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One of the most influential voices in the pediatric transgender movement is that of clinical and developmental psychologist Diane Ehrensaft, author of The Gender Creative Child. She is the director and chief psychologist for the University of California–San Francisco Children’s Hospital gender centre and as well as an associate professor of pediatrics at UCSF.
For many commentators on this topic, it was watching Ehrensaft’s presentation to 400 attendees at an all-day 2016 conference and continuing education event in Santa Cruz that crystallized our understanding of just how off-the-rails the obsession with gender dysphoria in children has become amongst certain professionals in the field. I saw it a long while ago, and it made me boiling mad, but somehow I never got around to writing about it specifically at the time. Now it is making the rounds again on Twitter, so I just had to seize the opportunity.
Ehrensaft is a leader in the “affirming” school of gender transitioning, and rather contemptuous of the “watchful waiting” approach favoured for decades by responsible therapists.
The affirming school believes in letting the children lead the adults. “Listen and act” is their motto, even though Ehrensaft is aware, and says she is aware, that most children will grow out of their dysphoria in time. During the Q & A, an audience member asks how one might know if a child is transgender when he or she is “pre-verbal.” Here is Ehrensaft’s answer:
[Preverbal children] are very action-oriented. This is where mirroring is really important. And listening to actions. So let me give you an example.
I have a colleague who is transgender. There is a video of him as a toddler–he was assigned female at birth–tearing barrettes out of then-her hair. And throwing them on the ground. And sobbing. That’s a gender message.
For another example:
They can show you about what they want to play with…and if they feel uncomfortable about how you are responding to them and their gender… if you’re misgendering them. So you look for those kinds of actions….like tearing a skirt off. …There was one on that Barbara Walters special, this child wore the little onesie with the snap-ups between the legs. And at age one would unsnap them to make a dress, so the dress would flow. This is a child who was assigned male. That’s a communication, a pre-verbal communication about gender…. And children will know [they are transgender] by the second year of life…they probably know before that but that’s pre-pre verbal.
Ehrensaft said a whole lot of other stuff too, and maybe some of it was consistent with reason and actual evidence, but who the hell cares? How do you trust anything else that comes out of an alleged professional’s mouth once you’ve heard her spout this kind of nonsense?
A toddler who dislikes foreign objects in her hair is giving pre-verbal signs of gender distress? Does that mean a little Orthodox Jewish boy who persistently whips a kippah off his head and keeps throwing it on the ground believes he is a girl? Or no, wait, maybe, maybe he is saying, “I was assigned Jewish, but I know I am really Christian!”
Or maybe it could be that both the barrette girl and the kippah boy know that they don’t want anything in or on their hair, gender be damned? Me, I’m such a simpleton, I’d choose the latter explanation.
I can’t quite get over it. (If I were Greta Thunberg, I’d say “How DARE she!) A baby in a “onesie” knows what a “dress” is—and moreover that it is women who wear dresses? If that were the case, the baby would also have to have known it was born in North America and not Saudi Arabia, where the men all wear the flowing thawb.
That’s some precocious baby. He can’t sit up by itself, he doesn’t know what a toilet is for yet, but he can distinguish between gendered sartorial lamination all across the globe.
How is it that not a single person in that hall of 400 people stood up and yelled, “WTF?” I assume they were all reasonably well-educated people. Were they hypnotized? I think maybe they were. Okay, it’s asking a lot to be the one person to stand up and tell the emperor he is naked. But how come there weren’t at the very least ripples of spontaneous laughter, or strong murmurings as a bunch of attendees turned to their neighbours and asked, “Is she kidding or for real?” and “I can’t believe I paid good money for this conference,” and “Beam me up, Scottie, she’s actually telling us a baby knows what a gender is.”
It’s pretty creepy when a stakeholder in a domain in which “distress” is the main symptom seems so eager to see more of it. What troubles me especially is that Ehrensaft is 73 years old. Did she believe that absurdity about “onesies” and “barrettes” when she was a 20-year old student? When she was 30 and already a practicing psychologist? When she was 40? When she was 50? When she was – even – 60? Yeah, maybe when she was 60, but surely not long before that.
I understand how young teachers and psychology students are serenely enjoying the trip they’re taking on the transmania bandwagon, as they were sucked into it at their most vulnerable intellectual stage of life. But age is supposed to temper your imprudent impulses, not unleash fresh ones.
You often hear the expression about someone, “Uh-oh, he’s drinking his own Kool-Aid.” It’s not often you get to see a preacher pouring the stuff into the pitcher to disguise the taste of the snake oil, stirring it up and guzzling it in front of 400 people. Like anyone who watches that YouTube video has just done. Shame on her and all who defer to her.