Making the decision to undergo gender reassignment procedures is a big deal. The surgeries and hormone therapies each come with their own host of risks and side effects that can affect the individuals for the rest of their lives.
The idea for this documentary came when Kallie was working on her first documentary, Trans Mission: What’s the Rush to Reassign Gender. She had a moment of realization with another of the project’s leaders when they were interviewing some detransitioners for this documentary. She shares that, “These detransitioners were being silenced, being vilified by the medical community, and their voices weren’t being heard.” For this reason, Kallie decided to make a documentary to allow these women to tell their stories.
One thing that emerged from these stories was just how easy it is for women to start taking testosterone. Kallie shares that, “It was just astonishing . . . how easy it was for these girls to or these women I should say to get their hands on testosterone.” One girl was able to get it simply by calling Planned Parenthood and requesting it. Another was able to convince the nurse to prescribe the highest level of testosterone available merely by insisting that she had high levels of estrogen.
Despite the easy accessibility of testosterone, it is a life altering substance that should not be taken (or prescribed) lightly. While our culture feeds girls the lie that becoming a male will solve their problems, they’re being met with the reality of lifelong complications with their health. “Once someone . . . starts puberty blockers and then what I call wrong sex hormones, they’re medicalized for life.” She goes on to explain that these hormonal and surgical procedures put women in early menopause, and as a result these women will have to be on hormones for the rest of their lives. “These girls realize that it didn’t solve anything, and instead they found themselves hurting more.”
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Before we begin today, we want to warn our listeners that while we hope to keep this conversation PG-rated, we will be touching on some sensitive topics in today’s show, so you may want to listen without younger children nearby.
Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. We hear so much these days about transgender men and women and the great lengths to which they’ll go to change gender, even parents assisting young children with hormone blockers. But what happens when transgender men and women change their minds? Well, a new documentary from the Center for Bioethics and Culture explores this phenomenon. It’s called, “The Detransition Diaries: Saving our Sisters” and feature the stories of three young women who thought transitioning to male would be their answer and what they discovered instead.
Well, Kallie Fell is a perinatal nurse and the Executive Director of the Center for Bioethics and Culture where she hosts the Venus Rising podcast and serves as program director for their Paul Ramsey Institute. Kallie Fell, welcome to Family Policy Matters.
KALLIE FELL: Thank you for having me on the show today.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Our pleasure. Well, this is actually the second documentary that you have produced related to this topic of transgender transitions. How is this different from your previous project?
KALLIE FELL: Our first film, “Trans Mission: What’s the Rush to Reassign Gender,” you can actually find it for free on YouTube was produced in 2021, so not that long ago at the height of the global pandemic that was happening. And that film was our first film into the issue of trans ideology or transgender medicine, and that film took a critical look at medically transitioning children, so putting them on puberty blockers and then wrong sex hormones and so on and so forth.
And in that film we actually talked to, I think, 17 different people. We talked to experts, pediatricians, endocrinologists, those in academic, parents who have children that have gender dysphoria or who are actively transitioning, and then we also talked to detransitioners about the rush to medicalize children in this way. And kind of middle of producing that film and listening to each of the interviews, Jennifer and I both had this big like ah-ha moment where we realized like detransitioners, those are the folks that we need to be listening to. And those are the folks that they start to medically transition and like you said in the introduction, then they have this change of heart, a desire to go back. And these detransitioners were being silenced, being vilified by the medical community, and their voices weren’t being heard. So we felt like people needed to hear that side of the story and we thought to produce this new film that just came out, “The Detransition Diaries: Saving Our Sisters.”
And this story is three women that medically transition, and they all started as adults — an important clarification — and then decided to detransition later. And we focus on women in this film, I want to say this really quick, because of the rise in girls that are claiming that they are transgender. Data is very clear that we are seeing a rise in adolescent girls coming to gender clinics in greater proportion than boys, so that’s why the focus on females in this film.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So specifically talking about these women that you featured in your film, what ages were they when they began to experience their gender dysphoria?
KALLIE FELL: Helena, she was 14, and she started spending large amounts of time online, specifically Tumblr, being introduced to this ideology. From there it was a matter of a couple of years before she decided to change her pronouns, started to call herself a boy, and then she didn’t start testosterone because she didn’t have parental support until she was 18.
Cat, a young singer, she was only five years old when she first felt limited by what she could be or do as a girl. She was watching movies and TV shows that had male actors, who were brave and intelligent, and the female actors kind of lacked depth, so that started her thought. And she asked her mom, actually, at a young age if it was possible to change sex, but it wasn’t until she was 13 that she found a website that specifically looked at or looked for females who wanted to transition to male. And it was here that she learned that in theory it was possible to transition, and that’s when she cut her hair for the first time and started to label her experiences as gender dysphoria.
And then Grace was in college, actually, when she became engaged in breaking down or deconstructing the gender binary of male and female. And then after college had what she calls kind of a mental breakdown, led her to fixating on her body, eating disorder, and then she felt more comfortable around her friends that were identifying as trans and at that time started to believe that that was the problem. She just didn’t have the right body, and if she changed her body, then that would solve her issues. So we kind of see different — for Helena it was teenage years, for Cat kind of younger, and then for Grace when she was kind of out of college.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Yeah, you mentioned the online communities and how important this was in one of your women’s lives. How big of a part are these online communities playing?
KALLIE FELL: Huge. Huge. It’s such an important topic, the film, the detransition diaries were actually in the process of writing it as a book, and it will be coming out next year as a book, and this is one area that I spent a great deal of time writing for the book. And one of the gals, Helena, she talks about this a great deal in the film. And, in fact, each of the women do. They each were influenced in some way by an online community, and what’s happening is more than ever kids are spending time online. They’re getting input from online communities. If they don’t have friends like them at school, like Helena, then they can find groups online where they fit in. And with the smart phone, they’re taking this online access and these online communities everywhere they go. And they can access them anywhere at any time, and then, of course, certainly with the pandemic, kids are spending more time online as well. And in our previous film, Dr. Van Mol actually talks about this and he said, you know, this ideology, this transgender ideology, it’s catching on. It’s the hot topic, and so kids hear about it at school. They see it online. It is inescapable. It’s all over the media. It’s all over social media. It’s on the web, in the entertainment industry. We have celebrities who are talking about this and modeling this, and now, of course, it’s making its way into education. And so these kids are being encouraged online by their peers, and, further, any discomfort or issue that they might be having is kind of thought of as, you know what, you’re trans. And once you medically transition, this problem, this discomfort, especially in girls going through puberty, this will go away. And they’re kind of told online through these groups how to keep their transition maybe a secret from their parents or what to say to get whatever kind of treatment they might want or to see a gender therapist, whether it’s puberty blockers or hormones, and so the impact of these online communities can’t be discussed enough. This is a really important topic.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: People who are exploring transgender options, I guess, you would call them, are being aided by some major medical institutions, aren’t they? Some are very willing to quickly make irreversible life-altering physical and hormonal changes to young people’s bodies. What was the experience of your three women regarding that?
KALLIE FELL: For these women, it was absolutely the case. It was just astonishing when I was going back and reading the interviews, writing the script out based on the interviews just how easy it was for these girls to or these women I should say to get their hands on testosterone and not only easy but like Cat, she was first taken to a gender therapist with her parents when she was 17, on the spot offered testosterone but she actually refused because she didn’t want to go that route yet. But then when she did decide to go on testosterone later in college, all she had to do was pick up the phone. She called Planned Parenthood. She had a prescription the same day. They didn’t — in the case of Cat and Helena, they talk about how none of their previous mental health issues or comorbidities, each of these girls struggled with eating disorders. Helena had been, you know, hospitalized for mental health conditions, and none of that was even addressed or assessed before each of them got a prescription for testosterone. And often it was over the phone, same day prescription, here you go, and even Helena talks about how she convinced the nurse practitioner that she wanted the highest dose of testosterone. She was like, no, I have high estrogen, I know I do, I want the highest dose of testosterone. No questions asked. She was given the highest dose of testosterone that’s prescribed for these treatments, and then Grace went on to get top surgery to have a double mastectomy and, again, was able to get that letter with no trouble at all, so very, very quick.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Yeah. So what did it look like then when these women started to change their minds? I don’t want to give away the end of the movie, but give us some hints. What are we going to see?
KALLIE FELL: You know the largest thing, and it can be put quite simply, is that changing their bodies, it didn’t change anything. It didn’t change how these girls felt about their bodies. It didn’t make their discomfort go away. It didn’t make the trauma that they had experienced as young children go away. It didn’t fix anything. That’s the lie we’re feeding young girls or young boys is that this will fix it, you will feel better. And, instead, they’re being met with medical harms, lifelong treatments, because once someone goes on this path, once a child starts puberty blockers and then what I call wrong sex hormones, they’re medicalized for life. There’s no going back. Even if they decide to detransition, they will be medicalized for life. When a woman or a young girl goes through puberty blockers and then cross sex hormones, wrong sex hormones, her uterus removed, her reproductive organs removed, she’s putting herself in menopause, and even if she decides it didn’t fix her problems, she will have to take hormones the rest of her life. She will have complications the rest of her life. She has put herself at risk for early onset dementia. She has put herself in danger. And so I think these girls realize that it didn’t solve anything, and instead they found themselves hurting more.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So if we have people in our lives that are struggling with this, what kind of advice to you have for us as to how to proceed with them?
KALLIE FELL: That’s a hard question to answer, and it’s actually a question that Cat — we had our film premiere not too long ago and Cat was able to attend — and she answered this question. And it’s hard because everybody is so different, but I think that part of the answer that Cat alluded to at the premiere was we just need to offer a safe space for our daughters, our nieces, our granddaughters to grow up celebrating that they are women. We need to offer them support. We need to listen to them as these challenges arise, and we certainly need to be connecting with them and really talking about what’s going on. We don’t need to hush the trauma, their objectification. We need to be supportive and let them know that we know what it’s like to grow up as a woman.
And, finally, I think we need to turn off the phone, turn off the computer monitor, and we need to get outside and reconnect with our kids, with our girls. We need to embrace the aspects of femininity that are unique to us and to live as our authentic female selves without any regard for male definitions for who and what we are and we need to get outside.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Talk about what you hope people will take away from the movie, “The Detransition Diaries,” and where people can go to watch that.
KALLIE FELL: I want people to listen to detransitioners, whether it’s these three beautifully articulate women or others online. They’re starting to come out more, and they’re starting to feel like they have a safe place to talk. So I want people to know that they exist and that we can listen to them. They have a story that needs to be heard. Medically transitioning did not fix anything, so they are there. Listen to them. You can find our film, “The Detransition Diaries: Saving our Sisters,” on Vimeo at Vimeo.com/ondemand/detransitiondiaries. Our website also has the film. There’s a little link you can click. It’s CBC-network.org, and you can also find our first film, “Trans Mission: What’s the Rush to Reassign Gender?” for free on YouTube. You just go to YouTube and type that in a search. Again, it’s “Trans Mission,” not like the car, “What’s the Rush to Reassign Gender?” and I hope that your listeners watch it and find it helpful.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: All right. Well, Kallie Fell with the Center for Bioethics and Culture, thanks for being with us today on Family Policy Matters.
KALLIE FELL: Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it .
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