The Op-Ed That Went Viral And The Trans Woman Who Wrote It
Corinna Cohn thinks young people should wait until adulthood before making the decision to transition
On Monday, April 11, What I wish I’d known when I was 19 and had sex reassignment surgery, a Washington Post op-ed, went viral.
Written by Corinna Cohn, a transexual and a vocal critic of the lack of empirically based standards for gender health care in the U.S., the article makes a reasoned case for young people to allow their bodies to mature naturally, and then spend some time inhabiting their bodies unaltered before making any decisions about gender transition.
Her article is part of the Washington Post’s “Voices Across America” initiative, dedicated to presenting a broader range of viewpoints than typically found in the pages of the publication on issues that resonate with readers. (Bravo to the Washington Post!) With almost 3500 comments, clearly, her piece hit a nerve.
I have been speaking with journalists, experts, and concerned parents, including some whose own childhood gender expression was atypical or didn’t conform to gender stereotypes. (If you have a story or concern you’d like to share, even if you’d like to remain anonymous, please reach out to me at Pamela.Paresky@gmail.com.)
In quiet conversations about what it means to be gay, some are concerned that with all the focus on transgender issues, lesbians are being erased, women’s sports are being hijacked, and a new form of anti-gay bigotry is emerging. Meanwhile, in elite, left-leaning circles, few are willing to openly articulate the view that children may not be best served by automatically “affirming” their non-natal preferred gender –– sometimes even before they are old enough to make healthy choices about bedtime or diet. Parents who would say no to their children getting a tattoo are being pressured to say yes to irreversible medical interventions involving their children’s reproductive and sexual health. Schools don’t tend to promote the view that gender-stereotype nonconformity is a perfectly acceptable expression of natal sex (for example, “tomboy” girls and effeminate boys), and for many trans activists, discussing how to determine when gender-stereotype nonconformity is or isn’t an expression of something other than a child’s biological sex is viewed as insufficiently supportive and even transphobic.
With the Texas Attorney General calling childhood gender-related surgeries “child abuse” and the White House insisting that such surgery is “a supportive form of healthcare,” parents are having trouble finding medical and psychological professionals who are willing to explain the pros and cons of different options. The only path offered by professionals is what is now called “gender affirmation” (facilitating the child’s wish to be identified as something other than the gender associated with biological sex).
Perhaps as a result, Corinna Cohn is sought out by parents looking for guidance. Last year, she was contacted by a mother asking for advice about a son who wanted to transition to womanhood. In response, Corinna composed a letter to her younger self and shared it with that mother.
She also shared that letter with me. You can read it below. It appears after the information about our next paid-subscriber zoom call.
PAID Subscriber Zoom!
Wed. May 4 at 9am Pacific, 12pm Eastern with Corinna Cohn, Buck Angel, & Brian Belovitch
On Wednesday, May 4th at 9am Pacific/12pm Eastern, paid subscribers are invited to a zoom conversation with Corinna Cohn, Buck Angel, and Brian Belovitch. Buck, the founder of a media production company, is a trans man who has been very public about his decision not to have what is euphemistically known as “bottom surgery.” Brian Belovitch, who is completing his Master’s in Mental Health Counseling this June, was known as Tish Gervais for fourteen years, married a member of the U.S. Army, and lived as an Army wife in Germany where no one knew the couple’s secret. You can read more in Brian’s memoir, Trans Figured: My journey from boy to girl to woman to man.
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Letter to My Teenage Self
By Corinna Cohn
You just turned nineteen. You already started your medical transition and the estrogen is rapidly feminizing your body. You already made an appointment for sex reassignment surgery. Today, surgeons call it “gender affirmation surgery.”
I am future you; middle-aged you. You are probably amazed that I’m still alive. What’s even more amazing is that I want to live to see my senior years. You can’t imagine reaching your thirties, much less your forties, but trust me, you will get there.
There are some things you ought to know about your future –– things you will learn the hard way. First and foremost, finding love has been very difficult. Straight men know you are a transsexual and they are not interested in a relationship with you. Gay men are not interested in you after surgery because gay men want to be with men who are clearly men. It will be hard for you, but you’ll learn to manage loneliness like a champion. Most of your friends are paired up. You will learn to accept being a “third wheel.”
You won’t have a family. I know you think you don’t want kids, that the mere thought is loathsome, but that is because you are nineteen and you aren’t mature enough for the idea to make sense. Ten years from now you will experience a protracted period of grief as you come to understand that you’ll never be a parent to your own children and will probably never help raise anyone else’s. Your friends’ children will become the nearest thing. While you’ll cherish them, it’s not the same.
I realize you think your severe anxiety is caused by your genitals. But they produce the hormones that allow you to remain healthy. While the surgery and estrogen treatments reduce your anxiety, the cost is your health and the reduced life expectancy that comes with long-term use of hormone replacement. And you are committing us to becoming a life-long medical patient. I am forever tied to medical companies that provide exogenous hormones. Every year I must submit to expensive blood tests in order to make sure the hormones are not injuring my health. Too little and I will develop osteoporosis, and if too much then I greatly increase my risk of thrombosis and stroke. Since I don’t produce testosterone, my risk of dementia increases as well.
I know you feel disgusted by your body right now. You are still immature and your body is still changing. I wish I could convince you to wait. But you are stubborn. You think you are more authentically “trans” for having committed yourself to maintaining your virginity until after your sex change, but this is not the impressive achievement you think it is. There is no one in your life right now who can help you understand your sexuality. But you are embracing an option that will rip out your sexuality at the root. Sex is integral to a healthy romantic relationship but, despite having what the surgeon considers to be good results, intercourse with your neo-vagina will be painful and provide little erotic sensation.
Finally, your attempt to live as a woman will be a continuous source of cognitive dissonance. The people you surround yourself with today who are affirming your identity, who make you feel special and accepted, they are not looking out for your best interests. As an awkward and constantly bullied kid, you’ve had a hard time making friends, and so while the attention you’re receiving now feels good, once you make peace with yourself, you will find friends who accept you. All of you.
As much as you want to be a woman now, you will always run into situations where people see you for what you are: a young man who has been neutered and feminized. After more than a decade of this angst, you will finally confront this dissonance, and it will gradually resolve. When this happens, –– and this may shock you –– you will no longer think of yourself as a woman. Instead, you will accept that you are male, and that your experience with transition gives you a unique and valued perspective on life and society. Despite your expectations, you’ll be happier for it.
I know you’ll want to argue. You’ll say that you’ve been working with a psychologist ever since you were a child. You’ll say you can’t take a single medical step without her approval. You’ll say you’re meticulously following the standard of care. What you don’t understand is that these standards were created for adults, not teenagers. Yes, you are legally an adult, but you’re also still an adolescent. These standards were developed for people who have already lived out some portion of their adult lives as the sex they were born, something we will never do if you continue on your current trajectory.
More than anything, I wish you would just slow down. Everything feels so urgent to you. Being 25 or even 21 seems so far away that it feels unreasonable to wait that long. But believe me, time passes faster than you think. Please wait before having surgery. Please stop taking hormones, just for a year or two. Please find a boyfriend who is a little bit more worldly and who will help you figure out how to be comfortable inhabiting your body. You are about to shut so many doors in your life –– doors that you can’t even see. Waiting a little while longer might close a few doors, but it will keep open many more.
I hope my words will give young people like you something to think about. While I can’t change my past, maybe we can change someone’s future.
Your future self
Some heterodox resources on gender dysphoria and other gender issues in childhood:
Lisa Selin Davis (author of Tomboy)
Abigail Shrier (author of Irreversible Damage)
Carole Hooven (author of T: The story of testosterone, the hormone that dominates and divides us)
Corinna Cohn’s “Heterodorx” podcast with Nina Paley
For the orthodox view, see this op-ed in the New York Times by Alex Marzano-Lesnevich.
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