There is an argument around the meaning and relevance of the term gender dysphoria since it has replaced ‘gender identity disorder’ in the medical literature. On the one hand there is a push to remove gender dysphoria from the list of necessary conditions to being assessed as transgender in law, but on the other hand the diagnosis is being jealously guarded by trans activists and allies. In summary the attitude seems to be ‘We may not need gender dysphoria anymore but you sure as hell aren’t going to have it either’. This plays out in the outrage shown towards two main groups of women: those who were tomboys as children and who therefore can see the dangers of extreme trans ideology in schools; and those who have teenage daughters who have suddenly become trans-identified with no warning, and who therefore can see the dangers of an ideology which is subject to social contagion.
So who is qualified or entitled to make a diagnosis of gender dysphoria? Gender dysphoria is defined on the NHS website as being ‘…a condition where a person experiences discomfort or distress because there’s a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity’. This is sufficiently open to interpretation for many people to take a view on it. On Twitter recently, trans ally Dr Adrian Harrop admonished a woman for calling her early childhood experience ‘gender dysphoria’:
In the same week US journalist Jesse Singal was dismissive of a woman who had written a post on the phenomenon of Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria, so-called because of the sudden onset of symptoms, usually in teenage girls. The mistake made by Abigail Shrier, according to Singal, was to listen to the mothers of the girls exhibiting these symptoms, and to believe them. Check out the derogatory use of the term ‘a bunch of mothers’.
I would like to make it clear for my part that I am not, and have never been, gender dysphoric. Far be it from me to self-diagnose.
As a young child I felt like a boy. I rejected dolls. I had my hair cut short, I wore shorts and T shirts and I was mad about football. I played with Scalextric, I climbed trees, I set fire to old car tyres in the woods, I trespassed in other people’s back gardens, I went on adventures. I was not George from the Famous Five, who was just pretending to be a boy, I was William from Just William, or I was one of his Outlaws.
But I did not have gender dysphoria.
I called myself by a boy’s name, I wore boys’ clothes, I became a better football player than most of the boys in my school. One day we had a slideshow in class and one of the slides was of an abattoir. I exclaimed ‘I’d LOVE to visit an abattoir!’ and I expected the boys to agree with me and to look at me in admiration for being tough like them. But they didn’t: they, like the girls, looked at me in disgust. My attempt to perform masculinity had failed. I am still embarrassed, looking back.
I never had gender dysphoria though.
I hated women. Women were weak and pathetic, I was never going to grow up into one of them. I thumped my chest to try to stop any breasts growing. As I reached adolescence I despised the girls in my class who wanted to have babies. I had no maternal instinct whatsoever. Suddenly I was expected to behave ‘like a young lady’ (by my parents) but also to be ‘sexy’ (by my peer group). I developed eating disorders: anorexia and then bulimia. One of my sisters, meeting me off the train, exclaimed when she saw me ‘Oh my God, you’ve got no thighs!’ My other sister when she saw me undress, said ‘You look like a Biafran’. I felt validated. Inside I was Johnny Ramone: now my thighs finally agreed. My periods stopped.
But I didn’t have gender dysphoria.
At art college I learned how to weld. When I put in my order for my own portable arc welder, I was told by the tutor in the sculpture department that I could always swap it for a sewing machine when I left college. After college I got a City and Guilds qualification in Light Fabrication and Welding. At my first job interview I was told welding wasn’t for girls: ‘What if the sparks flew down your top and burned your tits?’ At my second attempt I got a job in a garage but finally left after inadvertently setting fire to a Volkswagen. I learned later that due to the fire risk a welder would always be accompanied by a fire-watcher when welding the underside of a car, but that none of the men who worked there had bothered to inform me or to volunteer. I left because of the humiliation, and the realisation I would never be allowed to fit in.
I was very depressed at this point. I was diagnosed with a depressive illness, and sent for counselling. I still didn’t have gender dysphoria.
Shulamith Firestone in ‘The Dialectic of Sex’ explains the Freudian Elektra Complex in terms of feminist theory, and examines the pressure on girls to simultaneously identify with the mother and to resist ending up like the mother. This observation about the female child hits home:
This is why she is so encouraged to play with dolls, to ‘play house’, to be pretty and attractive. It is hoped that she will not be one of those to fight off her role till the last minute. It is hoped she will slip into it early, by persuasion, artificially, rather than by necessity; that the abstract promise of a baby will be enough of a lure to substitute for that exciting world of ‘travel and adventure’.
I was one of those girls, like many others, to ‘fight off her role’. The insights of radical feminist and psychological theory would have been more useful in this situation than a gender ideology which places ‘gender’ as an innate quality rather than an outside pressure. Schools do not teach feminist or psychological theory but they do now teach gender ideology from an early age, via trans groups like Mermaids, Stonewall, Allsorts and Gendered Intelligence. If Mermaids had been around in my childhood, visiting schools with their GI Joe and Barbie gender spectrum theories, I know I would have identified almost 100% with GI Joe, and rejected Barbie in disgust.
But still, I know I was not gender dysphoric.
What I also know is that if I had been told at the time that it was possible to have been ‘born in the wrong body’, that my identification with GI Joe (or Just William) meant that inside I might actually be a boy, I would have jumped at the chance to ‘change sex’. It would be like a dream come true: to continue to wear comfortable clothes and have a practical haircut, and to have my skill at football be a positive thing rather than a threat, and to make everybody call me by my boy’s name. Wow! What if that were possible? What power! What excitement! I didn’t want children anyway.
That is how I would have felt as a child.
Trans activists seem to be very angry at the notion that any old tomboy back in the day might have identified as trans given half a chance. This is especially odd considering the current push for self-ID, a notion that the only criteria for a trans identification should be self-declaration. Alongside the claim that a diagnosis of gender dysphoria should no longer be a pre-requisite for trans status, it is strange to see trans activists gatekeeping so furiously. But still, if a doctor can tell a woman she is wrong about her own self-diagnosis on the basis of a couple of tweets, self-ID is obviously not for everyone.
I often see trans activists and allies dismissing the views of women because they are not trans: saying that women who are mothers or lesbians or who used to be tomboys, can have no insight into what the trans experience feels like. But if experiential knowledge is so revered, then my area of expertise tells me a lot about the pitfalls of growing up female in a male-centred world: about body dysmorphia, eating disorders, risk-taking, addiction, self-harming, depression. Teenage coping strategies such as these are being dismissed and minimised if a confusion with gender identity is also present, and it is the trans lobby groups that have successfully pushed for this. My problems as a teenage girl and young adult would have all been swept up as one under gender ideology, much like consolidating a loan. Neat and tidy. One problem instead of six. I would have loved that. It is often said that you can’t make a child trans, as if the concept of being born in the wrong body is a benign idea with no potential to influence or inform. I disagree: I think you can make a child believe they are trans, and that it’s quite simple to do: just make sure all the adults in a child’s world are singing from the same hymn sheet, and ensure there is no access to a different viewpoint. Again, the trans lobby groups have been quite successful at this.
But I did not suffer from gender dysphoria as a child. (Am I allowed to say that?)
What I believe I did suffer from was the confusion that comes from heavily proscribed gender roles and an inability to escape them. Without any consciousness of the larger patterns at work, I was attempting, like many girls, to shift huge weighty blocks of patriarchy all by myself, without any tools. Forcing a way around one block would only ensure another one would heave into view. A good example is culture: it wasn’t much use to me to reject the messages of the popular culture of the time and run full-tilt from Benny Hill, only to find myself slap bang in the middle of the literary clutches of Henry Miller. When gendered expectations are shored up and policed by both individual men and wider institutions, they become nearly impossible to escape. I didn’t know this when I was young. I just thought I was a bit shit.
It is not just a question of being a ‘tomboy’ with a ‘preference’ for masculine things, it can be in some cases a deep identification. Without the perspective of life experience to draw on, or the insights of a feminist analysis, a personal sense of wrongness, felt by many children who don’t fit in, can easily be mistaken for something else. The insistence of trans lobby groups, that affirmation of a child’s self-belief is the only appropriate treatment for a child identifying as the opposite sex, is in fact a belief that children like me should have been diagnosed as trans. An updated Memorandum of Understanding informs all health professionals in the UK that to explore the underlying reasons for a child’s gender confusion is akin to gay conversion therapy. I’m quite pleased looking back that my parents and teachers largely left me alone.
Here is Shulamith Firestone again:
…she rejects everything identified with her mother, ie servility and wiles, the psychology of the oppressed, and imitates doggedly everything she has seen her brother do that gains for him the kind of freedom and approval she is seeking. (Notice I do not say she pretends masculinity. These traits are not sexually determined). But though she tries desperately to gain her father’s favour by behaving more and more in the manner in which he has openly encouraged her brother to behave, it doesn’t work for her.
If we take the brother in this passage to symbolise boys, and the father to symbolise men, it sums up the problem facing girls as they grow up, which for some will result in a male identification of one kind or another. If society does not provide enough of an alternative narrative for girls, it is more difficult to escape the unwanted fate up ahead. I grew up to a backdrop of Benny Hill and Page 3, which was bad enough, but today’s girls grow up to a backdrop of airbrushed perfection, social media and porn culture. There is a crisis in girls’ mental health in the UK, at the same time as an unprecedented rise in the number of girls identifying as boys.
The dehumanisation of girls is made worse by trans culture. Girls can no longer talk about their own bodies or ask for their own safety, privacy and dignity to be respected, for fear of not being ‘inclusive’ enough. Ubiquitous adult porn tells them they are nothing but fuck holes, Teen Vogue calls them ‘vagina-havers’ and ‘non-prostate owners’, trans culture tells them they have a ‘front hole’. Inclusive trans-friendly language means being referred to as bleeders, menstruators, cervix-owners, uterus-havers, egg-producers and non-men. In a masterclass of lack-of-empathy from the Allsorts trans toolkit, in an attempt to cast them as the oppressors of teenage boys, girls are referred to as ‘cis-gendered females’. The problem for girls is not that they identify as boys but that they identify as human in a world which treats women as less than human. When default human equals male, this can sometimes look like the same thing.
My experience of mental health problems as a teenager and young adult may well have looked very much like gender dysphoria to a teacher or counsellor subject to the influence of today’s ‘trans-awareness training’ as delivered by Mermaids, Stonewall, Gendered Intelligence, Allsorts and others. I would certainly have been ready to be convinced. In the despair and isolation I felt at being unable to ‘be who I really was’ in the world in which I found myself, a trans diagnosis would have provided welcome relief from crippling self-blame. I really really wanted ‘all the answers’, lots of young people do. Adults jumping in with ‘answers’ which involve a lifetime of synthetic hormones and medication, surgery, decreased sexual function, and infertility, are not always what young people need, especially as there is so little long-term evidence of the benefits.
It would appear from the evidence that fewer women transition than men, fewer women than men reach middle age and ‘realise’ they have always been the opposite sex, more women than men believe they may have been ‘transed’ mistakenly had trans ideology been around in their childhood, and within the growing detransitioning community there are more females than males. And yet, despite this, there is suddenly an explosion in the number of girls transitioning, and a whole new phenomenon of late-transitioning teenage girls, which has been labelled Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria. Coincidentally, we have had a decade or so of trans teaching materials and toolkits in schools. It is surely possible that mistakes are being made.
I am not and have never been gender dysphoric.
But trans lobby groups themselves are saying gender dysphoria is no longer necessary to being trans. I might have been, and could have been, diagnosed as trans. Stonewall et al insist that trans people are trans whether or not they have gender dysphoria, or hormones, or surgery, or any kind of treatment at all, at the same time as insisting hormone treatment for children must be started as soon as possible. Trans is now supposedly an identity, relying solely on the say-so of the person concerned. If I had been presented with the option as a child, I may well have self-diagnosed as trans. If I had been encouraged to believe there could be a different sex inside than the one on the outside, it would have made sense to me. It will currently be making sense to many young people. Children are suggestible, and troubled children more so.
In September 2018 Penny Mordaunt announced an inquiry into the sudden rise in the numbers of girls transitioning in the UK. There has been no further update on this inquiry or its methods, but it is essential that this time, unlike the 2015 Trans Inquiry, women are listened to. Trans people may be the experts on trans experience, but women are the experts on female experience, and we are the ones who know best, often through difficult personal experience, all the many reasons why girls today might strongly resist the process of becoming adult human females.
Thank you. I identify with so much. I think I would have been ‘transed’ if I was growing up now. But I have never been gender dysphoric. Particularly liked your reference to Henry Miller. Reading him at far too young an age did me a lot of damage
Yes, Henry Miller… and Norman Mailer and all the rest! Finding Kate Millet’s Sexual Politics helped me a lot at that time, in finally being able to pick apart the messages which were all around in literary circles as well as popular culture
Oh, gosh yes, Norman Mailer. I’d forgotten about him.
“The problem for girls is not that they identify as boys but that they identify as human in a world which treats women as less than human.”
We are so used to hearing about ‘erasure’ and denial of existence that it’s easy to forget (or never learn?) that this was literally true just 2 or 3 generations ago – certainly within the life times of our grandmothers.
Also striking that the last country in EU to give women the vote was Lichtenstein in 1984.
I would absolutely, 100% have transitioned. I’m not gay and I’m not and have never been dysphoric. I simply, as a youngster, rejected everything about being female – body, expectations, clothing, the works. Threats of sterility would not have deterred me – what youngster can ever see themselves as a parent? I am now married with two children. I am still a tomboy and I am absolutely certain I would not be in this position today if the trans-peaking going on now had been around then.
Your story is exactly illustrative of why people should not be encouraged to take any steps as children which can harm them permanently. Or even change them. Fertility is the obvious one. Even if a person never wants or has children, it is horrible to deprive them (or let them deprive themselves) of that choice at least until they are 18, but age 30 would be better.
I so wanted to be a boy. I even wrote it on the bathroom wall! My Mom totally knew this and rightly believed it was a stage. I was a total tomboy. And I was not gay and didn’t have gender dysphoria. On reaching puberty, however, I developed in, how shall I put this, such a curvy manner that there was no hope of being mistaken for a boy, so I tried to conform to femininity. I really think that forcing myself to conform to stereotypes along with the sexual harassment I experienced brought on my bipolar disorder. There was a disconnect between my younger, freer self and my older self. I also believe I would have been much worse off had I not had Alanis Morisette, Hole, Tori Amos, TLC, etc. etc. Girls have nothing these days.
What an excellent article. My mother was born in 1916 and I was the youngest of her 5 children. She was old school. I loved her dearly but her model of being a woman consisted of an innate belief in the inferiority of women – she had ‘no head for figures’, did not believe a woman could survive without a man, thought in a crisis a woman would become hysterical and need a man to ‘slap her face’, and an inability to take any decision feminine. I rejected it all and set firmly on a path of success and challenge – proud of my abilities in mathematics and my university degree in physics. I put off having children for a long time because deep down I was terrified of ending up like her. So is Gender Dysphoria or being ‘trans’ simply a further step – early experiences that convince a child they do not wish to grow up as a member of their own sex? ROGD among young women must have its roots in the restrictive stereotypes that young women are subject to – and having daughters myself who would blame them? The problem is the stereotype not the brain or the body.
Reblogged this on The Conversation Room and commented:
This is an extremely interesting article on a thorny and controversial topic!
Wonderful article. Thank you for sharing what is, essentially, a lot of women’s histories.
Reblogged this on Madam Nomad and commented:
As a survivor of severe sexual abuse for the first 12 years of my life, I wanted very much to be a boy. I keep up the fight against genderist ideology because if I was a child now I would be herded into the pediatric gender clinic to be poisoned, sterilized and mutilated.
Reblogged on Madam Nomad.
Hot damn this is good. Could be expanded into a book.
Well written piece. Thank you
Thank you. This is an important article for so many reasons. That it gave me – a hetrosexual, white, middle-class father of a boy and a girl and husband – such insight is so important as I travel on my journey to be the best father and husband I can be in a world where so few seem interested in understanding others is important.
My words are rubbish and don’t really express the gratitude I feel. Thank you again.
I grew up in an all female household. I couldn’t wait to grow up and be as strong and smart as my mum. Pretty much did whatever I wanted without considering if it was appropriate for girls. I learned about the patriarchy in a school, but didn’t buy into it, aside from wishing you for a handsome prince. What I have is culture dysphoria- it sure can cause me discomfort
I’d be interested to know what you think of those who do you have gender dysphoria, who transitioned when they were well into adulthood. My suspicion a lot of the time, is that those who question children transitioning, which I share concerns about, use it as a gateway opinion in which to then approach the more cemented position of trans people in general.
At which point did you decide that you didn’t really want to be male after all? Was it after discovering feminism, or counselling, or something else?
There was a time when I would probably have gladly accepted a transition the other way. I was brought up in a female-centred extended family (my mum was one of five girls, and any time I was out with my mother, I would be the only boy given that the others would be one or more of my mum’s female friends, one of her sisters and one or more of *her* female friends, and my sister and one or more of hers) and spent a large part of my teenage years in a boarding school where if you weren’t tough (and I couldn’t be because of a medical condition but also was not raised to be), you were a ripe target for abuse and people would call you (among other things) a woman, which I thought if I was, it would have been no bad thing. Boys were dull and many of them seemed to talk about nothing but football; girls were colourful and varied in their appearance, had meaningful friendships and by this time (early 90s) weren’t being told any door was closed to them because they were girls. To put it simply, girls were loved a lot more and hit a lot less, certainly compared to me if not other boys. Not saying my experience is typical but it’s not unique either.
Another “tomboy” here. From the age of about seven to when I was fourteen I was miserable being a girl and ruminated constantly about being a boy, wishing I was a boy, imagining who I would be as a boy, how I would live as a boy. I can clearly remember, decades later, the exact moment I stopped.
I was fourteen, ambling on horseback down a country lane, as usual day dreaming about being a boy and feeling dejected that I would never be a boy or a man. Suddenly, I realised that I was making myself miserable, that I could change my life and be happy if I accepted that I was female, made the most of it and was determined to enjoy it. It shook me at first and I was not sure how to do it.
It took me about a year to get into my stride as a young woman and at first I needed to keep reminding myself to stop ruminating about wanting to be a boy. That all faded away as time went on and, although I never stopped being a tomboy, I was glad to be a woman and never reverted to wanting to be a boy or a man.
Perhaps significant that I was relatively late to puberty and this conscious change of heart and mind happened around about the start of puberty.
I have no idea whether I would have been diagnosed as “dysphoric” but I would have been very tempted to jump on the “trans train” at any point in those seven years before I decided to accept who I was. Of course, if someone who knew how to “work the system” had told me that I needed to claim that I actually believed I was a boy then I would have lied. I would not have understood the requirement as being “diagnostic”, I would have understood it as adults having silly rules that they seemed to make up at random about so many things.
“Trans advocates” might ask if I would I have been just as happy and content now if the opportunity to “transition” had been there for me. I think that it would be ridiculous to ask that question. If the answer was “Yes” it would be, “Yes, *despite* enduring surgery and having to take testosterone all my life” not “Yes, *because* of surgery and taking testosterone all my life.”
Like so many girls now opting to transition, I never told anyone about my “cross dreaming”, so if I had told my parents when I was thirteen or fourteen it would have come “out of the blue”. Perhaps they would have been less surprised than some parents because I was such a “tomboy”? Maybe they would have taken me for psychological help, maybe not? Luckily, I did not need a “shove” from anyone else to change my mindset at fourteen.
From my experience, I think that the first course of action should be to encourage children to explore how they might become more comfortable in their own bodies and with a future living in the sex they were born to. A lengthy phase of undisclosed dissatisfaction and unhappiness about being a girl, these days more than with being a boy, fading away around the times of puberty is known to be typical of the vast majority of children referred to gender services – *when they are not prescribed puberty blockers*.
The medical principle of “first do no harm” is abandoned when children are put on puberty blockers to benefit the very small minority whose dysphoria would have naturally persisted beyond puberty. The majority are put on a path involving life-long medicalisation that they would never otherwise have taken.
A question that should be asked, although it might be difficult or impossible to answer, is what happened to children in the times *before* hormones and surgeries were available? Were they threatening suicide or actually killing themselves when not allowed to cross dress, change their names, etc.? If so, I have never heard it being mentioned. So much of the behaviour and tropes around “transitioning” seem to be a product of the availability of modern medical interventions. I hesitate to call them “remedies” because so many people admit that their dysphoria persists after “transition’.
The trans activist agenda to “depathologise” transgenderism is threatening to women because of the grown men with autogynephilia who want to legally “Self Declare” as female. If they succeed in their “depath” goal then medical services for children will dry up as “dysphoria” will no longer be a medical diagnosis. Most of the children referred to gender services who were not put on puberty blockers turned out to be gay as adults. If there is a continued push to “transition” non-medically then that does look very much like an agenda to erase what we currently know as homosexuality.
I am going a bit off-topic here but the way things are being pushed now by the trans lobby looks very much as if de-medicalising transition will be at the cost of accepting late-onset “un-modified” males as women and the erasure of homosexuality. This prospect might be grasped thankfully by a society concerned about “saving the children” from medical interventions – aren’t we always more concerned than anything about “saving the children”?
Put into the context of the long-term, expressed aim of transgenderism of “Self-ID”, the disturbing boom in medical transition looks like nothing more than a strategic softening-up of society to accept the less extreme option of “depath”. How comforting for the homophobes. How convenient for the autogynephiliac males. How utterly ridiculous that 90% of the population, male and female, could be so comprehensively gamed in this way.
Body dysphoria has been tweaked into gender dysphoria. But body dysphoria is widespread affecting nearly everybody, but focussing on women any woman who is content with her body is a rare creature. A recent study on why many women do not check their breasts for cancer revealed that 2/3rds of women don’t like their breasts. Half of those because they were too big, the other half because they were too small. Hands up women who like having periods? enjoy pregnancy? enjoy childbirth? enjoy the condition of their bodies after childbirth? love their breasts after breast-feeding?
Traditionally women’s issues are ignored. Too mucky for polite conversation. This is what comes with the condition of being a woman – put up and shut up. you become hardened to the woman-reality as a mature woman but it hits girls at puberty like a ton of bricks. Adult women impose the put up and shut up ethos on their daughters having periods for the first time (and when they start rarely regular and light but the worst they will ever be) and growing breasts – a combo that knocks a significant percentage of girls out of sports they were just beginning to excel at (there went my swimming career with irregular, flooding periods lasting up to a week and sometimes arriving 2 weeks later, never regular. Know of any fish that swims faster with large fatty blobs all over its body?)
These days such girls – many – might be encouraged to believe they are trans. When all they wanted was to not have periods a condition obtainable or at least more manageable with the pill and depo-provera. Historically women had no choice but to suffer their female conditions. Now we have better choices. And by now we should have developed some compassion for girls reaching puberty, not adopting the smug female attitude – now you’re in the shit too along with us – hooray!