Charlie Bentley-Astor: ‘There are real-life consequences to these gender ideologists and their conceptions of personhood. And the more people that speak up, the more apparent it becomes.’
Like a lot of women, I grew up a tomboy. Climbing trees, playing sports; to me, boys were cool, girls were boring. But, by early puberty, the other tomboys seemed to be growing out of these preferences. I wasn’t.
The boys and girls of my class began asking each other out, trading handmade Valentine’s cards. I wasn’t excluded – I had been asked out by all the popular boys – but I wasn’t interested. I couldn’t understand their fascination with one another. As for their fascination with me, I was repulsed by it.
I thought maybe I was a late flourisher. But, as primary school turned into secondary, and handholding turned into kissing and groping and sex, I remained repulsed. It never occurred to me that women could be in a same-sex relationships. The logic eluded me. How were they supposed to have babies? This is what “boy-girl” relationships were for, I’d been told. And, as a girl, I was supposed to grow up, get married, have a baby. But I’d never wanted a baby. A girl-girl relationship seemed ideal. The discovery of such partnerships struck me at full force. But, sadly, this was the last time I was to feel any clarity about myself for the next decade.
The road to transition
As I explored my sexuality, I concluded I was probably bisexual rather than gay. But some of my new friends were disappointed by my conclusion. They told me I was trapped in an oppressive society designed for the supremacy of men. Bisexuals were sell-outs, next-door to straight. And straightness was a tool of the patriarchy. So they convinced me, for several years, that I was gay instead, as if it were that simple. But my new identity gave little salvation. The promiscuity of LGBTQ+ culture left me fearing I’d be mistaken for a blow-up doll. It wasn’t fun. It was terrifying. Every way I turned I seemed to be imminent danger of exploitation, sexual or otherwise. I wanted out. Suicide regularly came to mind as an option.
‘I can’t escape the make-up of my cells – no matter what any gender theorist tries to convince me of’
This is when gender ideology came onto the scene. It was a slow creep from wanting to be “not woman” to “not female” to “gender non-conforming” to “gender non-binary” to “man”. With each step the promise grew of freedom from the social-sexual tyranny in which my womanly body had me trapped. I was being offered an escape that didn’t involve death. I was only too happy to do and say whatever was asked of me by those offering the way out.
By this point I’d been to see several NHS therapists. Each was enthusiastic to affirm, rather than help me interrogate, the ideas I had about myself.
“Maybe you are gay?”
“Maybe you don’t feel sexual attraction?”
“Maybe you are a man?”
These “maybes” weren’t open-ended shoulder-shrugs. They were suggestions. Encouragements. Worse than affirming the ideas I had of myself, it seems the aim of the sessions was to have me affirm whatever version of me they’d already settled upon.
Perhaps these therapists can be forgiven. NHS therapy is prescribed in 8-12 weeks doses and, if you’re not “cured” by then, you’re sent to the back of the queue, antidepressants in hand, to apply for more. This system is designed for those who need a bit of guidance after a minor shock or bereavement. Not for those questioning their whole sense of being.
What had started as a denial by others of my bisexuality had become a denial of my femininity – then of my being female: for these people, whoever I was, whatever I was going to be, it wasn’t going to be straight, and it wasn’t going to be female.
And so this confusion continued and intensified over several more years – in which time I shaved off my long hair, started shopping in the men’s section, and crushed my still developing breasts to my chest with bandages and “binder” bras.
My pronouns had gone from she/her, to she/they, to they/them, to them/him.
At the time, the adoption of each new masculine stereotype felt like a step closer to that “true”, “authentic” self my friends had idolised. I was being who I was meant to be. Yet I had less confidence in myself than ever. I felt more preyed upon than ever. I was more depressed than ever.
And when I looked round at friends, also “living their most authentic lives”, they were as unhappy as I was. They smiled, as I did, and revelled in how free and just and authentic it all was. But it is no exaggeration to say that every one of them had at least one major unmanaged mental-health issue – panic, suicidal-depression, self-harm, and eating disorders among the most common manifestations of something being not being right.
But, if we were unhappy, it’s because we hadn’t made it to our destinations – not that the destination is a dystopia or that the destination doesn’t exist. And all of us were certain it did.
In such a position there are two options: admit you are wrong and ask for help, or double down. All of us doubled down. And if any of us ever expressed any doubt, among or ourselves – or even, as I did, to medical professionals – we were encouraged or browbeaten into staying within the fold and fulfilling our “queer destiny”. It was a cult.
When I first went to the GP to discuss gender-affirming surgery, it was never to have a chest reconstruction and a faux penis added to my body. It was only ever to have my female organs taken away – breast, womb, vagina. It wasn’t that I wanted to be a man, I just didn’t want to be a woman. I wanted to be a kind of non-gendered human, as if such a thing could really exist. But I had been led to believe there could.
Yet this time, for the first time, the medical system sent me away without a referral. At first I resented this GP for this. She was just a henchman of the oppressive patriarchy, trying to keep me trapped in “the wrong body”. That’s what I told myself. But I was disheartened and embarrassed enough to put off returning to doctors for the next couple of months. In hindsight, this woman probably saved my life.
The controversial Tavistock transgender clinic is to be shut down by the NHS after a review found it is "not safe" for children CREDIT: Aaron Chown/PA Archive
How I realised transitioning wasn’t for me My pro-transition activist friends often said that contesting their gender identity risked driving them suicide. Yet, for me, it was only when I began to be challenged, and challenge myself and the gender-spin I'd been fed, that my own suicidal feelings finally began to abate.
I looked at what I had already made myself into. The buzz-cut hair. The baggy clothes. My body was half-skeleton from elective malnutrition. Going by “they/them” pronouns. I was making myself look ugly on purpose because I didn’t want the sexual attention of those evil, tyrannical men.
Yet the origin of my pain was far deeper than this – deeper than the narratives of “patriarchy” and “toxic masculinity” and “cis-normativity”. Those were quasi-cogent ideas that served to mask my feelings rather than explain them. The reality is, I was punishing myself – my body – for having gone through puberty without my permission. I was disgusted by my own nature. I felt betrayed by it. And the betrayal was total. I wanted to escape it, kill it, obliterate it, so that it could never betray me again.
But I am that body. It is not other than me. It is me. And I can’t escape the make-up of my cells – no matter what any gender theorist tries to convince me of.
The wrong labels
Detransition followed the deradicalisation. As the politics fell away, so did the desire to transition. I began to address with a therapist and gynaecologist – a good one this time – everything that had led me to the point of wanting surgical sterilisation. I was diagnosed with PMDD (an obscure and little known hormonal intolerance) and several learning disorders, including autism – a co-morbidity common to a disproportionate number of girls turning up in gender clinics.
These diagnoses have not explained what I felt, as all these other labels attempted to – but have given me tools to apprehend why I experience emotions the way I do. The right labels can be helpful. But the wrong labels can be deadly.
I have no doubt that, if I’d have gone through with the surgical transition, I would have committed suicide not long after. Because I would have been just as unhappy on the other side of surgery. And the irrevocable nature of those changes would have been unbearable for someone who was already disgusted and terrified by bodies because it was so almost unbearable beforehand. There are real-life consequences to these gender ideologists and their conceptions of personhood. And the more people that speak up, the more apparent it becomes.
‘My belonging extends from me, rather than being imposed upon me... For the first time in living memory, I am not gender dysphoric’
Fleeing the cult
I lost every single one of my friends when detransitioning. All of them. I lost my (albeit imperfect) sense of belonging, and I lost my career of 15 years. I’ve never made a habit of bringing politics to work, but anything less than frenzied enthusiasm for gender theory singles you out as a dissident. My silence alone was making people “feel unsafe”.
But I gained much more than I lost. My body is intact – and good looking, if I do say so myself. I have confidence. A stable sense of self. I have new friends. My belonging extends from me, rather than being imposed upon me. I have my health back, mental and physical. For the first time in living memory, I am not gender dysphoric. I’m no longer suicidal. I don’t even need the aid of antidepressants – I was finally able to shed the last of them three months ago. As for my career, I have a new adventure ahead of me. I don’t quite know where I’m going or where I’ll end up. Which is terrifying. But also kind of thrilling.
What about marriage and – gulp – motherhood? I’ve even come round to the idea of that. And not just “come round” but become quite excited at the prospect. Me, who never wanted kids, and did all this to avoid them.
You might have got to the end of this and thought, “She’s not trans!” And you’d be right, I’m not. So why write as if I was? Because I was convinced that I was. For half my life. And so were a great many other people.
I am not claiming that transition isn’t a legitimate treatment for those rare few with persistent gender dysphoria. I’m saying it is just that – rare. Transition – particularly surgical – should be a last resort. I’m always going to prefer to wear shorts to a skirt. That’s just who I am. And that doesn’t, nor did that ever need to be, pathologised in the way the radical-Left did. And we, as a society, need to dispense with this calamity of an idea that transitioning is for everyone who struggles with their identity and body. It isn’t.