What Have I Changed My Mind About?
Three years ago, my then 15-year-old son asked me what I thought about people who believed they were born in the wrong body. "Who am I to know what's happening in another person's psyche? If they say they are trans, they are trans," I replied. At that time, I didn't know about ROGD or social contagion.
This is the first thing I changed my mind about. I no longer believe there are people born in the wrong body, and according to this definition, transgender people do not exist. Who exists then? People who believe they were born in the wrong body, and many define these people as “transgender.”
I used to believe that some of those who medically transitioned were living better lives after transition. I no longer believe this either. There is emerging evidence that most are doing worse. I believe that those who say they are doing better are simply coping better, and they would have been actually doing better if they didn’t medicalize and instead, had learned to cope with their non-medicalised bodies.
There will never be a way to test this hypothesis. This hypothesis, however, makes sense, if we start with the assumption that gender dysphoria is a mental health issue, which, like other mental health issues, requires treatment of the mind, not the body. A person suffering from body dysmorphia whose leg is amputated might seem happier, but this doesn’t mean their mental health improved. This person would still be mentally ill.
In order to treat gender dysphoria, one needs to see it as a mental illness. However, we are reluctant to call adult transitioners mentally ill, especially if they appear to be reasonable, because we want to be kind and inclusive, and we want to be “allies”. Their existence also offers a reassurance—if our kids end up transitioning, but become like one of those nicer ones, the ones with podcasts, the ones who appear healthier - that maybe it wouldn’t be that bad after all. What if transitioning was actually a viable long terms strategy? But here is the conundrum, the Catch 22—if the adults are not mentally ill, then why are the children mentally ill? And if the children are not mentally ill, then they are “actually transgender? Do they need to be medically transitioned ASAP so that their suffering is reduced? Using this logic, not transitioning children would be unethical!
The answer, of course, is to compassionately support adults who think they are transgender, without affirming them. If we don’t do this, we are bound to slide back to the idea that children can be trans.
The slide is imperceptible at first, as it is linguistic. While we used to hear gender critical experts refer to our children as “gender questioning”, now we hear the same experts use the term “gender diverse children.” We trust these experts. We need them as they are our last hope, so we swallow the new terms uncritically and eagerly. Maybe we don’t even notice the change, but it is there, paving the road to what we thought we had eradicated—the sick idea that children can be trans.
The same experts casually suggest that “gender diverse,” ROGD, and “gender questioning” can be used interchangeably. This goes unchallenged. In fact, parents are casually told that they might not be the experts on their own children and if they question the new terminology they are “paranoid” and “difficult.” This also goes unchallenged, because, overall, the advice given is actually great—we all want this advice, we grasp at straws, we are all ears, we want solutions. So, what if there are a couple of sentences here and there that undermine parents? We are already undermined by the entire gender machinery. We are used to this.
While we used to hear “pre-gay” children or “children who might end up being gay”, now we hear terms such as “Autogynephilic kid”, two words that should not be used together, ever. Just as there are no trans children, there are no AGP children. Instead, there are sexually abused, traumatized, groomed and porn-exposed children. And while it is recognized that not all gender nonconforming children will grow up to be gay, we suddenly hear that children who exhibit AGP-like behaviours were born this way and need help dealing with their confused “sexuality”. Not only that, but we are told questioning this new ideology is kind of incestual. We are not to think about our children’s sexualities. How gross! Parents, we are told, need to contend. “Why are you thinking of children’s genitals, you, pervert!” Haven’t we already been shut down with these words when we questioned pediatric transition?
But it is already too late to capture an experienced ROGD parent with linguistic games. I have already changed my mind about a lot of things. I have done my research. I’ve become outspoken. I no longer idolise “the experts.” I pay attention. I look for patterns and contexts. I don’t like what I’m seeing and where it is going.
I’d like to end this piece with something optimistic, and something else I changed my mind about. I used to believe that there existed skilled, brilliant therapists and that therapy, in most cases, was useful. Twenty-five years ago, I even trained to be a therapist, though I never worked as one. Among other valuable advice given to parents of ROGD children, there was a spark of brilliance, something so obvious that we tend to forget it—when your ROGD child enters therapy with a gender critical, exploratory, non-affirming therapist, the therapist will still center on the child, not the parent. And right there, barely between the lines was the stark warning--this “gender critical” vetted therapist is now likely to label your child “gender diverse” or autogynephilic, because the linguistic rules have changed. They might tell your boy that the cure for his gender dysphoria is embracing his emerging paraphilic sexuality, rather than staying off porn and growing up.
Staying away from even the best gender critical therapists might be the only solution. Especially when these therapists say that changing a client’s gender identity is coercive, and is thus not the goal. Find ways to parent that work for you, your child and your family. Rely on yourself to lead your child out of the cult. Just as an allergic person reads labels on even familiar and trusted products because she is aware that ingredients sometimes change, keep re-examining what is offered by even the most trusted sources. And most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask questions and change your mind.