“I thought I was transgender”
by Émilie Dubreuil, Société Radio-Canada, May 13, 2019, unofficial translation
In adolescence, they wanted above anything to change their sex. They started the process, but along the way, some of them realized they hadn’t done so for the right reasons, so they returned to their natal sex. Their personal accounts multiply by the day on the Web. They call themselves “detransitioners.” It’s a recent phenomenon, a rare one, but that is turning up throughout the Western world.
“I began to question my gender. Am I a girl, a boy, between the two? Who am I? That’s the question you often ask yourself as a teen.” [*]
Clara, age 14, loves literature, magazines, and words. I therefore suggested that she write me a letter to tell me about her history.
When I received her e-mail, it was with this title:
“I thought I was transgender.”
The title is in past tense.
Like Clara, youths such as Jay, Jesse, Helena, Dagne or Eva Michelle also talk about their transgender “phase” in the past tense. They all told me about having wanted a change of sex at some point during their teenage years before changing their mind, sometimes earlier, sometimes later. It’s a new reality for science and the majority of specialists are quite perplexed about these cases. Were they from the beginning really transgender? Who are they? Why did they want to change sexes? Are these “detransitioners” just a margin of error in our new way of treating young transgender people?
For several months, Clara is obsessed with the issue of her gender: boy or girl? Then a truth dawns upon her. She doesn’t feel very “girly,” so she will be a boy. She is a boy. And her parents support her.
Her mother, a dynamic woman with an open mind, gets her a binder (a kind of corset), designed to hide her breasts. She buys her boys’ clothes. And, of course, she and her ex-husband inform the school which, without hesitation, changes her first name to her chosen name, “Franck.” The teachers also get on board, the other students are happy and the transition goes well. And her mother can let out a great sigh of relief.
“On every website I visited, they said that trans kids who were rejected experience distress,” she told me. “I didn’t want that. When you’re a parent, whatever the cost, you want your child to be happy.”
Shortly after having come out as trans, Franck gets an appointment at a Montreal paediatric clinic where Quebec minors are sent when they are ill at ease with their gender.
Franck is then 13. He wishes to have his breasts removed and to take testosterone. He talks about it a lot. He dreams about it, projects himself in the future. “I watched a lot of transition videos on YouTube and they inspired me.”
But, when the endocrinologist suggests puberty blockers, which would inhibit female sex hormones, he becomes fearful. The doctor is patient and suggests he take whatever time needed; he will wait.
Franck and his parents return to the clinic three times, and each time, Franck equivocates.
“I was trying really hard to conform to the new label I’d given myself. I tried to behave in a more masculine manner. I tried to forget my feminine side, to forget myself, and it didn’t work at all. I maintained a fake smile, but I didn’t feel well. I assessed things and realized, finally, that I wasn’t transgender, but simply a lesbian.”
Not Franck, but Clara.
“My family knows, my three closest friends know. But beside them, no one knows at this point, so I am going to have to make another coming-out. This really scares me; I don’t really want to do it, but I know I will have to at some point. Thanks for having read this!”
In the West, the number of young people who want to change sexes is growing. So is the number of those who do so, as witnessed by the many accounts of youths who document on social networks their transitions to the other sex. Are there more transgender young people? No, say voices from all directions, this is just a historical correction, that reflects social evolution on this issue. After having been kept in the dark by intense discrimination, especially on the part of psychiatrists, taboos are falling and treatments are more accessible, despite remaining difficulties.
At 78 years old, Dr. Susan Bradley’s curriculum is impressive. She opened the first clinic for transgenders in Toronto in 1975. Her first patient to have a transition is now more than 50 years old. She has been the chief psychiatrist for the Children’s Hospital in Toronto and professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto. She sat on a committee tasked with writing the definition of gender dysphoria in the DSM-5, the compendium of diagnoses recognized by the profession, their Bible of sorts.
Therefore, it is from the strength of her experience that she brings a very different perspective on the issue of puberty blockers, but also on the malaise of the youths to which these drugs are increasingly prescribed.
At the beginning of the new century, Bradley had been an ardent defender of the treatment protocol put in place in Amsterdam – a protocol funded by a major pharmaceutical company (Ferring) which manufactures a very widely used brand of blockers.
“I am becoming aware today that by blocking puberty, we also interfere in the psychological development of adolescents,” says Bradley.
“If we don’t interfere, the majority of dysphoric children will reconcile with their biological sex at puberty and will realize that they are simply gay. But if we put them on blockers, that does not happen.” (Dr. Susan Bradley)
An Early Manifestation of Homosexuality?
A dozen studies have been undertaken across the world and arrive at essentially the same findings: the majority of children who live with a gender dysphoria reconcile with their biological sex at puberty.
One speaks here of “desistance.” This is the word used in the specialized vocabulary.
And the vast majority of these youths turn out to be homosexual.
This research divides specialists, who argue using studies published primarily in the scientific review International Journal of Transgenderism. The tone is not always courteous, which is unusual in the generally sober world of scientific reviews.
One of the most vociferous critics of those studies goes as far as to suggest that there be no longitudinal studies and that one should merely listen to the children. This critic also attacks the etymology of the words “persistence” and “desistance” that have entered the scientific jargon. She dismisses these words as pejorative.
In Sweden, a researcher went as far as to publish a study, the conclusion of which was rather original for science: he asked his colleagues to stop bickering! “The children and their families don’t need clinicians fighting, but responsible treatment based on solid data,” he wrote in summary.
The link between the manifestation of homosexuality in youth and gender dysphoria is disquieting. On April 8th, the Times of London published an article with a disturbing title: “It feels like conversion therapy for gay children, say clinicians.”
In the last three years, five medical doctors have quit London’s Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS). They told The Times that many young gay and lesbian victims of intimidation believe that changing sex will spare them from the cruelty of homophobia. And, according to their word, this particularly affects young lesbians. These clinicians are worried about the risk of potentially putting under treatment a lot of children who are simply homosexual and feel so ill at ease with their body that they come to think that they must change it. Doctors even share that among employees of the clinic, there is a dark strain of humour where some say, “There would be no gay people left.”
Either way, the link between interiorized homophobia and gender identity is worrying. Last year, researchers at the University of Arizona wanted to know if homophobic intimidation had an influence on gender identity. They found that the more youth were victims of homophobia (insults, rejection, etc.), the more they wanted to change sex.
Jay, Eva Michelle and Internalized Homophobia
At school, Jay was subjected to the harassment of his classmates, who called him faggot and other homophobic epithets. Then when he entered college, he discovered the trans movement.
“All at once, I ceased being abnormal, I ceased being homosexual, I was a woman! That explained everything. I was born in the wrong body; therefore it was normal that I desired men.”
At a clinic that advocated for trans rights and that practised the “informed consent” approach, they quickly grant Jay’s wish, to begin a hormonal treatment. In the beginning it’s wonderful. It feels good. He starts dressing in women’s clothes. He changes his name.
“I have never had as much libido as during that period. It was wonderful. It was a project, a dream of becoming a new human being, I was euphoric.”
And then the doctor who is treating him offers to move on to the next step: the ablation of his testicles. Then, everything goes wrong. All of a sudden, Jay can no longer ejaculate. That problem triggers anxiety and questioning. He falls into a deep depression and begins a therapy.
With the psychiatrist, Jay realizes he has taken a wrong turn. “I was gay and did not accept it. It was as simple as that. I’ve never been a woman. I wanted to make myself and all others else believe that I was a woman, because the idea of changing bodies when you are not feeling well in yours is so seductive!”
“Today, I have breasts and a penis, my face could be one of a woman or a man,” sighs Jay, who says that, on top of everything, he feels hatred from his old transgender friends for having expressed regrets. He does not even dare go to the swimming pool, afraid to show his body to others.
“Changing my sex was supposed to liberate me, but it did the reverse. I am now dependent on hormones for the rest of my life. I have hot flashes like a menopausal woman and I don’t have sexual relations,” he says.
“Why did no one help me accept myself as a feminine gay man?” (Jay)
Our long interview over, he whispers: “I have felt suicidal and it is because of my useless transition…”
Eva Michelle also thought she was transgender
“When I started menstruating, I wanted to die,” she tells me. “At 14 years old, I asked my doctor to remove my breasts. Sometimes I would hallucinate that a penis had appeared between my legs.”
At 15, she goes to a Toronto clinic where she is quickly prescribed testosterone. She then dresses like a boy and hangs out with transgender activists. But she does not take her pills. “Something inside was keeping me back.”
Then Eva Michelle falls in love with a woman and has a sort of epiphany. “That was a shock,” she remembers, “that desire to be a lesbian woman with the woman I loved. With her, in intimacy, I really wanted to be a woman, not a man, it was very clear.”
Eva Michelle, who now lives in western Canada, recounts: “I grew up in a dysfunctional family. I was anorexic at the time and I was very unhappy in my homogeneous surroundings where there were no models of lesbian women. I therefore thought I was a transgender man. Today, I’ve accepted my body, who I am. I am masculine, a masculine girl, that’s all. No need to take pills for that.”
Transgenderism in youth is a delicate subject to approach for everyone. The young trans, the young ex-trans, their parents, but also the health professionals. “These are conversations that are important to have, but we need to put on some white gloves,” says Michelle Blanc. “These discussions should not harm trans youths, who have suffered enough already and who need to be taken seriously.”
It is a fact that transgender people suffer and hospitals are on the front line. In the paediatric psychiatry unit of the Montreal Children’s Hospital, 20% to 30% of adolescents who are admitted for mental health problems (depression, suicidal thoughts, etc.) question themselves in regard to gender.
Last fall, it was one patient out of two.
“Informed consent,” between activism and medicine
Dr. Martin Gignac, chief of the paediatric psychiatric unit of the Montreal Children’s Hospital, asserts that a confused youth would not be able to simply throw themselves into the arms medicine science in order to change their bodies. “That would not happen in Quebec: we do serious and rigorous work, we investigate to make sure that this is not just a phase.”
Throughout the western world, adolescents convinced they are born into the wrong body talk among themselves and give each other advice on social media. Because of the length of waiting lists in medical establishments, they look for so-called Informed Consent clinics.
These clinics have multiplied everywhere in the western world. On the website of one British Columbia clinic, we can read the philosophy that supports that approach: “The informed consent model is used primarily because we believe in the right of auto-determination of transgender people. We believe that transgender identity is an identity and not pathology.” The clinic elaborates that this does not mean “obtaining hormones on demand.” At the clinic, The Unicorn, transgender youth can obtain appointments as young as age 16. “If it is clear for me that the youth knows what they want, that they are clearly dysphoric and understand the secondary effects of the treatment, I can prescribe drugs quickly, but I am very vigilant, these are serious treatments and we need to explain the benefits, but also the risks to the patients,” says Dr. Robert Pilarski who recently opened a gender clinic in Montreal.
In Ontario, youth impatient to transition share on social media the names of the clinics that adhere to the so-called “informed consent” philosophy. Michelle Blanc, who is familiar with Montreal’s transgender milieu, is not worried. To the contrary, she salutes the work of the Quebec clinicians who work with youth and do a good job assessing their cases, because, she says, “it’s really not easy to be a transgender person and we should not treat assessments lightly.”
However, some doctors are less scrupulous. In Ontario, last fall, Dr. James Scott Bradley Martin, whose clinic was very popular on social media, lost his medical licence. According to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, this doctor, who was seeing about 30 transgender people a week, lacked judgment in prescribing masculine hormones to an adolescent girl after a first consultation of about 30 minutes. In Quebec, the Collège des médecins claims to have received no complaints of this kind.
Jay and Eva Michelle attended informed consent clinics that were quite militant. “One day, I understood that my doctor was herself a transwoman,” remembers Jay. Eva Michelle describes her own clinic as a very militant one, in downtown Toronto.
A decision for the psychotherapist or for the youth?
“We need to talk!” Marcus Evans tells me from his London apartment, “for the good of the children, for all the children, we need to have a deep conversation.”
Until recently, this experienced psychotherapist was one of the administrators of the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, which houses the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS), the most important gender identity clinic in the UK.
However, this winter, Marcus Evans has, like many doctors who spoke to the London Times, resigned from his position. In a long letter he deplores what he believes to be an attempt on the part of Tavistock to suppress an internal report, leaked recently to the media, in which clinicians complained of having neither sufficient time to assess in depth their young patients, this because of various pressures: from their peers, from pro-trans groups, from social media, and from youth and their families.
“The clinicians are pressured to direct cases towards medical intervention, and there is increasing pressure not to interrogate the young patients,” says a psychotherapist, anonymously. Others, also cited in the Tavistock report, and again anonymously, are saying the same thing.
Marcus Evans does not deny these children’s suffering, far from it. Their decision to change sex might be the solution, he says, but nothing forbids “deepening our engagement with the child and their family before making such a decision.”
“Childhood and adolescence are complex developmental processes. Let’s try to avoid jumping to conclusions,” he says.
But how can we bide our time without placing obstacles in the difficult path of an adolescent who feels divorced from their own body? Indeed, this is the reason today why the “affirmative approach” is being advocated throughout the world for transgender youth, in order to reduce their suffering.
In Montreal, Florence Ashley, a member of the McGill Research Group on Health and Law and about to obtain a master in bioethics related to trans issues, goes even further. “They” just published an article in the Journal of Medical Ethics which proposes to completely abandon mental health assessments, including for minors, to the extent that youths can provide an informed consent. “The assessments are not going to help prevent detransitions. You cannot predict the evolution of gender. The assessments are very stereotypical, based on cliché behaviour, binary. They discourage free and honest exploration,” says Ashley. “They can even incite people to lie or to give ready-made answers to the clinician in order to obtain the sought transition.”
The academic also argues that many detransitioners are happy to have lived a transition, even if they have changed their mind. “Some are happy to have been able to try, that has helped them to understand their identity.”
The Affirmative Approach or Self-Identification
In Quebec, the Federation autonome de l’enseignement published a 2017 guide titled Mesures d’ouverture et de soutien pour les jeunes trans et non binaires (Welcoming and support dispositions for trans and non-binary youth). Its main guidelines reflect the affirmative approach to gender that is advocated by the vast majority of gender specialists and by WPATH.
It reads: “The only trustworthy indicator of gender of a trans or non-binary youth is their self-identification. Dispositions created for these youths should be guided by their personal history, their needs, their experiences and their explicit will.”
Annie Pullen Sansfaçon believes that the affirmative approach is the solution. “When a youth asserts that their assigned at birth sex does not correspond to their gender, this must be accepted,” says this professor of Social Work at University of Montreal and member of the Paediatric and Adolescent Gender Dysphoria Affirmative Working Group, an international group of doctors, mental health specialists, researchers and trans activists. She is also the mother of a transgender child.
“There are still psychiatrists that are questioning it; it is very violent to deny the identity of someone. There are also teachers who refuse to use these youths’ correct pronoun, this is also very violent,” she believes.
The majority of stakeholders believe that the number of those that regret their transition is too low to justify questioning this affirmative approach which has proven successful with gender dysphoric children.
“What we have generally observed with the adolescents, is that the small percentage of those who decide to revert to an expression of gender which corresponds to the gender they were assigned at birth, do so not because of a mistake but because they are experiencing family rejection or they are the target of transphobia,” maintains, by e-mail, Montreal psychologist, Francoise Susset, also a member of the Paediatric and Adolescent Gender Dysphoria Affirmative Working Group.
At his clinic, Dr. Montoro has seen regretful youth. From 2% to 5% of cases. “For sure, there are some who are going to desist, and I would like to be able to anticipate it,” he admits, “but when I see the majority of youth who arrive with gender dysphoria and, who, thanks to the transition, are doing better in school, live with less anxiety, have less suicidal thoughts, I find that this is very interesting work.”
“In truth, we have no idea, there is no research allowing us to say how many desisters there are,” Dr. Susan Bradley says with more nuance. “I am personally very attentive to this phenomenon. We have to listen carefully to what these young ‘detransitioners’ have to tell us.”
The medical director of a Swedish gender clinic explained last April on public television that detransitioners often experience shame and rejection and they are often in major crisis. As more and more young patients come back to this clinic with regret, it now offers specialized post-traumatic therapy for detransitioners.
Detransitioners Want to Be Heard
Last January, Helena, Jesse and Dagne met for the first time in person in New Mexico, with the goal of founding an official association of ‘detransitioners.’ They are all in their young twenties. Two of them live in Illinois, the third in Montana. They were born women, then, at the end of puberty, they followed treatments to become men and attended “informed consent” clinics that now identify as “militant.” Today, they are regretful.
“We are the Pique resilience project. We want to create podcasts and videos for YouTube and be heard. We refuse to be silenced. It is important that we be listened to!” they exclaimed in an interview they granted me, through Skype.
The three young women put their finger on contemporary hurts and on a troubling feminine malaise.
“We know, we do, that our experiences are representative of a new phenomenon, a malaise.” (Jesse)
Helena was fearful of becoming a woman
At 16, Helena discovers the trans movement on social media. At 18, she starts taking testosterone, cross-sex hormones which she will take for 17 months. “At 19, I realized it was a mistake and I stopped.”
As an adolescent, she hated her hips, her budding breasts, and suffered from anorexia. “I hated the physical expression of my womanhood. My breasts, my hips were synonymous with weight gain. I had practically stopped eating, and then I told myself: “Hey, guys don’t go through this.”
Helena alludes to contemporary phenomena which, she says, make attractive the idea of no longer being a woman.
“On Instagram, with the images of very beautiful women, feminine, sexy, you tell yourself there is no other way. I told myself: ‘I will need to become a sexual bomb, to shut up, and become a commodity item.’ That triggered in me an intense fear, an intolerable anxiety and, on the other hand, I did not want to be a lesbian.”
Helena remembers crises at home. “When my mother was saying: ’You can be a young woman without falling into those girly clichés. You can be a kind of girl after your own heart’s”…I would scream: “No, I don’t want to be a hairy lesbian! No! Not a lesbian! I am a man, I am a man!”
Pornography also contributed to feeding her fears. “At school, I would hear guys talk about the pornography they were discovering on the Web. I found it disgusting, the way in which women were being humiliated, especially the rape-based pornography. This really does not make you wish to be a woman.”
Jesse Didn’t Like Herself
Jesse wanted nothing but to feel good in her body. However, very early, she already had the impression that the body she inhabited was not hers. Therefore, at 18, she changes her name, identifies as a trans man and starts taking testosterone.
“I lived through various traumas in my childhood and I thought that changing sex would provide an escape from my life. All my anxiety was funnelled through it. Becoming a man was creating a positive change, the possibility of reincarnation.”
For more than a year, Jesse is very happy, and then the secondary effects of the drugs start to weigh her down. The testosterone changes her mood; she has fits of anger and cardiac palpitations.
“I was not satisfied with my physical changes either,” she realized. “Social media tend to feature beautiful trans men, popular YouTubers who become super attractive. I knew I would never become a supermodel, but I still wanted to feel super cool. And then, it hit me. I realized it was some sort of fantasy, or mirage. I understood,” she tells me with a smirk, “that the transition was not going to turn me into a sexy YouTuber and that I was always going to remain myself.”
Dagne Felt Ill at Ease With Being a Girl
“I was 15 when I discovered on social media that a girl could become a guy,” remembers Dagne. “I knew at the time that I was bisexual and I opened a Tumblr account. I started to identify as a trans man. I told my parents. For two years, I harassed them in order to get hormones.”
Dagne begins treatment at 17. And then, during her second year at college, far away from home and from her trans friends, she falls in love with a woman and has long discussions with her. “I was asking myself why I did not want to be a girl. What was making me feel so uneasy about being a woman? Why did I hate myself so much? Those thoughts took over my life for six months. I was wondering if it was a new phase in my gender dysphoria; and then, one morning, I stopped taking hormones and went back to using the pronoun ‘she.’”
“Being trans not only did not bring me happiness, but it worsened my problems significantly. That’s one of the reasons I have detransitioned. I did not want to be sad for the rest of my life. Being trans made me so unhappy, unhappier than I had ever been. Nobody wants to hear that story.”
Dagne particular regrets that adults let her wear binders on her budding breasts.
“I was a member of the swim team and I had a pretty good respiratory capacity, but at 22, my respiratory capacity is now damaged. My lungs and rib cage were oppressed at a time when my body was developing.” (Dagne)
Jesse bemoans the effects of testosterone on her body. “I live with serious physical and mental consequences. Today, this idea of changing one’s body, which passes as progressive, seems to me paradoxically regressive. There’s space in our society for people who don’t conform to their biological sex, but who can be different, non-binary, without taking medication for the rest of their lives.”
A Study on “detransitioners” Is Deemed Politically Incorrect
James Caspian, a psychologist specializing in gender identity, lives in London. In 2016, he is contacted by a plastic surgeon from Belgrade, Serbia, who finds he operates more and more often on people who regret having had a sex change and wish to return to their original sex.
Caspian is not surprised.
At about the same time, he has received an e-mail from a young women’s organization in the United States, who call themselves re-genders. They wanted to organize their first convention.
Caspian is a long-time advocate for trans youth and has served for years on the Board of the Beaumont Trust, which funds support programs for young British trans.
The specialist tells himself that there is a phenomenon to be studied among these regreters. He therefore submits a Masters research project on desistance to the small UK Bath Spa University. He is turned down: his subject is deemed politically incorrect.
The Project’s Refusal Letter
The psychologist decided to sue the University, which generated some interest in the British media and earned James Caspian dozens of bitter calls and e-mails. “Transactivists fear that these stories will push back the rights of trans youth,” says Caspian. He understands this, and sympathizes, knowing the trials faced by transgender people.
But he invokes the Hippocratic oath. “We ignore the voices of those people who say that we have done them harm by prescribing a transition that has proven undesirable.”
That is why he feels that we must try to have more empathy for these youths who change their minds.
A phenomenon of social contagion?
Samuel Veissière has tattoos on his hands and chest and, invariably, a small toque that seems stuck to his head. He could be the front man of a grunge group, but teaches medical anthropology at McGill University and, as such, is interested in how distress is expressed in our modern societies.
He has studied the impact of social networks on depression in young people, and male discomfort in the #MeToo era. In short, he analyzes and studies the impact of contemporary phenomena on the human psyche.
It was with these considerations in mind that he published a popular science article last November in the prestigious US magazine Psychology Today.
The professor echoes a hypothesis developed on the basis of a survey by Professor Lisa Littman, of Brown University in Rhode Island, who attempted to explain the explosion in the number of adolescents who come to define themselves as transgender, particularly young girls.
“Lisa Littman developed a hypothesis that beyond the typical cases of gender dysphoria, whose symptoms appear in early childhood and other typical cases of dysphoric adolescents, there might be a new phenomenon she calls ROGD, for Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria.”
There is already a parents’ association named after this concept. Parents of ROGD Kids, founded by a Canadian woman, are active in approximately 40 North American cities.
“This phenomenon would appear in adolescence with assiduous streaming of specialized Internet sites and frequenting school peers who themselves identify as trans,” explains Samuel Veissière, summarizing Lisa Littman’s thesis.
“I added to it the hypothesis that there could be certain sociogenic triggers, a kind of sociological contagion, in the development of this trans-identity among some young people.” Not all, he insists, “but some.”
Professor Littman’s article, published in August 2018 in the PLOS One review, attracted the wrath of trans researchers and activists. Although duly published, and therefore having been vetted by a peer review committee, the article was attacked on its methodology and subjected to a revision. Moreover, Brown University withdrew the press release that had been promoting it on its website, which led to accusations of censorship, including one from the former Dean of Harvard University’s Faculty of Medicine, Dr. Jeffrey S. Flier.
Critics lambaste this survey for having, among other things, recruited its respondents from websites of worried, and therefore possibly transphobic, parents; they further assert that parents are, in any case, bad judges of what is happening in the lives, hearts and minds of their teenage children.
Is the transgender issue a taboo?
The reception given to Samuel Veissière’s article, entitled “Why Is Transgender Identity on the Rise Among Teens? A new study of social contagion raises important clinical and ethical questions,” has not been warm, to say the least.
In his small office in the Faculty of Psychiatry at McGill University, he reads a few messages received after publication of his article. “Listen to this one, he says: ‘You are guilty of such violence against transgender children that you ought to be jailed!’”
“I strongly believe that people with gender dysphoria should receive appropriate treatment, he says, and research shows that it is crucial to help these people quickly. This is not to deny this evidence – it is evident – but simply to ask questions about some new data such as the rapid onset of dysphoria, especially among young women.”
Experiences such as that of Professor Veissière make many intellectuals fearful to address the transgender issue.
“My colleagues tell me to refrain from publishing on the subject, says Veissière, because the transgender issue is kind of a new taboo. »
Most of the detransitioners we spoke to told us that they had been very militant during their trans period. “It was us against them, says Jay. My trans friends and I pushed each other to denounce anything that could be perceived as discrimination, to attack those who used the wrong pronoun, to call “transphobic” anyone who asked questions. Ironically, I am now part of those whom they consider Enemies of the Cause.”
Are trans activists more virulent than others? “No,” says Florence Ashley instantly. “It’s the Internet that is virulent. It’s just that we’re such a minority that sometimes you have to speak louder to be heard.”
Professor Veissière was taken aback to find himself attacked by the Gender Dysphoria Affirmative Working Group, of which several Quebecers are members: they demanded that Psychology Today remove the article from its site.
“We are a broad coalition … all with expertise in gender and sexuality and troubled by the notion of “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria.” (Gender Dysphoria Affirmative Working Group Statement)
“Littman’s study is a biased piece of research with a flawed methodology that can cause great harm to children,” says Annie Pullen Sansfaçon, going as far as to compare this study to the one that wrongly linked vaccines and autism in children.
She acknowledges that social media play a role, but not the one advanced by Littman and Veissière.
“Our research tells us that young people often discover trans identity through social media, but this only allows them to name things, to identify a malaise they did not understand,” she says.
The WPATH lobby group has also rejected very clearly the very concept of a sudden onset of gender dysphoria and the hypothesis of social contagion. It asks its members “to avoid using any concept instilling fear that a youth may or may not be transgendered, in order to avoid considering all appropriate therapeutic options.”
While Littman’s hypothesis meets with fierce resistance, it is nonetheless supported by a leading authority in the field, Dr. Susan Bradley.
“Not only am I not afraid to say that Littman’s study is not at all to be dismissed out of hand, but I would be comfortable using the information she collected in her article. In several countries, we have seen that many girls start presenting as transgender at the same time others do so in school, so this is a logical explanation for the sudden increase that we have been seeing in recent years.”
“I am 78 years old and I’m not afraid to say what I think. No one could claim that I am suffering from transphobia.” She laughs and confidently adds: “Because if someone like me is transphobic…”
On March 19, after submitting the controversial study to a scientific committee, for post-publication review, PLOS One decided to republish Lisa Littman’s findings, but under a new title clearly stating that the study’s factual base was reported by parents and not by adolescents or young adults themselves.
Towards more serenity
Dr. Richard Montoro believes that we will progressively achieve a more serene dialogue, especially about those people who regret having transitioned.
“The trans population has been discriminated against for so long that there is a huge mistrust around this subject, for ‘once bitten, twice shy.’ But the more the rights of trans people are respected, the more we will be able to discuss certain topics,” he believes.
“These days, you say you’re transgender and people take it for granted,” Jesse told me. “It’s very quick. And, as much as I believe that the trans movement initially sought, in good faith, to help people who felt ill at ease in their body, I also believe that this posture can be dangerous. Look at us,” she says, talking about Helena, Dagne and herself, “we were anguished teenagers, insecure in their own skin. Transitioning has, for each of us, generated extreme distress. I’ve never been more suicidal than when I was changing sex.”
As for Jay, he found some relief in his “r/detrans” exchange network, a discussion subgroup on the Reddit social network.
Set up two years ago, the group now has over 1700 members.
Clara came to visit me at Radio-Canada. In a studio, she sat down in front of the microphone and started reading her letter entitled: “I thought I was transgender.”
She was at peace.
*Some first names have been modified for privacy.
Émilie Dubreuil journalist, Mélanie Julien and Bernard Leduc, editors, André Guimaraes developer, Francis Lamontagne, designer, Charlie Debons-Ricard, motion designer and Danielle Jazzar, reviser.
Unofficial translation: TRADFEM