“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