Having adopted a transgender identity as a child, I am familiar with the feelings of self-loathing, the desire to kill myself and become someone new, as well as the intense difficulty in feeling connected to my body. To say I felt like I was in the wrong body is an understatement. I remember watching science fiction shows where scientists had created the technology to move someone’s brain into a new body and longed to not only be in a different body, but in a different time when that technology was available.
I am deeply thankful to the therapists I worked with over the years who helped me to understand that the feelings of being in the wrong body were related to my early childhood sexual assault and not a reflection of reality.
It is horrifying to me that there are therapists who are now telling children who have feelings like I had that their feelings of wanting to escape from themselves and create a new personality are not only valid but lifesaving. Therapists are telling children that the only way to survive is to kill their old self and become someone new. Not only is this a lie, it is promoting a very dangerous coping mechanism, dissociation.
There is a whole section in the DSM-V, the diagnostic manual used by most psychologists to diagnose mental health issues, dedicated to dissociative disorders. When someone has a dissociative disorder, the appropriate treatment plan is therapy.
For those who are not familiar with dissociative disorders, they run the gamut from Depersonalization-Derealization Disorder in which someone feels detached from themselves (like they are not part of their body) to Dissociative Identity Disorder, sometimes called Multiple Personality Disorder, in which an individual creates new identities.
Dissociative disorders are almost always caused by trauma. They are an incredibly creative coping mechanism that allows people to survive trauma. They should not, however, be encouraged or embraced as reality. In fact, development of a dissociative disorder is a red flag for therapists; it tells them the person who is dissociating has experienced something so difficult, that they would rather recreate reality than process the trauma.
In my case, I developed the identity of Timothy. Timothy was strong and mean. And most importantly, as a boy, he would not fall victim to the violations that men perpetrated on Erin.
This identity helped me navigate some other difficulties in my life as well. Ever since my parents divorced, my mother told me that my biological father wanted me to be a boy. I believed that my dad would love Timothy in a way he didn’t love Erin. I also had a serious learning disability. Girls were supposed to read well, but the expectations were lower for boys. It was okay that Timothy struggled to decipher the meaning of letters on a page. I was quirky and hadn’t fit in with the other girls who seemed to naturally navigate social situations. As a boy, I could play rough and tumble, rather than socializing with the girls.
Instead of cultivating my transgender identity, I had therapists who recognized that killing Erin to become Timothy was not going to be healthy in the long run because ultimately, no matter how hard it was to be Erin, I was Erin, 100%, and the only way to be my true and authentic self was to process all the difficult feelings I had and learn new and healthy coping skills so that I could not only survive as Erin, but thrive.
If my therapists had affirmed my identity as Timothy I never would have gotten the help I needed. The wounds from my trauma would have festered, covered over with the band-aid of a false identity.
To my utter horror now child after child who adopts a transgender identity is not getting the very care prescribed by the DSM-V, talk therapy. Instead, therapists are advised and increasingly legally required to tell a child that his or her fake identity is valid and that the child who endured the trauma is the impostor. I can’t think of anything more damaging than to reinforce a child’s self-hatred and communicate that the only way to survive is to become someone else.
This is the antithesis of what therapy is supposed to do.
ADVOCATES PROTECTING CHILDREN'S RESPONSE TO HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES RE. TRANSGENDER POLICY
Advocates Protecting Children
8300 Arlington Blvd.
Fairfax, VA 22031
Advocates Protecting Children co-founders Erin Brewer and Maria Keffler express deep concerns about this proposal.
In an attempt to protect those with various “gender identities” this proposal undermines our health care system.
Gender identity is a term that originally applied to how well an individual believes or claims to believe to adhere to regressive sex-based stereotypes. However, it is now a meaningless term that applies to how a person feels about any number of things. For example, there are now people who identify as “furries,” who say they don’t have a human gender identity, as well as a growing number of young people who are identifying as agender or non-gender.
Protecting so called “gender identity” would require the government to respect any gender identity and accompanying medical interventions that anyone adopted, even though the intervention is experimental, cosmetic, and elective. This is especially problematic for children. Part of normal development is for children and teens to experiment with their identities. Rather than encouraging what is essentially the development of personality, the concept of gender identity seeks to impose whatever non-conforming gender identity someone adopts.
This puts individuals at risk of getting medical interventions to change their external appearance that often have lifelong debilitating consequences. In the case of those who identify as agender, this may result in profound genital mutilation as they seek to have all external genitalia removed. Children identifying as the opposite sex are put on puberty blockers that induce developmental delays, retarding their growth and development. These are invasive, experimental medical interventions that damage an otherwise healthy body.
In addition, privileging those with gender identities to get cosmetic interventions is inherently discriminatory. Why should a man who identifies as a woman be granted breast augmentation when flat-chested women who are uncomfortable with their appearance are not granted the same interventions? Why should a woman who identifies as a man have a phalloplasty paid for, when there are many men who have small penises, but who are not provided with penial enlargement treatments?
In addition, this puts doctors in a position of being told that if they care for an individual’s body rather than his or her identity, it is discriminatory. A doctor is charged with caring for the health and well-being of patients; requiring doctors to provide dangerous, so-called “gender affirming” interventions (or risk being charged with discrimination) means doctors are legally compelled to damage patients who have healthy and functional bodies based solely on the subjective feelings of the individual.
It is unconscionable that the HHS is suggesting that failing to provide experimental medical interventions, which result in profound damage to otherwise healthy bodies, is discriminatory. This policy is evidence of the state embracing the religious belief that it is possible for someone to be born into the wrong body.
Erin Brewer, MS. Ph.D.
Maria Keffler, M.S.Ed.
Erin Brewer is a co-founder of Advocates Protecting Children as well as Compassion Coalition and Partners for Ethical Care. Contact Dr. Brewer at firstname.lastname@example.org.