I Would Have Been a ‘Trans Kid’—Stop Medicalizing Gender Non-Conformity
There is nothing wrong with not conforming to sex stereotypes.
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Some of my earliest memories are of the adults in my life telling me I would one day grow out of being so boyish. In some ways I did, and in some ways I didn’t, but the important thing is that I was allowed to grow up without skeptical glances from adults viewing my sex-atypical behavior as evidence I may have been born in the wrong body. But this is increasingly not the case for young girls today who exhibit behaviors and interests similar to mine growing up. Instead, many are now sent down the path of transition.
The first step in transitioning young girls is usually a “social transition” achieved through a short haircut, “boy” clothes, and name and pronoun changes. This is often viewed as an innocuous first step, since it doesn’t involve any medication or surgeries. The second step is administering puberty blockers to halt normal female development, which is almost always followed by testosterone injections that cause male secondary sex characteristics (e.g. a deeper voice, facial hair, etc.) to develop. This is typically followed by “top surgery”—a euphemism for a double mastectomy—and in many cases even a hysterectomy.
All of this because a young girl exhibited gender non-conforming behavior.
I find myself in a constant state of disbelief that society has not only medicalized childhood gender-nonconformity, but that many now consider this “progressive.”
This hits especially close to home for me because if I had been born later, I could have easily been one of these girls. I hated skirts and dresses. I loved having short hair. I had mostly male friends, I liked sports, and I had other hobbies and interests that were more typical of my male peers. I often fantasized about being the prince—not the princess—from Disney movies, and I identified much more strongly with the male characters in my favorite TV shows.
Big surprise: I grew up to be a lesbian.
I have no doubt that I was the type of child many parents, teachers, clinicians, and other adults—some of them well-meaning but incredibly misguided, and others not well-meaning at all—now consider to be “transgender.”
My critics have insisted that this can’t possibly be true because they’ve been assured there are strict and rigorous criteria for diagnosing children with gender dysphoria. Also, since I don’t identify as transgender now, I would surely not have met those criteria when I was younger.
But I have two main issues with this rebuttal. The first is that many who argue out of one side of their mouths that “gender dysphoria” has rigorous diagnostic criteria ensuring that children are never wrongfully transitioned simultaneously argue out of the other side support for the “gender affirmative model.” These claims should not be able to sit peacefully within the same head because the gender affirmative model is the antithesis of “rigorous.” According to Diane Ehrensaft, an oft-cited “expert” on the topic:
The gender affirmative model is defined as a method of therapeutic care that includes allowing children to speak for themselves about their self-experienced gender identity and expressions and providing support for them to evolve into their authentic gender selves, no matter at what age. Interventions include social transition from one gender to another and/or evolving gender nonconforming expressions and presentations, as well as later gender-affirming medical interventions (puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, surgeries).
But what is the purpose of doctors and therapists if children—“no matter at what age”—are simply supposed to be taken at their word about their cross-sex identity?
Affirmation is not a fringe idea within the transgender movement—it is the approach championed by every mainstream transgender organization including the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH). Ehrensaft, the Mental Health Director of the UCSF Child and Adolescent Gender Center, has written books and given talks on the subject. She was also a contributor to the current WPATH Standards of Care. This is despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that she believes pre-verbal female toddlers can send “gender messages” by tearing barrettes out of their hair.
Even Canada’s Bill C-6, which now outlaws gender identity “conversion therapy,” which it defines as “treatment or services designed to change an individual’s…gender identity to cisgender,” has made it so that clinicians effectively have no other option but to “affirm” a child’s cross-sex identity. This is because any exploration or treatment of underlying causes that result in the child no longer identifying as transgender (i.e. change their gender identity to cisgender) may result in criminal charges.
Telling me that I wouldn’t have met the criteria for transition in childhood is therefore irrelevant, as many clinicians today are encouraged—or even required by law—to take children at their word. But, just for fun, let’s satisfy the critics by pretending the gender affirmative model doesn’t circumvent the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’ (DSM-5) criteria for determining whether a child is really transgender.
According to the DSM-5, children can receive a diagnosis of gender dysphoria if they have at least six of the following symptoms, one of which must be the first, for at least six months (as listed on psychiatry.org):
A strong desire to be of the other gender or an insistence that one is the other gender (or some alternative gender different from one’s assigned gender)
In boys (assigned gender), a strong preference for cross-dressing or simulating female attire; or in girls (assigned gender), a strong preference for wearing only typical masculine clothing and a strong resistance to the wearing of typical feminine clothing
A strong preference for cross-gender roles in make-believe play or fantasy play
A strong preference for the toys, games or activities stereotypically used or engaged in by the other gender
A strong preference for playmates of the other gender
In boys (assigned gender), a strong rejection of typically masculine toys, games, and activities and a strong avoidance of rough-and-tumble play; or in girls (assigned gender), a strong rejection of typically feminine toys, games, and activities
A strong dislike of one’s sexual anatomy
A strong desire for the physical sex characteristics that match one’s experienced gender
I would have effortlessly met the first six criteria throughout my childhood, and the seventh as soon as puberty hit (I am sure many other women would say the same about point seven as well).
The fact that the first symptom must be included seems to be a mere formality, because what child could possibly exhibit such gender non-conforming behavior and not feel like life would be easier if they were the other sex? Even though my family and peers fully accepted my gender nonconformity, I still often wished that I was a boy so that I wasn’t such a different girl. I can only imagine how strong that desire would be in children whose friends and family are less accepting or even hostile.
Another major issue with these DSM-5 criteria is how most of these “symptoms” are based on stereotypes, which they readily admit: point four quite literally talks about “preference for the toys, games or activities stereotypically used or engaged in by the other gender” (my emphasis). This is damning for activists who argue that gender identity has absolutely nothing to do with stereotypes or the diagnosing of “transgender” children.
And how can they even pretend to believe this when story after story told so glowingly in the media features parents talking about how their child’s stereotypically gender-nonconforming behavior made them realize that their child was actually the opposite sex?
Take, for example, the story of a New Jersey mother who asserted her five-year-old daughter was “transgender” because, as a toddler, she gravitated towards “boys toys, like trucks, cars, dinosaurs and PAW Patrol,” and at the age of three expressed a desire to buy boy’s boxers and started refusing anything “girly.”
Consider as well this excerpt from an Insider story about a toddler who apparently came out as transgender at the age of four:
“I don’t want this hair,” my almost 3-year-old told me. When asked what haircut he’d like, my toddler enthusiastically said he wanted hair like his older cousin Will. I was hesitant to charge down this path. I redirected. I asked if he wanted a girl bob instead. It was quickly rejected.
I pressed on with the bob style, almost pushing to the point of tears. Then, I decided to follow my gut and give my child what I knew was needed — pictures of little-boy haircuts. “Yes! Yes, that one!” The joy and validation were evident on his face.
We filmed my kid’s reaction to seeing himself in the mirror post-cut, and I still rewatch it nearly three years later when I need a boost of happiness. Watching my child see himself in a mirror, the way he sees himself in his mind, was pure gold. There’s no way else to describe it. It was beyond beautiful.
I know what it feels like to be a girl who prefers short hair. I love the way it looks and feels, and I’ve felt this way since I was very young. I was around five years old the first time my mom cut my hair short. We can’t remember if it was her idea or mine but, either way, I was thrilled about it. People sometimes mistook me for a boy afterward, and I was happy about that, too.
“We let them be themselves,” says a pediatrician in this NBC News story about a 5-year-old girl who was being socially transitioned. “So, they cut their hair and they wear their clothes and they wear their shoes they want. And they wear jewelry or they play with the kids they want to play with and they do the activities they want to do. We call that social transition.”
Funny, I was also allowed to cut my hair the way I wanted, wear the clothes and shoes I wanted, play with the kids I wanted, and do the activities I wanted. But instead of calling this a “social transition,” the adults around me thankfully just called it “letting a child be a child.”
To believe that a child is “transitioning” just by being themselves and existing in the way they prefer is a dangerous and regressive idea. These stories and the widespread belief that there is such a thing as a “trans child” instills the notion that there is a “wrong” way to be a little boy or a little girl. It makes kids, teens, and even adults feel like there is something wrong with not conforming to sex stereotypes.
Until my late twenties, I secretly wondered if I’d wake up one day miserable and devastated that I didn’t transition. After all, I was so like these “trans kids” as a child. I was just like the scores of women, many of them lesbians, who I saw choosing to transition today.
Trans activism never sat right with me for these and many other reasons, but I never felt confident enough to say anything until I realized I wasn’t alone and that others felt the same way. And once I did, my worries melted away. There was nothing wrong with me for hormones and surgeries to fix, just as there is nothing wrong with any child that justifies medical intervention for simply being themselves.
Reality’s Last Stand is a reader-supported publication aimed at keeping you informed on the issues and news surrounding the rise of sex denialism and gender ideology throughout society.