It’s a parents’ worst nightmare. Your teenage daughter comes home and says she’s a boy in a girl’s body. She gives a boy’s name that she wants to be called by in future and expects that you will refer to her using he/him pronouns instead of she/her. She requests money for puberty blockers, testosterone and other drugs, boy’s clothes, haircut, etc., to show her new identity. Shocked you object to this and try to reason with her, but she accuses you of hate speech, transphobia, bullying, and threatens to leave home and join her trans group. Staggered by this sudden revelation you make enquiries and find that the groundwork was laid by peers and YouTube, with the smartphone being an almost indispensable medium. Teachers and shrinks supported and affirmed the girl’s decision and have no time for concerns expressed by distraught parents. The more you investigate, the more you realise it’s part of a new revolution infecting western countries. Abigail Shrier, an investigative journalist, writes about it in her book Irreversible Damage: Teenage Girls and the Transgender Craze. This article will highlight some of her findings.
Maybe you will think that as Christians we are immune to this craze because our children are raised in godly homes and attend Christian schools. I sincerely hope you’re right. But our children are growing up in a crazy world which, having embraced feminism, homosexuality and lesbianism, is now busy embracing transgenderism with all the misery it brings. As Prof B Holwerda once said, when a society turns away from the Lord He gives them over to the foolish consequences of their rebellion against Him. Since we and our children—and our uni students, in particular—will be confronted with this new, increasingly prevalent ideology, we do well to at least know something about it.
Shrier says that today’s teenage girls are more lonely, more suicidal, more anorexic, and more inclined to depression than ever before. They are confronted by screen and social media personas who set beauty standards most teenage girls can’t meet. Consequently, they become dissatisfied with their bodies. Since males don’t seem to have that problem, teenage girls reason that if they were in a male body they’d be satisfied with their less-than-ideal beauty. That in turn leads to ‘gender dysphoria’ (dissatisfaction with one’s biological sex) and to believe they might actually be a boy in a girl’s body.
Back in the 1990s only 0.01 % of girls felt this way but recently this percentage has skyrocketed. A girl only needs to suggest that she is dissatisfied with her body and many in social media will propose that she’s likely to be transgender. Of course, a powerful contributing factor to all this is the use of smart phones, which almost all have. Teenage girls are online almost constantly. Once she makes a move in the transgender direction it’s almost impossible to do a U-turn.
Shrier refers to Dr Litman, a public health researcher, who sought to discover why this gender dysphoria suddenly befell teenage girls and why it was so much higher in friend clusters? She found that girls were stimulating one another, especially through social media! Dr Litman suggested that instead of immediately caving in to teenage girls’ requests to changes to their bodies, doctors should try to understand what else might be wrong. Doctors’ treatments, she found, are at best ineffective; at worst they give treatments the girls are likely to regret because of the irreversible damage. Dr Littman found that people too easily concluded that a girl had ‘gender dysphoria’ without real proof, that transitioning was “the only path to happiness”, and that “anyone who disagrees with the self-assessment of being transgender or opposes the plan of transition is transphobic, abusive, and should be cut off”.
Unsurprisingly her suggestions caused a storm of attacks. Activists accused her of anti-trans bigotry, of being motivated by bias, of material ‘below scientific standards’, of dangerous suggestions which could lead to ‘worse mental outcomes’ for trans-identifying adolescents. Her university, influenced by the clamour of the woke mob, replaced its press release of her paper with an apology.
There’s a whole range of people influencing the girls to transition to boys, particularly through social media. It’s reinforced by medical professionals, psychiatrists and teachers. Suicide rates among ‘transgender identified’ are alarmingly high but instead of blaming transitioning, the trans influencers blame the parents, claiming that they probably led their daughter to suicide by refusing to support the transitioning, or by taking away their iPhone.
The influencers (usually full of piercings and tattoos) rave on about their changing bodies. They’re ecstatic about being on testosterone and pity girls who can’t get it because ‘gatekeeping’ parents won’t allow it. Shrier says:
“Many of them peddle misinformation, outright medical falsehoods, and just bad advice. They extol the glories of testosterone as if it were a protein shake, not a Schedule III controlled substance. They enthuse over double mastectomies as if they were no more significant than a haircut. They refer to skeptical parents as ‘toxic”—and encourage their audience to upgrade to a trans ‘glitter family’.”
It’s also pushed by the schools with policies about being ‘inclusive’ and ‘safe’. They teach that there are some things boys typically like or are good at (maths, sport) and some that girls are typically good at (singing, acting, drawing). Then they say, if a girl or boy likes doing activities typical of the other gender, they’re not merely male or female. It is then suggested that they may actually be transgender. Shrier says: “gender ideologues make sure she learns that things like sports and math are for boys. It’s essential that she learns gender stereotypes because, without them, ‘gender identity’ makes no sense at all. And when a boy realizes that he enjoys some of the ‘girl’ activities, like painting or dancing, the revelation that he is not entirely a ‘boy’ readily tees up.”
Health curricula employ gender-identity activities whereby students are asked to imagine they are of a different gender. Their aim is to get students to question whether they are really entirely male or female. In high school, gender identity and sexual orientation is raunchy, explicit and radical with the effect of normalising LGBT. Whilst the advocates say that it works to normalise LGBT behaviours, Schrier says it encourages the formation of two camps: us and them. School calendars “insist that LGBT students be not merely treated equally and fairly, but revered for their bravery”. Little wonder that one mother said that all her daughter’s friends at school identify as transgender, or lesbian, or gay, or bi. “I feel like it’s very important to my daughter and to a lot of these kids who are caught up in this to be part of the LGBT umbrella, but they’ve got to be in that umbrella because it has become such a tribe of which they are proud to be members.”
How did educators and activists manage to get these radical views into mainstream schools? By irresistibly packaging it all as antibullying. This appeals to people’s morals and to parents’ preoccupation with their children’s physical safety. “All of this sexual orientation and gender identity education was necessary—educators claimed—to prevent the battery, harassment, and acute psychological distress of LGBT children.”
Schrier believes it’s all “a pretext for gender identity education: the ever-expanding notions of what constitutes ‘bullying’ and student ‘safety’”. Such bullying can be as minor as using a student’s “wrong” pronouns, or a parent disagreeing with their child’s gender identity and thereby causing “significant psychological distress”. Indeed, there’s even “spiritual abuse” when people are forced to adhere to rigid gender roles. Says Schrier: “Perhaps there are students who might venture, I’m a Christian, so I believe you’re a boy, not a girl as you say you are. Such a devoutly orthodox student wouldn’t last very long, one imagines, in the sort of school environment where gender ideology reigns.”
Mums and dads
The book’s title Irreversible Damage relates to the results when girls take testosterone, puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones. These lead to infertility and other tragic results. And yet schools, psychologists and medical doctors support it and the media celebrates it. Parents aren’t even informed and frequently find out too late. Those parents who spoke up on social media had their posts deleted and were ostracised as transphobes.
Schrier relates heart-rending stories of parents whose daughters were caught up in transgenderism. Parents who were at their wits end, accused by daughters who turned their backs on their parents and were embraced by the “transgender family” which spurred them on.
Some parents who learned of what was happening to their daughter took the radical step of taking her from school, selling their house and living far away on a farm where there was no internet connection and hence no smart-phone access to the proponents of transgenderism. It worked. Their daughter could start life, redux, and once again live as a girl.
In past decades, parents would have shown a sympathetic but sober, no-nonsense approach to a daughter’s anxiety, as in, “If you’re feeling sad, just tell me.” Or, “You’re making a big deal out of nothing”. Or, “Let’s just go to the mall for an ice-cream.” Today’s adolescents are practiced in therapy and its terms such a “social anxiety”, “testing anxiety”, “panic attacks” and so forth which have the effect of giving such feelings diagnostic credibility.
There is an expectation by nearly every medical accrediting organisation that therapists affirm that a male patient who identifies as a woman really is a woman, and vice versa. It’s called ‘affirmative therapy’ and it “compels therapists to endorse a falsehood: not that, e.g., a teenage girl feels more comfortable presenting as a boy—but that she actually is a boy”.
It’s crazy. Just imagine, says Shriek, that an anorexic girl tells her therapist that she knows she’s fat so please call me Fatty. After all, following the logic of ‘affirmative therapy’, you are what you feel. Or imagine a black girl says that she doesn’t feel black, likes white boys, and wants her skin and hair bleached so that she looks white. Would the therapist say, “Okay, nobody knows who you really are better than you, so I can affirm that you are Caucasian, and even if your parents don’t agree we’ll start the treatment to make you white”?
There’s tremendous pressure from the activist mob for professionals to endorse ‘affirmative therapy’. If they don’t, they’re likely to lose their job and maybe even their licence. Very few have the guts not to go along with it. Even those who have earned international reputations in psychiatry, sexology or psychology and have authored major academic research papers are afraid to oppose the prevailing view. If they do, they suffer academic setbacks and reputational smears.
Shrier says trans girls often start off by binding their breasts to flatten them. It’s uncomfortable and poses risks: back pain, shoulder pain, chest pain, shortness of breath, bruised and fractured ribs. It can permanently damage tissue and leave an ugly appearance. Often girls then move to a double mastectomy. And there’s no turning back because natural breasts can’t be replaced.
They take testosterone to make them more man-like. After a few months body and facial hair sprouts. The girl’s voices start to crack, she develops acne, perhaps some baldness, squarer jaw, muscles grow, etc.
There are risks: cardiovascular disease, greater risk of heart attack, muscle aches, painful cramps, increased sweating, moodiness and aggression. Long term effects include heightened rates of diabetes, stroke, blood clots, cancer. In short, mortality risks are greater.
Other operations can be performed on the girls’ private parts to make them more man-like. The fact is that they destroy the natural God-given biological make up of women and introduce procedures that are full of serious risk.
Shriek says, “Sex-change operations are now commonly referred to” by the medical profession as “gender affirming surgeries”. Despite all the risks and absence of safeguards these transitions continue to be promoted. The adolescent girl who goes down this path will, adds Schrier, “wake up one morning with no breasts and no uterus and think, I was only sixteen at the time. A kid. Why didn’t anyone stop me?”
One girl who identified as a boy told Shrier that the trans group was a cult because “when you’re inside, you believe non-reality and you disbelieve reality”. Being fully trans was considered a form of salvation and a happy life. Once you head in the direction of trans there’s tremendous pressure to go the whole hog. Backing down results in on-line shaming.
At first all seems good. Friends begin to enthuse about what you’ve done and your popularity online skyrockets. But later comes the distress – depression, misery, self-loathing, self-harm, drugs. And detransitioning, walking away, seems an impossibility. They’re plagued with regret, says Schrier. They can’t undo what they’ve done.
The way back
Shrier offers this advice to her readers:
- Don’t get your kids a smartphone; “the statistical explosion of bullying, cutting, anorexia, depression, and the rise of sudden transgender identification is owed to the self-harm instruction, manipulation, abuse, and relentless harassment supplied by a single smartphone”.
- Don’t relinquish your authority as a parent. You’re the parent so don’t be afraid to push back. Lots of parents are inclined to sympathise if their 13-year-old says she’s lesbian. Most parents don’t want to upset their children but want them to feel supported and happy. But even if your child rebels, continue to exert your authority. She’ll feel the presence of a handrail.
- Don’t support gender ideology in your child’s education. If a principal makes trans identification the subject of an assembly to expose bullying it puts gender ideology front and centre.
- Quit sharing every part of your lives (and theirs) on the internet. Once a girl shares doubts about her gender (or anything else) on the internet she can soon feel locked in.
- Consider big steps to separate your daughter from harm. Some parents quit their jobs and went and lived on a farm without internet or to an immigrant community with different values.
- Stop pathologizing girlhood. Don’t label something as a mental disorder; simply set boundaries and punish unacceptable behaviour for what it is.
- Don’t be afraid to admit it’s wonderful to be a girl. Girls have lots of educational and career opportunities. Moreover, a girl should know that “a woman’s most unique characteristic—childbirth—is perhaps life’s greatest blessing”.
We need to stop pandering to the trans proponents and identity politics, says Shrier. “The universities, the schools, the doctors, the therapists, and even the churches have been won over by a dogged ideology that claims to speak for a more important class of victim”. The truth is, she found, that most girls who identified as trans weren’t trans at all and will later regret deeply the physical harm done to their bodies. As reformed Christians we would say, all girls who identify as trans are misled. God does not make mistakes.
What about ‘our’ children?
Whilst Shrier’s book is aimed at a secular audience and transgenderism is less likely to captivate ‘our’ children, it seems inevitable that sooner or later they will in one way or another face it. May God grant that they are never caught up by it. We’re often told, we shouldn’t live by fear. And we don’t need to if we live lives of holiness in love and faithfulness to the LORD and show this in the way we nurture our children. But let’s be frank. How many church children aren’t avid movie watchers and influenced by its attitudes and values? How many have smart phones through which they have easy access to porn and the sorts of You Tube videos that promote transgenderism? How many have friends outside the church with whom they are chatting through social media and who are likely to be influenced by worldly ideologies? And what about our young folks at university and TAFE where such revolutionary notions are supported through the humanities, teacher education, or medical profession? We may trust in the Lord and not fear, yes; but such trust must be accompanied by holiness of life, dedication to the Lord, and shunning worldliness. And God warns us: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
Abigail Shrier, Irreversible Damage: Teenage Girls and the Transgender Craze, Swift Press, London UK, 2021