By Ashlee Kendell
Ellie and Nele were two young girls who identified as trans males and took testosterone to appear masculine. Ellie realized at the age of 14 that she was a lesbian. In addition, she was uncomfortable identifying as a woman. She said, “I wanted to be neutral and do whatever I wanted.” By 15 she felt she had limited choices in life if she remained female, so at the age of 16, her transition began.
Nele’s transgender journey started at age nine when she developed breasts early and the boys began commenting. Throughout the next 10 years, she experienced catcalling, body shaming, and eventually developed an eating disorder. She discovered she was attracted to women but was scared of family repercussions so she came out as bisexual at age 19. A couple of months later, she began identifying as a male and started hormone treatments.
In 2020, Ellie was 21 and Nele was 24. They met, fell in love, and decided that they no longer wanted to be males. They stopped taking testosterone and started referring to themselves with the female pronouns of “she” and “her” again. Nele stated, “I’m very happy I didn’t have a hysterectomy. It means I can stop taking hormones, and my body will return to looking feminine…My voice will never come back. I used to love singing and I can’t sing anymore – like my voice is just very monotone, it works very differently. When I call someone on the phone, I get gendered as male.” Since the women stopped taking testosterone, their faces have softened and they have developed curves in their hips. But it will take surgery to have breasts again since both underwent double mastectomies. Nele will never regain her voice and they both have experienced vaginal atrophy (commonly found in menopausal women) as a side effect of taking testosterone.
As teens, both Ellie and Nele had psychological issues that they believed would be solved by transitioning to male. However, despite transitioning, Nele continued to suffer from severe anxiety and eating disorders, and Ellie still suffered greatly from gender dysphoria and not feeling comfortable in her own body. There’s not much research about detransitioning, so they had little idea what would be in store for them as they changed back to their natal sex. The women would need to face the demons they avoided so long ago. Ellie and Nele boarded a gender-shifting rollercoaster when they were just teenagers. Now they must figure out their lives as females.
Puberty can be extremely challenging for some young women. Many experience anxiety, insecurity, lack of self-confidence. Others endure ridicule and teasing. Some develop eating disorders because they feel like their bodies don’t mirror the cultural ideal represented in the media. Ellie and Nele, unlike most girls who struggle through this difficult period and come out okay on the other side of adolescence, rejected their gender altogether. In some ways, their development was arrested. They hoped to escape this uncomfortable period of life becoming men. Later, they realized that they in fact did want to be female, but now with a new set of challenges. Had they received the support they needed from family, friends, and medical professionals in the beginning, they may have worked through a painful phase of life instead of permanently altering their bodies.
The Problem with Medical Transitioning
In 2019, 1 per 10,000 males and 1 per 27,000 females experienced gender dysphoria. This is when individuals feel that they are the opposite sex to which they were born. According to a 2016 study, most children that experience gender dysphoria do so around age seven, and on average, the youngest age that people seek gender-reassignment surgery is age 19.
When children or adolescents have gender dysphoria, some may choose to temporarily suppress puberty through using the puberty-blocking medication, GnRHa (gonadotrophin-releasing hormone agonists). When taken regularly, puberty blockers suppress the body’s release of sex hormones which affects things such as primary sex characteristics (sex organs such as the penis, vagina, testicles, ovaries, etc.) and secondary sex characteristics (breast development, growth of facial hair, etc.).
This medication is supposed to give the individual time to figure out what gender he or she will identify as. Puberty blockers can cause lower bone density, delay growth plate closure, affect the development of genital tissue (which limits options for gender-affirming surgery if that path is taken later), and affect future fertility. But a person can’t remain in a pre-pubescent state forever. Most children given puberty blockers will go on to take gender-affirming hormones to start looking like the opposite sex. If the child chooses to desist, he or she will need to augment the hormones that were suppressed with the puberty blockers. Girls will need help bringing their estrogen levels back up, and boys will require the same with their testosterone. It will be some time before their hormones function as they should without intervention.
Given Ellie and Nele’s experience, we are led to ask, how much of a person’s gender dysphoria is a temporary condition? A study of 77 gender dysphoric children found that 3.4 years after attending a gender identity clinic, only 27% remained gender dysphoric. This suggests that children will often change their minds as they mature, and suppressing puberty into their mid-late teenage years, followed by the administration of gender-affirming hormones produces serious consequences.
Gender-affirming hormones can be very dangerous, especially for males transitioning to female because estrogen therapy is often insufficient so other treatments are required – treatments that can lead to liver toxicity (i.e. jaundice, hepatitis) or even liver failure which can be fatal. Additionally, transgender people often experience:
- Mental health problems such as anxiety and suicidal thoughts
- Problems with their brain structure and function
- Lack of bone mineral density in the lumbar spine
- High triglyceride concentrations
- Elevated blood pressure
Human Guinea Pigs
There is no extensive research that examines the long-term effects of the use of cross-sex hormones in children. Gender dysphoric children are being used as guinea pigs. Activists and some medical practitioners are encouraging children to make life-altering medical choices when they lack the cognitive maturity to appreciate the long-term effects of those choices. Ellie and Nele had problems. They needed help. Instead, they were given hormones and mastectomies. Oddly enough, they are the lucky ones. They stopped before they destroyed their future as mothers. Not everyone that regrets a decision is so fortunate.