What I Think Happened
Our feelings are determined not by what happens, but by the stories we tell ourselves about what happens. This is how I frame my daughter’s story, though she would tell it in a much different way.
This story begins in elementary school. Years of being a gifted, highly sensitive kid with autistic characteristics in the area of social interactions has taken its toll on your self-esteem. You are also a late bloomer who still looks and acts like a younger child as your peers begin to go through puberty, emphasizing the already-considerable differences between you and them. One key moment is when some classmates make a list ranking the class in attractiveness, listing you last. You don’t understand at the time that this is only because you haven’t yet reached maturity and still look like a beautiful child and this moment has a profound effect on your view of yourself. You begin to believe that you are permanently and hopelessly unattractive.
Next, through the admirable cause of teaching acceptance and nondiscrimination, kids are taught that not only is being LBGT acceptable, it’s cool and better than being straight. Kids who haven’t yet been through puberty, and don’t really know who they’ll be attracted to once they do, encourage each other to declare their orientation and identity and to define themselves by these labels. Any child who declares a non-straight identity gets positive reinforcement from peers and adults who are anxious to prove they are accepting. As a child who doesn’t yet comprehend sexual attraction, it’s pretty easy to convince yourself you feel about the same way about boys and girls, especially when you know there will be a social reward for doing so. You declare a bisexual identity.
Your peers continue to treat you like a young child and you begin to adopt this as your identity, even when it no longer fits, because you don’t know how to break away from the expectations you feel your peers have of you, and you don’t know what a more mature version of you would look like.
In this vulnerable state, you start high school. One of the primary developmental goals of teenagers is to find a group to belong to that helps them define who they are outside their families. All teens are highly motivated to do this – it’s a normal developmental stage just like a baby learning to walk. You find that your previous peers from elementary school distance themselves and reject you, anxious to be seen as older and not wanting to associate with someone who acts young. You search for another group that will accept you and find the GSA. This seems ok at first and they are kind and accepting but there is a fight among the group and somewhere along the way something goes wrong. I don’t know exactly what event triggered your distress – a physical or verbal assault, being exposed to a sexual situation you weren’t ready for, or just being exposed to a toxic world view that told you that everything you ever were or believed was wrong and that you were an oppressor.
In the meantime you begin to spend a lot of time in an online community that you were directed to by this real life social group. This community contains people whose goal it is to increase the number of teenagers who identify as transgender. They may have varied reasons – political power, more social acceptance for them as a trans person, a financial stake in the medicalization process, or an attempt to harm western society – but they are very effective. It was presented to you as a fact that a gender is something you are born with, can’t be measured but can only be determined based on a feeling, and may be incompatible with your body. If it turns out you were born this way, it would explain all the social problems you’ve had, and the only way to find happiness is to transition. This is a belief that they promote but it is not a fact. There is no evidence that such a thing exists, although this group will attack anyone who suggests this or suggests there’s an element of choice to transitioning.
This community then suggests that if you have trouble fitting in, or feel awkward and uncomfortable with yourself, or reject stereotypes that society might apply to you due to your sex, or even just wonder what gender means, it indicates that you are actually transgender. They say this even though those are very typical teenage experiences that almost everyone has.
Whatever traumatic experience you had earlier has left you without a community you feel you belong to and are accepted in. But you have nowhere else to go, no other group that you feel will accept you. It is extremely important to align yourself with a group and so you begin to adopt their views and styles as your own. It’s a toxic community that will easily cast out anyone who disagrees, and so you carefully align your views. It’s similar to Stockholm Syndrome, where a victim will begin to align themselves with their captor and take on their views in order to survive.
In this environment, it was very understandable that you (and hundreds of thousands of other teenagers) started to question your gender. It’s very important to note that a very high percentage of the teens who identify as transgender are gifted or have autism or other neurological differences. The community has found the most vulnerable of teens to manipulate.
You experiment with identifying yourself as transgender, along with a variety of other labels. At first it seems like casual experimentation and you get a lot of positive reinforcement from the community. But you soon learn that this community doesn’t let go easily. Once you’ve identified this way, they say that if you don’t take it far enough or you ever change your mind, it means you were faking it for attention. They demand that you perform actions to prove that you are legitimate, and that you change yourself in ways that make it difficult for you to fit in with any other social group. They convince you that anyone outside the community is hostile toward you and try to alienate you from your family. They convince you that no one but this community will ever accept you, but threaten to cast you out if you don’t completely conform to the community and their beliefs. While there are likely a few people in the community that are intentionally orchestrating this culture, it’s enforced by other vulnerable teens like you who have become trapped in the culture and don’t fully realize that they’ve become a part of victimizing others.
The community continues to promote negative beliefs that harm its members’ self-esteem and keep them trapped. Negative self image, beliefs that something is wrong with you and you are incapable of normal life, beliefs that you are not loved or accepted by anyone outside the community, and beliefs that positive things such as hard work, a positive attitude, a positive self image, scientific truth, and rewarding relationships should be rejected are promoted by the community. Labeling, self-diagnosing, rejecting mainstream society, rejecting family, and presenting yourself as a person who is downtrodden, incapable, and discriminated against will be praised and encouraged by the community.
In this environment, you become extremely depressed. You reject the person that you were previously and try to become someone aligned with the group. You believe that everyone outside the community will reject you. As you become increasingly alienated from everyone else, you become increasingly reliant on the group for positive reinforcement and a sense of identity. Leaving the group or being rejected by it seems unthinkable. Since your real life associates are also somewhat influenced by this culture and accept many of their beliefs, they also may not accept you if you go against the group’s beliefs. You feel protected by aligning yourself with this group and so even though their negative beliefs and their impact on your depression are obvious to everyone but you, you are extremely resistant to disengaging from the group.
If you ever did disengage, your personal thoughts and beliefs would begin to return and your self-esteem would begin to recover and you would begin to take actions that are in your best interests and would lead to your happiness. It might be tempting to return to the group in times of stress – it is addictive to have someone else tell you who to be and how to act so that you have no self-doubts – but over time as you gained confidence in yourself those feelings would fade.
You are an amazing, intelligent, creative, capable, and yes, beautiful young woman. You have, and have always had, everything you need to build a happy and fulfilling life and relationships, except for the belief that you do. I hope you can find the courage to be yourself and break free of this.