Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters; by Abigail Shrier; Regnery Publishing; 276 pp., $28.99
You’ve seen the yard signs. “We believe…Black Lives Matter; No Human is Illegal; Love is Love…” The tone is pure emotive posturing, until you get to this statement: “Science is real.” This is the foundational rhetorical trick of the contemporary progressive left. Every claim is little more than moralizing emotion, but “science” is finally asserted as undergirding the whole creaky edifice. When you get into the details of the “science,” however, complications and even straightforward deceptions appear.
Abigail Shrier’s book on transgenderism in children sheds useful light on how this move works, and how serious the consequences are for our culture and our children.
The first clue that something is amiss in youthful claims of transgenderism is visual. Shrier provides accounts of interviews she did with trans youth activists, most of whom have extensive social media presences. Looking at their YouTube pages, one has the impression of watching a play in a poor quality amateur theater. Wholly untrained actors endeavor to perform demanding roles, full of sincerity, but failing utterly to achieve verisimilitude. The male-to-female transgenders make exaggerated hand gestures, toss their heads, and fiddle with their hair literally every second or two. Sometimes they dance in hyperstylized pop singer fashion. It is de rigueur to always show substantial cleavage, which is apparently believed to be the most foolproof sign of female identity.
The female-to-male individuals, who are Shrier’s focus, are typically just as obvious in playing roles beyond their acting abilities. In one representative example, we see a chronological journey in images, from a young girl to a high school student of obvious feminine appearance. She then enters college—where radical ideas such as transgenderism abound—and progressively morphs from an attractive young woman into a would-be skater boy, tongue hanging out irreverently, hipster hand signs flashing in every image. Testosterone treatments have produced a wispy beard and added a bit of muscle to her frame, but the person we see remains clearly discernible as a physical woman play-acting at being a man.
I was left with the sad but certain feeling that something had gone seriously awry here. Th is distressed young person’s life might have gone in a much better direction if only our elites had not surrendered the field of youth sexual identity to radicalism.
Gender theory scholars will tell us that gender is inherently nothing more than performance, and that biological males and females are performing too. But then why is it that their performances are more authentic? Why are their behaviors not immediately interpreted as fi ctions by those who observe them, but rather as a refl ection of something true?
There is a species of snake that, upon being surprised by a larger animal, will pretend to be dead by plopping onto its back, writhing violently for a few seconds, then opening its mouth and letting its tongue hang out while ceasing all movement. If you turn it over, it will enthusiastically “die” all over again. Presumably, some predators are fooled by this act, but no human observer could possibly find it convincing. The effect of these transgender videos is broadly the same. In nearly every case, it is immediately apparent that there is an incongruity in the performance, discernible to any competent viewer.
Given the tremendous difficulty of this game, we might well wonder where girls get the idea that they are boys. What could be driving the growth in the number of young girls identifying as transgender? Shrier suggests the increased pressure on teen girls to conform to impossible standards of beauty, competitively reinforced by the immersive, inescapable world of social media, plays a role in driving some to retreat entirely from that anxiety-ridden field. Contemporary “woke” culture among the young is another factor. In the stressful, nearly omnipresent, and high stakes status game that organizes victims and victimizers into a moral hierarchy, becoming transgender offers instant entrée into a high-status victim category.
The cultural world in which these girls exist is unquestionably full of new, daunting facts. Shrier recalls a friend’s story of her daughter going to Nordstrom’s to be fitted for her first bra and being attended to there by a six-foot tall transgendered individual with substantial facial stubble. The experience of puberty, already threatening enough, is made still more terrifying by surrealistic confusions such as this. “I hate my boobs, I hate my body, I hate everything,” says a girl who likely speaks for many quoted in Shrier’s text. Little wonder, given the disturbing, alienating anarchism of the culture into which we have thrown her.
Parents want to protect their children from such disturbances, and they sometimes evince suspicion of the claims about gender and sex made in contemporary elitist culture. A central policy goal of the transgender movement and its allies is to bar parents as much as possible from making decisions about the gender identity of their children. Medical professionals and schools increasingly see parents at best as benighted, at worst as transphobic bullies who must be prevented from standing in the way of the medical sexual transition of their children.
The massive effort at indoctrination in schools includes an astounding array of dates set aside to celebrate radical ideas on gender and sexuality: Coming Out Day, International Pronouns Day, LGBTQ History Month, Transgender Awareness Week, Transgender Day of Remembrance, Transgender Visibility Day, Day of Silence/ Day of Action, Harvey Milk Day, and Pride Month. In colleges, student health services provide aid to transitioning students, even if parents disagree, in the form of transfriendly therapy and sex hormones.
Trans culture-compliant medical professionals play a deceptive game of posing as scientific authorities, when their true role is to rebuff parents who question what is going on in the life of their transitioning daughters. They effectively turn decision-making power over to the easily manipulated child. They claim people are, as the Lady Gaga pop song has it, essentially “born this way,” and that social forces play no role in gender, other than to demonstrate discrimination towards and hatred of the transgendered.
But there is little evidence of biological causes for transgenderism. There are no genes for sexual identity that could be turned on or off to produce transgenderism. The vast majority of those who transition from one gender to another are not genetically or in any phenotypical way, such as in their genital structure or hormonal profile, intersex. They are mainly biologically normal males and females who have decided their gender is incorrect.
above: images of “Alia” Ismail (left) before gender transition surgery and “Issa” Ismail (right) afterward. Ismail is the subject of a 2018 documentary film, “A Year in Transition.”
Some studies of MRI scans claim to show that transgendered individuals who have not received sex hormone treatment have brains more like members of the opposite sex. But these studies have tiny sample sizes and there are disputes over the significance and the consistency of their findings. There is also presently no plausible, widely-accepted biological argument as to what would be producing this purported mismatch between biological sex and brain structure.
The eager embrace of biology as the cause of transgenderism is not duplicated when it comes to other controversial matters of social identity and disparity. Research showing that male and female brains are on average substantially structurally different, for example, is routinely challenged and even dismissed by feminist academics and scientists, who instead posit purely social causes for differences between men and women.
Even if one assumed that every case of teenagers who believed they had been misgendered was driven by objective biological realities, the reality is that in many cases, socially passing as the opposite gender is not possible. Outside of carefully manicured social media posts, others will generally be able to tell the biological sex of an individual and to recognize the inconsistency of a dubious gender identity.
Some of Shrier’s subjects recognize they are playing a game doomed to failure from the start, and their depression likely stems at least in part from this realization. A compassionate, realistic expert community would recognize this as something that cannot simply be wished or legislated away.
Authority is what is ultimately at issue here, particularly cultural authority. We must ask whether individuals should be subject to any cultural authority, scientific, familial, or religious. Or, will individuals under the not-so-gentle pressure of “woke” elites be the sole arbiters of their identities? Will we allow this to be so, even if it demands we allow children to irrevocably alter their bodies and futures based on ideologically-driven ideas about gender?
The transgender cultural movement is toward anarchism, subjectivism, and relativism. It posits that there is no objective information or standard that can be used to help make sense of individual identity. There is only what I want to do, right now.
This is what underlies the problem Shrier describes. She deserves great credit for writing this courageous book. That she will not receive it, but instead only the attacks she is now suffering, is indicative of the magnitude of our cultural collapse.