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A childhood is not reversible

Transgender trend - # February 27, 2022 -


The social transition of childhood is described as "gentle" and "assertive". But what are we preparing a child for when puberty comes, if we pretend that he is of the opposite sex for most of his childhood? A clinical psychologist, who has over 15 years of experience working with adults, children and families, explains the inevitable consequences.

It was when it happened the third time in a week that I started to wonder. The parent would tell me about his teenage years, his mental anguish, suicidal thoughts and self-harm, and then he'd add something, so casually I almost thought I'd missed it: "Oh, and he's a boy (or girl) transgender, who changed sex at the age of five (or six or seven) years old, but everything is fine". And with that, I knew I had been warned. There is nothing to see here.

I am a psychologist, my job is to explore, to search for meaning. I work with families and young people. I try to understand why people behave and feel the way they do and to share that understanding. I sometimes ask awkward questions, especially to parents, about the interconnectedness of the behaviors of everyone in the family and how children can sometimes express the distress of the whole family. In general, I am curious about any significant change in a child's life. I ask, "How did this happen? What was going on at the time? How was this decision made?

But not with this. I can't really ask about their gender identity for fear of being seen as transphobic and being accused of practicing conversion therapy. I'm supposed to celebrate their transgender identity, use preferred pronouns, and ask absolutely no questions about what it might mean. I know what is expected of me.

These children's stories started years ago, and I know that because I've seen some of them unfold on Facebook. Distant friends on Facebook said things like "We've known for a while this day was coming. But today we took the plunge. The hairdresser cut Joanna's hair and we threw away her old clothes. We welcome Joseph to our family,” along with a photo of a beaming, short-haired 4-year-old wearing a Spiderman t-shirt. This is so easy for a four year old to do. Cut or grow out their hair and no one will know the difference, and anyone who cares will be told it's "fully reversible, it's just clothes and pronouns! No one is medically transitioning children! Stop the moral panic!

So now Joanna is Joseph, and they are living their childhood. Everyone is told to call them "he" and they shop in the boys section of the supermarket. They play football and their mother posts muddy photos with the caption "A boy through and through", which earns her a flood of comments about what a great parent she is, how lucky Joseph and about the boy he is. If Joseph likes dolls, if he hangs out with girls or even if he likes to wear dresses, it is because he is breaking gender stereotypes or showing his sensitive side. Joseph spends his childhood asserting himself as a boy every hour of his life. Anyone with scruples shuts up, because they know they will be immediately blocked and kicked out.

Except that Joseph is a boy with a secret. Before the transition, Joanna was a girl who sometimes wanted to be a boy, and it was out in the open, everyone could talk about it. Now Joseph is treated like a boy, but there's something different about him that a lot of people don't know about. He knows it, his parents know it, but people are not allowed to talk about it or ask him what he thinks about it. If they do, they are transphobic.

Joseph has a choice and none of his options are good. Either he's pretending there's nothing different, even though he sees it in the boys' bathroom every day, or he's growing increasingly distressed that everyone tells him that he is a boy, that he lives in the world as a boy, but that he doesn't really have a boy's body. Usually it's too much for him to handle, so he blocks it. He disconnects from his body.

Joseph finds himself in a very difficult position. The various facts of his life do not tally. The adults in his life tell him he is a boy, but he sees that he does not have the body of other boys. Often, he completely refuses to talk about it. This is interpreted as a sign of his gender dysphoria - he doesn't even want to look at or recognize his genitals. His parents tell him they can't talk about it because it would upset him.

Sometimes his parents tell him stories that when he grows up he will be able to have surgery and have a penis, and since he is a child he totally believes them and dreams of the day when he will no longer have a penis. deal with the dissonance between what his family and friends tell him he is, and the body he knows he has. This dissonance was created by his social transition.

Social transition is a strategy that has an expiration date. It is a short-term strategy with long-term consequences. It works so easily for young children - before puberty it's really impossible to tell for many if they are male or female.

The young transitioned child is treated by everyone as the opposite sex and, because he is small, he thinks things are that way. Everyone is happy, and the social transition provides short-term relief for everyone. The child is happy, the parents are happy, we all celebrate. But in the long run, it creates a problem that is not reversible. Puberty will arrive, and the child who has undergone a social transition is placed in an impossible situation. He's been told all his life that he IS a boy (and anyone who says otherwise is transphobic), but his body knows otherwise.

A childhood is not reversible. What we are told in our childhood matters for our whole lives. It's part of how we understand ourselves and how we situate ourselves in the world. A child who grows up being told he is a boy knowing he is a girl will only have this experience. He can't go back and start over.

Joseph grows up and for several happy years there are no apparent problems. Her parents are heavily involved in the transgender community and feel very close and comforted in their decision. Joseph likes his short hair and his soccer shoes. He's part of the gang.

Then he turns 10, and his breasts begin to grow.

He's spent the last six years being told he's a boy. Her childhood was in no way prepared for the fact of her biological femininity. He didn't identify with female role models, didn't discuss what puberty means for girls. It is something that has been denied and ignored, or not talked about at all. And now her breasts are starting to grow.

This is a tender and vulnerable time for all young girls, but for those who have been told they are boys, it can be devastating. Social transition worked for Joseph, as pre-pubescent boys are very similar to pre-pubescent girls, but now things will change. Joseph's distress becomes intense. He hates his body, he hates himself, he can't stand the idea of rules and curves. They start talking about self-harm, cutting themselves, because they can't handle the strength of their feelings.

Of course they can't. They were prepared for it, from the day they were proudly taken to the hairdresser to have a "boy cut". Social transition works so well in the short term, but in the long term it is impossible that it will not cause even greater distress. Because a childhood is not reversible, and this child spent his being told he was the opposite sex. The time he might have had to get used to his biological reality, he spent hiding it. He could have learned that he can express himself any way he wants, whether female or male, but instead he learned to deny the biological reality of his body.

Today, of course, the distress Joseph feels is seen as resurfacing gender dysphoria. The parents say to themselves: "We were right", "Look how anxious he is about puberty, imagine if we had to deal with this for the last six years". This is when the suicidal thoughts start, because the child is faced with an incredible reality: he cannot continue to be treated like a boy, despite having the body of a girl. Parents can't fix things anymore. Of course, they are upset. Of course, they feel intense distress. Of course, they desperately need puberty blockers. They want everything to go back to how it was. They've been sold a lie, like everyone around them.

What is the alternative? The parents tell me that their child was inflexible, that there was no other choice. They had to change their sex, otherwise... what?

Transitioning is an adult solution, and it's an explanation our generation has found for children who challenge stereotypes. The child behaves a certain way, the adults say "trans" and act accordingly. The adults are relieved because they feel like they have found the solution - and they are afraid of what might happen to their child growing up, because they have been told that the consequences of not transitioning from a child are disastrous. Usually suicide.

There is really little evidence of this.

To my knowledge, no research has been conducted on the outcomes of children who are supported to express themselves as they wish, while still being referred to by their biological sex. We had several such children in my elementary school. One of them played football, hung out with the boys, and even wore a boy's swimsuit for the school swim. I was confused. I came home that day and told my mom that Emma could also be a boy's name.

Later, I discovered that Emma was actually a girl who looked like a boy, on purpose. She and I have become good friends. We supported her so that she could express herself as she wanted, but no one transformed her. She went through puberty like the rest of us. She is a mother now and works as an arborist.

I think of Emma when I see these distressed teenagers, and I wonder what our generation forgot our parents knew. Because they kept the reality for us, when we were too young to tell the difference.

That's why I tell parents to take their children's sexual distress seriously, but also to take it lightly. Take their desire to cut their hair, wear Spiderman t-shirts, and play soccer seriously, but know that doesn't make them boys. They don't know it. Young children think that what is external IS what makes a girl or a boy. They don't know it is otherwise.

We know it. We have to maintain this space for them. The space where they can do whatever they want, be whatever they want - but not change sex or fly to Mars, because neither is really possible. We can imagine it, fantasize it, but we have to keep that space for them. Because they don't know.

There is an alternate universe where Joanna's parents cut her hair and bought her a Spiderman T-shirt, but didn't post it on Facebook. Where they told Joanna that of course they can call her Jo if she wants, that she can play football all she wants, and that she will always be their daughter because you can't change gender . It's a world where Joanna's parents let her be herself without giving her adult explanations like "you're trans", and let her grow up and discover the reality of her female body. A body that is difficult to live in and that most women would like to see less dirty and less embarrassing at some point, but which is her birthright and the only body she will ever have. In this universe, Joanna's mother and sister talk to her about puberty, because no one has to deny her female biology. No one tells her that she needs medication to keep her from going through "bad puberty".

When Jo hits puberty, she isn't thrilled with the changes like many girls. She doesn't like her new boobs very much and the periods don't really impress her. But she doesn't feel like this developing body is in deep disagreement with the person she is, because she spent her childhood knowing that she's a girl and that she can express herself as she does. wishes. She doesn't feel like she has to get rid of indicators of femininity in order to pursue the illusion that everyone has created around Joseph. She was not disconnected from the reality of her femininity.

Social transition is not reversible, because what we tell our children for years cannot be reversed. When we disconnect them from their biological sex, we create patterns of denial and secrecy. We set them up to hate their bodies at puberty, to crave blockers and binders, because for years we told them they could change sex, and they believed us. They desperately want to return to the years when no one knew anything different, but that time will never return. Time is not reversible.

They don't know it is otherwise. They think it can last forever, that they will wake up one day transformed into a male body. They live in a world of fantasy and magic. We know better. We owe it to them to maintain this space.

We need to tell them they can dream of being whatever they want to be, express themselves however they want, but we know they can't change their gender. We have to tell them, even if they find it painful. We must be able to contain this distress and listen, while keeping reality in mind. Because our only other option is to betray the trust our children have in us, and the consequences will be permanent.

In original versionhere

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