I was out of town at the end of last week so I missed this story when it was published. We did mention it in the headlines but I think it deserves more space. NY Times columnist Pamela Paul, who argued last year that JK Rowling is not transphobic, published a lengthy piece about detransitioners and changing attitudes about gender-affirming care.
The piece opens by considering the story of Grace Powell who as a young teen decided that transitioning to be a man was the solution to her sense of alienation from her own body. By the time Grace went to college she had taken hormones, had top surgery and was calling herself Grayson. She moved into a male dorm. But looking back on all of that now she wishes people had asked her more questions.
At no point during her medical or surgical transition, Powell says, did anyone ask her about the reasons behind her gender dysphoria or her depression. At no point was she asked about her sexual orientation. And at no point was she asked about any previous trauma, and so neither the therapists nor the doctors ever learned that she’d been sexually abused as a child.
“I wish there had been more open conversations,” Powell, now 23 and detransitioned, told me. “But I was told there is one cure and one thing to do if this is your problem, and this will help you.”…
“What should be a medical and psychological issue has been morphed into a political one,” Powell lamented during our conversation. “It’s a mess.”
Amid all of this, the progressive left has treated trans kids as part of a noble cause which cannot be questioned. This leaves parents in the unenviable position of trying to care for their kids while also being told by the ideologues who surround the issue that there is never cause to question the self-diagnosis of any child.
One mother described a meeting with 12 other parents in a support group for relatives of trans-identified youth where all of the participants described their children as autistic or otherwise neurodivergent. To all questions, the woman running the meeting replied, “Just let them transition.” The mother left in shock. How would hormones help a child with obsessive-compulsive disorder or depression? she wondered…
Many parents of kids who consider themselves trans say their children were introduced to transgender influencers on YouTube or TikTok, a phenomenon intensified for some by the isolation and online cocoon of Covid. Others say their kids learned these ideas in the classroom, as early as elementary school, often in child-friendly ways through curriculums supplied by trans rights organizations, with concepts like the gender unicorn or the Genderbread person.
The ultimate expression of this attitude is the claim that children who are questioned about their chosen gender might kill themselves. As one therapist put it to a mother of a 15-year-old boy who announced he wanted to transition, “Do you want a dead son or a live daughter?”
Parents are routinely warned that to pursue any path outside of agreeing with a child’s self-declared gender identity is to put a gender dysphoric youth at risk for suicide, which feels to many people like emotional blackmail. Proponents of the gender-affirming model have cited studies showing an association between that standard of care and a lower risk of suicide. But those studies were found to have methodological flaws or have been deemed not entirely conclusive. A survey of studies on the psychological effects of cross-sex hormones, published three years ago in The Journal of the Endocrine Society, the professional organization for hormone specialists, found it “could not draw any conclusions about death by suicide.” In a letter to The Wall Street Journal last year, 21 experts from nine countries said that survey was one reason they believed there was “no reliable evidence to suggest that hormonal transition is an effective suicide prevention measure.”
But the reality is that, for some kids, being trans is a passing interest for kids who want an instant identity and attention for being different.
To the trans activist dictum that children know their gender best, it is important to add something all parents know from experience: Children change their minds all the time. One mother told me that after her teenage son desisted — pulled back from a trans identity before any irreversible medical procedures — he explained, “I was just rebelling. I look at it like a subculture, like being goth.”
None of this is welcome news to trans activists who are invested in the idea that children always know best. This is an idea that would be considered laughable in almost any other context. Any parent can tell you that children are wonderful but almost never know best about any number of things simply because they lack experience and context and often the ability to control their own impulses. The same is true in this case and parents should continue to say no to having their children’s lives politicized by gender activists.