My daughter is now 21 years old, and a detransitioner. Here is our story.
D suffered from anxiety from a young age, ADHD inattentive-type first diagnosed in Grade 2, generalized and social anxiety that got progressively worse through elementary school. By middle school, she lacked the executive functioning skills to manage all her school work. Her anxiety became more severe, and were accompanied by somatic symptoms (chronic stomach aches, nausea, headaches). Depression started to set in. By Grade 8 she wanted to die, wished she had never been born.
By Grade 8 she wanted to die, wished she had never been born.
We had been consulting with mental health professionals for years – in early elementary school, CAMH by Grade 5-6, Sick Kids Anxiety clinic in middle school. In early Grade 10, we had to pull her out of school – her life was now in danger. At that stage, we were referred to Sunnybrook Youth Anxiety. No health care professional had ever been able to help D and help us as a family. Sunnybrook was no different. D was referred to a residential treatment program in Toronto, and she went to live there (with home visits on the weekend) for approximately 10 months. When she came back to live at home, her old behaviours, anxiety, depression gradually came back and were in full swing by the fall.
In late 2016, D told us out of the blue that she was transgender male. We again sought help – D’s GP referred her to the CAMH gender clinic and she was placed on their waiting list. I then found another doctor who (seemed to be) well known and respected in his treatment of ‘gender dysphoric/questioning’ youth. D had her first appointment with this doctor in early 2017. At the same time, we contacted Youth Services (CTYS) for family support and guidance. CTYS had a therapist who could see us. We were advised to accept and affirm. I even remember the first phone call, my D had just told me she was trans, and I was still referring to her by female pronouns, and I was sternly corrected by the intake coordinator.
We did what the ‘experts’ told us. My husband and I didn’t care what gender our child was, we just wanted a child that was at peace with themselves, and who wanted to live. We switched to using male pronouns and a new name of D’s choosing.
We did what the “experts” told us.
The gender doctor I had found saw us in the Spring of 2017. D was given a shot of Lupron to essentially delay puberty (D’s body was already developed by that point, but her period stopped). She started experiencing a lot of hot flashes and more severe mood swings.
D had a few more appointments with this doctor in the first half of 2017. The doctor told her that he would not prescribe testosterone right away, he wanted to see how she did living ‘as a male’ for maybe 6 months, and also watch her anxiety and depression. D was very upset. She had been hurting for so long, and she was now convinced that transitioning was the answer. The CTYS Youth Services therapist gave us the name of another doctor who was taking new clients.
D was able to get a prescription for testosterone after two appointments with this new doctor. I was there, as D always wanted me to attend appointments with her. I asked the doctor if it was maybe a bit soon to start hormone therapy within just 6 months of D coming out as trans. The Doctor told me that many kids start way earlier (D was just shy of 18 by then). By the time CAMH called us back, D had already started hormone treatment. I was told by CAMH that they didn’t provide gender therapy, only a path to transition, which by then D no longer needed. (Recall this was shortly after Dr. Zucker had been let go.)
By early 2018, D was approved for a government-funded double mastectomy based on a one-sentence letter from the doctor who had by then met her maybe 4-5 times, never for more than 10 minutes each time; saying she was male. Surgery happened at the McLean Clinic in Mississauga (this was about 18 months after D decided out of the blue that she was male). The surgeon met with D and me all of two times before performing the surgery. Nobody cared that she had been suffering from serious mental illness for years. They just made sure D signed the disclaimer forms. (D was 18 by then)
Nobody cared that she had been suffering from serious mental illness for years.
They just made sure D signed the disclaimer forms.
After the surgery, D’s depression became more and more severe. I remember thinking that as she recovered physically post-surgery, her mental health gradually deteriorated. She hit what I feel was rock bottom by fall 2018. At that point, I decided to stop working and stayed home for a year to have more energy to care for and support her and make sure I could stay emotionally healthy and strong.
2019 was a year of slowing down and just ‘being’. By late 2019, D was able to start talking to me about her significant self-doubts that she said had been there all along. By early 2020, she had realized she was not trans, and that she wanted to detransition. She says that her thinking she was trans was because of deeply rooted misogyny and gender expectations in our society, which led her to hate herself from a young age, and that the most influential factor that led her to transition was how it is portrayed online. She says that on YouTube and on the internet, transition is advertised as something that will solve all of your problems. D had been suffering for years, and this gave her a direct course of action to feel better. As she was reviewing this email, D felt so strongly about this part that she added her own words:
“I’ve had body dysmorphia for as long as I can remember, the pressure on women and girls to be skinny, wear makeup, shave and be hairless from the head down and be feminine was just too much for me and transitioning was a way to escape that. Women and girls are also intensely sexualized, and I felt intense discomfort when men would look at me, and the mastectomy was a way to escape that. A lot of trans men online also talk about how they felt like they were ugly girls but now they’re attractive ‘men’. This didn’t help. I now realize that gender ideology only serves to perpetuate gender roles.”
D is angry and upset that she had access to hormones and surgery that easily. She is thankful that we were with her and supportive through the entire journey, but wishes she had been able to access more balanced views on the issue and treatment of gender dysphoria, especially ‘rapid onset’ and particularly for a child who had a history of mental health challenges. She recognizes that the issue is hugely complex, and that if she had not had access to treatment back then, she would have continued to push for it and to be upset that she could not start transitioning. However, with effective therapy, these thoughts and feelings could have been dealt with differently and could have been resolved over time.
In 2020, D was diagnosed with autism (Aspergers), which was completely missed when she was younger – the diagnostic criteria for autism is based on males, symptoms show up quite differently for girls than for boys, so girls very often slip through the cracks (same applies for ADHD). Girls are able to learn how to mask from a very young age, they start to mimic the social behaviours of others so as to not stand out. The masking takes an incredible toll on their mental well being.
Now that we know D is autistic, it seems so obvious. But back then, it seems that therapists and doctors never gave D a chance. They all seemed to approach treatment from a place of ‘knowing what the problems were and what treatment she needed’ before they even got to know her and understand what it felt like to be her. When treatment didn’t work, D felt like there was something clearly massively wrong with her, that it must be her fault and that made her hate herself even more.
An amazing therapist I have worked with over the years says ‘be mindful of trying to get your child to change or stop a behaviour before you understand what is underlying it’. That is powerful, but none of the health care professionals went at it that way.
We have been massively let down by the health care system in Canada.
As the mom of a child who has suffered for years, I feel we have been massively let down by the health care system in Canada. We are lucky; D is still alive – many are not so lucky. The mental health care system is severely inefficient and completely broken. And since gender dysphoric children cannot access any form of balanced approach to treatment, what else are they to do?