A former trans-identified woman who has de-transitioned is stressing the importance of treating those struggling with gender dysphoria "the same way we would treat any other young person who's struggling with mental health issues" instead of allowing them to alter their bodies permanently.
Helena Kerschner, a 22-year-old de-transitioned woman who once identified as a transgender man, shared her story last Friday at the Q 2021 Culture Summit with the Center for Faith, Sexuality, and Gender President Preston Sprinkle.
As a child, Kerschner said there was "no indication" she would struggle with gender dysphoria. Then, at the age of 15, she became "really embroiled in this community online where everything was about social justice [and] ... gender all the time."
"There were these hierarchical ways of looking at people, like it was bad to be cis, not trans, straight, white girl, and that's what I was," she said. "I was a straight, white girl, and I felt that that was very bad at the time being in these communities."
Her engagement with these online communities combined with her mental health issues prompted her to identify as non-binary, which eventually "snowballed into full-on trans."
Though she transitioned with hormone replacement therapy from the age of 18, Kerschner has since de-transitioned with no lingering effects.
"I don't think I would have ever even considered seeing myself as a boy without the social aspects, especially if I hadn't joined these online communities specifically because there wasn't anything at the time, really in my school or in my community, that was influencing me. It was all online," she said.
Kerschner said she soon found herself surrounded by others in her school and online community who decided to transition — and, like her, have since de-transitioned.
"Just looking back on it, it was the same pattern — just kids who are really struggling, kids who were very alone and isolated, maybe they didn't have a welcoming family life," she said.
"They just got caught up in these communities online and just started interpreting their emotional pain through the same lens together."
Though acknowledging her story is unique to her situation, Kerschner stressed that she believes it's "unrealistic" and not "appropriate" to put decisions on children struggling with gender dysphoria that will "permanently injure" their bodies.
"The way my brain works now that I'm 22 is just completely different than it did when I was 18, and I still have more growing to do," she said.
"I think that it's very important to protect young people, protect children," Kerschner, who co-founded the Pique Resilience Project, said. "They're the future of our society, and you only get one life and you only get one body. I think that should be the priority: protecting health and protecting people's future wellness, happiness, ability to exist in their God-given body. That would be the priority when talking about this."
Opening the session, Sprinkle revealed that rapid-onset gender dysphoria — especially among biological females — has seen an increase in recent years.
"The term rapid onset describes the quickness by which many teenagers seem to be experiencing gender dysphoria," he explained. "They didn't have any prior history of experiencing gender dysphoria and it seems like they kind of come out as trans or non-binary seemingly out of nowhere."
Sprinkle, a bestselling author, professor and speaker, cited statistics from the United Kingdom that found a 5,000% increase among teenage females going to gender clinics seeking help with the incongruence they experience between their internal sense of self and their biological sex.
Another study found that many females struggling with gender dysphoria also battled mental health issues.
"There's probably something more going on than simply society is more accepting," Sprinkle said.
To those who believe rapid-onset gender dysphoria and social contagion don't exist, Kerschner said her story and statistics prove otherwise.
"I totally believe that there's a social contagion. I experienced it like I said. I observed it happening. I look back, and I see it happening to so many people I knew at the time," she said.
Those struggling with gender dysphoria have "a lot going on below the surface" and need to be treated with kindness and compassion, Kerschner said.
"There's a lot of comorbid mental health issues. There's a lot of depression, anxiety, self-harm, OCD, eating disorders," she said.
"I think that we should treat these young people the same way we would treat any other young person who's struggling with mental health issues. We should be caring and loving to them. And we should get them help, and we [should] pay attention to the root causes of why they're feeling the way that they're feeling.
"I don't think that potentially causing an endocrine disorder by giving someone cross-sex hormones or potentially surgically altering healthy body parts is an appropriate way to respond to someone who's having mental health issues," Kerschner added.
"I think that they deserve a lot more personalized, specific loving care."