It’s always good to read stories of successful transition. S was a tomboy, prodigiously athletic and daring. He wanted to be a boy when he was about four. He cut his hair with scissors. His mother wondered if he was lesbian. He tried dating a boy, aged about 14, but did not feel it. He had an athletic scholarship to an Ivy League university, had a crew cut and wore a suit and tie. He came out to his parents, and they opposed him, so strongly that he stopped talking about transition. He had to work in an unpaid internship, for a year, and then had some trouble finding work. His father suggested he should try “appearing less unusual”. But he got a job in legal services.
J had two lesbian mothers. He was talented at ballet, and found a troupe which allowed him to train as a man. He has had chest masculinisation, and says this is the best day of his life.
Both J and S have had to cut off contact with their parents. The stories are told as horror, of vanishing into an “oubliette” on line, of delusion and mutilation, by transphobe author Abigail Shrier in “Irreversible Damage”.
Shrier does not believe in trans. She claims only 0.01% of the population has gender dysphoria. This is wrong by an order of magnitude: about 50,000 people in Britain are on waiting lists for gender clinics or have transitioned, 0.1%. In 2000, it was about 0.01%, because other people were too frightened or in denial. These are adults, making our own choices.
Interviewing parents who opposed transition to such an extent that their children have cut off all contact, she hears that trans internet eggs youth on into transition, coaching them in what to say, and manipulating them with conditional positive regard, denouncing them as “frauds” if they act according to assigned gender stereotypes. Well, yes, we do discuss coming out to parents, including what to do if we meet uncompromising denial, but a young trans person in the groups writes,
It’s generally understood that everyone is going on their own path. I can think of several people who were/are questioning and may really be seeking more self expression or more agency in their lives. They brought a lot to the groups.
Oddly enough, we are not predators, seeking to ensnare and deceive cis teens into mastectomy. What could we possibly gain?
As Shrier’s sympathies are entirely with the denialist parents, she makes them look much worse than an objective witness might. The last mention of one couple is them ranting about how they paid for their son’s private school and university, rent, health insurance and phone charges, as if that entitles them to have him return their calls. Perhaps they saw money as a substitute for loving curiosity about their son’s needs.
Shrier is an opinion columnist for the Wall Street Journal, and much of her book “Irreversible Damage” is a standard conservative moan about how teens aren’t like they were in her day. Instead they “slip down a customised internet oubliette, alone”. She was born in 1978, and pities those born after 1990 for having different experiences: they must be in danger. She wants to limit sex education: I hear her sharp intake of breath as she writes of children who know what demisexual or nonbinary is. “They may even have learned these at school, from a teacher.”
The same horror, which she expects in her readers, is in this line: “As a ‘trans boy,’ G had friends- lots of them.” The scare quotes are of course hers.
Abigail’s stories are full of conservative moralizing. S’s brother was in a car crash, prescribed opioids, and when he was taken off them suddenly, he turned to heroin.
There is praise from the standard anti-trans campaigners: Helen Joyce of The Economist, Ken Zucker, Ray Blanchard and Michael Bailey. There is also Ayaan Hirsi Ali, beloved of conservatives for criticising Islam, branching out.
Shrier says she anonymises accounts by changing names and minor details so that the trans people can’t accuse their parents of treachery.
Shrier pays tribute to “genuine” trans adults, who, she says, are honest and courageous. She accepts their description of a body that feels all wrong, just not when younger people not yet transitioned or only recently transitioned give it. For the conservative, eventually the truth is undeniable, but she fights it every step of the way.
She distinguishes true trans from “trans activism”. Apparently you can’t be true trans if you speak up for trans rights. That makes no sense at all, for anyone willing to think about what she is saying.
Anything to prove trans is wrong will do. At one point she crows that only 12% of AFAB trans want phalloplasty, but later says the operation leaves some people with incontinence and permanent pain.
The Times, of course, gave a breathlessly admiring review: Shrier’s book is explosive, punchy, analytical and written with zest, and “controversial” even though it repeats the Times’ strict orthodoxy. Oddly enough the reviewer corrects Shrier’s statistic to 0.1% of the population being trans, but otherwise repeats her distortions.