Updated: Dec 19, 2021
The following is an interview with Aaron Kimberly, answering questions by the French Observatory of Ideological Discourses on Children and Adolescents.
For more information:
Call of the Observatory of Ideological Discourses on Children and Adolescents: Impacts of Medical Practices on Children Diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria.
1. Can you talk briefly about your life journey and your transition?
I’ve had gender dysphoria (GD) for as long as I can remember. At least since age 3. I was raised female, but when I was 19, I was diagnosed with a rare intersex condition called an ovotesticular disorder of sex development. I think my GD is related to that, though I have no way of knowing for sure. I tried to live with my GD as a young adult, and identified as a lesbian, though it never felt right to me and I wasn’t happy. I experimented with ways to express my masculinity. I changed my name to Aaron when I was 22.
I didn’t even know how to explain what I felt to people and felt ashamed of it. I also didn’t know back then that medically transitioning was possible and, when I did learn about it years later, it seemed far-fetched and risky. In the early 2000s I moved to Vancouver and met a few trans people. Then around 2007 I saw a documentary on TV about trans kids which resonated with my experience of GD, so I decided to transition. I don’t really regret that decision, because I do feel a lot more comfortable living as a man, but it hasn’t been easy. As I’ve gotten older, I care less about whether I’m male or female. I don’t believe in the radical gender politics. I think, even if people do decide to transition, we need counselling to help us to understand GD and deal with it in reality-based ways. “Affirmation” isn’t the same as giving us answers about why we feel this way. When I went to see doctors for help, I assumed they understood what this condition is and what treatment is most helpful. I’m rather angry to discover that they don’t really have a clue. They didn’t tell me about all the research that’s been done by psychologists like Dr Blanchard and Dr Zucker, and they presented medical transition as the only real option. They’re just giving us what they think we want, but I didn’t know any other options were available. I trusted them to know that.
2. You have children, has your transition changed your relationship with them?
I have 4 teenaged kids. I adopted my daughter when she was a baby, 16 years ago. She knows that I transitioned but has never known me as anything other than “dad” because I transitioned when she was a baby. My 3 step-kids don’t know that I transitioned. They’ve always known me as Aaron. I don’t think any of them have been impacted much by my transition, except for the time off I needed to take to travel to the US for “bottom” surgery. That required time off work, travel and some expenses. I then had complications from that surgery that took about a year to resolve with subsequent surgeries. I’m sure my down time impacted them and the kinds of activities I could do with them – the lost vacation time etc. But it hasn’t changed my relationship with them. Had they known me before I transitioned I’m sure it would have impacted them a lot more.
3. Your experience of trans identity leads you to advocate against applying transition processes to children: can you explain the main reasons for this?
Hindsight is 20/20. Adults with severe gender dysphoria, who transition later in life, look back and wish they could have transitioned earlier. We think about the benefits, like “if I didn’t develop breasts, then I wouldn’t have needed a mastectomy.” The risks of puberty blockers seem small as compared to the surgeries we could have avoided. But we don’t really know for sure we would have been better off if we’d transitioned earlier. Maybe all we needed is a way of making sense of why we felt this way and to be understood by others.
The problem is, foresight is not 20/20. We have no way of knowing which kids will grow up to need these life-long interventions and which ones won’t. Because studies have shown that approximately 84% of kids with gender dysphoria desist by puberty if left alone, I don’t think we should support changing their bodies if there’s a chance they would have become comfortable in their own bodies eventually.
I also see that kids are being groomed to identify as trans. Here in Canada, they are being taught Queer Theory in public schools as early as kindergarten. See for example this human rights case: https://www.jccf.ca/six-year-old-told-by-teacher-that-girls-are-not-real-case-to-proceed-to-a-full-hearing/ They also have open access to social media and are getting misinformation about these conditions. They’re picking up a culture, not evidence-based clinical information. Because of this grooming, I don’t think kids can provide informed consent to medical transitioning. Kids aren't being properly informed. They’re not being taught that many people experience gender dysphoria for a lot of different reasons. They don’t need to be “trans” or transition just because they have GD.
They’re also not being properly informed about the risks and hardships of medically transitioning. Clinicians don’t want to appear as though they’re discouraging clients, so they under-represent what these procedures are actually like. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns.
4. What advice would you give to children and adolescents who want to make a transition and think that this is the only way for them to be happy?
I’d suggest that they become curious about who people with gender dysphoria were before medical transitioning was an option. We’ve existed and often thrived throughout the ages. It’s simply not true that the only options are death or transition. Sometimes GD goes away on its own. Other people feel it but learn to manage it. Medically transitioning may help some people, but make the GD worse for others. Then what? Doctors have no way of knowing who will benefit from medically transitioning and who won’t. Often, it helps for a while but then stops working. Why go through all the pain and expense just to feel even worse? I’d tell them to watch some videos about detransitioning. Those people all thought that transitioning is something they needed to do too at the time. Now they regret it and have to live with their changed body. Would that be better or worse than having dysphoria? Is it possible they’re gay but are having trouble accepting that? Is it possible that they see transitioning as an easy fix for some of the hard things they’re facing? It’s ok to be a different kind of girl or a different kind of boy. Have they explored what kind of girl or boy they might be? Medically transitioning can’t make them exactly like the opposite sex. It’s just not possible. So whether they medically transition or not, they will need to accept themselves and their unique journey. If they can learn to do that without changing their body, that’s ideal.
5. You seem to be saying that if you were now back in your pre-transition situation, but with the knowledge of what the medical transition path involves, you would have proceeded differently. Is this correct? What would you have considered as an alternative path?
I would have gone to more counselling first, and learned more about what gender dysphoria is and what all of my options were. (Though it’s hard to get that kind of information today). I thought I knew everything I needed to know but I didn't. I was just so desperate to feel better and fit in that I wasn’t really thinking straight. I feel ok about my choices now, but I’m not sure they were all necessary. I do regret getting bottom surgery done, because I had complications and the outcome isn’t what I expected. I feel I was misled about what to expect. It actually made my dysphoria worse not better.
6. What attitude can you suggest to parents whose child declares himself or herself to be trans?
Somehow, we need to help kids understand that “trans” is something that we made up as a concept. It’s not a medical term. We need to counter the Queer Theory they’re being taught because that does the most damage, whether they end up being trans or not. It’s not that it’s “bad” to be trans. It’s just that it’s a word that doesn’t really mean anything and causes confusion. GD isn’t an identity, culture or lifestyle - it’s a condition. Get down to what the real problem is. Is it GD or something else? GD is real, but there are many different reasons people experience it. (Intersex conditions, being gay or lesbian, autogynephilia, autism, schizophrenia…) Gender non-conformity is ok. It’s ok to be a masculine girl or a feminine boy. It’s really important to be neutral with our kids and let them know we’re going to love them no matter what. Let them explore within their birth sex as much as possible. Teach them that gender is more than stereotypes. If they’re a girl who likes sports and cars, that doesn’t mean they’re a trans boy. Girls are allowed to like those things. Tell them if they really need to medically transition as an adult, you’ll support them, but it’s a decision that should be made as an adult not a child.
7. How do you respond to a child who becomes desperate when he or she asks for puberty blockers and is asked to wait? What alternative can you suggest?
Acknowledge and validate their distress, but explain that there are risks to taking puberty blockers and there’s not enough research about them. Puberty is distressing for a lot of people. That’s actually a pretty normal thing to feel. Puberty isn’t just about physical changes - it’s about brain development and social development too and stopping puberty can disrupt those important developmental changes. Sometimes, people need to face puberty to work out their GD. Get kids support to cope with the distress they feel if it’s too much for them. Encourage them to find ways to express themselves in other ways, like clothing choices, hair styles etc. Encourage them to open up and find words to express how they’re feeling and why. Not taking puberty blockers doesn’t mean they can’t decide to medically transition as adults. In fact, for natal boys, surgery results are better if they don’t take puberty blockers. Puberty blockers stop the growth of boys’ penises – then there isn’t enough penile tissue to invert into a vaginal canal later. When that’s the case, a section of their colon has to be used instead, which is more complicated.
8. Parents are often confronted with a guilt-ridden alternative: either you support your child in his transition or you are bad parents. You may even be responsible for the child's eventual suicide. What comment does this inspire you?
I reject the notion that all people with GD throughout history killed themselves. What a horrible message to send to kids today. Were butch lesbians’ lives 100 years ago not worth living? Trans activism is quite homophobic and sexist.
We can cope with all kinds of challenging things if we can find meaning in them and feel connected to others. Lots of people deal with all kinds of difficult things. A lot of those stats about suicide are skewed. Some people lie to get what they want. Some clinicians coach people to lie to get what they want. Some of those people were suicidal but for reasons other than GD. GD can be hard but it’s not a death sentence. Teach kids that they’re loved for who they are, not that they’re sick and hopeless. If we tell kids that having GD is so horrible that we’d be better off dead, of course kids are going to feel badly about themselves.
9. In your opinion, can the discomfort of having a girl's or boy's body find another remedy than gender transition?
Yes. It helps to have a sense of self that has nothing to do with gender. Obsessing about gender makes GD worse. Many of the butch women I’ve known over the years have GD but they are proud to be butches. They’ve found community and meaning for themselves that’s more powerful than their GD. Our whole sense of meaning and worth shouldn’t be based on how our bodies look or what others think of us. I think if kids feel connected and have a sense of purpose, their GD would be manageable.
10. Often, simply questioning the appropriateness of a transition process in a young person with gender dysphoria is considered transphobic behavior. Yet you yourself are a trans man, and you work to protect children from engaging in these trans identity processes before they come of age. What do you think of these transphobia accusations?
I’m sorry that trans activism has gotten to the point that they even call me transphobic for being honest. Some people can’t seem to understand that Queer Theory is separate from having GD. Queer Theory is just a theory. Whether or not we believe in it is optional. I’m more than just a theory. I don’t believe in it and I’m still trans. I’ve interacted with hundreds of queer and trans people over my lifetime. Having heard so many stories, I know we’re not all the same. I agree with Dr Blanchard’s typology – though he didn’t capture all types. Some “trans” people have never experienced GD. They lied to their clinicians to get hormones. I don’t know why. Some have said they transitioned for “political reasons”. There are so many reasons for why someone might not feel comfortable with their body or their gender. Now, we’ve made it look cool to be trans and kids are getting confused. We SHOULD be questioning the appropriateness of transition. It’s a big deal! If someone feels “attacked” or that they don’t exist because we don’t believe in their Queer Theory-based narrative, then they’ve constructed their whole identity on a theory. That’s pretty sad. If we don’t acknowledge the truth of our condition then we can’t ever really be loved. I’d rather be called transphobic by a few people than never be loved for who I am. People who call this transphobia are afraid to take the lid off the box for some reason. They deserve compassion, but the whole world shouldn’t collude with a harmful fantasy in order to spare a few people some distress. People should get help for their distress.