I often relive, in my mind, a conversation I had maybe fifteen years ago. I remember how afraid I felt. No matter what I said, my words would be twisted to paint me as the member of an enemy tribe. I remember feeling as if a tide I hadn’t even been aware of was approaching my toes, and suddenly realizing that this tide would soon engulf all America, sucking under valuables, sweeping in dismembered body parts of a formerly coherent culture broken to bits in a powerful storm. I berate myself for not having words at the ready that could rewrite the history that this conversation ushered in. And I feel rage. Why did they do this to me?
For you to understand the weight of this conversation, to understand how vulnerable I was, and how much I risked losing, you need the backstory.
Miriam and I had met at work, many years before. We were both the kind of women who read literary classics and the daily paper, who discuss current events and the latest movie. Women like that find each other, and we value each other. We were healthy and young and headed in different directions: Miriam into business, me into academia. We were confident we were destined for success.
I went away to grad school, thinking I’d be gone for a couple of years, come back home and get a tenure-track professorship. My first semester at Indiana University I was harassed by a professor for taking off four workdays to attend my father’s funeral. Deans on campus begged me to testify against that professor. I was told that the professor was a menace, but because she was black and a woman no one would speak up. I testified for months, while taking a full load of graduate courses. My inner ear burst, which meant six years of uncontrollable vomiting, nystagmus, and paralyzing vertigo. I lost my life savings, and plunged into rock bottom poverty. A pro bono surgery at Riley Hospital relieved most of my vestibular symptoms, but left me deaf in one ear.
I returned to my home state with a PhD. The night I moved into my apartment, I sat on the floor and ate dinner off the lid of one of the pots I had brought with me. A street lamp outside illuminated my meal. I had no chair and no lamp.
You can live without a chair or a lamp but you can’t live without friends. I sought Miriam out. She was the same. Smart, funny, caring, beautiful, creative, brave, unconventional, a delight. Her warmth and generosity were a lifeline. Miriam became possibly the most important female friend I’ve ever had. Miriam was now married. Friendship was a package deal.
Sol was an outgoing social impresario with dozens of friends. Sol, like Miriam, was warm and generous. I owe Miriam and Sol a great deal. I love them, both. I see them, in my mind, sitting in sunlight and flowers.
Sol pegged me as a “conservative.” I was astounded. Violent crime harms people – thinking that makes me a conservative? Employees hired on merit rather than identity perform better; people are responsible for their actions – are these conservative ideas? Simply to exist, countries require borders – that’s common sense, not a left-wing nor right-wing point of view. Questions of left vs. right begin when you debate whether border guards should use rubber bullets or live rounds. Abortion, Christianity, atheism: Sol insisted on debating each. I just wanted to hang out with Miriam. But friendship had become a package deal.
I could have mentioned that Sol’s talking points were abstractions, unrelated to contact with real people, whereas my views were rooted in my real life. I could have mentioned that I never saw Sol, an economically comfortable white man, in the same room with a black person. Sol lived in one of America’s wealthiest counties, a county with a black population of three percent; the statewide percentage is thirteen. I lived in a poor, majority minority city, but Sol was the unquestioned authority on matters of race and class; I was the dismissible “conservative.” I could have mentioned that Sol announced himself as representative of a larger value system, the political left, whose signature was compassion. I could have mentioned that Sol never extended compassion to me over what was done to me at Indiana University; for his worldview to make sense, whites are never victims and blacks are never perpetrators. Any bad thing any black person did was always ultimately caused by white racism. Any pain that any white person felt was just punishment for white guilt. I had just watched a university’s entire administration kneel and tremble in fear before a serial abuser lest she cry, “Racism! Sexism!” Yet Sol insisted that white supremacy was all powerful.
Then came THE conversation. We were in Sol and Miriam’s sprawling home. Two panels of windows to our left and right looked out on gardens, foxes, and deer. Above us rose a cathedral ceiling. Across from me, at the same heavy wooden table, sat Sol. The man who never stopped smiling suddenly had the facial expression of Inspector Javert closing in on Jean Valjean. This new scowl frightened me.
“We have some news to share with you,” Sol said.
Was someone dying? I wondered.
“Colleen is becoming a boy. From now on, we are to refer to Charles using the pronouns ‘he, him, his.'”
Colleen? Why was Sol ordering me to care about Colleen? I’d only ever met Colleen a couple of times, and I’d never given her much thought. What I write here are fleeting impressions resurrected from encounters that, had THE conversation never taken place, I would have just forgotten.
Colleen first appears in my memory at a picnic. Every other person there was at least forty years older than Colleen. Colleen displayed herself in her bikini but she also erected a wall, not making eye contact, not responding to greetings. I was troubled by Colleen’s combination of “Look at me; I know you think I am gorgeous” with “You are beneath my notice.” Frankly, I idly wondered what her mental health diagnosis might be. And yet Colleen also seemed especially vulnerable to me, and I somehow wanted to protect that vulnerability. I couldn’t of course. Colleen was not my kid nor my friend.
Then one day circumstances conspired accidentally to put Colleen and me together for a one-on-one. I loved the girl in that encounter. I understood her remoteness as not so much arrogance, although maybe it partially was. Rather, she seemed most at home far from humanity, in the wild. Her walls dropped and what emerged was an almost otherworldly forest sprite. When interacting with animals, Colleen flowed with warmth, so different from her velvet-rope stance at the picnic. She issued forth sweetness, innocence, enthusiasm, and fragility.
You know you are old and have left youth behind when you encounter a young person and want badly to protect her from dangers you see clearly, but that are invisible to her, and you suddenly fall, face-first, onto your own impotence. The dangers you see in her path are not just the lions and tigers of bears of predatory men and life’s inevitable disappointments, in other words, not just the bad stuff outside of oneself, but also the pitfalls and palisades inside of oneself: our own pride, our own tunnel vision focused on our own worst choices.
I wanted to say to her, “Colleen, be patient. Whatever you are feeing right now will change. Yes, I’ve been a teenage girl, and yes, I can guarantee that today’s monumental emotions will later be laughable or embarrassing. Be charitable. People may say or do things that you find objectionable, but they may be operating from benign impulses. Please don’t make any life-altering decisions until you’ve moved out of your mother’s house and have been economically independent for at least a couple of years.”
What else did I know about Colleen? Her father abandoned her. Her life was the side effect of uncommitted sex. In contrast to her diffident daughter Colleen, mother Becky liked to entertain the crowd at parties. She made comments about her own sex life. Women who talk about their sex lives publicly always have a certain number of fans. Like Sol, indeed like all of their mutual friends, Becky was a party-line leftist. Christianity is corrupt. Republicans are stock villains. The political left, if only it got enough power, could save the world. Becky sent me a Facebook friend request. I accepted. I posted something that could be interpreted as “conservative.” Becky immediately “unfriended” me, though she’d sent me the friend request just hours before. If you scratched beneath the surface of Becky’s politics, you didn’t encounter deep reading or personal struggle. Nothing alienates tribe members like a woman who voices original thoughts. In any case, Becky and Colleen gave every sign of having a happy, loving relationship. Yes, they seemed to be more “best friends” than mother and daughter, but, hey, none of my business.
Though Colleen was, again, someone I barely knew, I knew many other details about her life. I didn’t want to know these details. Colleen announced these details publicly. One such detail: she paid a surgeon to snip off her nipples, resize them, and sew them back on. The surgeon was himself a man who identifies as a woman and a “trans activist” and had had body-altering surgery himself years before.
And if you are wondering, yes, in addition to their obvious function in breast feeding new life, nipples are also part of an erogenous organ. And, yes, snipping them off and sewing them back on destroys their sexual, as well as their nutritive function. A man pretending to be a woman did that to a confused young girl. And we are told that if we use the word “mutilation” we are committing a hate crime. Why did shy, young Colleen announce such personal details about her own body so that any stranger could learn them? Because Colleen had had a conversion experience.
Colleen had been seeing a psychiatrist from age six. Here, again, vocabulary becomes a litmus test. In the world I grew up in, if a child was diagnosed with “depression,” that was a sign that something in that kid’s life needed to change. More love, more work, more outdoors play, more wholesome food, and less junk, more structure and guardrails. Religion: “Where did I come from; why am I here; where am I going; what do I do to get there?” These are religious questions and the answers can contribute to or alleviate depression. “God loves you” was one of the key anti-depressants in my childhood, as was the physical exhaustion from playing or working all day. My thoughts about depression were condemned as “conservative.” The “liberal” approach, popular in wealthy white suburbs, was that a young child’s depression was a chemical accident that bore no relation to behaviors, parenting, or values, and medicalization and certainly more chemicals, in the form of prescription drugs, were the “solution.”
Though depressed, Colleen had previously enjoyed being a girl. She looked forward to having breasts, and once they grew in, she was aware that older men paid her a lot of attention. Then puberty started to feel uncomfortable. In her self-revelation, Colleen never mentioned that other girls might also find puberty uncomfortable.
Colleen’s tunnel-vision focus on her own discomfort, as if no one had ever felt uncomfortable with puberty before her, is not a minor point. When we focus only on ourselves, and only on right now, our perception becomes skewed. We are just one member of the larger human race. Our fleeting perceptions are changing, changeable, and something we can overcome if need be. My fellow students at St. Francis School might faint if they heard me say this, but Catholicism and nuns trained us in endurance. Wool uniforms in summer. Playing in full sun on asphalt with just one water fountain dispensing lukewarm liquid as refreshment. Fasting before communion. We learned to say, “This hurts; the pain won’t last forever.” It didn’t. We moved on. G. K. Chesterton said that “Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead.” In lieu of the dead, we had housewives sitting around drinking coffee. “I hate wearing a bra! I want to cut off my boobs!” I liked to say when I was Colleen’s age. Women in housedresses laughed. They talked about how much they hated wearing bras. And then they slurped, and life moved on. I still have my boobs. I still wear bras. I know this won’t last forever, alas.
Colleen’s turning point came when she met an older girl who introduced her to trans pornography. Colleen was transfixed. She plunged into social media through the internet. She encountered hundreds of other lonely white girls convinced that they were trans.
Colleen found identity, community, and purpose. “Identity, community, and purpose”: what young people seek, according to former Neo-Nazi Christian Picciolini. Identity, community, purpose: mocked and denigrated by the modern left. Being American, being white, even just having descended from Christians, all marks of shame.
With new found identity, community, and purpose, formerly shy Colleen began a campaign of public disclosures. Graphic sharing of her surgeries and sex life was a crusade to make the world a kinder, more loving place. The crusade featured leftwing economics. It is the fault of the unrighteous US government that girls have to pay out of pocket to have their nipples excised, resized, and sewn back on. In a new Utopia, such procedures would be “free,” that is, the taxpayer would foot the bill.
Colleen was a testifying evangelist; she was going door to door distributing a tract. The contents of her pamphlet were her nipples, her mastectomies, her vagina, her hair, her vanity. Previously, Colleen had been a child so confused and depressed that she reached out to internet porn for salvation. Suddenly, Colleen had been elevated to the status of Bodhisattva enlightening the masses. The listeners’ correct reaction was to accept salvation.
Colleen talked about chopping off her breasts and tossing them away, even while going out of her way to mention that she knew that women envied her breasts and men desired them. This reminded me of her stance that day at the picnic, a young girl in a bikini surrounded by older people’s sagging flesh and lost youths. There’s a scene in It’s a Wonderful Life. Starlet Gloria Graham is bouncing down the sidewalk in a tight, short dress. She greets a taxi driver, a cop, and George Bailey, from the local savings and loan. They compliment her dress. “This old thing? I only wear it when I don’t care how I look,” she replies, tossing her curls. Colleen displayed the same flirty dismissal of her own charms, even as she chose to reduce them to medical waste.
Colleen reported pain. Depression, confusion, unwanted changes to her body that she had been warned about but that she had refused, in her girl’s immature mind, to believe would actually happen to her after surgery and hormones. Colleen’s testimony worked to transubstantiate her pain into the blood of the martyrs that feeds the church. “Yes, this surgery, these drugs, these regrets, this confusion, these second thoughts, all hurt, physically and emotionally, but this pain is good because it is the pain the caterpillar feels when it transforms into a butterfly. As I report this pain to you, you are becoming more open to the trans future!” That sort of desperate spin. In addition to identity, community, and purpose, young people want to suffer for a cause. Colleen’s literal blood, photographed post-op, was talismanic evidence of her salvific suffering for a worthy cause. Colleen’s audience seemed always to be her mother’s friends. Much older people, gray beards and solicitous old ladies struggling to be hip in a showy way, applauded a girl’s self-mutilation. “She’s teaching us.”
But, again, Colleen was none of my business. Until I was asked to sign an oath of allegiance.
Sol stared at me with his frightening new expression.
“We support Charles. We need all of our friends to support Charles.”
And there it was.
“I have had virtually no contact with Colleen … or Charles.” I said.
“We must never use the name Colleen again,” Sol directed. Miriam stood behind him, watching.
“She’s your friend, not mine. This doesn’t involve me,” I said.
“Do you know that there is an epidemic of trans people being murdered?”
“I’m not killing anyone, Sol.”
“Speech is violence. Do you agree to using he, him, his pronouns for Charles?”
“I have never spoken about this person, so I’ve never had to use any pronouns in reference to this person. But I’m not going to lie to make you happy,” I said.
Miriam turned away.
“Sol,” I began. I knew I had already lost; I still wanted to hear myself say this. “I grew up with most of my relatives behind the Iron Curtain. I visited there. Nazism, communism, facts of life for my loved ones. Totalitarians manipulate language. ‘Aktion’ – meaning mass murder. ‘Fraternal Protection’ – meaning subjugation. ‘Reeducation’ – meaning prison.
“Tadeusz Rozewicz was a poet. He wrote that during the Nazi occupation of Poland, all these words meant the same thing: ‘Man and animal / Love and hate / Enemy and friend / Darkness and light / Virtue and vice / Truth and lies / Beauty and ugliness / Bravery and cowardice.’ After liberation, what did he crave? ‘Let me call things by their true names again.’ Instead he got the communist takeover, where language was also prostituted. I never thought we’d get to the point in America where you’d be non-personed for referring to a girl as ‘she,’ but if that’s where we are, so be it.”
Miriam came to the table. “I think of you as a kind person. Why are you not being kind?”
And that’s where my mind just grinds its gears. All I want to do at this point is grab Miriam and beg her to continue liking me. Her friendship was my lifeline. I miss her every day.
For all I know, Colleen’s decision to mutilate her body and display that mutilation publicly was the very best decision for her. Honestly? I don’t care, and it’s none of my business.
It is my business that friends pressured me to violate my own conscience. It is my business that teachers like Peter Vlaming, John Kluge, Tanner Cross, and Nicholas Meriwether have been harassed or fired for refusing to call students by incorrect pronouns. It is my business when my country turns down the same route of mandated language manipulation that totalitarian regimes have taken in the past. It is my business when the word “woman” is redefined into non-existence, and when men invade women’s spaces.
Miriam spoke of kindness. What is kindness?
I think life-altering surgeries and drugs administered for cosmetic reasons should be for adults only. I hope that lawsuits like Keira Bell’s and Chloe Cole’s will cause doctors to think twice about drugging and mutilating children. Trans activists forbid use of the word “mutilate.” Chloe Cole uses the word “butcher” for what doctors did to her young body.
I think citizens have a duty to address hidden and taboo aspects of overwhelming social panics. There are many testimonies on the web that are not as religiously ecstatic as Colleen’s. Here’s one such video. A girl who identifies as a boy chooses a double mastectomy, which she dismissively labels “top surgery.” She says she woke up with clothes and sheets covered with blood; she passed blood clots the size of a golf ball; her chest “collapsed into a black, hollow cavity; there was discolored tissue spilling out of it.” A second surgery removed “a half a foot of dead, rotten tissue.” “They gave me an extra large drain and I had to have it in for over three weeks.” Dr. Sidhbh Gallagher, this girl’s surgeon, pushes her transgender mastectomies for children via aggressive TikTok videos.
Chloe Cole talks about not only losing her breasts to trans surgery at age 15, but also losing sensation in her entire chest. Cole says she almost immediately began to regret this loss. “I was so ashamed of myself. It was a hard thing to admit.” Through school, “I learned that breast feeding is one of the main ways that you bond with your kid. I never really thought about this before. I never really thought about being a parent, even. I was a kid when I consented to all this and I wasn’t really focused on things like that. Deep down I have a maternal instinct that wasn’t fostered because I was being socialized as a boy. I started to realize what was taken from me. I had no friends in real life by this time. My only friends were online. I said online that I regret my transition and I was met with a lot of hatred from transgender individuals.” Cole felt pressured to silence herself.
A reddit post from summer, 2022, went viral. “I just miss my breasts so much. I got top surgery when I was 18, I’m 27 now … I want mine back. Not only were they mine, but they were great looking … I never ever thought that this would happen to me, I was always 10000000% sure I made the right decision … I look at girls nowadays, any girl at all and I’m completely jealous. At least they still have their natural body.”
In addition to regretting what they lost, many regret what they got. A man who identified as a woman and now identifies as a man calls himself “Shape Shifter.” He received a surgically constructed, so-called “neo vagina” that makes sex impossible for him. Shape Shifter spoke for over an hour about his regrets. His interview is an open fire hydrant of medical crises, psychiatric complaints, and suicidal despair.
Scott Newgent, a woman who identified as a man, received phalloplasty, that is a surgically constructed artificial penis built out of the skin in her arm. She “suffered” “seven surgeries, a pulmonary embolism, an induced stress heart attack, sepsis, a 17-month recurring infection, 16 rounds of antibiotics, three weeks of daily IV antibiotics, arm reconstructive surgery, lung, heart and bladder damage … $1 million in medical expenses … I spent many nights in the bathroom in too much pain to even make it to the toilet, forced to urinate on the floor, screaming as what felt like razor blades left my body. Rest came only in 45-minute increments that I induced with four shots of vodka, six Benadryl pills and a handful of melatonin.”
Newgent explained that she cannot sue her surgeon because “there is no structured, tested or widely accepted baseline for transgender health care.” This reason for Newgent’s inability to sue gives the lie to Biden’s assistant secretary for health, Admiral Rachel Levine, MD, himself a man who identifies as a woman, who insists that there are such standards. “There is an evidence-based standard of care for the evaluation and treatment of trans individuals,” Levine insists.
“I’ve had bladder problems. I’m almost completely numb in my chest area. I wish I could feel my chest,” says Sinead Watson, who began undergoing trans medical procedures when she was 24 years old. In the early stages after her surgeries, Sinead initially believed that “transition saved my life.” In fact she was still struggling with self-hatred. “Cutting your breasts off doesn’t remove that. I didn’t need hormones or surgery. I needed therapy.”
Ritchie Herron’s surgeries were paid for by Britain’s National Health Service. He says he was brainwashed by health care providers. He now has to spend a great deal of time attempting to go to the bathroom, and doing so causes great pain. He is incontinent and his entire groin is numb. “I am never going to be the same ever again. There is no reversal to this. Do not let anyone tell you that this can be reversed. It is criminal what they are doing to people.”
In October, 2022, Project Veritas released video from a WPATHGEI online conference. WPATHGEI is the World Professional Association for Transgender Health Global Education Institute. The video’s star is Dr. Daniel Metzger, who participates in the medical transing of children. The name of this Canadian doctor’s program is Trans Youth CAN! The exclamation point is part of the program’s name. Dr. Metzger acknowledges that it’s virtually impossible to have a serious conversation with a fourteen year old about post-surgical regret. “Most of the kids are nowhere in any kind of a brain space to really talk about it in a serious way. I know I’m talking to a blank wall.” But, he says, “We want the kids to be happy. Happier in the moment, right?” Metzger acknowledges that he has been approached by former patients in their twenties who suddenly realize, and regret, that they cannot have children. “I don’t know what to do,” he says. He doesn’t know what to do. He has participated in making children sterile, to make them happy in the moment, and he doesn’t know what to do about that.
Is any of this “kind”? No.
Colleen wasn’t the only one who found identity, community, and purpose while watching trans porn online. Sol, Miriam, Becky, and all the others found a narrative. In this narrative, these folks, already primed to view monolithic conservatives as villains, attributed new and more horrible features to conservatives. Conservatives with even longer fangs and bloodier claws. Conservatives were not just racist, sexist, and chauvinist. They were also a new thing, “transphobic.” If anyone voiced any reservations about such a young girl undergoing surgical mutilation, that person was a transphobe, responsible for a murder epidemic, and needed to be beaten back with pitchforks and torches. Propping up this villain eliminated the need to devote any serious thought to the potential downsides of the trans narrative, downsides that now flood the internet in testimonies like those above.
Upon reflection, I can’t help but think that THE conversation happened for the above reason. Sol and Miriam knew I barely knew Colleen, and never used any pronouns to talk about her, because I never talked about her. It wasn’t necessary to inform me of her “transition,” that I otherwise never would have known about, because she and I never crossed paths again. Rather than pronouns, I think the entire point of THE conversation was to recruit me to the self-congratulatory crew of older folks unquestioningly cheering this young girl on, or, if I failed to join the parade, to demonize me as a handy villain.
Is there an epidemic of killing in this country? Statistics suggest that in one age bracket, young black men are twenty-two times more likely to be shot to death than young white men. Who is shooting these young black men? Other young black men. There’s your murder epidemic. Addressing that epidemic would be denounced as “conservative.” Addressing black-on-black crime is “racist.”
The Human Rights Campaign published a PDF purporting to prove a trans murder epidemic. The PDF is a thirty-page pamphlet. It lists the names and photos of twenty-two dead people, some of whom may not be murder victims. There are surprisingly few details. I googled a few of the names. Some were streetwalkers. Prostitution is a dangerous job. In other cases, a boyfriend committed the murder. In some of the cases, law enforcement specified that the killing was not a hate crime. At least one HRC-identified martyr was killed in a non-ideological mass shooting committed by the victim’s mentally ill sibling. One was killed by another trans person. None of this information is available in the HRC PDF that lists alleged victims of transphobic hate crimes.
Andy Ngo questioned the validity of the trans murder epidemic and was suspended from Twitter for doing so. In fact, though, researchers have run the numbers and the transgender murder rate appears to be lower than that for members of many other groups see here. “Homicide Rates of Transgender Individuals in the United States: 2010-2014” published in The American Journal of Public Health reports that, “The overall homicide rate of transgender individuals was likely to be less than that of cisgender individuals.”
The insistence, in spite of objective facts, that there is an epidemic of trans murders lives on, and it fuels one of the purest expressions of leftist thought out there: the movement to pay black men who identify as women. This movement is named “Pay Black Trans Women.” The movement does not argue that one hire black trans persons; expecting them to do work would be “conservative.” No, just give black men who identify as women your money. Start today; there are persons waiting now for your payment. Donate here. San Francisco offers GIFT: Guaranteed Income for Transgender People.
Trans extremism will eventually die down. Such trends always do. Eventually enough people say out loud that the emperor has no clothes. That won’t be the end, though. There will be another litmus test to separate the cool from the uncool. When I was in kindergarten, I was uncool. I was a poor kid, from a big family, with a mother working two jobs. My clothes were not new, I was unkempt, and the youngest sister of four brothers, I played like a boy. In the intervening years I have learned to live with being uncool. I still miss those I have lost along the way.
PS: In writing this, with each word I typed, I thought, if Colleen / Charles reads this, will my words cause pain? Because, Charles, I wish you every good thing in life: love, employment satisfaction, health, and home. You are a beautiful person, inside and out. I don’t know, and I don’t care, if your choices were right for you. They were never any of my business, and they shouldn’t have been made my business. I will never refer to you as “he,” and if you want to know why … it’s all in this essay.
Danusha Goska is the author of God through Binoculars: A Hitchhiker at a Monastery.