Children in South Dakota should be protected.

The Texas mom who’s trying to change her son into a daughter just lost again. A court has upheld a previous ruling giving both parents joint authority to make decisions for their son.

Little James Younger, just 7 years old, is at the center of a custody battle that is more than a custody battle. His divorced parents are at odds about his upbringing, but it is not about what school he will attend or what sport he will play. His father is fighting to allow him to remain a boy, while his mother is fighting to send him down the path of castration, mutilation, lifelong hormone dependency, and certain emotional agony.

The plight of this small boy has prompted state legislators to put protections in place for vulnerable children like James. South Dakota is considering a measure to outlaw life-altering, irreversible, chemical or surgical interventions on children younger than 16.

I have been all the way down that path. And I’ve come back to warn others.

My grandmother dressed me as a girl when I was 4, 5, and 6 years old. Like James, I was far too young to comprehend the long-term consequences of being encouraged to cross-dress at such a young age, much less fight back. In my child’s mind, it felt good to be the center of her attention. Now I call what grandma did to me “child abuse” because her grooming of me as a female negatively affected my entire life.

In adulthood, I was diagnosed with gender dysphoria and underwent unnecessary cross-gender hormone therapy and surgical gender change. I lived eight years as a woman and tried my best to make it work, but after surgery I still had gender dysphoria. Even worse, I was suicidal. Before giving me hormones and surgery, my medical providers should have helped me explore the possible psychological roots of my desire to escape into a female persona, but none did.

I’m not the only one whose life was hurt by the rush to change gender. I have heard from so many trans adults who ask me for advice in going back to their birth sex that I compiled 30 people’s emails into a book, “Trans Life Survivors.” Several people in the book transitioned in their teens, but when they hit their twenties, their feelings of gender dysphoria changed. They grew out of it, but only after having made irreversible changes to their bodies, which destroyed their ability to have children, and losing years of their life to an alternate identity.

Should activists in the medical field be free to push kids down a path that leads to physical destruction and emotional agony? Of course not. Children do not have the capacity or mental maturity to consent to decisions with life-long consequences. And yet they are so easy to manipulate that they have become soft targets in today’s raging political and cultural fight over what it means to be human.

The sponsor of the South Dakota measure, Representative Fred Deutsch, calls it a “pause button.” People peddling life-altering, irreversible interventions—for profit—should, at least, wait until a person has the capacity to understand the risks and consequences and to give informed consent. This is particularly important, given what we know about the changing nature of gender dysphoria in children. When children experience sex confusion, it usually does not last.

Most children who identify as transgender naturally grow out of it as they go through puberty, unless they are socially locked into an opposite-sex identity and puberty is blocked. A striking 60 to 90 percent of kids who are not reinforced in this desire or put on puberty blockers abandon a trans identity by adulthood.

No child should be locked into a trans life. That is not medical care. It’s child abuse.

Walt Heyer, Durham, North Carolina, who is an accomplished author and public speaker. 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 of unnecessary sex change surgery.

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