This review of ‘Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters’ by Abigail Shrier has been written by one of our supporters. The book is a study of the increasingly common phenomenon of gender dysphoria among teenage girls in the USA. It looks at what is prompting girls to identify as the opposite sex, and at the alarming speed with which they are being affirmed and put on a path which leads to surgery.
Each page of Abigail Shrier’s book ‘Irreversible Damage’ positively hums with compassion. Carefully researched, every piece of evidence pitches for girls’ rights.
For the uninitiated, the subject of her book is barely believable – that girls are being told, and they believe, that they have been born in the ‘wrong body’. But for those, like Shrier, who have been researching this closely, this is not only believable but a dystopian nightmare.
Although her concern for girls’ health and well-being has led to reputational damage, she believes that the battle for their welfare is worth the slings and arrows of her critics. Therefore, she inserts herself on the front line to write about the many groups pushing puberty blockers, wielding scalpels, and brainwashing vulnerable teens with wildly mistaken beliefs about the nature of biology.
Shrier’s approach could serve as a model to examine any social contagion in modern times. Her framing of the influences impresses a sharp image of a modern-day prison, except rather than a mere physical prison, Shrier describes the dangerous and hostile social environment that our girls are both trapped in and participate in.
Whilst seeking the approval of their peers, girls are exposing themselves to others’ judgements by spending their time hanging out on social media – registering every interaction and opinion. They are, in turn, having fewer genuine social and romantic experiences. Because of this time spend on the internet, there are many, many opportunities to be groomed into believing that they have been born in the wrong body, by those who have falsely convinced them they are on their side.
The puzzle Shrier examines is the speed at which this has happened. Speaking to Dr. Lisa Littman reveals what is becoming an all too familiar pattern for despairing parents: girls who have previously displayed no troubles, but upon reaching their teenage years feel a certain awkwardness. Spending time online, they are led to adopt the belief that the source of their discomfort is that they are the ‘incorrect gender’ and that, to be their ‘true selves’, they must alter their bodies. Littman identifies an over-representation of autistic girls identifying as the opposite sex trying to banish the awkwardness of not fitting in, an issue which is rarely commented on and never addressed.
The influencers are particularly troubling. Setting themselves up as experts, they fill the minds of teens with lies so appalling and claims so wild it is hard to believe they could ever gain much influence. Shrier highlights their messages, all the stuff of parental nightmares: testosterone will solve every problem; parents who do not agree with you do not love you; you will kill yourself if you are not affirmed; it is acceptable to lie to doctors and manipulate your parents to get what you want.
One might expect that American schools – for ‘Irreversible Damage’ is about the situation in the US – would be concerned, but not a bit of it; many have abandoned their safeguarding duties, and children are as likely to find out about gender ideology at school as they are on the internet. Shrier writes about schools teaching many unscientific beliefs and unprovable assertions, and of their allowing pupils to attend gender appointments to obtain puberty blockers – all without parental knowledge, never mind permission. Schools are shown to treat parents as though they are a sideshow in their children’s lives, or, at worst, complete monsters. This has the effect of pushing children away from their parents. Shrier shares examples of family breakdowns, and the parents’ heartbreak is palpable.
This is ironic given that there is a chance these ‘trans kids’ are gay and trying to find acceptance in a deeply homophobic world. Therapists tell parents they will have a dead child on their hands should they not accept what their child now says about themselves. For those parents who trust professionals, this is all the warning they need. However, it is no diagnosis as it relies on the unreliable word of a child’s manipulated feelings, not on professional opinion based on evidence. Even worse, the psychologists Shrier interviews tell her freely that there is not a lot of evidence and that if wrong, kids can go back. However, this is not so easy if the child has had a double mastectomy or begun taking cross-sex hormones. Their attitude reeks of recklessness.
With such a flimsy basis for diagnosis, it is unsurprising that there are professionals with integrity and a commitment to science who disagree with this new trend for transing kids. One of the most troubling aspects of affirmation is that it fails to distinguish between girls and young women with debilitating gender dysphoria and those whose discomfort has arisen through their online interactions, attributing their feelings of not quite fitting in, or as a way to deal with abuse, for example, to an identity issue. Automatic entitlements to medication does not provide the space for a resolution that puberty often gives.
Shrier writes in detail about the drugs, troubling procedures and harmful practices teenage girls are undergoing to obtain the bodily changes they want. Lupron, for example, has never been tested on children. It is used to halt puberty but is more commonly used as a treatment for prostate cancer. The side effects are not fully understood, but it is understood that almost all those who are prescribed it go on to take cross-sex hormones and then begin to develop the secondary sex characteristics of the sex they would rather be. Shrier’s explanation of the flippant approach to ‘top surgery’, taken by Dr Joanna Olson-Kennedy, is utterly horrifying and resembles more of a ‘Mr Potato Head’ approach to care than that of a serious medic. Children are being experimented on.
All of Shrier’s chapters are upsetting, but the horror in ‘Irreversible Damage’ is most evident from the lips of detransitioners – those who have decided they are not trans – themselves. She writes kindly about young people who gradually realise it is impossible to change sex; those who realise they are lesbians; some that they have been brainwashed; others that they have been failed by the adults that owed them a duty of care. Nearly all regret changes to their bodies: their enlarged clitorises, hairy faces, deepened voices, scars, the hysterectomies. Those who transitioned often found they made unconvincing trans men – and in some cases could still not fit into men’s clothes – exacerbating their dysphoria.
Shrier’s last chapter contains some empathetic advice for parents so that their girls do not fall prey to trans ideology. Her advice is based on many in-depth interviews – looking at what exactly went wrong, where children were groomed and how, and also recommending radical solutions, such as moving away, to avoid further harm. She recommends, for instance, not buying children mobile phones, not handing over their parental authority to anyone, not allowing gender ideology to seep into kid’s education and keeping family life private – not plastered all over the internet.
The research in ‘Irreversible Damage’ is exemplary – the sort of work that can only be done out of love and concern for young people and their welfare. In writing this book, she has done a great service for both children and their parents, laying out many safeguarding concerns – but also a way forward to escape this epidemic.A supporter