A disturbing new trend has emerged among teenage girls. Abigail Shrier, author of “Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters,” says some groups of young female friends are making the decision together that they’re transgender.
The teenage girls begin taking hormones and some receive physically altering surgeries, often before they’re legally allowed to drive or vote. Shrier joins “Problematic Women” to discuss her new book and why the transgender movement is “seducing our daughters.”
Also on today’s show, we talk with economist Romina Boccia about America’s economic future. And as always, we will crown our Problematic Woman of the Week.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
Virginia Allen: The word transgender was pretty uncommon in mainstream media and society only 10 years ago. Today, we regularly hear about someone who came out as transgender or who has begun transitioning to be a male or a female. The rapid growth in those who identify as transgender almost feels more like a social trend.
We talk on this podcast a lot about this issue because it affects more than simply just those who choose to transition. We know the impact biological males who identify as transgender can have on women’s sports. And we know that for parents, siblings, and friends, it can be extremely challenging to watch someone you love mutate their body because they don’t feel comfortable in their own skin. This is a really complex issue and a very sensitive one.
Lauren Evans: Abigail Shrier has become an expert on the transgender issue in recent years. She’s interviewed parents of children who chose to transition, transgender youth and adults, the doctors who perform the surgeries and those who refuse to do so, even individuals who have detransitioned.
Shrier’s research and findings are all composed in her new book “Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing our Daughters.”
Abigail, welcome to the show.
Abigail Shrier: Thanks much for having me on, it’s great to be here.
Evans: I want to start out and acknowledge [that] you are not a conservative activist or part of any right-of-center think tank. You are a journalist.
Shrier: That’s right. I appreciate you asking that because I really wrote this as an open investigation. I didn’t have a dog in this race when I set out to do this project. I really just wanted to explore what was happening to teenage girls.
Evans: Can you tell our listeners how you got involved in this really hot-button issue?
Shrier: Sure. I wasn’t actually interested in taking this on per se. A reader wrote to me. I write most often for The Wall Street Journal and I had written a piece about the pronoun laws that we have in California and New York that assigned criminal and civil penalties for anyone who misgenders another person who uses the wrong pronouns or not their preferred pronouns.
And I pointed out that this is straightforwardly unconstitutional in America. In America you can’t make people say anything, not someone’s preferred pronoun, not anything at all. Or the government can’t rather. The government can’t make people say things.
Rita wrote to me. And she said, “I’ve reached out to every mainstream journalist I can find, I can’t get anyone to take this on, but my daughter got caught up in a craze. My daughter at 19 had gone off to college with a group of friends, … out of nowhere, she had had a lot of mental health problems, anxiety, and depression and whatnot, and decided that she was transgender and had gone on a course of testosterone.”
In fact, there are parents all across the country—and in fact, it turned out, all across the West—dealing with this very same thing.
And this woman who wrote to me, she was an attorney. She was correct. I couldn’t get another journalist to take it on. I tried to pass it off to a real investigative journalist, which I wasn’t. And when I couldn’t get anyone else to take it on, I got back in touch with her and I said, “All right, tell me what you know.” And it sort of went from there.
Allen: Wow. So, you make the argument in your book “Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters,” that the transgender movement is almost like a fad among young people and specifically teen girls. That these young ladies are going through a lot. and if they feel like maybe they don’t fit in or they’re struggling with anxiety and depression, it can be easy to think, “Maybe I’m feeling so awkward and depressed because I’m actually supposed to be a man.”
And they share this revelation with their friends and their friends think, “Yes, that maybe is the case for me as well.” And so they all decide together, “Hey, we’re transgender.”
Can you just explain this a little bit further and why you think many of these young girls don’t just stop at saying “I’m transgender,” but they actually begin taking hormones and even undergo transition surgeries?
Shrier: Right. My book jumps off from the work of public health researcher Lisa Littman at Brown University, who found that all of a sudden adolescent girls, a demographic that had never experienced gender dysphoria, the severe discomfort in one’s biological sex, had never experienced this in any real numbers, all of a sudden had become the predominant demographic.
Not only were teenage girls suddenly dominating the phenomenon, but these were girls with no childhood history. Typically gender dysphoria began in early childhood.
So she noticed that this was a giant epidemic and it was peculiar. It didn’t look like typical gender dysphoria. And the reason it didn’t … was because not only was it afflicting the very population that it had never afflicted before, and the very population that typically experienced hysterias and spread them, but that these girls were doing this inspired by social media and with their friends.
They were coming out in very short periods of time in friend groups. And there was just no reason you would see a 70 times the expected prevalence rate within clusters of friends. This was really strange. And it turned out she was onto something.
This is a phenomenon we’ve seen all across the West now. Adolescent girls claiming to have gender dysphoria spiked over 4,000% in Britain. The numbers are extremely high in America as well, and Canada and so forth across the West.
And the problem of course, … to get back to your question, is a chosen identity. So at some point you say, “I’m really a boy.” And then the pressure begins. “Well, prove it. Because you don’t look like a boy.” So at that point, that’s when the pressure to start wearing a binder and then eventually move to testosterone comes into play.
Evans: Yeah. … [I’m] happy that this has a name of rapid onset gender dysphoria because it really allows us to address the problem.
Shrier: Right, that was the name Lisa Littman gave it because the thing to know is that it’s totally atypical. This is not what gender dysphoria looks like.
Gender dysphoria, we have a hundred-year diagnostic history. It begins in early childhood typically, ages 2 to 4, little boys saying, “No, mommy, I’m not a boy, I’m a girl, call me a girl’s name. I only want to play with girls. I am a girl.” That sort of thing. And there are certain diagnostic symptoms of gender dysphoria, like those—very overt behaviors of insisting you’re not a boy and that sort of thing.
And in overwhelming cases it dissipated as a boy got older and most often the boys became gay men. And in some cases they became straight men. And in a very small number of cases they stayed as what we used to call transsexuals.
You’re talking about 0.01% of the population. So 1 in 10,000 people, which probably means no one you know, or certainly no one you went to high school with.
Now we have 2% of high school students claiming to be trans. So that’s 1.1 million American kids are high school students. And from the people I interview, I expect that number to be much, much higher since 2018, when that was taken, because when I get calls from parents, they’re telling me 15%, 20% of their daughter’s seventh grade class is claiming to be transgender.
Allen: What role do the schools play in this? Are students learning about gender identity in their classes at school? Is this only happening in sex ed classes?
Shrier: This is very pervasive. The thing to know is that gender ideology is taught in schools. It’s extremely pervasive. It’s mandatory throughout the California public school system, and it’s taught in many public school systems. But not only that, it’s been brought in in a voluntary basis by many teachers who to have taken it upon themselves to teach this.
And what does that mean? Does that turn a kid into a trans kid?
No, of course not. What it does is it puts the idea in the child’s head. A drum beat begins in kindergarten: “Your sex was assigned at birth by a doctor, but you only know who you really are.” This is told to the kids from kindergarten on.
Then what happens to these girls is, these teenage girls, highly progressive, middle-class to upper-middle-class girls—they tend to be white girls overwhelmingly—they go through distress. They don’t fit in, they’re uncomfortable.
And when, during puberty especially, they have high rates of anxiety and depression, and they hit puberty and they’re uncomfortable in their bodies. And that’s when the drum beat that’s been taught to them since kindergarten sort of readily leaps to mind and they think, “Well, I certainly don’t feel great as a girl. Maybe I’m really a boy.”
Evans: And how does social media exacerbate this problem?
Shrier: The number of trans influencers online are legion, and they are very charismatic and they’re really enjoyable to watch. Their videos tee up automatically, and I would say they are the worst influence in every high school times a thousand because they tend to have a lot of advice.
They tell you going on T will solve all your problems. They seem very cool. Their videos are intoxicating. You don’t even have to go looking for them to find them. Very often kids will come across them on art-sharing websites or other seemingly innocuous websites.
And they’re a little older. They’re kids in their 20s making the videos. And they really promise that if you just sort of accept that you’re really a boy, if you just start a course of testosterone, all your troubles will disappear.
Allen: It’s a wild argument that is being put forth here. So you use that phrase, that “going on T,” explain that, and then is there some legitimacy to you actually do feel better as a woman if you start taking testosterone? How does that physically affect your body?
Shrier: Right. The thing to know is that, first of all, these girls who are afraid of this hysteria, … it’s girls who are already lonely. Now, I say that, but they aren’t uniquely lonely in a certain sense. And that is, this is the loneliest generation on record. They spend far less time with their peers than previous generations and far more time online.
So they don’t talk to their girlfriends about their discomfort with their periods, with their bodies, whatever. What they do is they take their troubles online, where this group of influencers can’t wait to promise them all kinds of things, including, “Going on T will solve your problems.”
And the truth of it is, the sort of insidious thing about testosterone is, it has certain good effects. Now, these girls are getting it at 10 to 40 times what their bodies would normally handle, and it does a few things.
One, it delivers euphoria, so the girls feel great and they think, “Oh my gosh, I was right. I really was supposed to be a man.” It seems to confirm that.
Two, it suppresses anxiety, and remember anxiety is one of these girls’ biggest problems. So it gets their anxiety under control, they get a euphoria, and they are socially bolder and braver than they’ve ever been. And it redistributes fat. It really does seem to be a cure for female puberty.
Of course, there are lots of negative side effects. It comes with enormous cardiac risk, several times the rate of heart attack because testosterone thickens the blood. …
In addition to permanent body and facial hair, [it] can alter facial features, lower the voice, it alters private anatomy. It leads to clitoral enlargement, which does not seem to go away. And then the biggest one that we’re aware of is infertility. It can raise the risk of endometrial cancer significantly, which is why doctors will recommend a prophylactic hysterectomy if you’ve been on it for five years.
Evans: Wow, those are some major changes to the body. And I wanted to get into what safeguards are in place, or not in place, and what is the process if a young girl decides that she’s transitioning? How does she go from that step to the hormones, and then even eventually the surgery?
Shrier: If you talk to transgender adults, as I have, of previous generations, they will often tell you that there [was] a process that they went through to begin their medical transitions. The thing to know today is that it is easier to get testosterone for you, for a teenage girl very often than even to get her ears pierced.
The age of medical consent varies by state. In Oregon it is 15. In Washington state you’re entitled to mental health care without parental permission at 13. So the age at which you can give informed consent varies by state. And then there are clinics all across the country, including places like Planned Parenthood, that give out testosterone on a first visit without even a therapist note.
So you basically, you go in, you sign a waiver, you insist you have gender dysphoria, and you walk out that day with a course of testosterone, which is a Schedule 3 controlled substance.
Allen: Wow. So Planned Parenthood is really kind of the leading provider of a lot of these drugs, is that what you’re saying?
Shrier: It’s certainly a leading provider. I don’t know if it is the leading provider, but yeah, it is a major provider of testosterone. And it’s very easy to obtain.
Allen: Now, what about from a therapist’s perspective? How do conversion therapy laws affect what a therapist can and can’t say to a teenager who comes to them and says, “Hey, I think I am maybe a man or maybe a woman”? What laws restrict what they can and cannot say?
Shrier: Conversion therapy bans, which we now have in, I think, 19 states, last time I checked, really were a Trojan horse because they purported to ban so-called gay therapy, gay conversion therapy, which of course brought to mind the really grizzly practices, electroshock therapy and whatnot, used in prior eras. So they purported to ban those things, but they actually included gender identity language.
As well as being broad bans on all conversion therapy, they included gender identity language, which meant for the first time … you couldn’t contradict a person who came to you and said they had gender dysphoria and that their problem was they were in the wrong body.
It made therapists extremely nervous to do that because if they didn’t go along with it, they might have been accused of converting someone out of their gender identity. So … They no longer feel free even to suggest, “Wait a second, you have a lot of other mental health issues. Why don’t we deal with those first?” They don’t even feel free to say that.
Allen: Wow, that’s wild. It’s really not allowing a therapist to do what they’ve been trained to do. But you talked with a lot of teen girls when you were writing this book, young ladies who either had transition or were moving toward that step. What were their stories? What did they tell you about how they were doing now that they were taking hormones, or maybe had had a mastectomy, or other surgeries? Yeah, tell us a little bit about what they had to say.
Shrier: You know, if these girls had gone off and were flourishing as identified boys, I wouldn’t have written the book. If these girls weren’t cutting off their families, experiencing massive depression, not dropping out of college, not getting jobs, I wouldn’t have written the book.
I would have said, “OK, they made this life choice, that’s up to them.” But instead it was a picture of girls in terrible anguish, whose solution, they’re running to surgeries and hormones, had not made them feel better at all, and they certainly weren’t thriving.
And I’ll give you one example of a young woman, Desmond, who told me the moment that she identified as transgender in high school, she got so much celebration, not only from the school therapist and from the school, but from every doctor she talked to. Everyone insisted she was right and she was brave and so forth.
She went on testosterone, and the testosterone, which is delivered in extremely large doses to women, 10 to 45 times what their bodies would normally handle, caused uterine cramping, which it can do. It causes vaginal atrophy and uterine atrophy. And the uterine cramping was so severe, it necessitated a hysterectomy.
And only when she woke up, and I think she was 21 at the time when she woke up with a hysterectomy in the hospital, all of a sudden she didn’t have any cheerleaders around her anymore. And for the first time she realized this has been a horrible mistake, and no one was really there to guide her anymore.
Evans: Yeah. And I mean, that seems like all young teenage women want is attention and to feel part of something. But I wanted to get a little bit deeper into what detransitioning looks like. Is it as simple as stopping taking the testosterone, or do you need to get another surgery to change back?
Shrier: Oh, so, it depends. It depends what you’ve done. But the alterations, of course, many of them are permanent. And it depends, so you can’t turn some of these things back. …
Everybody’s body is a little bit different. If you remove breasts, that’s it. Game over. You can’t get those functions back. You can’t ever breastfeed and you can’t probably ever get any kind of erotic sensation that you once had. …
I talk to surgeons and I learned that breasts are actually far more complicated organs than people think. It really isn’t just the appearance of a breast, but there’s a complicated structure there. And all that functionality is destroyed.
But, as for testosterone, some of the effects of testosterone will go away and some won’t. So, the body and facial hair is there to stay. It’ll change your voice. It may permanently have altered your features a little bit. It really depends on the body, on the individual and their particular makeup.
Allen: What are the emotional effects of a woman who starts taking those pills and then decides, “OK, this isn’t the road I want to keep going down,” but they have caused that permanent damage to their body?
Shrier: The detransitioners are a group of very brave men and women who they certainly have a lot of clarity. And I always enjoy talking to them. But, yes, of course. Because they regret what happened, there is certainly a risk. … They’re dealing with a lot of unhappiness.
All the things that were covered and so easy to obtain to transition are no longer free. So, if you want to go back, none of that’s paid for all of a sudden. And no one is cheering you on for the first time. And, in fact, you’re considered basically a turncoat by the community that encouraged you to transition in the first place. You will no longer be welcome in any of your former trans circles.
It’s not an easy life necessarily. And these people are harassed terribly by trans activists who want to insist they don’t exist or that they were never really trans to begin with. They have to be very brave.
Evans: One of the main arguments for going ahead and taking the testosterone or having the surgery is that, if a woman doesn’t feel like who she really is inside, she’s going to commit suicide. But actually, the numbers show that the opposite is true. What is the suicide rate for people who do go ahead and have the surgery or take the testosterone?
Shrier: I don’t know that we have good numbers on that. First of all, a couple things. It depends what you mean. There are long-term studies, obviously, of male-to-female transsexuals. But this is a fairly new population of these girls who suddenly decided they’re transgender. We’ve never seen numbers like this before.
Between 2016 and 2017, the number of biological females getting gender surgeries in the United States quadrupled. So, we’re seeing an explosion. So, for the first time, we’re seeing real regret.
Look, the rates of suicide are high. I don’t want to suggest that this isn’t a population that we should be worried about. We should. And the problem is, of course, that we have no proof that they insist, the activists insist, “Oh, if you don’t transition, you’ll kill yourself.”
But here are two problems. One, we have no proof that the gender dysphoria is what’s causing the suicidality. We know that these are girls with a lot of other mental health issues. And two, we have absolutely no proof that affirmation and transition, medical transition, relieves the suicidality. So, given that, the suicide narrative is really false. It’s not something that should be used to coerce people into making irreversible decisions.
Allen: Those numbers that you mentioned, that increase is really shocking to see that it has risen that quickly in recent years of specifically these teen girls coming out as transgender.
I guess those who are trans advocates would say, “Well, there’s always been tons and tons of young women who have been transgender. They just didn’t feel comfortable until now.” What’s your response to that?
Shrier: Right. So, I don’t think that’s right. There are three reasons. One, Lisa Littman pointed out that the prevalence rate within friend groups was 70 times what you would expect. … And not only that, but these girls were coming out with their friends within a very short period of time.
So, this wasn’t the case of, you might say, “Oh, well, maybe there was just this is the normal rate, we’re returning to a normal base rate of transgender biological females.” OK, but then you can’t explain why it would cluster in friend groups and why those friend groups would turn transgender together within a very short period of time.
It wasn’t like there were extant transgender kids in the population and they found each other in high school, but rather with a whole friend group would become transgender within a very short period of time. So, that’s one reason.
The other two reasons, of course, are, No. 1, and this is just my own reason, but No. 1, I think following that logic, the idea is we’re just returning to a normal base rate, now that there’s greater societal acceptance, we should be seeing women in their 40s and 60s coming out as transgender. After all, now is their moment. Now is the time when they have the most acceptance they’ve ever had in their lives. But, of course, we’re not seeing that.
We’re only seeing a giant spike in the same population that communicates, and spreads, and exacerbates other hysteria, like anorexia, cutting, bulimia, this sort of thing.
And the third reason, I don’t think that’s right, I don’t think it’s right that there’s this “We’re returning to a natural base right now that there’s greater societal acceptance” because, on the activists’ theory, it was the lack of societal acceptance and lack of ability to be who they really are that’s driving the suicide rate.
But, of course, then the suicide rate among this population of girls should be going down. But instead, we’ve seen it rise very, very sharply this decade. Right? We know that we’re seeing rates of suicide and depression in teens and even tween girls that really should shock everyone. We’ve never seen numbers like this. So, it is really the opposite of what you would expect if this were some sort of natural phenomenon.
Evans: So, how do the parents play into this? … Most of the parents … you talked to, are they cheerleaders for a while for this? Or they automatically want to stop it? What is their relationship with this process?
Shrier: The parents I interview are overwhelmingly politically progressive, which I think has to do with a lot of things. But one reason is, of course, their kids are in the schools that have a lot of gender ideology in them. And they’re overwhelmingly politically progressive.
What happens is the girl comes out at 11, or 12, or 13 and says she is gay, or she’s pansexual, or she’s asexual. She makes this announcement. And these parents who are very concerned, very loving, and very devoted parents, and they love their daughters very much, and their daughter is a very precocious young girl who also has anxiety and depression very often, they want to make her feel good.
And they say, “OK, honey. You’re gay. That’s great. Let’s go to the Pride Parade. … We want to support you in this.” And, in many cases, within a year or so, the girl then kicks it up a notch, and she says, “Actually, mom, I’m really a boy.”
And a lot of the parents tell me this because, they say, “I supported LGBTQ rights my whole life, but I wish I hadn’t sort of so completely embraced this because I think my embrace of her announcement at 13 led her to rebel even more. And I think there’s something to that,” meaning that what the girl was asking for was an opportunity to individuate.
But Gen X parents are so eager to co-opt, and helicopter, and be there for every one of their daughter’s announcements, from “I want to a new ear piercing” to anything else, they want to be right there with her and they want to do it too.
That, sometimes, when they don’t let her have the rebellion, they don’t recognize her sexual identity announcement as a rebellion. They don’t recognize her sexual identity announcement as a rebellion and they co-opt that, she then goes for something more.
Allen: What is your advice to parents whose daughter does come to them and say, “I think I’m a man.” Are there resources out there that parents can turn to?
Shrier: Yeah, there are great resources. Parents of ROGD Kids is a great one. There’s also 4th Wave Now. … And there are good psychologists, although they are harder to find because so many of them practice affirmative therapy. So many of them … will actually just work to ingrain this further in her mind.
Anyway, parents have called me. Parents called me just a couple of weeks ago. One parent called me to tell me that, because of quarantine, she overheard her daughter’s therapist. And the therapist had promised that she would never be an affirmative therapist. She wasn’t going along with this because, of course, they didn’t think that was the daughter’s real problem. And lo and behold, she was able to overhear the session and the therapist is using her male name and pronouns and helping ingrain this. And that’s something I hear again and again.
So what can parents do? No. 1, depending on the age of the child, they really need to get their kid off social media. If they can possibly do it, if we’re talking about a tween or young teen and you can bar social media, it’s a really good idea to do. We know that it’s linked to extraordinarily high rates of depression and anxiety. It’s literally pushing a mental health crisis on our teen girls. They shouldn’t be on it.
But a few other things. No. 1, they should oppose gender ideology in the schools. Parents have no idea how radical it is, how aggressively it’s being pushed, and it’s really confusing an entire generation. And we’re seeing that. We are seeing rates of LGBTQ. I mean, just this year, I think it was even 2020, there was a news report that at Evergreen State College, half the student body was identifying as LGBTQ.
So we know these rates don’t make any sense. They really aren’t organic or natural in the population. So pushing a new gender ideology, pushing the idea that these kids need to experiment with a new ideology and a new orientation and new gender is really producing a lot of these kids who identify as trans. We need to get that out of the schools.
And by the way, that doesn’t mean we can’t show compassion for transgender students in the school. Of course we should, but we should reject the notion that in order to show compassion, we have to indoctrinate an entire student body.
And the third thing I would say is, it’s really important to remind parents that they’re the parents for a reason. Their daughter may hate them for a while when they put limits on her, but they don’t have to go along with whatever pronouncement she comes up with and they don’t have to think she’s right about everything she says about herself, even claims about sexual orientation or sexual identity. She may just be 11 or 12 or 13.
So anyway, those are three quick ones.
Evans: Transgender isn’t a new phenomenon. Why is this moment unique in the medical history of transgenderism?
Shrier: You mean, why are so many people coming out with atypical gender dysphoria or claiming to be trans today? Why today?
Shrier: Well, a few reasons. You know, girls, we’ve always had this population of girls in severe distress, OK? In a lot of psychological pain. They’ve never experienced pain in the numbers they have today, but there have always been these girls in pain who look to the culture for an explanation.
And in prior decades they said, “Oh, I’m so fat. If I just threw up more or if I just stopped eating, I’ll be happier.” And that way, they really increased and spread their own anorexia and bulimia through their friend groups.
So today, they’re doing it with this transgender identity, they’re doing it with, “Oh, if only I were a boy, my troubles would go away.”
The thing is today, for one thing, we’re seeing girls in greater psychological pain than we’ve ever seen. Teens and tweens, largely fueled by social media and feelings of inadequacy it produces, are more unhappy and in psychological pain than we’ve ever seen before.
These are really fragile kids. They’ve been really helicoptered. And things that would be humdrum to prior generations are absolute crises for these girls, like getting dumped, like not fitting in with a group of friends, like losing a grandparent when you’re in middle school. These are unpleasant things, but there are things that other generations were able to take in stride, and for these girls, are absolute crises.
So that’s part of it.
And I think one part is that they’ve noticed that girls and women have really fallen in esteem in the broader culture. They see the men, they know men can waltz right into their bathrooms and shower rooms now claiming to be girls. They know they aren’t being protected and they know very few even women are standing up for them.
Allen: Wow. All right. Well, you can find “Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters” on Amazon, [at] Barnes & Noble, your local bookstore. It’s also available on Kindle and through the Audible app.
Abigail, thank you so much for your time today. We just really, really appreciate it.
Evans: Thank you so much too. I just want to highlight your compassion. You know, it’s such a difficult issue and you’re so compassionate to both sides. It’s just been really a pleasure talking with you.
Shrier: Oh, thank you. Thank you very much.