A Man called Hank - Parts I and II
And what I learned about what will happen to our son
While a survey from Pew Research suggests that “about 5.1% of young adults in the U.S. say their gender is different from their sex assigned at birth,” most of these young people will probably never transition medically.
Unfortunately, our son IS going through medical transition – and the risks for him are orders of magnitude higher than those who only change their names, clothing selections, and pronouns.
This essay is the first half of a 4 part essay that I wrote to delve into the consequences and risks of my son’s transition. I hope that my research and musings are helpful in raising awareness to the plight of confused young men like my son.
“The threat to young males and boys has been overshadowed for too long. Your fury for what's happening to young women and girls should apply to them too.” – Ritchie Herron, a male detransitioner, Aug 5, 2022
Part I: Hank
I’ll call him Hank.
Hank is in his early seventies. Until a few years back, he used to identify as a transgender woman. As a young man, he fought in Vietnam. The war left indelible scars in his psyche—so much so that, upon his return, he went “straight to a psychologist” to get a handle on his PTSD. Several years later, Hank got married. He and his wife had children.
And then, in his early thirties, Hank identified as a transgender woman.
I met Hank fortuitously. One year and nine months back, our life had turned upside down. Our adult son came out as transgender—specifically, a lesbian, transgender woman. Last month, he started on hormones prescribed to him after a single visit to a social worker followed by a visit to a registered nurse, all within his university’s clinic.
Initially, after our son first came out as transgender, I believed him. I went down many rabbit holes online to find information about gender dysphoria. I also kept looking for someone older who had identified as a transgender woman for many years: someone who had gone down the path that our son had embarked on and could give me a first-hand account of what our son could expect in the coming years. This would be a step that even GLAAD would recommend: “Listen to trans adults who can tell you about their experiences.”
A couple of months earlier, I came across Hank. When we met over Skype. Hank looked quite a bit older than 70. I gently mentioned it to him, and he laughed. “That’s what these chemicals do to you,” he said. I asked whether I should address him as a man or a woman. “For the last several years, I have realized that I am a man and have been a man all along. I am finally old enough to be at peace with who I am.”
I asked Hank why he agreed to talk to me. After all, I was a stranger. (The cynic in me was thinking, what’s your angle?) “For my mother,” he replied. “When I identified as a transgender woman and told her, she did not know what to do. I put her through a lot of pain. She is long gone. I cannot apologize to her anymore, but I hope I can help some parents in the same position as her.”
At the same time, he cautioned that since our son was already an adult, the options for us are limited. “He’s in a position to ruin his life completely, and there’s very little you can do.”
I asked Hank about the events before he identified as a transgender woman. “My wife left me,” he said plainly. “And it was then that I started thinking, what is it that was lacking in me? And the feeling continued until I found another woman. But when she also left me, those thoughts came back. At the time, I was still dealing with my PTSD. I was still dealing with several unresolved issues from my childhood, which included sexual abuse. Around that time, I came across several people at the margins of society, people who today would be identified as L, or G, or Q, or T. Talking to them made me feel that I was in the wrong body and that I was a woman. My friends told me about hormones that could make me feel like one, and I got started on them soon after. But the demons in my mind refused to go away. And so I finally decided to go for surgery. Those days, it wasn’t easy to find information, but through my network, I came to know of a surgeon in …” [Hank mentioned the city and state where he went for the surgery].
“I finally got rid of my penis,” he said.
I asked Hank what had all changed after all these medical changes.
“Everything,” he replied. “Within less than a couple of years of hormones, I started having brain fog—I just couldn’t remember anything. My memory became progressively worse. By the time I was forty, I had already had my first heart attack, and I have been on a cocktail of heart medicines ever since. I had a stone in my liver, of the type my doctors had never seen. [As a vet, Hank has access to VA healthcare.] I have had kidney stones. I have had gallbladder stones. I had stones in my saliva glands, the size of lemon seeds, and they had to operate inside my mouth to get them out. I have low back pain and rheumatoid arthritis. I have asthma. I have hypertension. I have scleroderma. I have had a retinal detachment in one of my eyes, and I have to get it reattached every few years. [Hank mentioned retinal detachment as something he has seen with several other male-to-female transitioners.] I have lost quite a bit of my sight in that eye. And I will soon lose sight completely in the other one.”
“The only part of my body that is still okay is my little finger,” he joked.
“After my surgery, I lost all my sex drive. I have not been intimate with any woman for over 35 years now. I'm a eunuch without sexual desires.”
“And here’s the thing. After I had started taking hormones [but before surgery], I still went after women like I always did, like a man. None of my male instincts changed. In fact, I impregnated four women after taking hormones. But after the surgery, I lost every bit of my sexual drive.”
“It took me many years to come to terms with my trauma, my mental issues,” Hank continued.
“Did something happen to change your outlook?”
“Yes. Many of my friends – all transsexuals [Hank mentioned that that was the term used those days] – died or committed suicide. One of them, a trans woman, was my closest friend. A couple committed suicide because they could not deal with the constant barrage of physical and mental complications they were going through. These hormones and surgeries turn people into lifelong medical patients. It’s a constant drain on our lives—mental, physical, emotional, financial. I constantly forget things. I forget what I am doing or why I am doing something. I feel so sorry for the kids going into this for no reason.”
(I was reminded of my conversation during a recent meeting with fellow parents of adult male children who have started hormone therapy. One common theme many parents mentioned was how their previously extremely bright children have suddenly become somewhat less capable in mental activities.)
“I realized that I would go down the same path as my friends and die a horrible death or commit suicide unless I did something different. And that led me to look at my life. Look at my issues. It took me nearly forty years, but it made me realize that what I was seeking is a fantasy. No amount of hormones or surgery could change my body how I wanted it to. Whatever I did, I could not become a woman. All that I did was put on more and more “makeup.” Inside, I was still a man. I realized I had to love myself as I am in my body. I realized what an impossible situation I put my single mother in when I told her I am a trans woman.”
I told Hank about my son’s desire to freeze his sperm before starting his “journey.” Hank began to laugh uproariously. “This is exactly the kind of delusion I used to have when I was young. We did not have sperm freezing back then, but can you imagine any woman in her right mind agreeing to impregnate herself with the sperm from an obviously disturbed man? Someone like me? I have been with many women, even those who became pregnant by me and subsequently got an abortion. They still like me. However, as much as they like me and wish me well, the only reason they had [unprotected] sex with me is that they thought I wouldn’t be able to impregnate them. None of them ever wanted to have a child with me.”
We spoke for over one and a half hours. “Best of luck,” he said. “Your son will come to his senses one day. But – and it’s a huge but – I have no idea whether it will happen after a few months, a few years, or after nearly forty years like me. When he is a broken man who can no longer delude himself.”
Part II: Our Son
After the call ended, my mind went back to the day our son told me that he “thinks” he is transgender (it took him less than a year to go from that thought to absolute certainty). It was a couple of months before he turned 20. It was in the middle of the pandemic. He was a sophomore at college – one of the few students who opted to stay on campus - but the classes were online, and he was in his dorm room all the time.
My wife and I have racked our brains ever since, and about this much, we are clear: before that fateful day when he came out as a lesbian, transgender woman, there was never any indication that he harbored a wish to be one.
Our son was always the proverbial geek. Academically, he was always a couple of grades ahead of his friends. His IQ was measured at 157. His classmates found it difficult to understand him, and he was much more comfortable speaking with adults. He built his own world around books. His favorite character from cartoons was – and still is – Calvin. Favorite TV character that he identified himself with, even after entering college? Sheldon Cooper. Puberty struck during middle school, and he masturbated a lot, watching porn online. And he always liked girls—heterosexual, strictly non-trans girls who like boys. By his own telling, every girl he was interested in rejected him immediately or very soon after first contact (he once asked me during his freshman year, "Why is it that every girl rejects me?") And yet he continued to fall for them with the regularity of a metronome.
Just the month before he came out as transgender, his latest advances had been rejected by a young woman at his university, and adding to the pain, she chose his roommate and, at the time, his best friend, over our son. This led to a bitter fight between our son and his friend and the woman (the three of them were pretty thick before that). By his own count, our son had fallen for nearly twenty young women, starting from middle school to high school and now college.
(This, too, is a recurrent theme, I found from other parents, among many of our boys: being rejected by a girl shortly before coming out as transgender.)
To this day, our son continues to fall for heterosexual young women who like men. This includes, very memorably, one time, several months after he had come out as trans, when he fell for a cute young woman at a meeting he used to attend every week. Before going to the next meeting, our son spent an hour in the bathroom getting ready, and at the end of it, kept his three-day stubble on…only to shave super-close (to the point of nicking himself) when he found that she had a boyfriend. I might have burst out laughing if it weren’t so sad and tragic.
As far as he has hinted, it seems our son started questioning his gender after he failed to act like a stereotypical man in sexual situations. Ironically, the failure to act in a regressive, stereotypical gender role is leading our son to get even more entrenched into a grotesque caricature of those gender identities instead of liberating him.
But then, what do we parents understand about our son we saw growing up every day over a social worker who met him for a couple of hours? We are nothing but two people in a long line of transphobes who are the “direct threat” to his existence! We merely happen to be the two people who spend every moment of their lives thinking about him and the dangers of the medical transition that will soon become his reality. The two people who thought that their job as parents was not to allow any harm to come to their child. And the only two people who, after being repeatedly told by their child that they should just die the most horrific deaths (“that would be the most humane way to deal with people like you,” he said over the phone), are still the only – only – people who would feed him, clothe him, and stand by him.
Because right now, all his friends have left him. Each and every one of them. When he first came out as transgender, they were initially very supportive. One unfortunate fallout of being immersed in this online indoctrination is that these young people with fragile egos who, until recently, suffered from an inferiority complex get high on their own supply (I heard about this from other parents too). We saw it happen with our son. As he became increasingly rude and abrasive, his friends left him. Or he left them—I found that one of the founding principles of this online indoctrination is to declare anyone who questions any part of their self-referential explanation a transphobe and, therefore, better to be severed ties with. Just like a cult.
But then again, this might simply be our resentment and, above all, transphobia speaking. After all, everybody knows that the science is apparently “settled.” And the research – by researchers who often flaunt their credentials – says so. And so, I decided to look at the science and the research to find out exactly what they say.
Let me be clear: if all our son wanted was to transition socially, we would have been “fine”— very reluctantly, sure, because social transitioning is not a neutral act. But we were so desperate that we would have agreed to anything to stop him from transitioning medically—because everything I had read about estrogen told me that it wreaked havoc on a man’s body and mind. However, we stood no chance against the hurricane.
It took one meeting – just one – with a licensed social worker at his university’s clinic to declare that “the only effective treatment for this condition is a combination of psychotherapeutic and medical intervention to enable her to live her life as a woman” and that it is his “recommendation that [our son] pursues options for gender-affirming medical intervention as she sees fit.” (I have a copy of this social worker's letter.) Our son's next meeting was with a registered nurse in the clinic, who immediately prescribed a combination of estradiol (an estrogen steroid hormone) and spironolactone (which lowers the amount of testosterone produced).
Even that single visit with the licensed social worker was not necessary—our son went there because we insisted that he meet a psychologist for all his psychological issues and because – in his words – he wanted to “play ball” with us. He could just as well have visited the registered nurse and gotten the prescription.
And so it became that I spent the last one-and-a-half years reading the literature on estrogen and surgery. I concentrated primarily on the effect of estrogen on the male body. For reporting any clinical findings, I looked at the literature published only in peer-reviewed journals. The results of my research and the prospects for my son’s future will be explored in the second half of the essay.