What I wish the Atlantic article hadn’t censored

by Jenny Cyphers

Jenny Cyphers is a homeschooling parent. She has been writing about that experience for many years, in various online forums. Jenny has been married for 24 yrs to the father of their two children, one adult and one teenager. They all live, work, and create, in Oregon. Jenny and her teen daughter were recently interviewed for an article about gender-dysphoric youth in The Atlantic.

4thWaveNow editorial note: We are grateful for Jesse Singal’s reporting on this complex issue and appreciate that he included the seldom-heard voices of teens who desisted from a trans identity, and their parents, in his article. We are aware that in some circles, the discussions we host on our site are considered transphobic and that we, a loosely-organized group of parents writing on this site, have been defamed as a “hate group” by those on the extreme end of the activist spectrum.

As always, we encourage those interested in the issue to read as widely as possible so they may come to their own conclusions. We contend that by leaving out all mention of 4thWaveNow, The Atlantic not only failed to offer parents the alternative opinions and resources we offer, but they also contributed to an environment that, due to censorship of critical voices, continues to propagate the distorted idea that cautiousness around medical interventions for minors is inherently harmful to trans-identified people in general.


I knew, when I agreed to be interviewed for The Atlantic article “When Children Say They’re Transgender,” that some of my words might be cut, or changed in ways I didn’t intend. But Jesse Singal is a good journalist. He’s personable and honest and willing to take on some really difficult subjects. He digs deep, records, researches, cites sources and ties things together in a nuanced way. Along with editors, he carefully adds and discards words, phrases, sources, quotes, and relevant ideas that lend themselves to the overall picture of what people will read and take away from what they’ve read. That’s what good journalism is.

There are a few things about our story and the way it was presented in The Atlantic that I’d like to clarify. First and foremost, the last-minute editorial decision to unlink the essay “A Careful Step into a Field of Landmines,” I’d written for 4thWaveNow, combined with removal of all mention of the site, needs to be highlighted because in doing so, The Atlantic failed to include important resources created to help parents support their gender dysphoric and nonconforming youth. The result is an article focused on the “situation” of “trans kids” that obscures parent-led examination and support for youth to explore identity without harmful medical interventions, the consequences of which can last a lifetime.

There are more choices for families than to either support their teens’ requests for pharmaceuticals and surgery on the one hand, and disowning or otherwise invalidating their interest in exploring their identity and nonconformity on the other. The Atlantic editors’ choice to remove 4thWaveNow from the discussion in effect denied parents access to important analysis that offers a balanced and middle ground.

Delta pic

The Atlantic photo editor had to dig deep in the several photos we provided to find the pensive one they chose for their article. Here’s one my daughter likes better; she suggested it be included with this post.

Part of my agreeing to contribute to this important debate is helping to create a platform. This website is such a platform. In talking with Jesse, I was upfront about my beliefs, which in part have been informed by 4thWaveNow and the great many array of voices shared here. It isn’t a monolith. Some of us are very liberal, left-leaning people in liberal left-leaning parts of the country, doing liberal left-leaning activities. Some of us are middle-of-the road, a minority of us are conservative, some of us are doctors, therapists, professors, and teachers. Some of us have allowed full social transition to give space to figure things out while still not agreeing to medical transitioning, and some have not. Excluding mention of 4thWaveNow, a site that gets 60K hits a month, fails to tell the whole story. Why do that? Why leave out one of my main sources of information and the ways that information helped me help my child?

Two of the most important aspects of my family’s experience that are not adequately addressed in the Atlantic article, are: 1) my daughter was given a clinical diagnosis of gender dysphoria, so she was just as “truly trans” as the next kid, and 2) it was my insistence that my child wait to medically transition, not her therapist’s. My teen’s therapist, Laura Edwards-Leeper, listened to me and agreed. We were lucky. While there are some cautious, thoughtful providers, the current situation in the US is that there is also no oversight. The most vocal professionals are firmly in the affirmation camp which believes, without any long-term data to validate, that withholding hormonal interventions is tantamount to abuse.

I didn’t know, going into Delta’s first appointment, what the outcome would be. That’s how difficult this is for parents; we have no idea what the outcome will be when we have very “insistent, consistent, and persistent” children requesting immediate medical interventions. It’s a matter of luck to find a therapist who respects parents’ knowledge of their children, who takes parental concerns and insights seriously, and who are not afraid to support slow, cautious progression.

While many transgender activists argue that they understand our children better than we do, there is no evidence to support their claim. Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria is seen primarily, although not exclusively, in natal females during puberty. It is important to understand that what separates my daughter and many of the kids of 4thWaveNow parents, is this: None of these kids experienced distress over their sexed bodies until they came into contact with the idea that there might be something wrong with them. In other words, the dysphoria is what was “rapid onset,” not necessarily their gender atypicality. These are not kids with “early-onset,” nor do they resemble later in life transitioning people who frequently claim to have always “felt like” a girl but were too afraid or oppressed by family dynamics to admit their feelings. Then, making wide sweeping projections of their own experiences, they mark our children as being in need of the help they believe they should have had. With our kids, as with the group of young people described in Lisa Littman’s survey where ROGD was first named, their dysphoria set in quickly during puberty, often after spending hours online watching/reading others discuss their distress.

Another outlandish claim (made repeatedly by some activists and “affirming” clinicians) is that we simply missed all the signs our children were suffering earlier. I can assure you that, as a homeschooling mom who spent all day every day with my daughter, she never thought she was or wanted to be a boy prior to encountering the idea from transgender kids in her social circle. In fact, between ages 9-11, she was often “misgendered” (referred to as “he” or “him”) and hated it. It saddens me that these activists experienced such awful childhoods. However, their childhoods seem to have been negatively influenced by the religious fundamentalism and/or abusiveness of their parents; their childhoods do not remotely resemble the experiences of my daughter or the many other young people experiencing ROGD whom I’ve met.

atlantic coverTeens and tweens with ROGD often meet all the clinical diagnostic criteria for transitioning. They are often “insistent, persistent, and consistent” for more than six months, or in our case, for two years. Teens with ROGD also typically meet the clinical threshold for gender dysphoria, as mine did. It’s in her medical file. That’s correct, my “never really trans kid” had a clinical diagnosis of gender dysphoria under the DSM-V. This is what we hope others understand: our kids are suffering, they hate their bodies, they want and need help. In many cases, our kids had trouble making friends, experienced some form of earlier trauma, and struggle in other important ways, completely unrelated to gender, that should not be overlooked or seen as secondary to their dysphoria.

I know, because I was in pro-transitioning parent support groups, that parents are going to “gender specialists” and demanding medical interventions for their children without thoroughly considering why their children feel the way they do. I know, because I’ve heard from parents, that some therapists will give the green light to medical pathways without addressing any mental health issues. Dr. Johanna Olson-Kennedy, who treats 900 youth at her LA clinic, is quoted in Singal’s article as saying that she “believes that therapy can be helpful for many TGNC young people, but she opposes mandating mental-health assessments for all kids seeking to transition.” As many 4thWaveNow parents and teens will tell you, this attitude denies young people the opportunity to deeply explore why they want to alter their bodies and shuts down learning about other non-medical means of managing their distress.

When I was approached to do an interview, I needed to carefully consider my motivation for doing so, and if I should agree to discuss my family’s situation at all. Ultimately, I agreed because people need to hear that there are other ways to support trans-identifying kids. Gender dysphoria is very real and it hurts. My child’s life wasn’t easy because of the intense pain of GD. I knew there had to be answers other than what I saw everywhere around me, that suggested agreeing to medical interventions was the loving and kind thing to do, and that these interventions were harmless and helpful. I agreed to be interviewed because I wanted to highlight for other parents that there are other choices: most notably, offering support (buying clothing, getting haircuts, using a new name, finding a decent therapist) while also saying “I don’t think there is anything incongruent about your body/feelings.” The Atlantic axed this part of our story, the part where parents can offer tremendous support for their children without ever setting foot in a gender clinic in search of medical interventions.

I used to be a lot more open to the idea of transitioning children, in part because I know and like many transgender people. It wasn’t until I found that in the US, girls as young as 13 are getting mastectomies, that I began to question gender affirming medicine. In the new genderist language it’s called “chest,” “top,” or “confirmation” surgery. It sounds so much nicer than a double mastectomy, almost positive and pleasant. Cutting healthy body parts off of children should not be a thing. Ever. That was the moment I decided I would never stop talking about this.

My part of the interview with Jesse Singal–although about my daughter–was really more about how to support, in general, a child going through this very difficult experience. It is challenging, if not impossible, to find places to discuss supporting teens as they explore their identity in non-medical ways. 4thWaveNow is the only US-based resource that allows this. We need to talk about how to support gender non-conforming kids; things like buying clothing from the boys’ department if you have a daughter, or buying girl clothing if you have a son. My part of the interview wasn’t aimed at kids, but at parents who really need more and better tools for helping their distressed children than the “transition or die” option. Without choices, how can people really make one? Pick one of the two? No thanks.

Someone asked me the other day why I care. Why can’t I just let people do what they want? The answer is really simple. As humans we are guided to protect our young. If our culture fails to do so, each of us have failed to protect our children. This is why there are laws against abusing children, laws preventing minors from smoking or drinking, laws to keep kids from driving, laws for educating children. We can argue against any one of those things, but the cultural “we” have agreed that this is for the good of protecting children from harm, and for promoting welfare. In the US, unlike in other countries, there are no laws or regulations about transitioning children. Until there are, this is up for debate and I’m weighing in.

The fact that so many parents are left with this narrative that there is only one right way to help a confused kid, is what drives a wedge between the parent and child, leaving children vulnerable to self-proclaimed internet “experts”, like Zinnia Jones, who are more than willing to validate their feelings, further dividing parent and child.

Look, I understand that there are some truly not-very-nice parents out there, but we should not be making policy around them. That’s the sort of thing that creates bad case law. Let’s assume that the vast majority of parents want what’s best for their children, even if they have no idea what that looks like.

I was even more puzzled about the Atlantic‘s last-minute editorial decisions when I saw thaZinnia Jones cheap puberty blockers onlinet, not only was any mention of 4thwavenow scrubbed in the final version of the article, but a statement by Jones and reference to Jones’ website were included. Jones has written multiple screeds denying the existence of the rapid-onset dysphoria in adolescent girls that more and more people (including clinicians) are noticing. Further,  Jones recommends (on Twitter) that young people secretly obtain puberty blockers online if their parents aren’t onboard.

Unfortunately, many therapists, and others invested in the transgender narrative, seem to be heavily influenced by activists like Zack Ford, an opinion writer for the website Think Progress who, in response to Singal’s article, enunciates the activist-notion that parental concern and insight is irrelevant to the discussion. He writes,

“Whether a parent doubts the legitimacy of a child’s transition has zero relevance to whether transitioning is best for their child. Humoring this doubt is exactly what makes the story so harmful.”

Read that quote again. Read it several times to see just how dismissive it is of parents, the very people transgender and gender non-conforming kids rely on for support. You know–the people who would be signing the informed consent paperwork at the doctor’s office, agreeing to allow doctors to prescribe permanent, sometimes sterilizing, experimental off-label use of medications, and body-altering irreversible surgeries.

The collective, cultural “we” cannot dismiss parents as trivial when we are discussing our children, whom we will protect with our lives. This protective mechanism is the prime role of parents and an important part of being human and all the moral and ethical things that come with it. This is not a divide between liberal and conservative. There are too many divisions in this world, and this country, as it is. This is about whether “we” have an ethical imperative to protect our children. Yes, we need to listen to kids. We also need to listen to parents who are not interested in stifling their children’s interests or gender presentation, but who also know their children better than any therapist ever will.

 

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Baptised in Fire: A relieved desister’s story

by Sam

Sam (not her real name), 22, identified as trans between the ages of 16-19. A relieved desister, she enjoys tidying, writing, and watching the weather. She lives in the United Kingdom. Sam is available to interact in the comments section of her article.

Sam joins several other desisters on 4thWaveNow who, along with their parents, have shared their experiences of rapid onset of gender dysphoria (ROGD) in adolescence.


I was not a trans child. I was a gender-conforming little girl, as far as children are ever completely gender-conforming.  I liked pretty clothes but I also jumped in the occasional mud-pit. I didn’t play with Lego very much, because I wasn’t particularly good at it, but who cares? Not I. I felt no discomfort with being a girl. I felt little discomfort with anything, really; I was a bossy, blunt, stubborn little girl with very important opinions about everything.

I was not overjoyed about puberty. I don’t think I’m alone in that! Bras–miserably restrictive. Periods–horrible. Men followed me home from school even when I was twelve and thirteen; I in my uniform was not a very pretty child, but that didn’t seem to be the point. I didn’t like high school because I didn’t understand how I was supposed to act. Being overtly smart, because I was, made people dislike me, so I tried being stupider, but even then, I was still doing it all wrong. I thought I wasn’t on the same wavelength as everyone else, which, of course, is what loads of people feel like. But I didn’t know that. My relationship with my parents wasn’t perfect, but it was good, and we all got on.

When I was in my teens, I got into a disaster of a relationship with a girl. I was no longer in control of myself, of my body, of when I slept and when I ate and where I could be when. Things got very difficult. As the situation became increasingly unhealthy, over a very short space of time I became deeply dysphoric. Suddenly I loathed my female body and its nauseating shapes and its catastrophic frailties with a vehemence I had never known before. I stood in the bathroom and knew I needed to wash but I couldn’t take off my shirt, I couldn’t, because of what was underneath it, so I went out foul. I lost a lot of weight–partly from stress and partly to prove I could still control one aspect of my body. The new flatness of my chest only relieved me, it felt good like nothing else in my life felt good. As my legs got scrawny and the line of my figure straighter I felt only relief. I dressed only in masculine clothing, chopped my hair very short, felt like it made me tough, mean, safe. I still remember the exact moment a man said, “Excuse me, mate” to me as he passed me. It felt so much better than being hit on, even if nothing felt very good anymore.

God, everything hurt. I was desperate, unspeakably desperate to be in control of my own body, in the middle of a situation in which I wasn’t. I wanted to be strong, but I wanted even more to disappear. I wanted everyone in the world to go away. If my body was different, I knew I would have power, to walk away, to STOP IT.

I knew a little about what this was that I was feeling, I’d looked it up online –oh, I’m trans.  I tried to tell my girlfriend that I was trans, that I wasn’t a girl. She carried on as if I had said nothing, wouldn’t humour me by using my new name. I was stung, confused. A friend gave me a binder. I got thinner. I was “he”, or maybe “they”, yes, that was nice, like a cool drink of water; just anyone not called “she”. The “she” I was walking around in felt disgusting to me. “She” was all wrong. Skinny male me, pleasantly mistaken for a boy, felt like a port in the storm, if still not enough. I wanted control, control, of my body, of my life, but not to be me as I had been, because whoever that was far away, getting further away all the time, waiting for all of this to be over. I wanted like hell to be everything I wasn’t, and I didn’t know that other people felt that way too, not just transgender, but apocalyptic, so I was all alone.

The relationship ended. I was in a bad way. I’d made a Tumblr blog, looking, really, for a space that I could have to myself to vent, and I found myself on it a lot more. There is good stuff on that website. But the nasty stuff is so easy to find and so hard to wriggle free of if you’re like I was: lonely, miserable, hollow, and utterly lost, uneasy about everything, because now that she was gone I wasn’t quite so sure about being a boy, but I knew very definitely I couldn’t be a girl. Everything was still all wrong.

It’s difficult to explain what the “nasty stuff” is if you haven’t spent time on there yourself, exactly how pervasive and focused the brainwashing is, how perverse and suffocating and addictive it can be. The convoluted and illogical discourse, the constant shifting of goalposts so you are always on your toes to know what can I say? What am I allowed to think? What does this word mean today? So many lies were told to me about gender, sex, oppression, people, love, health, and happiness. I didn’t get better, and neither did anyone else I spoke to, but we were assured that this way–with our made-up pronouns and our made-up genders and our self-diagnosed illnesses–was the right way. It was a real crabs-in-a-bucket mentality, where any criticism, even of downright abusive behaviour, was transphobic and/or ableist and/or racist. To suggest improving oneself, sorting out your life, was cruelty of the highest order; we were perfect as we were, they  cooed, and anyone saying otherwise hated us and everyone like us. Narcissism ruled supreme.

We copied the writing style everyone else used, and we copied what they said too. They said and then we said we were beautiful. They and then we said we were against the world, the cis world, the hateful world, the world that wasn’t ideologically pure like we were ideologically pure. Nobody suffered like us. We were martyrs, floating high above reproach and deserving, more than anyone, of every good thing in the world: comfort, other people’s money. We deserved to have every rule bent for us, because we were right and they were wrong.

I could go on, describing every argument they used to justify this attitude, but I doubt they’d work on you. A lot of us were young teens, vulnerable in some way, whether abused or ostracised from society or just weak-willed. They gave us a new self, and all the power in the world. We thought so ruthlessly, that people against us didn’t deserve to live, reasoned it out in our mad non-reason –horrible, horrible, icy, inhumanly mechanical thinking that I have never encountered anywhere else since. We didn’t think about what we said, we just repeated what we knew we were supposed to say, and really, truly thought we were expressing our own thoughts.

They told us that we could choose a gender, any gender, out of countless, that we could make up our own and they would be taken seriously; they were, but only ever by others on there. Words on Tumblr ceased to mean the same as in the real world. Words were made up. They said if we wanted to wear make-up, or pink, or feminine clothes, we had to have a label for that, and if we wanted to have short hair, and wear masculine clothes, we had to have a label for that too.

I am not even touching the language around sexual orientation, because that is a whole other article. If we liked to switch how we “presented”, we would have a label to describe that we switched, and we could also change our labels and our pronouns day-to-day to describe how we felt (FELT! That is the crux of all of this nonsense) each day. It is so, so exhausting to be constantly examining every desire, thought, inclination of your shifting, constantly changing adolescent self, trying to find a word to fit, only to question yourself again the next week, or day, or hour. We adjusted our entire sense of self once, again, again, again. Every time, distancing ourselves a bit more from the person we used to be, that we couldn’t bear to be anymore. (I think we knew the old us would be ashamed, so we hid our faces from them.)

The time I wasted! Years on this! The energy! They say “agender” means I don’t have a gender. Do I feel like that? How do I know? How can you “feel” that? They said this was freeing for us, to finally know what to call ourselves, but the boxes they said we had to choose from were so tiny we couldn’t fit, unless we had a hundred, and even then we didn’t feel satisfied. We were forcing ourselves apart into splinters until we weren’t people any more, just words, and words that didn’t mean anything.

Why on earth weren’t we happy? We were children who knew so little about the world, and we believed everything everyone on Tumblr said. They–and then we–all spoke with such perfect arrogance, like we knew everything. We knew we did. There was also an awareness we had–although never, ever voiced, even to ourselves –that if we were just a white, normal, “cis” kid, we couldn’t be part of this club. We were part of it because we were special, and we were special because we were part of the club.

I questioned nothing. I didn’t have one original thought. And I didn’t really feel a thing.

I never looked at myself and thought: girl. That wasn’t right, and what’s more, it was vile. I was something else. I knew it.

Well: my parents knew I was sad. All that I told you about above didn’t fulfil me, although I knew it had to, because I had nothing else. My misery was obvious. One day, I stopped being able to smile. I was so emotionally numb, and that frightened me. I just couldn’t make my face smile. As I spiralled deeper into the trans-cult, my parents & I had arguments over everything. I was snappy, I was mean, I was acting recklessly, I was telling them off for using language that the trans-cult said was bad, I was ignoring all of their eminently sensible and kind advice. I tried to tell them I wasn’t a girl, to use different pronouns when they referred to me.

baptised in fireWhile they weren’t angry, just bemused, and while they really did try, I never felt my parents’ efforts were good enough. It was horribly unfair of me to treat them this way when I myself was always unsure. Even when someone in the real world “validated” me, it didn’t feel as nice as it was supposed to. Why not? I didn’t know. Were they lying? Did they really get it? Why didn’t I feel happy for more than a few minutes, did it mean I was using the wrong words? I crawled back onto my online spaces for further fruitless introspection. Over time, I lost contact with virtually all my old real-life friends – I was no longer invited to anything. I must have been annoying as all hell.

One tiny event in particular– my poor parents, poor me, poor all of us– sticks in my head and makes me feel sick whenever I think of it:

I was in the car. They were driving me to a college lesson because I hadn’t got up in time, because I wasn’t sleeping. I hadn’t washed. Before I got out of the car, my mother gave me a five-pound note.

“It’s the “cheering-up Sam” fund,” she said.

I suppose it sounds silly. But it burns. I’m looking down at that five-pound-note in my hand, and it’s breaking my heart. They knew I was so sad, but what could they do? They loved me so much, but what could they do? What were they supposed to do? How could they possibly help me? I couldn’t hold a civil conversation with them. I was mad, wildly irrational. I knew I was in the wrong but my pride was searing me full of holes. I lost my temper when the conversation became stressful, I walked out of the house and wandered around, alone, sick to my stomach with anger.

I became convinced that T was what I needed. I felt sick at the thought sometimes, but other times I would feel giddily sure, so eventually I summoned up the courage and called a clinic to make an appointment to start testosterone. But before the clinic called me back, something strange happened.

My dysphoria went away. It just went! Why or where it went I can’t say. I was 19 by this time, still clinging to my “trans identity”, insistent I wasn’t “cis”, but the feeling of wrongness about the sex of my body was gone and has stayed gone since. I didn’t love my body in the slightest, but I no longer hated it and think it completely, fundamentally wrong like I had before. I struggled with my weight for a long time then and after, but I began to realise I was female.

My close brush with acquiring testosterone shook me back into my senses somewhat. I was conscious as I came back into my body that I had almost made a huge mistake. The fear of what could have been stayed with me, that as my dysphoria passed I might have been trapped in a body more foreign to me than the original, a body like a boy that my brain no longer actually needed. The irreversible changes that would have occurred weighed on my mind:  the voice no longer mine, the man-face, the dark, thick hair. So anxiously, I thought – that’s not me…

I very slowly, not quite realising it, was distancing myself from the trans-cult and its thinking.

Well, this and that happened, I struggled on, I had a few setbacks, I struggled on a bit more. I got a proper job. This was the kick in the backside, the firework up the arse that I had needed. I was busy. I was tired. I was called “she” – I was too embarrassed to ask for special pronouns. I had to wear work clothes like everyone else. I took my work seriously, but I had to listen to people chatting in such a heretical way! Saying things that I hadn’t dared to even think, for so long! Talking about men being men, and women being women, so casually using language I had forgotten I could use. At some point, I started to agree with them. The hours I worked kept me off Tumblr and Twitter. The real world beamed blinding, hot sunlight into the dark and cold and dusty parts of my world. And one day, I simply deleted all of my social media. I can’t remember why – I just knew I had to. I didn’t stay to say goodbye to anybody I knew, I just wiped it all. I have never missed it since.

My relationship with my parents recovered. It’s a lot better now than it was before, somehow. They know I’m myself– a real, human woman who knows it– again. I started tentatively using the words daughter, woman, girl, sister to describe myself in conversation. Even now when I say those words I feel them in my mouth. I worked, shopped, ate, and I was doing weird things I did before; laughing like a horse, telling off-colour jokes to make my parents snort.

I had spent a lot of time at home, and perhaps the loveliest thing is that I ended up spending much time with my mother, while I was unemployed and recovering. We talked and we argued. But we talked far more than we argued. Sometimes I fell asleep while she was talking; she has a very soothing voice. Sometimes she fell asleep while I was talking – maybe my voice is soothing too. I loved my mother before, but I didn’t know how much I could love her, because I had never tried to understand her. I wonder, if I had breezed through my teens and headed out, unhesitating, into the great beyond, would I talk to her so fondly and treat her so kindly as I do now? Every cloud.

For a long time, I was a shell of myself. But the bossy, blunt, stubborn girl wasn’t all gone. The trauma I went through took time to fade to something I could manage, but I forgave her and I forgave myself. If I met her in the street I really think I could chat with her. I go stretches of days without thinking about it for more than a few seconds. At first my views on, well, everything, flip-flopped wildly. I went to a much wider variety of websites, I read books, I learned about things happening that I had missed, or worse, things where I had believed completely untrue versions of events.

The world had been such a hostile place when everyone was supposedly out to get me, and the only safe space was my Tumblr, where people only ever told me I was right. I learned that people thought a lot of things, had a lot of opinions, and get this: that some people could think one thing I agreed with, as well as another thing I disagreed with. I had been divorced from humanity in the trans-cult, and I was shocked at the empathy I found in myself for people, shocked at all these people, walking around, all with their lives and their feelings and their hearts. The “privileged” people actually suffered; I had believed they couldn’t. There was so much more suffering than I’d known there to be, but there was also so much more goodness. Every morning I realised my horizons were broader than the morning before, only to discover by the evening there was still so much more I hadn’t the faintest clue about.

Turns out, being a woman? You can wear anything you want, and you’re still a woman. You can do what you want, and you’re still a woman. Reality never needs to be validated.

My ability to think critically returned bit by tiny bit. It took time for me to get used to asking questions, checking sources, not believing every little thing I saw or read. I had been taught to believe unquestioningly and I had to wrestle myself out of the habit. Even now, I remind myself I can have opinions and I can disagree with someone, and they can disagree with me, and it doesn’t mean I’m a bad person; it just means that people are people, and I’m a person, and I have to deal with them being people just as they deal with me, because we have a great deal more in common than not. Through it all I have had the support of my parents – we can talk now.

I’m here now. I’ve slowly, quietly rejoined the human race as a woman, knowing it a miracle, holding both the stubborn determination of my childhood and the grateful joy of my young adulthood. The old me I was once so ashamed to face is here, and we are one again, baptised in fire and back fighting.

 

I hated her guts at the time: A trans-desister and her mom tell their story

 Sarah R. is 19-year old lesbian from the US Midwest. She says: “From ages 14 to 16 I believed that because I was gender non-conforming, I was a transgender man. Gender critical theory saved me from potentially mutilating my body irrevocably. Today, I share my story in hopes that other young women can also overcome the hatred we are told to have towards our bodies, and to remain unapologetic about being gender nonconforming females.”

This post originally appeared in a different form on her blog, here. For 4thWaveNow, she expanded some sections, particularly to do with her thoughts about her mother’s role in her temporary identification as a trans man (and her eventual abandonment of that idea). We also invited Sarah’s mother to contribute her own views, which you’ll find in in this updated article. Sarah openly acknowledges how much she detested her mother when she refused to agree to transition, but things are different now.  

Sarah R can be found on Twitter here.


by  Sarah R.

Tumblr is a cool place:  writers, artists, activists. Lots of people find solace there. I tried to, when I first made an account in 2013, when I was still in middle school. Actually, it wasn’t so cool back then. Hordes of young girls like me, with their newfound platform, curated ‘Black-and-white’ blogs (just check out some of the usernames), impressive collections of grey-scaled gifs, a smorgasbord of para-suicidal images: self-harm, handfuls of pills…

Thankfully, vices on Tumblr quickly find themselves replaced by new fads; gone are the days of glamorized self-mutilation– hello, fandom! (My own guilty pleasure was House MD, if anyone’s curious. Dark, dark days.) But like black-and-white blogs before them, these profiles were also quickly replaced. This time? by SJW blogs.

Now, granted, not everything about the new justice craze sucked. For one, it’s where most of my peers and I found Feminism 101, even if it got some things quite wrong (e.g. feminism is for men, too; makeup is empowering; kinky is progressive, etc.), and the general atmosphere of tolerance allowed for young gay teens like me the freedom of expression that wasn’t as safe on Twitter or Facebook at the time. Still, a lot of crazy shit came out of SJW tumblr.

When things like otherkin, fictionkin, and aesthetigender (for full effect, I’m going to have to ask you to go through the pain of scrolling through the whole list on that last one), are accepted as anywhere even near the realm of reality, it’s no wonder that ‘Woman’ has become distorted, conflated, and commandeered.

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My own personal attraction to the booming trans trend is obvious in retrospect. Teen girls are taught to hate everything about themselves. None of us can win. Even the thinnest, most clear-skinned, prettiest of girls find an enemy in the mirror. Imagine my horror to look at my reflection and see a fat, short-haired, lesbian staring back. In a world where my style, my interests, and my attractions weren’t fit for a girl, transgenderism offered the perfect solution: Be a boy.

It wouldn’t work, of course. How could it, when all of my problems–the struggle to meet the expectations that society had for me, my depression, my anxiety, my dysphoria, and my dysmorphia, all of my unhappiness–had nothing to do with how I identified and everything to do with what I was: female. Of course, as a 14-year-old, this didn’t occur to me quickly. My transition to ‘boy’ was my ticket out of Self-hatred-Ville, and you’d better believe I was going to take it.

To exactly nobody’s surprise, Tumblr was ecstatic at my ‘realization’. A plethora of congratulations, encouragement, and support was sent my way–something that girl-me never got for being exactly the same as boy-me, save having a different name and pronouns. So of course my new identity felt right. How couldn’t it, when my mannerisms and appearance, which had previously othered me, were now suddenly in congruence with my gender, and my ‘bravery’ was being applauded by all the people I looked up to– both bloggers online and friends in real life.

Something that I feel like a lot of adults get wrong about this phenomenon is that people like me were bullied into identifying as trans, but I don’t think this is the most accurate way to put it. There’s a very specific kind of mental mind-fuck that went on on Tumblr during this time that cultivated the perfect atmosphere for confused, self-hating teens (which is like, all of them) to somehow come to the realization that they’re transgender. First came a kind of twisted rewriting of history, women like Joan of Arc or Christina, Queen of Sweden (who once wrote she was “neither Male nor Hermaphrodite, as some People in the World have pass’d me for.” Interesting… maybe society has always been telling GNC (gender nonconforming) women that they aren’t true women…) now became ‘trans men who didn’t know at the time, because it wasn’t accepted’. By telling GNC women, who weren’t around to ‘defend’ their womanhood, that they were men, is it any wonder those of us who were around started to think we must be men, too? Another thing was the constant validation of trans people. In order for me to become instantly ‘valid,’ all I had to do was be a man. How could I do that? By feeling like one.

What did that feel like? I don’t know, since I didn’t feel like a woman, which I now realize is because I can’t; woman isn’t a feeling. The most harmful message to come out of the cultist ideology of trans rights is that you are x because you feel like x. But in the same way that I didn’t feel working class, or feel like a white person, or feel like a Midwesterner, I didn’t feel like a woman, which according to trans ideology, meant I wasn’t ‘cisgender’, and so from that the leap was easy for me to make: I must be a man. What’s glaringly obvious to me now though is that feeling didn’t play any factor into my status as any of the aforementioned descriptors. I simply was those things, and reality didn’t give a shit whether my feelings aligned or not.

It at the time all seemed very progressive: by ignoring history and biology, we could rewrite reality, and anyone could be anything they wanted (might I remind you of this list once more). What was really going on though was the complete opposite.

First of all, words didn’t have meaning anymore. According to new gender logic, even male and female were fluid. A trans woman was now female by virtue of identifying as ‘woman’. All attempts at any kind of discussion about gender and sex were rendered impossible, because 1. Any disagreement labeled you a transphobe and a TERF, and you were quite literally ostracized, and 2. gender didn’t mean anything anymore (save some mysterious, cryptic feeling that refuses to be defined, apparently).

By the time my mother figured out what was going on with me, I was in deep. Female-to-Male transition videos filled my Youtube suggestions, and I had already decided I would want a metoidioplasty over a phalloplasty (a decision that I now recognize as a desire for my maleness to be real, not a section of skin from my arm or leg, an impossible desire that could never be fulfilled, I know now, because I’m not male). I decided to take my first physical ‘transition’ step by getting a binder. Just one problem– being 14 meant I had no job, and no money. So, I improvised. As a blogger with several thousand followers (nope, I’m not going to link myself, as I would be chased off and/or doxxed in approximately .00023 seconds), I put out a quick plea for help in buying a binder. Within a few hours, a well-meaning follower asked my size and told me it would arrive in a few short days. Unfortunately, or so I thought at the time, I was unable to intercept the package before my mom did.

Accidentally being outed sucks. I remember getting a text from my mom while in school which said something along the lines of ‘We have something important to talk about when you get home,’ which, to nearly any teen, could mean a multitude of terrible things, and exactly zero good things. Throughout this whole story, my mom approached things really well, but I see that in retrospect only. I hated her guts at the time. She picked me up from school and let me marinate in the soul-crushing silence until we were about half-way home. She got straight to the point and told me that she had opened my package and found my binder. I immediately went into panic mode, so I don’t exactly remember how she coaxed a confession of transgender out of me, but it involved a lot of blubbering. She let me know from the get-go that she thought my ‘felt like boy’ spiel was all a load of crap, though to be fair, put it much less insensitively, but asked me to show her videos and literature about it. I did.

She wasn’t impressed.

I remember being afraid that this meant she was now going to make me grow out my short hair, or–god forbid– start wearing dresses, in an attempt to stifle my ‘transness’, but that wasn’t the case. It was hurtful to me that she wouldn’t use my new name or pronouns, but I was allowed to continue to be as GNC as I saw fit, something that I know helped my self-acceptance as a woman today. She made it clear that medical transition was not going to happen, which felt like the end of the world to me. In the same way you wouldn’t tell a schizophrenic that their delusions are real, she took no interest in pretending that male was something that I was, or ever could be. But most importantly, she let me know that that was okay. That I could be masculine, that I could like women, and that I could exist as myself, in my body and that pumping myself full of hormones and cutting off my flesh would change my appearance, but not me. My mom helped me understand that if I was ever going to be happy, it had nothing to do with my pronouns, or my genitals, I had to accept the female, and the woman, that I was.

As I was writing this piece, I asked Mom what she had to say about our journey together:

“When you first told me, I was really lost. I didn’t really even have any idea what [being transgender] meant. I mean, like if it had to do with you being gay or what. Of course the first thing I did afterwards was research it heavily. That scared me even more! The videos [of FTM transitions] you sent me were nice and the people in them seemed happy, but the first thing I thought was ‘what if I lost my daughter’s voice like those mothers did?’

I know at the time you thought I was prejudiced and that’s why I made the choices I did, but I didn’t have anything against transgender people, I just wanted to do the right thing as a parent, and letting you do things to yourself that you could never change even if you felt differently down the road was not the right thing for me to do. But your happiness was the only thing behind my decisions. If you ended up being genuinely transgender and that was the only way you could be happy then I would’ve been able to live with that. I just knew you were too young to be sure about something like that. If by the time you turned 18 and could do what you wanted [medically] you still wanted to get testosterone I wouldn’t have stopped loving you. Of course. I’m glad to still love my daughter more than you could know.

It still keeps me up some nights thinking about ‘what if I had given in?’. The only important thing though is that you are happy now.”

And her advice for parents in similar situations:

“I can’t tell anyone what is the right thing for their child. But it was hard to stay strong in my decision against what other people thought. It was made out like I hated transgender, or that I was abusing my child by not letting her make decisions to cut off her breasts. Stay strong. Wanting what is best for your babies isn’t prejudice. Also, be prepared to be hated by your kid too. Any teenager doesn’t like her mom. Not letting her go to a friend’s house that you know is bad news is enough to make her hate you. Not letting her change her entire body is even bigger.”

Our relationship is wonderful now, but Mom’s right about me hating her back then. And yeah, maybe I would’ve hated her anyways, at least according to her theory that all teens hate their parents, but in my situation, I could name directly and specifically why, and that gave it a lot of power. I remember posting all the time online about how abusive she was for deadnaming me, or not letting me bind, which I now feel terrible about. I didn’t feel like I could talk to her about anything (especially gender things) because I had made up in my mind that she thought my very existence (as a trans person) was invalid. Her resolve was beyond admirable, though, as well as her patience for my angsty bullshit.

Not everyone was so hesitant to accept my identity as my mom, though. As I mentioned, the internet was enthralled, but my friends in real life ate it up, too. Whether intentional or not, most young gay people are in social circles comprised of other gay people. Not all of my friends were necessarily gay, but even the ones who weren’t were into the same SJW ideology as I was. They readily accepted my new trendy name, and did their best to use my pronouns. Even though they messed them up a lot, I wasn’t accosted like when my mom didn’t use the right ones, because I knew that they still thought of my identity as real. In retrospect, their support didn’t help my journey of desisting, but I don’t think they hindered it much either. They were being good friends, and for that I’m grateful.

Almost immediately after my coming out, I was put in therapy. Despite my own desperate requests to go to a therapist who specialized in gender issues, so that I might acquire that coveted letter of recommendation for HRT, I instead was taken to the general therapist I had visited sometime earlier for self-harm issues. At the time, like so many other decisions my mother made, it felt invalidating, and upset me, but also like all of her decisions, I’m now grateful for it. Going to someone who would try to get to the root of my identity and dysphoria and resolving that cause itself instead of validating my mental illness and okaying a lifetime of hormones, mutilation, and sterilization was paramount.

For the first few sessions I was still angry about the therapist choice, but once I began to open up, I was surprised to find the doctor wasn’t dismissive of my feelings like I had thought she would be, but seemed to understand and coaxed a lot of more out of me about my transness than I had thought about myself. The most helpful thing she did for me was make me examine why I identified as a boy, and what that meant. By being asked to define what being a boy felt like without using anything that I already knew was only a stereotype about boys, and my subsequent failure to do so, I eventually came to terms with the fact that I couldn’t be one.

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Freeing yourself from the task of climbing a mountain whose peak can never be summited is your only chance of ever actually being happy.

One of the biggest problems I think with being transgender is it comes out of an unhappiness, and that the impossibility of the accepted solution amplifies the unhappiness. Having short hair doesn’t give you an adam’s apple, testosterone injections won’t change your bone structure, a phalloplasty won’t let you produce sperm. The closer you get to the real thing, the bigger the gap between you and being a real male grows. Freeing yourself from the task of climbing a mountain whose peak can never be summited is your only chance of ever actually being happy.

I eventually stopped looking for validation as something I would never be, and started the process of loving myself. There’s no real how-to I can give for overcoming gender dysphoria and accepting your given gender, but there are some tips I can spare.

Firstly, be patient. Whether it’s you or someone you love who is trans, one conversation, experience, or epiphany is not going to change anyone’s mind. Secondly, and this is geared towards trans-identified females: Get into gender critical theory. Liberal feminism tells us that women are oppressed because of their gender, but that isn’t true. We’re oppressed because of our sex, by means of gender. It was hard for me to give up the imaginary solution to my oppression before I understood this. Thirdly, think long and hard about why you feel trans. What is the feeling? What would it feel like to be ‘cis’? If your answer is ‘comfortable with your sex/body’ then hardly a single woman falls under that category. Is it to feel comfortable with the expectations, limitations, and stereotypes of your gender? Once again, nary a single female applies. The hardest and final push for me to ‘detransing’ was realizing and accepting that whatever I was ‘feeling’, it wasn’t ‘boy’. It was dissatisfaction with the constraints of womanhood, as in the stereotypes, expectations, and roles that it accorded me. Understanding that is the most important step in becoming happy with your femaleness.

For a long time, I’ve been hesitant to talk about my experience with trans. I was embarrassed, for one, into being duped by an agenda that wanted to convince me I was something I’m not, nor would ever be. I was afraid, too, of backlash. The climate among my peers these days is such that disagreement of nearly any variance means public ridicule, and being shunned. I thought people might try to tell me that I wasn’t really, truly trans (though no one has seemed to come up with what that means), or that I was just unable to come to accept my transness. I’ve decided I have to cast these doubts aside, though, because there’s something more important at stake: young women learning to love themselves. If I can convince even just one girl to love her body for what it is, and to know that no amount of dissatisfaction with stereotypes, or love for suits and sports, or short hair, or discomfort with her anatomy makes her less of a woman, then any shit cast my way is worth it.