Impressions formed around the delivery of bad news have a way of sticking around, and I suppose this is why, to use a well-worn phrase, I still remember where I was the day a friend informed me that lesbians were being harassed for rejecting men as dating partners. I laughed, at first, and probably said something like, “You sure know how to inject a dose of warped humour into a relaxing coffee break.” For the next half-hour my friend’s solemn, intense explanation left me unwilling to absorb the news that men who “self-identify” as women feel entitled to add lesbians to their dating pool. I watched her grow edgy, fevered around the eyes, and anxious. She reminded me of that terrified guy in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, as he dodged cars on the noirish highway, warning belligerent travellers: “They’re after you! They’re after all of us! You fools!”
Why was I so reluctant to believe the news, aside from it being as unbelievable as it was true? It might be that I had let down my guard, and even gone a little bit “post-lesbian.” I mean this in a lightly humourous way, because it seemed to me that for a while, back in the olden days, it became possible to apply a touch of irony to the matter of “identity,” as people sometimes do when the worst of times are over and a relaxed atmosphere offers perspective — even jokes. I guess you could say I’d relaxed into the fair weather.
But over lunch that day, as my friend grew more emphatic, and I grew less relaxed, I soon found myself thinking: “What fresh hell is this”?
Now, a few years later, I know a heartbreaking amount about the nature of “fresh hell.” I know the number of American girls attempting to escape being female by seeking surgery quadrupled between 2016 and 2017. Journalist Abigail Shrier addresses this trend in her book, Irreversible Damage: the Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, which transactivists and Big Tech have done their best to shut down. Her first publisher cancelled the book after threats from staff, and Amazon refused to allow Regenery, her new publisher, to sponsor ads on its site.
The phenomenon of girls transitioning to become “male” isn’t limited to the US. A shift has been noted in Canada, Finland, the Netherlands, and beyond. In the UK, the number of children being referred for gender reassignment went from 77 in 2009 to 2,590 in 2018-19. But most striking of all is who is being referred — in 2017, according to The Guardian, 70 per cent of referrals were female.
I’ve also apprised myself of the dangerous health projections for girls who proceed along the route from puberty blockers to surgery, which reminded me that I had once explored the idea of having my ovaries removed in order to escape the hormone-generated migraines that plague the women in my family until menopause. My doctor was quick to state the impossibility of that notion, stressing that surgery wasn’t available to “someone so young” (I was 35 years old). Why? Because my hormones protected me from heart disease and bone loss, among other things.
In her 2018 study of Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria (ROGD), Lisa Littman determined that, “Without the knowledge of whether the gender dysphoria is likely to be temporary, extreme caution should be applied before considering the use of treatments that have permanent effects, such as cross-sex hormones and surgery.” Who could argue with erring on the side of being careful, responsible — ethical? Many, apparently, who have done just that, dismissing Littman’s suggestion that some cases of gender dysphoria may be “socially contagious,” accusing her of bias and promoting misconceptions about trans people. Among the young people she studied (83 per cent of whom were girls), more than one-third were in friendship groups in which half or more began to identify as trans in a similar time frame.
Despite all this, nothing affected me more than Dysphoric — a four part documentary series by Vaishnavi Sundar, an independent filmmaker, feminist, writer, and activist. Subtitled, “Fleeing womanhood like a house on fire,” Sundar’s film elucidates the way young women’s dysphoria is heightened through social media, as well some branches of the medical and therapeutic community, and of course trans activist ideology itself. There are a few clips in the film of social media personality Jeffrey Marsh, who refers to himself as an “internet mom,” offering a sort of alternative family (at least online) for the young, lonely, and confused. But the thing is, he is not a “mom.” Marsh, the author (ironically) of, How to be You, is a man — a gay man (who identifies as “non-binary” and “queer”) and his current metier involves promoting himself on YouTube — an activity actual mothers rarely have time for.
In Sundar’s film, endocrinologist Dr. William Malone stresses that most girls who experience dysphoria will outgrow the symptoms post-puberty, and psychiatrist Dr. Roberto D’Angelo reminds us that many of these girls will grow up to be lesbian. But, until then, they are simply young, vulnerable, and confused about how to handle their attraction to other girls.
I thought we had broken the back of this problem decades ago — encouraging girls to be themselves, and grow up to accept their sexualities without shame. But that hard-won fight has been set back. And now the repercussions may mean the sacrifice of countless girls who are abandoning their bodies to a devastating illusion.
If this process of turning lesbian girls into straight boys isn’t conversion therapy, I don’t know what is. But now that “gender” has been added to the definition of the term, things have become confused. Now it is claimed that protecting young girls from rushing into body modification in an attempt to enter boyhood (and a life of medical intervention) is the real crime — the authentic “conversion therapy.”
I recently received a ballot from my local MP inquiring how I would like him to vote on Bill C-6, an Act to Amend the Criminal Code (conversion therapy.) If conversion therapy still meant making it illegal to impose “correctives” on those who are attracted to the same sex, my position would be straightforward, and I’m sure many politicians feel they are being progressive in voting to prohibit such practices. But adding “gender identity” has changed things to mean that prohibiting “conversion therapy” pressures therapists and medical professionals to validate a child’s feeling that they have been “born in the wrong body” and require irreversible medical treatments. The Cassandra Project, a coalition of women’s organizations concerned about Bill C-6, have articulated a number of worries, not the least being that “services and therapy that do not encourage hasty transition” will be criminalized.
Considering the daily realities faced by so many girls in today’s world, there is a kind of logic to their transformative wishes — if only they could become wild horses instead, and run far away.
Teaching girls to believe in repressive and obsolete gender stereotypes — encouraging them to believe it is possible to be born in the wrong body because they don’t look, feel, or act the way a girl “should” — is the actual conversion therapy. The most authentic betrayal is leading girls into surgeries that remove their healthy breasts, endanger their health, and doom them to a lifetime of medical oversight. That is the true conversion therapy, and its message is as it ever was, except that now bodies are ruined along with minds — the message is that it is better to betray and renounce body and spirit than to be a lesbian (or a woman).
So much for being “post-lesbian.” It seems I was too optimistic about the future. I failed to imagine its profound loss of soul. I grew complacent. I let down my guard. And now I am a member of the authentic counterculture once again. My primary surprise is that the repugnance and contempt for women is still great, and the example we set as lesbians is fragile.
Invoking Invasion of the Bodysnatchers feels eerily accurate. The urge to dart out onto that rain-slashed highway and implore fellow travellers to see what is in front of their faces — Look, you fools! You’re in danger! Can’t you see?! — is almost irresistible. One can only be grateful to those who have been running into traffic for some time. I only wish somebody could assure me that this dystopian reality will be put right. Meanwhile I’ll hold my wish that young girls could become wild horses that no one can break.
At the close of Sundar’s film, she speaks of the various political, social, and religious dangers to girlhood: “We have this one life, and we must have the opportunity to live it the way we want. But this industry of hate that gaslights girls into turning against themselves infuriates me.” The one question that keeps Sundar awake at night, as posed by a future generation of girls, is this: “Where the hell were you?”
Brenda Brooks’ novel Gotta Find Me An Angel was a finalist for the Amazon Canada First Novel Award. Her 2019 book, HONEY, was shortlisted for the U.K. Staunch Book Prize, an award for thrillers “where no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, or murdered.”