Toward a more nuanced exploration: An interview with Sasha Ayad

Sasha Ayad, M. Ed., LPC, is a Licensed Professional Counselor who works in private practice with teens and young adults who struggle with gender issues. We interviewed Sasha via email for this post.

She uses an exploration-based approach to seek out underlying issues and help her teen clients move towards self-awareness, resilience, and long-term well being. She also conducts occasional consultations for parents whose teens present with rapid onset gender dysphoria (ROGD).

In a monthly newsletter, Sasha’s reflects on interesting psychological material, and relates it back to the phenomenon of a sudden presentation of gender dysphoria in adolescence. She also offers advice for parents as they guide and support their gender-questioning teen. Readers can sign up here to receive the newsletter and Sasha’s PDF on how to search for gender-critical therapists in unlikely places.

Sasha has a full caseload and long waiting list, so is unable to take on new clients. However, Sasha offers a subscription-based Patreon account with videos designed to help parents engage in trusting and productive dialogue with their rapid-onset teen.

As her time permits, Sasha is available to interact in the comments section of this interview post.


Tell us something about your background, training, and work as a therapist.

In undergraduate school, I studied psychology and history. My graduate program was focused in counseling psychology, or the clinical practice of therapy. I’ve worked in the field of behavioral therapy and mental health in Houston, Texas since 2005, and in a counseling capacity since 2008. I spent many years working with young children on the autism spectrum through applied behavioral therapy. In the field of domestic and sexual violence, I worked as an individual and group therapist with women and children. I also developed and ran the first counseling program at a state-supported residential facility for adults with intellectual disabilities and concurrent mental illness. In recent years, I worked as a school counselor for underserved populations at a top-ranking charter school.

I am now working in my private practice full-time, based here in Houston. Most of my work is conducted online, and I see teen and young adult clients from all over the country and internationally. I specialize in working with adolescents who are struggling with gender and most of my clients are female. I also conduct occasional consults for families who have children presenting with Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria, and create content for my monthly newsletter and video series.

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in Texas, and I hold a master’s degree in Education.

What specifically sparked your interest in working with adolescents and adults who have gender identity issues?

My interest in this population developed and grew organically out of my own desire to better understand the growing phenomenon. When I was a young graduate student, my understanding of this issue was limited and I was only marginally familiar with the conventional, textbook examples of childhood gender dysphoria: a person, who from a very young age, is completely convinced their body is the “wrong sex.” In these cases, the wrong body self-concept develops, seemingly, independent of societal norms and environmental influences. I used to think, “what a strange and troubling experience: to really believe you have the wrong sexed body.”

Even back then, I did hold skepticism about this narrative, with its heavy reliance on gender-atypical preferences and behaviors supplying the “evidence” that the child is actually in the “wrong body,” and therefore needs to socially and medically transition. Around 2012 I began more deeply investigating this idea of gender identity purely out of personal interest and professional curiosity. Keep in mind, this was before the huge boom of trans-identified kids in the years to come. I started to wonder how socialization and gender-norms may play a role in the idea of the “wrong body.” I also questioned the underlying suppositions of “gender identity”: that one’s “correct” biological sex or “authentic self” is always correlated with feelings of congruence between mind, spirit, and body (i.e. innate gender identity).

As time went on, I eventually discovered the work and writings of detransitioned people. I read about how quickly they were “affirmed” and shuttled towards a path of medical intervention, circumventing any opportunity for deep psychological exploration or self-knowledge. I became very disturbed by what seemed to be a failure of mental health practitioners, who were responsible for their care, to look at these young people as whole and complex individuals. Were many in our field simply blind to the myriad factors, both social and subconscious, that might interact and build up the idea of being “trapped in the wrong sexed body?” I grew quite baffled that therapists were treating gender identity without any of the thoughtfulness, intuition, or even clinical curiosity typically afforded to other presenting problems – not to mention the care historically mandated by our psychological ethical standards. And looking at the sheer number of young girls suddenly adopting a trans identity around puberty, it became obvious that something tremendously important and peculiar was happening.

I eventually stumbled upon this brilliant podcast interview with Lisa Marchiano, and my jaw dropped to hear another professional bravely speaking her mind and echoing some of the same fears I held. I reached out to her immediately and soon got connected with your work at 4thWaveNow, Transgender Trend, and many other fantastic resources.

Sasha photoThen in 2015, as a school counselor, I was required to take part in a training on “Supporting Trans and Gender-Diverse Youth.” To my disappointment (but not my surprise) the presenter completely failed to put forth a nuanced, thoughtful analysis, and even skirted issues when I brought them up during the training. I arranged several meetings with my manager at the time, the head of the counseling program – my goal was to educate her about the wider phenomenon and some of the less obvious problems with the training we were receiving. She graciously and thoughtfully listened to my concerns but admitted that there was so much she didn’t understand about the changes in the LGBTQAI movement, and she felt it was important to continue developing our counseling program according to the gender ideology advocates. I believe gender ideology proponents deliberately use “newspeak” and made-up language to confuse professionals into a state of self-doubt and subsequent willingness to dismiss their own intuition and clinical knowledge. And that’s exactly what I think happened to my manager, who is an incredibly brilliant, experienced, and competent social worker.

At that point I decided I would no longer take part in organizations that are committed to this belief system, with no real openness to other ways of looking at gender dysphoria. Further, some of these organizations promote this one-sided view unquestioningly to their mental health staff and the children they claim to serve. I also realized there is a scarcity of therapists working with these children in a manner that is not unconditionally affirmative. Other therapists seemed to avoid or block any type of gender and sexuality exploration, which is also harmful to the client. So, I decided to build the kind of therapy practice I thought was lacking for trans-identified youth. I started my practice part-time in 2016 and have been working independently in private practice full-time since July 2017.

Do you have a personal interest in this issue? Do you have relatives or friends who are affected by the current wave of transgender identifying children and adolescents?

Not until recently. A few years ago, when I worked as a middle school counselor, there was one child who was especially memorable; I spent much time with her, both as my counseling client and during extracurricular activities during my three years at the school.

She stood out from her peers in multiple ways. Despite having many brilliant and creative peers, she excelled in so many disparate domains, being a fantastic sketch artist, dancer, writer, and academic learner. She had impeccable grades in every subject and treated her peers with kindness and fairness. She created logos and t-shirt designs for clubs and school events, and played leadership roles in many campus groups: anime, drama, orchestra, art, and more. I have several beautiful pieces of art that she’s created for me over the years, mostly portraits of female characters, reminiscent of Japanese-style manga. Her appearance was also creatively inspired: she cycled through various hair-cuts, styles, and colors, and expressed her own personal fashion sense (and progressive political leanings) through graphic jewelry and buttons on her messenger bag. I always praised her for carving out her own sense of style and individuality.

She identified as bisexual at the time, and she was a great student-leader in my GSA club, showing initiative and often taking responsibility for large portions of our meetings. I was always careful in how we navigated conversations about gender and gender identity and she seemed to be well-grounded in her own unique expression of female identity. She was never particularly feminine, especially as a seventh grader, when there is immense social pressure to look a certain way. She always had lot of friends, was overall quite happy, and she was just one of those kids I never thought I’d have to worry about. I imagined her starting a graphic design company one day, or maybe being a video game software engineer. Really, her options are limitless.

I found out recently that she has come out as trans, and that she wants to transfer to a different school so she can start her new life as a “trans boy.” In my hours and hours of being with her, she never expressed thoughts of gender dysphoria, though I do remember that once she drew a picture of a pensive “non-binary” character and “their” girlfriend.

It feels like our best and brightest, our most creative and unique girls, are being sucked up into this vortex of confusion. The kids I meet in private practice are first introduced to me in the midst of their gender struggle, but it’s quite profound to have known someone before the identity-change, when they were happy and full of life. To think that she’s now disconnecting from her female self is very unsettling. It seems that her parents have fully accepted the wrong-body explanation and claim to have “always known she was a boy.”

How would you describe your therapeutic approach?

I’m pretty explicit with my teen clients regarding what to expect in therapy, because I believe truth, honesty, and trust are foundational aspects of any successful relationship, counseling included. I tell them something like this: “I’m different from ‘gender therapists’ you might have read about online because I won’t just meet with you one or two times then write you a letter for endocrinology. I believe my job is to help you explore who you are on a much deeper level. First I’ll spend a lot of time just asking questions and listening so I can try to understand what’s going on in your mind, heart, and body. Then we will work together to figure out what your problems are and how to solve them. That will require me to be really honest about what I see and for you to be really honest too, and sometimes counseling can be hard for those reasons. We also work together to really face your pain and see if it has something important to teach you about yourself. We can also look for ways to loosen the grip that pain has over your life so that you can find more confidence and purpose.”

As for the specifics, my approach is highly tailored to the constitution, mindset, resilience, age, and maturity of each client. I always start with trust and initial bonding, which can be hard with some clients who understand gender affirmation as a prerequisite to feelings of trust and safety. With more open clients, who are less defensive and more conversationally or intellectually predisposed, we might discuss the philosophy of gender identity and I give them space to sort through any doubts they might bring to the table. With other clients, who are in a more sensitive or fragile place, I may approach their identity indirectly, focusing instead on the underlying pain that is somehow finding relief in this new self-concept. I also like to pragmatically examine how taking on a trans identity will play out regarding a client’s self-confidence, their ability to exist in the world, how they relate to family, friends, and so on. Sometimes I have to start somewhere very basic, like assessing if the teen even understands what the words “male” and “female” mean, if they know anything about sexuality (age-appropriate understanding), or what they know about their own bodies.

The ideas that influenced my perspective at this point are quite eclectic and not restricted to the field of psychology. I draw from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, behaviorism, social psychology, anthropology, history, and Taoism. More recently, I’m returning to a deeper exploration of psychoanalysis and Jungian analysis, which I find to be tremendously useful in making both micro- and macro- interpretations of what’s happening with my clients.

I also work closely with parents while respecting the confidentiality of the teen client. Having calls with my caseload parents every six weeks or so has proven to be incredibly important to the therapeutic progress of the teen client. Speaking with teens often gives me insights into ways that parents can deepen their relationship with their teen and to engage in more effective communication with them.

I’ve had very good feedback from my teen clients regarding their feelings of safety in session and ability to express themselves. I often hear that teens feel a great amount of pressure from others to “pick a label” and that our sessions are nice because they can explore gender without it needing to be so concrete.

Are you able to work across state lines, or must your clients be in the state of Texas?

Unlike clinical psychologists, LPCs can see clients in other states and outside the country, though I practice based on the regulations in the state of Texas. I make this clear in my initial consent conversations and documentation with new clients.

How has your your practice been going so far? Have you received any hateful or angry pushback? If so, how have you handled that?

Interestingly, I have not received too much negative pushback, but I don’t believe it will stay that way for long. I’ve seen a few people on Twitter make false claims about me, and some trolls have left unsavory comments on my blog posts. But these instances have not impacted my practice or my clients, as far as I can tell. When I speak with people about my practice face-to-face, I am typically met with far more inquiry and curiosity than hateful responses. Online though, people seem to respond with a great deal of assumptions, accelerated vitriol, and regurgitated one-liners from the trans advocacy playbook. There’s a huge difference between how my work is viewed online by trolls and in person by real people.

That being said, I have been blocked on social media by a few real-life acquaintances, which was eye opening for me. These people know nothing about the “trans kids” phenomenon, but they are the types who automatically adopt what they perceive as the correct liberal position and jump on the bandwagon without really thinking deeply about the issue at hand. Being treated this way by others on the left of the political spectrum has helped me to question many of my own long-held beliefs. I’ve wondered, “if people like me could be so blindly wrong about this, what have I been blindly wrong about?” It’s been one of the most intellectually stimulating and freeing experiences of my life to actually question my own deeply-held ideas with this much curiosity and openness.

Do you believe there is such a thing as a “truly transgender” child or adolescent? Why or why not?

It’s hard to answer a question when the terms of each word haven’t even been defined well. There’s no definition for “transgender” that isn’t completely circular in logic. Perhaps a better question is, “are there some children for whom the benefit of social and medical transition outweighs the risks”? Or maybe, “are there some children who, in order to live vital meaningful lives, must live in the gender role of the opposite sex”? To cover all my bases, let me include a question the gender therapist might ask too: “if a child is threatening to kill themselves, isn’t it better to support their transition?”

My answers for adults would look very different, but let me rephrase these questions a bit and answer them for kids.

1. “Are there some children for whom the benefits of social and medical transition outweigh the risks”?

If by “risk” we mean body discomfort or feelings of incongruence, then trying to prevent that risk is the wrong aim to strive for. Discomfort and biological limitations are ubiquitous and necessary teaching tools that have been a part of human existence throughout history, and felt particularly acutely in adolescence. The struggle between budding aspects of femininity and masculinity, independence and safety, social cohesion and isolation, assertiveness and passivity, and every other fundamental human developmental endeavor requires us to grapple with our own pain and limitations. Without that struggle we don’t develop resilience, we don’t learn about ourselves, and we don’t learn anything about living in the real world as it is, materially or socially.

That being said, it may be that classic cases of absolute insistence on being the opposite sex from the age a child could walk and talk are a different story. Of the hundreds of families I’ve talked to, only a few of them have kids whose gender dysphoria started in early childhood. Perhaps those families are more comfortable with transitioning their children, so they don’t contact me as much. Since I’ve not really worked with those kids, I don’t feel I’m qualified to prescribe their best treatment.

2. “Are there some children who, in order to live vital meaningful lives, must live in the gender role of the opposite sex?”

A “good life” doesn’t come from never experiencing discomfort, or conversely from always being perfectly comfortable, which I addressed in the previous question. But perhaps someone assumes that a girl who prefers or expresses strong masculinity would do better living “as a boy”? Are certain traits or behaviors literally incompatible with being a girl in society, or a man in society? Well, what does this say about our capacity to broaden independence and make room for personal preferences? And if someone does take on non-conformist roles, should they not also develop the personal resilience and emotional fortitude to stand firm in their own presentation with strength and individuality? I think there’s something inherently flawed about expecting all of society to completely abandon every aspect of our historically stable gender roles and it’s also flawed to say there’s no room for individuals to choose how to express themselves on the spectrum of femininity and masculinity.

3. “If a child is threatening to kill themselves, isn’t it better to support their transition?”
If a child is threatening to kill themselves, we should take a huge pause and think of the big picture. Since when do emotionally unstable, demanding children get to use threats to dictate decisions as important as fertility and surgery? Furthermore, if a child is that disturbed or troubled, then they are clearly in no position to make good choices about their long-term well being. The use of this threat by transgender-affirmation advocates is incredibly manipulative and has no precedent whatsoever in the field of psychology. I’ve worked with dozens of young people who are actively struggling with self harm and making suicidal statements (whether related to gender identity or not). These behaviors can serve many functions, not the least of which are expressing psychic pain, gaining attention and care from adults, or trying to manipulate people in power into making a concession of some sort. Children who haven’t developed the emotional or relational tools for self-soothing will use any means necessary to express pain and gain what they are seeking. I don’t mean to deride a child’s methods; she’s doing the best with what she has at the time. But these are reflections we must take very seriously as clinicians. So giving into these types of threats does far more harm than good for the child. We need to instead, conduct thorough risk assessments, create conscientious collaborative plans with the child and their family, and work through underlying issues if we really care about their safety and well-being (as therapists have always done with suicidal ideation).

In the current atmosphere, professionals who question the current “affirmative” approach to therapy for trans-identified kids may be risking their careers. Do you think the concern is overblown?

This is a touchy area so I want to start by saying that I can understand the pressures therapists feel from their institutions to make politically favorable choices and statements. Many clinicians also have their own family to be responsible for and feel financial pressures to not “rock the boat.” However, we have all taken vows of high ethical standards and going along with the affirmative approach undermines our professional moral duties.

Personally, as I’ve considered this question, I find myself asking: what’s the point of having a career based on helping others if you have to lie every day about harm that’s being done? And what does the collective and cumulative impact of lying and silence about this issue amount to in the long run?

Honestly, I don’t know what is going to happen in the next five, ten, or twenty years. In recent times whenever skeptical, intelligent, and nuanced articles about transitioning children appear, there’s often a dangerously aggressive and thoughtless effort to dismiss and diminish such arguments. The way things are going, I would not be surprised if things “get worse before they get better.” That being said, I am not worried about the work I’m doing because I believe it to be the right thing to do. Standing up for good always involves a risk and personal responsibility, a burden which I feel deeply committed to shoulder.

I strongly encourage other clinicians to speak the truth and be honest about what they are seeing, because complicit silence only makes more room for absurdity and confusion.

What will it take for more therapists to come out publicly in offering alternatives to the transgender-affirming approach to therapy?

Individuals listening to their gut, questioning actively, educating themselves, and finally, acting with honesty and courage. Because when I talk with people one-on-one, there’s a deep intrinsic knowing that we have spiraled out of control when it comes to transitioning kids, but people are afraid to even think deeply about it, question anything, seek out knowledge, or speak up.

The APA has issued “guidelines” for the treatment of what they term TGNC clients (transgender gender nonconforming). Though not binding, these guidelines are nevertheless considered “best practice.” Do you agree with them? If not, how does an APA member go about recommending changes to them?

I am not an APA member, since I am an LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor), and not a clinical psychologist. However, the APA is a powerful organization and their guidelines are looked to as aspirational principles which have significant impact on how therapy is informed and practiced. I disagree with the guidelines and believe they violate some of the most basic ethical standards, including beneficence, avoidance of maleficence, fidelity and responsibility. I believe the infiltration of political ideology into non-political organizations is the main confounding element in the organization’s ability to adhere to these professional values.

Regarding TGNC, some trans activists have essentially co-opted gender nonconformity under the “trans umbrella.” Who does that leave? No one is 100% “conforming” when it comes typical gender expression. As you know we at 4thWaveNow support such gender atypicality in our kids, but we strongly resist the notion that this means they are somehow “transgender.”

I agree – even trying to amalgamate “gender non-conforming” people into some semblance of a group is an impossible task since, like you said, no one is 100% “conforming.” We all exhibit traits of masculinity and femininity, and it’s absurd to try and find some line that constitutes “cis” and “trans” – according to some of the definitions of those terms floating around.

What are your views on the possible influences of parenting dynamics on children identifying as transgender?

It’s becoming harder and harder for parents to keep their children safe from questionable ideologies, since they have infiltrated our medical and educational institutions. But I do recommend some possible means by which parents can safeguard their kids:

  1. Due diligence in being aware of the types of ideas being taught at your child’s school: from early elementary all the way up to university. I know that’s a daunting task!
  2. Do what you can to monitor your child’s internet use and actively talk with them about some of the ideas they come across. Engage your child and really listen: let them share their thoughts, use that time to gather information and establish safety around certain touchy topics. Then engage them in thoughtful, critical, and deep analysis (in an age-appropriate and thoughtful manner). As a side note, I never imagined myself to be someone recommending an invasion of your child’s privacy; I’ve always been quite open-minded. But spending too much time online has proven to have very dangerous potential, so the long-respected parental role of boundary-setting and limit creation is crucial here. Monitor their internet use to get a sense of what material they are viewing frequently. This will help you gauge what you need to attend to. In general, the more you can keep them offline, engaged in real-life 3D activities, the better. Go outside together, leave your phones at home, go for hikes, take them fishing, and just generally reestablish a connection to the natural world.
  3. Help them regulate their eating and sleeping cycles, which play a crucial role in mood and depression. Sometimes kids stay awake, staring at a screen all night, filling their mind with anxiety-producing garbage. Set their bed-times, take their phones away overnight, and make sure they eat regularly and get plenty of physical exercise and real-life play and social interaction.
  4. Have a clear sense of your own family’s values and moral direction. What do you believe in? What ultimately guides your decisions, behaviors, beliefs, etc? Give them a strong foundation based on your own belief system. Model what you want them to learn. Don’t be dogmatic, but help them make connections to what is true and supports their long term well-being. Even if they explore other ideas in their teenage years, having a loving stable foundation gives them something to come back to or build upon.
  5. Don’t obsess over gender, but also don’t try to pretend it’s completely irrelevant. Set boundaries around any kind of physical manipulation or medical intervention. Binding breasts is a physical manipulation which can be harmful in the long run. Hormones and surgery should be off the table. But don’t get hung up on haircuts or clothing.
  6. Don’t argue with your child about whether or not they are “actually trans.” Don’t bother thinking back about their childhood, wracking your brain for “signs” of being different or non-conforming. A more pragmatic framing is to think about the real discomfort they are having, and ways to deal with it that don’t require completely transforming into a new person; this is why reducing the time your kids are on the Internet is so important. In my clinical experience, most rapid-onset dysphoric kids didn’t feel any gender incongruence until they learned what it was from social media sites. That being said, take the time to really listen to the gripes they have with the “girl role.” They likely have some very poignant observations and ideas to share.
  7. Don’t be afraid of emotions (your own or your child’s) in conversations with your teen. I’m not sure if this is a cultural thing, but I’m sometimes surprised by how afraid parents are that they might upset their child. I come from a family and culture in which open expression of emotions is ubiquitous and I have found it can be very healing when done carefully. Being honest about what you think is incredibly important, and deep emotional talks with your child are going to get turbulent – and that’s ok. It’s necessary to tell your children the truth, disagree, and show your own vulnerability. Go ahead and lovingly explain why you don’t agree with their thinking. They need to hear the truth, because they aren’t going to hear it from friends or the internet.
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The project of a lifetime: A therapist’s letter to a trans-identified teen

Therapist and Jungian analyst Lisa Marchiano received the following email recently. She and the writer of the email agreed that Lisa would address the author’s questions in a public forum, and the author kindly agreed to allow the email to accompany Lisa’s response.

Lisa can be found on Twitter at @LisaMarchiano. She blogs at theJungSoul.com

Please note that this post is intended for educational purposes only and is not meant to replace professional advice.


Email from a trans-identified teen:

Hello. I’m almost 16 years old and recently I have been reading some of your writing on “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria.” Currently I identify as transgender and have for almost 2 years, but as a chronic over-thinker, I like to expose myself to viewpoints and ideas that are different from my own. If my parents knew what ROGD was, they would probably argue that I am in that category. I came out to them about a year ago and I hadn’t shown any gender dysphoria in early childhood. To them, it probably seemed a little “out of the blue,” though I had known for a year before that, had begun to transition (cutting my hair and buying from the men’s section), and had been questioning since puberty. I don’t have any mental or physical health problems, and I have a wide social circle of friends, none of whom are transgender or homosexual (though one of my friends is asexual, and my girlfriend is bisexual). I’m almost positive that I’m transgender, but your writing got me thinking and I have a few questions for you.

If what I am experiencing is ROGD, and simply a coping mechanism for something else, what signs could I look for in myself to figure that out? You talked a lot about the parent’s side of the equation, but what can I, as a trans teen do to ensure that I’m not “tricking” myself into believing this?

When do you believe a trans identity is valid? I certainly don’t disagree with you that there are many teenagers in my generation that are “becoming” trans because it is trendy, having no symptoms of gender dysphoria (I know a person like this). But do you think that trans people need to meet certain criteria to be considered trans and be considered for medical transition? If so, what criteria? Do you believe that gender dysphoria can present itself at puberty?

Thank you for reading and hopefully replying. I really appreciate your time.


Lisa Marchiano’s response:

Thank you for writing me such a thoughtful email, and for your willingness to take the answer here in this public forum. First of all, it goes without saying that this letter can’t take the place of therapy. I can’t diagnose from afar. I am, after all, just a stranger on the internet, and this is just my opinion. I believe it is an informed opinion, but it can’t take the place of discussing important issues face to face with someone who knows you well. Looking at these issues with a qualified therapist who can help you ponder your feelings in an open-ended way without prematurely foreclosing exploration can be very helpful. In addition, I hope you might feel comfortable someday discussing this with your parents. There may be a lot they don’t understand, but it is likely that there is no one on the planet who is more steadfastly on your team than they.

As a Jungian, I see psychological health in terms of a movement toward wholeness. Over the course of our lives, we hopefully integrate more and more aspects of ourselves, including parts that may be “feminine,” and parts that may be “masculine.” This life-long growth process means that we become larger and more complex as we become conscious of more aspects of ourselves. I do not believe that it makes sense to think in terms of identity, as this implies a single, fixed “truth” about ourselves – an endpoint that can be decisively known. Rather, I believe we continue to grow and change throughout our lives.

There is no robust evidence for innate gender identity. Our sense of gender appears to be an emergent property that arises out of a complex interplay between our bodies, our minds, and the social world. Though there is almost certainly a biological component to gender dysphoria, it is also likely shaped by our life history. The way we experience ourselves in terms of gender – that is as more or less male or female or both – is shaped by our family, our wider social network including friends and teachers, and the culture, including advertising, YouTube and other social media. Traumatic experiences, such as the loss of someone close, parental divorce, or emotional, physical or sexual abuse can also affect our experience of our gender.

Can gender dysphoria present for the first time at puberty? Clearly, many young people feel dysphoric at adolescence. Nearly all natal females feel discomfort with their bodies at puberty. I wonder if the question you are asking is whether dysphoria at adolescence but not before means that one shouldn’t identify as trans as a result. I think the answer to that is complicated, and I can’t really answer that for you. Again, this would be something to explore with a therapist who could really get to know your unique situation. Let me just say that based upon my reading of the medical literature, dysphoria presenting for the first time at puberty used to be unusual (but not unheard of) until recently.

Rapid onset gender dysphoria appears to be a relatively new phenomenon, and we don’t understand much about it yet. It appears as though the typical presentation of an ROGD teen involves considerable social influence, either online or by peers, as well as psychiatric comorbidities and/or vulnerabilities. Based on anecdotal reports, many ROGD teens first decide they are trans after reading on the internet. There is very little research on this, but the little there is seems to point to a different outcome for those with ROGD traits (no dysphoria in childhood, higher rates of psychiatric comorbidity, social influence) vs those with the more typical presentation of GD. And outcomes matter, because at the end of the day, we want all people to do as well as possible.

People often come to therapy to explore difficult decisions. I’m going to share a little bit about how I help someone explore their options. If you were to find a therapist to have this discussion with, here are some of the things the two of you might consider together.

There is a difference between what we feel, and what we choose to do about those feelings. I have a passionate conviction that all feelings are valid and important. We should be encouraged to feel them, to take them seriously, to honor them, and to be curious about them. We can take our feelings seriously and acknowledge them as valid without that acknowledgement meaning that we need to take a particular course of action as a result of them. For example – if we are very angry at someone, our feelings of anger are valid and deserve to be felt. What we do about that anger – whether we lash out at the person, for example – is another question entirely. When considering what to do about feelings, I am always interested in whether a given course of action is adaptive or maladaptive.

Let me explain more of what I mean by that. When someone comes to me with a question or a problem, I find it very helpful to examine the issue through the lens of pragmatism. I am interested in identifying what works for this particular person. This means that I ask us to set aside – at least for a moment – judgments based on values, morals, or ideology, and just explore whether a given response works.

What do I mean by “works?” In some sense, we all get to define that for ourselves, and one person’s definition might vary greatly from someone else’s. But we need some firm ground to stand on, so I do have a general answer – something works if it helps you to “do your life.” Freud famously said that the cornerstones of a mentally healthy life are the ability to love and to work, and I think that’s a great place to start. To have a life that is fulfilling, we generally need work that we find meaningful, as well as abiding relationships, at least some of which are truly intimate. I would add a third category to these two: . we can consider that a life strategy works if it is protective of our physical health – or at least not inimical to it. In sum, something works and is adaptive if it doesn’t interfere with our ability to work, to love, and to maintain our health.

Whether identifying as transgender for any individual is adaptive of maladaptive will depend on the person’s particular situation. If we are a natal female who has an inner experience of maleness (and I, in fact, believe that all females have masculine traits, and that our experience of the male side of ourselves can be very important psychologically), then identifying as male could be very liberating, exciting, and growth promoting. It could very well enable someone to engage productively in work and relationships. In this case, a transgender identity would be adaptive.

There could also be cases when identifying as transgender may not be adaptive. Whether it is or not will likely depend in part on how we understand what it means to identify as trans. For example, if part of identifying as transgender means that we need to be perceived as male when we are female bodied, we are putting ourselves in a vulnerable position, as we are giving others power over our sense of ourselves. We can’t control how others see us. Positioning ourselves so that we only feel okay when others perceive and validate us as we want to be perceived, rather than focusing on developing self-acceptance and resilience in the face of slights or rejections, is a decision that may promote worse mental health. This in turn could make it more difficult for us to concentrate at work or school. It might cause us to withdraw from friendships or other important relationships. If this were the case, we might say that our trans identification was proving to be maladaptive.

Furthermore, if identifying as transgender means that we understand ourselves to be literally male when our bodies are female, we may experience cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance refers to the inner tension that we feel when important beliefs are contradicted by evidence. It can be quite uncomfortable. Psychologists have studied those whose strong beliefs are challenged by material evidence. (The theory of cognitive dissonance was developed by a psychologist studying a doomsday cult, and what happened to cult members’ beliefs when the world did not in fact end as their leader had predicted.) They note that we have a tendency to “double down” on our false beliefs in order to resolve the internal tension. Our beliefs become more extreme, and we work even harder internally to justify or reconcile with the challenged belief. (This isn’t just true of cult members. It’s true of every one of us.)

Those who identify as transgender can suffer from pangs of cognitive dissonance. This can often make the dysphoria worse. I have heard many stories from desisters and detransitioners that identifying as transgender made them feel worse, because they then had to deal with a constant tension around the fact that their body looked and acted differently than how they thought it should. This can invite obsessive, perseverative thinking, which can be draining and cause increased distress and anxiety. Adopting a belief that contradicts material reality can be a recipe for unhappiness, as we will likely feel the need to strive to become the thing we are not. This is part of the reason many wisdom traditions and psychotherapy schools direct us to cultivate acceptance of those things we cannot change.

The blogger ladyantitheist articulates the above sentiment eloquently in her post about her trans identification and desistance from it:

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 further 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.

If identifying as transgender amplifies our unhappiness with our bodies, if it causes us to perseverate on features of our bodies which we don’t like, then I would say that doing so is probably not adaptive.

There’s one other major conversation to have when considering whether identifying as transgender works, and that is the matter of maintaining our physical health. If identifying as transgender means that we feel compelled to engage in activities that could cause long-term harm to our body, then it may be maladaptive. Binding can result in collapsed lungs, compressed ribs, and back problems, and some report that they continue to suffer ill effects even after they are no longer binding. Mastectomies remove healthy tissue and can result in painful scarring. Testosterone will result in vaginal atrophy and may damage fertility. It can negatively affect one’s lipid profile, bone density, and liver function. It may increase one’s risk of heart attack and diabetes. There are currently 6,000 cases pending in litigation against drug manufacturers having to do with male bodied people who took testosterone, and experienced blood clots, heart attacks, stroke, and sudden death. Phalloplasty is known to have a high complication rate, and these can be serious and debilitating in some circumstances. If a basic measure of whether something “works” is if it helps us to protect and maintain physical well-being, it would appear that medical transition may not do so in many cases.

Could medical transition ever be adaptive? Yes, I think so. There are trans adults who feel that their capacity to love and work has been enhanced by transition. I suspect that those who benefit from transition have had a good process in which they explored their gender; addressed any underlying issues; and had realistic expectations for the outcomes of transition. Since transition compromises physical health, it is important to carefully consider such a step, and be certain that the benefits will outweigh the considerable known and unknown risks.

I would like to offer another rule of thumb when considering whether a particular life strategy is adaptive or maladaptive. All things being equal, it is better to preserve options and maintain flexibility. This is especially true when we are in the first half of life. When in doubt, leave options open. One of my concerns about medical transition for young people is that it shuts down future options. Having a mastectomy will permanently remove the option of nursing. Taking testosterone may render us infertile. Even if we think we never want to become a parent, there is still a value in protecting the future possibility of doing so. And fertility is not the only option to protect. If a person has taken on a significant transition to another gender expression and then has serious questions about it, they may be faced with even more serious challenges than they had before. Freedom of expression may be seriously, and in some cases, profoundly restricted or limited. Transition does have the potential to seriously limit additional life choices.

We really are all works in progress. Our sense of ourselves will continue to change and shift throughout our lives. It may be tempting to strive for certainty in tumultuous times, but I’d be wary of any urgency. You do actually have time on your side. By staying curious – as you clearly are – and trying out different things, you will gather more and better information in order to help you decide what works for you. One of the helpful things about a pragmatic framework for evaluating life strategies is that it leaves room for things to change. Most strategies don’t work forever. For any decision we make, we can ask ourselves, is this working? And then a few months later, is this still working? If the strategy is benefiting us in living our fullest life more than it is hampering us, we know to continue pursuing it. And if the day comes where we realize the balance of the equation has tipped so that the strategy is more costly than beneficial, then we can abandon it. We need not limit ourselves according to rigid beliefs about what is right or wrong.

elephant-blindmenWhile I was working on this letter, I was reading a novel called The Nix by Nathan Hill. The novel is in part the story of a woman named Faye, and it follows her throughout her life as she tries to discover who she truly is. Toward the end of the book, the author makes some comments about how we understand ourselves that I thought were very wise. I’ll let him have the last word.

In the story of the blind men and the elephant, what’s usually ignored is the fact that each man’s description was correct. What Faye won’t understand and may never understand is that there is not one true self hidden by many false ones. Rather, there is one true self hidden by many true ones. Yes, she is the meek and shy and industrious student. Yes, she is the panicky and frightened child. Yes, she is the bold and impulsive seductress. Yes, she is the wife, the mother. And many other things as well. Her belief that only one of these is true obscures the larger truth, which was ultimately the problem with the blind men and the elephant. It wasn’t that they were blind – it’s that they stopped too quickly, and so never knew there was a larger truth to grasp…. Seeing ourselves clearly is the project of a lifetime.

 

Detransitioned man blasts “transworld”

Angus is the pseudonym of a mostly-retired clinical epidemiologist on the faculty of a major health sciences university. We asked Angus to provide a short bio, and this is what he wrote:

“Angus is in his late 50s now, but back in his 40th year of life, his arrogance and folly led him to think it was fine to transgress, wear the dress, and pretend to be a “woman.” He did this for 13 long years, taking the synthetic estrogen drug every day, self-absorbed and entirely content. He was so convinced that he would carry on as a fake “lady” until the day he died, he decided to have some surgery. Not the more drastic option, it’s true, but most men would do anything to avoid the one he got. Quite unexpectedly one morning Angus snapped out of his transfugue trance state and felt compelled to examine his life. He rapidly ceased his masquerading and mimicry and re-engaged with material reality. He has the blog at autogynephiliatruth.wordpress.com but hasn’t put anything up there for a while. Angus can sometimes be observed causing trouble on Twitter @iforgetalready.”

As with all articles submitted by our contributors, the opinions expressed by the author are his own. He is interacting in the comments section of his post under the moniker “Awesome Cat.”


by Angus

The trans industry must concede that rapid onset gender dysphoria is a social contagion and they must cease recruiting efforts among young people.

Girls and young women increasingly make the claim in recent years to have “gender dysphoria,” an inversion of the male-dominant pattern that has been observed over many decades. More than just flipping the chart, this represents a major surge in the rate at which women are inducted into the illusory realm of TransWorld. The trans industry’s nonsensical position is that practically all “cis” people are potentially “trans,” but it’s impossible to know for sure whether anyone is a man, a woman, or some innovation unless they tell you. Even then, you may need to ask again tomorrow.

Clinicians have struggled to explain why there has been such an appalling growth in adolescent “gender dysphoria,” especially in girls and women.  One possible explanation, recognized as far back as 2010 and 2012, is the impact of social expectations, including the Internet, on the development of a transgender identity.

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And even further back, in 1999, WPATH (formerly called the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association) advised clinicians to proceed with caution when treating adolescents because of the changeability of “gender identity.”

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Then, in 2016, a physician named Lisa Littman conducted a study which, in part, investigated whether social contagion could be a contributing cause; in other words, perhaps some kids caught up in this mix do not really have a long-standing discomfort with their sex. It’s possible for many that the trap door could open below their feet, and within a short time, they’d be injecting testosterone. That’s truly how they roll with “affirmative transcare.”

Trans activists raged over the anticipatory invalidation they already felt with this story, as it dramatically undermined their alibi of “born this way” innocence. They seek transrecruits among children and youth, and at least in the USA, have an alarming interest in giving kids hormone drugs and surgeries at the earliest possible ages. Along with academic and clinician running dogs and other personnel getting paid in the trans industry’s multifarious dimensions, they worried that the mainstream public might see through transvested interests of its pseudoscience. They tried to kill this story with fire. Their efforts only made the story better known.***

Let me just say that I don’t believe that anyone on Earth is “transgender,” “transsexual,” trans-anything except perhaps transvestite, because that term is specific to clothes (Latin vestīre). In English the word just means crossdresser, which is accurate in a simplistic way. Nor is anyone “cis.” Evolution would not allow development of a heritable trait cluster or quasi-sub-species in which a woman or man in good physical health would have an insatiable obsessed yearning to mimic the sociocultural sex stereotypes (i.e. “gender”) for appearance and mannerisms of the opposite sex. There is no way that little Johnny likes to play with dolls or that little Jenny likes to play with trucks because as “trans kids,” they are on the spear point of an ancient evolutionary process that manifests at a certain prevalence in a given population. Had there been such genetic innovation back when we roamed the savannahs, folks with those characteristics would have all died out pretty quickly due to the lack of skilled plastic surgeons and endocrinologists. After all, along with voice coaches, such professionals are the only ones who can deliver “the basic health care they need to survive.” Our illustrious forebears in the painted caves would not have been pleased with the maladaptive meltdown and tantrum behaviour that would have emerged in proto-trans people in response to rampant “misgendering,” and excess mortality due to other people declining to play along would have been high. In real life, simpler explanations are more likely to be true, and there are far more compelling approaches to exploring the question of why women and men with healthy bodies might get it into their minds that they are really the opposite sex.

It should be pretty obvious that the “transition” one hears too much about is also a bogus mind-game. No-one “transitions” to anything except a likely-shortened lifestyle with lots more trips to the doctor, massive surgeries, aftercare; complications (some quite filthy), surgical revisions, risk of cardiovascular trouble; and lifelong drugs. Men may look forward to practicing fake voices & mincing walks, incessant “dilation” of the pseudo-“vagina” seeping void space created through flaying & inverting their genitals, heightened risk of multiple sclerosis and still being 100% male. Women may anticipate the potential for luxuriant back hair growth and being rather shocked that after mastectomies and having the organs of their reproductive systems ripped out, they are still as female as the day is long. Also, a greater risk of kidney failure, even if they are vegans.

Men and women who bought into the transprop and believe its lies have paid with their bodily integrity, and many times with their health. They are victims of it themselves, and I wish healing and wholeness for them. In the moment, however, many contribute to transgenderism’s harms.

For nearly 100 years, since doctors began misleading confused men and women to believe that this might be an option, vastly more males than females have desperately demanded to go under the knife and “change sex.” Such “change” is only illusion, but many men and women have fixated on that fraudulent goal in the vain hope to escape the miseries and melodrama of their own real lives. It is thus a matter of tremendous public health concern, indeed it’s a public health emergency, that over the course of a few years the rate of young women and girls who newly claim to be trans has gone through the roof. Doctors in Amsterdam and Toronto reported in 2015 that in their clinics there were now more females than males getting transbees in their bonnets. These women and girls had never previously shown profound dissatisfaction with being female; their “gender dysphoria” seemed to be new. Investigators used their Discussion to propose that among other reasons why women now greatly outpaced men, perhaps more secretly trans heterosexual women were now hopping on board the transwagon. Alternatively, maybe this decade’s grossly overblown propagandizing of all things trans has resulted in an Exodus of silently-suffering transfolk, women and men both, from “cisnormative” agony; women lead the way, enjoying their female privilege, as many already owned a few pairs of blue jeans or had short hair.

Newcomers to the trans industry, Helsinki then piped up to say that in their first two years running a child transing center they were stunned to find that 41 of 46 (87%) of adolescents were girls. Inconveniently for trans industry bigwigs, the Finns continued. It seems that 35/47 (75%) of these youth were already in treatment for serious psychiatric comorbidity unrelated to “gender”; and 12/47 (26%) were on the autism spectrum. The ratio of females to males, autism prevalence and levels of comorbid psychopathology were far higher than had ever previously been reported. Investigators were flummoxed by all of this, pointing out the ways that it contradicted the lying official translore, and could propose no solid explanations; least of all for the massive overrepresentation of girls.

Reports from the United Kingdom of huge spikes in the rate of child referrals to transing centers also show far more girls than ever before. The most recent of these papers from the UK suggests that from 2009-2016, the average year-on-year increase in referrals for children under age 12 was “only” 48.6% for boys, while it was 92.7% for girls; in adolescents the corresponding rates were 54.9% and 88.6%.

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Naturally, the new transcenario posed a problem for TransHQ. Most industry clinicians maintained the party line, more or less saying “gee, we didn’t know there were so many transkids.” When two of the more notorious pediatric trans industry doctors were asked about the startlingly high proportions of girls, Johanna Olson-Kennedy seemed taken aback but then acknowledged that it was true, before uttering a few more incoherent half-thoughts. Joshua Safer seemed evasive and glassy-eyed as he answered in terms of both sexes.

None of the researchers reporting this outbreak of “girlpower denied” was apparently able to imagine a possibility that would require coloring outside the lines of the trans cult’s hijacked rainbow; an answer that was much more likely to be true than their mouthfuls of bloated transjargon.

In 2016, however, Dr. Lisa Littman (now at Brown University in Rhode Island, USA) published a summary description of her survey undertaken with parents of youth purporting to have “gender dysphoria.” Results of her survey suggested something pretty obvious: This new type of rapid-onset gender dysphoria (ROGD) is a whole different animal than the usual kind observed in adolescents. It was really sort of a youth craze, exacerbated via social contagion through the influence of peer groups and shady characters who promote trans ideology and recruit adolescents aboard the transwagon. Psychotherapist Lisa Marchiano also wrote eloquently on ROGD in several articles, including this piece from the perspective of Jungian psychology.

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The discussion of ROGD came upon trans activists unawares, but as the story continued to gain traction, the transmachine hotly blew up its transmissions, spewing towering tizzies of refutation, torrid pseudoscientific tirades, aggrieved attacks on academic integrity. Many trans industry academics and clinicians who have desperately tried for years to show that “gender identity” is innate now faced the possibility that the public would begin to catch on: “Innate gender identity” was complete garbage. Ice cold embarrassment and waves of sweaty invalidation flew from the ridgetops of their enormous brows. Social media was also transflamed with outrage, scorn, popcorn and flipped wigs.

But what can these trans cult & industry personnel and enablers really say in their dizzy diatribes? They raged against ROGD, called it a “hoax diagnosis,” scoffed at the study design and impugned Dr. Littman’s academic integrity. Yet they knew full well that the entirety of the “affirmative model of care” for people confused about what sex they are has much flimsier underpinnings, in addition to cherry-picking, confirmation bias, same-team replication & review, in-house “bioethicists” and financial or other conflicts of interest. What can they say, when reports from around the world confirm not only an explosion in the rate of children and adolescents getting hooked into TransWorld, but a reversal of the old familiar sex ratio? What can they say when there is in real life no “trans”?

Young people are systematically gaslighted in their indoctrination about all things trans. Like many adults, adolescents are usually overstimulated, sleep-deprived and eating suboptimal food; often somewhat traumatized and fragmented far away from knowing their own wholeness. Trans ideology is now presented to kids in USA schools as truth, “settled science” that helps people to “become their authentic selves,” masquerading through life as the opposite sex. But based on both my personal experience as a former “transwoman” and my ongoing research,  trans itself actually doesn’t exist, at least not in material reality. It exists only through mind-games; reversals, inversions & perversions of meaning; language-policing; and bureaucratic paperwork.

All human beings are “valid,” but transgenderism is a cultish ideology that leads to serious harms. Rich countries of the world have fallen grotesquely into error and if there is any justice, the people who promote and take advantage of the transcraze in young people someday will be held accountable.

Gender dysphoria is not one thing

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

This is the second in a series of articles authored by Drs. Bailey and Blanchard; see here for their first piece.

Many parents who are part of the 4thWaveNow community have daughters who fit the profile of a sudden onset of gender dysphoria in adolescence. This phenomenon is discussed in detail by the authors after the first two types, in the section “Rapid-onset Gender Dysphoria (Mostly Adolescent and Young Adult Females).” Some 4thWave parents will also find the section “Two Rarer Types of Gender Dysphoria” of particular interest (near the end of the article).

We recognize that regular readers and members of 4thWaveNow will not agree with all of what Bailey and Blanchard have to say, but as always, if you wish to challenge the authors, your comments will be more likely to be published if they are delivered respectfully.

As their time permits, Drs. Bailey and Blanchard will be available to interact in the comments section of this post.


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

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


One problem with the current mainstream narrative regarding gender dysphoria is that it makes no distinctions among apparently very different kinds of persons. For example, Bruce Jenner appeared to be a very masculine man, an Olympic athlete who was married to three different women and had six children with them, before becoming Caitlyn Jenner. In contrast, Jazz Jennings, a natal male, was so feminine that she earned a diagnosis of gender identity disorder at the age of four. She is attracted to males. Jenner and Jennings are so different in their presentation and history that it is surprising to us that anyone thinks they have the same condition. Jenner and Jennings are examples of two very different kinds of gender dysphoria that have been scientifically well studied, and have fundamentally different motivations, clinical presentations, and likely causes.

The failure of so many therapists and activists to acknowledge this distinction is disturbing for at least two reasons. First, it suggests they are either ignorant of relevant scientific evidence or are purposefully ignoring it. Second, failure to make scientifically valid and fundamental distinctions among different kinds of gender dysphoric persons can only prevent progress toward finding the best approach to helping each. Measles, influenza, and strep throat are all associated with fever. But if we had merely lumped them together as “fever,” we would not have effective treatments for them.

 Types of Gender Dysphoria

Gender dysphoria isn’t common. But there are at least three distinct types of gender dysphoria that, presently, regularly occur in children and adolescents. We summarize these at length here. Two other kinds of gender dysphoria are much less common in these age groups, and so we address them less fully near the end of this essay. The main three types differ in their age of onset (childhood, adolescence, or adulthood), their speed of onset (gradual or sudden), their associated sexual orientations (members of the same sex or the fantasy of belonging to the opposite sex), and their sex ratio (equally or unequally likely in males and females).

The first type—childhood-onset gender dysphoria—definitely occurs in both biological boys and girls. It is highly correlated with homosexuality–the sexual preference for one’s own biological sex–especially in natal males. (Sexual orientation is usually not apparent until a child reaches adolescence or adulthood, however.) This is the type that Jazz Jennings had before her gender transition. The second type—autogynephilic gender dysphoria—occurs only in males. It is associated with a tendency to be sexually aroused by the thought or image of oneself as a female. This type of gender dysphoria sometimes starts during adolescence and sometimes during adulthood, and its onset is typically gradual. (Onset may appear sudden to family members, however.) Although Caitlyn Jenner has not discussed her feelings openly, we strongly suspect she is autogynephilic. The third type—rapid-onset gender dysphoria—mostly occurs in adolescent girls. This type is primarily characterized by the age and speed of onset rather than the associated sexual orientation, and it may not be limited to one sex, as the second type is. Our impression is that rapid-onset gender dysphoria is especially common among daughters of parents who read 4thWaveNow as well as those who post on the support board at gendercriticalresources.com.

The first two types (childhood-onset gender dysphoria and autogynephilic gender dysphoria) have been well studied, although autogynephilic gender dysphoria has primarily been studied in adults. The third (rapid-onset gender dysphoria) has only recently been noticed, and it is possible that it didn’t occur much until recently.

How do you know which type of gender dysphoria your child has? If there were clear signs well before puberty that your child was gender dysphoric, s/he has child-onset gender dysphoria. (You would certainly have noticed signs at the time; at the very least you would have coded your child as extremely gender nonconforming.) If your child showed signs of gender dysphoria for the first time during adolescence, s/he has one of the other types. Remember, autogynephilic gender dysphoria occurs only in natal males, and it starts either during adolescence or adulthood. (And to a parent, it usually seems sudden.) We describe the three types more thoroughly below.

Childhood-onset Gender Dysphoria (Boys and Girls)

The most obvious feature that distinguishes childhood-onset gender dysphoria from the other types is early appearance of gender nonconformity. Gender nonconformity is a persistent tendency to behave like the other sex in a variety of ways, including preferences of dress and appearance, play style, playmate preferences, and interests and goals. A very gender nonconforming boy may dress up as a girl, play with dolls, dislike rough play, show indifference to team sports or contact sports, prefer girl playmates, try to be around adult women rather than adult men, and be known by other children as a “sissy” (a term generally used to ridicule and shame feminine boys). A very gender nonconforming girl shows an opposite pattern, with the less derogatory word “tomboy” replacing sissy.

Onset of gender nonconformity is childhood cases is very early, typically about as early as gendered behavior can be noticed.

It is important to understand that not all gender nonconforming children (even very gender nonconforming children) have gender dysphoria. Probably most don’t, in fact. But we know of no cases of childhood-onset gender dysphoria without gender nonconformity.

Gender dysphoria in the childhood cases requires that children are unhappy with their birth sex. Furthermore, they typically yearn to be–or even assert that they are–the other sex.

What do we know about childhood-onset gender dysphoria?

Childhood-onset gender dysphoria has been systematically studied by two high quality international research centers (one in Toronto, which was led by Kenneth Zucker, and one in the Netherlands, which was led by Peggy Cohen-Kettenis). Both centers have assessed and followed representative samples of gender dysphoric children seen at their clinics. Reassuringly, results are fairly similar across the two sites. Furthermore, their results are similar to less representative samples studied earlier in the United States.

The published literature shows that at least in the past, 60-90% of children whose gender dysphoria began before puberty adjusted to their birth sex without requiring gender transition. That may be changing, however, due to changes in clinical practice that encourage gender transition. (See below.)

It is important to realize that childhood-onset gender dysphoria is the only kind of gender dysphoria that has been well-studied in children and adolescents. This means, for example, that the persistence and desistance figures we have provided apply only to that type. We do not know comparable figures about autogynephilic or rapid-onset gender dysphoria. Furthermore, most people, when they think of “transgender children and adolescents” have childhood-onset gender dysphoria in mind. (And they think of happy Jazz more than they think of Jazz’s serious medical surgeries and hormonal treatment for life.) But this association is misleading for all cases of gender dysphoria that are not childhood-onset. Autogynephilic and rapid-onset gender dysphoria have very different causes and presentations than childhood-onset gender dysphoria.

Sexuality

Children with childhood-onset gender dysphoria have a much higher likelihood of non-heterosexual (i.e., homosexual or bisexual) adult outcomes compared with typical children. Childhood-onset gender dysphoric boys who desist usually become nonheterosexual men. A smaller percentage have reported that they are heterosexual at follow up. Those who transition become transwomen attracted to men.

Although most childhood-onset gender dysphoric girls who have been followed identify as heterosexual, those who desist have a much higher rate of nonheterosexuality compared with the general population. Among those who transition, most are attracted to women.

We repeat: there is no evidence that parents can change their children’s eventual sexual orientation, and we don’t think they should try.

Risk Factors for Persistence of Childhood-onset Gender Dysphoria

Which childhood-onset gender dysphoric children will persist, and which will desist? Evidence suggests that we can’t distinguish these two groups with high confidence, although we can distinguish them better than chance.

There is some evidence that the severity of gender dysphoria distinguishes these two groups, although it is far from a perfect predictor. Children who not only say they want to be the other sex but who assert that they are the other sex may be especially likely to persist. The reasons why a child’s expressed belief that s/he is the other sex predicts persistence remain unclear, and this variable does not allow even near-perfect prediction. The idea that it is the essential test of “true trans” is an overstatement.

Other empirically supported risk factors include being of lower socioeconomic status and having autistic traits, both of which predict persistence. Why should these factors matter? Researchers have speculated that socioeconomically disadvantaged families are more likely to have problems that prevent them from providing the consistent supportive social environment that may be most likely to help the gender dysphoric child desist. Autistic traits include perseverative and obsessional thinking, both of which may make desistance more difficult. Furthermore, parents of children with autistic traits may be so concerned about other problems that they are permissive about things likely to foster gender transition.

One powerful predictor of persistence is social transition, or a child’s living as the other sex. Until recently this was practically unheard of. Increasingly, however, it is not only known but encouraged by many gender therapists. (Watch an episode of “I am Jazz.”) In the Netherlands social transition has been common longer than in the United States. A recent study found that social transition was the most powerful predictor of persistence among natal males. That is, gender dysphoric boys allowed to live as girls strongly tended to want to become adult women. (The same trend occurred for natal females, but it was less robust.) This is not surprising. If a gender dysphoric child is allowed to live as the other sex, what will change his/her mind? No one disputes that gender dysphoric children really, really would like to change sex.

What should you do?

The necessary studies have not been conducted to be certain. But based on the overall picture, we suggest:

If you want your childhood-onset gender dysphoric child to desist, and if your child is still well below the age of puberty (which varies, but let’s say, younger than 11 years), you should firmly (but kindly and patiently) insist that your child is a member of his/her birth sex. You should consider finding a therapist if this is difficult for you and your child. You should not allow your child to engage in behaviors such as cross dressing and fantasy play as the other sex. Above all else, you should not let your child socially transition to the other sex.

At the same time, you should recognize that despite your best efforts, your child may ultimately need to transition to be happy. If your child’s gender dysphoria persists well into adolescence (again, the ages vary by child, but let’s say age 14 or so), s/he is much more likely to transition. At that point, in our opinion, parents should consider supporting transition.

Autogynephilic Gender Dysphoria (Adolescent Boys and Men)

From a parent’s perspective, autogynephilic gender dysphoria (which occurs only in natal males) often seems to come out of the blue. This is likely to be true whether the onset is during adolescence or adulthood. A teenage boy may suddenly announce that he is actually a woman trapped in a man’s body, or that he is transgender, or that he wants gender transition. Typically, this revelation follows his intensive internet research and participation in internet transgender forums. Importantly, the adolescent showed no clear, consistent signs of either gender nonconformity or gender dysphoria during childhood (that is, before puberty).

There is an important distinction between rapid-onset gender dysphoria and autogynephilic gender dysphoria that happens to have an adolescent onset. Rapid-onset gender dysphoria is suddenly acquired, whereas autogynephilic gender dysphoria may be suddenly revealed, after having grown in secret for a number of years. We will talk more about this later.

Where does autogynephilic gender dysphoria come from? We know a lot about the motivation of this kind of gender dysphoria. Most of our knowledge comes from studies of adults born male who transitioned during adulthood. Some of these adults had gender dysphoria during adolescence, but all of them had the root cause of their condition: autogynephilia.

(Warning: Autogynephilia is about sex. We understand that it is awkward and uncomfortable for any parent to consider their children’s sexual fantasies. But you can’t understand your son with this kind of gender dysphoria without doing so.)

Autogynephilia is a male’s sexual arousal by the fantasy of being a woman. That is, autogynephilic males are turned on by thinking about themselves as women, or behaving like women. The typical heterosexual adolescent boy has sexual fantasies about attractive girls or women. The autogynephilic adolescent boy’s may also have such fantasies, but in addition he fantasizes that he is an attractive, sexy woman. The most common behavior associated with autogynephilia during adolescence is fetishistic cross dressing. In this behavior, the adolescent male wears female clothing (typically, lingerie) in private, looks at himself in the mirror, and masturbates. Some autogynephilic males are not only sexually aroused by cross dressing, but also by the idea of having female body parts. These body-related fantasies are especially likely to be associated with gender dysphoria.

It is important to distinguish between autogynephilia and autogynephilic gender dysphoria. Autogynephilia is basically a sexual orientation, and once present does not go away, although its intensity may wax and wane. Autogynephilic gender dysphoria sometimes follows autogynephilia, and is the strong wish to transition from male to female. A male must have autogynephilia to have autogynephilic gender dysphoria, but just because he is autogynephilic doesn’t mean he will be gender dysphoric. Many autogynephilic males live their lives contented to remain male. Furthermore, sometimes autogynephilic gender dysphoria remits so that a male who wanted to change sex no longer does so.

In general, adolescent boys are unlikely to divulge their sexual fantasies to their parents. This is likely especially true of boys with autogynephilia. Furthermore, many boys who engage in cross dressing feel ashamed for doing so. The fact that autogynephilic fantasies and behaviors are largely private is one reason why autogynephilic gender dysphoria usually seems to emerge from nowhere. Another reason is that autogynephilic males are not naturally very feminine. An adolescent boy with autogynephilia does not give off obvious signals of gender nonconformity or gender dysphoria.

It is likely that most autogynephilic males do not pursue gender reassignment, but this is difficult to know. (We would need to conduct a representative survey of all persons born male, asking about both autogynephilia and gender transition. This has not been done and won’t be done anytime soon.) Many males with autogynephilia are content to cross dress occasionally. Some get married to women and many also have children. Family formation is no guarantee against later transition, although that may slow it up somewhat. In past decades, when autogynephilic males have transitioned, they have most often done so during the ages 30-50, after having married women and fathered children. It is possible that autogynephilic males have recently been attempting transition at younger ages, including adolescence.

The relationship between autogynephilia and (autogynephilic-type) gender dysphoria is uncertain. One view is that gender dysphoria may arise as a complication of autogynephilia, depending perhaps on chance events or environmental factors. Another view is that autogynephiles who become progressively gender dysphoric were somewhat different from simple autogynephiles from the beginning (for example, more obsessional). Because we do not actually know the causes of autogynephilia, it is quite difficult to sort out these various interpretations at present.

Autogynephilia—the central motivation of autogynephilic gender dysphoria—can be considered an unusual sexual orientation. As with other kinds of male sexual orientation, we do not know how to change it, and we shouldn’t try. The dilemma is how to live with autogynephilia in a way that allows the most happiness. For some with autogynephilia, this will mean staying male. For others, it will mean transitioning to female.

What do we know about autogynephilic gender dysphoria?

Much of what we know about autogynephilic gender dysphoria comes from research conducted on adults. Most of the early research was conducted by the scientist who developed the theory of autogynephilia, Ray Blanchard. This work was subsequently confirmed and extended by other researchers, especially Anne Lawrence, Michael Bailey, and Bailey’s students.

Blanchard’s research identified two distinct subtypes of gender dysphoria among adult male gender patients. One type, which he called “homosexual gender dysphoria” is identical to childhood onset male gender dysphoria. Males with this condition are homosexual, in the sense that they are attracted to other biological males. Blanchard provided persuasive evidence that the other male gender patients were autogynephilic. We currently favor the theory that there are only two well established kinds of gender dysphoria among males, because no convincing evidence for any other types has been offered. This could change­–we are committed to a scientific open-mindedness. In particular, it is possible that some cases of adolescent-onset gender dysphoria among males are essentially the same as Rapid-onset Gender Dysphoria that occurs among natal females. This will require more research to establish, however.

Autogynephilia is a probably rare, although it is difficult to know for certain. Among males who seek gender transition, however, it is common. In fact, in Western countries in recent years, including the United States, autogynephilia has accounted for at least 75% of cases of male-to-female transsexualism.

Given how important autogynephilia is for understanding gender dysphoria, it may surprise you that you had never heard of it. Autogynephilia remains a largely hidden idea because most people–including journalists, families, and many males with autogynephilia–strongly prefer the standard, though false, narrative: “Transsexualism is about having the mind of one sex in the body of the other sex.” Many people find this narrative both easier to understand and less disturbing than the idea that some males want a sex change because they find that idea strongly erotic.

Although many autogynephilic males find discovery of the idea of autogynephilia to be a positive revelation–autogynephilia has been as puzzling to them as it is to you–some others are enraged at the idea. There are two main reasons why some autogynephilic males are in denial. First, they correctly believe that many people find a sexual explanation of gender dysphoria unappealing–discomfort with sexuality is rampant. Second, they find this explanation of their own feelings less satisfying than the standard “woman trapped in man’s body” explanation. This is because autogynephilia is a male trait, and autogynephilia is about wanting to be female.

It is good to be aware of autogynephilia’s controversial status, because transgender activists are often hostile to the idea. You will not learn more about it from the activists. And if your son has frequented internet discussions, he may also resent the idea. We emphasize that autogynephilia is controversial for social reasons, not for scientific ones. No scientific data have seriously challenged it.

Sexuality

Males with autogynephilia can have a variety of autogynephilic fantasies and interests, from cross dressing to fantasizing about having female bodies to enjoying (for erotic reasons) stereotypical female activities such as knitting to fantasizing about being pregnant or menstruating. One study found that autogynephilic males who fantasize about having female genitalia also tended to be those with the greatest gender dysphoria.

Autogynephilic males sometimes identify as heterosexual (i.e., attracted exclusively to women); sometimes as bisexual (attracted to both men and women), and sometimes as asexual (i.e., attracted to no individuals). Blanchard’s work has shown that autogynephilia can be thought of as a type of male heterosexuality, one that is inwardly directed. Autogynephilia often coexists with outward-directed heterosexuality, and so autogynephilic males usually say they are also attracted to women. Some autogynephilic males enjoy the idea that they are attractive, as women, to other men. They may have sexual fantasies about having sex with men (in the female role); some may even act on these fantasies. This accounts for the bisexual identification among some autogynephilic males. In some others, the intensity of the autogynephilia–which is attraction to an imagined “inner woman”–is so great that there are no erotic feelings left for other people. This accounts for asexual identification. (Asexual autogynephilic males have plenty of sexual fantasies, but these fantasies tend not to involve other people.)

When autogynephilic males receive female hormones as part of their gender transition, they typically experience a noticeable decrease in their sex drive. Some have reported that this has diminished their desire for gender transition as well. Others, however, have reported no change in their desire for transition. (In any case, hormonal therapy is a medical intervention with serious potential side effects, and we do not recommend it as a way to treat gender dysphoria, except in cases in which after very careful consideration, gender transition is pursued.)

Autogynephilia is a paraphilia, meaning an unusual sexual interest nearly exclusively found in males.

We repeat: Autogynephilia is a sexual orientation–to be sure, an unusual orientation that is difficult to understand. There is no evidence that parents can change their children’s sexual orientations. And we don’t think they should try.

What should you do?

Consistent with our values, knowledge, and common sense, we believe that males with autogynephilic gender dysphoria should not pursue gender transition right away, as soon as they first have the idea. Transition ultimately requires serious medical procedures with irreversible consequences. But we are unsure what the right approach to autogynephilic gender dysphoria is. In part, this is because there has been too little outcome research conducted by scientists knowledgeable and open about autogynephilia.

First, we recommend that your son be informed about autogynephilia. The best way to do this is up to you. There is probably no non-awkward way. Consider showing them this blog. People should make important life decisions based upon facts, and for males autogynephilic gender dysphoria, autogynephilia is a fact. The standard “female mind/brain in male body” is a fiction.

Some males become less motivated to pursue gender change when they understand their autogynephilia. However, some do not become less motivated. We know far less about patterns of persistence and desistance of autogynephilic gender dysphoria than we do about childhood onset gender dysphoria.

If an autogynephilic male has become familiar with the scientific evidence, has patiently considered the potential consequences of gender transition over a non-trivial time period, and still wishes to transition, we do not oppose this decision. It is possible that many autogynephilic males are happier after gender transition. But there is no rush for any adolescent to decide.

Rapid-onset Gender Dysphoria (Mostly Adolescent and Young Adult Females)

Rapid-onset gender dysphoria (ROGD) seems to come out of the blue. We think this is because ROGD does come out of the blue. This is not to say that all adolescents with ROGD were happy and mentally healthy before their ROGD began. But importantly, they had no sign of gender dysphoria as young children (before puberty).

The typical case of ROGD involves an adolescent or young adult female whose social world outside the family glorifies transgender phenomena and exaggerates their prevalence. Furthermore, it likely includes a heavy dose of internet involvement. The adolescent female acquires the conviction that she is transgender. (Not uncommonly, others in her peer group acquire the same conviction.) These peer groups encouraged each other to believe that all unhappiness, anxiety, and life problems are likely due to their being transgender, and that gender transition is the only solution. Subsequently, there may be a rush towards gender transition, including hormones. Parental opposition to gender transition often leads to family discord, even estrangement. Suicidal threats are common.*

We believe that ROGD is a socially contagious phenomenon in which a young person–typically a natal female–comes to believe that she has a condition that she does not have. ROGD is not about discovering gender dysphoria that was there all along; rather, it is about falsely coming to believe that one’s problems have been due to gender dysphoria previously hidden (from the self and others). Let us be clear: People with ROGD do have a kind of gender dysphoria, but it is gender dysphoria due to persuasion of those especially vulnerable to a false idea. It is not gender dysphoria due to anything like having the mind/brain of one sex trapped in the body of the other. Those with ROGD do, of course, wish to gender transition, and they often obsess over this prospect.

The subculture that fosters ROGD appears to share aspects with cults. These aspects include expectation of absolute ideological agreement, use of very specific jargon, thinking of the world as “us” versus “them” (even more than typical adolescents do), and encouragement to cut off ties with family and friends who are not “with the program.” It also has uncanny similarities to a very harmful epidemic that occurred a generation ago: the epidemic of false “recovered memories” of childhood sexual abuse and the associated epidemic of multiple personality disorder. We discuss these more below. First, however, we review what little we know about ROGD.

What About Natal Males?

Why do we keep emphasizing natal females versus natal males? There are three reasons. First, the single study that has been conducted on ROGD found substantially higher numbers of females than males (more than 80% female cases). Second, there has been a striking surge in the number of adolescent females identifying as transgender and presenting at gender clinics. Third, there is a different kind of gender dysphoria–Autogynephilic Gender Dysphoria–that likely accounts for most or all of the apparent cases of ROGD in natal males. However, we cannot be completely sure that the smallish number of ROGD cases in natal males are due to autogynephilia. It’s possible, therefore, that what we discuss here applies to some natal males as well.

What Do We Know?

ROGD is such a recent phenomenon that we know little for certain. We have four sources of data. First, an important study of ROGD has been presented by Lisa Littman at the annual meeting of the International Academy of Sex Research. (It has not yet been published, but we suspect it will be soon.) This is the only systematic empirical study to date. Second, we have had numerous conversations with mothers of girls with ROGD. Third, we have read several case studies of the phenomenon. Fourth, we have been in touch with clinicians who work (either as therapists or consultants) with children with ROGD, or their families. Fortunately, the sources have provided convergent findings. We are fairly confident about the following generalizations:

–The large majority of persons with ROGD are female, and the most typical age of onset ranges from high school to college ages.

–Persons with ROGD have a high rate of non-heterosexual identities before the onset of their ROGD.

–Signs of extreme social contagion are typical. For example, this includes multiple peer group members who all began to identify as transgender. Sometimes this occurs after school-sponsored transgender educational programs.

–Persons with ROGD have high rates of certain psychiatric problems, especially aspects related to borderline personality disorder (e.g., non-suicidal self-harm) and mild forms of autism (that used to be called “Asperger Syndrome).

–In general, the mental health and social relationships of children with ROGD get much worse once they adopt transgender identities.

–Parents resisting their children’s ROGD are not “transphobic” or socially intolerant. These are parents who, for example, usually approve of gay marriage and equal rights for transgender persons.

Our Current Take on ROGD

Rapid-onset Gender Dysphoria (ROGD) occurs when a young person (generally an adolescent female) is persuaded that she is transgender, despite strong evidence that the young person had few or no signs associated with established forms of transgender. How and why does this happen?

Despite the very limited available research to date, we have strong intuitions and hunches about what is going on, based on its similarity to similar phenomena in the past: the recovered memories and multiple personality epidemics. We spend considerable effort in this section both explaining these past epidemics and drawing the parallels to the current one that concerns us now: Rapid-onset Gender Dysphoria. We believe that she who forgets (or ignores) the past is doomed to repeat it.

During the 1990s there was an explosion of cases in which women came to believe that they had been sexually molested, usually by their fathers and often repeatedly and brutally. They believed these things even though prior to “recovering” these “memories”–most often during psychotherapy–they did not remember anything like them. They believed in the memories even though the memories were often highly implausible (for example, family members would have noticed). Many women with recovered memories cut off relationships with their families. Some developed symptoms of multiple personality disorder. We know now that the recovered memories were false. And multiple personality disorder doesn’t exist, at least in the way those affected and their therapists believed. We refer to recovered memories and multiple personality disorder, which have similar causes–and also some similar causes to ROGD–as RM/MPD

Here are the main similarities between ROGD and RM/MPD:

  1. Cases consistent with RM/MPD were very rare prior to the 1980s but became an epidemic. The same appears to be happening with ROGD.
  2. Both have primarily affected young females, although RM/MPD began substantially later (on average, age 32) than ROGD (typically during adolescence). (Another destructive epidemic of social contagion–witch accusations in colonial Salem–primarily involved adolescent girls.)
  3. The explanations of both RM/MPD and ROGD by “true believers” are contradicted by past experience, common sense, and science. Memory and personality integration did not work the way that therapists treating RM/MPD believed they did. For example, children and adults who experienced trauma can’t repress them–they remember them despite their best attempts. And gender dysphoria in natal females does not begin after childhood–unless it is the acquired condition that is ROGD.
  4. Both show ample evidence of social contagion of false, harmful beliefs. In RM/MPD, the “infection route” usually went from therapists who strongly believed in RM/MPD to their suggestible patients, who acquired a similar belief, applied it to their own lives, and manufactured false and monstrous accusations against previously loved ones. (A harmful result of therapy or medical treatment is called iatrogenic,) In ROGD, the infection route appears to be primarily directly from youngster to youngster. To be sure, therapists get into the act after the person with ROGD acquires the belief that she is transgender, and then they are complicit in tremendous harm. But it seems rarely to occur (yet) for a youngster to be talked into ROGD by a therapist.
  5. Both are associated with sociopolitical ideologies. (Interestingly, both ideologies still find comfortable homes in Gender Studies programs in many universities.) For RM/MPD, the ideological system was that men’s sexual abuse of children has not only been too common (true), but that it has been rampant, even the rule (false). Couple this ideology with a belief in Freudian theory and methods (like hypnosis), and what could go wrong? Plenty, it turned out. For ROGD, the relevant ideology is less coherent, but includes the seemingly contradictory ideas that gender is “fluid” (here meaning that not everyone fits into a male-female dichotomy); that forcing people into rigid gender categories is a common cause of societal and personal anguish; but that gender transition is an underused way of helping people.
  6. Both RM/MPD and ROGD are associated with mental health issues, generally, and especially a personality profile consistent with borderline personality disorder (BPD). This is not to say that all persons with either RM/MPD or ROGD have BPD; simply that evidence suggests that it is common in these groups. For example, the high rate of non-suicidal self-injury we have noticed from the aforementioned sources is striking. Such behavior is strongly associated with BPD. (For a discussion of BPD among those with RM/MPD, see this article, pages 510ff.)
  7. Adopting the belief that one has either RM/MPD or ROGD has been associated with a marked decline in functioning and mental health.

Some of the factors that seem to be common in ROGD–and some that are similar between ROGD and RM/MPD–likely encourage the adoption of false beliefs and identities. These include a fragile sense of self (BPD), attention seeking (BPD), social difficulties (BPD and autistic traits), social malleability (BPD, and adolescence), social pressure (adolescence), and strongly held (if irrational and poorly supported) beliefs that make embracing false conclusions especially likely (sociopolitical indoctrination). Adolescents with an actual history of gender nonconformity, or whose sexual orientations are non-heterosexual, may be especially vulnerable to believing that these are signs they have always been transgender. Adolescents whose lives have not been going well may be especially looking for an explanation and may be especially receptive to drastic change.

Based on the aforementioned data sources with which we are familiar, and on our informed hunches, we suspect that many persons with ROGD were usually troubled before they decided they were gender dysphoric and many will lead somewhat troubled lives even after their ROGD (hopefully) dissipates. Of course, ROGD can only make things worse, both for the affected person and her family.

What to do

Because ROGD is such a recent phenomenon, there is very little guidance about helping affected persons. Lisa Marchiano has written two excellent essays abounding with good sense, and we recommend starting with those.

Second, set aside, for now, rapid-onset gender dysphoria. Identify your child’s problems that existed before ROGD and that may have contributed to it. Attending to these problems will be useful for everybody, and perhaps your child will even agree.

Third, with respect to ROGD, do what you can to delay any consideration of gender transition. Of the different kinds of gender dysphoria, ROGD is the type for which gender transition is least justifiable and least researched. Remember, ROGD is based on a false belief acquired through social means. None of the aforementioned factors that have caused your child to embrace this false belief will be corrected by allowing her to transition.

Two Rarer Types of Gender Dysphoria

For the sake of completeness, we include two other kinds of gender dysphoria. We suspect that both are rare, even among persons with gender dysphoria. One of us (Blanchard) has seen cases of the first type, autohomoerotic gender dysphoria, which appears to be an erotically motivated gender dysphoria. In this case, sexually mature natal females (i.e., not biologically still children) become sexually preoccupied with the idea of becoming a gay man and interacting with other gay men. Neither of us has seen someone clearly fitting the second type, gender dysphoria resulting from psychosis. (Our inclusion of this type was motivated in large part by the argument of Dr. Anne Lawrence, an important scholar we both respect.) In this type, a person (either male or female by birth) acquires the delusion that s/he is the other sex, because s/he is suffering from gross thinking deficiencies.

Superficially, both of these conditions have some similarities to some other kinds of gender dysphoria. For example, a female with rapid onset gender dysphoria may be sexually attracted to males and thus strive to become a gay man, similar to autohomoerotic gender dysphoria. The important difference is that the female with rapid onset gender dysphoria is not primarily motivated by an erotic desire to be a gay man. Instead, having the prospect of having sex with gay men is a by-product of her condition, not the main point of it. The female with rapid onset gender dysphoria acquires it via social contagion, broadly speaking (i.e., including cultural signals that gender dysphoria is in some crucial ways desirable). With respect to the other rare subtype, we have both known gender dysphoric persons with psychosis. However, in these cases, the psychosis was not the cause of the gender dysphoria. It was simply an additional problem that the gender dysphoric person had. In the case of gender dysphoria resulting from psychosis, the belief that one is transgender (or the other sex) is clearly a delusion resulting from disordered thinking–and not, for example, from social contagion or autogynephilia.

Autohomoerotic Gender Dysphoria

This rare type of gender dysphoria is limited to females. Published cases have consisted of women whose gender dysphoria began in late adolescence or adulthood. (It is conceivable that it might begin earlier in some cases.) It occurs in (heterosexual) females who are sexually attracted to men, but who wish to undergo sex reassignment so that they can have “homosexual” relations with other men. These females appear to be sexually aroused by the thought or image of themselves as gay men. We have created the label autohomoerotic gender dysphoria to denote this sexual orientation. There are little systematic data on this type of gender dysphoria, although clinical mentions of heterosexual women with strong masculine traits, who say that they feel as if they were homosexual men, and who feel strongly attracted to effeminate men go back over 100 years.

It is well documented that at least a few autohomoerotic gender dysphorics have undergone surgical sex reassignment and were satisfied with their decision to do so. There is no compelling reason to question such self-reports of postoperative satisfaction, although current surgical techniques do not produce fully convincing or functional artificial penises, and it is difficult to imagine that autohomoerotics find it easy to attract gay male partners who can overlook this.

This type of gender dysphoria does not appear to be the female counterpart of autogynephilic gender dysphoria, although the differences might appear subtle. Autogynephilic (male) gender dysphorics are attracted to the idea of having a woman’s body; autohomoerotic (female) gender dysphorics are attracted to the idea of participating in gay male sex. For autogynephiles, becoming a lesbian woman is a secondary goal—the logical consequence of being attracted to women and wanting to become a woman. For autohomoerotics, becoming a gay man appears to be the primary goal or very close to it.

The few available case reports suggest that autohomoerotic gender dysphoria may have ideational or behavioral antecedents in childhood. However, these females are not as conspicuously masculine as girls with (pre-homosexual) Childhood Onset Gender Dysphoria. For this reason, and because it is rare to start with, it is unlikely that many parents will detect this syndrome in daughters. It is conceivable, however, that when they occur, cases of autohomoerotic gender dysphoria may be perceived by others as Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria. This is not because their gender dysphoria arose suddenly, but rather because their early, atypical erotic fantasies were invisible to their parents.

Gender Dysphoria Caused by Psychotic Delusions

The idea that gender dysphoria can sometimes reflect psychotic delusions is certainly plausible. Delusions in schizophrenia, for example, are often bizarre but compelling to the person who has them. Unfortunately, neither of us (Ray Blanchard or Michael Bailey) has had direct contact with a person clearly meeting this profile, and so we have less confidence in this gender dysphoria category than in the others. Our lack of direct familiarity doesn’t necessarily mean that much. Even if gender dysphoria due to psychosis were fairly common (compared with other forms of gender dysphoria), we wouldn’t have expected to come across it. Persons with severe mental illness have generally been treated for their mental illness and not for gender dysphoria. Until recently, clinics treating persons with gender dysphoria would have screened out patients with severe mental illness, because of concerns that their diagnosis and treatment might be compromised. But we are hesitant to embrace this kind of gender dysphoria as “definitely existing,” because we worry that psychiatrists who have claimed to see it may have been insufficiently trained to notice other kinds of gender dysphoria, such as autogynephilia. Thus, they may have concluded that psychosis caused the gender dysphoria, when in fact, psychosis may have simply occurred with autogynephilia within the same person. One of us (Bailey) has recently been in touch with a mother of a young man who appears to have the profile we would expect for gender dysphoria due to psychotic delusions, and there was no evidence that this young man was autogynephilic. Still, we are least sure about the existence–much less the prevalence–of this kind of gender dysphoria.

Not Just One Type of Gender Dysphoria: Some Implications

It should be clear by now that “gender dysphoria” is not a precise enough term. Parents of gender dysphoric children should know which type of gender dysphoria their child has. To do so it is necessary to learn about all three of the most common types. That is, in order to understand why one’s child is Type X, it is necessary to know why s/he is not Type Y or Type Z. This is not simply academic. There are essential differences between the different types of gender dysphoria.

If knowledge is power, then lack of knowledge is malpractice. The ignorance of some leading gender clinicians regarding all scientific aspects of gender dysphoria is scandalous. To do better, they should start here. We recommend against hiring gender clinicians who are hostile to our typology. Ideally, they would agree with it.

Knowing there are very distinct kinds of gender dysphoria also raises questions–and concerns–about transgender persons of one type using their own experiences to make recommendations for children/adolescents of other types. Nothing in Caitlyn Jenner’s experience allows her to understand what it was like to be Jazz Jennings–and vice versa. Yet a number of vocal transgender activists who have histories typical of autogynephilic gender dysphorics do not hesitate to pressure parents, legislators, and clinicians for acquiescence, laws, and therapies that do not distinguish among types of gender dysphoric children. Moreover, they not infrequently claim inside knowledge based on their own experiences. Yet their experiences are irrelevant to the two types of gender dysphoria that they don’t have. And even with respect to autogynephilia, these transgender activists are nearly all in denial. This means that their public recollections of their experiences are either distorted or outright lies. A notable exception is Dr. Anne Lawrence, who has become an important researcher of gender dysphoria, and who has been honest and open about her autogynephilia. Dr. Lawrence has taken the time to learn the scientific literature regarding different types of gender dysphoria and does not insist that her personal experiences apply to non-autogynephilic gender dysphorics. The biggest victims in the attempts by autogynephiles-in-denial to steer the narrative towards sameness are, in fact, other persons with autogynephilia. These include honest autogynephiles, who frequently contact us but are fearful of public attacks by those in denial. Most relevant to this blog as potential victims are autogynephilic youngsters, who are at risk of being swayed toward decisions they would not otherwise make, on the basis of inaccurate fantasies embraced by those who cannot face the truth of their own condition.

To us, the most tragic group, along with their families, includes those who have acquired rapid-onset gender dysphoria. That condition appears to be the tragic interaction of the current transgender zeitgeist (“It’s everywhere, and it’s great!”) and social media with the vulnerability of troubled adolescents, especially adolescent girls. They are at risk for unnecessary, disfiguring, and unhealthy medical interventions.


*Note. Suicide is tragic and awful, and because of this, we recommend taking seriously your child’s suicidal ideas, threats, and gestures. We have written elsewhere about the risk of suicide among gender dysphoric persons, and we think that this risk is elevated compared with non-gender-dysphoric persons, but still unlikely.


 

Gender dysphoria and gifted children

by Lisa Marchiano

Lisa Marchiano, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and certified Jungian analyst. She blogs on parenting at Big Picture Parenting, and on Jungian topics at www.theJungSoul.com. You can also find her at PSYCHED Magazine and @LisaMarchiano on Twitter. Lisa has contributed previously to 4thWaveNow (see “The Stories We Tell,”  “Layers of Meaning” and “Suicidality in trans-identified youth”).

Lisa is available to interact in the comments section of this post.


Rates of gender dysphoria in children and young people have increased dramatically in a short period of time. There is some evidence that significant numbers of those who experience dysphoria are gifted.

Since 2016, I have been consulting with families with teens or young adults who identify as transgender. Nearly all of these parents report that their child is bright or advanced, and a significant majority have shared that their transgender-identifying child was formally assessed as gifted. Four of these families report children who tested in the profoundly gifted range (verbal and/or full scale scores >150).

An investigator who presented as-yet unpublished research at the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine conference this year described a population of adolescents and young adults presenting with a rapid onset of gender dysphoria (an abrupt onset of symptoms with no history of childhood gender dysphoria). Of the described population of 221 AYAs, nearly half (49.5%) had been formally diagnosed as academically gifted, 4.5% had a learning disability, 9.6% were both gifted and learning disabled, and 36.2% were neither.

This is a curious correlation. Could it be that gifted young people are more likely to experience dysphoria? Or is it rather that parents of gifted children are more likely to seek out my services or respond to surveys? My best guess is that it may be a little of both.

 

Possible Reasons for Increased Incidence of Gender Dysphoria Among the Gifted

  • Correlation with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Among those with Asperger’s, there is a higher proportion of giftedness than in the general population, and there are many overlapping traits between Asperger’s individuals and gifted individuals. This is especially true for the exceptionally or profoundly gifted. It has been suggested that as many as 7% of people with Asperger’s syndrome are gifted, compared with 2% of the general population who are gifted.

Those working with gender dysphoric youth have remarked on the significant proportion of those seeking treatment who carry a diagnosis of ASD. A 2010 Dutch study found that the incidence of ASD among children referred to a gender identity clinic was ten times higher than in the general population. At the UK’s only gender identity clinic for children, a full 50% of the children referred are on the autism spectrum.

A 2017 survey of 211 detransitioned women found that 15% were on the autism spectrum. This is 29 times higher than the rate of autism among females in the general population. Many of the survey responders felt that their autism contributed to their belief that they were transgender. For example:

I would absolutely not be trans if it were not for my autism spectrum features, which caused me to be grouped with boys in my youth because I was a “little professor” who lacked the ability to perform socially and emotionally in the way girls are supposed to.

And:

I think autism had something to do with my childhood difficulties relating to other girls and understanding/performing femininity. Traits like difficulty socialising, extreme focus on very specific interests etc seemed more acceptable once I framed myself as a boy.

  • Gender Atypical Preferences Among the Gifted

Research has shown that gifted children are more likely to exhibit gender atypical preferences. Gifted boys and girls may have wide and varying interests that do not conform to gender stereotypes. It is this author’s observation that most teens who self-diagnose as transgender do so on the basis of gender stereotypes. Liking video games rather than nail polish is interpreted as evidence that one is a boy, and so on.

  • Awareness of Difference; Bullying

Gifted children often have particular social needs and struggles. Even at a young age, gifted kids can have a sense of being different from everyone else without understanding the reasons for this difference. Feelings of isolation and loneliness can result. These feelings can be especially intense for profoundly gifted kids, or for kids who are both gifted and learning disabled (twice-exceptional). Because the experience of the gifted child can be so qualitatively different from those of his or her peers, gifted children may struggle with social isolation.

It seems plausible that some of the gifted transgender-identifying teens whose parents I have consulted with have come to understand themselves as trans, in part, as a way of explaining their pervasive sense of difference. “I was never like the other kids. I always knew I was different, I just didn’t know why.”

Being different can also bring with it negative social attention, including bullying. The blogger, detransitioner, and PhD psychology student ThirdWayTrans has shared his story on his blog. Diagnosed as profoundly gifted and radically accelerated in certain subjects, ThirdWayTrans found himself to be the victim of violent bullying throughout much of his childhood. He transitioned at 19 and lived as a woman for 20 years before coming to the realization that his gender dysphoria and desire to transition were linked to the traumatic bullying he experienced.

When I was a child I experienced trauma issues with bullying. When I was young I was physically the slowest boy but also very intellectually advanced like a child prodigy. By fourth grade I was going to the high school to take high school math, and on the other hand I was the weakest. So I was singled out for being a kind of super nerd. This didn’t make me popular at all. It made me popular with the adults actually but not my peers. So I suffered a lot of bullying and violence. It peaked in middle school where every day I would have some sort of violence directed at me.

When I was a child I started to have this fantasy of being a girl, because it meant I could be safe and not suffer from this violence due to being at the bottom of the male hierarchy. I could also be more soft. I used to cry a lot and that was also something that was not seen as good for a boy. I could be free of all of that and also still be intellectual because everyone was saying that girls can be smart too.

ThirdWayTrans notes that as an adult, he understood intellectually that it was okay for men to be vulnerable and “feminine,”  but that his internalized child perspective made it feel unsafe for him to let go of his trans identity.

  • Existential Questioning

Questioning one’s gender may go along with a predisposition to question one’s place in the world. Gifted children tend to question traditions critically, and to challenge things that others take for granted. Thinking about one’s identity may come more naturally to gifted kids.

  • Perfectionism and Anxiety

Gifted children may suffer from anxiety and perfectionism. Anxiety disorders were also well-represented among the comorbid issues reported in the detransitioners survey mentioned previously. It has been suggested by some that adopting a transgender identity may in some cases be an anxiety management strategy. I am familiar with one young man with dysphoria who is both gifted and learning disabled. His preoccupation with gender waxes and wanes, but is predictably worse during exam periods, when he tends to fall behind and become overwhelmed. The feelings of dysphoria seem to allow him to distract himself from his feelings of intense anxiety and insecurity, while alleviating some of the academic pressure. When he is suffering from increased distress over gender dysphoria, his teachers and parents are more focused on his mental well-being, and they place fewer demands on him.

Outcomes

Currently there is very little data on long-term outcomes for gender dysphoric youth. To date, there is only one study that examines outcomes for those who pursued medical transition as minors. The study followed 55 individuals who pursued medical transition as minors, and showed that at one year post operation, study subjects evidenced positive outcomes according to several measures of mental health. However, it is important to note that the individuals followed in this study were carefully chosen, screened, and followed according to a strict protocol. All of those in the study had histories of lifelong gender dysphoria. It is a big leap to generalize these findings to teens exhibiting sudden onset gender dysphoria, and who may receive minimal assessment and counseling before starting hormones or undertaking other interventions.

I am aware of young people transitioning whose families report a decrease in symptoms and an improvement in academic and vocational functioning post transition. However, in my experience, this is the exception rather than the rule. Of course, families seeking my assistance are doing so mostly because of poor outcomes, so I hardly see a representative sample. Nevertheless, certain patterns have emerged through my work with parents.

Most parents with whom I have consulted have teenage children with rapid onset gender dysphoria. (In other words, their child did not exhibit any dysphoria until adolescence.) Most parents supported a social transition, allowing their child to change names, pronouns, gender presentation, etc., but drew the line at medical intervention (hormones and surgery) until adulthood. Most of the parents I have worked with noted one or more of the following changes subsequent to their child’s social transition: worsening gender dysphoria as the child became increasingly preoccupied with passing; decreased academic or vocational functioning – declining grades, etc.; increased social isolation as child spent more time on transgender internet sites, or spent time exclusively with transgender friends; worsening overall mental health evidenced by increased anxiety, self-harming behaviors, and/or depression; constriction of interests as the young person ceased to pursue pastimes and activities that had once been important to him or her; and worsening family relationships, including increased tension and anger between parent and child.

I have also known of gifted young people who desisted from a transgender identity. These young people had parents who were loving, engaged, and supportive, but who assisted them in questioning their belief that they were the opposite sex. Though the sample size is small, those who desisted from identifying as trans appeared to benefit from improved family relationships, increased social and academic engagement, and overall better mental health than during the period of transgender identification.

Conclusion

Currently, there is very little research into long-term outcomes for gender dysphoric young people. My observations indicate that a disproportionate number of those families seeking consultation with me have a transgender-identifying teen who is also gifted. There are many possible reasons for this confluence. Assessment and treatment for gender dysphoria in teens should take into account the various motivations that might influence a young person to self-diagnose as transgender. Families should be encouraged to support their child in ways that feel most appropriate to them, taking into account that a one-size-fits-all treatment for gender dysphoria is likely not suitable at this time. Further research is needed into causes and treatments.

The stories we tell: Inspiring resilience in dysphoric children

Lisa Marchiano, LCSW is a psychotherapist and certified Jungian analyst. She blogs on parenting at Big Picture Parenting, and on Jungian topics at www.theJungSoul.com. You can also find her at PSYCHED Magazine and @LisaMarchiano on Twitter. Lisa has contributed previously to 4thWaveNow (see “Layers of Meaning” and “Suicidality in trans-identified youth”).

Lisa is available to interact in the comments section of this post.


In recent years, stories of young children socially transitioning have been increasingly common in the mainstream media.  Frequently, the focus is on the child’s preference for toys, activities, hairstyles, or clothing more typical of the opposite sex. Critics of these articles sometimes insinuate that parents merely need to reinforce that non-stereotypical toy and clothing choices are acceptable, and this will resolve the child’s distress. “Why don’t the parents just buy their son a doll instead of agreeing he is a girl because he doesn’t like trucks?” is a typical critical statement. But it is my belief that in some cases, such criticisms oversimplify the complexity and difficulty of situations in which a young child experiences severe dysphoria.

There are certainly cases where parents hastily infer that a child is transgender and ought to be transitioned based on non-sex-stereotypical choices on the part of the child, and these are troubling indeed. To take but one example, the mom interviewed about her nonbinary child in this BBC story was looking into blockers for her daughter partly on the basis of the child preferring pirates to princesses.

But closer attention to the details in some of these stories reveals a more complicated picture. For example, there are media stories about children who appear to despise their own genitals.  In this account, according to his mother, a little boy attempted to cut off his penis at age 4 with a pair of scissors.

Clearly, a parent facing a situation like this would want to seek out professional help, and might understandably conclude that the child is suffering from intractable dysphoria.  It’s worth noting, though, that the current trend in the US focusing on gender affirmation makes it difficult to consider alternate explanations for such distress in a child, including co-occurring mental health problems—or even more mundane explanations. See, for example, in this piece, the observations of a parent of such a boy, who discovered

…the importance of asking “Why?” Had I asked that when [my son] told me that he wanted to cut off his penis with a pair of scissors, who knows what I would have learned? But I didn’t ask because I thought I knew precisely what he meant. Applying an adult perspective, and my own views on gender, I immediately concluded that that remark was a rejection of his birth gender. But maybe he had a urinary tract infection and his penis was sore. Or maybe he had been wearing a pair of pants that he had outgrown and they were uncomfortable in the crotch. Or maybe having a penis made him feel like he didn’t fit in with his sisters and cousin, and he thought that if he looked more like them then they would all get along better instead of squabbling. Who knows. But we should at least have had the conversation. The same way we would if he had said “I’m sad” or “I’m angry.”

But setting aside for the moment alternative explanations for why a young child might want to mutilate his own genitals, it seems to me that in at least some cases where young children have been transitioned, these kids were experiencing a significant amount of distress over their sex. They may have suffered from a deep feeling of having been born “wrong.” They may have a powerful feeling of really being the other sex. They are likely subjected to significant social stress at school due to not fitting into gender expectations. The pain experienced by these children – and families – is very real and sometimes quite extreme.

I imagine it would be very difficult to be the parent of these children. One would have to bear with so many unknowns. Will the dysphoria resolve itself? If so, when? How? Will my child be subjected to bullying? How can I protect him or her? What if the dysphoria worsens? What will happen at adolescence? What is the right thing to do?

Above all, a parent in this situation would be subjected to the horrible reality of having to watch their child suffer each and every day.

Childhood Transition Solves Some Problems…

Although affirmation and social transition are frequently prescribed in todays’ activist climate, we do not have any good long-term evidence to support social transition among pre-pubertal children. The clinical practice guideline of the Endocrine Society recommends against doing so. The Dutch researchers who developed the use of puberty blockers also recommend against it. Nevertheless, I can certainly understand why social transition would be an attractive option for parents.

First, it would resolve ambiguity. One would know what course their child would be on, and could embrace the new reality and adjust accordingly, rather than have to tolerate the agony of not knowing. Consider for example the following excerpt from a 2013 story from The New Yorker.

One mother in San Francisco, who writes about her family using the pseudonym Sarah Hoffman, told me about her son, “Sam,” a gentle boy who wears his blond hair very long. In preschool, he wore princess dresses—accompanied by a sword. He was now in the later years of elementary school, and had abandoned dresses. He liked Legos and Pokémon, loved opera, and hated sports; his friends were mostly science-nerd girls. He’d never had any trouble calling himself a boy. He was, in short, himself. But Hoffman and her husband—an architect and a children’s-book author who had himself been a fey little boy—felt some pressure to slot their son into the transgender category. Once, when Sam was being harassed by boys at school, the principal told them that Sam needed to choose one gender or the other, because kids could be mean. He could either jettison his pink Crocs and cut his hair or socially transition and come to school as a girl.

Hoffman ignored the principal’s advice. She told me, “Are we going to assume that every boy who doesn’t fit into the gender boxes is trans? Don’t push kids who aren’t going to go there.” Still, as Hoffman’s husband said, “It can be difficult for people to accept a child who is in a place of ambiguity.” A kid with a nameable syndrome who requires a set of specific accommodations at school (recognition of a new name, the right to use the bathroom and locker room he or she wants to) is, in some ways, easier to present to the world than a child who occupies a confusing middle ground.

Above all, it must be extremely compelling as a parent to know that there are simple steps you can take that will resolve your child’s unhappiness in the short term. Many parents in these stories report that their child immediately become happier, more playful, and more joyful as soon as they were allowed to wear dresses full-time, or cut their hair short and choose a new name. It is hard to argue with what looks like success.

…And Creates Others.

While I have a great deal of empathy for parents who, in the face of their child’s overwhelming distress, decide to allow a social transition,  there are serious risks to doing so. As human sexuality researchers point out, every parent in this situation must weigh the immediate suffering that their child is experiencing against potential future suffering of regret or medical complications. There is accumulating evidence that Lupron may have serious side effects. Testosterone and estrogen may increase risks for heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes. And of course, as has been pointed out even by gender specialists themselves, the child will become permanently sterilized if puberty blockers are followed immediately by cross-sex hormones.

What an agonizing choice. Such parents believe they can relieve their children’s distress for at least a while, but there may be real consequences down the road. There is very little evidence to help a parent make this decision. We simply don’t have good criteria for decisively determining which children will persist in a cross sex identification into adulthood. Though some gender therapists claim those who are persistent, insistent, and consistent will benefit from transition, the evidence we do have indicates that this is not a fool-proof criterion.

The second significant risk in facilitating a social transition among pre-pubertal children is that transition almost certainly increases persistence. If a five-year-old boy is “affirmed” that he is the opposite sex, and is addressed by a typically female name and pronouns by the adults around him, it is very likely that the child will be reinforced in his belief that his body is “wrong.”

Moreover, the surge of endogenous hormones at puberty rewires a young person’s brain in complex ways. It is likely these hormones and the changes they bring that in part account for desistance in the roughly 80% of children who grow out of dysphoria and come to feel at home in their natal sex. By blocking these pubertal hormones with Lupron, it is probable that clinicians and parents are setting the child’s cross-sex identification in stone.

The Stories We Tell

Therapists like to remind our clients that there is the thing that happened, then there is the story we tell ourselves about what happened. The stories we tell can make a huge difference in how we feel and respond to events–and the options we have.

For example, if a friend doesn’t call when she said we would, we could tell ourselves any number of stories about that. We might imagine our friend forgot. She’s been busy lately. We might call her instead, or we might move on with other things, intending to catch up with her later.

But what if we tell ourselves a different story? What if we decide that she probably didn’t call because she is angry? Or has decided she doesn’t want to be friends? Then we might find ourselves upset. We may experience a significant amount of unnecessary distress as we react to a situation that is mostly of our imagining. We might even make a choice – such as avoiding or confronting her – that might wind up bringing about the very outcome we feared.

A lot of what therapists do is help people to generate new stories that can maximize the potential for positive outcomes. Roughly speaking, there are two main criteria that make for good, adaptive stories. First, does the story more or less reflect reality? Second, does the story open up new possibilities for response?

Reality

Reality, of course, is sometimes a matter of opinion. It isn’t always possible to judge what is “real.” However, in general, those beliefs that do not line up with objective reality are often not very adaptive. If we believe, for example, that no one ever gets into college without straight A’s, we may feel as though our efforts at obtaining a university education are futile, and we will be more likely to give up.

An exception would be the coping strategy referred to as denial, which can be adaptive if it shields us from realities that are too harsh or painful to tolerate right now. However, even denial can be maladaptive, since it may encourage us to ignore or avoid important realities. Imagine, for example, someone diagnosed with cancer, who decides to forgo the recommended treatment of chemo and use ineffective herbal remedies instead.

Telling—or agreeing with–a child that she is a boy in a girl’s body doesn’t pass the reality test. It may be true that a child strongly feels she is the opposite sex. It may true that she feels very uncomfortable with her body, or the social roles ascribed to her. But to assert that she is really a boy is to deny objective, material reality. It sets a child up to manage massive cognitive dissonance, and to be at odds with her own biology.

We only have one body. Part of being a parent is teaching our children how to accept, love, and care for the one body they will have throughout their life. Believing that there is something fundamentally wrong with our body, such that it might require drugs and/or surgery to be corrected, makes it more difficult to accept and care for ourselves properly.

Options

A good story increases our options. Generally speaking, one story is better than another if it allows us to generate more possible ways to respond. Returning to the example of our friend who doesn’t call, if we believe she didn’t call because she hates us, our one option may be to sit home and feel miserable, sad, and angry. If we believe that she may be busy and perhaps she forgot, we have other options. We can call her right away. We can wait and call her tomorrow. We can decide we are tired of her being forgetful, and decide we aren’t going to call her until she calls us.

Having multiple choices increases our agency, and gives us an internal locus of control. Psychologists believe that developing an internal locus of control is one of the key variables that determines resilience. We experience ourselves as active participants in our lives rather than passive victims.

Affirming that a child is transgender is a story that reduces rather than increases options. If I tell a five-year-old that he is a girl in a boy’s body, then the choices become transition, or be miserable. The internet is quick to tell young people that their choice is to “transition or die.” Many parents who have decided to support social transition report that they believed they would either have “a dead son, or a live daughter.” When there are only two choices and one of those is suicide, then there really is only one choice.

In contrast, if the story we tell our child is that he has gender dysphoria, suddenly a range of possible options becomes available to us. We can support him in managing his distress. We can work to challenge rigid gender expectations. We can try to find him like-minded peers, and adult role models of feminine men. We can teach him self-soothing skills. We can work with the school to reduce bullying. And of course, the option to transition will still be there.

When Pharma Shapes the Story

Influential journalist and author Alan Schwarz convincingly traced the explosion of ADHD diagnoses to Big Pharma’s aggressive marketing of stimulant medications for the condition.

“A.D.H.D. Nation” focuses on an unholy alliance between drug makers, academic psychiatrists, policy makers and celebrity shills like Glenn Beck that Schwarz brands the “A.D.H.D. industrial complex.” The insidious genius of this alliance, he points out, was selling the disorder rather than the drugs, in the guise of promoting A.D.H.D. “awareness.” By bankrolling studies, cultivating mutually beneficial relationships with psychopharmacologists at prestigious universities like Harvard and laundering its marketing messages through trusted agencies like the World Health Organization, the pharmaceutical industry created what Schwarz aptly terms “a self-affirming circle of science, one that quashed all dissent.

Our children look to us, their parents, to help make sense of their experience – to know, in effect, what story they should tell themselves. The marketing messages of pharmaceuticals change the stories we tell ourselves and our children about their suffering.

When our toddler falls and bumps herself, she looks at us to gauge our reaction. If we reassure her that she is okay, she runs off and continues playing. If our face reveals fear and alarm, if we rush to her and ask worriedly whether she is all right, she is likely to burst into loud wails.

Before 2007, when Lupron was first used in the United States to block puberty for gender dysphoric children, kids who experienced even extreme distress over their sex were probably rarely socially transitioned. After all, the physical changes of puberty were inevitable. Before Lupron, there were very few “transgender children.” There were certainly gender dysphoric children, whose parents likely did the best they could to help their child navigate distress.

Lupron is a profitable drug. The drug’s manufacturer AbbVie reported making $826 million on Lupron sales in 2015. New off-label uses for the drug, such as helping kids grow taller or delaying puberty in gender dysphoric kids, have certainly provided new markets. The annual cost for Lupron for a transgender child can be around $15,000. The story that tells us we need to arrest puberty for dysphoric children or risk dire consequences directly benefits the pharmaceutical industry.

The treatments available to us shape how we conceptualize our symptoms. Pharmaceutical companies magnify this influence through marketing and hiring of physicians as consultants. As the image below shows, mentions of the term “transgender children” was nearly nonexistent in published books before 2000 – not long after the Dutch published their studies about using Lupron to block puberty. The mentions rise sharply around 2007 — the year Norman Spack began using Lupron for gender dysphoria at his clinic in Boston. Google’s Ngram had data available only through 2008. We can only imagine what the mentions must be like in recent years.

Marchiano ngram

With the ability to suspend puberty granted by the magic of pharmaceuticals, a whole new treatment pathway has opened. I fear that the temptation to take this route may be strong, even though there is little empirical evidence about where it leads.

Psychotherapists know that often, the answer to dealing with discomfort is to learn to sit with it. It must be excruciating as a parent to watch a child suffer with dysphoria. The temptation to end the suffering with a quick pharmaceutical fix must be immense. But I can’t help but think that at least some of time, it might be better to sit with this discomfort rather than reaching for a drug.

Having a young child with severe dysphoria presents an excruciating dilemma for a parent. I can’t say without any doubt what path I would choose, as I have not been faced with this very difficult decision. I do believe that those supporting these families ought to offer them honest information about what we do and don’t know, both about gender dysphoria, and the effects of transition.

Suicidality in trans-identified youth & the question of media ethics: a roundtable discussion

A few weeks ago, the Washington Post published a story about last year’s tragic suicide of a 14-year-old trans-identified teen named Kyler. Although the Post refers to Kyler by male pronouns, according to earlier reports, Kyler identified at other times as genderqueer and nonbinary, preferring they/them as well as he/him pronouns.

By all accounts, Kyler (a natal female) was fully supported by family, support groups, gender specialists, and friends to identify as and embark upon social and medical transition. The reports also indicate that Kyler had a history of self harm and mental health problems, as well as gender dysphoria, which worsened during puberty. Kyler’s death was one of a cluster of three other similarly supported young teens who died by suicide within 5 months of each other in San Diego, CA in 2015. Kyler and two of the other young people attended the same support group for trans youth. The ongoing emotional devastation experienced by parents, families, and friends of these young people is unimaginable.

This terrible cluster of suicides, including Kyler’s, was widely reported last year. Why did the Post publish another story about Kyler more than 18 months later?

The apparent rationale for the new coverage is that Kyler’s mother has brought suit against San Diego’s Rady Children’s hospital where Kyler was admitted as an inpatient under observation for 24 hours due to suicidality. This brief hospitalization occurred 6 weeks prior to Kyler’s suicide.

The suit alleges that some hospital staff discriminated against Kyler by repeatedly referring to Kyler as female. Although Kyler’s mother stated for the record in the Post story that she is not holding the hospital directly responsible for her child’s death, she makes clear that she believes some staff at the hospital caused serious harm by referring to Kyler as a girl and with female pronouns. She stated that Kyler went into a “spiral” after the events at the hospital.

The Washington Post story was picked up very quickly by Pink News and Gay Star News with headlines asserting that Kyler committed suicide “after hospital staff called him a girl.” (Again, Kyler’s death occurred some six weeks after the 24-hour hospitalization.)

One concern raised by the Post article (and the headlines chosen by the news outlets which re-ran the story) is potential suicide contagion, and how this reporting conflicts with well-established ethical guidelines recommended for news organizations. While these guidelines have been in existence for decades, online blogs and social media, along with the relatively recent phenomenon of stories going “viral,” add a layer of complexity to the longstanding ethical dilemma faced by media who report on suicides. Adolescents, who are most vulnerable to suicide contagion, are almost universally denizens of the Internet, and sensationalized accounts of troubled teens killing themselves are all too easy to find nowadays.

Over 20 years ago, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published guidelines for responsible reporting about suicide. These guidelines—still relevant decades after they were written–mirror those released in other countries and by other health care and suicide-prevention organizations.

The CDC guidelines make special mention of the vulnerability of young people to suicide contagion:

 One risk factor that has emerged from this research is suicide “contagion,” a process by which exposure to the suicide or suicidal behavior of one or more persons influences others to commit or attempt suicide. Evidence suggests that the effect of contagion is not confined to suicides occurring in discrete geographic areas. In particular, nonfictional newspaper and television coverage of suicide has been associated with a statistically significant excess of suicides. The effect of contagion appears to be strongest among adolescents, and several well publicized “clusters” among young persons have occurred.

The CDC guidelines list a number of things that news organizations should avoid in their reporting of youth suicide. Among them:

…the likelihood of suicide contagion may be increased by the following actions:

  • Presenting simplistic explanations for suicide.

Suicide is never the result of a single factor or event, but rather results from a complex interaction of many factors and usually involves a history of psychosocial problems. Public officials and the media should carefully explain that the final precipitating event was not the only cause of a given suicide. Most persons who have committed suicide have had a history of problems that may not have been acknowledged during the acute aftermath of the suicide. Cataloguing the problems that could have played a causative role in a suicide is not necessary, but acknowledgment of these problems is recommended.

  • Engaging in repetitive, ongoing, or excessive reporting of suicide in the news.

Repetitive and ongoing coverage, or prominent coverage, of a suicide tends to promote and maintain a preoccupation with suicide among at-risk persons, especially among persons 15-24 years of age. This preoccupation appears to be associated with suicide contagion.

Whether intentional or not, the Post (and the other outlets who republished the story), by their choice of headlines as well as their coverage of the mother’s lawsuit, give the implicit message that it was the hospital’s misgendering that was a leading contributor to Kyler’s suicide 6 weeks after the 24-hour hospital stay. (The Post story diverges from a different account published shortly after Kyler’s death, in May 2015, by the Daily Dot, which, quoting friends and Kyler’s mother, explicitly blamed social media online bullying for Kyler’s death. Other reports last year mentioned the online bullying along with the death of family pets as contributing to Kyler’s deep unhappiness.)

The CDC’s ethical-reporting guidelines emphasize that suicide is always the result of many factors, most prominently a history of mental health concerns; and that news stories focusing on a single cause for a suicide could contribute to suicide contagion in young people. In the case of Kyler’s untimely death and the other young people in the San Diego suicide cluster last year, the Washington Post and other news outlets which revived the story this month focused on gender dysphoria and related “misgendering” in their reporting. But there is broad consensus amongst suicide prevention organizations and researchers that the primary factor consistently tied to a desire to take one’s own life is underlying poor mental health.

Even the often-cited Williams Institute survey study of self harming behaviors in gender nonconforming and trans-identified adults notes that a history of mental health problems is the most frequent underlying cause for suicidality; and that the reported rate of suicidal and self-harming behaviors in their survey did not adequately take into account the well-established link between poor mental health and self-harm:

Second, the survey did not directly explore mental health status and history, which have been identified as important risk factors for both attempted and completed suicide in the general population. Further, research has shown that the impact of adverse life events, such as being attacked or raped, is most severe among people with co-existing mood, anxiety and other mental disordersThe lack of systematic mental health information in the NTDS data significantly limited our ability to identify the pathways to suicidal behavior among the respondents.

Many parents who contribute to 4thWaveNow have felt pressured into agreeing to medically transition their children, due in part to the frequent assertion of a direct causal relationship between gender dysphoria and suicidality, and an underlying assumption that medical transition will halt self-harming behaviors. The terrible story of Kyler’s suicide, revived by the Washington Post, has generated a new discussion among us.

We asked three professionals who work with children and families to respond to the Post article. Their responses, in the form of a roundtable discussion, are presented below, and Stephanie, Lisa, and Lane are available to interact with readers in the comments section of this post.


Stephanie Davies-Arai is a parenting consultant and author of Communicating with Kids. She writes a blog for parents at www.stephaniedaviesarai.com and also runs the website Transgender Trend www.transgendertrend.com, a research-based site for parents and anyone seeking information about the current situation in the UK.

Lisa Marchiano is a licensed clinical social worker and a Jungian analyst. She blogs at www.theJungSoul.com and can be found on Twitter @LisaMarchiano.

Lane Anderson (a pseudonym) is a licensed clinical social worker. Currently in private practice, she previously worked in a clinic serving trans-identified youth. Lane is the author of “Exiles in their own Flesh,” in which she chronicles her experience in the adolescent clinic, and her reasons for reluctantly resigning from her position. 


Stephanie: This is a devastating case and difficult to talk about. The suicide of a child is an awful tragedy and a private grief for the parents that you don’t want to step on. We have to talk about suicide, though, if we want to gain more understanding about how to prevent the same tragedy from happening in other families; and I think there are factors in this case which really need examination.

We don’t know all the details of the case, but what we do know is that this child is part of a wider picture of the sudden, unprecedented increase in the number of girls identifying as transgender at puberty/adolescence, many of whom exhibit the same suicidal ideation and similar self-harming behaviours. We also know that one factor discussed as a key risk to transgender youngsters– lack of family support—is absent here: Kyler was fully supported by mom, family, and a support group.

What is striking in this case is the child’s need for validation not only from family and friends, but from adults and the wider society (not normally a concern for teenagers). This begs the question of what messages the child has received about the necessity of having a fragile identity affirmed by strangers in order to construct a healthy sense of self. The dependence on outside confirmation creates a very shaky foundation on which to build the self, and puts a troubled child in a further disempowered and vulnerable position.

The way this case has been reported only reinforces the message to young people (and their parents) from transgender advocacy groups: that being “misgendered” is a devastating attack from which it is hard to recover. The common narrative of “affirmation or suicide” needs to be strongly challenged if we hope to truly support vulnerable young people in building a strong inner sense of self and identity. In transferring the power to outsiders, a child is left helpless and dependent on the whims of other people, on what they are led to believe is a life or death issue.

Lane: Stephanie, yes. Whether or not a prohibition on misgendering becomes the law of the land, it is always a bad idea to teach over-reliance upon the opinions of others, particularly when one’s opinions require the suspension of disbelief within others. We should encourage trans-identified youth to understand that most people will probably have some trouble digesting the whole transgender concept. While it may appear as if people are fully onboard with affirming a person’s self-proclaimed identity, this may be due to fear of being called transphobic. Also, many youth who are hurting for absolutely legitimate reasons may also be deeply attracted or unwittingly drawn to live inside new social categories that mirror their own preexisting inner states of deprivation/alienation–inner states that are enlarged and/or embodied in collective narratives of oppression.

Stephanie: We don’t know the initial causes of this child’s desperate unhappiness, but it seems to me that “gender reassignment” is fast becoming an instant panacea for all the underlying problems an adolescent may be experiencing, which means they are denied the normal level of care and support from professionals to explore and manage these issues. When a condition comes with as devastating a prognosis as “affirmation or die” we really need to be looking at how helpful the sole diagnosis of “gender dysphoria” really is for young people. Otherwise, we will just keep reinforcing the same narrative that many more troubled young people will grow up to believe as truth.

Lisa: You make an excellent point here, Stephanie. The narrative available to gender dysphoric children is one that offers only the direst of consequences – transition or die. Research does not support transition as a panacea for mental health concerns. Indeed, some research suggests that suicide rates remain very high after transition. As a society, we ought to be very focused on finding a range of treatment alternatives to offer to dysphoric young people.

I was deeply saddened to read the story of Kyler’s suicide in the Washington Post. There is no pain more unbearable than losing a child, and losing a child to suicide is unimaginably awful. From the article, we learn that Kyler was experiencing anxiety and depression and was engaging in self-harming behaviors. Kyler killed himself in spite of being accepted by his friends, and having a family fully supportive of transition. The article states that Kyler “went into a spiral” after hospital employees referred to Kyler as a girl. “They were completely traumatizing him,” his mother is reported to have said.

Hospitals have a duty of care for patients in a way that takes into account their needs and psychological state and to act in a way that isn’t detrimental to the patient’s well-being. However, I was disappointed to see the lack of critical thought presented in the Post’s coverage of the lawsuit brought against Rady Children’s Hospital by Kyler’s family. The Post presented only the superficial story, and did not look deeper into the circumstances that caused Kyler to be so vulnerable.

When transgender activists and the media give kids the message that being misgendered is equal to an act of violence, it sets them up for inevitable wounding and disappointment. We cannot control how others perceive us or what they call us. Hospital staff certainly ought to be as gentle and humane as possible with patients in their care. But if kids are taught that they have a right to expect others to address them according to their wishes at all times, they are being given unrealistic expectations about the world.

The Post’s focus on misgendering obfuscates the complexity of teen suicide in general, and Kyler’s situation in particular. There is much we do not yet know about teen suicide, suicide clusters, suicidality, and poor mental health in those who identify as transgender. Approaching the subject in open-minded spirit of inquiry is the only way to begin to unravel these important topics. The Post’s article gives the impression that we know the answers before we have even asked all the questions.

What a frightening vision of the world trans-identifying must teens must have! They are told that that their choices are “transition or die.” Transgender activists online warn them to be perpetually on guard for being misgendered or “dead named,” and fuel fear and unhappiness by stating that these are both “actual violence.” No wonder trans-identifying teens are scared. Yes, scared. In recent weeks, a handful of trans-identifying teens have contacted me, and this has been the common denominator. They are frightened and confused, and want a place to talk about their feelings where these won’t be shamed or disallowed based upon someone’s rigid ideology. At first, I was so surprised to hear how frightened these young people are, but when I thought about it, it made a lot of sense. Transgender ideology has indeed made the world a frightening place, with few options for young people with gender dysphoria.

Lane: Lisa, this is extremely encouraging that the kids were able to talk to you about their fear. Their anxiety is most likely coming from a natural sense that they are being pulled into something much greater than themselves. From my own clinical practice with trans-identified youth, I often had the feeling that many were partially aware of this loss of control. But to acknowledge what is happening would create a cognitive dissonance they are ill-prepared to tolerate. There are no easy answers to the struggles of living, but the trans-narrative that has sprung up from our liquefying culture like some kind of multi-headed hydra is, in fact, presenting itself in a rather threatening way as The Answer. Of course, it is anything but. The fear the children are expressing is actually healthy, because it reveals their ambivalence about—on the one hand–wanting to believe in the infallibility of the trans solution, yet at the same time knowing in some emergent and liminal part of their psyche that such a threatening narrative will require from them personal sacrifices they may not be willing or able to make.

Lisa: The following is a quote from a recent blog post by a “guy called Helen” entitled “A Culture of Fragility,” excerpted with the author’s generous permission. In this piece, Helen astutely points out how transgender ideology results in a self-concept that is volatile, unstable, and fragile. As Helen knows, it is possible to deal with dysphoria and even live as the other sex without subscribing to a harmful delusion that leaves one at the mercy of others’ perceptions of us.


I’m often told that “Dead-naming and misgendering are literally responsible for the deaths of trans people” and I’ve personally known trans people who have committed suicide. I nearly did so myself a few years ago. I know how much these things can hurt. I used to feel devastated, crushed, invalidated and ashamed.

I was lucky though because something changed for me. I started to see gender as being socially constructed and to see how society conflates femininity with being female and masculinity with being male. I came to accept that it’s ok for me to be a male who looks and acts like I do. How there should be no need for anyone to think I’m *actually* female to be a perfectly valid and worthy person as I am. Accepting this meant I no longer had to live with the cognitive dissonance of believing that I’m female whilst knowing that females don’t father children. It meant I was able to let go of the volatile, unstable belief system that, despite objective reality, I have a female brain and that made me female. So now I’m fortunate that I don’t get too upset, or damaged by somebody using my old name or misgendering me because it doesn’t burst my bubble.

People don’t just self-harm or commit suicide because they are dead named. It might be their final straw, but they commit suicide because they are already volatile and unstable. Their self-worth is fragile because it’s based on a view of the world that relies on everybody else seeing you the way you see self and doesn’t provide any coping mechanisms for when people don’t choose to validate your self-perception. This is what transgenderism does to transgender people. I’m not saying it’s OK to dead-name someone or to misgender them on purpose. It’s rude and inconsiderate at best and dangerous at worst. Doing this might indeed be the final straw that pushes someone over the edge and that’s totally not OK. Of course, it’s always important to be aware of the potential repercussions of our actions and be aware that people are fragile. But I truly believe that identity based politics causes as many problems as it solves and the hypersensitivity to dead-naming and misgendering is one of these things. The trans community actively promotes the view that dead-naming is an act of violence and I can’t help but think that this only exacerbates the negative impact on somebody when they hear this.

Whilst we are still fighting for acceptance, we need to survive the battle. Enough people have died, and we, the trans community, need to think about how we instill a culture of strength and pride rather than a culture of fragility.


Lane: The layers of tragedy in Kyler’s story make it extraordinarily treacherous to discuss. Clearly, the loss of a child to suicide is a catastrophe beyond all comparison. I don’t know how anyone’s heart, if it is still beating, wouldn’t leap to console those survivors remaining in the wake of such a devastating loss. Life will never again be the same for the ones who knew and loved this young person, now gone My heart seizes when I consider the child’s pain. For these reasons alone, social discussions of suicide generally do submit to the authority of those who have been most impacted by its effects. To consider the causes of such tragedy through the lens of reason, which would mandate a level of detachment, could be viewed as callous. A child is gone.

Unfortunately, it is likely the extraordinarily sensitive and traumatic nature of the subject may hinder a more thorough investigation of the conditions surrounding it. But absent the permission to honestly explore possible causes of transgender suicide, we will be hard-pressed to reduce its prevalence. Obviously this isn’t a good thing. We certainly need to increase our understanding of the relationship between those who identify as transgender and their rate of suicide. Though research shows a higher prevalence of suicidality in those identifying as a gender other than their biological sex, we don’t conclusively know why.

As effective, evidenced-based solutions to the problem remain frustratingly at large, naturally we cast about for ways to improve the dire situation. Because nobody wants a child to hurt so badly, we may find ourselves rushing to conclusions, and we might hold firmly to what is at best a working hypothesis on grounds of urgency. But the truth is, until we gather more facts, we should be careful not to close the door on deeper investigation. We must also be careful that any conclusions drawn remain free of political and/or ideological motivations.

Stephanie: I think you’ve said it there, Lane: “nobody wants a child to hurt so badly,” and I would add to that (although it goes without saying really), “especially the parents.” If your own child is suffering depression or anxiety, your biggest fear as a parent is that your child could commit suicide; it’s an automatic reaction to go straight to the worst outcome in your head. The problem is that if we react from that fear we can set in stone for the child the seriousness of the condition and compound the helplessness a child feels. We lose our ability to step back and help them find a way to manage their feelings and find their inner strength, because we become too emotionally involved. My first advice to parents about responding to any emotional problems a child is suffering is “don’t catastrophise it” (and my second point is always “I know that’s really difficult”). The problem is, parents of trans-identified kids try to find information about a subject they know little or nothing about, and inevitably come across the suicide narrative which confirms their deepest fears. How hard does that make it for a parent to communicate trust and confidence in their child, how much harder does it make it for them to try to equip the child with tools to manage their feelings and find different, more self-empowering ways of thinking about their problems?

I’d also say that the message that being misgendered can destroy you is the exact opposite of the message parents try to give their kids in any other area of social difficulty, like being called names, left out or bullied for example. In these cases, we want our child to understand that other people’s actions can’t destroy them, they are stronger than that, they will survive, that they can find ways to protect themselves from people who are mean to them. We acknowledge our child’s feelings, but also try to empower them to be resilient and robust in the face of unkind treatment from others, because we know they will inevitably have to deal with these kinds of situations as they grow up in the world. We might also inform the child’s teachers and do our best to stop any bullying, but we don’t give a child the message “this will destroy you” which I think is the message kids are getting from the trans lobby.

Lane: Some would say that it is society’s lack of acceptance of trans people (signified, partially, in the act of misgendering) which fuels the increase in their rates of suicide. But the assumption that oppression or discrimination is entirely to blame for increased suicidal ideation—which, on the surface may seem compassionate–is not necessarily the best way to actually help those identifying as transgender. Attributing the lion’s share of one’s emotional distress to less than optimal conditions in the social environment is not always an effective means of achieving consistent emotional equilibrium.  Believing one can change the world outside the self, in lieu of finding ways to meaningfully or reasonably adapt to a given environment, is a seductive idea. However, problems invariably arise with this tactic, mostly because the social realms/cultures in which we are deeply embedded are designed to provide relative consistency to their inhabitants; they are not designed to change swiftly. Targeting a slow-to-change external realm as the primary means of altering one’s internal state isn’t generally regarded as the most effective intervention for managing mental unrest.

I fear we may be witnessing the unfortunate convergence of a kind of radical activism with mental health treatment. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the potential problems resulting from the collision course of these two disparate paradigms — one focusing on the environment and the other the individual. Social justice activism, the sort seeking to raise awareness and/or fundamentally alter or deconstruct deeply embedded (and often cherished) beliefs about shared reality (such as the existence of biological sex differences), is mentally taxing in the extreme. Such prolonged and dramatic clashing over the nature of our reality is exhausting for adults; it orients them to a life of battle. Without proper reinforcements, engaging in culture wars can fatigue even the heartiest of souls. Imagine such a call to duty and how it is experienced inside the chaotic mind of your average teen, let alone one whose level of internal chaos may be dangerously elevated.

Lisa: This is a good point, Lane. We need to clarify that we are addressing mental health symptoms, i.e., dysphoria, depression, and anxiety. A transgender identity is not the presenting problem. Rather, it is a self-identification whose significance is determined by activism. As clinicians, we need to be careful that we are assessing and treating symptoms according to a mental health model, and not allow treatment to become ruled by concerns that belong in the realm of social justice and activism.

Lane: Consider such a suddenly gender-dysphoric teen wading into the turbulent battlefield of identity politics, just as they embark on the journey of figuring out who they are. They’ve got serious struggles of their own, but instead of dealing with them on a personal level, in a contained manner, on a private stage tailored to their unique needs, these kids now get corralled into the trans narrative and essentially receive their treatment en masse. Instead of sensitive treatment, they get social-justice activism. From a clinical standpoint, this is appalling. This level of activism puts our youth in harm’s way when they are least prepared to withstand the force of such a cataclysm. They are still children. They are too young and inexperienced to see this is a war for which their bodies, their passions, their hopes, their fears and uncertainties have sometimes been exploited for another’s gain.

The Washington Post article emphasizes the origin of transgender angst as issuing from the outside world, as opposed to being localized within the individual. In this way, it also subtly and perhaps inadvertently relocates the transgender individual’s locus of control outside herself rather than within. Much has been written in the psychological literature about the concept of human agency, and its role in healthy emotional development. Encouraging treatments that inhibit individuals from focusing on ways they can manage in the world, such as increasing their tolerance for distress, or not placing undue reliance upon garnering the proper responses from others to maintain emotional equilibrium, is a better way to keep people from sinking into despair. Overdependence upon changing the world instead of growing the self stunts and inhibits the development of self-awareness (one of the foundations of sound mental health). Activism can blind these young people to alternative solutions that don’t serve the mission of the “cause.” Activism encourages the youth to hunt for and then accentuate problems in the external environment that support the activist narrative. In turn, these youth may become increasingly disturbed by viewing their culture in a negative and punitive light.

Teaching impressionable young people that their psychic safety in this world is absolutely predicated upon whether or not others can or will perceive, as well as actively validate, the profound and idiosyncratic fullness of all that they are, is corrupt pedagogy. It is also a devious form of cruelty.  Those who indoctrinate children with these impossible-to-achieve standards spoil a child’s chance of trusting others, for all the child will likely encounter in such a falsely constructed reality are either lies (from the fearful capitulators) or reactive-anger brought on by feelings of defensiveness from those unable to offer anything less than total validation of the activist narrative. Many people do not appreciate being forced by law and public opinion to so swiftly alter their perceptions of reality. Unfortunately, when these people try to defend their reality, they wind up badly injuring transgender children. The life of a child turned poster child/activist is swirling with fear and deception, all the while most everyone on the sidelines, both supporters and detractors, feel they are defending their version of the good.

Stephanie: It’s frightening how we have been manipulated into believing that “affirmation” is the only caring way to respond to a child confused about gender, that it’s what nice people do. People want to be nice and caring. But of course the issues inherent in medical transition—such as sterilization–are not covered much by the media, so people are being given false and misleading information on which to base their views. And no matter how people try, trans people will always be misgendered because when we meet an adult, the first thing we do is distinguish which sex they are. It’s the most ingrained unconscious response from the primitive brain: “Do I want to mate with this person or should I run from them?” These instinctive responses are there for a reason and of course it’s especially crucial for females to make the distinction. We’re very good at immediately quashing those instincts for fear of appearing rude or unfriendly but is it healthy for us to do so? Is it healthy for children to be brought up to immediately suppress instinctive knowledge because that knowledge is “transphobic”? And of course it’s the opposite of the message we give to our teenage daughters, which we hope will keep them safe. We tell them “trust your instincts, they’re often right. If you feel uncomfortable or threatened by someone, go with that feeling and don’t be afraid of looking unfriendly.” This is a very different issue to teaching children about transgender people and the importance of not discriminating against them. It’s teaching children to re-order reality according to a new subjective belief system which they are obliged to believe in, or at least pretend to.

Lane: The implications of what you say here, Stephanie, are huge. It seems we are teaching children to be fearful of their own instinctive responses. This is what is accomplished when we focus children’s attention on how their instinctive responses could hurt someone else’s feelings. This is quite problematic, as our instincts exist precisely to guide us, as well as provide us with a sense of safety in the world. People who do not know how to listen to themselves, who view their own perceptions as mere static and interference to the greater emerging socially-prescribed “truth” are in serious danger of being exploited.

Stephanie: Yes Lane, and I think that’s especially true for girls who are socialised to be nice and think about others’ feelings first; they really don’t want to appear “rude.” It’s a bigger issue for girls and women, who are often treated as if their perceptions are “wrong” so they may have already learned to doubt them – and that’s part of the reason, I think, that we see that the most vocal support for trans people comes from young women — the group, ironically, who are most at risk of being exploited.

Lane: Now that transgenderism has become so visible in the culture people have feelings and opinions about it they need to express — but these questions and concerns are explicitly forbidden.  How can we discuss this topic when our concerns are equated with invalidating another’s reality, even linked to the transgender person’s urge to die? Who wants to bring out that demon or be branded as responsible for the suicide of another?  So we remain silent, even though a paradigm shift this big cannot be truly integrated into the hearts and minds of others if they are deprived of the right to turn the new ideas around a million times in their head. Additionally, besides being actively silenced in this discussion, our healthy skepticism is also elevated due to the sudden and insistent prevalence of transgender issues in the culture. The trans movement’s debut as the new civil rights movement has felt suspiciously orchestrated from without. Those who take note of this are hardly transphobic; our caution more likely indicates we sense something highly unusual is unfolding within our culture; for from the moment we learned of the transgender narrative, it seemed to already be written in stone. How peculiar. Our kids deserve so much more than this new orthodoxy.  Because activism has supplanted true clinical treatment our most vulnerable youth remain bound in this, the latest installment of received wisdom, before which we all seem to have all lost our inalienable right to question.