Nevertheless, she persisted… as a role model for girls in STEM

Yesterday, the Washington Post published the account of a girl who heretofore—since the age of 8–had been a role model for other girls interested in science and math. She was a popular YouTube star, garnering up to a million views for her robotics videos. She was even invited to the White House in 2013.

But at 16, Super Awesome Sylvia, after (by her own report) spending some time on the Internet considering trans stuff, announced she’s now a boy.

wapo sylviaAs is typical for journalists covering trans-kids at the once-venerable Post, not even the mildest skeptical question was asked about why a strong, somewhat gender-atypical girl would morph from a positive example for other girls, into a “trans boy.”

And not only are there no questions: The author of the puff-piece even used male pronouns to refer to the little girl before she “identified” as a boy, thereby neatly erasing her past as a spunky 8-year-old girl with a penchant for invention.

We used this story as a springboard to create an alternate story: about a different girl named Spectacular Sarah who resists the gender-saturated, society-wide encouragement to proclaim she’s a boy because she likes short hair and geeky pursuits (in Sarah’s case, renewable energy).

For full effect, we recommend you read the entire Washington Post story prior to ours.

Note: This piece is a work of fiction and a fair-use parody. Characters and details in this story should not be construed to represent any actual person or situation.


Anywhere, USA. — This is the story of Spectacular Sarah, an ingenious little girl who made portable backyard windmills.

At age 8, Sarah Smith put on a lab coat and started a web show. A gap-toothed little kid with a pony tail and soldering iron, a rare sight in the boy’s club of amateur inventors.

Before long, Sarah had tens of thousands of viewers. And tons of windmills, of course.

The most famous was the windmill that powered her family’s kitchen appliances. On days it turned, it generated enough power to keep a small fridge running and to cook three meals a day on the electric range.

But that windmill did other things, too.

It got Sarah invited to her state’s Science Fair in 2015, when the governor tried it out to run the microwave in the governor’s mansion. He told its shaky-legged, 10-year-old inventor that it was great to see girls in tech who could serve as inspiration to other girls.

By middle school, Sarah was giving speeches all over the world, from the United Nations to elite girls’ schools in South America. This was a big deal for a kid from a small, windy town in Anywhere, USA, whose parents often worried about paying the next bill.

That’s how — year after year, show after show, speech after speech — Spectacular Sarah’s windmills turned a little kid into a role model for girls everywhere.

And that’s how “they”—some adult activists and confused kids on Tumblr– tried to trap her.

Because these days, when a girl breaks the stereotypical mold, people start asking if she’s “really” a boy. Especially people who’ve spent a lot of time on the Internet, or reporters who didn’t take the time to get the backstory. Sarah didn’t feel like a genius, or a celebrity—but she knew darn well she was a girl—though she had her doubts for a while.Wapo SarahThis is the story of Sarah Smith, a 16-year-old girl who actually prefers art to science, and knows a lot more about herself than her Tumblr pals and clueless reporters seem to think.  Now when people ask about her pronouns and assume she is a boy, she tells them, “Just because I’m a girl who got famous for doing geeky stuff, that doesn’t mean I’m going to take the easy way out and tell everyone I’m going to ‘transition.’”

Instead, Sarah broke free.

  1. My name is Sarah

In the beginning there was simply Sarah. No one asking if she was a boy (this was before that sort of nonsense got started), no spectacular anything. Just Sarah and her mom and dad (and later a sister and two brothers) growing up in windy Anywhere, USA. A regular little girl, by all appearances.

“When I was a kid, I was just a kid,” Sarah said. “Making cool stuff.”

Sarah had always wanted to know how things worked.

She liked to pull apart old TV sets and put together miniature solar panel kits with her dad, Bill, an industrial engineer.

One day in 2011, Sarah decided to make a Vimeo show about making things. Her mom, Jane, sewed a lab coat fit for a 7-year-old. Dad helped write the scripts and held the camera. (Mom and Dad were pretty “gender conforming”). Then Sarah just did her thing—and her thing was renewable energy projects on a kid-sized scale.

“Hi! My name is Sarah and this is our spectacular science show!” Sarah said in the first episode, pumping her arms in the air. “Let’s get out there and show the world we can do better than fossil fuels!”

Spectacular Sarah showed kids how to make a miniature solar panel that could power a table lamp, a small radio fueled by the energy from a super-hot compost pile, and a boom box wired to the mini windmill that would serve as prototype for the bigger windmills she engineered later on.

And kids watched. And Sarah watched, amazed, as hundreds of viewers became thousands. “Renewable Energy for All” magazine started hosting the show on its Vimeo channel, and altogether more than a million people clicked on Sarah’s videos.

Sarah got into the character. She wore the lab coat to alternative energy fairs, selling Sarah bling at her booths, or posing with cardboard-cutout idols like “Hermione Granger” from Harry Potter.

In time, Sarah would get emails from parents who told her she was an idol herself especially to their daughters, but also their sons.

One day last summer, when it was all over and Spectacular Sarah was just Sarah, dad Bill sat on a patio eating chips and salsa, watching his daughter splash in a pool, wondering if the fun had been worth all the trouble it caused.

“Before any of this happened I used to tell Sarah, ‘Fame happens to the unlucky; it’s not a healthy thing.”’ Bill said. “As a kid, it’s a trap.”

Bill was thinking about something else, too: He’d seen “I am Jazz,” and he knew that a new fad was starting to take hold: A fascination with kids who were “gender nonconforming” who are now being promoted as “born in the wrong body.” He knew Sarah had already been asked more than once about her “preferred pronouns”–including by some adults who ought to know better.

 2.  Sarah meets the governor

When she was 10, with a few years of making miniature renewable energy devices behind her, Sarah decided to enter the international “Alternatives to Fossil Fuel” games. The competition was fierce: teams from around the world competed to see whose toy-sized windmills and solar panels could keep a test radio running the longest.

wapo windmill 2Sarah dreamed up something more in her artistic style:  windmill arms that painted abstract designs as they rotated around. Her windmill had a paintbrush on two of the spinning arms, with a bright wood frame and five little trays of paint. As the arms spun, paint spewed onto a canvas. A local tech company partnered with the Smiths to build it, Sarah’s fans helped crowdfund it, and Sarah’s dad made a computer app to send windmill artwork through a Galaxy Note.

It won the gold medal in the Most Creative Renewable category — and caught the eye of people in the Anywhere State legislature and the governor’s mansion.

“They were just freaking out that there’s a girl making stuff,” Sarah said.

Right then and there, Sarah knew she wanted to be a role model for other girls. She was starting to learn, even at 10, that some of the other techy girls in her school—some of whom liked short hair and rough play—were wondering if all that meant they weren’t “really” girls.

Sarah remembers shaking nervously as she walked through the governor’s mansion that spring. The other kids’ projects all seemed so elaborate. A huge solar panel; an artificial waterfall to demonstrate the power of rushing water; even a ski parka heated by a small solar panel on the back, invented by three 9-year-old boys.

“Why am I here?” Sarah thought. “I have this weird windmill that I made.”

“It’s really neat!” Spectacular Sarah told a solar engineer who’d come to see the show.

And she smiled in her lab-coat with the governor, and held up a model of a windmill that might someday power the state legislature building.

She came back to Anywhere, USA with photos that still get passed around her family — the highlight of her career as a girl genius.

At the end of that school year she got an F in math.

The truth was, Sarah says, she’s never been a natural at science. She liked the fairs, and she liked messing around with her family on the show, and she knew how to say the right things.

The last big trip was to South America, where Sarah would make speeches at elite private girls’ schools — and finally begin to confront those who claimed a girl like her just had to be a boy.

3.  Just the beginning for Spectacular Sarah

Even before South America, there had been signs that all was not as it seemed with the person called Sarah Smith.  Sarah remembers asking a friend in seventh grade, “Is it weird that people keep wondering if I’m a boy? It’s starting to make me wonder, too!?” In her private sketchbook, she started to draw herself with shorter hair and hairy legs. Her friend, who’d just gotten a Tumblr account said, “Yeah, I’ve noticed lots of girls who hate long hair and never want to shave their legs ‘coming out’ as boys. What do you think?”

Sarah spent a lot of time thinking about this stuff. But they were still passing thoughts. In South America, in 2014, girls in uniform skirts crowded around the windmill and listened to Spectacular Sarah’s tips on invention.

The tour went so well that after Sarah returned home, the Smiths said, she got an offer to come back and study free at one of the schools — “a place where girls make their visions come true.”

“It’s an amazing school,” Sarah said. “An entire wing is dedicated to women inventors.”

But as she waited for the start of the South American school year, those questions she’d discussed with her friend began to pass through her mind more and more often.

The character Spectacular Sarah began to fade from her life—and for a brief time, so did the person called Sarah.

Sarah became reluctant to make new Vimeo shows, and eventually stopped altogether. Her parents weren’t sure why at first. They didn’t know that Sarah could no longer stand to look at her long curls, or listen to “how squeaky my voice was.”

And the thought of that school in South America, with its laboratories and uniforms, loomed in Sarah’s mind like a deadline.

Finally, she decided, “I can’t live with myself wearing a skirt every day.”

She wrote a letter to the school, asking why a girl couldn’t wear pants instead of a skirt to school. To her surprise, the school principal wrote back right away. She said, “You know, you’re right. We support girls being and becoming who they are, no matter what they wear, how they cut their hair, or what they like to do. If you want to wear pants, you’re still very welcome. In fact, you can be the first to challenge our outdated dress code. Hope to see you soon!”

4.  Shape-shifting goddess of the sea and prophecy

Sarah was spending more and more time alone in her pink-painted bedroom, not making things anymore, not talking much, sometimes crying for unexplained reasons. The Vimeo show was all but abandoned.

Sarah’s mom, Jane, went into the room one day to talk it out, mother and daughter.

“Mom,” said Sarah. “Why is everything pink in this room? You know, I’ve never liked that color. And you know what else? I hate dresses, and I want to cut my hair—I hate the curls and they just get in my way!”

Jane looked surprised for a moment, then answered,” Of course, we can change that. It’s just a color, after all. And you can do what you like with your hair. I’ll make an appointment for the haircut this afternoon.”

Sarah hesitated. “Mom? You don’t think I’m really a boy because I want to have short hair and I hate pink—do you?”

“Of course not!” Jane answered. “I know there’s a lot of those kind of messages on TV and the Internet now. It’s pretty much everywhere, wherever you look. But you just be the best person you can be.”

In secret, Sarah was already working on that. She was drawing herself in her sketchbook all the time, prototyping new haircuts. She was looking up words on the Internet: Lesbian; gay; gender fluid; pansexual; asexual; bisexual; tri-gender; demi-girl.

“So many labels,” Sarah thought. None seemed to fit.

She sat down at the dinner table one evening, and told her parents and siblings: “I have something to say. Everyone on social media, and even some of my friends keep saying a girl like me must be transgender. But the more I think about it, the more I realize I’m fine the way I am. But sometimes I do get confused by the stuff I see online, and what my friends are saying.”

Luckily, Sarah’s parents weren’t born yesterday. They said, “You know, Sarah, trends come and go. We know it’s tempting to believe you might be “born in the wrong body” because you’ve done stuff more typical of boys your age. But you shouldn’t feel any pressure at all to agree with what other teenagers are saying or doing.  No matter what, just think for yourself!”

It took some time for Sarah to get used to the idea that the older teens on Instagram and Tumblr might be wrong.  She started reading and watching worrisome accounts and videos by young people who’d been injecting themselves with testosterone and having their breasts removed. A lot of them seemed happy for awhile, but the obsession with “passing,” and the side effects from the drugs and surgeries, weighed on her.  With her parents’ support, she came to realize she’d been swayed, as teenagers always have been, by the opinions of her peers. She’d always been a tough, independent thinker, and it didn’t take long for her to realize she was fine just as she was—especially since her parents fully supported her getting a super-short haircut and taking all her “girl clothes” to the thrift store, swapping them for the more comfortable pants and T-shirts in the boys’ section.

As fall turned to winter, Sarah fell silent less often, and her confidence grew. She painted her room blue over the pink, covering one wall with a “women in tech” mural, and another with Post-it notes to herself. “Wow, that was a close call. Girl, you are loved.”

The family came to realize that Sarah Smith’s greatest project had been to figure out that she had always been Sarah Smith, after all.

But she still wanted a change, something to honor the journey she’d been on—from wondering if she was a boy to returning home to herself again. So, the family sat down and brainstormed a new name. They settled on Thetis, a Greek goddess known for shape-shifting and prophecy. Sarah liked that Thetis was a sea goddess, given her own strong interest in protecting the planet by working with renewable energy.

Sarah’s journey home to herself may seem pretty simple, in hindsight. It was anything but at the time.

“About the best thing we can do when we’re young is give ourselves time to grow and mature into the unique adults we all become someday,” her mom told Sarah one day.

“There’s no need for a strong girl to say she’s trans, just because she’s different,” her dad remarked. “Strong, independent girl” probably covers 90 percent of what you are. The rest is something else that’s uniquely you.”

5. Spectacular STEM girls

“Do you want to just shut it down?” her dad asked Sarah one day, when she was still in the throes of trying to figure out if she was “really” a boy or not. He meant the show, and Spectacular Sarah. To erase and move past that whole chunk of a life.

But Sarah didn’t want that.

“I’ve thought about it, and I’m still that girl role model I’ve always been,” she said. “I don’t want it to end. Yeah, I’m not crazy about my squeaky voice, but I’ve noticed most women’s voices change and get a richer tone as they get older. Besides, I also did research on the testosterone that some girls are taking to lower their voices. That’s a permanent change. What if I regret it later? I can’t go back—my Adam’s apple will stay the same. And that’s not even considering the hair I’d grow on my face and chest, and maybe later going bald!”

So, she decided to keep Spectacular Sarah on Vimeo–but also added a drawing of the Greek goddess Thetis whose name she’d chosen: a powerful woman who could shape-shift when she wanted to. Thetis/Sarah could wear what she wanted, cut her hair or grow it long, choose a career as a social worker some day or as an industrial engineer. That brainy girl character was here to stay.

Sarah drew a comic strip, explaining how shape-shifter Thetis represented the wide-open choices every girl had, if she had supportive parents and teachers who believed in her potential.  And because Thetis was also a goddess of prophecy, Sarah added a caption predicting that one day soon, girls who didn’t fit the typical “feminine” mold would  no longer be asked “preferred pronouns.” They’d just be left alone to become  shining examples of the many unique ways girls can live their lives.

6. Mini windmills

Life now . . . well, it’s never perfect. Sarah met another girl who had also considered whether she was trans for a while last year. They bonded over a shared hatred of gym and started dating. Sarah is coming to terms with the idea that she might be a lesbian, and feeling glad that she didn’t start down the road to hormones and surgery like some of the girls she’s seen on Tumblr. She’s learning to do sculpture and working on her drawings of Thetis.

She gets a few glares in the hallways of high school, people insisting on misgendering her as male, others asking her if she’s sure she doesn’t want to be referred to as he/him. But all in all, she’s glad not to be worried about which locker room to use; glad to be done with the chest binder a friend let her borrow to try out a couple of times. That binder hurt, and made it nearly impossible to run faster than a walk,  without having to take a time out to catch her breath. And while wearing it, she sometimes thought that the only way to get away from that constricting device would be to get rid of her breasts entirely. What was the point of all this, really? Who wanted a life spent in doctors’ offices and hospitals?

A few months ago, Sarah went with her family on her first science trip since fully resolving her feelings about being a girl—and a lesbian.

Sarah and her girlfriend and Sarah’s dad sat at the next table, trying to sell mini windmill models to pass the time.

To advertise, they put up the same photo of Spectacular Sarah and the governor, which had always drawn customers. That day, it drew a huge crowd.

“Oh, who’s this person?” someone would ask, looking at the ponytailed kid in the photo.

“Well . . . it’s this person, right here,” Bill would say, and point to his daughter.

“But that’s a guy.”

Bill tried the direct explanation: “That’s no boy—it’s my daughter. She just likes her hair short now and wears more comfortable clothes.”

To Sarah’s surprise that day, a lot of girls her age walked up to talk to her. So many had the same story: They preferred the hobbies, clothes, and hairstyles more typical of boys, had briefly considered they might be trans—then realized they could do everything they wanted as the awesome, strong girls they’d always been

The next time someone looked at the photo and asked for the girl — “Oh, is she here today?” Sarah was the one who answered. Pointing to herself, she said:

“She hasn’t gone anywhere. She’s right here.”

wapo windmill 4

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New support forum for parents of gender-dysphoric kids & young adults

Note to all: We at 4thWaveNow are very happy to see the launch of this new forum for parents. But please also keep participating in the comments sections of posts on 4thWaveNow. We want to continue to be an open forum for all (parents and others) who question the contemporary rush to transition kids, teens, and young adults. Also, your continued participation here is vital for the many near-drowning parents who shipwreck by accident upon 4thWaveNow–one of the few places on the open Internet that openly questions the wisdom of turning gender-questioning kids into lifelong medical patients.


by Niniane, Kellogmom, Gender Critical Dad, Marge Bouvier Simpson, Mary, & Cat

There is a new forum for parents of gender dysphoric kids, teens, and young adults. We’re here to provide peer support for parents who would like a thoughtful and cautious approach to intervention for their gender-dysphoric daughter or son.

https://gendercriticalresources.com/Support/

Please note: Anyone may register for the forum, but you will be unable to contribute or see posts until approved by a moderator.

Most of the parents on the forum have teens or tweens who appear to be presenting with rapid-onset adolescent gender dysphoria, which some experts believe may be significantly influenced by such social factors as peer pressure, social media, and the Internet. Social contagion is a real thing for young people. Parents with rapid-onset teens desperately need support for a cautious approach, since the prevailing “affirmative” treatment model has been influenced more by ideology than evidence. Indeed, many parents joining the forum have had difficulty finding professionals who would support them in following a more careful route when addressing their child’s dysphoria.People help join solve bridge puzzle

In general, the parents who find their way to this forum value tolerance — tolerance of diverse viewpoints, political affiliations, and sexual orientations. We are not interested in pushing forward any ideology. We simply care about our children and want to support each other in discovering what is best for them.

If you have a child who has desisted from a trans identification, your presence is especially welcome on the forum, and we hope you will join us. You can help other parents learn how to help their child resolve his or her distress without resorting to life-long medical intervention.

We hope all parents who need support will join the forum. There is strength in numbers. If parents find each other, we can offer each other support and know we are not alone. We can have a louder voice when speaking to schools, professionals, and policy makers. Please come find us. We look forward to seeing you there.

A note of caution: Please understand that the moderators have no way of verifying anyone’s identity. Therefore, we cannot guarantee that everyone on the board will be there in good faith. It is probably wise to operate under the assumption that the forum is being watched by those who would not wish us well. So, when you join, choose an anonymous user name, don’t reveal identifying details about yourself, and use appropriate caution when interacting with others on the forum.

https://gendercriticalresources.com/Support/

 

Suicide or transition: The only options for gender dysphoric kids?

by J. Michael Bailey, Ph.D  and Ray Blanchard, Ph.D

This is the first in a series of articles authored by Drs. Bailey and Blanchard. As their time permits, they will be available to interact in the comments section of this post. Please note: As always on 4thWaveNow, if you disagree with the content of this article, your comments will be more likely to be published if they are delivered respectfully. Hateful or trollish comments will be deleted.


Michael Bailey is Professor of Psychology at Northwestern University. His book The Man Who Would Be Queen provides a readable scientific account of two kinds of gender dysphoria among natal males, and is available as a free download here.

Ray Blanchard received his A.B. in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1967 and his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois in 1973. He was the psychologist in the Adult Gender Identity Clinic of Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) from 1980–1995 and the Head of CAMH’s Clinical Sexology Services from 1995–2010.


It is increasingly common for gender dysphoric adolescents and mental health professionals to claim that transition is necessary to prevent suicide. The tragic case of Leelah Alcorn is often cited as the rallying cry: “transition or else!” Leelah (originally Joshua) was a gender dysphoric natal male who committed suicide at age 17, blaming her parents for failing to support her gender transition and forcing her into Christian reparative therapy. Subsequently, various “Leelah’s Laws” banning “conversion therapy” for gender dysphoria (among other things) have been passed or are being considered across the United States.

The suicide of one’s child is every parent’s nightmare. Given the choice for our child between gender transition and suicide, we would certainly choose transition. But the best scientific evidence suggests that gender transition is not necessary to prevent suicide.

We provide a more detailed essay below, but here’s the bottom line:

  1. Children (most commonly, adolescents) who threaten to commit suicide rarely do so, although they are more likely to kill themselves than children who do not threaten suicide.
  2. Mental health problems, including suicide, are associated with some forms of gender dysphoria. But suicide is rare even among gender dysphoric persons.
  3. There is no persuasive evidence that gender transition reduces gender dysphoric children’s likelihood of killing themselves.
  4. The idea that mental health problems–including suicidality–are caused by gender dysphoria rather than the other way around (i.e., mental health and personality issues cause a vulnerability to experience gender dysphoria) is currently popular and politically correct. It is, however, unproven and as likely to be false as true.

Suicide vs Suicidality vs Non-suicidal Self-injury

Suicide is a rare event. In the United States in 2014, about 13 out of every 100,000 persons committed suicide. Suicide was most common among middle aged white males, who accounted for about 7 out of 10 known suicides.

It is helpful to distinguish at least four different things: Completed suicide means death by suicide. Suicidality means either thinking about committing suicide or attempting suicide. Non-suicidal self-injury means injuring oneself (most often by cutting one’s skin) without intending to die. Finally, mental illness includes a variety of conditions, from depression to conduct disorder to personality disorders (such as borderline personality disorder) to schizophrenia–some of which are especially strongly associated with completed suicide and suicidality, others of which are more strongly associated with non-suicidal self-injury.

Obviously, completed suicide is what we are most worried about. Because it is so rare, however, and because it is often difficult to know about the dead person’s motivations for suicide, it has been especially difficult to study. There are fewer studies focusing on gender dysphoria and completed suicide than on gender dysphoria and either suicidality or non-suicidal self-injury. Studies of suicidality must rely on self-report (for example, someone must report that they are, or have been, thinking about committing suicide), and this complicates interpretations of results. (Maybe some people, some times, are especially likely to say they have been suicidal, even if they haven’t been.) Also there is more than one kind of gender dysphoria–we think there are three (this is a topic for another day)–and we should not expect risks to be identical for all types.

The Scientific Literature

Our aim here is not to review every available study, but to focus on the best evidence. Larger, more representative studies–and most importantly, studies of completed suicide–are most informative.

Studies of Completed Suicides

 Two large systematic studies of completed suicide and gender dysphoria have been published, one from the Netherlands, the other from Sweden. Notably, both countries are socially liberal, and both studies were conducted fairly recently (1997 and 2011). Both studies focused on patients who had been treated medically at national gender clinics. These patients all either began or completed medical gender transition, and we refer to them as “transsexuals.” (We don’t know how many of the patients there were from each of the three types we believe exist.)

The Dutch study’s suicide data were of male-to-female transsexuals (natal males transitioned to females) treated with cross-sex hormones (and many also with surgery). Of 816 male-to-female transsexuals, 13 (1.6%) completed suicide. This was 9 times higher than expected. Still, suicide was rare in the sample. The Swedish study found an even larger increase in the rate of suicide, 19 times higher among the transsexuals than among a non-transsexual control group. Still, only 10 out of 324 transsexuals (i.e., 3.1% of the group) committed suicide. Again, still rare. Note that both studies were of gender dysphoric persons who transitioned. As such, their results hardly support the curative effects of transition.

The Dutch and Swedish studies were of adults whose gender dysphoria may or may not have begun in childhood. No published study has focused only on childhood onset cases. However, psychologist Kenneth Zucker has tracked the outcome of more than 150 childhood onset cases treated at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health into adolescence and young adulthood. He has generously shared with us (in a personal communication) his outcome data for suicide. Out of those more than 150 cases followed, only one had committed suicide. Furthermore, Dr. Zucker’s understanding (based on parent report) is that this suicide was not due to gender dysphoria, but rather to an unrelated psychiatric illness. On the one hand, one suicide out of 150 cases is more than we’d expect by chance. On the other hand, it is a rare outcome among gender dysphoric children and adults.

Studies of Suicidality and Non-suicidal Self-injury

People who commit suicide were suicidal before they did so. But most people who are suicidal do not commit suicide. “Suicidal” is necessarily a vague word, encompassing “intends to commit suicide” and “thinks about suicide,” both in a wide range of intensity. Furthermore, most studies would include as “suicidal” someone who falsely reports a past or present intention to commit suicide.

Why would anyone falsely report being suicidal? One reason is to influence the behavior of others. Saying that one is suicidal usually gets attention–sympathy, for example. It can be a way of impressing others with the seriousness of one’s feelings or needs. Although this possibility has not been directly studied, reporting suicidality may sometimes be a strategy for advancing a social cause.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the rates of intentional but non-fatal self-injury peak during adolescence at about 450 per 100,000 girls and a bit fewer than 250 per 100,000 boys. These rates are much higher than the 13 per 100,000 American completed suicides per year (and remember that suicide is more common among adults than adolescents). So it is reasonable to assume that most adolescent self-injury is not intended to end one’s life. We are not suggesting that parents ignore children’s self-injury. We simply mean that self-injury often has motives besides genuinely suicidal intent.

 Not surprisingly, given the increased rates of suicide among gender dysphoric adults, suicidality (i.e., self-reported suicidal thoughts and past “suicide attempts”) is also higher among the transgendered. One recent survey statistically analyzed by the Williams Institute reported that 41% of transgender adults had ever made a suicide attempt, compared with a rate of 4.6% for controls. This survey recruited respondents using convenience sampling, however, and this may have inflated the rate of suicidal reports. Additionally, the authors of the survey included the following (admirable) disclaimer):

Data from the U.S. population at large, however, show clear demographic differences between suicide attempters and those who die by suicide. While almost 80 percent of all suicide deaths occur among males, about 75 percent of suicide attempts are made by females. Adolescents, who overall have a relatively low suicide rate of about 7 per 100,000 people, account for a substantial proportion of suicide attempts, making perhaps 100 or more attempts for every suicide death. By contrast, the elderly have a much higher suicide rate of about 15 per 100,000, but make only four attempts for every completed suicide. Although making a suicide attempt generally increases the risk of subsequent suicidal behavior, six separate studies that have followed suicide attempters for periods of five to 37 years found death by suicide to occur in 7 to 13 percent of the samples (Tidemalm et al., 2008). We do not know whether these general population patterns hold true for transgender people but in the absence of supporting data, we should be especially careful not to extrapolate findings about suicide attempts among transgender adults to imply conclusions about completed suicide in this population.

That is, importantly, the authors realize that suicidality and completed suicide are very different things, and it is suicidality that they have studied. Completed suicides in their group will be much, much lower.

Increased suicidality for gender dysphoric children was also reported by parents in a recent study by Kenneth Zucker’s research group.

A systematic review of non-suicidal self-injurious behavior in “trans people” found a higher rate, especially for trans men (i.e., natal females who have transitioned to males). The most common method mentioned was self-cutting. (Self-cutting is a common symptom of borderline personality disorder, which is also far more common among non-transgender natal females than among natal males.)

Is Transition the Answer, After All?

In a very recent study psychologist Kristina Olson reported that parents who supported their gender dysphoric children’s social transition rated them just as mentally healthy as their non-gender-dysphoric siblings. Furthermore, parents’ reports suggested that the socially transitioned gender dysphoric children were not less mentally healthy than a random sample would be expected to be.

This research falls far short of negating or explaining the findings we have reviewed above. First, it was relatively small, including only 73 gender dysphoric children. Second, families were recruited via convenience sampling, increasing the likelihood of various selection biases. For example, it is possible that especially mentally healthy families volunteer for this kind of research. Third, the assessment was a brief snapshot; we would expect socially transitioned gender dysphoric children to be faring better at that snapshot compared with children struggling with their gender dysphoria. (There is little doubt that at first, gender dysphoric children are happier if allowed to socially transition.) Young gender dysphoric children do not show that many psychological or behavior problems, aside from their gender issues. The aforementioned study by Kenneth Zucker’s research group showed that mental health problems, including suicidality, increased with age. Perhaps this won’t happen with Olson’s participants, but it’s too soon to know.

Why Is Gender Dysphoria Associated with Mental Problems, Including Suicidality?

 We don’t know.

The current conventional wisdom is that gender dysphoria creates a need for gender transition that, if frustrated, causes all the problems. That is a convenient position for pro-transition clinicians and activists. But they simply don’t know that this is true. Furthermore, both our past experience studying mental illness scientifically and specific findings related to gender dysphoria suggests the conventional wisdom is unlikely to be correct.

As an example, Leelah Alcorn’s suicide (like most suicides) was tragic, but she appears to have had problems that were not obviously caused by her gender dysphoria. She posted as Joshua (her male identity) on Tumblr:

“I’m literally such a bitch. shit happens in my life that isn’t even really that bad and all I do is complain about it to everyone around me and threaten to commit suicide and make them feel sorry for me, then they view me as sub-human and someone they have to take care of like a child. then when they don’t meet my each and every single expectation I lash out at them and make them feel like shit and like they weren’t good enough to take care of me. since I can only find imperfections in myself I try my hardest to find imperfections in everyone around me and use them as a way to one up myself and make others feel bad to make myself look better.”

Sophisticated causal analysis of mental illness and life experiences has invariably shown that things are more complex than previously assumed. For example, although depression is certainly caused by adverse life experiences, those vulnerable to depression have a tendency to generate their own stressful life experiences. So it’s not as simple as depression being caused by life experiences alone. Also, depression has a considerable genetic influence. Similarly, women with borderline personality disorder (BPD) report that they have experienced disproportionate childhood sexual abuse (CSA), and many clinicians and researchers have assumed that CSA causes BPD. But one just can’t assume the causal direction goes that way–one must eliminate alternative possibilities. Recent sophisticated studies suggest that, in fact, CSA does not cause BPD.

Research to understand the link between gender dysphoria, various mental problems (including suicidality), and completed suicides will take time. There is already plenty of reason, however, to doubt the conventional wisdom that all the trouble is caused by delaying gender transition of gender dysphoric persons. We have already mentioned the fact that transitioned adults who had been gender dysphoric (i.e., “transsexuals”) have increased rates of completed suicide. Their transition did not prevent this, evidently. Suicide (and threats to commit suicide) can be socially contagious. Thus, social contagion may play an important role in both suicidality and gender dysphoria itself. Autism is a risk factor for both gender dysphoria and suicidality. No one, to our knowledge, believes that gender dysphoria causes autism.

Conclusions

Parents with gender dysphoric children almost always want the best for them, but many of these parents do not immediately conclude that instant gender transition is the best solution. It serves these parents poorly to exaggerate the likelihood of their children’s suicide, or to assert that suicide or suicidality would be the parents’ fault.


References

Aitken, M., VanderLaan, D. P., Wasserman, L., Stojanovski, S., & Zucker, K. J. (2016). Self-harm and suicidality in children referred for gender dysphoria. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry55(6), 513-520.

Dhejne, C., Lichtenstein, P., Boman, M., Johansson, A. L., Långström, N., & Landén, M. (2011). Long-term follow-up of transsexual persons undergoing sex reassignment surgery: cohort study in Sweden. PloS one6(2), e16885.

Marshall, E., Claes, L., Bouman, W. P., Witcomb, G. L., & Arcelus, J. (2016). Non-suicidal self-injury and suicidality in trans people: a systematic review of the literature. International review of psychiatry28(1), 58-69.

Nock, M. K., Borges, G., Bromet, E. J., Cha, C. B., Kessler, R. C., & Lee, S. (2008). Suicide and suicidal behavior. Epidemiologic reviews30(1), 133-154.

Van Kesteren, P. J., Asscheman, H., Megens, J. A., & Gooren, L. J. (1997). Mortality and morbidity in transsexual subjects treated with cross‐sex hormones. Clinical endocrinology47(3), 337-343.

Are you sending or losing your teen to college?

The following piece is a collaborative effort by a group of parents whose offspring began “gender transition” at university. They will be responding in the comments section under the username “POSTS”: Parents Of Sudden Transgender Students.


What if you sent your kid off to the Ivory Tower and you never saw her or him again–at least, you never saw a recognizable facsimile of the person you knew and loved for 18 years?

College is a time to “find oneself,” to try on different hats. How about transgender, genderqueer, non-binary? Some teens start to explore a transgender identity in high school, often via the Internet. Others may not have previously considered or even imagined a transgender identity before stepping onto a college campus.

If it were all just identity exploration, it would be one thing; but many college students are quickly advancing into medical treatments–often with the financial support of the university. Diagnostic testing or even basic counseling are no longer necessary, and college-bound teens have quickly figured this out. “Coming out” as transgender is now treated pretty much the same as a gay or lesbian coming out, not as the gender identity disorder it was considered to be only a short time ago.

And colleges compete to show how inclusive they can be of a myriad of transgender identities. The college end game is to be and stay highly ranked.

chronicle of higher ed


For a high school student questioning their identity, there is much advice available to help them select a trans-friendly campus. Your soon-to-be-away-from-home child may click away on the new wealth of information that could feed into their choice of college, as in campus pride, more pride, a pride guide to transforming your body.

There are even scholarship opportunities available for those considering a transgender identity. If one can commit to a new identity (and possibly a new body), the money is waiting. The Internet is full of transgender opportunities that institutions of higher learning offer before and during those formative college years. If we provided an inclusive list, it would all run together into a confusing (to parents) alphabet soup of acronyms. These acronyms and micro-identities are an easy sell to today’s gender-questioning students.

Campus pride student health clinic

Some students never question their gender identity until after being immersed in college life. Perhaps they take an elective course in Queer Theory in the Gender Studies Department, opening their eyes to viewpoints they didn’t know existed. Ok, isn’t that what an education is all about? But the medicalization of a newfound queer or trans identity can happen astonishingly quickly now.

Many young-adults-in-formation who suddenly announce a trans identity have a history of anxiety; are brilliant misfits with few friends; are gay or lesbian (and thus in no need of medical intervention); are a tad nerdy with possible autism spectrum traits–or perhaps all the above. Your daughter or son may lack a strong identity–in fact, the list gets so long that we could shorten it to “your child, any child.” Any kid who feels a great need to belong somewhere.

Once a transgender identity decision is made, instructions for what to do next are only a click away, such as at Carleton College in Minnesota:

carleton

In the National Geographic special, Gender Revolution, Katie Couric interviewed Tamar Szabo Gendler, Dean of Arts and Sciences at Yale. Dean Gendler is pleased that Yale is at the forefront of the gender revolution:

Universities are places that thrive on new discovery and I think that universities find it thrilling to feel like in the face of new knowledge we are able to figure out how to transform society as a consequence.

Some colleges cover trans medical treatments under the student health insurance plan.  According to Campus Pride, a whopping 86 US institutions cover hormones and surgeries, while another 22 will pay for hormones only. In a story in the New York Times on February 12, 2013, the author notes that no university covered such treatment as recently as 2007, but now exclusive universities like Stanford are onboard.

ny times

“No one knows how many” indeed–though we know that number has grown since the article was written four years ago.  Where once universities provided birth control and routine care on their health plans, now many (like the University of Massachusetts, Amherst) offer the full gamut of major, irreversible sex-reassignment procedures–including phalloplasty and vaginoplasty.

umass amherst

And while it may be hard to imagine how a student could take time out of their busy schedule to have sex reassignment surgery, the coverage of cross-sex hormones on so many student health plans might catch the eye of a gender-defying high school student; especially now that they’re away from the prying eyes of their parents.

Washington State University, in rural Pullman, scores a solid five stars from the CampusPride Index. Why? Trans health care, including (starting fall semester 2017) cross-sex hormones, is available via the student clinic. And as WSU explains, they are continually making changes to meet the needs demanded by their students:

WSU hormone treatment

At the University of California, Santa Cruz, the Queer Center provides a page chock-full of resources, including lists of sex reassignment surgeons, affirmative therapists, and how to get legal name changes on campus and state ID documents.

ucsc

Many colleges embrace the WPATH (World Professional Association for Transgender Health) guidelines:

A mental health screening and/or assessment as outlined above is needed for referral to hormonal and surgical treatments for gender dysphoria. In contrast, psychotherapy – although highly recommended – is not a requirement.

But informed consent gender clinics do not require mental health screenings by licensed therapists, and access to these clinics has been growing in recent years. Under this model, cross-sex hormones can be available even for a “non-binary” presentation; it is the individual’s choice what their goal and treatment protocol is.

Yale has provided gender surgeries on the student health plan since 2013; more recently, gender fluid and nonbinary Yale students have begun agitating for their right to treatment on demand.yale enbies

 

“The medical establishment is prejudiced against nonbinary people, ignoring the fact that gender fluidity exists,” Amend said. “Doctors can propagate a notion of ‘not being trans enough,’ which is toxic to the mental health of patients.”

Amend added that there is a community of nonbinary or gender fluid students at Yale, and that he knows of students who have had to tell psychiatrists that they are “more trans” than they feel, out of a fear that the doctors will withhold treatment if they appear more gender fluid.


Affirmative Care in the Student Counseling and Health Centers

How does this all happen so fast….a teen learning about transgender in high school, and starting cross-sex hormone injections in college?

Every day, young fresh faces, some not looking so fresh anymore, crowd the waiting rooms of student counseling centers all over Campus Country. Being a counselor in a college setting makes for job security: the 18-25-year-old cohort has the highest rate of mental health issues and the waiting list can be long.

Students have many stressors: a new environment, roommates, academic pressures, sexual shenanigans/hook-up culture, social pressures of every kind. Some of these students arrive burned-out by an intense college prep course in high school. Some have pre-existing mental health woes. They are strongly encouraged to use their student mental health center if any issues arise. That’s generally a good thing; we all want our kids to thrive and be healthy. But it can also be a less-positive thing, when the clinic is known as Affirmative Care.

What is Affirmative Care? In the mental health world pertaining to LGBTQetc it means that whatever narrative you bring to the table, you will receive an amen, a yes, a suspension of disbelief from the therapist. A student can make a transgender proclamation, whether this  is sudden, whether it makes any sense in the ongoing narrative of his or her life, and it will be accepted without question by the affirmative therapist. If one brings a tangible mental health diagnosis to the affirming counselor, whether it is mild depression, anxiety, bipolar, psychosis, no problem. Because if you have a mental health concern, it must be because you have not been affirmed and celebrated for identifying differently from your “assigned birth sex”. A life out of line with your gender identity explains all other mental health issues….or so the argument goes.


 Safe Places

Concerned about what your student is doing on campus, suddenly transitioning socially and via hormone use? If over 18 (as most are), they are considered to be adults now, and they can be safe on campus, even from parents, in “Safe Places.” Recently, the proliferation of “Safe Places” on college campuses have received a lot of attention, mirth, and critiques. Some argue that Safe Places magnify victimhood narratives and curtail freedom of speech and thought on college campuses. But the organized Safe Place coalitions do serve a valuable function. There are many people who need shelter and protection: domestic abuse victims, sexual assault/sex trafficked victims, run-away teens, individuals in groups that are marginalized, including LGBTQ people. None of us should tolerate violence or bullying.

If your child claims to be transgender, on most campuses they will be treated as a protected class against anyone who might question this new identity. A young adult caught up in the transgender warp will often say or do anything to have their way, to claim victimhood status. Doubting parents could even be hit by a  Do-notContact Order if they express dismay that their child is using cross-sex hormones via the student (or off-campus) health clinic—after all, the benign and kindly college administrators serve as in loci parentis. So the college clinic that injects students with cross-sex hormones, which cause permanent harm and morphed bodies, is just another “safe place.”

The subject of gender identity and safe spaces is a moving target, with the defining happening on college campuses. From the Los Angeles Times:

The meaning of a “safe space” has shifted dramatically on college campuses. Until about two years ago, a safe space referred to a room where people — often gay and transgender students — could discuss problems they shared in a forum where they were sheltered from epithets and other attacks.

Then temporary meeting spaces morphed into permanent ones. More recently, some advocates have turned their attention to student housing, which they want to turn into safe spaces by segregating student living quarters. Who would have imagined that the original safe space motive — to explore issues in an inclusive environment — would so quickly give way to the impulse to quarantine oneself and create de facto cultural segregation?

Safe space activism stems primarily from the separatist impulses associated with the politics of identity, already rampant on campus. For some individuals, the attraction of a safe space is that it insulates them from not just hostility, but the views of people who are not like them. Students’ frequent demand for protection from uncomfortable ideas on campus — such as so-called trigger warnings — is now paralleled by calls to be physically separated too. Groups contend that their well-being depends on living with their own kind.


In preparing this piece, we talked to several parents whose young adult offspring transitioned while at university. Here are a few of their comments:

 She did have some troubles in high school with anxiety, cutting and anorexia

From three mothers of sons who suddenly decided at university they were trans: all are very bright, nerdy and on the ASD spectrum

She asked us not to come to the Family Weekend at the end of October, she told us she was invited elsewhere for Thanksgiving

He had a romantic rejection, he attended a talk about trans at his university, he spent a lot of time online and developed dissociative disorder, then said he believed if he transitioned he would be more present in his body

We were met at the airport by a stranger: her skin was coarsened with acne, she had noticeable facial hair, her hair was chopped into a severe cut

The trans woman announcement came when my son was depressed and struggling with the complexity of social and romantic life at the university

She said she was lesbian in high school, but next spring in her first year in college there was a shock: a health insurance claim for testosterone

Several months later, it became apparent by both her appearance and mysterious medical bills, that our daughter was receiving testosterone in the college health clinic

His personality changed and he appeared terrified by everything; he told me that his friends thought the university failed to recognize mental illness

It was all hidden from us.

It was all hidden from us.  Until the body morphing started.

The eugenics craze: All the BEST people…

by worriedmom

As 2017 rolls along, the pro-pediatric and teen transition movements only appear to be growing stronger.  In the United States, we now have some 50+ transition clinics, up from one such clinic in 2007.  School curricula are revised daily to educate our youngest students about their fluid gender identities, Jazz Jennings is now an authoritative source for kindergartners, and children are fully apprised of their opportunities to choose a different sex from the one with which they were born.  State after state has passed legislation providing that the “full affirmation” approach is now the only legally permissible therapeutic modality for people under the age of 18.  And, of course, the barrage of “transgender” “sparkle princess fairy boy” and mastectomy-receiving, happy at last, teen girl stories continues, with nary a skeptical word, much less analysis.  It’s overwhelming at times, and (despite these smiling faces) horribly sad.

It also seems as if most respected forces in our culture are lined up behind the pro-transition juggernaut.  The major professional medical associations, such as the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association, are strongly pro-transgender.  Educators at all levels, many faith communities, major corporations and needless to say what remains of the “mainstream media” could not be more uncritical and supportive of the notion of child and teen transgenderism.  Social service agencies, public and private, adopt affirmative regulations and policies in areas such as adoption and foster care; organizations that previously focused on women’s health and issues, such as Planned Parenthood and even my beloved La Leche League, rush to serve transgender people, whether this service correlates with their mission or not.  Politicians and law-makers, particularly on the liberal side of the aisle (where many of us 4thWaveNow parents previously would have located ourselves without a qualm), bend over backwards to signal their support for this newest of civil rights causes, the transgendered.

In short, all the best, seemingly most educated, and sophisticated, people and institutions in our culture are fervent–if not vociferous–supporters of the transgender lobby.  Some days, it seems as if the pro-transgender outcome is entirely foreordained.

It may well be.  By the time some of today’s children are tomorrow’s exhausted parents, gender change may be the equivalent of getting braces, or a learners driving permit.  Changing one’s gender through surgery and hormones may be as unremarkable as having tonsils or adenoids out, getting ear tubes, or an asthma inhaler.  The distinction between “boy” and “girl” may have ceased, for all intents and purposes, to be relevant to any human activity.  Certainly this seems to be the Brave New Future envisioned for us by the transgender lobby.

And yet.

Perhaps at this juncture  we might recall that there was a time, really not so very long ago, that the most esteemed thinkers in this country, and around the world, believed, and more importantly acted, on an extreme philosophy about human beings and their relationship to society.  This belief system was, in its shaky philosophic underpinnings and its questionable science, extraordinarily similar to the transgender movement.  I speak, of course, of modern-day eugenics.

There is a meticulously detailed record of the eugenic philosophy and its impacts, and no blog piece can adequately convey more than a sliver of this incredible story.  (There is a short list of excellent books about eugenics appended to the end of this blog post, for those who are curious and would like to learn more.)

To put it very simply, modern eugenics was a scientific philosophy and eventually a social movement that derived, in large part, from the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin.  Although ideas of eugenics date back to Plato, modern eugenics emerged in the mid-1800s with Sir Francis Galton, a statistician, scientist, and cousin of Charles Darwin.  Once concepts of Mendelian genetics were discovered (seemingly bolstering Galton’s theory), eugenics, literally translated as “good birth,” became an intellectual craze that by the early 1900’s had swept the United States and which endured, in some forms, right up until the 1960’s.

Using the same logic that underlies modern animal-breeding practices, eugenic theory held that societies would do best to encourage their most capable, energetic and “fit” members to reproduce, and should discourage their less-capable members from reproducing.  The concern was that the mechanism of natural selection (“survival of the fittest”) would not operate, in a modern world, to keep the weakest members from reproducing, “polluting the gene pool,” and would result in an inevitable deterioration and decline of that society.

healthy seed

Eugenicists supported both “positive eugenics” (educating and encouraging “fit” people to reproduce,  which would theoretically improve the gene pool) and “negative eugenics” (sterilizing or institutionalizing the unfit or otherwise barring them from reproducing, to remove their undesirable characteristics from a society’s “breeding stock” ).  With the hope of proving that undesirable social traits were heritable, the eugenics movement also collected massive amounts of data, documenting “family lines” and “inherited characteristics,” although it did not necessarily heed what much of that data suggested.

Eugenics did not originate, or take hold, in a vacuum.  Three underlying social forces were racism (and the ingrained belief that “the races” could be rank-ordered by desirability); persistent anxiety about the impact of immigration on the United States, including fast-paced demographic change created by large numbers of African-American people leaving the South; and, especially in the decade of the 1930’s, worry about the financial and social costs of subsidizing members of society who could not “pull their weight.”  As I believe will ultimately be shown with transgenderism, there were larger and stronger currents that caused eugenics to become wildly popular at the time and place that it did.

feeblemindedFrom today’s perspective, of course, we understand that genetics simply does not work in the way in which the eugenicists hypothesized.  Gene pools are way too large and variegated.  Subjective negative social traits such as criminality, “feeble-mindedness,” and laziness cannot be inherited (at one time people believed that humans could acquire characteristics during their lifetimes, and these traits could then be inherited).  Despite the collection of massive amounts of data, and laws giving state actors tremendous leeway in determining who was and was not “unfit,” it proved to be extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, to measure undesirability and to eliminate or decrease it in a population.

Finally, of course, sterilizing people who are incapable of giving informed consent or who objnazi posterect to it eventually came to be considered to be a human rights violation (except in the current pediatric transition context of course).  The death knell for the eugenics movement came during the post-World War II Nazi war crimes trials at Nuremburg, during which it was revealed that American eugenics theory provided much of the rationale for the Final Solution.  As noted above, however, it took decades longer before mandatory sterilization and sequestration laws were entirely removed from the books.

For a movement that ended in widespread censure, if not to say collective amnesia, eugenics sure was popular while it lasted.  And part of the reason for this popularity was that it received the intellectual imprimatur and endorsement of the finest minds and most elite and revered institutions both in the United States and abroad.  Consider some of the most prominent supporters of the eugenics movement:

  • President Teddy Roosevelt;
  • Helen Keller;
  • G. Wells;
  • Winston Churchill;
  • Alexander Graham Bell;
  • John Maynard Keynes;
  • Victoria Woodhull;
  • Luther Burbank; and
  • E.B. duBois.

Source , source, source, source

Funding for the eugenics movement came from distinguished organizations, such as the Carnegie Foundation and the WK Kellogg Foundation, as well as influential leaders of the oil, railroad, and steel industries (the Harrimans, the Rockefellers, and others).  Eugenics ideas were ratified and endorsed by virtually every powerful institution in society, from the United States Supreme Court on down.  In the notorious Buck v. Bell case (which incidentally has never been overturned), pre-eminent jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. ruled that “It is better for all the world if, instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind.”

oliver wendell holmes

The elite educational establishment (the best and the brightest, if you will) was fully on board – at one point over 375 American colleges offered eugenics courses, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Cornell.  According to a 2016 article in Harvard Magazine,

Harvard’s role in the [eugenics] movement was in many ways not surprising. Eugenics attracted considerable support from progressives, reformers, and educated elites as a way of using science to make a better world. Harvard was hardly the only university that was home to prominent eugenicists. Stanford’s first president, David Starr Jordan, and Yale’s most acclaimed economist, Irving Fisher, were leaders in the movement. The University of Virginia was a center of scientific racism, with professors like Robert Bennett Bean, author of such works of pseudo-science as the 1906 American Journal of Anatomy article, ‘Some Racial Peculiarities of the Negro Brain.’

Sadly, many religious leaders, particularly mainline Protestants supportive of the “Social Gospel” movement, became strong proponents of eugenics ideology:

Many Social Gospel adherents viewed eugenics as God’s plan to reconcile the truths of science with the Bible. Toward this end, Bible verses were reinterpreted and found to contain what had theretofore been secret eugenics messages. Thus, in one minister’s sermon, Noah’s flood was God’s own eugenics policy for eliminating a human race that had degraded and become inferior. Others insisted that Christ’s Parable of the Talents was actually about improving the population: In eugenics exegeses, ‘Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him,’ took on a whole new meaning.

Early feminists, such as the National Federation of Women’s Clubs and the National League of Women Voters, as well as pioneering birth control activists, such as Margaret Sanger, were strong eugenics backers.  The cultural and academic current was irresistible: receiving support from virtually all elite sectors of society, by 1910, there was an extensive and vibrant network of pro-eugenics research institutes and conferences, as well as lobbying groups and professional associations.

margaret sanger

Was there any pushback against the eugenics movement before its Nazi-engendered demise?   As Andrea DenHoed put it in the New Yorker last year, “there was widespread skepticism about eugenics among those whom Oliver Wendell Holmes once referred to as ‘the thick-fingered clowns we call the people,’ but the opposition wasn’t large or organized enough to effectively counter the influential network behind the movement.”  The Catholic Church and its lay members also mounted opposition to the eugenics philosophy, but were far less effective in thwarting eugenics legislation in the United States, than in Europe.  Even as early as 1910, some scientists began to discover that the field of genetics did not work the way eugenics thought it did (these scientific caveats were mostly ignored or explained away).  Generally speaking, then, eugenics ideas were considered entirely self-evident and socially beneficial, and opponents were consigned to the ranks of “fundamentalist fanatics” and backwoods retrogrades. Concerns or skepticism were simply dismissed or ignored as ignorant, backwards, and out of step with “modern” realities.  Even as scientific knowledge advanced, and eugenics’ principles no longer appeared factually certain, the “true believers” in eugenics persisted and continued to harm the most vulnerable members of society.

Future blog posts will explore the similarities between the foundational understandings and aims of the eugenics movement and modern-day transition theory.  For now, however, the parallel is simply that eugenics, like pediatric transgender philosophy, was a theory that was whole-heartedly embraced and promoted by the social, intellectual, cultural and scientific elites of its day – until it wasn’t.  It is indeed frightening to contemplate whether eugenics would ever have been discredited, had it not been for the fact that the Germans took it to its logical conclusion.  But is this what comes of letting “all the best people” make life and death decisions for the rest of us? What happens when they’re wrong?


Interested in learning more?  Check out these sources:

War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race, by Edwin Black

Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck, by Adam Cohen

The Nazi Connection, by Stefan Kuhl

In 1984, the New Yorker ran a four-part series entitled The Annals of Eugenics (reproduced here) (paywall) which is also very much worth the reader’s time.

Thoracic outlet syndrome & deteriorating verbal fluency: Not on your typical informed consent form

Informed consent: Your Golden Ticket to “affirmative” trans health care.

It’s simple. Go to a gender therapist, tell them how you identify and what medical treatments you intend to pursue. Said therapist refers you to an MD, whose job it is to inform you of what you’re about to embark on, including possible risks, and to obtain your consent. Done.

icath model

And while consent forms do tend to cover (in addition to the provider’s buttocks) the better-known effects and risks of hormone “therapy”–in the case of testosterone, things like elevated cardiac risk, deepened voice, hair growth/loss, and changes to sex drive and mood —there are other physical and neurological problems associated with marinating female brains and bodies in far more T than their biology would normally allow.

Researchers in neuroscience who study hormone effects have uncovered some of these impacts; clinician-researchers who focus on trans people are aware of them. But for some reason, the trans-identified females who’ll possibly bear the brunt aren’t fully informed.  Don’t these clinics owe it to their patients to even mention the ongoing research and clinical discoveries? [Note to readers: If you can supply us with informed consent forms which do mention any of the effects discussed in this post, please do so in the comments.]

On the neurology front, there is a significant and growing body of literature across disciplines showing the deleterious effect of testosterone on language skills. A 2016 brain imaging study found that even 4 weeks of testosterone “therapy” may shrink the zone of language in the brain of FTMs, corroborating multiple, prior studies showing an association of T levels with reduced verbal skills. In 2007, Dutch researchers Gooren and Gitay reviewed clinical data on over 700 FTMs from 1975-2004 and found a similar impact. An earlier 1995 study of testosterone treatment in trans-identified females showed a “deteriorating effect on verbal fluency tasks.”

But hey, you might get a bump in your mental rotation skills.  A 2016 fMRI study (coauthored by Peggy Cohen-Kettenis, one of the members of the Dutch team who pioneered the use of puberty blockers in pre-adolescents), studied “gynephilic” girls (otherwise known as “lesbians”) and found changes in brain regions typically activated during mental rotation tasks after just 10 months  on T.

burke et all 2016 gynephilic FTM

Whatever one’s opinions on the data, isn’t this cross-disciplinary, replicated body of research worth a mention, even as a footnote, on an informed consent form?

Moving on to the skeletal front, we found this recent discussion on the WPATH Facebook page amongst providers caring for post-mastectomy trans-identified females. Asked about tips for dealing with top-surgery induced adhesions and other problems, a primary care provider had this to say about adverse skeletal impacts of T on “estrogen-based” people:

T affects the body by increasing muscle size rather quickly. Often in people who were estrogen based to adulthood, that means a lot of muscle has to fit through a small bony prominences at the shoulder, elbow, and wrist this is often especially apparent. This often leads to things like thoracic outlet syndrome, and carpal tunnel syndrome like experiences.

Anyone who has ever suffered from thoracic outlet syndrome knows that it can be excruciatingly painful, last a long time, and can even be disabling and prevent a person from working;  in the worst cases, it can lead to more complications and a need for surgery.  Even if a trans-identified female doesn’t follow the path of many FTMs to becoming a bulked-up, gym/workout enthusiast, the increased risk is there because of the smaller skeletal structure of human females.

TOS

As with so much in trans health care, the wanted and unwanted effects of the “treatment” can lead to a need for more treatment (in the case of TOS or carpal tunnel, from physical therapists, orthopedists, and others).

TOS image

Deteriorating verbal fluency. Big muscles forcing through small bony prominences. What else is lurking in the research literature or clinical experience that hasn’t surfaced in media reports, or in the fine print at informed consent clinics? If you know of other under-reported testosterone impacts on trans-identified females, tell us about them in the comments.

One thing we can be sure of: More and more women are starting on testosterone at younger ages, and next to nothing is known about the long-term impacts.

 

No menses, no mustache: Gender doctor touts nonbinary hormones & surgery for self-sacrificing youth

This is another in a series of posts examining statements made by top gender specialists at the inaugural USPATH conference in Los Angeles in February 2017.  (See here and here for more.)


Not so long ago, unremitting distress about one’s gender was the one and only reason for medical transition. Those days are over. With activists clamoring for a change from “gender dysphoria” to “gender incongruence” in the next revision to the international register of diagnosis codes, the ICD-11, the push is on for insurance-paid hormones and surgeries for anyone who believes their body is in any way “incongruent” with their “gender identity.” And this effort includes medical intervention for children and adolescents.

In this clip, excerpted from a USPATH symposium entitled “OUTSIDE OF THE BINARY – CARE FOR NON-BINARY ADOLESCENTS AND YOUNG ADULTS,” pediatric gender specialist Johanna Olson-Kennedy MD, discusses her views on medical interventions for “nonbinary” youth.

As always, we recommend that you listen to the recorded excerpt yourself, as well as reading the transcript included in this post. Time stamps are indicated by square brackets. []

 

According to Dr. Olson-Kennedy,

There are still people who want to embark on phenotypic gender transition—hormones and surgeries—who don’t meet this criterion [for gender dysphoria]. Well, what are we to do?

…And it’s great. I love this. I don’t like the word “pass” at all. Passing as a member of the other sex is not a criterion for treatment, whereas achievement of personal comfort and well being are. And that is really the crux of what should guide our care, as medical providers, as professionals in the mental health role.

How is this any different from elective cosmetic surgery? Trans activists will say it’s “medically necessary” because it is a guaranteed suicide preventative, a dubious claim at best. But how about a teen girl who hates herself and is self-harming because her breasts are (to her) too large or too small? What about her “comfort and well being”?

[:52] So, there are a lot of medical intervention possibilities for folks who have nonbinary identities. And again, this is really not for me to determine. It’s really for me to work with a person to determine what it is they’re interested in.

As we all know by now, the idea that a medical or psych provider should use diagnostic skills to determine whether a young person ought to undergo permanent drug or surgical treatments is so 20th century.

[1:06] Some people are like, oh! no menses, no mustache. You know, assigned female at birth, “I really don’t want facial hair, I don’t want [inaudible], I’m super dysphoric about bleeding.”

So, there’s lots of options, certainly for menstrual suppression. I love—I was so excited to be in one of  the first sessions that I went to, which was gynecologic care for trans-masculine folks, this “leave a gonad” thing.

So, it was this idea of, you know, maybe you don’t wanna have bleeding but you still want estrogen, and you want that support from a medical perspective. Or you just don’t want to go on testosterone.

It’s 2017, and designer endocrine systems are all the rage. Human beings should tinker and tamper with their delicate hormonal balance, because it’s what they want right here, right now. Mix and match–why not?

[1:48] There’s lots of these different things.  Maybe a central blocker and low dose testosterone. I had a young person who went on testosterone for a year, and it was like, that’s enough, I’m fine with it.  I’m masculinized enough, and that’s good for me. Or no medical intervention at all.  That’s absolutely possible.

The slide below,  from a different talk at the same USPATH conference, pretty well encapsulates this “treatment” approach:

nonbinary medical pathways slide

So we see the mindset of “affirm-only gender doctors here; why so many of them don’t acknowledge there might be permanent harm done to young people who eventually detransition. There are no mistakes. It’s all part of the gender journey.

 

[2:06] So, for nonbinary assigned males, maybe just Spironolactone [an androgen blocker] or using a peripheral blocker only. That might be something that people opt for. I had a young person who really [inaudible] nonbinary identity, but kind of, very very huge fear of a large nipple areola complex. Like, “I just can’t even deal with that.”

All you women with large nipple areolas that you just can’t even deal with, maybe you can get Medicaid to cover that in your state? Worth a try.

It would be one thing if these people were arguing for elective, cosmetic treatments on demand, for adults. But activists and gender specialists not only want to retain a medical diagnosis, gender incongruence in the next version of the ICD-11;  they want insurance to cover all trans-related treatments, for nonbinaries and anyone else who wants them.  In fact, some public and private insurance policies (such as that of the San Francisco Department of Public Health) already provide such coverage.

wpath-karasic-cultural-humilty-and-sfdph-cropped1

Back to Olson-Kennedy and her areola-avoidant patient:

[2:33] So, we put them on Spironolactone for a while, and then eventually she came back and said I wanna go on estrogen.  So there’s selective estrogen receptor modulators for people who do not want breast development. That could be a possibility.  Maybe hormones, no surgery. No medical intervention, another possibility.

No medical intervention: Just one of many dishes in the smorgasbord of options for nonbinary, gender fluid youth. Who’s to say (certainly not a medical doctor), which is the least harmful of those possibilities in the long run?

[2:51] My observations: Sometimes nonbinary identities are strategic…to protect themselves, to protect their parents. What I can tell you for certain about trans kids, youth, is they do a lot of taking care of the people around them.

Here we see a theme we’ve heard from other affirm-only genderists: Trans youth are more mature than “cis” kids. They are extraordinarily prescient about their future; they know for certain what they will want at age 20, 30, 40.

winters-trans-kids-are-more-mature

Prominent gender therapist Diane Ehrensaft lauds her tween clients for having the wisdom and foresight to opt for adoption in the future—unlike their balking parents, whose only reason for objecting to sterilizing a 12-year-old is a selfish desire for grandchildren.

But there’s something else crucial to note about Olson-Kennedy’s comments: After initially lauding her young enbies for pursuing smaller nipple areolas, or choosing to halt their menstrual periods without sprouting a beard, she is now implying to her audience that nonbinary is only a stopover for many of these kids. They are only claiming this identity to “take care of” their parents, when what they really want is to go whole hog to a binary transition.

[3:18] “I will sacrifice my own comfort for the comfort of the people around me, who I know I’m making very uncomfortable with my gender.”

What an extraordinary assertion. Trans kids aren’t just mature beyond their years when it comes to making irreversible decisions about their bodily integrity and fertility. They also emanate Buddha-like concern for the feelings of others, especially their woefully ignorant parents. How long before we have religious sects led by trans kid gurus, like Tibetan child lamas on steroids?

And how does the claim that trans kids are precociously mature square with the accumulating evidence of a strong correlation between gender dysphoria and autism? Young people with autism are not exactly known for their self-sacrificing nature or their ability to reflect upon the feelings of others.

[3:33] And so, marking that out is really important. Because again, because expressing that [they are nonbinary] is often used as evidence that they are not trans.  “No, well they don’t want to do this. Clearly, they’re not trans.” And having that conversation, and making sure that someone isn’t taking care of someone else at their own sacrifice.

 Are they “taking care of someone else” or perhaps listening to a family member who just might have the best interests of the child at heart, more than a gender doctor who hasn’t known the kid their entire lives?

So, on the one hand, we hear that nonbinaries need treatments “to feel more comfortable,” and at the same time, we’re told that a significant number of martyr-like trans kids are “sacrificing” themselves by feigning a nonbinary identity for the comfort of their parents. Which is it?

The Guardian recently produced a mini-documentary on nonbinary milennials and their quest for comfort. Meghan Murphy dissected this bit of puffery, and took on the living nightmare of feeling uncomfortable in this article.

Well worth a look.

meghan murphy enbie tweet.jpg