Why are teenage girls afraid to become women? A new book explains their flight from biological reality
Shrier’s book is an enormously positive contribution to this fierce battle for children’s right to bodily and mental protection from harmful influence.
Only once (so far) has Twitter suspended my account, and then just for 24 hours. About two years ago, I foolishly lost my temper in a furious Twitter exchange with a Toronto lawyer about radically escalating gender dysphoria rates. This lawyer was (may still be) a frequent contributor to CBC panels on gender issues. He is a firm trans ally who tends to preface any and all gender-related statements with the irrefutable talismanic utterance, “speaking as a gay man.”
The point I was making was that gender-nonconforming children who would, if left alone, grow up to be gay and lesbian, were being encouraged into social transition by trans ideologues—something I thought this lawyer should be concerned about “as a gay man.” Unfortunately, in my impatience, I rather injudiciously applied the word “bodysnatching” to the trend.
The literal meaning of that word refers to people who used to steal corpses from graves and sell them to doctors for medical experimentation. What I had in mind was the trans movement’s recruitment of live bodies for medical experimentation—not for money but to swell the ranks of what some observers and detransitioners increasingly refer to as a “cult.” Insecure, socially unmoored adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable to the blandishments of these recruiters.
A new book by journalist Abigail Shrier brings a cornucopia of supporting evidence to that indictment. Irreversible Damage: The transgender craze seducing our daughters is an extensively researched, reader-friendly tour de l’horizon of the trans movement: the ideologues, their acolytes (“colonizing the internet”), the damage-pushers, the victims, their collaterally damaged families, the desisters, and the heroic medical dissenters.
Shrier’s use of the word “craze” in her subtitle is calculated. A technical rather than a judgmental term in sociology, it means a “cultural enthusiasm that spreads like a virus.”
The numbers make no epidemiological sense otherwise.
Traditionally, more boys than girls suffered from gender dysphoria and the dysphoria manifested in childhood. Today, adolescent girls who never manifested dysphoria before puberty, but suddenly come out as trans in their teens—characterized as Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria (ROGD)—have been ringing alarm bells off their hooks.
In 2007, there was one gender clinic in the U.S. Today there are fifty. The number of gender-related surgeries on girls quadrupled from 2016 to 2017. The Tavistock Clinic in England reported in 2018 they were handling an astonishing increase over the previous decade of 4,400 percent in girls seeking (and getting) gender treatment, which in turn caused the resignation of high-profile Board of Governor member Dr. Marcus Evans (and others) from the Tavistock Clinic and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, citing the clinic’s unethical fast-tracking to transition of children with unexplored co-morbidities as the reason.
Shrier can pinpoint the craze’s beginning. It coincided with the arrival of the iPhone in 2007. By 2018, 95 percent of teens had access to a smartphone, and 45 percent of them were on it “almost constantly.” Troubled girls get hooked on trans-obsessed sites like Tumblr, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Reddit, and DeviantArt (an art-sharing site with a large trans following). It is not unusual for them to spend up to nine hours a day on them.
Their new “friends” convey a sense of urgency in coming out as trans. They stress the risk of suicide if transition is delayed. The girls begin to understand themselves as part of an in-group threatened by a hostile out-group. If their families are not instantly and unconditionally affirming, they are told their parents don’t love them, or that they are abusive, and encouraged to distance themselves from them.
Shrier interviewed all kinds of stakeholders, including detransitioners. In Chapter 10, for example, Shrier presents Benji, a quirky young woman who transitioned to male between the ages of 13 and 19. She fell into the “cult”—her word—through the portals of YouTube and Tumblr. The minute she announced she was trans, she received immediate valorization and made many “friends.” Some of them were adults, who would ask her to sext them. When she didn’t, they accused her of “kink-shaming” and transphobic oppression.
(How prevalent this creepy behaviour is not made clear in the book. Perhaps it is only occasional, and Benji’s experience should not be taken as representative, but the fact it exists at all is troubling enough.)
Benji describes herself as “brainwashed.” She felt she could only trust those who identified as trans, and saw cross-sex hormones and gender surgery as a form of salvation. She became “addicted” to testosterone—T in the parlance—for the rush and suppression of anxiety it delivered. But T also delivers irritability and aggression, as she discovered. Older people in the LGBTQ scene in Toronto were happy to provide T to young teens like Benji, and were also happy to coach them in the kind of lies they needed to fast track their surgeries.
Eventually, like so many other ROGD girls, Benji realized she was not dysphoric, but merely lesbian. It took courage to renounce her status because she was instantly abandoned by her online “friends” and subjected to abuse. Those who had been so quick to accept her as trans now told her that she had never been trans to begin with. Benji muses: “I would like to ask these people under what conditions do they think a lesbian can go to a gender therapist and be told, ‘No, you’re not a trans, you are a lesbian,’ because I have never heard of any situation where that happens ever.”
Trans trending up; lesbians trending down
This comment points to a serious problem for lesbians, who justifiably feel they are being marginalized and erased by aggressive trans bullies. There’s no such thing as a “tomboy” any more. Young women judged to be insufficiently stereotypical in their presentation and interests are likely to be asked, “Are you trans?” Girls who are not yet aware they are lesbians are easy prey for the suggestion that they may “really” be a boy. (A perfect encapsulation of this trend is captured in this story of a young “trans” hockey player, who 15 years ago would have undoubtedly been a happy lesbian—not cited in Shrier’s book, but too good an example of her point to leave out.)
There’s no question but that as an identifiable group, lesbians are the most seriously affected by the trans juggernaut. One English teenage girl told Shrier that at her high school trans is high status and lesbian low: “in a very superficial way, [lesbianism is] just not very cool. It’s a porn category.” Porn? According to Shrier, the average age for girls to have their first experience viewing porn is eleven. They watch Pornhub, where lesbian action is popular, and where choking is a common motif. Shrier cites an Atlantic Magazine article on the phenomenon of choke porn that says “13 percent of sexually active girls ages 14-17 have already been choked.” The article claims that 25 percent of women in the U.S. are frightened during sex.
These are shocking statistics. No wonder teenage girls are freaked out about being girls. No wonder they think life would be so much simpler as a boy or something in between at least. One therapist Shrier interviewed told her a typical patient would say, “I don’t know exactly that I want to be a guy. I just know I don’t want to be a girl.” Unlike true gender dysphorics, those who believe they were “born in the wrong body,” these ROGD girls often see trans as a social spectrum in which one may identify as “queer,” which can mean pretty well anything at all.
And after all, it isn’t as if there is any stigma in progressive circles—these particular girls’ habitat—to being trans. On the contrary, as Shrier deduces from her conversations with detransitioners, trans has been marketed to young people as the opposite of a psychiatric condition, let alone a disorder. It’s something to celebrate.
No matter what other problems they have, the minute girls announce they are trans, “nearly every adult, even medical professionals, regard them with the awe owed a prophet, not the skepticism usually applied to a suffering teen.” Shrier deduces, “Understood this way, trans is something you might want to become, even if you aren’t suffering gender dysphoria.”
In this respect, schools are the worst offenders. Consumed with social justice, they are enthusiastic trans allies. LGBTQ figures large in the modern curriculum. To be on the spectrum is hip. To be “just” a boy or a girl is old-fashioned. Teachers watch children like hungry hawks for any sign of gender non-conformity and pounce with leading questions, ironically reinforcing the dimorphic stereotypes traditional gender warriors used to sneer at. They take their teaching materials and teacher training programs from gender activists—all of it theory—, not fact-based. The message, constantly reinforced, is that feelings are all that matters: “You are who you say you are, because you know best.”
The kids can’t escape the subject. March is “Transgender Visibility Month”; all of June is devoted to Pride. Gay-Straight Alliance clubs are promoted and cossetted. Anyone announcing herself trans is complimented on her bravery, singled out in assembly for applause. One North Virginia mom told Shrier that all of her daughter’s friends identify as LGBTQ, viewed as “a tribe of which they are proud of being members.”
Naturally the schools don’t frame their obsession with LGBTQ as recruitment. The rationale is always “anti-bullying.” While gay history is rife with systemic prejudice and bullying, and trans people experience their fair share of it, bullying occurs for all kinds of reasons, and as Shrier points out, children can be taught to condemn bullying in general simply by following the Golden Rule. Be kind to others; never mock people for being different.
But what children are being taught about gender fluidity goes way beyond the topic of bullying. And “where a measure taken to fix a problem goes so far in excess of remedy, it becomes clear that simply remedy was not primarily what the fixer had in mind.” Indeed.
The older they get, the more advantage they can derive from their trans status. By the time they get to university, prime terrain for LGBTQ obsession, but even more so with racism and white privilege, they find that being trans acts as an “intersectional shield” against the sin of whiteness (90% of ROGD girls are white, another epidemiological impossibility, absent a social contagion.) Instead of being white oppressors, they can enjoy the status of “victims.”
Columbia University has 56 mental health counsellors (I think there was one when I went to university). If you go to a counsellor for help with your depression, say, you may very well find yourself discussing the possibility you are trans, Shrier was informed. One parent, referencing her daughter’s mental-health counsellor at another Ivy League school, said, “I feel like we’re paying for them to ruin our daughter’s life.”
In the fall of 2018 Yale University offered 18 LGBTQ social events in the first two weeks of September. Is it any wonder that a questionnaire at Evergreen State College in 2017 had 40% of students identifying as LGBT or “questioning,” and by 2020, 50%? Many universities and colleges offer free hormones and surgery on insurance plans costing as low as $10 a month. Parents therefore have no financial leverage to stop their children rushing into these major decisions, and that is exactly why these freebies are offered.
Natal family bad, trans family good
In the course of my own research on this subject, I have met and interviewed a number of parents of ROGD girls. Many of them were participants in the famous/infamous study on the ROGD phenomenon conducted by Brown University researcher Lisa Littman. That study brought the motif of—and evidence for—“social contagion” in trans identification amongst teenage girls to national attention. In one case study, a 14-year-old natal female and three of her natal female friends announced they were transgender within a year of a popular coach’s announcement that she was transgender.
(One Canadian mother I interviewed, not a study participant, told me that the therapist to whom she brought her sudden-onset “trans” teenage boy informed her she was the seventh case she was seeing not only from the same school, but from the same class.)
I recognized some of the parents interviewed in Shrier’s book. They are sincere, intelligent people who have their daughters’ best interests at heart. They resisted affirmation because they know their daughters are beset by a tangled network of issues—anxiety, depression, autism in several cases—and they wanted them to receive the holistic therapeutic treatment they needed.
They feel terribly alone, because their daughters have captured the moral high ground, thanks to relentless marketing of trans positivity by activists. “If your kid went off and joined the Moonies, people would feel sorry for you, and they would understand that this is a bad thing and that your kid shouldn’t be in the Moonies,” one mother, a former leader of the pro-gay organization Pflag, told Shrier, as noted in one of her frequent Wall Street Journal op eds on the subject. “With this, I can’t even tell anybody. I talk to my husband, that’s it.”
These parents’ motivation for resistance is pure. They are not transphobic, and none I met had any objection whatsoever to the possibility their daughters might be lesbians. Had they announced they were lesbians, their parents would have affirmed their sexuality without hesitation. In this regard, Shrier offers an insightful observation: “An adolescent who comes out as gay asks her parents to accept her for what she is. An adolescent who is transgender-identified asks to be accepted for what she is not.”
Their daughters’ rejection of them, exacerbated by actively unsympathetic teachers, counselors and therapists drinking the trans activist Kool-Aid, is a source of on-going, gnawing incalculable anguish to them. Some of them fear their daughters, still unhappy even after transition, are lost to them forever. Some have been lucky to re-establish a fragile relationship. A fortunate few, after taking extraordinary measures to detach them from the bewitching aspic in which they are suspended—one daughter was sent to a horse farm for a year, another to relatives across the country—saw their daughters released from the spell and returned to them whole.
Alienation from parents is also encouraged in the usual forums and by “influencers,” one of Shrier’s subjects—popular social-platform talking heads who are attractive trans role models radiating happiness and confidence and mental, but—since it is clear that there isn’t a moment in their day or a thought in their heads that is unrelated to their gender identity—actually demonstrating the unhealthiness of the obsessively self-centred trans movement. (Not all influencers are reality-deniers, to be fair, some are quite helpful in fact, and Shrier makes that clear.)
The genuine article, the gender dysphoric who transitions in order to live as normal a life as possible in accordance with his or her need to present as the opposite sex, has no need for the spotlight or worshipful “followers.”
Meds and mutilation
In a chapter called “The Transformation,” Shrier walks us through the actual medical process of transitioning. It isn’t pretty. Trans activists are always quite nonchalant about the off-label meds children start on to block puberty (and by the way, those who start with puberty blockers invariably progress to cross-sex hormones). Instead of powerful hormones that have a serious impact on health in later life, not to mention fertility and libido, you’d think they were handing out Tums. Even the surgeries are treated with extreme insouciance by therapists encouraging youthful mastectomy.
One celebrated trans advocate, for example, says it’s no big deal for a teenage girl to get a mastectomy because if she wants breasts in later life, “you can go out and get them.” Except of course they won’t be breasts. They will be sewn-on lumps of inert matter that cannot lactate or experience erotic response. (In no other cosmetic surgery would it be considered ethical for a practitioner to be permitted to destroy a human function in an underage client.) One surgeon Shrier cites willingly lops the breasts off teenagers who aren’t even trans, but who declare themselves “non-binary.”
As for bottom surgeries, which are extraordinarily complex and still considered experimental, it is sobering to learn that they are not overseen by an institutional review board, as is the case with other experimental surgeries. There are surgeons practicing in this line who should not be allowed near the procedure. In the case of “Blake,” whom I recognized from Shrier’s description as someone I have interviewed, his phalloplasty was so criminally botched that description of the horrific suffering he endured for years makes for difficult, even enraging reading.
One can only imagine the frustration experienced by the professional adults in this toxic room who have been marginalized and vilified for holding firm to science and medical ethics. They are truly an island in a sea of irresponsibility. Even WPATH—the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, which sets the standards for care—from whom one would expect the very highest degree of prudence before abandoning the guideline of “watchful waiting” that served gender dysphoric children so well in the past, has capitulated to activists’ pressure. Lisa Littman described the general vibe at a WPATH conference she attended in 2017 as being “like an infomercial for early transition.”
These courageous dissidents are therefore a lifeline to desperate parents, a repository of trustworthy information to truth seekers and a calm zone of sanity in a maelstrom of delusion. They don’t agree with each other on some particulars, but they are of one mind on the existential nature of gender dysphoria: namely, that it is “first and foremost a psychopathology—a mental disorder to treat, not primarily an identity to celebrate.”
Their names—Ken Zucker, Ray Blanchard, J. Michael Baily, Paul McHugh and Jungian therapist Lisa Marchiano—will be familiar to readers who follow this subject in depth. They are all highly accredited long-time researchers and practitioners in the field of sexology, who up until short years ago would have been the featured keynotes of any conference on gender dysphoria.
Once the “craze” began, they became branded as transphobes in organized mobbing campaigns. Refusing to be intimidated, they have faced down the mobs with calm dignity and confidence that once the craze burns out—as the multiple personality disorder craze did—reason will return. Even though it may take enormous court-mandated settlements by pharmaceutical companies and clinics to nudge the process along.
Dr. Blanchard told Shrier that in a century of research around gender dysphoria there has never before been any evidence of it passing by contagion from one person to another, yet contagion is the very hallmark of the present craze. He isn’t surprised that activists are recruiting kids, because that’s what activists do. What shocks him is that professionals are buying it: “I’m always saying to my colleagues, yeah, yeah, that’s what patients say. That’s what patients do. What’s wrong with us?”
The way back
Shrier ends her book with advice for rational parents and their allies. And it is good advice, but some suggestions will be difficult to put into practice. Get rid of smartphones? That’s a toughie; adolescents without smartphones are socially fish out of water. Physically move daughters away from the poisoned environment? An excellent idea that has worked for some girls, but however strong the motivation, it’s just not feasible for many parents.
Other suggestions are more realistic. Don’t send the child to a treatment centre. Just as anorexics often find behaviour models for deeper pathology in hospitals, treatment centres can be reinforcing environments. Don’t support gender ideology in schools. What is talked about in class and assembly is likely to spread by contagion.
For example, Hong Kong never saw a single case of anorexia until 1994, when a story introduced from the west about a girl who starved herself to death was publicized there. A rash of cases soon followed. That is the nature of social contagion. If you tell adolescent girls that if they aren’t allowed to transition, they will feel suicidal, then hey presto, you will get adolescent girls feeling suicidal.
Trust your instincts. Don’t let yourself be guilted by the merchants of delusion. This craze will pass, and you will have been on the side of sanity and the best interests of children. Shrier’s book is an enormously positive contribution to this fierce battle for children’s right to bodily and mental health protection from harmful influence.
The final word to Dr. Lisa Marchiano: “I think the last holdouts in all of this are going to be the parents who transitioned their children. They’ll never be able to admit that maybe they did something wrong.” Don’t be them.