a form of mind-numbing hubris from people who should mind their own business, this excerpt from a letter written by four activist MtoFs in 2004 as part of a campaign to discredit sexologist Michael Bailey, might shed some light on the motivations of key activists who have been at the forefront of the pediatric transition explosion.

We are socially assimilated trans women who are mentors to many young transsexuals in transition. Unable to bear children of our own, the girls we mentor become like children to us. These young women depend on us for guidance during the difficult period of transition and then on during their adventures afterwards – dating, careers, marriages and sometimes adoption of their own children. As a result, we have large extended families and are blessed by these relationships. …

You may have wondered why hundreds of successful, assimilated trans women like us, women from all across the country, are being so persistent in investigating Mr. Bailey and in uncovering and reporting his misdeeds. Now you have your answer: We are hundreds of loving moms whose children he is tormenting!

So some trans activists fancy themselves the “loving moms” of (our) trans-identified kids, young people they consider their “extended family.” Not content to fight for their own rights to non-discrimination in housing and employment, activists like these were and still are the driving force behind the proliferation of pediatric gender clinics and activist organizations that have sprung up like mushrooms across the Western world in the last decade.

As should be clear from the examples in this post (representing only the tip of the iceberg), certain trans activists and gender clinicians will stop at nothing to force their will on parents who resist the affirm-only, puberty-blocking, sterilizing doctrine of pediatric medical transition. Rather than demonstrating a willingness to learn; rather than having the humility to consider that parents just might have a better handle on who their children are and what they need than a group of professionals beholden to an activist juggernaut, gender doctors and trans activists like Jenn Burleton may well try to take your children away from you.

What can be done? If you believe a gender specialist, psychologist, or doctor has rushed to “affirm” your troubled child as “trans”; if you believe someone entrusted with your child’s care has not adequately explored your child’s mental health and other underlying issues which may be contributing to their gender confusion, report them to their professional organizations and regulating boards.

Lobotomy: The rise and fall of a miracle cure

Overwhelmed is the mother of a daughter who previously identified as transgender. Her daughter is now comfortable being female.  Overwhelmed can be found on Twitter: @LavenderVerse


by Overwhelmed

If you look back at history, some appalling medical treatments were once uncritically accepted.  Of course, hindsight is 20/20. It’s easy to critique from the future, now that we know better. But in the thick of it, members of the public don’t know better. They rely on medical professionals to guide them. And things can get out of hand when doctors promote bad science, the press sensationally markets it as a miracle cure, and the medical establishment stays silent.

Prefrontal lobotomies were performed in the 1930s to 70s, but were especially prevalent in the late 1940s to early 50s. The procedure was popular in many countries, racking up a significant number of patients:

 In the United States, approximately 40,000 people were lobotomized. In Great Britain, 17,000 lobotomies were performed, and the three Nordic countries of Finland, Norway, and Sweden had a combined figure of approximately 9,300 lobotomies.  …In Denmark, there were 4,500 known lobotomies, mainly young women, as well as children with learning difficulties. In Japan, the majority of lobotomies were performed on children with behavior problems. The Soviet Union banned the practice in 1950 on moral grounds, and Japan and Germany soon followed suit.

In the United States, the lobotomy pioneer and leading practitioner was Dr. Walter Freeman, a neurologist based in Washington, D.C. His story is featured in the hour-long 2008 PBS documentary, “The Lobotomist,” which I will quote from throughout this blog post. Here is the full transcript of the program.

freeman

Freeman believed that mental illnesses were caused by physical defects in the brain. In the spring of 1936 he came across a study conducted by Egas Moniz, a Portuguese neurologist, who took small corings from the brains of 20 patients with anxiety, depression and schizophrenia. Moniz claimed that the procedure eliminated symptoms in a third of them

Freeman built on the work of Moniz. He thought that disrupting the connections in the brain’s frontal lobes would bring patients relief from intense emotions and reset their personalities. Freeman didn’t have a license to perform surgery so he hired neurosurgeon James Watts. Later in 1936, Watts, under the direction of Freeman, performed their first lobotomy. He made incisions on the patient’s head, drilled holes through the skull, inserted a small spatula-like instrument into the brain and sliced through neural fibers connecting the frontal lobes to the thalamus.

Narrator: Four hours later, Alice Hammatt, the first patient to receive a lobotomy in the United States, opened her eyes. “Her face presented a placid expression,” Freeman noted, “By evening she was quite alert, manifested no anxiety or apprehension.” Excited by their results, Freeman and Watts began to do more lobotomies, acquiring patients from Freeman’s private practice.

After just a dozen operations, Freeman was ready to declare the lobotomy a success. He was confident in the procedure even if some patients relapsed (which prompted second, and sometimes third, operations). And even if there were some troubling side effects.

Edward Shorter, Medical Historian: Freeman’s definition of success is that the patients are no longer agitated. That doesn’t mean that you’re cured, that means they could be discharged from the asylum, but they were incapable of carrying on normal social life. They were usually demobilized and lacking in energy. And they were that on a permanent basis.

 Eventually Freeman sought an easier, quicker way to lobotomize patients. By 1946 he devised a new method to access the brain using simple tools—an ice pick and hammer. (The first ice pick was actually taken from Freeman’s kitchen drawer. But modifications were made over time. The tip on earlier versions occasionally broke during the procedure.)

lobotomy-instrumentAndrew Scull, Professor of Sociology: Freeman would peel back each eyelid, insert his ice pick and with a hammer tap through the brain, wiggle it about, sever the frontal lobes, withdraw it. And when the patient came to, he or she would be given dark glasses to hide the black eyes they’d been given.

 Freeman did the procedures himself, sometimes in his office. It took only a matter of minutes. He did not require an operating room and the equipment was portable, which made it convenient for travelling to mental asylums. (It was at this point that Freeman and Watts—who had grave concerns about the “ice pick” lobotomy being performed by those without formal surgical training—parted ways.)

lobotomy-eyeball

Initially Freeman’s procedure was heralded in the press as a miracle cure and correspondingly there was a rise in patients receiving lobotomies. But after the advent of antipsychotic medications and the poor outcomes noted in the first clinical trials, the procedure was recognized as barbaric and Freeman himself downgraded in the public eye to a charlatan. The history of medical fads (lobotomy being only one of them) tells us that pioneering doctors, and the medical establishment that embraces them, can fail in their duty to “Do No Harm.” That people, even those possessing medical degrees, are imperfect and can champion poor science.

Back in 1987, Dr. Valenstein (at the time a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Michigan), reminded attendees at a science meeting that it was important to remember the history of the lobotomy. He warned that ”all the major factors that shaped its development are still with us today.”


valenstein

A few years ago, I believed that drastic treatments like the lobotomy could never again gain widespread acceptance. But I was wrong. It was quite a shock to realize how enthusiastic professionals were to medically transition young people like my daughter.

At initial glance, it may appear that lobotomies (which target assumed defects of the brain) and the medical transition of gender dysphoric children (which target assumed defects of the body) have little in common. But if you look past which body parts are “corrected,” you see that both are psychological conditions which were/are being treated by drastic, irreversible medical interventions. There are a number of parallels I’ll discuss in this post.

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Both lobotomies and now the medical transitioning of young people were/are more easily accepted because of the environment in which they originated. A sense of hopelessness paired with yearning for a cure leads people to take chances they wouldn’t normally.

In the 1930s, anti-psychotic drugs weren’t yet invented. People suffering from severe mental illness were warehoused in overcrowded, underfunded mental asylums. The conditions were horrible. No one knew how to help these patients. Some were tied-up on benches. Others lay naked on the floor. Feces were sometimes smeared on the walls. And conditions became further strained with the return of shell-shocked World War II veterans. There was a huge impetus to find treatments to alleviate their symptoms and allow them to go home to their families. When lobotomies were introduced and touted as a cure, many chose to have loved ones undergo the procedure, rather than admit them to one of these terrible mental asylums– like the one exposed in this newspaper story:

pottstown

According to his son, Freeman felt justified in performing lobotomies because eliminating a patient’s intense suffering (and the associated high suicide rate) outweighed the loss of intellect and personality:

Walter Freeman III, son: …suffering the demons of mental illness. And he was trying to cure them of that, and the fact that they might turn into, let’s say, fat slobs afterwards was a small price to pay for the relief from this intense mental anguish. He pointed out repeatedly a very high rate of suicide of these individuals that they can’t stand this mental pain and he was helping them.

Currently, whenever a transgender-identifying child is discussed in the media, without fail a high suicide attempt rate is mentioned. It is implied by gender specialists that children will die unless fully “supported” in their chosen gender identities. We are told that proper pronouns, new clothes, a binder, puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, mastectomies and genital surgeries may be necessary just to keep them alive.

This is just one of many examples found in today’s media coverage of trans-identifying children:

Neal found a therapist who told her and her husband to fully embrace Trinity’s female identity. She said that the therapist also gave strikingly blunt advice.

“She said, ‘Your daughter already knows who she is. Now you have to decide. Do you want a happy little girl or a dead little boy?'”

Gender specialists and trans activists continually scare parents with high suicide attempt statistics from a flawed survey study which did not ask whether suicide attempts occurred before or after transition; nor were co-occurring mental health problems controlled for in the study. Many highly publicized suicides of trans-identifying teens were young people who had been fully supported in their transitions by family, friends, and professionals (this phenomenon was discussed in this post, along with the risk of suicide contagion in vulnerable youth). One long-term study has shown that suicide rates, compared to those of the general population, are significantly higher in those who have medically transitioned.

If parents exclusively rely on distorted statistics or frank misinformation, it’s not surprising they would choose to medically transition their child. Nothing is worse than the prospect of losing a child to suicide.

 Someone other than the patient authorized/s treatment.

 During the lobotomy craze, many patients were not able to consent to the procedure themselves. Parents, spouses, and siblings were then called upon to make the decision. Many opted to have their loved ones lobotomized based upon a mental health professional’s recommendation. Some felt they were misled.

“I got the impression that it was no more serious than having a tooth extracted.”

There were family members who profoundly regretted their decision.

…her father opened up about the regret he felt about allowing the VA to lobotomize his brother. “The guilt came from the realization that it wasn’t as great as it was supposed to be and that he wasn’t able to be independent,” says Ms. Malzahn. “They thought it would make things all better, and it didn’t. In some ways, it made it worse.”

Currently, parents are responsible for approval of medical interventions for their under 18 year-old gender dysphoric children (although in Oregon it’s possible for 15 year-olds to get double mastectomies or other surgeries without parental consent). Based on media coverage, it appears quite a few children are undergoing gender-affirming treatment with parent approval.

A parent’s choice of what direction to take is highly influenced by the information sources they rely upon. Many gender specialists (and the media) paint a pretty rosy picture of what life can be like for gender dysphoric children if they are affirmed in their gender identity and given body-altering treatments so they can pass as the opposite sex. But this is an optimistic belief, based on opinion and anecdote, not solid evidence. Particularly since there is no media coverage of what life is like for those gender dysphoric children who are fully supported in being “gender nonconforming” but not endorsed in the idea that they are “really” the opposite sex.

Highly variable results.

Lobotomy outcomes were all over the map, which isn’t surprising if you consider the procedure itself was not exactly replicable. It was literally a “stab in the dark.” And Dr. Freeman’s patients—ranging from severely mentally ill adults to misbehaving children—had a wide variety of symptoms pre-treatment. Some suffered from a transient problem, which may have resolved by itself.

According to a Wall Street Journal article, lobotomy outcomes generally could be divided into three categories:

Drs. Freeman and Watts considered about one-third of their operations successes in which the patient was able to lead a “productive life,” Dr. Freeman’s son says. Another third were able to return home but not support themselves. The final third were “failures,” according to Dr. Watts.

Before and after lobotomy pictures (Case 121, 1942). Before: “Forever fighting…the meanest woman.” After: “She giggles a lot.”

lobotomy-before-and-after

 But the patients with successful outcomes still had concerning side effects. They often lost their ambition and weren’t able to make judgments or function well socially. Most were significantly changed, never to be the same person again.

A fellow 4thWaveNow parent, SunMum, shared this memory with me for this post:

It struck me a long time ago that my horror of surgical intervention for mental problems probably dates from my memory of seeing my mother’s best friend who had had a lobotomy. It was one of the tragedies of my mother’s life. She told me that her friend had been ‘brilliant and beautiful’. They were both unusual as female students at the London School of Economics in the 1930s. The friend had a breakdown after her husband left her for another woman. As her next of kin, it was the husband who gave permission for the lobotomy. The friend would come to London at Christmas and stay in a hotel. We would meet her for tea. She was capable of flat small talk but nothing else. She did not show any feeling.

 A few patients were fortunate enough to have no noticeable side effects. For them, having a lobotomy appeared to bring great relief. But these patients were relatively rare.

A significant number of post-op patients were reduced to a persistent vegetative state. And for others, the operation was fatal.

Narrator: At Cherokee state hospital in Iowa, three of Freeman’s patients died on the operating table, one after Freeman’s ice pick slipped while he was taking a photograph. Without pausing, he packed up and left for his next demonstration.

Statistics from the Veterans Administration (which performed approximately 2,000 lobotomies), kept track of how many died as a result of the procedure:

The VA did try to determine whether the benefits outweighed the risks. And the risks were severe. Overall, 8% of lobotomized veterans died soon after the operation, according to a 1947 document. One hospital reported a 15% fatality rate.

There are a variety of outcomes to medical gender transition as well. Some people say that transitioning is life saving. Some react poorly to cross-sex hormones or have surgical complications. Some decide to de-transition and/or re-identify as their natal sex. And some even die due to medical transition itself (here is an analysis of a 2014 Dutch survey study in which one patient died from complications of surgery).

Treatment based on theories, not solid evidence.

 As the patient caseload of Freeman and Watts grew, they gained confidence in their technique and wanted to share it with colleagues. They presented their findings at a Baltimore medical conference.

Andrew Scull, Professor of Sociology: Freeman got up to announce that they had a new cure for mental illness. This was a very dramatic and highly charged occasion. There were angry interjections from the audience. There were questions. There were attempts to even shout him down.

 Jack El-Hai, Writer: Some of them were simply astonished that he would even try such a thing, and a few were outraged that he would try an untested procedure like this.

 Narrator: Freeman begged his audience for time. It would take months, even years, he argued, to properly evaluate the progress of lobotomy patients. Meanwhile, he promised, lobotomy would remain ‘an operation of last resort.’ But Freeman knew that ultimately it didn’t matter how much other doctors might oppose him; their disapproval would never reach the outside world. 

Elliot S. Valenstein, Professor of Neuroscience: At that time, it was considered unethical to publicly criticize another physician. So people didn’t write critical articles, they may have talked among themselves, they may even have raised critical questions at a meeting. But they did not write anything that would stop him from continuing his work.

Freeman was undeterred by their criticism and plowed ahead, convinced that lobotomies were the best option for treating mental illness. Fellow doctors remained silent. The lobotomy craze was largely unchecked until the mid-1950s.

But even after the medical establishment turned against him and his procedure, Freeman moved to the west coast where he continued performing lobotomies until 1967. And maybe he would have kept operating if his hospital privileges had not been revoked. The hospital took this action only after one of Freeman’s patients died from a brain hemorrhage. (It was her third lobotomy.)

As has been discussed many times on 4thWaveNow, there is a dearth of research that backs up the medical transition of children. The current protocol being used in the United States is based on best guesses, not solid evidence. However, this has not been a barrier for children being treated with puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones, nor has it stopped them from receiving mastectomies, hysterectomies and genital surgeries.

In the United States, the first pediatric gender clinic opened its doors in 2007, and since then many similar clinics have popped up across the country. But it wasn’t until May of 2016, almost a decade later, that an NIH-funded study was launched to record the effects of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones on gender dysphoric youth. The results won’t be published for years; and since the study follows patients for only 5 years, longterm outcomes won’t be know for decades . In the meantime, concerned professionals, for the most part, remain silent and it appears that medical transition of youth is proceeding at an accelerated pace.

The power of the press.

Dr. Freeman used the media as a promotional tool. He often had newspaper journalists and photographers waiting for him at mental asylums.

Narrator: Aware of the power of public relations, Freeman aggressively courted the press. Soon he was receiving glowing reviews in major publications. The Washington Star called lobotomy “One of the greatest surgical innovations of this generation.” The New York Times called it “surgery of the soul,” and declared it “history making.”

 In 1941, the Saturday Evening Post, described how patients felt before and after lobotomies: “A world that once seemed the abode of misery, cruelty and hate is now radiant with sunshine and kindness to them.”

saturday evening post.jpg

Robert Whitaker, Writer: We think of science as having this sober sort of process, something is introduced, it goes to a medical journal, it’s peer-reviewed there. Freeman sort of bypassed that process because he in fact knew he was going to get a lot of resistance and he brings the press into it right from the beginning. And the press — they’re always eager for miracle surgery, it sells papers and so, next thing you know, you start having this story out there, not of damaging the brain, but of plucking madness from the brain, and it’s such a story of progress.

 A 1999 study analyzed popular press coverage of the lobotomy and its potential influence on how quickly acceptance of the procedure spread. The Abstract:

 This study analyzed the content of popular press articles on lobotomy between the years 1935 and 1960. Both a qualitative and quantitative analysis provided evidence that the press initially used uncritical and sensational reporting styles, with the content of articles on lobotomy becoming increasingly negative through time. The initial positive bias occurred despite opposing views in the medical community, which provided a basis for more balanced coverage. These findings support the theory that biased reporting in popular press articles may have been a factor influencing the quick and widespread adoption of lobotomy as a psychiatric treatment.

I don’t know if you caught that, but there were “opposing views in the medical community” that journalists often omitted. In 1941, the American Medical Association issued “a warning about several negative effects on personality including apathy, inappropriate social behavior, and lack of initiative (i.e., the frontal lobe syndrome).”

Also of interest in the study were these statements: “In addition to sensationalizing the positive effects of lobotomy, articles during this time period rarely discussed risks involved in the operation.” and “…in most cases mention of negative side effects was either absent or cursory.”

Currently there are nearly daily examples of trans kid media stories. They tend to be pretty formulaic. From an early age, the child realizes they feel different from their peers. A girl that throws a fit when mom puts her in a dress; a boy that wants to wear a dress. In general, preferences in clothes, toys and haircuts are used to validate that they are transgender. The child (or parent) finds out about transgender through the internet, on the radio or television and latches tightly onto that explanation. They either want to avoid the “wrong puberty” (which brings puberty blockers into the discussion) or have struggled through puberty and want to correct their bodies with cross-sex hormones and surgeries. Parents sometimes admit that they didn’t immediately believe their child was transgender. But when they learn of the suicide statistics, then they get on board. To drive the point home, the article quotes a gender doctor or therapist, a purported expert in the field, who states unproven theories as if they were settled science.

There are in fact opposing views in the medical community; views based on years of experience and research in gender identity clinics. But reporters who churn out the celebratory articles about “trans kids” rarely mention contrary views, nor do they ask any inconvenient questions of the parents who unquestioningly “affirm” their offspring. Recently, troubling new questions have been raised about Lupron, a GnRh agonist, but the reporter covering that controversy omitted the fact that Lupron is the drug used most commonly (off label) to block puberty in “trans” kids. With few exceptions, journalists focus on the feel-good aspect of the child being accepted as the opposite sex, a triumph over adversity. Not much time (if any) is spent discussing the significant risks associated with medical transition. Biased media coverage like this is likely contributing to the rapid increase in children presenting to gender clinics.

Embraced by the medical community.

 Initially many of Dr. Freeman’s fellow doctors were reluctant to embrace the lobotomy as an acceptable treatment, but that soon changed. Thanks to favorable newspaper articles, Freeman became somewhat of a celebrity. The public believed that he had found a miracle cure. His services were sought after.

Additionally, state-funded mental asylums were overcrowded and seriously underfunded, some so financially strapped that they were on the verge of closing. Freeman began travelling to these institutions, promoting lobotomies as a cost-cutting measure. The more patients that were discharged, the greater the savings. The procedure was seen as a godsend by many overworked asylum doctors and administrators.

Freeman aggressively championed his cause, even convincing the federal government via the Veterans Administration to perform lobotomies on veterans.

In 1948 Freeman was elected president of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. In 1949 Egas Moniz, whose work inspired Freeman’s procedure, was awarded a Nobel Prize for psychosurgery. (He was nominated by Freeman.) The lobotomy gained further credibility.

Narrator: By decade’s end lobotomy had won the acceptance of mainstream medicine. Lobotomies were being performed at Johns Hopkins, Mass General Hospital, the Mayo Clinic, and other elite medical institutions.

Currently, there appears to be widespread acceptance of medical interventions for gender dysphoric youth. Clinics all across the country, many of which are part of elite Children’s Hospitals, are providing gender care for kids. It is becoming more common to obtain insurance coverage for puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and surgeries. And laws  have been passed in some states that forbid therapists from trying to change children’s gender identities. Many mental health professionals seem to believe their duty is to simply affirm children’s gender identities, not to explore why there is a mind-body disconnect.

Lambda Legal has a handy list of organizations (last revised in 2012) that declare support for transgender people in health care. Here are AMA and APA statements:

 

Expanding the patient base.

Dr. Freeman barnstormed mental asylums, operating on many patients in each location. He was frequently gloveless, mask-less and sometimes sleeveless. Once he performed 25 transorbital lobotomies in a single day.

gloveless-freeman

(He appeared to enjoy surprising his audience. On some occasions, Freeman would start out operating using his right hand, and half way through switch to using his left hand. Other times he would an insert ice pick under each eyelid and simultaneously lobotomize through both eye sockets. Sometimes doctors in the audience would faint, or even vomit.)

While at the institutions, he would train others in his craft.

Andrew Scull, Professor of Sociology: He was convinced this was an operation which could be replicated very easily. As he put it, “Any damned fool, even a hospital psychiatrist could learn it within an afternoon.”

Freeman trained one psychiatrist in Rusk, Texas who performed 75 lobotomies in one day.

Narrator: Spurred on by Freeman, the number of lobotomies performed annually soared from 150 in 1945 to over 5,000 in 1949. Despite the known side effects, there seemed to be an endless supply of willing patients.

The momentum of lobotomy enthusiasm was greatly slowed in the mid-1950s by the advent of a pharmaceutical and results published in medical journals. An antipsychotic drug called Thorazine, promoted as a “chemical lobotomy,” became increasingly used. Also, the first long-term clinical studies of lobotomies were assessed by the medical community. Now that doctors had published proof of lobotomy’s negative side effects, and there was a suitable alternative, the medical establishment quickly turned against Dr. Freeman and his procedure. He no longer felt welcome in Washington, D.C. and moved across the country to California.

Freeman did not give up on performing lobotomies. On the contrary, he cultivated new categories of patients to treat. Disaffected housewives, people with chronic headaches, and misbehaved children were all fair game.

Andrew Scull, Professor of Sociology: If housewives found their early 1950s existence too depressing for words, why Freeman had a solution that would get them through their day happy as little clams. If children were misbehaving, conditions we might now see being called hyperactivity disorder, why they might need a lobotomy.

Nineteen of Freeman’s patients were children under the age of 18. One was only 4 years old.

 For pediatric gender care, the actual patient numbers in the United States are difficult to determine. But based on the fast-paced expansion of gender clinics across the nation, the patient load has likely escalated similarly to what has been seen in the UK:

gender-clinic-stats

The first gender clinic in the US opened in 2007 in Boston. An October 2016 article states there are now more than 60. The demand is growing quickly, but there are still waiting lists for new patients. Based on this information, in conjunction with the growing number of 4thWaveNow parents (many who note the number of trans-identifying students in their local schools are multiplying), it appears that the cases of young people with gender dysphoria are skyrocketing.

Attempts to “cure” sexual orientation and gender non-conformity.

During the lobotomy’s reign, homosexuality was considered a mental disorder. Cruel “treatments” of this time period included chemical castration with cross-sex hormones, aversion therapy (using electrical shocks or vomit-inducing drugs) and masturbatory reconditioning. Lobotomies were also performed on patients like this gay man who was a patient at Pilgrim State Psychiatric Center in Long Island, New York.

CASE NO. 236 Man, 29, “had a psychotic attack [at age 19] and responded satisfactorily to 44 insulin comas.” Admitted to Pilgrim at age 20. “In the years which followed, this patient was consistently one of the most severe behavior problems, aggressively homosexual, out of contact, noisy, disturbed, overactive; he wet and soiled.” Lobotomy on Feb. 15, 1949. “Slow improvement. He was clean, pleasant, but mentally defective— a moron. He speech was clear but brief. On the insistence of his parents, he was released on June 15, 1949 but returned after a few weeks because of restlessness and poor judgment. There is no severe behavior problem, but he is hebephrenic— silly. He is now clean, quiet, passive, well-behaved, probably hallucinated, speech brief but rather scattered, but he is well-informed on current baseball scores, etc.”

At 4thWaveNow, we have repeatedly stressed that the majority of gender dysphoric children, if left alone, will grow out of their distress. Most mature into lesbian and gay adults. Sexology researcher Dr. James Cantor  posted a compilation of childhood gender dysphoria research going back many decades on his site Sexology Today:

In total, there have been three large scale follow-up studies and a handful of smaller ones. I have listed all of them below, together with their results. (In the table, “cis-” means non-transsexual.) Despite the differences in country, culture, decade, and follow-up length and method, all the studies have come to a remarkably similar conclusion: Only very few trans- kids still want to transition by the time they are adults. Instead, they generally turn out to be regular gay or lesbian folks. The exact number varies by study, but roughly 60–90% of trans- kids turn out no longer to be trans by adulthood.

When seen from this perspective, it is difficult to ignore the impacts on children who would likely grow up to be homosexual. “Trans kid” media stories are full of “gender nonconforming” behavior, which is often a sign a child or teen is or may eventually be gay or lesbian. Frequently, a preteen or teen even admits that he/she is attracted to the same sex. But parents in these celebratory articles conclude that their child is transgender and needs irreversible medical interventions. (Strangely,  journalists never question it.)

Since puberty is often the time that gender dysphoria resolves (and sexual orientation begins to be self-recognized), the use of puberty blockers (along with the reinforcement from gender therapists that the child is in the “wrong body”) likely prevents many young people from ever becoming comfortable in their unaltered bodies. Further, the vast majority (some clinics report 100%–see here and here) of children on puberty blockers proceed to cross-sex hormones, irreversible sterilization, and possibly later surgeries.

Earlier interventions to prevent potential problems.

 Initially Freeman claimed that the lobotomy would be an operation of last resort. He once said, “I won’t touch them unless they are faced with disability or suicide.” But as time went on he altered his views. He started advocating for lobotomy earlier, as a way to prevent progression of mental deterioration. In a 1952 Time article (“Mass Lobotomies”), he is quoted as saying, “it is safer to operate than to wait.”

The push for early intervention is also seen in medical transition of “trans” kids. Initially it was reserved for gender dysphoric adults, but now children are increasingly being treated. The justification: if gender dysphoria is caught while they are young, they can avoid the years of misery that many older trans people report. It is assumed that treating children with puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and surgeries will help them appear more convincingly as the opposite sex. This, along with consistent affirmation of their gender identity, is assumed to help these children avoid suicidality, depression, unemployment, sexually transmitted diseases, drug abuse and homelessness commonly found in the current adult transgender population. Gender doctors state they are saving these children from potential future problems (without acknowledging the significant risks introduced by treatment).

“These kids have a very high risk of depression, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts,” said Stephen Rosenthal, MD, a pediatric endocrinologist and medical director of the Child and Adolescent Gender Center at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco …. “Not treating is not a neutral option.”

Ambitious doctors.

Freeman came from a prominent medical family. His grandfather William Keen was a famous surgeon, the first to extract a brain tumor from a living patient. He enjoyed being a showman, performing operations which were viewed by large audiences. Freeman looked up to his grandfather and wanted to be as successful.

Early in his career Freeman became determined to alleviate the mental anguish of patients in the overcrowded, horrible conditions of mental institutions. Early on he spent a great deal of time examining the brains of dead mental patients, trying to find a defect which could be corrected. But he was never able to find any.

He was thrilled to come across Portuguese neurologist Egas Moniz’s work, which became the basis for Freeman’s lobotomy procedure.

Jack El-Hai, Writer: Freeman almost went wild with excitement. He thought, ‘This may be it.’ He saw a vision of the future unfold, not only a future in the treatment of the mentally ill, but his own personal future.

He latched tightly onto lobotomies as a way to bring patients a sense of peace, and never let it go. Freeman appeared to genuinely believe he was helping people by lobotomizing them, but seemed blind to the negative impacts of his procedures. It was as if he was looking through rose-colored glasses.

Andrew Scull, Professor of Sociology: One of the characteristics of an enthusiast, and Walter Freeman was certainly that, is that they are able to overlook everything that contradicts their enthusiasm. And they concentrate on all the things they see that show they’re on the right path. So over and over again, we can see Freeman managing to dismiss the casualties of his surgical interventions.

On the medical transition front, Dr. Norman Spack, a pediatric endocrinologist, in 2007 co-founded the first US gender clinic for youth in Boston.

In media articles, Dr. Spack appears to be a compassionate person who is concerned about gender dysphoric children. Over and over again, he talks about suicide rates  He implies that kids desperately need medical treatment because otherwise many of them will kill themselves, especially if they are unable to avoid their natal puberty.

World trans authority Dr. Norman Spack, a pediatric endocrinologist (or hormone doctor for children), warned the dangers of failure to treat trans teenagers. He said almost one in three trans individuals will attempt suicide if they do not receive treatment until after puberty….

…‘If your neighbor is bleeding, you should not stand idly by,’ Spack said, quoting Jewish philosopher Maimonides, and adding: ‘For trans people, the inevitable conclusion is that puberty is noxious.’

 He is a big proponent of using GnRH-agonists (commonly known as puberty blockers) to pause the puberty of gender distressed children. “Safe,” “reversible” and “life saving” are often words that gender specialists use to describe these pharmaceuticals. But there have been severe side effects reported, especially when administered to children.

This June 2015 article discusses what inspired Spack to incorporate puberty blockers into his treatment protocol:

Dr. Spack recalled being at a meeting in Europe about 15 years ago, when he learned that the Dutch were using puberty blockers in transgender early adolescents.

“I was salivating,” he recalled. “I said we had to do this.”

The puberty-blocking protocol gained legitimacy in 2009, when it was endorsed by the Endocrine Society, the leading association of hormone experts, on the recommendation of a task force including Dr. Spack.

 In August 2012, it was reported that Spack has trained many other gender professionals across the United States and in Canada.

Today, clinics for transgender kids in British Columbia, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis, New York, Hartford, Providence, and Washington, DC, have either been created or expanded. And in almost all of these places is a doctor that Spack has trained, mentored, or guided.

 And this October 2016 article states that Spack’s program has spread to over 60 pediatric gender clinics in the United States.

His program, copied in over 60 centers across the US, provides treatment including hormone blockers – ideally at the onset of puberty – and hormones for trans teens according to need and capacity to understand the implications of what was being done.

Spack says that treating gender dysphoric children is less complicated than it would seem:

spack.jpg

Many parents at 4thWaveNow are concerned that we may be in the midst of another disastrous medical fad. Our kids’ sudden change in gender identities has been easily accepted by their peers, schools, therapists and doctors. Puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and surgeries are routinely encouraged as necessary next steps. The level of enthusiasm is stunning. There is an absence of caution. We don’t know how many young people will grow up to regret their permanently altered bodies. Which of them will wonder what their lives could have been like had they not taken this path? Some families in our community have witnessed their daughters or sons desisting from trans identity, and finding peace in their own skins—but in just the nick of time, and against the recommendations of enthusiastic gender therapists. These young people matter just as much as those who are being encouraged to believe they are the opposite sex and have begun medical transition. Who speaks for these desisters?

The no-holds-barred, uncritical championing of child transition now will eventually fizzle. Lessons will be learned. Science will evolve. And eventually books and documentaries may try to explain how things got so out of hand. How long that will take is anyone’s guess.

Mission creep: Respected LGB family support org goes full-on trans

Worriedmom is a mother of four (allegedly) adult children, who lives in the Northeastern part of the United States.  She practiced law for many years and now works in the non-profit area. She is available to interact in the comments section of this post.


by Worriedmom

A piece of advice that parents of the newly-trans often hear, right after the admonition to “educate yourself,” is to attend meetings of PFLAG (which previously stood for Parents, Friends and Families of Lesbians and Gays and now does not stand for anything, the acronyms apparently having become unmanageable).  According to its website, PFLAG currently has over 400 chapters, representing over 200,000 people in all 50 states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico.  PFLAG has a national administrative and lobbying presence but operates primarily through local chapters.

PFLAG’s original mission called for parents to support one another in what was then the frightening, emotionally draining, and fraught experience of having a gay son or a lesbian daughter.  When PFLAG was founded back in 1972, by a courageous New York City mom, having a gay son or a lesbian daughter meant being in a terribly lonely place, where parents were fearful of confiding even in other loved ones, and social ostracism was the rule, not the exception.  Then, too, ignorance about gay and lesbian people reigned supreme.  Even highly-educated people believed that being gay or lesbian was, at the very least, the symptom of serious mental illness, and that at any rate, the closet was by far the best place for “queers” and their unfortunate parents to live.

pflag-1972

As the 70’s turned into the 80’s, parents needed PFLAG desperately, as AIDS swept through the gay population and families frequently dealt with two simultaneous revelations: their son was gay, and he had come home to die.  Parents became even more isolated and traumatized, often the target of violence and community exclusion (read up on Ryan White for a tragic example, although there were many more).  It’s hard to believe, looking back today, how crazy AIDS made people in the time before effective drugs.  PFLAG served the vital function of connecting parents who were dealing, in many cases, with incurable illness and horribly premature death, and who, as an extra-cruel burden, had to do it in secret.  The support and comfort offered by PFLAG chapter meetings was truly a lifeline for many.

Time and medical science marched on, giving birth to the culture wars.  At the time that my story begins, the U.S. was smack in the middle of the anti-gay-marriage law-making binge that many people thought helped re-elect George W. Bush in 2004.  What originally brought me to PFLAG was my then-14 year old son, who was experiencing the feelings that eventually led him in the direction of bisexuality.  He had dealt with a lot of bullying and other negative behavior in school, and I felt that I needed support to cope with this strange and upsetting situation.  In 2006, primarily due to my congenital inability to say “no” in any given volunteer setting, I became the head of my local PFLAG chapter.  My PFLAG experience became further pertinent in 2012 when my older daughter came out as lesbian during her first semester of college.

To preface, I can’t say whether my experience is typical for PFLAG, although I have no reason to believe it isn’t.  When I decided to help start a chapter, I received no vetting of any kind.  I was not asked to undergo a criminal background check, provide references, or establish my bona fides in any way.  Neither when I established the chapter, nor at any time afterward, was I asked to become knowledgeable in any formal sense about the GLB community.  My good faith was assumed.  Much to my initial chagrin, I was not offered training in group facilitation or dynamics to help me work with an often-emotional and always unpredictable group of people.  I have never had any training or experience in the fields of psychology, human sexuality, addiction or mental health, even though all of these issues came up repeatedly at our chapter meetings.  (I should add that much, much later, PFLAG did begin to offer voluntary training in group facilitation.)  I was actually a bit shocked that I was expected to, and did, “wing it,” in situations that often became intense and even confrontational.

This brings me to my first point on PFLAG and its place in the “trans puzzle” — that neither PFLAG leaders, nor other group members, should be assumed to have any expertise about anything or anyone involved on the “trans spectrum.”  One might argue that when PFLAG’s mission was limited to parents of lesbians and gays extending kindness and empathy to other parents, this lack of professionalism and education was not a major liability (although, as I note above, on occasion I found it daunting).  As the “T” part of the equation has come to predominate, however, it would be natural for parents to expect some level of informed if not authoritative opinion from PFLAG leaders and group members as to the many medical, psychological and social issues involved with an individual’s becoming transgender.  If I am any example, however, it is more a case of “the blind leading the blind.”

Moving on, and energized by the rampant opposition prevalent in the “W years,” our chapter attracted upwards of a dozen people to each meeting, even 20 or more when we featured an author, academic or other person of note.   As a PFLAG representative, I spoke at symposiums, conferences, youth meetings, schools, churches and more.  Every year we fielded a large contingent at the local gay pride march.  The chapter hot-line was connected to my home phone, and I spent hours every month, counseling parents.  And people always called at dinner-time!

And then… the bottom fell out.  By the early 2010’s, the enthusiasm and interest were just – gone.  Newbies became “one and done,” then “none and done.”  We were victims of our own success.  Parents no longer grieved, no longer felt condemned to live in secrecy and fear.  Gay became normal, fine even.  We went on hiatus for a while, then re-booted, in a different location and time.  We tinkered with the format.  We tried publicity, Facebook, networking with other groups.  But the writing was on the wall: parents just didn’t need PFLAG like they used to, and it was pretty obvious they never would again.

We were not alone.  At our monthly regional conference calls, everybody had the same sad story: attendance was down, commitment was non-existent.  The yearly national conference went to bi-annual, staff was cut at National, the end was near.

And then, about four years ago, things changed again.  The chapter hot-line, formerly covered with cobwebs, began ringing off the hook.  This time, it was parents of “gender-non-conforming” children, desperate for help and advice.  Again, I had no expertise, no real understanding of transgender issues, but simply assumed that the “strong affirmation” model that worked fine for lesbian and gay people, would go double for trans.  Today I am ashamed to say that I unthinkingly referred over 50 individuals and families to our local “gender-affirmative” therapist, and at least as many more to trans-activist and other trans-supportive groups (such as “free binder” sites).  I also steered people away from organizations such as Straight Spouse Network, on the basis that those groups were not sufficiently “trans-affirming.”

I don’t feel good about my blind acceptance of trans dogma, but in my defense, I was never encouraged to develop any sort of critical perspective.  The word, from National on down, was that “it’s 95% the same” (in other words, if we were experienced in providing support to parents of gay and lesbian children, we were perfectly well equipped to do the same for parents of transgender children).  I was also told that I shouldn’t worry that I was ignorant about the remaining “5%” (relating to the medical particulars of transition).  As leaders, we were to affirm “innate gender identity” and transition, full stop. “Trans theory” was accepted scientific fact.  No other opinions or viewpoints were entertained, much less explored, and there was no contemplation of the wisdom or safety of the medical procedures that transition entailed.  Parents who questioned were crazy.  End of discussion.

A quick review of PFLAG’s website shows that it is, today, all-in on trans.  We have an online course on “our transgender loved ones,” training in Trans Ally 101, a publication available for sale on becoming a Trans Ally, a transgender reading list for adults, a transgender reading list for young adults, a transgender reading list for children, films on gender and many, many more.  It’s all just so wonderful!

pflag-present-day

Notwithstanding all this joy, meeting attendance was up but the mood was down.  Parents were gutted.  We had “learned” that “trans is the new gay,” but something was off.  So many of the parents had children who already had mental health problems, or were on the autism spectrum, and as they cried and expressed their fear of what life would hold for their vulnerable children, it became increasingly difficult to remain sanguine.  It began to occur to me that it wasn’t terribly likely that transition was going to “cure” anything for these kids, but instead would leave the child, and the family, with two serious problems instead of one.  Parents worried that their children would never find employment, or even someone to love.  Again, it grew difficult to assume those concerns away.  While I had always felt quite comfortable assuring a parent that a gay or lesbian child could go on to lead a normal, even boring, life, I felt like a faker saying the same thing to the parent of a trans child.  But there was never any space to explore alternative ways to mitigate the effects of gender dysphoria, how or whether to slow down a child’s rush to transition, or even whether the proper goal for every potentially trans person might not be transition, ASAP.

Meetings grew increasingly baroque.  A parent would walk in the door:

“My 12 year old daughter just came out as pangender.”

“My older daughter is transitioning to be my son, and my younger daughter is now aromantic.  Is it possible these things are related?”

“I think my three year old son is possibly transgender.  What should we do?”

“My 19 year old son just came back from his first broney convention!”

“Our lesbian daughter is the only non-trans person in her entire GLBT youth group.  Now who is she going to date?”

Gay and lesbian were boring old vanilla, and I was seriously out of my league. Conferences and gay pride panels became an exercise in “can you top this?”  The mantra was “the children are leading the way, and isn’t it exciting!”  Having several children of my own, I was pretty skeptical, given that these children leading the way could not reliably load a dishwasher or return a library book.

I began to look for more balanced discussion of the facts regarding transgender issues, and was horrified to learn (for instance) that transitioned children, whom I had blithely assumed would go on to lead happy and fulfilled lives, would actually wind up permanently sterilized.  To put it mildly, PFLAG does not advertise this detail; nor are most leaders, in my experience, even aware of it.  I also could no longer deny that some of the folks I had encountered via PFLAG were, in the vernacular, “creepy.”  There had been discussion of fetishes and other “alternative” behavior that would, in any other context, have sent me right out the door.  In retrospect, in the name of tolerance, I permitted my own boundaries to become fuzzier than I should have.

The final straw, for me, was the parent-assisted mastectomy of a troubled young woman in my community.  I was just done. I actually continued to run our chapter for another excruciating summer, loathe to simply shut it down after so many years involved with PFLAG, but finally did.  I do not expect that my concerns (which I circulated in a lengthy letter) will have any impact on PFLAG at all.

Absent the trans issue, I believe that PFLAG probably would have died a natural death, and that wouldn’t have been a bad thing!  (As an example, Love Makes a Family, the marriage equality group in Connecticut, showed great integrity in shutting down after it achieved its objective.)  The transgender cause has been a life-saver for PFLAG, organizationally speaking, even though there is a strong suspicion that homophobic parents may embrace transgenderism as a “cure” for their gay and lesbian children – hardly the vision of family acceptance originally put forward for PFLAG.  (Go here for another sad story of an unacceptable lesbian daughter who became a cherished straight son.)  “Trans” has provided new purpose and energy, a new “mission field,” and from what I’ve seen, trans people and their supportive parents have become the majority of PFLAG’s leaders and members.  Some chapters are, today, almost entirely trans and trans-related.  It’s where the action is.

A parent attending a PFLAG meeting needs to know that the people he or she will encounter are most likely strongly and personally invested in the promotion of transgenderism.  If a parent has already endorsed and facilitated transition for his or her own child, obviously that parent has to believe that this was a necessary, benign and positive step.  PFLAG is the last place to hear a dispassionate discussion of the actual facts of transition, much less any mention of the feminist perspective.  Remember: PFLAG leaders and group members don’t necessarily know any more than anybody else about transgenderism, and most often are motivated to affirm and confirm their own decisions.

In my view, PFLAG has entered the trans arena with an approach and philosophy that will not serve it well for the long-term.  Transgenderism is not just “super-gay,” and the “empathetic parent” model that worked so well back in 1984 is increasingly irrelevant in a context involving permanent, serious and potentially disfiguring medical decisions.  Especially where PFLAG is seen as endorsing childhood or teen transition, eventually there will be consequences.  It will be sad to see an organization that did so much good for so many in the last century, come to grief in this one.

 

pflag-then-and-now

Then….                                                                                            …and now

 

 

 

Shriveled raisins: The bitter harvest of “affirmative” care

by the parents of 4thWaveNow

Note to readers: This is another in an ongoing series of posts which shine a light on the public statements made by gender specialists in various forums. The aim here, as always, is to inform the public, particularly parents, about the actions and self-reported thoughts and plans of individuals who are currently involved in providing hormones and surgeries to minors. All screen captures are from publicly accessible (i.e. not password-protected or otherwise private) websites. We intend to continue to exercise our free-speech right to report on these public statements, as well as publishing our personal opinions on pediatric transition and those who enable and promote it.

To anyone who may object to our work in this area, hear this: The backlash represented by 4thWaveNow, Transgender Trend, Youth Gender Professionals, and the increasing number of individuals and organizations who question the burgeoning increase in child and youth transition is precisely that: a backlash against the decision taken by trans activists and their media handmaidens to relentlessly promote pediatric transition—especially MEDICAL transition.

The final straw, for many of us, has been the shameless and daily attempts by activists, journalists, and some clinicians to misuse self-harm statistics as a weapon to bludgeon parents into submission. A recent article in Spiked Online exposed this immoral and deeply destructive tactic, and we will continue to expose it on 4thWaveNow.


Scattered through the posts on this site, we have discussed the fact that puberty blockers followed by (or used concurrently with) cross-sex hormones to prevent the “wrong puberty” in prepubertal kids results in irreversible sterilization. This is well-recognized fact, openly acknowledged by researchers and top pediatric gender specialists alike [see the bottom of this post for a collection of links on this matter].

rainbow-health

The reason is that gametes (sperm and ova) require natural, biological puberty to mature to the point that they are viable for reproduction. It is not currently possible to freeze immature gametes, as it is for those of adult trans people who have been allowed to go through natal puberty.

Our point is not that anyone and everyone should have biological children or that women are only fit to be baby machines (a red herring “argument” that has been used against us by trans activists). It also has nothing to do with the demographics of who will ultimately decide to bear or father children. (I notice none of these activists cavalierly argue for sterilization of disabled or gay people, both of whom have a lower statistical rate of becoming biological parents). The point is that it is a human rights violation to sterilize minors, who by definition cannot consent nor understand what it means to give up that future right.  And given that the majority of “persisting” trans kids are same-sex attracted, it is not a stretch to see that prepubescent sterilization of “trans kids” amounts in many cases to a form of proactive anti-gay eugenics—even if that is not the conscious intention. What’s more, as many parents know, the decision to reproduce may come later in life, even if we thought in our youth that we wouldn’t have wanted children. Most young people naturally don’t spend their time thinking about having kids of their own; they have other priorities at that stage of life, as well they should.

But does any of this matter if adult trans people aren’t particularly interested in reproduction?

trans-men-want-children

Well, it turns out that several studies have shown that a majority of trans men and trans women desire to have biological children of their own. 

 

But even setting aside research evidence, all you have to do is look at the increasing number of (sometimes sensationalized) media stories about “pregnant men” to know this is “a thing”.

There are a sufficient number of trans men becoming pregnant and giving birth that the premier midwifery organization in the United States has changed all its literature to be “gender neutral” in an ostensible effort to avoid “triggering” its clients with words like “woman” and “breasts.” Planned Parenthood now campaigns on behalf of “menstruators” and the venerable La Leche League has even scrubbed its language of inconvenient mentions of biological reality, to ensure that trans men who want to “chest feed” won’t feel excluded.

la-leche-chestfeeding

But when it comes to the fertility of trans people,  trans activists want to have their cake and eat it too: Celebrate and support adult trans who decide (often unexpectedly) to reproduce, while fiercely lobbying for medical intervention which permanently sterilizes prepubescent children. There is really no way to square this contradiction. They constantly claim that stopping the “wrong puberty” is the only antidote to suicide, yet that “wrong” puberty is the one and only pathway to possible reproduction in the future.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the very people arguing that the only alternative to these sterilizing pediatric treatments is suicide are very much alive, and quite a fair few of them (notably, several top MTF trans activists) have biological children of their own. “Do as I say, not as I do” is rightly ridiculed as hypocrisy when it comes to any other subject. How on earth did these people survive to adulthood, father children, yet now harangue us that the “wrong” puberty of these children must be stopped?

As to the weaponization of suicidality: There is no record in the history of medicine of children and teenagers killing themselves because they could not medically transition in childhood, or because they were “born in the wrong body.” (Since August when this piece was posted, we’ve been waiting for any evidence to the contrary.) Even the most frequently cited “41%” study of trans adults who have reported suicidal ideation doesn’t assert that medical transition cures suicidality.


So, given that

  • large numbers of adult trans men and women express a desire to have biological children;
  • no child or pre-adolescent can know for certain whether or not they will eventually want to reproduce;
  • it is a universally acknowledged human rights violation to sterilize minors;
  • and there is no evidence that early medical transition will ultimately reduce self harming behaviors,

we must ask: Why do gender specialists continue the reckless practice of promoting sterilizing hormones and surgical interventions on prepubescent children, who, by virtue of their undeveloped powers of reason and judgment, cannot meaningfully consent to such treatments? On what authority does any adult—including these children’s parents—have the right to make a decision for a minor that should solely belong to adults of reproductive age themselves?

Even if it turns out to be true that most of these kids won’t opt for biological reproduction in the future, what of the (already limited) pool of potential life partners they might fall in love with? It’s not at all uncommon for couples to part company over disagreements about whether to have children. And then there’s the issue of what genital surgeries do to sexual response and function. None of this is ever discussed in the glowing portraits of “trans kids” that we see daily in the mainstream media (though it is by the clinicians themselves—as you’ll see shortly).

The gender specialists are fully aware of the irreversible effects of their interventions. Gender clinics detail the risks of infertility and other permanent changes on their consent forms. Research articles, public statements, and news articles capture the admissions by prominent gender specialists (again, see the bottom of this piece for links). Some express reservations (but no accompanying intention to cease and desist or even slow down their caseloads); some mention it in passing. And some, as you’ll see in a moment, appear to lose no sleep at night over what they’re doing, but only express interest in the future market for even more high tech interventions for the young people entrusted to their care.

Last March, Johanna Olson-Kennedy, MD (herself a parent), one of the world’s most successful and best known pediatric gender specialists, posted a call on the publicly accessible WPATH Facebook page for earlier genital surgeries on minors. We wrote about it at the time in this post.

Olson orig post.jpg

The irony is inescapable: By puberty blocking young people, endocrinologists create a situation where these youth naturally yearn for puberty, as they watch their unblocked peers mature and move on. Olson-Kennedy’s solution? More high-tech, expensive medical intervention; earlier cross-sex hormones, earlier sex reassignment surgery. An iatrogenic problem created in the first place by suppressing the perfectly healthy bodies of young people.

Just a few days ago, Olson’s original post was revived via several new comments supporting her radical idea. This one, by Susan Maasch, founder of the Trans Youth Equality Foundation (TYEF) is particularly striking. ( We wrote about TYEF—a purveyor of free breast binders (secretly to girls with “unsupportive” parents) and youth transition propaganda, last year.)

shriveled-raisins

“Shriveled raisins”: The outcome of years of hormone treatment unnatural to the female body.

Other activists and pediatric gender specialists, including Rixt Luikenaar (ironically, an OB-GYN), Kathie Moelig (founder of TransFamily Support Services), and others acknowledge that sterilization (which their clients may someday regret) will result from early surgeries and hormones, but place their faith in high-tech medicine to find a way around it—eventually.

rixt-et-al-on-sterlization

This unquestioning belief that medical technology will solve the problems created by zealous “affirmative” gender specialists is widely shared.  Just a couple of days ago, NPR ran an article acknowledging that immature gametes can’t currently be preserved for future reproduction. But by drawing on fertility preservation research  in cancer survivors treated with sterilizing chemotherapy, the pediatric-transition pushers hope that  puberty-blocked children’s ova and sperm can eventually be coaxed to reproductive viability in a petri dish.

Both groups — young cancer patients and trans kids hoping to transition early — have a demand for fertility preservation at an age where it has not usually been possible. But researchers say they are drawing closer to a solution with new techniques to freeze, or cryopreserve, immature reproductive cells…

… they started to look for ways to grow that tissue in a petri dish, so it can develop into a mature egg. “We’ve had to borrow knowledge from other disciplines and sort of figure out how that applies to trans people … What can be frustrating sometimes is having to adapt and extrapolate all of this information from work that is not done for trans people.” — Zil Goldstein, Mount Sinai

Brave New World. Puts a whole new spin on “test tube babies.” Not to mention a future boost for the surrogacy industry.

No one in the mainstream media—in this case, NPR– seems willing to point out the obvious: If you let these kids simply mature naturally–as their healthy bodies are desperately fighting to be allowed to do–they can preserve their fertility and decide whether they want to choose hormonal or surgical interventions when they reach adulthood,  with mature judgment and reasoning powers. There would be the added benefit of giving kids a chance to desist before it’s too late—as so many were allowed to do before “gender affirmative” treatment was advertised 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Only a few years ago, this would have been seen as just common sense caution. Adults-only transition was the norm.

There are other ramifications besides infertility resulting from this reckless rush for earlier and earlier surgeries and hormonal treatments.  Here, Olson-Kennedy and other commenters analyze the impact of surgeries on sexual function—but disagree on how much should be discussed with the kids themselves about their future orgasm potential after their genitalia have been surgically rejiggered.

olson-orgasm

At least one “practitioner” seems not to want concerns about orgasm potential to be a “hindrance” to  a child achieving their “authentic self”:

low-orgasm

Bringing us into 2017, Jenn Burleton, head of Transactive Gender Center, assured the Facebook group on January 18 that orgasm is a discussion topic amongst “caregivers” in Transactive support groups. Good to know parents and other adults feel empowered to make decisions for these kids about their adult sexual function and fertility in their “support groups.”

Burleton orgasm.jpg

(Just a thought: how many of these people publicly pontificating about the sexual function of children consider how they’d have felt as teens if adults had been scheming about their orgasm potential, and the impact thereon from a surgeon’s scalpel?)

In January 2017, nearly a year after Olson-Kennedy’s original post calling for the WPATH Standards of Care 8 to support earlier genital surgeries, many clinicians, activists, and parent leaders of trans youth groups remain keenly interested in lowering age of surgeries for youth. From the sounds of it, “many many” surgeons are eager to oblige.

maasch-et-al-earlier-surgeries

Dan Karasic, MD, director of a gender clinic at UC San Francisco, moderator of the WPATH Facebook page,  and a key player in WPATH and the co-chair of the recently formed USPATH, helpfully informs us  that a discussion on under-18 surgeries will take place at the inaugural USPATH conference February 5 2017. “Advocacy” to pressure insurance companies to get onboard and pay for genital surgeries on minors is also an important part of the discussion.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Dr. Karasic advocating for lowering the age for surgeries. In this post, we discussed his public support for a mother obtaining double mastectomy for her 15-year-old and her attempts to get her insurance company to foot the bill for it.

Again: The people advocating for drastic and irreversible medical interventions on minors have enormous power over the future lives of children. The decisions they have taken with their careers and activism will impact a generation of youth for a lifetime. These adults, trans or not, were allowed to mature without medical interference in the era preceding this Age of the Trans Child.

Some of the people weighing in are trans adults, among them MTFs who have fathered children and had successful careers, who were not subjected to tampering and scheming about their most private and personal bodily functions as children. And as much as the trans activists may claim they’d have welcomed such interventions as children, the fact remains: Somehow they made it to adulthood, fertility and sexual function intact, without killing themselves.

Exactly what authority gives these people the right to advocate for and perform medical experiments on children, “trans” or not? This is a question a lot more people need to be asking.

Meanwhile, the USPATH conference  session on surgery in minors is on Sunday, February 5 at 10:15 AM  in Los Angeles.

Readers will undoubtedly recognize some of the names on this panel.

uspath-minor-surgery-1


For more information about the irreversible sterilizing effects of puberty blockers followed by cross-sex hormones on prepubescent children, see below. Readers contributions are welcome and will be added to this list.

Sahar Sadjadi, The Endocrinologist’s Office—Puberty Suppression: Saving Children from a Natural Disaster?

It must be remembered that puberty suppression as the first step to medical transition, if followed by cross-sex hormones, which has been the case for almost all reported cases, leads to infertility due to the permanent immaturity of the gonads and the reproductive tract. The absence of the discussion of sterilization of children as a major ethical challenge in this bioethics article, and many other clinical debates on puberty suppression, is striking. For any other group of children, such an intervention would be discussed extensively with ethics review boards. (What grounds might justify the permanent elimination of the child’s reproductive ability? Should parents be able to make such a decision for the child? Which futures are opened by the treatment and which ones are foreclosed? How might benefits be weighed in relation to the loss of reproductive capacity?) The media would likely react with investigations and questions about the long-term consequences of treatment. These “queer” children’s bodily integrity and reproductive rights should not be any less pressing than other children’s. Needless to say, children are not legally capable of consent, and 9–10 year olds are not capable of understanding all the health consequences of the treatment. Parents are asked to make life decisions on issues as critical as fertility for young children. Can they make an informed decision and evaluate benefits vis a vis risks when confronted with such horrendous forecasts for their children?

 Unique ethical and legal implications of fertility preservation research in the pediatric population

 Norman Spack, MD, founder of first US pediatric gender clinic:

The biggest challenge is the issue of fertility. When young people halt their puberty before their bodies have developed, and then take cross-hormones for a few years, they’ll probably be infertile. You have to explain to the patients that if they go ahead, they may not be able to have children. When you’re talking to a 12-year-old, that’s a heavy-duty conversation. Does a kid that age really think about fertility? But if you don’t start treatment, they will always have trouble fitting in. And my patients always remind me that what’s most important to them is their identity.

Brill & Pepper, The Transgender Child, 2008, p. 216

“The choice to progress from GnRH inhibitors to estrogen without fully experiencing male puberty should be viewed as giving up one’s fertility, and the family and child should be counseled accordingly”. For girls, sterilization is the outcome too, because “eggs do not mature until the body goes through puberty”

Diane Ehrensaft, video clip from conference. Time stamp: 5:06

“Another thing that’s a show-stopper around [parents] giving consent is the fertility issue. That if the child goes directly from puberty blockers to cross- sex hormones they are pretty much forfeiting their fertility and won’t be able to have a genetically related child.”

Robert Garofolo, PBS.org:

“It’s an imperfect field with regards to decisions we are asking these families to make,” acknowledged Dr. Robert Garofalo, who co-directs the Center for Gender, Sexuality and HIV Prevention at Chicago’s Lurie Children’s Hospital and is also working on the transgender youth study. Garofalo hopes the team will be able to study patients far beyond the current five-year term to address a host of questions that currently have no answers. Does hormone use in trans youth increase breast cancer risk? How well do adults who have transitioned as teens grapple with their loss of fertility? “These are things that are entirely unknown,” Garofalo said.

 

GenderCare: London private clinic with a winning business model

by SunMum

The author is a UK academic and mother of a son who experienced sudden onset gender dysphoria. She has attended the Gendered Intelligence parents support group, and her son consulted Stuart Lorimer at GenderCare.  She can be found on Twitter as SunMum@Mum3Sun


The business model of a private gender clinic in the UK looks a dead cert. To start with, you need demand, and the rising demand for gender reassignment services offers that in abundance. The NHS offers a gender reassignment pathway, but demand in recent years has outstripped the resources of a publicly funded health service. Waiting lists at the main adult provider, the Charing Cross Gender Identity Clinic, the UK’s ‘oldest and largest adult clinic’ founded in 1966, are currently about 12 months from the first referral. Referrals have ‘almost quadrupled in 10 years, from 498 in 2006-07 to 1,892 in 2015-16’ according to the Guardian in July 2016.

At the Tavistock and Portman, the only NHS service for children and adolescents with gender dysphoria, referrals have increased ‘about 50% a year since 2010-11.’ In the year leading up to this Guardian report, the rate of change in child referrals showed ‘an unexpected and unprecedented increase of 100%, up from 697 to 1,398 referrals’.

In the same 2016 Guardian article, Charing Cross GIC lead clinician James Barrett comments jocularly on this sudden increase in demand:

‘It obviously can’t continue like that forever because we’d be treating everyone in the country, but there isn’t any sign of that levelling off.’

Now this is a rather strange comment, given that only five years before, in 2011, Barrett stated that rates of gender dysphoria were stable and unchanging. Citing a 1996 study, he presented the condition as vanishingly rare: ‘It seems that the incidence of transsexualism is very roughly 1 in 60000 males and 1 in 100000 females, and it seems to have remained constant’. Given that ‘treatment is drastic and irreversible’, Barrett insisted that diagnosis must be entrusted to the experts of the gender identity clinic:

The least certain diagnosis is that made by the patient, made as it is without any training or objectivity. This uncertainty is not lessened by the patient’s frequently high degree of conviction. Neither does the support of others with gender dysphoria help, since conviction leads people to associate with the like­minded and to discount or fail to seek out disharmonious views. [ James Barrett, Advances in psychiatric treatment (2011), vol. 17, 381–388 doi: 10.1192/apt.bp.109.007484)

 

Pitching the service: Respect and Authority

GenderCare, headed by Stuart Lorimer, is a private London gender clinic mostly staffed by clinicians employed at Charing Cross GIC: endocrinologist Leighton Seal, psychologist Christina Richards and speech therapist Christella Antoni. These are professionals who have reputations at stake.

gendercare-home

And while GenderCare does offer some Skype and email consultations, prospective patients or parents of gender confused young adults can be reassured that this is not an online clinic like that run by Helen Webberley, a Welsh GP whose Online Transgender Medical Clinic displays no more relevant qualifications than a one hour e-course in ‘Gender Variance’ designed by a transactivist organisation for GPs.

Twitter contains some negative reports of Webberley’s outfit: ‘A guy I know was rushed into hospital with liver failure because of Dr W’s incompetence, not having his bloods reviewed meant he was on too high a dosage of testosterone & literally nearly died.’ According to one young person, Webberley ‘has this weird online ‘grooming’ thing going on, contacting young people via social media’. Of course, Twitter testimonials do not constitute actual evidence and should be viewed with caution. Yet it’s clear to anyone who spends time investigating that young people are discerning as they sift through their choices and look for medical help they trust.

weird-online-grooming

The GenderCare website by contrast is reassuringly respectable: these are ‘Specialists in Gender Care’, genuinely experts in their field. The site and FAQ frequently remind us that patients will be seen by a team of medical experts  The FAQ emphasises hormonal treatment,  with assurances that the letter needed for medical transition will be prepared as quickly as possible.

What would be the hurry? It appears that, since 2011 when Lorimer’s Charing Cross colleague James Barrett insisted on the ‘drastic and irreversible’ nature of medical transition and the caution that the ‘least certain diagnosis is that made by the patient’, there has been a sea change in the field. Now Barrett presents gender dysphoria as a condition with no parallel. It simply is what it is, and gender specialists are sui generis: neither psychiatrists, nor endocrinologists, but what it says on the can: ‘gender specialists’. Barrett compares gender dysphoria in a 2016 blog post for the BMJ, to ‘the Australasian Platypus’[full article behind paywall]:

The first specimens were dismissed as a joke of some sort.

But then more came, and alive and kicking at that. There followed a mighty taxonomological struggle. They were reptiles or perhaps some sort of bird, surely, as they were warm blooded, laid eggs and were venomous. On the other hand, the fur argued for mammals, but they didn’t have proper breasts, the defining feature of the mammals, and that business of being venomous is more of a reptile-like thing, is it not? And they do lay eggs…but warm blooded…perhaps a bird of some sort…?

In the end, it was all solved by everyone admitting that the Platypus was real, important, couldn’t be dismissed and didn’t fit any existing category very well. It got its own, special category where it has paddled, very happily, ever since, albeit joined by echidnas and some long-extinct fossilised forebears.

The comparison is witty and memorable, but leaves us no wiser. Lorimer also subscribes to what we might call the Platypus model of gender theory (‘a variety of clinical specialisms might lay reasonable claim to ownership of gender care but, like the platypus, it’s its own creature, distinct and different’. Although trained as a ‘Liaison psych’ he believes that ‘ultimately, it’s about pragmatism – who has the appropriate skill-set to do the work.’

For gender identity, there is no well-founded theoretical model, no objective test: we simply have to believe in the authority of the expert. Believe me because I say so. For the young people who visit GenderCare, diagnosis by a gender specialist offers confirmation and validation of their internal sense of self. YouTube videos about ‘my first visit’ to GenderCare form a genre of their own, revealing the overwhelming power of this validation. One young person reports

‘It were a really positive experience. He were very validating and he shouldn’t have been because I obviously know that someone validating your experience isn’t necessary. But hearing him saying the words saying he’s diagnosed me, he’s signing me off…It’s like all my Christmases come at once.’

There are many transition YouTubes made by young clients of Dr. Lorimer; they are moving videos, in which these young people freely admit they suffer with self harm and sometimes suicidality. A single visit to GenderCare can apparently provide a rapid remedy. The process is quick and simple: when blood tests are in and the letter comes through, a young woman who desires to transition FTM can start testosterone. One has already got ‘syringes through the post’, the ‘sharps bin’ and the needles:

‘I don’t know if you’ll be able to see this. Look at the fucking size of that needle. Look at it compared to the size of my finger. Well clearly I’m not needle-phobic. But fuck, it’s huge. I’d hit myself in the face with a brick if it meant starting on testosterone.’

Pushing at the boundaries

In taking on private work, Lorimer would need to protect his professional reputation and adhere to legal and medical regulations.  This may at times present complications. In 2014, according to a post on ‘The Angels’ (a trans support forum), the UK’s Care Quality Commission (CQC) raised questions about the ‘grey area’ of his private practice, prompting Dr Lorimer to temporarily stop seeing clients.

Lorimer Care quality commission 4.jpg

lorimer-care-quality-commission-3

Leaving aside the question of what may or may not have happened in 2014, the key regulatory boundaries with gender reassignment are to do with time (how quickly hormones are dispensed) and age (those under 18 are treated in a different way from adults). For much of 2016, the GenderCare website warned that hormones are not normally prescribed on a first visit. That is certainly not the belief expressed on Twitter today:

sweetie-one-visit

The burgeoning youth market

GenderCare’s FAQ tells us they primarily treat over-18s, although some exceptions are made. Lorimer confirms this on Twitter:

dr-p-edit

Earlier in this post, we saw that some young people on Twitter were freaked out by what one calls ‘this weird online grooming thing going on’ by Helen Webberley’s outfit. The respectable GenderCare would surely do no such thing. But Lorimer too has a social media presence through which he touts for business, a Twitter voice seemingly designed to speak to the young – especially trans men. Here we find him mythologizing the joys of testosterone:

lorimer-horsemen

Parents know that when young people want something, they want it Now! And for some young women the thing that is needed, and needed quickly, is testosterone, seen by dysphoric adolescent females as a panacea for all ills.

steph-edit

About ‘two thirds’ of his patients, Lorimer explains are ‘trans men’:

lorimer-milkshake

Like the proverbial high court judge, I need to make my way over to the Urban Dictionary . But Lorimer is the doc who talks to young people, who plays knowingly with the idea of ‘A girl’s body and the way she carries it.’ Looking at YouTube or at Twitter, you would think that Stuart Lorimer was an expert on adolescent gender dysphoria. But this apparently is not the case:

lorimer-limited-experience

Lorimer may have ‘extremely limited experience of children/adolescents’. But it takes a very limited dip into the sea of adolescent angst freely available on Twitter and YouTube to realise that GenderCare clients are in the throes of the kinds of relationship and body issues that many adults remember. These are not strange young people, but people suffering from a horribly familiar set of feelings. Of course, we don’t know the age of all those who tweet of vlog about their GenderCare appointments. They might simply be youthful in spirit, but young they certainly appear to be. These don’t sound like people who are approaching ‘drastic and irreversible’ bodily alterations with maturity, discretion or objectivity:

 

Perhaps most troubling is that in 2016 Lorimer arrived on Tumblr, overwhelmingly a place for young people (very popular with ages 13-18), with a GenderCare Tumblr site. Lorimer seems anxious. Why? Is it because he knows he’s rather old to be on Tumblr?

lorimer-tumblr-scare

Tumblr is full of accolades for GenderCare. And whilst one might think a need for hormones and surgery would be necessary only for those who strongly believe themselves to be the opposite sex, evidently even ‘nonbinaries’ are supported in their quest for medical intervention via GenderCare:

tumblr-nonbinary

Lest readers think this nonbinary stuff is hyperbole, Dr Lorimer (aka The MXMaster) confirmed the Tumblrite’s observation on Twitter last August.

lorimer-mxmaster

The market potential for ‘nonbinaries’ must be unlimited.  Who amongst us fully conforms to gender stereotypes? And GenderCare isn’t the only UK gender clinic cashing in on the ‘enbie’  market:

yelland-enbie

Let’s see: Can you spot the difference between ‘non-binary’ and ‘binary’ mastectomy?

But returning to GenderCare, one of the more ironic aspects of all this is that Lorimer himself is certainly old enough and wise enough to see beyond the teenage rush for bodily alteration. A highly flattering image of Lorimer appears on the website of photographer James M. Barrett (not the gender clinician this time but a photographer who specialises in beautiful images of gay men). The photographer’s Facebook page comments sagely on the contemporary rush for bodily alteration:

 ‘In popular culture, there is an extraordinary urgency to take charge of our bodies and minds, and to “become the person that we were always meant to be”! It is as if we can rewrite our lives and give birth to new selves, simply through the power of positive self-belief, and some bloody good cosmetic work on our physical appearance! It is not just a practical idea that looking more attractive might increase our pulling power or lift our spirits. It is the fantasy that if we could just become achingly beautiful, then we will also be unbearably desirable, and our whole lives will be transformed from ordinary to unique. And of course, digital photography plays right into this fantasy, allowing us to perform virtual nick-and-tuck manipulations, and to airbrush a veneer of youthfulness onto our imagined selves. The images in this portrait series have also been heavily worked in post-production, but the effect is meant to suggest something very different: a harsh beauty that resonates with uncertainty, doubt, restlessness, world-weariness, perhaps mid-life crisis…but which also carries a tender intimacy, resilience, ruggedness, and a new-found robustness that comes from surviving a crisis.’

Wise words. And we know that Lorimer subscribes to this aesthetic. Not only has Barrett photographed him but under another image a ‘Stuart Lorimer’ comments: ‘Fantastic portrait!’. In his own photograph, Lorimer looks great: retouched, digitally improved, there is no necessity for cosmetic surgery, drugs, or scalpels.

For professional purposes, simpler photographic techniques suffice:

lorimer-business-cards

Now Lorimer knows, for certain, that Tumblr is for young people:

‘Tumblr, like lycra is probably not for anyone over 30 –yet here I am. Every fibre in my fortysomething being is screaming at me “GO! THIS IS FOR YOUNG PEOPLE!” but I’m resisting that because I think it may be useful for me to tout for lucrative business, as head of GenderCare, to have a presence here.’

Why? Maybe because young people use Tumblr to explore sub cultures of body hatred and body alteration. Lorimer is careful to add a disclaimer that he does not represent his ‘NHS employers or my GenderCare colleagues’.

But there is no escaping the fact that this is the official GenderCare Tumblr. There is no doubt that he is advertising transition services. In this location, Lorimer does not share his wise appreciation of the power of digital photographic enhancement to act out our fantasies. Instead he offers age-appropriate ‘links to things I find diverting that are not especially relevant (cute animals)’:

gendercare-tumblr

Don’t worry, young person about your first trip to get T. You will meet a cuddly gender doc wearing a pink suit.

lorimer-pink-suit

After all, this is all a game, a joke. Fun. Isn’t it?

Well I for one don’t think it is. My son, you see, became seriously depressed in his second year at university and developed sudden onset gender dysphoria. No earlier signs, easily the most ‘boyish’ of my boys. But after a romantic rejection and drug experimentation he developed depersonalization, googled his symptoms, found they were a symptom of trans, stopped washing, seeing his friends, his handwriting changed, he made odd repetitive hand movements, he became angry and he stayed up all night. I thought he was having a breakdown. His GP thinks it is depression or maybe schizophrenia. But, urged on by a counsellor, I in my naivete paid out for an assessment at GenderCare. After all, the clinicians were the real thing, weren’t they? They all worked at Charing Cross GIC in the NHS. They couldn’t be just cynical or stupid, could they?

I was astounded when my son came back telling me that he would be starting hormones in a few weeks. I emailed GenderCare and asked whether I could supply some contextual information. Lorimer contacted my son to ask permission (since he was 22 at the time). Son said yes, so I sent off a timeline of events, including details that I thought might be relevant to a diagnosis, including a series of recent traumatic events. Lorimer duly wrote a report saying he was a bit worried and wanted a second opinion. The second opinion was with his colleague at Charing Cross GIC, James Barrett (not the photographer, who could only have beautified my beautiful son digitally acting out his fantasies). As Barrett had no access to context (this time son said No), he had an avuncular chat with son (cost £200) and advised on choosing a new name and the right to access female toilets. My son, who a family therapy team thought was ‘struggling with his decision to transition’, now repeatedly refers to the fact that he has been ‘diagnosed by two gender experts’. But in this matter, there is no diagnosis: doctors simply echo back to patients their own self-diagnosis. And the first doctor to offer him that external recognition was Stuart Lorimer.

GenderCare combines accessibility to the young through its active presence on social media, with a show of clinical expertise. The recent news that the Charing Cross GIC would be run within the Tavistock and Portman NHS trust led Lorimer to comment on ‘that potentially big plus. Possibilities for great cross-fertilisation between child and adult services.’ He wouldn’t notice the crassness of the metaphor, because what Lorimer is breeding is a business model; the fertility of confused young people is neither here nor there.

cross-sterilisation

Anime culture & teen trans-trending

This morning, after descending into the bowels of the site “Kiwi Farms” (the lair of some of the Internet’s more colorful denizens), we tweet-stormed about the unethical “gender specialists” who profit from the identity confusion of teens addicted to anime and Tumblr-inspired cosplay. The particular Kiwi Farms thread discusses what many of us parents are all too aware of: The impact of hours of pretend-identity play on our kids’ desire to make their Internet fantasies a reality “IRL.”

The question is: Where the hell are the developmental psychologists, sociologists, autism experts, and responsible journalists [more and more an oxymoron] on this issue? It’s not like this stuff is happening in secret.

Here is the “storified” tweet storm, reproduced below.

anime-titleanime-part-1

anime-part-2anime-part-3anime-part-4

 

 

A mum’s voyage through Transtopia: A tale of love and desistance

Lily Maynard lives with her husband and their family in the UK. Her daughter, Jessie, was 15 when she first began identifying as trans.

In this post, Lily chronicles her grueling journey of self education on trans issues, and her determination to share what she learned with Jessie, who at first utterly dismissed her mother’s efforts.  But after 9 months, Jessie, now 16, eventually desisted from trans identification, and, with the support of her mother and another formerly trans-identified friend, came to recognize and embrace herself as a young woman.

Jessie adds her own observations at the end of her mother’s post.

Lily and Jessie are both available to interact with readers in the comments section of this post.


by Lily Maynard

My youngest daughter Jessie was not a ‘girly’ girl. As a small child she was often mistaken for a boy, despite her long hair, because mostly she wore jeans and dinosaur tops. She didn’t care much for the pastel, glitter, hearts and lace that tends to fill the girls’ section of most stores. Growing up, she liked Dora the Explorer and Ben 10; she liked Lego and Bratz dolls. Occasionally, she chose a pink sparkly top, or a crystal ballerina for the Christmas tree.

Once, when she was about 7, a woman in a second-hand shop said to her, “Oh you’re a GIRL! Why are you playing with that dirty old truck? Here’s a nice doll.”

So I bought her the truck to make a point, and on the way home we talked about how silly it was to have different toys for boys and girls. We always applauded the strong women in movies and cartoons. My kids would tell me, “Mum, you’d like this film, there’s a Strong Female Role in it.”

Jessie played with both boys and girls growing up; she had siblings; she was sociable; she had a wide circle of friends. She did ballet for half a term, but tripped over her feet and hated it. She tried football, but tripped over her feet and hated getting up early. She liked jujitsu and roller skating, drawing and writing stories. She hated skirts and dresses and tomatoes.

By age 12, she was spending a lot of time online. She had a Facebook account and loved YouTube, music videos, cat videos; Naruto and Hannah Montana. She hung out mostly with a small group of close girlfriends, but mixed well with anyone. At 13 she had her own iPhone and laptop, and worshipped One Direction. At 14, she began watching videos by lesbian YouTubers Rose and Rosie, and ElloSteph. For the most part, I liked them. These young women were funny, happy and confident, and they gave out good life advice. Their videos were well composed, although there was a bit too much of the obligatory YouTube navel-gazing  for my liking.

Jessie, slightly goth, long dyed dark hair and occasional black eyeliner, always in jeans and a band T shirt, Jessie came out as gay just before her 15th birthday . I wasn’t surprised. She’d briefly ‘dated’ a boy she’d known since she was five but it was obviously no great passion, so I had suspected she was going to tell me weeks before she did. Shortly afterwards she made a ‘coming out’ YouTube video and posted it on her Facebook page. She said she was ‘gay’; she didn’t use the word ‘lesbian’. I did think she was quite young to define her sexuality so suddenly and utterly, and declare it to the world before she had even had a relationship. By this time, I was very aware of the part YouTube youth culture played in the decision to ‘go public’ with a video. I told her that, but I wasn’t shocked or discouraging.  I had a few girlfriends myself when I was younger. If she was a lesbian, so be it. I just wanted her to be happy and healthy.

Soon thereafter, Jessie began watching ‘transitioning’ videos on YouTube with her friends and siblings: cute boys who became girls and cute girls who became boys; endless slideshows of their stories, entitled, ‘My Transition Timeline’.

The girls all had the same sideways smiles and little bum-fluff beards. “I never liked pink,” they declared, “I never liked dresses, I wasn’t attracted to boys. I wore guy clothing.” The boys twisted their long hair as they spoke through heavily lipsticked lips, leaning forward coyly and peering out from over-mascara’ed lashes.  “I always liked pink,” they cooed, “I played with girls’ toys.” I wondered why this generation seemed desperate to put itself into boxes and mark them with labels, but mostly I worried that my kids were spending too much time online.

“Read a book; go outside!” was my mantra. “Turn off the internet and put down your phone.”

Jessie took me to a YouTube convention and we sat at the front during the LGBT discussion. She had a crush on a high-profile teen who identified as a boy. Chris was on hormones and had had a double mastectomy. Chris was kind to Jessie at the ‘meet and greet’ afterwards and posed for a photo. I didn’t see Chris as a boy, but I didn’t think much of it at the time. What I do remember was those eyes, like a frightened rabbit, a frail little thing despite the smiles.

Jessie asked to cut her long hair short. I said, “Of course.” I was surprised how much it suited her. We donated her hair to the Little Princess Trust, to be made into wigs for children with cancer.

Jessie still had her phone 24/7. I ‘trusted’ her, despite knowing that many of her friends were online half the night. I knew some of them self-harmed, or starved themselves, or posted half-naked pictures online. I know now that it isn’t about trust. No one ever thinks their child is doing that stuff. Social media cliques are like a spiral, ever more insular and self-serving. They are more than the sum of the parts of their users. The internet can be a great source of support, but whole online communities have grown up to normalise disturbing behaviours: from the personification of eating disorders with Ana and Mia, through forums where kids discuss who cuts the deepest or most frequently. If my bright, happy child was vulnerable, anybody’s child can be vulnerable. You can’t ‘trust’ your child not to get drawn into a cult, any more than you can trust them not to get run over by a truck.

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A month after cutting her hair, Jessie said she had something to tell me. She was distraught, red-faced and bleary-eyed. There was a tiny part of me that knew what she was going to say, although I didn’t realise it until later. After almost an hour of pacing the room she grabbed a pen and wrote on a scrap of paper, ‘I am transgender’.

Despite having half-known what she was going to say, I was shocked. I had heard of people who said they’d always known they were ‘in the wrong body’ but there had never been anything in Jessie’s past to suggest that might be the case with her. She insisted the signs had always been there. She hated wearing dresses, she used male avatars in video games, she didn’t want to flirt with boys. She didn’t ‘feel’ like a girl.

“Do you want to go on hormones?” I asked, at one point during that first conversation. “You’d grow a beard.” I added, pointlessly.

She nodded. She never mentioned surgery, but I saw it looming in her future. The prospect terrified me. I didn’t know what to say.  So I said, “It’ll be ok.”

She seemed much happier after telling me and then went to bed, a million miles away, in her room next to mine. I went to bed too, and the darkness screamed at me. I got up again, and spent the night googling ‘transgender’ and crying. I tried to be open-minded. I wanted to support Jessie more than anything; to do the best thing to help her, but I was sure transition wasn’t the answer she needed. I told myself I was open-minded, but was I really? Was I in denial? I slept very little over the following weeks.

I spoke to a lesbian friend, in a panic.  “What does he want to do next?” she inquired.  I felt as if I’d been punched in the stomach.

One of the first places I looked for information was the National Health Service website, because I presumed there would be impartial advice: something about helping people with the issue of reconciling their bodies with their identity. I thought that thinking you were transgender would be treated as a mental health issue; surely  transition would be recommended as a last resort.

I typed ‘NHS transgender’ into Google, and the first article that appeared was the story of a boxing promoter who came out as transgender  at age 60; about  his ‘dreams, diaries and dress-ups’. A link on that site led to the children’s trans support group, ‘Mermaids’. which is run by parents who believe their children are born in the wrong bodies. Their advice to confused teens, in the section ‘I think I’m trans, what do I do?’ is ‘you can speak to your GP  without your parents being able to know if you are not comfortable with coming out to them yet.’ Next, I flipped through the testimonials from parents. Mermaids receives UK lottery funding and is often the first port of call for concerned parents in the UK.  As far as I could tell, every single child mentioned on the site has transitioned.

Another link on the NHS transgender page led me to a glossy brochure called ‘Living my Life’, featuring studio photos of good-looking transgender people. It struck me as more of an advert for plastic surgery than an information booklet.

A spikey-haired 20-something plays a guitar and shouts into the camera. ’We’re here for a good time, not a long time.’  A coiffed and manicured blonde wears a low-cut salmon pink top, and a pair of surgically enhanced breasts take up most of the bottom half of the picture.  ’I was always me but I just didn’t look like me.’

There was nothing on either of those two links about helping kids to reconcile with their natal sex. Nothing about working through it; nothing about learning to love yourself as you are. I saw nothing stating the obvious: that a healthy natal boy has a penis and testicles and a healthy natal girl has a vulva and vagina, and that both sexes should be able to do all the things they love while wearing whatever damn outfit takes their fancy.

I typed ‘Am I transgender?’ into Google and clicked on the link to amitransgender.com. One word filled the screen: a black YES on a white background.

“I want to change my pronouns,” Jessie announced. “I’m a boy in a girl’s body.”

“How can you know what a boy feels like, when you’re a girl?” I demanded.

She couldn’t or wouldn’t answer.

“You’re a girl,” I insisted. “You can do anything as a girl, achieve anything as a girl that you could if you were a boy, but you can’t just become a boy any more than you can become a cat. It doesn’t work like that.”

“Go away.”

My eyes were opened over the next few weeks. Staying up most of the night, every night, Google led me beyond YouTube, to Reddit, to Tumblr, to Pinterest and Instagram. To posts about pink, clothing, hair and make-up. To seemingly endless pictures and slideshows of men, dressed like pornstars, claiming to be women. Vague explanations about ‘feeling’ different; about ‘being yourself’. It led me to videos of girls in checked shirts with cute quiffs and bound breasts, who genuinely believed they were gay men. They talked of ‘gender identity’ and the sex they’d been ‘assigned at birth’, as if births were attended by a gender fairy who absent-mindedly distributed random gifts of genitalia. A huge amount of importance was attached to public bathroom access and locker rooms of one’s choice. Endless posts claiming, in all seriousness, that ‘misgendering’ transpeople is an act of violence tantamount to trying to kill them, and how the only way to stop the feeling of dysphoria is to embrace transition and start living as your ‘preferred gender’. Immediately. There is no shortage of gender therapists offering to help a child do that, because if you even suspect you might be trans, then you probably are. Type ‘child gender therapist UK’ into Google and you get over 15 million results.

Everywhere I looked, the internet seemed eager to affirm that transition was a simple and marvellous thing, the one and only solution to all the problems of physical and social dysphoria. If you don’t support your child’s transition, parents are warned over and over again, they will probably try to kill themselves.

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I learned a lot. I learned that if you don’t believe a man can become a woman; if you are gender critical, you will be called a TERF, transphobic and told to ‘educate yourself’ at best; ‘die in a fire’ at worst. I became familiar with the term ‘die cis scum’ (‘cis’  are non-trans people). I learned that if you are a lesbian who doesn’t want to give fellatio, you are transphobic. You may be called a cisbian and you are responsible for the ‘cotton ceiling’. Men get pregnant  and you should say ‘chestfeeding’ not ‘breastfeeding’. Vulva cupcakes are violent. Women who menstruate should be called ‘menstruators’ so as not to trigger transwomen who cannot menstruate, or transmen who don’t wish to be reminded that they do. The term ‘female genital mutilation’ is ‘cis sexist’. Often, middle-aged people with names like Misty or Crystal will be the ones helpfully explaining this to confused ‘non-binary’ youngsters. If your child thinks they’re trans, there are a host of interested adults out there. They’ll help you select underwear, they’ll advise you to start transition as early as you can. Some will advise you to keep your feelings from your parents because they may become ‘crazy, hateful people’ if you come out to them. Worried siblings are told to keep quiet if they don’t want suicide on their hands. A few clicks will get you tips on how to get a binder without your parents knowing; some sites will even post you a second-hand binder for free. Tips on how to get hold of hormones illegally online and how to get ‘top surgery’ quicker by lying to a therapist are just a few clicks away.

I started taking Jessie’s phone away at night.

Here’s the thing – teenagers are dysphoric. Dysphoria is defined as ‘a state of unease or generalised dissatisfaction with life’ and that just about sums up being a teenager for a lot of kids. Many teenagers feel they aren’t in the right place, the right life, the right time. It is not such a huge leap, especially for a lesbian girl, to conclude that she is in the wrong body. Transkids call the name their parents gave them at birth their ‘deadname’. The appeal is clear. Society demands such impossible things from our youth. Our boychildren are expected to be tough, to ‘man up’, to scorn women yet acquire them, to value money and power above everything else. Is it any wonder if they shirk from what they are told is manhood? And if it is hard for them, it is so much worse for our girls. They are faced with endless images of airbrushed physical perfection in a society where women are told they can ‘have it all’ but are everywhere portrayed as constantly sexually available and intellectually and physically inferior. We are raising our girls in a society where women still earn nearly 20% less than men for the same work hours; where online porn is only a click away; where a third of young women age 18-24 report being sexually abused in childhood and only one in twenty reported rapes ends in a conviction. Is it really any wonder when young women want to cut off not just their hair  but their breasts and fantasise about emerging, as if from a chrysalis, to join men in their position of power and privilege?

“Gender is a social construct.” I repeated. “You are a biological girl. You can have no idea what it feels like to be a boy, because you aren’t a boy. Being a girl doesn’t have to dictate what you like to do, or wear, or who you love.”

She said, “I’m a boy.”

“No, you are a girl.”

“You can’t tell me how I feel.”

I worried myself sick that, at almost 16, my child was only a few months away from being able to visit a doctor privately and start hormone treatment. In fact, as I later learned, some UK children are receiving cross-sex hormones from private doctors as young as 12.

When I first started my research into transgenderism online, I could find nothing that questioned the trans narrative. Everything said transition was the answer, the only answer. Then I found 4thWaveNow, Transgender Trend and Gender Critical Dad. Those websites were saving lights in the blue glow of my laptop on those sleepless nights. From there I was led to others who questioned Transtopia. I read, with a mixture of relief and dismay, articles showing the huge increase in young people identifying as ‘trans’ and presenting to gender clinics in the last few years. Those most likely to be sucked in seemed to be white, middle class girls who spent compulsive amounts of time on social media. I read blog posts by thissoftspace and crashchaoscats. I watched YouTube videos by the inspirational Peachyoghurt. I read Sheila Jeffreys’ ‘Gender Hurts’. I joined online radical feminist groups and met wonderful women full of love and anger who taught me a lot.  I read stories about five year old children transitioning, and about parents discovering their child had ‘changed pronouns’ at school months ago, but the school had a policy not to discuss  the issue with parents. I saw picture books encouraging children to question if they were born the ‘right’ sex. I read about a woman who started a fundraiser for ‘top surgery’ for her disabled daughter who was hospitalised in an intensive care unit. I watched videos where young boys donned false eyelashes and lipstick and curled their long hair, and told the world that they were really girls, while their parents held the cameras that broadcast their lives to the world via their own YouTube channels. Trans-identifying Jazz Jennings stars in a reality TV show. I read about MTT (male to trans) boxers hospitalising women in fights, about MTT golfers who suddenly became world champions, about middle-aged MTT playing on girls’ basketball teams. And I read story upon story about women and girls being assaulted in bathrooms, locker rooms, prisons and refuges, by men who identified as women and used the privilege that gave them to invade women’s spaces.  In all my internet surfing, I never found a single story about an MTT being attacked in a men’s restroom.

I showed Jessie a graph that registered the sweeping rise in girls identifying as trans over the last decade. She seemed somewhat subdued by that.

“A woman can’t become a man, it’s impossible.” I reasoned. “How can your body be wrong but your brain be right?”

She repeated, “I’m in the wrong body.”

We went round in circles. And then, in my Internet wanderings, I discovered ‘Jake’.

Jessie had created an elaborate online persona as a transboy, as Jake. As the story slowly unravelled, I discovered that Jessie hadn’t met her new girlfriend, Beth, at a party, as she had told me. Instead, they had met online, and as far as Beth was concerned, she had a boyfriend, a transboy called Jake. As far as Beth was concerned, Jessie Maynard didn’t exist.

I was devastated, I was lost, I was furious. We’d had a strict ‘no fake profiles online’ rule and she had broken it, and then had lied to me.

“It’s not a fake profile,” she yelled, as she slammed her bedroom door. “It’s me!”

I changed the internet passwords and I bought her a ‘brick phone’, a phone without internet access. She was not impressed.

But I didn’t try to stop Jessie seeing Beth, or any of her other friends. Beth lived two hours away from us, but I paid Jessie’s train fare to visit her fortnightly, and gave her back her old phone to FaceTime most evenings. I was touched when Jessie wanted me to meet Beth, and I took them out for dinner. I had mixed feelings. On one level I felt the relationship was reinforcing her confusion. On another I felt it might help clear it. Yet I was horrified that Jessie had created this online world, slipped so easily inside and pulled it back into reality with her. There were others calling her Jake now, friends she had met online, and a few ‘IRL’ friends. Even some of her friends’ parents, I discovered, used the new name and pronouns.

“Do you think Beth really sees you as a boy?” I questioned, one afternoon.

“Yes.” Jessie didn’t look up from her book.

“Really?”

“She says if that’s how I identify, that’s how she sees me.” Jessie looked up this time, and seemed a little uncertain. “I have wondered about that,” she admitted.

Sometimes I would sit with her, coaxing her to explain how she felt, trying so hard to understand how she thought she really could be a boy; telling her what a talented and creative person she was and what a great life she had ahead of her.

Sometimes I couldn’t bear it any longer.

“Whatever you do to yourself you will always be a woman,” I shouted, exasperated. “Do you want a life where everyone around you creeps about pretending they think you’re something you’re not? Do you want to spend the rest of your life on hormones? Do you want a half-beard, phantom breasts, a life based on a lie?”

Sometimes she would not speak to me at all. And I didn’t blame her.

As I’ve said, the internet told me repeatedly that my child might kill herself if I questioned this new identity or whether transition was the best response to her feelings. I didn’t believe it. Jessie did not seem suicidal. Angry and confused, yes. There seemed to be no space for question, no one out there to tell these kids they might be ok as they are – that it was society’s expectations of what makes a man or a woman that should change, not them. This self-diagnosed condition seemed to be accepted without question by most therapists and health professionals.

I started a Facebook group just for Jessie and me, where I posted blog links, news articles and reports I found online, and checked if she had read them by bringing them up in conversation.

Sometimes I’d say, “You can have your phone to call Beth after you’ve read that article.”

Or, “I’ll wash up, you go and look at that video.”

Many of the links I shared with her explained gender as a social construct. Some unravelled the myth that our brains are gendered; some discussed what makes a woman a woman. Many linked FTT (female to trans) transgenderism to male domination, some discussed internalised misogyny. I made sure she knew that detransition was ‘a thing’ and that detransitioners were rejected by the community that had encouraged them to transition in the first place. Sometimes we read articles or watched videos together. She rolled her eyes a lot but didn’t seem to mind too much.

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I read everything I could get my hands on. I stayed up most of the night, most nights, reading and copying and pasting appropriate links for Jessie to read. It was easier than lying in the dark, thinking about my perfect child removing her breasts a few years down the line. I learned about breast binders and the problems they can cause. I learned that the facial hair produced by testosterone often remains even if hormones are stopped. I googled pictures that I now wish I could unsee. A pre-op torso sporting breasts and chest hair. Photos of badly scarred, crooked chests; of nipples that looked as if they had been glued or badly stitched back on, reports of nipples that had ‘fallen off’. A photo of bloody breast tissue lying in a silver surgeon’s bowl. I saw pictures of constructed penises that looked like ready-rolled pastry and the raw exposed flesh that was cut away from arms or thighs to build them. I learned about how an artificial vagina can be constructed from a scrotal sack, and how, in the words of one MTT, “some of the tissues get starved of nutrients and oxygen (and) tends to die off”. I learned about ‘phantom penis syndrome’ and how it can affect some post-op MTTs when they become aroused.

It was horrific. It was nothing like the ‘My 2 Year Transition Story’ YouTube videos. I did not make an appointment for Jessie to see the doctor. I did not take her to a gender clinic.

“You’re not a straight boy, Jessie. You’re a lesbian.” I reasoned.

She shouted, furious, “I am not a lesbian!”

Her 16th birthday came and went. She had a party and her friends took over the ground floor. I kept one eye out from upstairs. Some cross-looking little goth girls smoked and drank beer at the bottom of the garden.

“Who were those girls?” I asked the next day.

“Those boys were Ryan and Jake.”

I snorted.

I did try to find Jessie a therapist who would help her reconcile with being female. The only openly gender critical therapist a Google search threw up lived in Texas. No use to us, then. I was put in touch with several people by email, but I could find no-one who worked in our area. Those I did communicate with were wonderfully supportive but asked me not to name them, not to give out their email address or talk about them. The message was clear – publicly questioning Transtopia could be professional suicide.

Jessie talked disparagingly of ‘otherkin’, the world of people who seriously ‘identify’ as animals. Cats, mostly, or wolves, and sometimes dragons. She didn’t take them very seriously. I said I couldn’t see a lot of difference between their beliefs and her own. She scowled–but then she laughed.

I showed Jessie photographs of Danielle Muscato and Alex Drummond: both men who consider themselves to be women.

I showed her a picture of an FTT (female to trans), who claimed she was a gay man, breast-feeding her baby.

“Man or woman?” I pestered her. “What makes a woman? What makes a man?”

We watched a video about Paul Wolscht, a man in his late forties who now ‘identifies’ and ‘lives as’ a 7- year old girl. Jessie was horrified. She said it was gross. I said that if gender really is all about identity, then his identity is surely as valid as any other. She looked at me, incredulous. I shrugged. There was a silence.

I showed her Peachyoghurt’s YouTube channel and we watched the videos together. Peachyoghurt made Jessie laugh. Sometimes I felt like we were getting somewhere, but when I asked her, the answer was always the same.

“Nothing’s changed. I’m still a boy.”

“What about Rachel Dolezal?” I asked one day, in the middle of dinner. “She was born white but honestly feels as if she is black. How is that different?”

“It just is.”

“Why?”

“I’m eating my dinner, mum.”

I taught her about how gender is a hierarchy; I gave her articles that showed that ‘transwomen’ are as likely to be arrested for violent crime against women as men; and that wealthy, older men are investing huge amounts of money in the transitioning of children.

Sigh. “I’m still a boy, mum. Nothing has changed.”

When Jessie was due to register at college at 16, she told me she wanted to register as a boy, as Jake. I had seen this coming and I was not keen at all. I felt that the more she indulged Jake; ascribed the good things in her life to being perceived as a male, the less there would be left of Jessie. The deeper she waded in the waters of Transtopia, the harder it would be to turn back. I worried about the effect on her education, and the damage that would be done by people in authority appearing to buy into her delusion. I was determined to at least find her some time and space to think a while longer before stepping into a life in which her ’transness’ was either the elephant in the room or the main focus of her being. She’d been offered a place at an excellent college an hour away from us. I took a gamble.

“You can do what you like when you are 18,” I told her. “But for now, you register as Jessie- as a girl- or you go to the college two blocks away from our flat.”

To say she was not pleased is an understatement. There were tears and there was shouting.  But she registered at college as Jessie Maynard.

We know that we are supposed to say that transwomen are real women. We know that it upsets them when we don’t. We also know, although we think about it far less, that we are supposed to believe that teenage girls who think they are boys, are actually men. The reason the cry ‘transwomen are real women’ is so important is that the minute we stop buying into that ‘reality’ the whole house of cards collapses.

I talked with Jessie about the way we treat boys and girls differently and how their brains develop differences because of that. I reminded her that in Victorian times, and well into the 20th century, pink was considered to be a boy’s colour and boys wore dresses until they were as old as eight. Gender expectations are different in different cultures. How could your brain be right but your body wrong? Is Caitlin Jenner really a woman, and is the hardest part of being a woman really deciding what to wear? Can sixty years of male privilege be wiped away with surgery and a lipstick? I talked a lot.

After a while I would always ask, “Do you want me to go away?”  Usually she would say, “Yes,” but sometimes she would shake her head. “No, you can stay.”

I told her how angry it made me feel that she had friends whose parents used her ‘preferred pronouns’, because I wouldn’t tell an anorexic girl she looked better thin, or comment on how cool the cutting scars on a boy’s arms looked.

I tried to give her support and let her know that I would always love her, but I never wavered for a minute from the idea that a woman cannot ‘become’ a man. Jessie and I went out for walks, to the cinema; out to lunch. I watched her and thought how clever she was, how compassionate, how thoughtful, how beautiful. I couldn’t bear the thought that she might mutilate herself in pursuit of something she could never really have. I wore sunglasses far too often that summer, but it helped to hide my eyes.

Then, at a party, Jessie met up with a friend she hadn’t seen for a year. Hazel had lived as a boy called Harvey for 8 months and then re-identified as a girl. Unbeknownst to me, they talked a lot over the next few weeks.

“What does Hazel say about it all?” I asked, curious, when Jessie told me. She shrugged. “Pretty much the same as you.”

When she asked if she could stay the weekend at Hazel’s house, obviously I said yes. I began crossing my fingers and hoping for a light at the end of the tunnel.

A week later she said “I’m thinking about it all, mum. I’m not sure what I think anymore.”

Jessie started at college and had never seemed so happy. Slowly, she seemed to begin reconciling with her femaleness. Then she told me she wanted to tell me something ‘later’. I thought I knew, I suspected, I hoped and I hoped. I waited and time passed slowly.

One day she texted me on the way to college,  “I am a girl. I was never a boy.’

She has told the group of friends that called her Jake the same.  Beth has been accepting, saying “Now you’re my preferred gender.” The only friend who is disappointed is a boy.

“You are becoming problematic.” he told her. “You need to educate yourself.”

Jessie saw the irony.

Jessie wrote a respectful but trans-critical post on her Tumblr account, and two of her ‘transboy’ followers messaged her saying they had also been feeling that way for some time and asked her to tell them more. She is currently messaging with several young people who are experiencing gender confusion. I hope she can help them, as her friend Hazel and I helped her, to realise that your potential should not be governed by your genitals; that the problem is gender and the solution is to try to change the system, not yourself.

I realise that it could have all gone horribly wrong: Jessie could have turned her back on our family and bought into the myth that anyone who questions trans ideology is phobic, full of hatred, and should be discarded in the name of liberation and finding yourself. If things had gone that way, I could have lost a child as well as a daughter. Every family is different and I would not presume to tell another parent how to deal with their child’s assertion that they are transgender. It is a minefield. If I had ever felt that Jessie needed to transition to stay alive, I would have acted differently, but I never once felt that she was in danger of taking her own life. Of course, I had never expected my daughter to tell me she was my son, either.

I do not dispute that, for a very small number of people, their gender and body dysmorphia has gone so far that the only comfortable way for them to survive in this culture is to live as the opposite sex. These people should have the same rights as the rest of us, they should not be discriminated against and they should be able to move about their business in safety. Housing and jobs should be open to them, just as they should to any member of society. I don’t want to belittle their suffering and I would not ‘misgender’ someone to their face. But a man is not a woman and a woman is not a man. These are biological differences, and biology is the fundamental basis of female oppression. To claim that being a woman is no more than a feeling is to instigate the erasure of women. The idea that we should buy into the myth that our young people are ‘born in the wrong body’ because they do not want to conform to contemporary gender stereotypes is doublespeak worthy of an Orwellian dystopia. The fact that teenage girls, predominantly young lesbians, are rejecting their womanhood in an attempt to become their oppressors should fill society with horror. Instead we are making ‘being trans’ into the latest fashion and parading these children in newspapers and on reality TV shows. I don’t know where it will end.

What I do know is that if I had let Jessie register at college as a boy and taken her to a gender clinic, we would be looking at a very, very different picture now. My beautiful 16-year-old daughter would have stepped down the road to public transitioning and a lifetime on medication. She would be looking towards a very different future.

Thank you to those of you that gave me support. To the women and men who have written so honestly about their experiences as parents, or as gender questioning young adults. Words cannot describe the strength you gave me when I needed to believe that I was doing the right thing in not supporting Jessie’s immediate transition. One more strong, healthy young woman is growing up a feminist.


Thoughts from Jessie Maynard:

Although at the time I didn’t appreciate it, the constant repetition of “you can’t be a boy” did me good. A lot of good. I had been spending too much time on the internet and I had got it into my head that somehow, biological girls could really be boys, if they “identified” as such (& vice versa).

As someone who’s always had a mostly realistic grip on the world, for some reason I had been pulled into a world where boys could become girls and girls could become boys. I felt that because I said I was a boy, I was a boy.

At the time, I felt that my mum not immediately calling me Jake and using male pronouns was horrible and transphobic. But in the long run, without her resistance, I probably wouldn’t be as happy as I am today, as I would still be thinking I was a boy and trying to “pass” as a boy (which I would never be able to do without body-altering hormones.)

I think that if I had changed my pronouns in September, and registered at my college as a boy I would be a lot more unhappy as I would constantly be trying to “pass” and I wouldn’t be making the friends I wanted to, as I would be trying to fit in with the “male crowd”. When I arrived at my college, making friends wasn’t my primary motive, however the friends I have made are almost all female, and I don’t think I would have those friends if I had been trying to fit in as a boy.

Most of all, understanding gender as a social construct has taken me a long way in my personal life, and in my ideas about feminism and the way women and men are treated, especially women by the trans movement.

I’m glad that I realised before it was too late, as I am now happier in my own body and identity. I think that as a whole, many girls who wouldn’t’ve identified as transgender 10/20 years ago are now thinking they are which is dangerous and harmful to them, and that talking to them maturely and explaining gender as a social construct could really help them.