A Teen Therapist Writes About Gender Identity Issues — Sally’s Story

Sasha Ayad, M. Ed., LPC  is a therapist with extensive experience working with teens, and gender defiant teens in particular. When she started to notice her bright, creative gender defiant teen patients feel that they needed to define themselves by picking a label that then sometimes encouraged them to make permanent changes to their bodies, Sasha found herself thinking critically about this trend. She has researched gender identity issues in teens extensively, and has a private practice where she works to support gender questioning youth. In Sasha’s words

“I use non-judgmental, compassionate, dialogue that focuses on exploration rather than immediately seeking to affirm and transition your child. Together with your teen and family, we consider multiple complex factors that may contribute to their dysphoria, including social, cognitive, environmental, physical, and emotional factors. Treatments may include mindfulness, somatic, and integrative techniques as well as confidence-building, and age-appropriate sexual identity exploration. I also educate parents about the topic of gender identity, break down stereotypes, discuss risks, and encourage parents to become deeply invested in the process so they can best support their child outside of therapy sessions. While transition may be the best option for some kids, many others have had very painful and negative experiences with their transition, and I help families prevent this from happening. I believe I owe it to your child to be thorough and careful in my approach, placing safety, well-being, and happiness above all else.”

The following piece was posted originally on Sasha’s blog. While the current narrative around helping trans identified teens creates a false dichotomy between affirming a teen’s identity and being unsupportive or rejecting, Sasha’s work beautifully illustrates how one can offer unconditional support while helping a teen to navigate the confusing waters of identity.

Sasha can be reached at 888-945-8207 or  Sasha@Inspiredteentherapy.com. You can also find her on Facebook.

sally-blogI was busy working on a behavior plan for a very fidgety 6th grade boy when I heard an assertive knock on my office door. This was the third time this week Sally had left class without permission to come talk to me.

“Ms Ayad, how can I transfer schools? I really don’t think I can get a proper education here and none of the teachers know what they’re doing”, so began our 45 minute conversation. She often got fixated on one or two teachers, who despite their best efforts, could not find a good way to work with Sally. I had a very different relationship with her though, and I was able to help her work through some of her generalizations and logical leaps.

Her hair was always pulled back hastily in a low ponytail, the eczema around her mouth, though visible, wasn’t as noticeable as the smudges that covered her glasses – she pushed them up from the lenses every time. Often a curious little smirk would lift the corner of her mouth, even when she was clearly upset or discussing something serious.

She is one of those kids who teachers were often exacerbated by, but I got to see her in a different light, and I found her endearing, creative, and incredibly interesting.

Once we were able to conclude that switching schools was not the best option, and I taught her some self-regulation skill using a squeeze ball, it seemed she was much more at ease. She took a deep breath and said “Ms Ayad, can we talk about that other thing now?”

“You mean gender?” I replied. She nodded.

Sally and I had been talking for the last several months about her “gender identity”. When she first brought this up to another counselor, they referred her to me, knowing that I am experienced and confident in working with kids around this topic. However, Sally had certainly been exploring this issue online for months she brought it to the attention of her school counselors. Our first conversation on the topic made it clear that she had a broad vocabulary (straight from gender identity theory) which is not typical for most middle-school students.

My approach was patient, inquisitive, and I challenged her… just a bit. When she talked about her parents pressuring her to wear dresses and “act more like a girl”, I made a point of breaking this down, deconstructing what that means, and sharing ways that we all behave outside of gender stereotypes: and that’s a GOOD thing!

When she told me, weeks later, that she was looking for binders online and asked me to stop using the pronouns “her” and “she”, I felt deep pangs of worry, but took it slow. I asked her where some of these ideas were coming from: she was spending hours on tumblr, trans-advocacy sites for teens, and chat groups with other kids who she believed were “just like her”. I treaded very carefully, but told her about the medical dangers of binding and what the long term consequences may be. Our limitations in the school system made it hard to get too deep on these topics, but in every brief interaction with Sally, I found ways to empathize with her struggle, instilling pride in who she is, and still gently challenge her flawed ideas.

I deliberately pointed out all of the ways she doesn’t conform to gender stereotypes, without implying that she’s in the wrong body: her love of manga comics, her cargo pants, her disdain for dresses and “girly” clothes, in my eyes, made her a unique and awesome person. Hearing those compliments always brought that endearing little smile to her face.

Eventually, as her classroom behavior improved, her anxiety lessened, and she started making friends, she relied less and less on me for support that year. Several months passed and before I knew it, the school year was coming to a close. I wanted to follow up with Sally, so I pulled her from her PE class and we talked outside on a particularly nice, sunny afternoon.

I started with, “Sally, I’ve missed you, how are things going? It seems like we haven’t talked in forEVER!” A huge smile emerged on her face, and since her glasses were less smudgy than normal, I could actually see that her eyes were smiling too.

“Doing great! I’m getting along better with Ms Barnay and I haven’t been walking out of class when I feel frustrated”. We talked about the anime club, her plans for summer, and how her other classes were going. She paused, looking ready to tell me something that meant more to her than academics. “Ms Ayad, remember how we used to talk about gender a lot? Well, I’m kinda over it”.

“Ok, tell me what you mean by ‘over it’, Sally”.

“Well before, when I didn’t have any friends at school, I was meeting a lot of people online and I thought they were my friends. Then when I actually started hanging out with people in real life, things felt different. Before, I really wasn’t comfortable with myself so I felt like I needed to change. But now, I’m ok with myself”.

I nearly fell off the bench. This was one of the most profound realizations a therapy client can make – and she, even in her young 13 year-old body and mind, came to this conclusion by herself: “I really wasn’t comfortable with myself, so I felt like I needed to change. But now I’m ok with myself”.

I was grinning from ear to ear by this point. I told her how incredibly proud I was, that I was so happy she was feeling good about herself.

Over the summer I thought often about Sally’s story. While she turned things around largely on her own, I can’t help but wonder how things might have unfolded had I followed the prescribed gender identity model.

What if I had asked about using male pronouns?
What if I had been very supportive of her desire to bind her chest?
What if I had affirmed the idea that because she doesn’t like dresses and feels like she identifies with trans kids online, that she too may be a boy stuck in a girl’s body?

And what if I hadn’t directly (though gently) challenged some of her flawed beliefs – that stereotypes and clothing styles are a good foundation on which to question your biology, to modify your body parts, and to change your entire identity.

These are questions gender therapists HAVE to ask themselves, and it frightens me that most aren’t. Our kids are dynamic, different, and unique. But they also have insecurities, self-doubt, and are vulnerable to finding “solutions” in the wrong places. When a teenager feels isolated and misunderstood, trans-advocacy sites can convince them that hope lies in changing who they are. And isn’t this the opposite of what we’ve always tried to instill in kids: self-love, confidence, and embracing their uniqueness?

Regardless of the misinformation and wayward perspectives currently taking over the mental health field, I will continue to focus on self-acceptance for my clients. Sally’s story, and many others like it, will be our reminder that in counseling, self-loathing should never be promoted over self-love.

*The names in this story have been changed to protect the identities of the people involved.

Marcus lives in the United Kingdom. He can be reached at @LogicalMarcus on Twitter. He has provided an extensive bibliography at the end of this piece. 

   fireworks I am nine years old and at a Halloween party. I am playing with a boy my own age with black curly hair. As the fireworks go off I notice how beautiful he is. I never see him again.

    I am fourteen and unhappy. My school friends talk about girls all the time, and I can’t relate. I am becoming bookish and withdrawn. In the local college library I find a book by William Burroughs describing a wild life where men love other men in a city called San Francisco. I find the book exciting. I have never heard the word “gay” other than as an insult before.

    I am fifteen and at a sleep over with a male friend. We are watching porn. I am thinking about kissing him. I feel scared and the moment passes.

    I’m seventeen and I have a girlfriend. I was so happy to prove I am normal like my other friends. I didn’t care for kissing her, but I try anyway. I tell her I think I am bisexual and we argue. We break up three months later.

    I’m nineteen and I have slept with a boy for the first time. We met on the internet. He is a tall and handsome Indian boy. I am white. We did it in his car to Daft Punk’s Discovery album. For the first time I tell a close straight male friend I think I am gay. He is accepting and supportive.

    I’m twenty-two and my friends know I am gay. A few colleagues at work do too. I have some gay friends and I have dated a couple of guys. I am starting to feel comfortable being who I am. 

    I’m twenty-four and it is the mid 2000s. I am coming out to my parents. I planned it carefully. They have never made a homophobic remark but I have read accounts of coming outs going poorly, so I have waited till I am an independent adult. I tell them I have a boyfriend called Matt. They take the news with no real rancor. My father tells me to be careful about AIDS and my mother cries because I will not have children. We continue to love one another.

   Every gay and lesbian person has a story of how they came to accept themselves. Realizing you are gay can take a long time. It took me at least ten years, much denial, some unhappiness, and lasted until I was a grown man. There was never a moment as though a sign turned on in my head to say “You’re gay.” For a long time I tried to ignore it or bargain it away: I didn’t want to be one of “those” people, who seemed to be on the margins of society. Self acceptance and coming out were gradual, constant negotiations between my feelings and what I felt safe and comfortable saying, to myself and others. But I am just who I am, a gay man, and there is nothing wrong with that. The rest is society’s problem, not mine.

  As an adult I hoped growing up gay would be easier for children today. With what’s commonly called LGBT acceptance, gay and lesbian people are full legal citizens in many Western nations, and can marry, and have basic protections from prejudice. We are not yet full social equals – holding hands and kissing as a same sex couple can attract unwanted attention and be dangerous, “gay” is still a playground slur, and we rarely see our lives reflected in the media. But when I see young gay couples walking around, I feel intense pride and happiness that the situation is improving.

    Recently I have read many accounts of parents raising so-called “transgender kids”. This is a new thing, specific to wealthy Western nations and in particular the US, that did not exist when I was growing up. These are children who are held to be “female brains in male bodies”, or vice versa. The science does not support this claim: science shows that there are no male or female brains. These “transgender kids” are not diagnosed by scanning their brains. They are boys who prefer, in some way, “girl things”, or the other way around. These children are dysphoric, that is unhappy, specifically with the kind of things they can do as boys or girls. They can be as young as three or four. For example:

    Calls to help sex-change kids as demand for gender reassignment soars

    For such children, an increasing number go through the following regimen: social transition (dressed as the opposite sex), then subjected to increasingly invasive medical treatment: puberty blockers, then cross-sex hormones, followed by sexual reassignment surgery at adulthood or even mid teenage years. Transgender kids seem to be a trend in the USA and UK, and the numbers reflect that, with steep increases at “gender clinics”. But how is it possible so many children are just now being declared to be in the “wrong bodies”? This looks alarmingly like a kind of conversion therapy.  Studies (links below) have found that most children who express “gender identity disorder” did indeed desist and become gay adults in the past.

    As a gay man, who also has struggled at times to accept myself in a society that does not always accept me, it is troubling to see children encouraged to think their bodies are wrong for the way they behave or the way they feel. The root of this seems to be a conservative enforcement of the same stereotypes that make gay people suffer. Even when these children are said to declare they are in the wrong body I think it is plausible they are doing so out of an awareness some kinds of bodies are being allowed to do some things, but not others, and if you want to do those other things you had better have the other kind of body.  But surely it is better to tell all children that they can do, wear, and enjoy whatever they want without it being “wrong”.

I think there is a fad, or a contagion, going around parents and medical professionals, being pushed by motivated activists and fed by well-meaning liberals and echo chambers on social media, for declaring children to be transgender. Although society recognizes this as real, for example in educational material and school bathroom use, there does not seem to be solid science or evidence behind this condition being more than a cultural issue. I am concerned this fad will harm children through unnecessary medical treatment with permanent effect – sterilization for example, or the irreversible effect of testosterone on the growing female body.

In particular, a trend for transgender kids seems to target those children who do not conform to stereotypes society expects them to obey on account of their sex: who very often grow up to be wonderful, happy, effeminate gay men and butch lesbian or bisexual girls. We need years or decades to grow into ourselves as gay adults and the medicalization of difference through transgender seems like an attack on our personhood, an attack on our right to process being gay, painful and confusing and messy as it can be.

I have known dozens of gay men and lesbian women who might well have been “trans kids” today. Some of these gay men like to paint their nails, or dress up in women’s clothes (drag), and they care very much about clothing, and have some effeminate mannerisms. Some of these lesbians are rough and tough and they like short hair and clothing cut for men. They are happy and comfortable being who they are. I admire these non-conforming gay and lesbian people very much, because most never had the luxury of the closet, like I did. If they had been made into “trans kids” in order to produce humans who conformed better to a standard I think the world would be a poorer place and they would have been harmed. If the prevalent view of transgender is wrong then harm is being done to children and we cannot remain silent.

    I have also met transgender people, in real life and online, and I have listened to their pain over their “wrong bodies”. But I also do not understand how transgender can be destined or “real” in the same way that being gay is real. Transgender and gay are not interchangeable. There are profound differences between gay and transgender. The idea of transgender as a biologically destined, permanent, fixed identity should be justified on its own merits, not by a silencing tactic where activists claim their cause is no different from gay rights and scream “Transphobia” at all questions. Gay activists never had to silence, shame or threaten opponents, because our cause is just, cohesive and reasonable, and stands by itself.

    Nobody has ever shown being gay can be “cured” but there is evidence that transgender people do sometimes stop being transgender. People do detransition.  One way in which gay people have also argued against a notion that being gay was wrong was to point to gay animals. There are gay animals everywhere, and our closest ape relatives the bonobos are thoroughly homosexual, but mammals do not change sex. Nobody has ever seen a transgender sheep, where a ewe becomes a ram. A dominant female hyena can take on a male role but it is still a female that has a different, natural, hormonal balance, not a male hyena.

    Most importantly “the mind does not match the body” is the opposite of what being gay is about. At the end of our coming out stories, gay and lesbian people are comfortable being just who we are. There is nothing wrong with us, nothing wrong with the way we were born. Our problem is society’s prejudice, not our minds or bodies. Lesbian, gay and bisexual people have always demanded freedom from persecution and acceptance as the social and legal equals of straight people, which we are.

    There is no need for medical intervention, hormones and surgery to be gay. In fact the words transition and conversion are synonyms. There are alarming similarities between the discredited notion of conversion therapy against gay children and so-called gender transition therapy. Reinforcing this, conservative Islamic nations such as Iran, the United Arab Emirates, and Pakistan, all punish homosexuality, but encourage or mandate a conversion of gay men to transgender women via sexual reassignment. It is appalling to contemplate supposedly liberal parents replicating Iran-style erasure of gay people on their own children.

    Seen this way transgender could be compared to anorexia, because here too there is great unhappiness about the body. Anorexia is a real and serious condition, and anorexic people must have their human dignity respected, but it would be dangerous to say we should accept anorexia, or tell children anorexia was okay. Magazines that promote anorexic models and celebrities are criticized and there is an attempt to stop the fashion industry from doing this.

I probably would not have been a “trans kid” if I had grown up today. I was not effeminate but bookish and a science geek, and with the trend for medicalized childhoods, I might have been diagnosed with something else. There is a broader and long term trend of over-medicalizing children. A diagnosis like ADHD seems to often reflect an attempt to contain rambunctious childhood personalities. Of course medical treatment is not always bad but it must also be based on the best evidence that it is necessary and not harmful. What kind of evidence should we demand before assigning a child a medicalized identity, setting them down a road that can end in sexual reassignment?

I think parents and children should not always pursue instant gratification even if medicine seems to offer it.

Further reading

Human brains cannot be categorized into two distinct classes: male brain/female brain
There is probably no such thing as a ‘male’ and ‘female’ brain
Is there something unique about the transgender brain? These brain scans don’t reflect gender identity, they reflect sexual orientation.
New MRI studies support the Blanchard typology of male-to-female transsexualism
Ethical issues raised by the treatment of gender-variant prepubescent children: only 6 to 23 percent of boys and 12 to 27 percent of girls treated in gender clinics showed persistence of their gender dysphoria into adulthood
Gender identity clinic for young people sees referrals double
Surge in demand sees one year waits for children’s transgender clinic
Child gender identity referrals show huge rise (930%) in six years
More U.S. hospitals offering gender affirming surgeries
Transgender kids: ‘Exploding’ number of children, parents seek clinical help
‘I was a boy.. then a girl.. now I want to be a boy again’: Agony of of teen who is Britain’s youngest sex-swap patient
Boy ‘living life entirely as a girl’ removed from mother’s care by judge
Mother of Transgender Toddler Gets a Lesson in Love
Clinics are popping up across the country to help kids as young as 3 who might be transgender
‘Thank God I didn’t have a sex change’: Gay actor Rupert Everett tells how he grew up wanting to be a girl but cautions against allowing children to make rash decisions on surgery
Furious parents slam ‘damaging’ BBC sex change show aimed at six-year-olds
100% blocker-to-HRC persistence rate in children
Transgender Youth: Are Puberty-Blocking Drugs An Appropriate Medical Intervention?
53% of mothers of boys with Gender Identity Disorder have Borderline Personality Disorder compared to only 6% of mothers of normal children
Female detransitioner survey
Female detransitioner speaks
Another teen goes from “I’m happy in my male body” to “I am truly a girl” in a few days.
Desistence of gender identity in children:
Do trans- kids stay trans- when they grow up? Only very few trans- kids still want to transition by the time they are adults. Instead, they generally turn out to be regular gay or lesbian folks. The exact number varies by study, but roughly 60–90% of trans- kids turn out no longer to be trans by adulthood.
A New Way to Be Mad: Can the mere description of a condition make it contagious?
Why Some of the Worst Attacks on Social Science Have Come From Liberals
How did transgender get included in LGBT?
The attack on Germaine Greer shows identity politics has become a cult
Purplesagefem: Blatant homophobia

“I Wanted an Identity So Badly:” A Desister’s Account of Trans Indoctrination

This is an important post. This brave and thoughtful young man has been generous enough to document his own process of becoming convinced that he was transgender. He identifies the cult-like thought traps that lead him to believe this, and discusses how difficult it was to work through these beliefs.

Fortunately, John did not take hormones or pursue surgery. Even without these medical interventions, his experience with trans ideology was confusing  and painful.

(Note: Part of this post comes from a Reddit thread that John posted. I am using that with his permission here.)

Thank you, John.

I was 100% thoroughly convinced that I was a woman trapped in a man’s body. I went on believing this for the better part of 6 months, and it did a number on my psyche.

I think these trans communities are a cult. They target lonely, confused teenagers that have a fetish. Not all transgender people are like this but, the group I belong to is, and this group is heavily targeted by these online trans people.

I think that we are basically all masochists. I had several “odd” things growing up that got me going, bondage, humiliation, power dynamics where I was the powerless person — anything that could be considered “shameful.” When you are a horny 14-year-old with these particular sexual tastes, and you discover online porn, it won’t be long until you stumble upon the “feminization” genre (aka, sissification, sissy fetish,). It should be obvious why these genres are so prevalent. If you grow up in a conservative area, what could be more demeaning, humiliating, or thrilling, as having your manhood stripped away from you? (Not that I think there is anything shameful about being a woman, but as a young man you are constantly having to prove your masculinity and any sign of weakness is compared to being a “sissy” or a “faggot” or “like a girl.”)

So you have all these young men who don’t understand their sexuality, watching sissy porn. Eventually they are going try and find out what it all means.

This is where the trans ideology plays its part. The trans narrative sucks these confused young men like myself in with all the “answers.” You see many confused fetishists posting in places like r/asktransgender asking if they are trans. Whatever their questions are, the usual reply from these places is something like “if you could press a magic button that would give you a female body would you press it? If you thought about it, then you may be trans, because a “straight” guy wouldn’t hesitate for a moment.” They try to equate the masochistic thrill with a desire to be a woman. And once you fall for that they have you.

They create a very intricate web of bullshit that is very hard to see out of once inside. It is very cult like. Any non-kool-aid drinking source of information is deemed “transphobic.” Any therapist that doesn’t tow the line is a “gate keeper.”

One day when I was 18, I had decided to try and figure out what was the deal with my sexuality. I had been watching feminization/sissy/sissyhypno-type porn and crossdressing for a few years at that point, and I was very confused. I grew up in a conservative area in a pretty conservative family, and the only information I had ever gotten about sexuality was stuff I had picked up from kids at school and stuff on TV. I was pretty naive about it.

But at this point when I was 18, I had been on the internet for a few years and I had reformed my conservative belief system. Just 3 and 1/2 years before, I was very conservative and a Christian, but I’m the type of person that is constantly questioning everything and with internet access, it was just a matter of time before I became an atheist and began to slowly tear apart my conservative belief system. I went from thinking liberals were evil deluded fools that were going to destroy the country to coming around to their side and seeing conservatives the same way I had once seen the liberals!

So I had begun trusting the “reddit people” since they made so much more sense than anything I had been exposed to in my conservative town. During one of my late night jerk sessions I had come across the typical trans rhetoric somewhere on r/sissyhypno and it scared the ever living shit out of me. I had seen the link to r/asktransgender at this point too. I was terrified but i had to know more.

I stayed awake for over 24 hours pouring over threads in r/asktg trying to understand what for so long had made no sense to me. I think what really hooked me at first was the idea that my sexuality had been “repressed.” I think I fell for this because my sexuality had been VERY repressed. For lack of a better term, I had tried to “pray the gay away” for years. I had pretty much tucked everything I knew about my fetish in a deep dark corner of my mind, and I would try to think about it as little as possible.

So when the “reddit people” would say my fetish was a normal female sexuality that has been repressed for years due to male socialization and homo/transphobia, and that my crossdressing and fetish porn consumption was the only way for my “female self” to express itself, it kinda made sense. And then there were so many people talking about how they used to be just like me, but they eventually stopped lying to themselves and realized they were transgender.

I was completely fooled 100% after that. (And I think that perhaps this pattern does apply to “real transgender” people. But I think that in their efforts to validate their identities as women and coming up with all the trans ideology, they accidentally created a trap for people like me, who are really just people that are a kind of extreme degradation masochist that got into crossdressing as an expression of that.)

I didn’t make any steps in transitioning. I only believed I was transgender. I actually hated the idea that I was transgender at first. I was full of self-pity and I was very, very depressed. I kept trying to think of something to convince myself I wasn’t trans, to find a reason why I wasn’t trans but I could not do it.

Since I had accepted certain beliefs, I could not escape the conclusion that I was trans. It seemed the most logical explanation at the time. After a while of wallowing in self-pity and hating myself, it seemed the only way to be happy was just to accept the fact that I was trans and move on.

So I began to reconstruct myself psychologically around being trans. In the beginning, there was a brief honeymoon period. I felt like a huge weight had been taken off my chest, that I had finally accepted who I was, and I didn’t have to keep being so uncertain about everything. I even “came out” to my family and a few friends. It didn’t last long though about two months.

After that, some doubts started to eat away at my new “happiness,” but I put an immense amount of energy into squashing them. It was kind of ironic in a way, because not that long before, I was trying so hard to talk myself out of being trans but couldn’t. And then not very long after, I was putting the same amount of effort into talking myself into it. The doubt kept eating at me though, and I could no longer believe I was “fully” trans.

It happened in stages though. It was very hard for me to let go for many reasons, one big one being that I just could not accept that I had made a terrible, terrible, very embarrassing mistake. The first and longest stage was that I thought that I wasn’t “fully” trans, but that I was somewhere on the trans spectrum. So I was once again a misfit. I was believing all the trans ideology, but now I no longer had the benefit of finally having a concrete sexual identity — which I think was a huge part in me being seduced by the trans rhetoric, because I wanted an identity so badly.

I kept analyzing myself over and over and over. I just had to know what I was. I stressed so much over this that I eventually just kind broke psychologically. I just up and decided one day that I was tired of it all. I wanted to be free of the never ending questioning and anxiety, so I chose to believe something that didn’t make sense within my own mental framework. It was very strange, because even though I knew it didn’t make sense, I chose to believe it anyway.

I just started believing I was gay. It didn’t work for long, but for two days it was bliss. After that, I really started to lose touch with reality. I started believing things about myself that made no sense. Every week, or sometimes every day I would completely change all my beliefs about my sexuality. I would say and think contradictory things, saying and doing things I never would have said or done before — just all manner of craziness. After about three or four months of that, I regained my senses.

But I still hadn’t resolved the thing that started it all. I just ended up completely repressing and burying everything. I tried my damnedest to just forget about the whole ordeal entirely, and I did that pretty successfully. But I couldn’t block it all out completely because I was still watching all the same porn. Deep down, though, I still believed that I was trans at some level during this period.

This might be hard to believe but i think what broke the “spell” for me were psilocybin mushrooms. I really shouldn’t have been messing around with them at the time because of how unstable I was, but I was doing all kinds of stupid impulsive shit.

I was tripping and at some point all the trans stuff starting bubbling to surface, and it was what you could call a bad trip. All the things I had repressed came bubbling up to the surface. I had no control, and the mushrooms were doing the driving. They showed me that I had been fooled into fooling myself. Basically, they showed me how my own narcissism was blinding me.

Once I had seen this information, it was in my mind permanently. It took around 6 months or so, but I slowly came around to thinking that it was really all just a crossdressing kink that got elevated to extreme levels from watching too much porn. It shouldn’t have taken me that long to get it all figured out after the mushrooms, but it took me a long time to trust my own judgement enough to really BELIEVE in what I was thinking.

I had my mushroom trip nearly two years ago. Now I’m mostly back to my old self.

I forgot to mention a pretty important detail. I didn’t come up with the doubts on my own. I was 100% fooled, but I stumbled upon some dissenting voices and ideas that got the original doubts going. I don’t know how far I would have gone if it weren’t for these voices dissenting from the trans ideology.

Doomed to Repeat

Doomed to Repeat

A scant 25 ago, therapists with (mostly) the best of intentions managed to ruin many people’s lives. Through the use of recovered memory therapy, clinicians unwittingly participated in creating false memories of horrific abuse that in some cases permanently sundered relationships between parents and adult children, cast a life-long pall of suspicion on parents, and sent innocent people to jail for decades.

In the late 1990’s there were numerous lawsuits in which therapists or psychiatrists were successfully sued or settled on charges of having propagated false memories of childhood sexual abuse, incest, and satanic ritual abuse. Fran and Dan Keller served 21 years in prison after young children who attended their daycare began making wild allegations after having been coaxed by a therapist. According to one child witness, the Kellers “had everyone take off their clothes and had a parrot that pecked them in the pee-pee,” and “came to her house with a chainsaw and cut her dog Buffy in the vagina until it bled.” The therapist construed these childish imaginings as literally true, and concluded her small patient was a victim of ritual abuse. The Kellers were finally freed in November of 2014 after the only witness who provided any physical evidence of abuse – a doctor – recanted.

The false memory and ritual abuse scares of the ‘80s and ‘90s now seem bizarre almost beyond imagining. Therapists, psychiatrists, government agencies, congressional committees, and the media bought into the belief that worldwide satanic cults had infiltrated society and were ritually abusing children on a significant scale.

Tragically, history is in the process of repeating itself. Something strikingly similar is happening. The current trend to diagnose children as transgender bears an eerie similarity to this previous social panic. This matters because as with the previous panic of the ’80 and ‘90s, the current trend is harming people who will have to live with the consequences for the rest of their lives. Below, I outline the similarities – and differences.

1.) Victims of false memory syndrome and many transgender kids are orienting their identity and relationships to a false belief. Wikipedia defines false memory syndrome as “a condition in which a person’s identity and relationships are affected by memories that are factually incorrect but that they strongly believe.” Research has confirmed the suggestibility of the memory making process, making it clear that false memories can be created through cultural transmission, peer influence, and the techniques described as a recovered memory therapy.

The Wikipedia article goes on to state that false memories per se are not the problem. “Note that the syndrome is not characterized by false memories as such. We all have inaccurate memories. Rather, the syndrome is diagnosed when the memory is so deeply ingrained that it orients the individual’s entire personality and lifestyle—disrupting other adaptive behavior.” (Emphasis mine.) The false memory becomes a central point of the person’s identity and determines his or her interpersonal relationships.

The false memory may be bizarre and become obsessional. The McMartin pre-school trial was the longest and most expensive trial in American history. Those that testified claimed they saw witches flying in the air, traveled in hot air balloons, and were taken into an elaborate system of tunnels underneath the daycare.

In an account of the FMSF website, one patient recounts the bizarre things that she eventually came to believe:

“I recalled various fragments of movies, books, talk shows, and nightly news, and soon I had plenty of child abuse memories. But, it didn’t stop there. Eventually, I said I had taken part in Satanic Rituals, been buried alive, drank blood, and helped to kill a baby. With every new memory, my therapist was intrigued and building a case to prove he was right about me all along.”

And these bizarre beliefs can become one’s central point of reference, eclipsing critical thought, leading the person to surrender his or her rational faculties in service of the belief. This is described by a victim of false memory syndrome on the website of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation.

“Twice a week, I would go to therapy and be told the only way to feel better was to relive these memories. He would sit next to me on his couch covering me with a blanket while I, in a regressed, hypnotic state would start to have these “body memories.” This therapy continued and I had to be hospitalized six or seven weeks at a time. I’m now convinced that my depression and suicidality were mainly caused by the incredible conflict between wanting to be with my parents and pleasing my therapist.”

Through buying into the false belief, the person’s historical biography is re-written. Old events are re-imagined in light of the new “information,” radically altering the person’s sense of identity and sundering connections to family and friends.

As a victim of FMS describes on the FMSF website:

“I’ve lost six and a half years of my life, a chance to have an intimate relationship with my mother, time with my three young children, and my marriage of 21 years.”

Transgender children fall prey to the bizarre belief that they are born in the wrong body. There is no scientific validity to the idea that someone can be born a “man in a woman’s body” or the other way around. In fact, there is a great deal of research that indicates that there is no such thing as a male brain or a female brain. Taken away from the clamor and din of politics, the assertion that one is chromosomally and biologically one sex, but of a different “gender” in some mysterious way makes absolutely no sense and is every bit as strange as asserting that daycare workers sacrificed babies and fed them to children. Those who define their inner sense of being misaligned with their anatomy often cannot describe this experience without reference to sex role stereotypes, and an appeal to notions that seem much more metaphysical or subjective rather than empirical.

Please note that I am not denying the existence of gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is real and often causes significant distress. It ought not to be stigmatized, discounted, or minimized. Those who suffer from gender dysphoria deserve to have their pain taken seriously and to be offered appropriate help and support by both their families and society at large. In some cases, transitioning may be the treatment required to alleviate the gender dysphoria, though like all invasive medical procedures, it ought not to be the first line of treatment if a less drastic intervention can do the trick. It does not follow, however, that we must accept the groundless and bizarre explanation that someone is born in the wrong body. The feelings of gender dysphoria are undeniable. How we explain those feelings matters a great deal if one of those explanations leads to a young person undergoing serious medical intervention with lifelong consequences that may or may not adequately address the presenting problem. In some of the FMS cases, patients presented to a therapist with distress over a marriage, for example. The therapist wrongly attributed their pain to repressed incidences of horrific abuse, which made the patient worse, not better. Attributing a young person’s pain to being born in the wrong body is no less strange, and is just as likely to lead to an inappropriate intervention.

And as with the false beliefs present in many cases of FMS, the belief of gender noncomforming youth that they are actually the opposite gender disrupts other adaptive behavior, severs important relationships, and can become obsessional. Consider this story about a 16-year-old natal female who came out as transgender at age 14 or 15. The child, referred to only as PD, was adopted at age 6. The parents understandably had a hard time coming to terms with their child’s assertion of being a different gender, and they refused to call their child by the new name. This caused the child “very great annoyance and distress,” according to the courts. As a result of feeling misunderstood because the parents refused to use the new name, PD cut off all contact with them, refusing even to allow them to have any information going forward.

While the transgender teen story is usually portrayed in the media in celebratory terms, my contact with parents living through this indicates that at least some of the time, the tale is a darker one. Even supportive parents report that their teens become increasingly isolated and distressed after coming out. They withdraw from friends who aren’t trans. They cease their involvement in extracurricular activities. Their academics suffer. They stop talking to parents. They become obsessed with their appearance and with “passing.” They suffer outsized distress over the indignity of being “misgendered.” Their ambit of concern shrinks to encompass only the paranoid echo chamber of illusory oppression.

As is the case with FMS, the “discovery” on the part of a young person that they are trans brings about a reevaluation of their prior life that validates their diagnosis, altering their sense of identity and personal biography.

Following is a comment posted by a reader of this article. Note that the commentator reports on fairly common childhood experiences of gender nonconforming behavior that now take on momentous significance as evidence of being trans.

“I didn’t know since I was two. I knew I was different but I didn’t know how. Like I always envied the boys but never understood why. I wanted the boy toys, and never thought about why. I wanted to be in boy clothes cause I never felt comfortable in girly stuff, and never thought about why that was either. But I knew something was different.”

This commentator reaches the rather spurious conclusion that not being comfortable in “girly” stuff as child can now with hindsight be seen as early evidence and “proof” that she was trans. Of course girly stuff is rarely comfortable for little girls. And many little girls prefer “boy” toys, just as many boys prefer “girl” toys. Our refusal to accept narrow sex role stereotypes should not be evidence that we ought to reject our bodies. It ought to be evidence that we should reject sex role stereotypes.

2.) False memory syndrome and the transgender child trend involve highly sensational subjects that involve children and sexuality.

Children and sex are perennially two of the chief lightning rods around which mass hysterias often take form. The false memory and satanic ritual abuse panics of the ‘80’s and ‘90’s occurred in conjunction with a significant cultural shift, as women left home to go to work in huge numbers, leaving their children in daycare. The allegations of ritual abuse that swirled around daycares in the panic may have served as an expression of anxiety and ambivalence about this societal transformation.

Now, the popular imagination has been caught by transgender children. We celebrate the “courage” of these children and their families and rush to endorse hormonal treatment to forestall the “trauma” of puberty. What cultural current might this be in reaction to?

3.) In both FMS and the transgender child trend, the media played a key role.

Both of these trends have been presented in an uncritical way in the media. In the case of false memory syndrome, high profile media attention presented without critical dialogue fanned the flames of hysteria.

In 1983, Geraldo Rivera aired “Satanic Cults and Children.” In 1988, he did another episode mcmartinentitled “Devil Worship: Exploring Satan’s Underground.” In 1995, Rivera apologized for his role in spreading the hysteria with the following words:

“I want to announce publicly that as a firm believer of the ‘Believe The Children’ movement of the 1980’s, that started with the McMartin trials in CA, but NOW I am convinced that I was terribly wrong… and many innocent people were convicted and went to prison as a result….AND I am equally positive [that the] ‘Repressed Memory Therapy Movement’ is also a bunch of CRAP…”

In 1989, Oprah Winfrey hosted a show on “Child Sacrifice,” and Sally Jesse Raphael did a segment called “Baby Breeders.” In 1991, Raphael covered the story again with a show called “Devil Babies.”

20/20 and HBO both did special stories on the subject. HBO’s special was entitled “Search for Deadly Memories.” This documentary shows techniques for recovering “repressed” memories, and featured many doctors and other “experts,” lending credibility to the claims. Eventually, 20/20, 60 Minutes, and HBO would all produce shows that were skeptical of the panic.

I need hardly offer evidence for the media contribution to the current transgender child trend. It is difficult to go through a day without hearing reference to a transgender child on some mainstream media outlet. Nearly all of the coverage is uncritical if not celebratory.

4.) Both movements created high profile “stars.”

In 1980, the book Michelle Remembers by Lawrence Padzer and Michelle Smith was Michelle_Rememberspublished. It was the first book on ritual abuse, and is largely responsible for setting the SRA panic in motion. Though it has since been entirely discredited, it was reported on and taken as fact by journalists and talk show hosts including Oprah, who interviewed Smith on her television show. The book was a bestseller and a tremendous commercial success, and Padzer and Smith earned an estimated $350,000 from its publication.

Jazz Jennings is a 16 year old transgender girl noted for being one of the youngest publicly documented people to be identified as gender dysphoric. She received national attention at the age of six when Barbara Walters interviewed her on 20/20. Other high profile interviews followed. Jazz has her own company (Purple Rainbow Tails, founded when she was 13), her own YouTube channel, a children’s book, and her own reality TV show on TLC. In 2014, she was named one of “The Most Influential Teens” of the year by Time. She has modeled and appeared in television commercials for acne treatments.

5.) Both movements have been fueled by hysteria over immediate peril of children

In both cases, the narrative is driven by powerful fears over the welfare of children. In the case of SRA and FMS, anyone who expressed doubt over the veracity of the claims was subject to intense vitriol and claims that they were harming children by not believing them without question. An advocacy organization was formed by the parents of the children involved in the McMartin preschool trial called “Believe the Children.” It became a clearinghouse for information on SRA.

Regarding the transgender child trend, those who express doubt about a child’s claim that he or she is “born in the wrong body” are often accused of “killing” transgender children. The fact that there are very high rates of suicide attempts among those who are transgender is repeatedly cited as a reason why transgender children must be immediately affirmed and transitioned. (This is an uncritical use of the statistic. A study found that 41% of those who are transgender had attempted suicide. However, the study did not differentiate between whether the attempt came before or after transition. A study from Sweden indicates that suicidality among those who have medically transitioned is significantly higher than in the general population. It would appear that those who suffer from gender dysphoria do indeed have a high rate of suicidality. However, there is no robust evidence that transition reduces suicidality.)

 6.) Therapists played a significant role in the promulgation of both movements.

Protecting the innocent, advocating for those who are at risk and vulnerable – these are appealing roles for therapists to take on. Therapists in both movements have appeared to have the moral high ground. Many have been quick to jump on board to be sure to be on the right side of history.

Therapists used a variety of techniques that have come to be called “recovered memory therapy” to search for “forgotten” or “repressed” memories of trauma. Such practices spread quickly and were fueled by materials developed by those without clinical expertise such as the book The Courage to Heal, which was written by a poet and creative writing teacher and one of her students.

Of course, a darker side to the well-meaning impulse to help those who had been victimized is that the movement to recover repressed memories created lucrative earning opportunities for some therapists.

In recent years, there has been a growth in the number of therapists who identify as “gender therapists.” To my knowledge, this is not a protected title in any jurisdiction. Anyone can call themselves a gender therapist. At most, a gender therapist may have received training from a transgender advocacy organization. Most transgender advocacy organizations have few members with any clinical or mental health background. Online research indicates that a gender therapist is “someone who helps a transgender person with their transition.” This gender therapist, for example, has a video blog where she answers questions. To the question “how do I know if I am transgender?” she answers that “if you are asking that question, you probably are not cisgender.”

Gender therapy is a lucrative and in demand specialty at this point in time. The gender therapist noted above, for example, has recently released a book about discovering one’s gender identity.

7.) Governmental and professional organizations have bought into the movement’s narrative.

No less an organization than the US Congress held hearings on daycare abuse. Recent policies put forward by the International Olympic Committee, the National Education Association, and the Obama administration show that many of our most important institutions have bought into the gender identity narrative.

8.) The concept has penetrated deeply into popular culture, including children’s picture books

dont make me go backA 1990 children’s book entitled Don’t Make Me Go Back Mommy (Hurts of Childhood Series). The description of the book on Amazon reads as if it is a humor piece.

“Five-year-old Allison’s behavior indicates to her concerned parents that something is wrong at her day care center. In unseen action, they discover that the center practices sexual, physical, and psychological abuse in the guise of religious ritual. Through dialogue, Allison and her parents reveal their feelings and the beginnings of the healing process to counselors and legal personnel. Some details of abuse are familiar from the lengthy McMartin trial, such as the “movie star room” in which naked children are photographed. The appendix lists 10 guidelines for parents on how to handle their own feelings during this family crisis.”

There are a number of books for children about being transgender. I Am Jazz is just one i am jazzexample. It is recommended for children ages four to eight. Following is its Amazon description:

“From the time she was two years old, Jazz knew that she had a girl’s brain in a boy’s body. She loved pink and dressing up as a mermaid and didn’t feel like herself in boys’ clothing. This confused her family, until they took her to a doctor who said that Jazz was transgender and that she was born that way.”

9.) Because the false belief relies on self-diagnosis, it is impervious to contradictory evidence.

In the FMS and in the transgender child trend, someone’s subjective experience of him or herself trumps other claims, even without evidence. According to this paradigm, anyone who is not in the special class (abuse victim or transgender person) cannot speak about that phenomenon with any authority. The premise that the oppressed are infallible gets one way into the weeds fairly quickly. Something becomes true and unable to be questioned simply because a member of a certain special class says it is so.

10.) Both movements were spread by social contagion which relies on the very human trait of suggestibility.

The FMS episode gave rise to a great deal of research about how suggestible we all can be, how easy it is for well-meaning therapists to suggest things that didn’t really happen and in this way, create “memories.” A good overview of this research can be found here.

Many teens coming out suddenly as transgender without a history of prior gender dysphoria or even gender nonconforming behavior say they “knew” they were transgender after they read something online. The language that they use to describe their experience is quite consistent, likely an indication that they picked up the ideas from similar sources on the internet. For example, many parents report that their child said “Would you rather have a dead daughter or a live son?” or something similar. Many teens also talk about the “button” thought experiment – if you had a button that could make you into the opposite sex like that, would you push it?

In both cases, the indicators used to diagnose are vague. Neither SRA nor transgenderism are well-defined phenomenon. The definitions shift and alter as convenient. For example, some transgender advocates do not believe that someone should need a diagnosis of dysphoria in order to transition. Simply saying one is trans ought to be enough without any dysphoria.

In both cases, conclusions with far reaching implications are arrived at using suggestive techniques. Transcripts of therapy sessions in which highly suggestive techniques were used can be found here. The contagion was also spread in both cases by peer groups. Many teens coming out as transgender are doing so in the context of peer groups who are also coming out. I am aware of one school where nine natal girls all announced that they were trans within a short space of time. In regards to FMS, there were documented cases where some people “found” repressed memories after spending time in a peer group for survivors. (See “Therapist Not Needed to Recover Memories.”)

11.) Interestingly, in both cases feminists were the some of the first and most outspoken skeptics

The panic over SRA was problematic not just because it ripped families apart, but also because it diverted attention and resources from real child abuse issues. Some feminists voiced concerns about this. Today, feminists such as Elizabeth Hungerford, the blogger 4thWaveNow, Germaine Greer, and Rebecca Reilly Cooper are drawing attention to the inconsistencies in the transgender narrative and expressing concern about how this trend is distracting attention from issues of sexism and gay and lesbian issues. Of particular concern to feminists is the fact that many young lesbians are identifying as trans and going on to take hormones and have surgery. In this sense, transition acts like medical gay conversion therapy, changing lesbian girls into straight boys. Some suggest that many young lesbians are identifying as trans due to internalized misogyny and homophobia.

I have covered some of the ways in which I see the transgender child trend is similar to the phenomenon of false memory syndrome and satanic ritual abuse. How are they different?

The internet.

Information and ideas travel faster and further now, making it easier to spread social contagion.

In the case of FMS, most of the victims were adults. Now the victims are children.

If there is even a small chance that significant numbers of young people are permanently altering their bodies on the basis of beliefs about themselves that may change, shouldn’t we all be trying to slow this train down?

If we do not wish to repeat the mistakes of history, we are well advised to study and learn from them.

Working with Parents

In my experience working with parents, the sudden announcement of a young teen that he or she is trans can bring confusion and isolation. Most parents that I have seen in this situation feel a strong urge to support their child, even while questioning whether such an announcement represents their child’s authentic expression, a transient exploration along that child’s developmental path, or the child’s effort to both fit in and stand out. Since unquestioningly affirming a teen’s sudden declaration of being trans can nudge him or her in the direction of serious, permanent medical intervention, caution should be the word of the day. Unfortunately, most parents are not supported in their desire to approach such a momentous shift slowly and carefully. Parents are chastised for being “transphobic,” and told to get on board or risk losing their child to suicide.

Given what is at stake, I feel that we as professionals need to educate ourselves about the very real effects of social contagion. In the ’60’s, young people embraced sexual and drug experimentation with abandon. Society would never be the same, and much was gained as a result of that social contagion. However, there is no question that lives were ruined or ended in the process. In the ’80’s, eating disorders were everywhere. College dorms were filled with young women supporting each other in counting calories or bingeing and purging. I do not know of any positive effects that the social contagion of eating disorders brought with it. I do know that, again, many lives were lost or ruined.

The current cultural shifts around gender may have the possible positive outcome of reducing prejudice for transgendered or gender non-conforming people. I imagine it could also have the positive effect of loosening cultural expectations around gender, making our society a friendlier place for “masculine” females or “feminine” males. These would be good changes. However, the most immediate effect of this social contagion — and that is certainly what it is in many cases — is that young people are seeking and in many cases receiving medical treatments that permanently alter their bodies and render them sterile.

We need to trust that parents that come to see us know their children and have their best interests at heart. When a parent has a child who is about to be swallowed by the trans cult, we need to help that parent trust him or herself. There is some anecdotal evidence that a parent standing firm in the face of a child’s declaration that she is trans can help that child remain intervention-free longer than if a parent equivocates or affirms. Given the seriousness and permanence of most medical transition treatments, remaining intervention-free for as long as possible ought to be the goal. Transition will always remain an option once the young person has become an adult. One can never regain one’s pre-surgical body or fertility once these have been sacrificed.