— Womanchester (@WomanchesterMMN) November 30, 2019
On November 30th, 2019, over 200 attendees packed inside a secret location in the centre of Manchester to attend the first-ever forum of its kind. The sold-out event, “Detransition: The Elephant in the Room,” signified the official launch of the The Detransition Advocacy Network (TDAN), and was organized by local independent feminist collective, Make More Noise, and Charlie Evans, a detransitioner and a co-founder of TDAN.
The event consisted of two panels: the first featured medical experts discussing their expertise and insight into gender reassignment services, and the second was made up of desisting young women who have been ostracized in this new age of blind gender ideology acceptance.
The two-hour long discussion was opened by the testimonies of two anonymous female-to-male (FTM) detransitioners. They called for better support for desisting individuals and agreed that physical transition is not always the perfect solution to dealing with debilitating gender dysphoria.
The medical panel included Stella O’Malley, a psychotherapist and mental health nurse who produced the supposedly “controversial” Channel 4 documentary, Trans Kids: It’s Time to Talk; Dr. David Bell, a consultant psychiatrist from the Tavistock Centre; Dr. Anna Hutchinson, a clinical psychologist and former Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) employee from Tavistock; and Dr. Hannah Ryan, an infectious disease researcher concerned with evidence synthesis.
Ryan introduced the panel by referencing “the fraught field that exists in regards to evidence and the use of evidence,” in terms of how youth are diagnosed with gender dysphoria and subsequently treated. She stressed that “gold standards” of research practices were not being implemented on existing and past transgender patients. Bell added that even far lower and basic standards are not being met, such as follow-up procedures to check in with transitioned individuals over time.
Hutchinson revealed that GIDS and gender clinicians across the UK rely on data that is no longer relevant to the type of patients they see now. In the past, 75 per cent of dysphoric patients were male, however, these numbers have since reversed and tipped the scales to 80 per cent female. Referrals have additionally rocketed by 4,500 per cent to 5,000 per cent in the last decade, and now encompass younger children than before. The NHS is also contending with an influx of patients with new identities, such as “non-binary.”
As if that’s not enough, children are arriving into the care of gender clinics having already socially transitioned with the help of schools and parents, a process that usually involves adopting new pronouns and superficial gender stereotypes generally attached to the opposite sex (e.g. clothing, hairstyles, etc.). Yet there are conflicting views around whether this approach is a positive method of support or if it is ethical to allow vulnerable patients to socially transition without professional advice. Hutchinson referenced a paper by Dr. Ken Zucker that found social transition can decrease the likelihood that an individual will “desist” (go back to living as their actual biological sex) further down the line.
The medical establishment appears blind to the long-term impacts puberty blockers may have on children, which Bell says are often prescribed without warning parents or caregivers about the lack of research and experimental way in which these drugs are being used. Referencing research from her Dutch sources, Hutchinson said almost 100 per cent of children on puberty blockers progress to taking cross-sex hormones, while, in the past, before puberty blockers were introduced to kids, around 80 per cent of children would decide against pursuing transition.
“We are literally in the void of discovery here,” O’Malley said.
Bell even finds the terminology “puberty blockers” to be “targeted,” as it sugar-coats what he describes as “potent drugs” that are inevitably accompanied by additional consequential effects.
“The body isn’t like a video recorder that you can just put on pause,” he said.
Medical professionals feel stifled in their ability to to talk about these issues. O’Malley’s documentary, which aired in November 2018, was pivotal in exposing this reality, as therapists and a handful of other medical professionals voiced their concerns anonymously to escape being labelled “transphobic.”
Ryan expressed empathy towards her fellow researchers. She said they are battling “immense pressure” to alleviate the suffering of patients struggling with dysphoria and affirm patients’ gender identity without question or intervention. Hutchinson, who worked in GIDS for five years, noted that clinicians can be accused of transphobia for merely “talking about evidence.”
“But how can it be transphobic to ask for better standards of care for this client group? I want better standards of care for kids with gender dysphoria,” she said, to loud applause.
Another former GIDS employee in the audience claimed that medical experts face both external and internal pressures. Most feel prohibited from talking about the possibility of desistence and detransition entirely. Bell agreed: manoeuvrability to investigate and conduct research on desistence seems almost impossible when the trans movement “has penetrated into clinical services,” and cannot be questioned, challenged, or exposed. Bell said the extent to which gender ideology has “the ears of politicians right up the highest level” as well as control over much of the media was remarkable. “It has sort of gone through unquestioned,” he said. O’Malley considered that this has only served the best interests of “non-experts” with a lot of social media followers, essentially allowing them to “lead the room” and act with impunity.
Then came the enthralling and emotional damning indictment of doctors’ negligence: the detransition panel.
It is worth noting the bravery that young women — all between the ages of 19 and 29 — exhibited as they recalled their most intimate surgeries and brutal insecurities. Later, on Twitter, Evans disclosed that, of the seven women on the panel, there were five mastectomies, two hysterectomies, two oophorectomies (the removal of ovaries), and 20 years of testosterone combined.
So, why have so many young women been compelled to undergo such brutal surgeries?
One detransitioner, who goes by the name “Satan Herself” on Twitter, said that transitioning was a way to evade lesbophobia and her “reality as a homosexual woman.” Living as a “transman” for five years, she had never even considered the possibility she harboured internalized homophobia, as she was so supportive of LGBT rights. Yet she knew no lesbians and was starved of representation of masculine women. She said she couldn’t envision growing up into an adult lesbian woman, and immersed herself in transgender theory, which seemed the ideal way to “fix herself.”
Another detransitioner, Ellie, said that, at 15 years old, she too couldn’t picture herself as a homosexual adult female, so began her lengthy four-year transition journey one year later, with a mastectomy.
Thomasin began identifying between “male and various non-binary identities” at 14 years old, only desisting from treatment in May. She said social media and the online world functioned as a kind of escape route, especially since she saw no lesbian positivity or representation online or in real life.
Nele, who identified as trans for two years, argued that people aren’t just “born transgender for a magical reason,” but that it is “put on you by society.” She claimed that the contemporary trans movement masquerades as progressive while “reinforcing gender stereotypes” — a position shared by Bell, who said accepting the concept of gender identity without criticism can legitimize “a form of caricatured gender stereotypes.” Bell feels the outcome of trans ideology is a “movement that actually acts against the support of lesbian and gay people.”
Many also explained that they had pre-existing body issues, some manifesting in life-threatening eating disorders, alongside gender dysphoria.
Despite almost dying from anorexia, “Satan Herself” said she never linked hating her female body to her eating disorder or gender dysphoria. She never connected the dots between her fear of living as a female and her fear of living at a normal weight, both of which caused her to be dismissive of her health.
“I often wonder how nobody realized that? No therapist I saw; no doctor I talked to about getting surgery; no one in my personal life,” she said to a tear-choked room. “I just wish someone would have been there to tell me not to get castrated at 21…
… Just what the hell are surgeons doing?”
For some, transition was effective on a certain level. One of the detransitioners (who chose to remain anonymous) said transitioning worked as a way to escape lesbophobia, male harassment, and forced femininity. She said appearing male allowed her to be affectionate with her girlfriend in public.
Most detransitioners felt betrayed that they were never offered an alternative route beyond gender reassignment surgery.
Sooki, who identified as trans for six years and endured medical transition from age 17 to 21, said she “regret[ted] it all,” while another young woman said surgeons increasingly push their patients into the next surgery before they even have time to “mourn” their “lost body parts.” This young woman spoke about waking up from her hysterectomy procedure to a nurse wanting to discuss her “botched” chest surgery from a previous surgeon, then being handed a flyer about phalloplasty. Considering all the talk of positive body image in our culture, she said “the way we treat gender dysphoria is the opposite of body positivity.”
“Satan Herself” said it doesn’t “make sense” that these procedures are called “transition,” when having hysterectomies and mastectomies “doesn’t make you any less female.” She suggested a more appropriate term is “castration.”
Nele explained that the “trans community” often expresses disbelief that she was ever “really” trans to begin with, and call her “TERF” when she talks about her experience. This is despite the ruthless treatments and numerous diagnoses of gender dysphoria by therapists, psychiatrists, and gender clinicians. She suggested this is a flawed and hypocritical position to take since trans activism often purports that those who question their gender, irrespective of whether they actually transition or not, are trans by default. Another young woman said detransitioned women are often depicted as “boogeymen” within the trans community, while Satan Herself said the trans community commonly insists that those who have gender dysphoria won’t go on to regret transition, “yet here I am.”
One woman felt the prevalence of online communities may indoctrinate children into an ideology they are too young to understand. Thomasin argued that it is imperative there be better protections and interventions in place before kids subscribe to an online world that can “change your mentality” — interventions that the medical community appears not to support.
The takeaway message of the evening was that better care is needed for adults and children struggling with gender, and that lesbian bars and spaces are in disappointingly short supply. Young lesbians have no role models, and their “queer” communities — as well as the culture at large — seem to direct them towards transitioning, rather than towards accepting and embracing themselves as they are.
There also needs to be room for detransition under the trans healthcare umbrella, and room to challenge the emotionally-charged rhetoric that says delaying cross-sex treatments could result in children committing suicide. Pushing kids down the transitioning route could also end in similar tragedy, yet this is not part of the narrative. One anonymous former transman said desistence should be celebrated as a “positive part of self-discovery.” It makes little sense that subscribing to life-altering, experimental medicine and surgeries is equated to “becoming your real self,” Evans reiterated.
The parting notes from the panel provoked two audience members to speak out suddenly: one man — the taxi driver for the evening — became overwhelmed with emotion, lamenting the fact the detransitioners had no support networks to alleviate their suffering, and a woman said that “surgeons are the perpetrators and they should be put in prison for doing this to you.”
Panellists agreed a second event should be scheduled soon. The event came to a close with a well-deserved standing ovation, and attendees left with resounding respect and admiration for the courageous speakers. However, many also left with utter contempt for medical practitioners and inexpert organizations around the world who are overzealously pushing vulnerable young people down a path of medicalization and castration that, inevitably for some, could end in agony.
Liv Bridge is a freelance writer and feminist based in Manchester, UK.