‘I was enraged to see my story distorted and used’: Detransitioners object to anti-transgender book

The Heritage Foundation's Ryan T. Anderson never reached out to these detransitioners.

Carey Callahan, who makes YouTube videos about her experience detransitioning. CREDIT: YouTube
Carey Callahan, who makes YouTube videos about her experience detransitioning. CREDIT: YouTube

In his new bookWhen Harry Became Sally, the Heritage Foundation’s Ryan T. Anderson shares stories from “detransitioners,” individuals who regret steps they took to physically transition their bodies. Their negative experiences, Anderson argues, are proof that transitioning is bad for all people and that transgender people should not be affirmed in their gender identities. Unfortunately, these detransitioners say they never consented to letting him appropriate their stories and object to how he used them in his book.

It first became apparent that Anderson hadn’t reached out to the detransitioners when one of them responded negatively to a positive review of the book by Austin Ruse. Ruse is president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), an anti-LGBTQ hate group. In his review, titled “The Medical Monsters Among Us,” Ruse focused on the detransitioners included in Anderson’s book.

This review caught writer and activist Carey Callahan’s attention, as she was named in it.

“Um some Catholic guy wrote a chapter about detransitioners called “Medical Monsters among us” (I swear) and he talks about me (this is real) and it’s not even close to the weirdest thing about this week,” Callahan tweeted on January 26. “Medical monster. This just seems like v bad Catholicism. I don’t believe Pope Francis would approve.”

It’s unclear if Ruse’s “medical monsters” headline was referring to the detransitioners or their doctors, and Anderson didn’t use the term “medical monsters” himself, but it was clear that this was the first time Callahan had even heard of the book.

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ThinkProgress subsequently made contact with four of the six detransitioners Anderson profiled, and all four confirmed that they had never heard from Anderson. All indicated some objection to being included in the book.

“I was upset to be used as a rhetorical device by someone who does not respect me and other detransitioners enough to contact us, or even alert us that we are being used as rhetorical devices,” Callahan told ThinkProgress.

In the conclusion to When Harry Became Sally, Anderson explains that the detransitioners were his primary motivation for writing the book. “I couldn’t shake from my mind the stories of people who had detransitioned,” he says. “They are heartbreaking. I had to do what I could to prevent more people from suffering the same way.”

This apparently did not include reaching out to them to learn how best to support them.

Crash, another detransitioner Anderson profiles in When Harry Became Sally, first learned of her inclusion in the book from Callahan’s tweets. “Anderson never contacted me and I had no idea I was written about in his book until I saw Carey Callahan’s tweets and read the article she was referring to,” she told ThinkProgress. “I was enraged to see my story distorted and used. I would never have agreed to be included in such a book.”

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The same was true for a detransitioner named Max. “I was definitely not informed about that use of our stories until Carey learned about it after the book was written,” she explained. “[I] am not okay with it, and the women mentioned are working together right now to figure out our next move.”

“I don’t personally know any detransitioned women who are on board with anything the Heritage Foundation does,” she added. “An awful lot of us are lesbians.”

The Heritage Foundation opposes LGBTQ equality in all its forms, and Anderson is often the organization’s point person in that opposition. His previous book, Truth Overruled, was about opposing marriage equality for same-sex couples, and When Harry Became Sally actually repackages some of his same arguments about the supposed “complementarity” of men and women.

A detransitioned man who goes by TWT (ThirdWayTrans) first learned about his inclusion in the book when ThinkProgress reached out. “I was unaware that my story was used in this book,” he responded. “I had never heard about the book until your email. I am probably going to address the issue of people using my story to promote a political agenda on my blog soon, because this happens a lot and is definitely not my intention.”

ThinkProgress shared excerpts from the book with the detransitioners, but each declined to comment further until they have the opportunity to read it in its entirety.

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ThinkProgress attempted to reach Cari Stella, another detransitioner whose story Anderson included, but did not hear back. Walt Heyer, the sixth detransitioner, is a vocal opponent of transgender equality, and he has shared his story in the journal Public Discourse, founded and edited by Anderson, on multiple occasions. Heyer confirmed to ThinkProgress on Tuesday that he was aware his story would be used in the book.

In a chapter of his book featuring extensive excerpts from the detransitioners’ blog posts and videos, Anderson argues, “The stories recounted in this chapter tell us, at a minimum, that transitioning is not the ‘only solution’ to gender dysphoria. They tell us, furthermore, that trying to align the body with a transgender identity does not resolve the deep issues that led to alienation from one’s own body.”

In reality, all that the stories show is that there is a small, exceptional group that take steps to transition their gender but do not benefit from that transition. A common theme among them is that they suffered some sort of trauma when they were young, received insufficient counseling prior to being prescribed transition-related treatment, and were later diagnosed with dissociative disorders that were at the root of their mental health struggles. They may have taken steps to transition their bodies, but the fact that transition didn’t improve their well-being suggests that they were improperly diagnosed from the start.

The stories do not prove, as Anderson claims, that transition always results in “added suffering.” Instead, their experiences demonstrate the need for health providers to be better trained on issues related to gender dysphoria and for all people experiencing struggles related to their gender to have better access to competent mental health care — the very thing Anderson opposes.

After ThinkProgress reached out to Anderson for comment, a spokesperson for the Heritage Foundation responded, saying, “[…] Everyone in his forthcoming book is quoted from published materials: straight from essays, legal documents, peer-reviewed articles, blogs or YouTube videos, which are in the public domain. This is true of the people who detransitioned as it is for everyone else in the book. Ryan even points [out] that many people who he quotes might disagree with him but that he wanted their stories to be heard.”

Anderson himself did not respond to a request for comment.