Childhood Sexual Abuse, Gender Dysphoria, and Transition Regret: Billy’s Story

Public Discourse 26 March 2018
Family First Comment: An important commentary…
“Many sexual abuse victims—like Billy, me, and others who write to me—get swept up by LGBT therapists who suggest that the proper treatment is to start on powerful sex hormones followed by gender “affirming” surgery. The problem is that hormones and surgery will not be effective in providing long-term treatment for depression or other ailments caused by sexual trauma. Too many therapists rush to prescribe radical hormonal and surgical measures before diagnosing and treating the psychiatric disorders shown to coexist in the majority of gender dysphoric clients: depression, phobias, and adjustment disorders. Billy’s story illustrates the importance of digging into why a person wants to surgically alter his or her body and not assuming that cross-dressing or role-playing as the opposite sex means that children need a sex change….”

…. In the summer after sixth grade, Billy’s world came crashing down. At summer swimming league, Billy’s new diving instructor targeted Billy for sexual abuse—abusers have a knack for picking on the weakest kids. Billy says, “The coach played with me.” In other words, the diving coach perpetrated a horrific crime against a vulnerable child.

Like the hundreds of female gymnasts who reluctantly came forward recently about the sexual abuse suffered years before at the hands of their sports doctor Larry Nassar, Billy was so traumatized that he did not tell anyone for a very long time. Billy pushed the emotions away with strenuous physical activity—bicycling, swimming, and running. Billy says he would do this “until the pain in my body was greater than the pain in my mind.” He also escaped by using his sister’s makeup and earrings. He says that after the sexual abuse “I so very much hated my appendage”—that is, his male genitalia.

Billy is not the first who turned to a transgender identity to escape pain and trauma. In fact, Billy’s story is not all that different than my own. And in the stories I receive from other regretful people who attempted transition, childhood sexual abuse abounds.

The shame and pain of being used by a sexual predator is beyond the imagination. Most abused kids push the feelings deep inside and shut out the memories. The pain, shame, guilt, and fear often keep them from telling anyone about the abuse until much later in life, if they ever do. Many sexual abuse victims—like Billy, me, and others who write to me—get swept up by LGBT therapists who suggest that the proper treatment is to start on powerful sex hormones followed by gender “affirming” surgery. The problem is that hormones and surgery will not be effective in providing long-term treatment for depression or other ailments caused by sexual trauma. Too many therapists rush to prescribe radical hormonal and surgical measures before diagnosing and treating the psychiatric disorders shown to coexist in the majority of gender dysphoric clients: depression, phobias, and adjustment disorders. Billy’s story illustrates the importance of digging into why a person wants to surgically alter his or her body and not assuming that cross-dressing or role-playing as the opposite sex means that children need a sex change….

… I work with people who contact me because they regret attempting to change their sex. With impressive self-awareness, they clearly articulate what triggered their identification as transgender. They can always point to some situation—often but not always sexual abuse—in their past that caused them to want to escape who they were and become someone else instead.

Most people who identify as transgender are suffering from any of a wide variety of undiagnosed comorbid disorders. Unfortunately, gender therapists too often affirm a trans identity by providing access to hormones and surgery while ignoring the underlying causes, which should be treated with sound, effective psychotherapy.

It’s time for psychotherapists to seriously address the unique causes of each individual’s gender dysphoria before encouraging them to pursue hormones and surgery.

Walt Heyer is an author and public speaker with a passion to help others who regret gender change. Through his website, SexChangeRegret.com, and his blog, WaltHeyer.com, Heyer raises public awareness about the incidence of regret and the tragic consequences suffered as a result.
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