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

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

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

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

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


by Lily Maynard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She couldn’t or wouldn’t answer.

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

“Go away.”

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

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

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

I started taking Jessie’s phone away at night.

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

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

She said, “I’m a boy.”

“No, you are a girl.”

“You can’t tell me how I feel.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Really?”

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

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

Sometimes I couldn’t bear it any longer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Those boys were Ryan and Jake.”

I snorted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nothing’s changed. I’m still a boy.”

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

“It just is.”

“Why?”

“I’m eating my dinner, mum.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jessie saw the irony.

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

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

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

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

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


Thoughts from Jessie Maynard:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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The surgical suite: Modern-day closet for today’s teen lesbian

Despite the fact that trans activists are diligently trying to lower the age of consent for cross sex hormones and surgeries, as a general rule children under 18 in the US cannot access these “treatments” without parental consent (Oregon being a notable exception). I have argued that even 18 is too young to make such permanent decisions, given that executive function skills are not well developed until the early 20s.

But there is another, equally important reason to question medical transition for adolescent girls. According to several peer-reviewed studies (which I will be discussing in detail in this post),

  • 95-100% of girls who “persist” in gender dysphoria at adolescence are same-sex attracted; these girls are typically offered cross-sex hormones by age 16, and  surgeries as young as 18.
  • The typical age that a young lesbian has her first sexual experience and/or claims her sexual orientation is between the ages of 19 and the early 20s.

Let those two statements sink in for a moment.


Here’s the reality of what’s going on in gender clinics around the world right now. An increasing number of adolescent girls diagnosed with “gender dysphoria” are asking for, and receiving, cross-sex hormones and surgeries. The World Professional Organization for Transgender Health (WPATH) officially recommends cross-sex hormone treatment to begin as early as age 16, with SRS surgeries to be offered at age 18.

The vast majority of these girls presenting to clinics admit to being same-sex attracted. Yet data from studies of LGB (lesbian, gay, and bisexual) people shows that most young women don’t fully crystallize a lesbian orientation until 19 or older.

To take one of several examples, this 1997 study of 147 lesbians and gay men by Gregory Herek et al, “Correlates of Internalized Homophobia in a Community Sample of Lesbians and Gay Men,” found that

 The mean age for first attraction to a member of the same sex was 11.5 for females and 10.3 for males. Mean age for first orgasm with a person of the same sex was 20.2 for females and 17.7 for males. On average, females first identified themselves as lesbian or bisexual at age 20.2, whereas men did so at age 18.7. Mean age for first disclosure of one’s sexual orientation was 20.5 for females and 21.2 for males.

A 2014 study of 396 LGB people, “Variations in Sexual Identity Milestones Among Lesbians, Gay Men, and Bisexuals” [full article behind paywall] by Alexander Martos and colleagues reported a similar finding for age of first sexual experience:

Women self-identified as nonheterosexual when they were almost 3 years older than the men (age 17.6 vs. 14.8) and reported their first same-sex relationship when they were 1.4 years older than men (19.1 vs.17.7).

And not only do young lesbians take longer to realize and accept their sexual orientation than their gay male counterparts. Coming out to oneself, and to loved ones and the world, takes time. It’s a developmental process that evolves over a number of years, from the first signs of puberty into early adulthood, with several stages, as Martos et al say in their 2014 study:

Coming out is not a single event but a series of realizations and disclosures. The age at which sexual minorities first recognize their identity, tell others about their identity, and have same-sex relationships varies, and people may take different amounts of time between one milestone and the next. Scholars have proposed and tested models of sexual identity development for over 30 years. Cass (1979) developed an influential model, which outlined a six-stage linear psychological path of sexual identity development. Troiden (1989) built upon Cass’s model and reframed it within four stages: (a) sensitization, which may include a person’s first same-sex attraction and their first questioning of their heterosexual socialization, (b) identity confusion, a period during early to mid-adolescence that is marked by inner turmoil and often the initiation of same-sex sexual activity, (c) identity assumption, when a youth self-identifies as LGB and begins to reveal their “true self” to select people and seeks community among other LGBs, and (d) commitment, which is marked by the initiation of a same-sex romantic relationship and disclosure to a wide variety of heterosexual people (Floyd and Stein 2002). These models suggest that healthy and stable sexual identity development necessitates the full permeation of sexual identity into all aspects of a person’s life.

So the process of integration–“full permeation”–of one’s sexual orientation is a process that takes place over a period of years.  It involves “identity confusion” and “inner turmoil” in adolescence. And not to put too fine a point on it, but most lesbians don’t even begin to express and realize their orientation until 19 or 20 years old.

Yet same-sex attracted girls who present to gender clinics–many of them still with the concrete, either-or thinking of a child (e.g., if I like girls, I must be a guy), internalized homophobia, and overall lack of maturity and self reflection typical of their age, have been “socially transitioned” for years; have had their puberty “blocked” (such that they don’t have the opportunity or desire, in most cases, to actually experience a physical relationship with a love interest); and then move on to “transitioning” to….a straight male.

Here they are, girls without sexual experience, conditioned to reject their bodies and begin irreversible medical “treatments” before they’ve had a chance to embark on the years-long process of discovering their own bodies as sexual beings.

In a 2011 Dutch study “Desisting and persisting dysphoria after childhood, Steensma et al note that 100% of the girls who “persisted” in gender dysphoria by age 16 were same-sex attracted. As they indicate, this finding corroborates that of other researchers over many decades. A 2013 study,  also by Steensma et al, revealed the same information, but added more granularity: between 95.7 -100% of the 16-year-old (average age) girls reported exclusively same-sex attraction, fantasy, and behavior (defined as “kissing” because, as the authors note, that was the extent of their sexual experience). Age 16–well before the average age of coming out as lesbian noted in the studies I highlighted earlier.

With regard to sexual attraction, all persisters reported feeling exclusively attracted to persons of the same natal sex, which confirmed their gender identity as they viewed this attraction as a hetero­sexual attraction. They did not consider themselves homosexual or lesbian.

…the majority of adolescents kept their sexual attractions to themselves. Both boys and girls indicated that, as a result of fear of rejection, they did not speak about their sexual feelings to others, and did not try to date someone. Furthermore, most adolescents felt uncomfortable responding to romantic gestures from others.

In summarizing their findings, Steensma et al note that

…. The third factor that seemed to be associated with the persistence or desistence of childhood gender dysphoria was the experience of falling in love and sexual attraction. The persisters, all attracted to same- (natal) sex partners, indicated that the awareness of their sexual attractions func­tioned as a confirmation of their cross-gender identification as they viewed this as typically hetero­sexual.

These adolescents at age 16 regarded their same sex attractions as “typically heterosexual.” It’s fascinating that the study authors make this statement without any examination of exactly why the 100%-same-sex-attracted persisters viewed themselves this way, and whether this might give pause to the practice of medical transition—especially since in the very next paragraph, Steensma et al refer to earlier research findings that LGB people are late to claim their sexual orientations:

 All persisters reported feeling exclusively, and as long as they could remember, sexually attracted to individuals of the same natal sex, although none of the persisters considered themselves ‘homosexual’ or ‘lesbian,’ but (because of their cross-gender identity) ‘heterosexual.’

As for the desisters, about half of them were sexually attracted in fantasy to individuals of the same natal sex. Yet, all girls and most of the boys identified as heterosexual. The difference between the reported sexual attractions and identities may be related to the timing of the ‘coming-out’. The literature shows that the average age of the first feel­ings of same-sex attraction is generally during puberty and before the age of 18 (e.g., Barber, 2000; Herek, Cogan, Gillis & Glunt, 1998; Rust, 1996). However, the moment at which men and women identify and come out as gay, lesbian, or bisexual generally lies above the age of 18, at the end of adolescence or in their early twenties (e.g., Barber, 2000; Herek, Cogan, Gillis & Glunt, 1998; Rust, 1996).

Steensma et al give us what we need to know, but they don’t connect the dots: these same-sex attracted young adolescent girls undergo “transition” before they have the opportunity to experience themselves as sexual beings in their healthy, original bodies.

Why are we robbing our kids of the right—the basic human right—to discover their sexuality without preemptive tampering by the medical and psychiatric profession?  “Transition” prevents them from learning whether they might be gay/lesbian, freezing them at an immature stage of development when the only possibility they see is that they are heterosexuals trapped in the wrong body.

Trans activists like to say that gender identity and sexual orientation are completely unrelated. But obviously, it just ain’t so. Study after study, anecdote after anecdote, media story after media story, tells us that most “trans men” start off as same-sex attracted adolescents. But no one outside the blogosphere—no one –is pointing out the obvious: that girls who would naturally mature into lesbian adults are having the process of realizing their sexual orientation short-circuited by medical transition.

Who will step forward to stop this? Who with power in our society—the Congress, the President, the publisher of the New York Times¸ the child and adolescent psychologists–will raise their voices? Where are the lesbian doctors, lawyers, heads of LGBT organizations? Which of you will name this preemptive conversion therapy for what it is?

Mom forces insurance company to cover double mastectomy for her 15-year-old, with support of WPATH & Dan Karasic, MD

A 15-year-old cannot vote, sign a contract, drink, or get a tattoo. You can’t rent a car until you’re 25 years old. And in the US, the FDA has just proposed regulations to prevent minors from even using tanning beds.

Why all the restrictions? Well, last I checked, developmental psychologists, cognitive scientists, and informed members of the general public were aware that adolescents don’t have the cognitive wherewithal—the judgment, foresight, or awareness of future consequences–to make major, life-changing decisions, let alone suffer a bad sunburn. There has been so much replicated behavioral and neuroscientific research done on the subject of executive function in young people that it’s now considered settled science.

So the changes that happen between 18 and 25 are a continuation of the process that starts around puberty, and 18 year olds are about halfway through that process. Their prefrontal cortex is not yet fully developed. That’s the part of the brain that helps you to inhibit impulses and to plan and organize your behavior to reach a goal.

And the other part of the brain that is different in adolescence is that the brain’s reward system becomes highly active right around the time of puberty and then gradually goes back to an adult level, which it reaches around age 25 and that makes adolescents and young adults more interested in entering uncertain situations to seek out and try to find whether there might be a possibility of gaining something from those situations…one of the side effects of these changes in the reward system is that adolescents and young adults become much more sensitive to peer pressure than they they were earlier or will be as adults.

Another very readable (and amusing) article, “Dude, where’s my frontal cortex?,” sums it up thusly:

The frontal cortex is the most recently evolved part of the human brain. It’s where the sensible mature stuff happens: long-term planning, executive function, impulse control, and emotional regulation. It’s what makes you do the right thing when it’s the harder thing to do. But its neurons are not fully wired up until your mid-20s.

But the gender specialists at the helm of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) apparently never received the decades-old bulletin on adolescent brain development (or lack thereof), or so it seems. In the Brave New World of transgender “health care,” a 15-year-old can ask for and receive a double mastectomy, with mom’s blessing and collaboration. (In Oregon, a kid can decide to have her breasts removed whether mom approves or not, thanks to trans activists like Jenn Burleton and TransActive).

Last July, a mom posted to the WPATH public Facebook page, looking for advice on how to get “chest reconstruction” for her 15-year-old (i.e.,  double mastectomy. Why can’t these people use actual medical terminology, even amongst themselves? Do the providers and parents also get “triggered” by seeing a reference to female anatomy?)

[Note: For privacy reasons, I have chosen not to directly link to the (nevertheless) publicly viewable thread on the WPATH Facebook page.]

Seems mom’s insurance company balked at  covering elective removal of breast tissue in people under 18.

WPATH mom of 15 yr old

Psychiatrist Dan Karasic, one of the key contributors to the WPATH Standards of Care (SOC), and provider at the San Francisco Center for Excellence in Transgender Health, is happy to help, citing the SOC chapter and verse (page 21 to be exact) that WPATH fully supports “chest surgery” for minors, although it’s apparently still “too limiting” for his taste:

WPATH mom 2

Mom has already picked out the surgeon for her child, and another commenter, former Transgender Law Center employee Jason Tescher, recommends she try to “force” her insurance company to cover the cost (per the doctor’s website, $8500):

tescher

The WPATH thread went dark until today (more on that in a minute). But who is Dr. Mangubat?

mangubat

In addition to being a popular presenter at Gender Odyssey, the yearly shindig for all things transgender, Dr. Mangubat is apparently well known as a surgeon who’s an easy touch for those looking for double mastectomies. As recently as six days ago,  underage top surgery seekers on Reddit were recommending him:

Also, the surgeon I went to (Dr. Mangubat) did not require any kind of letter and I don’t think he requires patients to be on T either, but I could be wrong on that. It was as easy as emailing his office to set up a consultation and then I was immediately able to schedule the surgery.

As to the mom’s efforts to get insurance to cover the removal of her child’s breasts,  an update appeared moments ago on the WPATH thread. Mom shares her good news: the insurance company has agreed to reimburse her for the double mastectomy that they “couldn’t wait for” and had done in August.

insurance appeal

Dr. Karasic couldn’t be happier.

karasic happy

It’s likely only a matter of time before insurance coverage for teen surgery will be the norm. The Obama administration recently proposed new rules that will require all insurance companies to pay for “transition” services. One wonders just how many “identities” the transgender umbrella will cover when it comes to federally mandated health care services?

The entire Reddit thread that references Dr. Mangubat  (as well as two other surgeons I’ve previously written about–Dr. Curtis Crane in San Francisco, and Dr. McLean in Ontario) is worth reading in this regard, because it’s primarily about “nonbinary” people who don’t identify as FTM getting access to “top surgery” on demand–exactly what providers like Dan Karasic promote and what is already happening, apparently, in San Francisco at taxpayer expense, as I detailed in a recent post.

As I also discussed in that post, Karasic is a major WPATH player pushing for the elimination of “gender dysphoria” as a requirement for “transition” services; he wants to  replace GD with a new diagnostic code, “gender incongruence,” which would do away with the need for any distress, dysphoria, or disorder but still allow for billing for what amounts to a lifestyle choice–for anyone who claims “gender incongruence,” on demand.

So we know Karasic and WPATH are OK with 15-year-olds who ID as FTM undergoing irreversible surgeries. Does he also believe, as he does for adult patients, that a 15-year-old (or 13-year old?) who identifies as genderqueer, gender fluid, or non-binary should ALSO get insurance-funded double mastectomies?

 

And then I woke up: Guest post

This is Part II (Part I is here) of a guest post by thissoftspace, a woman in her late 30s who experienced gender dysphoria, began transition to FTM, but pulled back and now writes her own Tumblr and WordPress blogs celebrating her return to herself as female. As in Part I, her mother’s thoughts are also included in this piece. thissoftspace is available to respond personally to questions and discussion in the comments section below.

 As I read this second part,  I was struck by the extent to which her insight and overall mental maturity helped thissoftspace to desist from a trans identity:

 I am so grateful I have had the life experience with my mental highs and lows that I was able to recognize the patterns as soon as I did.

How much more difficult must it be for younger people to change their minds? They have so few prior life experiences to reflect upon; they lack the patience and foresight of a woman in her 30s,  who, even so, nearly transitioned herself. Her story has made me feel all the more strongly that we parents must fight for children to be allowed to reach adulthood before considering such monumental, life-changing decisions.


Part II: There and Back Again

by thissoftspace

While using the labels “agender,” “non-binary” or “genderqueer” made me feel better by being not-female, I soon realized those words were meaningless to the general public. In order to get the message across that I was not female, I had to bend my presentation further towards male – just like so many other “non-binary” young women I had seen online. Once I did so, everything seemed to slide neatly into a more traditional trans narrative. I clung to the gender-neutral labels a little longer, but it was clear my intentions were to escape female by transitioning to male. Why not just use male pronouns, a male name, to make the message loud and clear?

My mother’s words:

I truly wished to keep the matter personal and give it time. I wanted to see how things worked with her changing her name with a few friends who would understand, rather than be out in public with a male presentation. I did purchase her some new men’s clothing and spent many hours tailoring shirts so they fit properly. I felt this I could do, this was how I could help. I had trouble with the male pronouns, often saying “he/she” instead of just “he”. I tried to keep things as normal as possible. We spoke about giving space and trusting more, but there was a current of stress at the time.

Articles and pamphlets from PFLAG and GLAAD and the HRC insisted my new identity should be embraced and recognized. Bruce Jenner’s interview on broadcast television supported my “feeling” of being more male than female as perfectly valid. I watched videos and read blogs of various female-to-trans people and took in all their enthusiasm and encouragement, all their happiness and all the celebration surrounding their lives. PBS News Hour ran a special on transgender kids that was heartbreaking. Look at them! Don’t they deserve happiness? Don’t they deserve the freedom to be who they are? I shared some of these things with my mom. I told her I could be a man, a straight, normal man, dress the way I wanted, be the person I’ve always wanted to be. I could freely love women if I wanted to. I could be my brother’s cool younger brother instead of his weird little sister. I could finally just be myself. She couldn’t have tried harder to be patient and understanding.

My mom said, “As long as you don’t cut your body.” I didn’t understand why this body I so hated was so precious to her. I would lie awake at night thinking about physical transition. Despite looking in the bathroom mirror and telling myself I had a male body because I said I was male, I knew others wouldn’t see so clearly. For so many reasons, I wanted to fully transition. I wanted to get rid of the breasts and the organs I’d feared all my life. A third of my hypochondriac worries could be gone in a few operations. I wanted to use testosterone to shrink my thighs, to build my shoulders and arms. Big boned? No, I would be strong, as I had always been, but now it would be right. As a transgender man, everything that had always seemed wrong about me would finally be right.

My mother’s words:

I knew very little about transgender and seeing she had done research on the Internet, checking doctors and psychiatrists as well as interviews from those who had transitioned, I trusted her opinion. We also watched the Bruce Jenner interview and a few other shows about transgender issues. I became convinced this was the best for her. However, I believed firmly that the body should not be cut to conform, and I was not supportive about using hormones either. What would happen to her overall health? Even with the name change through the courts, I was concerned about the cost—let alone, her paying for medical changes.

I had travel plans coming up in several months, so I decided to work on transition without making any permanent changes until after my trip. This would give time to experiment and see if I was right or wrong about it all (and I am so thankful for this now.) I researched how to change my name, settling on a male one. I styled my hair to resemble those cool eccentric guys I’d always loved. For the first time since my early teens I let every hair on my body grow out, my big dark eyebrows, my legs, my armpits. I was thrilled at how many dark chin-hairs I had, that I had been plucking forever. One night I ended up staying up late looking at how to shape a goatee. What a difference that would make! I shaved my face because a “passing” guide said it would help me pass as male, with no “female peach fuzz” to be seen.

I bought a binder from a very friendly, helpful company run by “queer and trans people.” When I wore it in public, people called me “young man” – enough of a triumph to make me ignore the back pain it caused. I went to an air show and stood right up against the fence with the men with their cameras, asserting myself as having the right to be there because I was one of them, not some weird woman trying to worm her way in, as I had always felt before. It was so exciting to feel possibilities opening up before me like that. I spoke lower, spoke less. I pushed myself out physically. For some reason, I felt a little angry all the time.

Deep down, a part of me was grieving. A part of me felt I was betraying all I had ever really loved, all the wonderful lesbian characters I had written of and my faith in the invincibility of strong women. Deep down, I felt a part of me had given up, had surrendered. Maybe other women were invincible, but not me. I could only assure myself life would get better as a man; life could only get better when I wasn’t a woman at all.

In the midst of this, friends new and old supportively told me, “Whatever. We like you whatever.” I can’t express how much the word “whatever” stung. It sounds like such a sincere offer of unconditional love and support, but please understand: I did not want anyone to remain attached to any part of the person I had been. I had decided that person was a failure. Worthless. Something I hated deeply, something I was trying to escape. I didn’t want to hear “We like you whatever.” I wanted to hear “We love the new you!” I didn’t want unconditional acceptance of who I was. I wanted absolute celebration of what I was becoming. I wanted my new identity validated so badly it consumed my days and began affecting my health.

My mother’s words:

Try as she might, she never did look like a man, certainly not a man her age. She looked like a teenage boy, similar to her nephew, though when people called her “young man” I was supportive as it seemed to make her happy. I didn’t want people to be confused, so while in public, I had to be sure to support her and even say “my son.” I felt I was walking on eggshells, trying to give as much support and keep her as happy as possible because it was so stressful and she seemed so strained.

We no longer could talk openly and honestly without anger and emotion; I couldn’t say “You keep trying but you can’t totally look like a male. Why can’t you go back to being my daughter?” I did insist, however, that she be honest and present when friends visited – I would not let her hide in her room and become totally obsessed with this transition. I wanted her to know that even if she changed herself to a point, life would still be the same, with the same challenges and expectations. When people responded positively to her changes and new identity, I thought,wow, she really is accomplishing something, but I always woke up wondering what new thing would she be experimenting with today. I would go to bed wondering how everything would work out.

Looming before me was The Bathroom Issue. I was anxious about using a men’s bathroom, but increasingly afraid of being “caught” in the women’s bathroom. I had trouble sleeping, worrying how I would handle it all. My digestive system ran amok with the stress. I felt terrible, unfocused, distracted, unhappy. I played simple puzzle games for hours as my mind spun. How would I get the money for T and for surgeries? How would I bring this up to my doctor? Would T end up giving me cancer? Would I lose my hair? What would my brother think of me? Would I ever see my nephew and nieces again? How could I continue my work, so tied to my name and identity? How would any of this ever work out?

Time and time again I thought, stressed to my limit, “If it doesn’t work out, I may as well kill myself. There is nothing else. There is no alternative.” I felt trapped on a treadmill. Sometimes exhilarating – but I wondered how long I could run.

It happened that in the midst of this I volunteered to drive my mother and her friend to an opera three hours away. It was Mozart’s The Magic Flute. He had been one of my special cool guys growing up and I’d always wanted to see The Magic Flute, so I was happy to go along and do the driving. But the night before I found myself staring at the ceiling, wondering how I would use the bathroom. The venue, I knew, would be full of older conservative people. As this weird in-between thing, how could I use the bathroom? What would I look like to them? Could I ever just walk into a bathroom again? Would life ever be normal again? The ordeal before me – six months? a year? three years? five? – loomed in the darkness, full of impossible costs and fears.

In that frustrated and tearful moment, I wanted this transition to be over, but couldn’t see any possible end. I checked the time and the night had slipped away in sleepless worries. Feeling sick and so very tired I tossed and turned, desperate to get some sleep so I could drive safely, knowing I had six hours on the road ahead of me the next day. I would not be able to keep my eyes open. I could get us in a terrible accident.

Then it suddenly dawned on me: my quest for this new identity had become so overwhelming I was now putting other people’s lives in danger because of it. That thought struck me like an arrow. This was deeply unhealthy. This could not be right.

The push for validation and the self-absorbed mindset I had seen in some trans blogging and trans communities had always rubbed me the wrong way, but finally seeing it in myself was stunning and humiliating. This was not the kind of person I was, not the kind of person – male or female – I wanted to be. I wanted to be useful; I wanted to be happy. As I stepped back and looked at it objectively, not only was this fixation on transition potentially harmful to the people around me, it was also not helping me at all. It was obsessive, inescapable misery, as much as any bout of hypochondria or depressive cycle. Despite the flashes of hopeful possibility, at the end of the day it didn’t actually fix anything. It only made everything worse. If I had been self-conscious before, it was nothing compared to the constant struggle to assert myself as the opposite sex, both to others and to myself. And that constant self-involvement was destroying all the best parts of me.

I am so grateful I have had the life experience with my mental highs and lows that I was able to recognize the patterns as soon as I did. I had spent almost six months dedicated to this desperate hope that transition would solve all my problems – six months of trying to change everything from my name to my underwear – none of it easy, none of it comfortable. And then I woke up.

The next morning as I hurriedly ate breakfast, I told my mom to drop the male pronouns and just call me by my real name because there had to be another way. Somehow in that night of turmoil I had realized the transgender narrative would not solve my problems. It was just too difficult, too much, too illogical, too separated from material reality. I had no idea where to go from there, but I knew there had to be another way.

The opera was lovely, and though tiring, the drive turned out fine.

The next day I sat down at the computer and with great trepidation typed “transgender critical” in the search bar. I found Third Way Trans and my eyes were opened to some of the psychological issues behind gender confusion. I found 4th Wave Now and my eyes were opened to the societal issues, leading me to begin reading about radical feminism, which led me to deeper reading about lesbianism and the experiences of detransitioned women. Gleaning all of this information, so long unknown to me, was like waking up in a hospital after a horrible accident. Suddenly I was surrounded by voices that could explain how I had been hurt, why I had been hurt, and what was being done to repair the damage. These were no linguistic band-aids, no cosmetic cover-ups of old wounds. This was major surgery and strong medicine. It made me angry and it made me sad – there was so much about myself and the rest of the world I had to finally see and accept – but little by little, I began to heal.

My dis-identification from being female was healed by the knowledge that I was born female, down to my very chromosomes. No one – not even myself – can deny that natural fact or take away my right to be female. I was female when I was the kid with muddy knees, I was female when I was being mistaken for male, I was female when I was telling myself I had a male body. As a female human being, I can be useful and I can be happy without any confusion, without ever having to prove what I am. Those hated parts of my body? The bushy eyebrows, the fat thighs, the breadth of my shoulders and the sound of my voice: I learned that those, too, are all natural parts of the female human body. I am a perfectly good female human being. I can just be, residing in this body, and at last – at last – feel a real connection with other women, other female human beings, for the first time in my life.

My sense of shame and failure at being a woman was healed by the knowledge that the things I thought made a female a real woman – beauty standards, pornographic sexuality, submission to men – were not natural inclinations I was somehow missing, but rather forced upon all women by an oppressive society. Others have treated me the way they have only because I existed outside their frame of reference; I was something foreign to their idea of what a female human being should be. I can understand this myself, because it was my own limited ideas of what a woman should be that drove me to believe I was not one. Those views, however, only serve to reveal the narrowness of an individual perspective; they do nothing to actually invalidate who I am. The harsh judgment of “what a woman should be” is something I imagine all women, at least now and then, experience and endure in our society. Now I live with the constant hope to see all women free from those judgments, free to just be themselves, sweatshirts and jeans and all.

My rejection of my sexual orientation was finally healed by the knowledge passed down from mature lesbians – not lesbians depicted in the media or young women just beginning to experience their sexuality – but older lesbians embodying what a female-loving female actually is. All my life I have feared and repressed my attraction towards women because I had only ever learned what male attraction is, and as a lesbian, I wanted no part of it. The knowledge that lesbian attraction and sexuality exists distinct and separate from the male gaze – that lesbians are not like men – was revolutionary to me. At last I could open my heart, regardless of how I present myself or what clothes I wear. The only thing that has ever mattered was the sincere love I have always held for other female human beings.

My mother’s words:

What a relief when she said she would just be my daughter again, and when she shared with me the new information explaining how transition is not always the answer. When she spoke of what she had learned, I felt she was very sincere about it – there was no possibility left for her to change her mind. The information she brought me made so much more sense, I wondered why I hadn’t known about it before.

I still wonder why both sides of the transgender issue are not presented together. The material from trans-positive sources now sounds like propaganda in comparison. So much difficulty could be avoided if the right information were available to both young people and their parents.

 Our relationship is now better than ever. Going through the process over several months built a stronger trust and friendship, allowing us to be more honest about everything. I respect and love her as who she is, a gay woman with many talents and a wonderful human being. For the first time I believe she finally knows who she is, and has the confidence and independence to move forward in both her work and personal life. This has lifted a weight from my shoulders, as I had always worried about her, not knowing how to help. Now I know so much more about the issues and challenges she has faced and can even relate them to some of my own, so that we can properly support each other through them. Though she had to find all this out on her own, we really took the journey together and became better friends because of it. It was not easy, but thank heavens she discovered her true self.

Now, for the first time in my life, I feel like I have the right to exist just as I am. Yes, the words matter – embracing the words “female human being” and “lesbian” matter a great deal – but underneath those words is, at last, an understanding of the basic truths of human nature, that we are what we are and deserve to be loved and respected for that alone. It is only longstanding societal fears and ignorance that insist otherwise, and their effects are more subtly damaging to vulnerable individuals than we might often assume.

People tend to approach a person struggling with their gender identity with the words “I support you in whatever you need to do, even though I don’t understand,” as if gender confusion happens in a personal bubble. In the current cultural climate, it’s now seen as rude and harmful to even question a person who is considering transition – certainly no one ever questioned me. But I so wish they had. Nothing I experienced stemmed from some essential “feeling,” some innate discord between body and mind. All of it, as I’ve written about here, emerged from a lifetime of experiencing oppressive gender roles and confusing expectations, ignorance about what it meant to be a homosexual woman and both internal and external homophobia. It added up to the long-term reinforcement, in a very susceptible mind, of the idea that I was “wrong” in my body and my sex, and that led me to identify as transgender. Transition to male seemed to be the only fix for what I had deemed so unacceptable in a female. For the sake of so many others, I hope these root causes are further discussed and explored, so that transition is no longer viewed as the immediate answer to gender identity confusion. It is an act of compassion to ask “Why do you feel this way?” It is an act of compassion to ask, “Where do you hurt?” We may be surprised by how many of these pains we share.

For myself, I feel like I can finally start living as who and what I am, no longer obsessively worried about how I appear to others or what sort of strange being I might be. I am simply a female human being who loves other women. And it’s a consolation to know that the kid in her sweatshirt and muddy jeans was always okay just as she was. I just wish she had known all along.

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

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

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


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

by fightingunreality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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