Dr. Google Does Not Know “If You’re Trans”
Here’s a question for you parents out there: do you think that the internet is qualified to diagnose your child with a serious medical condition?
No? Well, I’m here to tell you that that’s exactly what is happening today…when it comes to “transgender”.
My child is a very impressionable, self-conscious, extremely smart thirteen-year-old. He exhibits no cross-gendered behaviors. He has never questioned his gender until this past summer. He does well in school, has no depression, no visible body dysphoria or discomfort with his body. He has a couple of close friends, all boys.
He also has an idea in his head that he is “trans”, born of a month-long quarantine loneliness-fueled binge on the internet. His newfound identity did not emerge from within, like you hear about on the news. Instead, he deduced that he was transgender from other kids and activists online. How do I know? Because that’s what he told me.
Desperate for answers to that age-old teenage question “why am I different?”, he turned to Google and, lo and behold, the internet was all too happy to provide easy answers. He was told that his feelings of awkwardness and discomfort with his changing body, and his sense of differentness could only mean one thing: he was “trans”. From there, he plunged down the rabbit hole of Subreddits and Discord servers and learned that there were easy ways to “crack open his egg”, to become his “true self” and, in the process, to find warm, welcoming communities and to be accepted. The explanations “just fit”, he said. For a lonely kid during the pandemic, the appeal was obvious.
His diagnosis conveniently came with quick and easy instruction guides on how to “come out” to his parents, and to start the process of (he was told) literally becoming the opposite gender, through pronoun changes, hormones and then surgery. How do I know that’s what happened? Because I’ve seen the scripts, and he used them verbatim when “coming out” to me.
I was blindsided by his grand pronouncement. There were no signs. My child and I are extremely close. I didn’t always know, deep down, and this is a pretty big thing to miss. I was flabbergasted and confounded, with no idea what to do next. My mother’s instinct kicked in; I wanted to help him. So, I did the natural thing; I reached out to professionals that I thought were experts in these matters, because I love my kid and I wanted to do what’s best for him.
Here’s what I found: Because of the abuses of the past, when no help for those with gender dysphoria could be found, the medical community has adopted what’s known as the “affirmative” model. This basically says that, since there’s no way to test whether someone is “transgender”, the best thing to do is to just take someone’s word for it: showing that you see them as they see themselves is the best way to alleviate their feelings of discomfort. This is just a fancy way of saying, we let them tell us, we don’t bother with a medical diagnosis. It was a new strategy, born of some bad decisions and excessive gatekeeping in the past. The idea was, at first, to try it out and then see how it worked. Sounds good, right?
You know how doctors roll their eyes when you tell them what’s wrong with you because you read it on WebMD? Well, affirmative care is exactly the opposite. Patients come to doctors or therapists with their internet self-diagnosis of gender dysphoria. Often, they have literally taken a quiz of unknown provenance on the internet to reach this conclusion. Unlike any other condition, where doctors would listen but then decide for themselves, with gender identity, the doctor says, “ok, yup, gender dysphoria, cuz you say so”. Once that label is applied, what follows logically is discussion of all the possible medical treatment paths — hormones, and then later, possibly surgery.
Mental health and medical doctors are cautioned not to question or challenge; threatened with (false) statistics of suicide risk, they live in fear of upsetting the patient on this oh-so-delicate of topics. So, they take the easy path, not the one they learned in medical school. If a person says they have gender dysphoria, they are transgender. The “treatment” gates are flung wide open, and the guards step aside.
Here’s the biggest problem though: My kid did not diagnose himself. Under the affirmative system, where doctors and therapists may not challenge or question, unknown actors have stepped into the authority void once filled by our trusted doctors and medical professionals. Children, thinking they are figuring themselves out, are in actuality being diagnosed by unknown entities with unknown motivations and qualifications, on the internet. When we bring them to a doctor or therapist, we are simply seeking a second opinion — and, in this world, medical practitioners are told to defer to the child.
In this way, the affirmative model is worse than no doctor at all: by requiring doctors to agree with a crowdsourced internet opinion, it stamps a seal of approval — a false authority — on a non-medical opinion rendered by an unknown party. We may as well bring our kids to any old person off the street for the amount of real medical advice we’re getting.
If I’d had a good doctor to provide a second opinion, he or she would have disregarded the self-diagnostics and started from scratch. Likely, after hearing my son’s tales of body image woes, the doctor would have said something along the lines of “sounds like you are having a little bit of a tough time. It’s hard getting used to a changing body during puberty, and maybe you’re a little lonely. It’s a confusing time, you’re not the first to feel this way and you certainly won’t be the last. What you have though doesn’t meet the criteria for gender dysphoria so, my friend, you’ve pegged this one wrong. I’m a doctor, I would know. Stop listening to kids on the internet. If they all jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you? Now go play some kickball in the park with your friends. If you continue to feel bad, come back and see me later”.
I very strongly suspect that, if that had happened, my son wouldn’t have cried, wouldn’t have become suicidal. To the contrary: I suspect he would have been massively relieved that he had gotten it wrong, and that a real doctor had told him so. He would have felt better about himself and that little nagging doubt he’d gleaned from the internet, from sources he was not sure were reliable, would have dissipated into thin air.
Practitioners, ask yourselves: would that have been a bad outcome? Or is sending my child on a path to lifelong medical care without vetting really the best and only option here? Would it have been at least worth a try to do this the old-fashioned way?
Sadly, my trip to a psychologist did not go the old-fashioned route. My son uttered the word “trans”, and the therapist abandoned all common sense. Now, my kid was one of the “those” kids, one that would probably get him noticed by activists. So, he didn’t question or challenge my son — instead he asked him about his plans for “transition” and when he planned to tell his friends and grandparents. And my son went from tentative attachment to an idea to the certain knowledge that he had been diagnosed as trans, and therefore was trans.
Our current system simply cannot and does not know how to distinguish the kids whose lives might really be improved by medical treatment from the kids who will not benefit, and who will, in fact, be worse off for it. My son is not sick or suffering. He doesn’t need medical treatment; he doesn’t need mental health care. But he’s being pushed toward all this anyway by virtue of his internet medical research. Doctors and therapists just agree and move on. And everyone is somehow okay with this.
There are many others, like my son, that would greatly benefit from actual gatekeeping, and from practitioners that were cautious and tempered in diagnosing gender dysphoria (which again, is synonymous with diagnosing transgender). I’ve now found the other parents of kids like mine, who are being hastily labeled and pushed on this conveyor belt. There are hundreds of us, probably many thousands, actually. Our kids are not “gender non-conforming”. However, many have struggled to fit in with peer groups. Some are on the autism spectrum. They are wise beyond their years but, at the same time, they are immature emotionally. Like all kids, their critical thinking skills are a work-in-progress. Like me, the other parents were blindsided by this development with their children and, having tried out what passes for treatment in this country, now feel betrayed by the medical system and the “experts”.
I had no idea what was under the hood on this transgender issue. Neither did many other parents who have unexpectedly found themselves enmeshed in this bizarre, alternate universe where people, including kids and very young adults, elect to take body-modifying, non-FDA approved drugs and are cheered on by adoring crowds. I bet you never spent more than 10 minutes thinking about it except to slap some pronouns on your email signature, since it seemed like the thing to do. I myself had never given the issue more than a passing glance until last summer. While I hope you readers never find yourselves personally embroiled in this gender identity mess, I beg you — please take a few minutes to hear what I and other concerned parents have to say, for the sake of our kids.
We have a real problem in our society, and it’s a medical issue.
Our kids are being offered life-altering medical treatments for something with no physical symptoms or scientifically demonstrable cause — based only on a vague and nebulous belief system called “gender identity”. These medical treatments, once begun, lead to a lifelong dependence on off-label drugs with dangerous long-term side effects. These treatments are being prescribed despite the shocking lack of scientific long-term efficacy studies, quality research, or even a clear idea of the nature of the actual condition.
Instead of being informed, our kids, who are too young to understand long-term impacts, are being misled about their realistic options by their internet doctors. They are bombarded with normalizing, positive, child-attracting imagery, like glitter, rainbows, and fluffy purple unicorns everywhere they go, including in their schools. They are told it’s no big deal. There is no discussion of the ugly side of this path, the depression, the eating disorders, the lifelong medical dependency, the ever-moving goal-post of “transition”, the terrible medical and surgical results, the experimental nature of the “treatments”, the suicide statistics for after transition. There is also no discussion of how most youngsters “desist” (stop feeling “trans”) after puberty, and how there is an ever-growing cohort of detransitioners (people who transitioned, regretted it, and went back to living as their biological sex) — both bits of information that might give them pause about rushing into anything permanent.
Because of the medicalization of this state-of-being known as transgender, it should be appropriate for us to bring our kids to our doctors, who we were raised to trust, for real advice. But our doctors do not know how to deal with us and our kids, and they’re scared to even try. They don’t feel free to conduct true differential diagnoses, to give frank and honest assessments and advice. They have bowed to the opinions of the internet mob and the activists. We have allowed them to be bullied and intimidated, to feel that they are, for some reason, not able to be experts in this field. We need to fix this.
For now, though, it’s time to admit that today’s affirmative model is equivalent to no medical opinion at all. Worse yet, it provides an official medical stamp of approval on an uninformed, biased opinion uttered by an online mob. It’s false authority. Our kids were actually diagnosed by Drs. Google, Reddit and Discord and (even worse) other kids and activists on the internet. To the doctors and therapists that are just going along for the ride, I would say this: Your cowardice, inaction and blind affirmation is directly harming my vulnerable kid and others.
As long as this remains the case, we’re better off avoiding “treatment” altogether. I’m in a group of 80 or so parents with trans-identified kids that have opted to do exactly that. Instead of relying on the so-called experts that offer only politics and pseudo-science, us parents, many of whom are highly educated, nerdy outliers ourselves, are connecting. We are arming ourselves with information, we are filling in the knowledge gaps, becoming the real experts, forming alliances with gay men, lesbians, feminists, transgender adults, and a handful of brave, free-thinking doctors, therapists, and journalists who see this dangerous ideology for what it is — homophobic, scandalous, anti-science, irresponsible and most relevant to us, directly harmful to our kids.
We are not okay with an internet diagnosis for our kids, especially one that leads to harmful treatment. Our society should not accept this as common practice either. We are determined to fight back and part of that is building awareness of what today’s “treatment” is really like for these vulnerable kids and young people over the course of their lifetimes. For now, it’s just mostly just parents in the fight, the last defenders at the gate. We will fight with all our being to protect our children while we wait for the rest of the world to come to our aid. We hope reinforcements arrive soon.