Review: "Irreversible Damage"
Abigail Shrier’s Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters is a book that only a woman could write. More than that, it’s a book that only a mother could write. I highly recommend this book for everyone, but in particular for every parent, especially those like me who are raising daughters. Trust me: Read it. It’s important.
I am highlighting this recommendation at the very beginning because toward the end of this review I include some criticism, and I want to make it clear that the criticism I share does not diminish my recommendation in anyway. Again, trust me: Read it.
Why could only a woman write this book? Because, as a woman, Shrier has gone through the natural maturation process that transforms girls into women. She can relate to the awkwardness, the disorientation—and at times fear—that accompanies this, and she can provide insight into what these girls are going through, and provide ideas about why it could be going so wrong.
Why could only a mother write this book? One of the most heartbreaking things to read is the experiences of the parents of teenage girls who have been caught up in this transgender craze. Their confusion, frustration, and helplessness is clearly expressed by Shrier because she can relate to it. She is a mother. She can put herself in their shoes and imagine the horror of going through what they are going through, and she can also convey the injustice of the situation when a daughter rejects everything her parents have done for her and, at the urging of her transgender “friends”, severs contact with her parents because they refuse to believe she is a boy.
One key message I hope people gather from Irreversible Damage is this: our educators and medical professionals are betraying the trust we have placed in them.
The USA is a secular nation. Secularism is an agreement that the shared reality of our society will be based on proof. Through this agreement we are protected from domination by the faith of others and we are provided religious freedom: the right to believe whatever we choose.
But the right to believe whatever we choose does not mean we are free to have those beliefs taught in public school as fact. Again, this is a secular country, which means we all agree to fall back on the proof. That is the neutral ground, the common foundation for our society. Yes, public schools won’t treat our scriptures, our faith, as authoritative, but that means they won’t treat anyone else’s as authoritative either. That is the trust we place in our educators.
But our trust is being betrayed.
Educators today view it as their right to indoctrinate our children into their faith-based beliefs. If these were the faith-based beliefs of an organized religion, public outcry would erupt. But because the LGBT movement claims to not be a religion, indoctrination into its beliefs is able to sneak around our secular protections and come in through the back door.
Shrier documents numerous instances of impropriety by educators, who are encouraging children to adopt gender identities and purposefully hiding this from their parents, who teachers view as backwards and bigoted, just obstacles for the enlightened teachers to work around. Shrier quoted a teacher speaking of parents, who said: “their parental right ended when those children were enrolled in public school.” That is the viewpoint of many in our schools today. It should terrify you as a parent. More than that, it should enrage you. We trusted these people. They are abusing our trust.
And it’s not just educators who have betrayed our trust. Imagine if your pediatrician asked for a moment alone with your child and when you peek through the door to see what’s going on you see him holding a “healing” crystal up to your child’s forehead while instructing her on its magical effects. That is comparable to what is going on today. We have trusted doctors and psychologists to practice medicine according to provable reality, but what we don’t know is many of them have been converted to a faith-based movement, a movement that should be considered a religion, but because it is not, its zealots claim the right to impose their beliefs on everyone, especially our children.
It is a terrifying time to have daughters who struggle with mental health issues. To know they require help we cannot give, but also to know that many of those who have been trained to provide this help are not trustworthy. This is a secular nation. Our medical professionals should not consider it appropriate to preach their faith to their patients. But their faith is not in an organized religion, so they rationalize that it’s different. Except it’s not. Faith is faith. Proof is proof. And gender identity will never be provable. As long as someone’s gender identity is revealed through self-identity, it will always be based on faith.
Teenagers rebel. It’s what they do.
Speaking of teen daughters, Shrier says, “If you eliminate all conflict through endless agreement and support, it may only encourage her to kick things up a notch,” and she provides the advice to not relinquish your authority as the parent. This is a very good point. Teenagers rebel. It’s simply something that they do. They expect to find walls to push against. If parents do not provide those walls, some teens will continue to push further and further until they reach them.
In some of the stories Shrier shares, the parents seem determined to accept whatever their child decides is right for them, to treat everything their child wants to do as completely fine. And then their daughter chooses to reject physical reality itself, and suddenly her parents discover there actually is a limit to how far they will go. But what if they had raised up a boundary earlier? Might that have satisfied their daughter’s urge to rebel, to push against the limits in order to discover what they are and to understand them?
I will also add that kids need stability. They need to understand why they are here. If parents do not provide that understanding, then their children will find those answers elsewhere, and many times the answers will not be ones their parents are happy with.
Yes, it is a cult
The LGBT movement is faith-based. Categorically, it is more similar to a religion than to a proof-based secular movement. Today it appears it might start splitting into two factions: those who champion sexual identity, and those who champion gender identity. Referring to the LGBT movement as a religion, I believe, is entirely fair, but I’ve been leery of using the word “cult” due to the negative connotations of that word. I belong to a minority religion. I know what it feels like to have your religion slurred as a “cult”.
That said, there are two specific behaviors documented by Shrier that are unquestionably cult-like:
The first is the push of a teen’s “glitter family” for her to sever contact with unbelieving parents. This is blatant cult behavior. Why is it done? In the words of a woman who once identified as transgender but later changed her mind: the “queer” adults she spoke with online who encouraged her to run away wanted “to kind of draw me into their community more, and draw me away from anyone who would give me rational ways of thinking about my life.” Shrier provides details of these online communities where “glitter families” are formed and how they operate. If you currently do not monitor your teen’s Internet use, if you view your child’s smartphone as their “private space”, it’s time for you to reconsider. Smartphones are not personal journals. They are communication devices that can put your child in direct contact with anyone in the entire world, and many of those they might contact will do them harm. You wouldn’t let such strangers walk through your front door and take your teen back into her bedroom alone. Don’t do the equivalent with your teen’s smartphone either.
The second cult-like behavior is teachers who are teaching gender identity to children and purposefully hiding it from parents. They go so far as to call children by different names and pronouns based on whether their parents can hear or not. Trustworthy educators do not do this. Respectful religions do not do this. Cults do this.
This is not to say that the entire LGBT movement should be considered a cult, or even all of those within it who champion gender identity. But there is a presence of fundamentalists within that movement that deserve to be called a cult based on their extreme behavior. It is completely unacceptable to encourage teens to cut themselves off from loving parents due to a difference in beliefs, and the idea that teachers have the right to preach their faith-based beliefs to students behind their parents’ backs is beyond the pale.
The Problem is Self-Identity
Shrier points out the circular logic that underlies gender identity: “if you desist [change your mind about being transgender], you were never trans to being with. Thus, no real transgender people ever desist. It’s an unfalsifiable proposition.”
The underlying culprit here is self-identity, wherein a person is endowed with the power to dictate reality to everyone else. According to the LGBT movement, teens are not transgender based on objective results from a physical test (e.g. a blood test). No, teens are transgender if they say they are transgender. Their self-identity alone is claimed to be proof of an innate characteristic. In the words of therapists who align with the LGBT movement: “kids know who they are”. And so, if a child self-identifies as something, then they actually must be that something.
This is absolutely unscientific for the obvious reason that it is unfalsifiable. What if the child is wrong? What if the child is lying? The latter question is especially relevant for the topic of gender identity because teens are being encouraged to lie in order to gain access to gender-obscuring medical procedures:
“Find out what they want to hear if they’re gonna give you T [Testosterone] and then tell them just that.”
“It’s about getting treatment, not about being true to those around you.”
“Get a story ready in your head, and as suggested keep the lie to a minimum. And only for stuff that can’t be verified.”
Whether “kids know who they are” or not is completely beside the point. The question is whether everyone else knows who they are or not, and self-identity is unable to prove anything for us. Relying on self-identity requires you to have faith in their words, whereas secularism requires us to defer to the proof, something that self-identity can never provide.
Relying on self-identity allows an element of self-selection that completely invalidates its use. It’s like a poll whose respondents are only those who went looking for the poll because they wanted to answer it. Such a poll would only reflect the opinions of those who went out of their way to answer the poll, not the opinions of all those who lacked the motivation to do so.
So, yes, there can be an underlying cause for why they are choosing to self-identify as transgender, yet between that underlying cause and that self-identity is a layer of motivation, belief, and choice, all of which is completely obscured if we focus on the self-identity instead.
Imagine if cancer was diagnosed through self-identity. Sometimes this diagnosis might actually be correct. The underlying cause of their self-identity might be how horrible they feel due to the cancer cells destroying their body. But other times this self-identity might be caused by other motivations. Perhaps they are a hypochondriac. Perhaps they like the attention. Perhaps they are frauds who want money from the diagnosis. Regardless, if we rely on self-identity, we find ourselves unable to actually know whether someone is what they claim they are or not. We are forced to simply have faith in their words, just like in a religion.
Gender identity believers who refuse to confront the unscientific nature of their belief will often tout brain studies of one type or another that supposedly “prove” the existence of gender identity. My response is simple: Great! So let’s use those brain scans to create objective diagnostic criteria, and let’s start determining people’s gender identity based on that objective criteria instead of self-identity. I say this with whole-hearted enthusiasm because I know that shifting from self-identity to objective testing of supposed underlying causes would utterly destroy the gender identity movement. Why? Because remember that self-identity hides a layer of motivation, belief, and choice. An objective test of the underlying causes would inevitably identity people as transgender who do not believe they are, and it would give results of different gender identities than people claim to be. The layer of motivation, belief, and choice would be made visible, exposing gender identity’s claim of innateness as the lie that it is.
So, brain scans prove that gender identity is real? Great! Let’s start using those today to determine gender identity instead of self-identity. Let’s allow objective proof to define our shared reality rather than personal belief. Let’s make secularism great once again.
Criticism: Is the problem the principle or the implementation?
Irreversible Damage is a praiseworthy book, but it is not perfect. Shrier’s firm opposition to the transgender craze sweeping through our society and its devastating effect on teenage girls is quite clear, but at times it seems like she is arguing more about a flawed implementation that might be corrected instead of an unfixable principle that should be abandoned without question.
One of the biggest reasons for this lack of clarity is the different way in which she handles her stories about teenagers who self-identify as transgenders versus adults who do, and in particular her choice to use preferred pronouns when speaking of the adults. This contributes to a perception that perhaps her main concern is not the overall principle of whether or not a secular society should allow an individual to self-identify reality for everyone else but only at what age that power should be granted them. I understand Shrier was trying to be courteous to people who she found completely pleasant and who were living stable lives they considered to be fulfilling. But everything has a cost, and the cost of using preferred pronouns for the adults is a lack of clarity both about the subject itself (I was confused at times if she was speaking about a male or a female) but also a lack of clarity about whether or not she thinks we, a secular society, should view this person as a man or a woman.
Her handling of mental health professionals is at times unclear as well. Is she arguing that psychologists simply don’t have the authority over reality they act like they have, or is she more concerned with the way they are mishandling that authority? In other words, as a general principle, if a psychologist says that a truth claim improves their patient’s mental health, does that obligate everyone else to treat that truth claim as true? Clearly Shrier believes psychologists are currently doing this wrong with gender identity and minors, but if they were to be more thorough and responsible, is that all that is needed?
I understand that Shrier is being pulled in multiple directions here. The adults who self-identify as transgender she spoke with are living stable and fulfilling lives, there actually are people who feel the mental anguish of gender dysphoria, and perhaps there are times that Shrier wants to use mental health evaluations to defend something she agrees with (I speak about this in the next section), but if you leave open the possibility that this is just a problem of implementation instead of principle, then gender identity believers are going to do their best to tweak the implementation just enough in order to continue doing what they are currently doing. Nature is a merciless enemy to gender identity. There is a reason why they want to start medical procedures so young. The sooner they start, the more effective they will be at obscuring an individual’s real gender. That motivation is incredibly strong. It needs to be met with an even stronger “No”. But to do that, it is the principles we need to reject, not just the implementation:
- No, people can’t self-identify innate characteristics. That misrepresents personal belief as objective fact, which is a violation of secularism.
- No, psychologists can’t identify innate characteristics through therapy sessions either. They can diagnose mental disorders they will treat, but they can’t reveal transcendental truths about the meaning of our lives. That is the realm of religion, not secularism.
Criticism: Self-identity for me but not for thee
Ultimately, I think Shrier pulls her punches. The evidence and reasoning she puts forward in her book could lead much further than she seems willing to go.
Shrier quoted an influencer: “True love is unconditional love. Love without restrictions. For you not to accept someone as they truly are—is you not truly loving them.”
Okay, so is this referring to a teen girl who self-identifies as a transgender, or is it referring to a teen girl who self-identifies as a lesbian?
Another quote: “You are who you say you are, because YOU know best”
Again, transgender or lesbian?
Shrier goes to great lengths to demonstrate the fallacies in arguments for gender identity, but she doesn’t point out that these are the exact same arguments used for sexual identity. In fact, she tries to argue in favor of sexual identity, even though it uses the exact same tactics she thoroughly discredits!
Influencers typically claim that “being trans” is like being gay—innate, biologically determined, and immutable. But is this right? Psychologists who study sexuality measure the observable physiological response of the male and female sex organs to visual stimuli. Show a man the right kind of images and—long before he opens his mouth—his body will let you know exactly what he thinks of it.
Not so with “being trans,” which has no scientific markers and, like recovered memories, depends entirely on a person’s say-so.
Okay, so raise of hands, who here has had a psychologist measure their sexual response to visual stimuli? Yeah, me neither. And yet despite the lack of these tests, we are still expected to claim a sexual identity. Based on what? Entirely on our say-so. The exact same as with gender identity.
With both gender identity and sexual identity there are claims it is backed up with scientific tests, and yet for some strange reason those tests are never actually used to determine an individual’s identity. Instead, for both gender identity and sexual identity, it’s all based on self-identity. And self-identity, as I said before, is the problem.
There is a difference between sexual attraction and sexual identity. Sexual attraction is the desire we feel, and sexual identity is our personal interpretation of that desire. To understand what I mean, consider the Gallup 2021 poll about sexual self-identity. In that poll only 1.7% of Generation X self-identified as bisexual, but that number jumps to 15% for Generation Z. From 1.7% to 15%. A 13.3% increase! Let’s set aside the argument (which I believe) that this proves that sexuality is flexible and influenced by our environment, and let’s pretend that sexual attractions are actually completely innate and immutable. Furthermore, let’s pretend it’s Generation X (my generation) that’s “wrong”, and 15% of us actually feel attraction to both sexes. What does that mean about the 13.3% that feel same-sex attraction yet don’t choose to self-identify as bisexual? Does that mean they are silently weeping in a metaphorical closet, inwardly raging against the homophobic machine of their generation? Or does that mean that, like me, they simply shrug at the presence of same-sex attraction, toss it away into the crowded bin marked “Wrong Desires”, and get on with their lives? The difference is not the presence of the attraction, but the interpretation of that attraction, and that interpretation is driven by the beliefs we have chosen to believe about ourselves and the meaning of our lives. If you self-identify as bisexual, you are saying that same-sex sexuality is part of the meaning of your life. If you don’t believe that’s true, why would you choose to self-identify as bisexual? This is the layer of motivation, belief, and choice that I mentioned before, a layer that self-identity completely obscures when we allow it to be treated as proof of an innate characteristic.
And why are we told we should treat self-identity as proof of an innate characteristic? Because psychologists say we should. Why do they say we should? Because they claim it improves the person’s mental health. (And so, in a violation of Kantian ethics, the rest of us are treated as only the means to the end of improving that person’s mental health.) That is the logic for both sexual identity and gender identity. Yet, instead of attacking the whole setup as an obviously fallacious appeal to authority, Shrier introduces us to a few mental health professionals who disagree with the consensus about gender identity. It seems like she wants readers to differentiate between good psychologists and bad psychologists, and then, do what? The psychologists are the authorities, aren’t they? That is the claim that sexual identity believers make, just as much as gender identity believers do. Who are we, mere country bumpkins, to interfere in a conflict amongst the enlightened authorities? And that is why “appeal to authority” is a logical fallacy. Who gets to decide who is the real authority? Who gets to decide if the authority is acting in a way that justifies them being considered an authority? In the end, it all ends up being determined by power instead of reason.
On the topic of suicide, once again, Shrier does not mention that gender identity is following in the footsteps of sexual identity. Shrier rightfully condemns the emotional blackmail employed by those who claim that your disbelief in gender identity will cause your child to commit suicide. This claim is grotesque and incredibly irresponsible. When suicide is used as an ideological weapon like this, you create the incentive for more suicide. Yet it goes unmentioned in Irreversible Damage that this exact same tactic is used to guilt parents about sexual identity as well. The quoted saying, “Would you rather a dead daughter or a live son?” could just as easily be, “Would you rather a dead daughter or a lesbian daughter?” In both cases, it is emotional blackmail and should be condemned.
Like many others who support sexual identity but oppose gender identity, Shrier seems to follow a policy of “self-identity for me, but not for thee”. She objects to using self-identity for gender identity, because she rightfully has concerns about that topic, but she looks the other way when sexual identity, which she believes in, is based on the exact same principle. The end result is an argument weaker than it could have been because her attacks on gender identity are diluted by her defense of sexual identity. Both sexual identity and gender identity rely equally on self-identity. They will rise or fall together.
But their fall would not mean the end of gay rights or transgender rights. It would only mean believers would need to take the path they should have taken in the first place, the same path everyone should be required to take if they want protection for their transcendental beliefs: religious freedom. Gender identity and sexual identity encompass beliefs about morality, the meaning of life, and the nature of ultimate reality itself. They are as entitled to legal protection as any other religious belief, but to receive that protection, they must be claimed as religious beliefs.
Once Again: Read This Book!
But enough with the criticism. What Shrier has done in Irreversible Damage is truly remarkable. The experiences she has chronicled, the misbehaviors of our secular elites, the viewpoints presented both for and against, and most importantly the revelation of the cult-like behavior of some parts of the transgender movement, are invaluable resources for parents. If this is not a topic you are watching closely, you will be shocked at how far downhill society has gone and how much our secular elites are utterly failing us. This is knowledge that parents absolutely need to have.
Irreversible Damage is a masterful work. Shrier’s style seems perfect for the task, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Shrier said the following about one of the psychologists she agreed with: “But he does care. I can hear it in his voice.” And so it is with Abigail Shrier. She clearly does care about the teenage girls at risk of being caught up in this craze. And, as the father of four young daughters, I am incredibly grateful for that.
You can purchase “Irreversible Damage” at Regnery.