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.