Australian Books

Queer Teen Craze

30 January 2021

9:00 AM

30 January 2021

9:00 AM

Irreversible Damage: Teenage Girls and the Transgender Craze Abigail Shrier

Swift Press, 2021, pp.264, $29.95

It is remarkable how quickly the cause of transgenderism has moved from being a strange object at the back of the social justice fridge to the hottest of potatoes. Fortunately, that hasn’t deterred Abigail Shriver from taking a bite, spitting it out, and revealing its squidgy centre.

Transgenderism is a reconstituted cause, developed in the laboratory by queer and gender theorists, designed to satisfy the craving of activists once the dish of marriage equality had been wiped clean. At least, that is a plausible explanation for the intense passion invested in defending the rights of a minority whose existence was seldom acknowledged roughly ten minutes ago.

The rare condition of gender dysphoria, previously known as gender identity disorder, has a long clinical history. The American Psychiatric Association’s most recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual reports the expected incidence of gender dysphoria at between 0.005 and 0.014 per cent in natal males. It is significantly less common in natal females, estimated at between 0.002 and 0.003 per cent. Little wonder that the condition received scant mainstream attention until recently. The chance of an encounter with a gender dysmorphic person is slim and the condition is generally apparent early in life. The APA lists eight possible symptoms with a requirement that at least six should be met. Most are readily observed early in a child’s development including a preference for cross-dressing, cross-gender role playing and a strong dislike of one’s sexual anatomy.

An increase in diagnosis of 1000 per cent in a few years in the US and other Western countries requires an explanation. Yet as Shrier illustrates, there has been remarkably little curiosity about the explosion of cases in pandemic proportions perhaps because the few academics who have conducted empirical studies have been accused of transphobia (another relatively new condition) and suffered the indignity of having their publications withdrawn. Dr Lisa Littman, a public health researcher and mother of two at Brown University, Rhode Island, analysed the data from 256 detailed parent reports and was astonished by the results. Female-to-male transitions accounted for 80 per cent of cases. The average age of transition was 15, and few had shown any previous signs of discomfort within their body, save for the awkwardness common in puberty.

Littman indentified this atypical form of the condition as rapid-onset gender dysphoria and postulated a cause for its rising incidence: peer contagion. Shrier calls it a craze, drawing on its sociological meaning, an idea that spreads like a virus. She highlights the similarities with a surge in cases of anorexia nervosa in the early 1990s, a culturally agreed upon expression of internal distress where rising incidence followed rising publicity. Shrier points to a mountain of evidence to show why today’s teenage girls might be anxious; principally, the rise of social media, ubiquitous mobile phones and protective parents, all of which increase loneliness and decrease independence.

These factors have created a gap in the market that activists have been pleased to fill. Transgenderism has become a political franchise, wholly owned by the radical Left, heavily influenced by postmodernism, with the aim of disrupting the dominant discourse of binary structures and reversing the roles of oppressor and the oppressed.

Transgender is the only victim category to which white, able-bodied young women from advantaged backgrounds can readily belong, says Shrier. Self-assessment is all that is required to qualify. In the contemporary playground jungle, status is granted to those who break the mould and have the courage to be different. This may explain why nearly 70 per cent of the teenagers in Littman’s study belonged to a group in which at least one other had come out as transgender.

When the effects of this risky experiment on teens eventually become apparent and the blame game begins, the politicisation of clinicians will be a good place to start. It is they who have meekly complied with the political pressure to affirm rather than question teenage self-diagnosis. In no other field of medicine or psychiatry have practitioners so completely abrogated their responsibility for diagnosis. With no other condition is an explanation is issued with such assurance even though few forms of anxiety in teenagers can be assigned to a single cause. Yet that is the net result when those concerned about a teenager are told that questioning their  diagnosis or employing the wrong pronouns could credibly result in suicide.

Affirmative therapy has been enshrined in law in at least 16 US states making questioning the legitimacy of gender identification a crime. Victoria may follow suit next month. The Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill breezed through the Lower House in less than a day in December without a single dissenting vote. Its passage in the Upper House seems assured since the Liberals are reluctant to take up the fight.

The unamended bill is an overt attack on religious freedom and parental authority. It makes it a criminal act to question challenge or question a child’s decision to change gender and casts the net wide enough  to capture pastors, leaders, teachers, parents or counsellors. Outlawed acts include ‘carrying out a religious-based practice, including but not limited to, a prayer-based practice’. The government gives itself the right to decide what you can and can’t pray for without embarrassment.

The pluralistic ignorance that has allowed this mania to take hold must be challenged. The disruptive effect of gender-affirming culture on civic life is too great. It is creating enemies of former campaigners for social justice. Feminists who have fought for safe spaces for women find themselves without the moral or intellectual fire power to resist the infiltration of biological men into women’s sport, public toilets, prisons or domestic violence shelters. Shrier recounts the experience of a friend who visited a Nordstrom department store with her pubescent daughter for the fitting of her first bra. The shop assistant assigned to the task was a transgender female with the unmistakeable hands of a male. Let’s call it for what it is: creepy. Yet, since anything short of acquiescence is enough to earn the label of a bigot, few are prepared to speak out or question the damage being done. Which is why Shrier’s respectfully argued book should become a rallying cry for resistance, lest today’s uncontested insanity becomes tomorrow’s accepted wisdom.

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Nick Cater is executive director of the Menzies Research Centre.

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