On Dysphoria and the Road So Far

For as much as I talk about being a man, I want to be clear that I haven’t always felt so certain in myself. Gender has actually been quite a struggle for me at times.

Photo by Jack Douglass on Unsplash

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working my way through Abigail Shrier’s work on exposing both the social contagion of transgenderism harming young girls and the layers of gender identity-reinforcement that exist in schools, in the government, and in the medical establishment.

It’s heady, terrifying stuff. And you can watch her interviews with Joe Rogan, Ben Shapiro, Jordan Peterson, and Triggernometry for a taste of it if you can’t get a hold of her book, Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters.

One of the themes that’s stood out to me the most is the transition she describes from how gender dysphoria was once primarily a phenomenon affecting boys and young men, to a phenomenon now overwhelming affecting girls and young women.

While I’ll leave the trans female angle to Shrier, I want to talk about gender dysphoria in boys, because this is actually something with which I have personal experience and am grateful to have overcome. Granted, I went through this struggle in the decades prior to Shrier’s research, but I’ll tell you that many of the institutional features to this phenomenon which she describes are familiar. And frankly I’m at the point where I’m questioning whether any of the medical interventions being performed on either children or adults are ethical or even ought to be legal.

When I was about three or four, I started experiencing an intense anxiety about being a boy. I think part of it was related to feeling the deep bonds of friendship with other boys in a culture that was peaking in paranoia about homosexuality. I don’t think I was experiencing a sexual orientation at that age. I think I was trying to contextualize fraternal love with the gender roles and expectations I was picking up from the adults around me.

My dysphoria wasn’t purely an internal disorientation. I asked my parents if I could be their daughter on multiple occasions, and tried to mimic girly behavior, including playing with “girl’s” toys like dolls. For Southern Baptists, my parents were surprisingly progressive. The line was drawn at me being a boy and their son, but I was allowed to pick out the toys I wanted to play with, and no one pushed back on that at all.

Aside from one instance later in childhood where I asked a male friend why he thought I was a boy, and went on to ignore playing with him to play dolls with his sister, my gender troubles disappeared within a few years.

In high school and again in my early twenties, there was another resurgence. Some of the best artwork I’ve created are dark paintings of sad women who I felt captured my internal state of mind in ways I didn’t otherwise know how to express. At that age, there was also significantly more social pressure — not so direct as to coerce me into transitioning, but just a series of subtle redefinitions and the introduction of “gender identity” language seemingly without a lot of forethought into how that might impact kids like me.

The two institutional examples to highlight here are the mandatory high school health class and then also the spiritual family therapist I saw. The health class introduced the term “transgender” purely definitionally. Transgender people are people who don’t feel like the gender they were born as. The therapist — who I saw for anxiety related to my sexuality — constantly redefined my struggle as one over my “gender identity” (which needed to be corrected). For the first time, I had words to describe what I was experiencing. And so did my classmates.

Armed with a semester of health class terminology and a patriotic drive for social justice, every girl I knew suddenly became an expert on GLBT experiences. Innocent enough answers to friendly questions about my childhood were reinterpreted as evidence that I was transgender, not gay or bisexual (the big push just a year earlier).

This continued even after graduation and moving away. An old high school friend asked me about my “gender identity” a year later, and if I’d made any progress transitioning now that I was on my own. New friends interpreted everything I did that pushed the bounds of gender even slightly — things gay and bi men I presume usually do, like painting their nails or cross-dressing for fun once or twice — as an example of me trying to express my transgender identity. My concerns about my family’s views on sexuality were constantly re-written, sometimes mid-conversation, to be about their “transphobia” and not my perception of their “homophobia.”

Photo by Noah Brown on Unsplash

None of this was language I used naturally. But eventually — through I suppose a combination of social reinforcement and the very real nature of the gender dysphoria I was experiencing — I adopted it as my own. Of course I quickly found out that I had no real desire to be a woman — I was just panic-stricken at being a man — and I continued suffering well into my twenties before my dysphoria concluded just as it had when I was younger.

When I mentioned previously that “gender identity” language was introduced without a lot of forethought, what I mean is that at no point in my life has anyone actually discussed gender dysphoria or how it might be treated beyond a singular narrative of childhood dysphoria or “persistent” dysphoria = transgender, and can only be resolved by transitioning. (For now I’m leaving aside the family therapist who recommended engaging in self-harm every time I had romantic thoughts towards someone of the same sex).

At no point in that high school health class was gender treated as something we could have anxiety about without being transgender, something that might normally cause anxiety for teenagers, or something that might especially trigger anxiety for gay and lesbian people trying to find their place in the world. I saw this adopted socially in my teens and twenties — the pressure to “come out” rendered people with strong senses of gendered identity into the categories of gay and lesbian, while the rest of us were picked apart by so many activists and academics hoping to dissect a transgender right there in their own social circle.

The language loosened to twist any doubt or dissociation into alternative identity, while the pressure remained to “transition” (an active, noticeable change) once caught in it. I needed a good non-woke therapist without a side in America’s culture wars to work this out. Instead I got wrapped up in social circles that thrived on the novelty of the tragic friend with dysphoria. I think I enjoyed the high of that kind of attention too — even when I met resistance, my anxiety was largely celebrated, rather than the thing that separated me from everyone else.

And that’s what’s outrageous about this whole phenomenon really — it’s wrapped up in a social inclusion framework, but we’re telling children, teenagers, and young adults that anxiety about their gender makes them transgender, and we’re giving them no other way to look at that during very vulnerable periods in their lives where their brains aren’t even fully developed. Shrier’s work shows that professionals may even be forced out of their careers for questioning a patient’s self-diagnosis (as if gender is something purely atomized and without a social element).

That terrifies me because here’s what I now recognize that everyone else missed: when I was about three or four, my dad was laid off, our family split up, and the gender dynamics I was picking up were primarily my understanding that my father shouldered the burden of providing for all of us.

That was the trigger for my dysphoria. That was my anxiety. I didn’t want to grow up into that kind of burden. I felt powerless to keep my family together — maybe that’s why I put my nurturing instinct into dolls?

My dysphoria faded when our family got back together and life stabilized. That episode with the friend? It was after a big fight between my parents.

The resurgence in high school and my twenties? I was going out into the world on my own and facing the same economic anxieties I’d felt as a child, as well as the sexual anxieties of being a young man. They dissipated when I had a pretty stable job, stable relationships, and was starting a business.

I never needed to transition. I was never secretly a woman. I was always just a man or a boy, worried about very real, gendered expectations of men in this society. Like most gender non-conforming kids, I turned out to be a well-adjusted non-transgender adult (with maybe a bit of an ambiguous sexuality also tied up in all of this). No one — not one teacher, not one therapist, not one activist — suggested there was ever a cause to gender dysphoria other than being transgender (or “suffering from same-sex attraction” in the case of that one counselor).

You cannot convince me that there are not other boys (or girls) who have had similar anxieties pathologized into transgenderism. You cannot convince me that there are not children who left alone would likely become gay or lesbian adults who are right now being put on the path for chemical castration and surgical alteration.

That’s why there must be safeguards around medical interventions. That’s why professionals have to be granted the power to investigate and question self-diagnosis as well as parental pressures, and even deny certain types of medical intervention. That’s why the entire socially elected model here is dangerous — the pipeline kids are sent down these days is destroying their bodies and perhaps even further burying the psychological crisis triggering their dysphoria to begin with.

All of that is only acceptable in a society that treats boys and girls as disposable.

My heart is really with boys and young men these days because I can see how social media feeds them a constant stream of “men are trash” and “cis” bullshit, which I know only further entrenches the idea that they aren’t or don’t want to become men. Who would? My anxiety was primarily about providing for my family and what my partner in that family would look like. Boys these days carry that and the weight of every rapist, every war, and every problem society faces ever — while being completely disempowered to take charge of correcting society.

Sometimes the layers of sickness in any given issue are just too much to sort. As I’ve found myself saying a lot recently, I’m glad I’m moving out to the country. At least for a little longer, there’s less complexity out there. Boys have better male role models. Communities are more resistant to the gender and CRT ideological trends showing up elsewhere. And kids have fewer adults confusing and coaching them down destructive paths.

Thank G-d I wasn’t a kid going through all this in this day and age.

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