What YouTube Influencers Are Telling Your Kids About Trans Identity and Doubt

Ever felt “a sense of misalignment, disconnect, or estrangement from your own emotions”? How about “knowing you’re somehow different from everyone else, and wishing you could be normal like them”? Did you experience “a notable escalation in the severity of these symptoms during puberty”?

If so, you just might be trans! Or at least that’s what online trans communities tell kids. 

Take questions about discomfort with sexual development or sexual orientation to the Internet, and online communities and search algorithms alike will point to “trans.” Online communities prompt children and teens to question their gender, then tell them that if they question their gender, they’re trans. (Visit amitransgender.net and you get a simple “Yes” and a list of resources to help you quickly solidify your new transgender identity.)

As your child consolidates a trans identity, they’ll inevitably experience questions and doubts—after all, what’s more questionable or doubtful than the idea that despite your body—your only way of existing in the world—and despite your entire upbringing, you were never what you appear and always knew yourself to be?

That’s why so many of these videos and online resources zero in on the problem of doubting your new transgender identity—and then set out to disarm those doubts.

Trans vlogger Jackson Bird (91,600 subscribers) opens the video “Am I Really Trans?” with an upbeat “Hi, I’m Jackson Bird and today I want to talk about doubt, one of my favorite subjects, specifically today about doubting your transness!” (No joke: doubt is one of my favorite subjects, too! But we might approach the question of what to do with doubt rather differently…)

Videos like this reassure young viewers that not only are doubts and reservations normal and nothing to worry about or take too seriously (“I would be surprised if most people don’t feel some sort of doubt at some point, even after they transition,” Bird says)—doubting you’re trans is actually a sign of being trans. After all, “most cis people don’t spend a whole lot of time wondering if they’re trans.” No matter where your doubts come from, no matter what your doubts center on, even if you didn’t know what transgender meant until 20 minutes ago, even if you’ve never experienced gender dysphoria, even if you didn’t figure out you were trans “until you were 35 million [years old]”: 

“… it doesn’t matter how you figure it out. Like if you were just grocery-shopping and you were going down the cereal aisle and one of the cereal boxes said ‘Did you know that you’re a trans person” and you just broke down crying and then the Cereal God descended from the heavens and gave you a list of gender therapists in the area, if you felt like you connected with that moment and felt like you were really trans… then you probably are.”

There’s an intimacy to these videos: they’re candid, confessional, packed with personal disclosures. No topic is too small or too private to mention. Click ‘play’ and the vloggers speak, as if in real time, putting words to formless discontent. Transition timelines and trans video bloggers feature heavily in youth accounts of coming to understand themselves as transgender. Other resources, like the widely shared Gender Dysphoria Bible, likewise reassure readers that doubt is a sign of transgender identity, not a signal to reconsider whether transition is right for you: 

“Gender Dysphoria also causes depression, which further contributes to and reinforces those doubts. This all leads into a massive cluster of self invalidation that can lead someone to struggle over and over again to accept their own gender identity. But here’s the thing… only trans people are worried about if they are actually transgender! A cisgender person does not have this obsession with their identity, they think about it, they process it, they move on. If you keep returning to these thoughts over and over again, this is your brain telling you that you took a wrong turn.”

Therapists with YouTube channels get in on the action, too, like this woman who ‘reassures’ viewers that their obsessive thoughts about whether they might be transgender will never go away and will only get “stronger and stronger” with time:

The confusion arises when the masculine feelings or the feminine feelings or the longing or the obsessive thoughts come and go. When they fade away, people mistakenly think that they are gone forever and that it was just a phase. But the feelings always return. Think of it this way: the tide comes in and the tide goes out but no one ever says the water is no longer there. As you grow older, you will find that not only do your feelings return, they will grow stronger and stronger.

I want you to think about your other feelings and longings. Are you ever permanently angry or hungry or tired or happy? I ask this because—for some reason—people make an exception with their feelings about their gender when no other feeling or emotion is always present. When you are sad or happy, do you ever think that you will never be sad again if these feelings are gone forever? No. Then why do you think that you will never be having these feelings of longing, feminine feelings or masculine feelings, ever again? It’s not a phase. It’s coming back. It always comes back. It is denial that causes you to assume that these feelings are gone for good.

But where does that denial come from? Denial is actually very normal to start with because, if you think about it, who actually wants to be transgender? This is not something that people volunteer for, so it would make sense that you would be reluctant to accept this about yourself. Then think about how many times you have received gendered messages over your life. Almost everything is about your gender: from the color of your toothbrush, the way you were expected to behave, to the clothing you were expected to wear, all the way down to where we are supposed to use the bathroom and how you are supposed to use it. You are battling thousands and thousands of messages about your gender they began very early and continue to this day…

The implication is clear: time spent deliberating is time lost. Move forward. Now.

After all, you can always change your mind! So, even if you’re not sure—because you’re in denial!—why not just get a prescription for testosterone so you can see how it feels to hold that prescription in your hand? Why not fill it and see how it feels to hold that vial and syringe? Nobody says you have to inject it! This is just a neutral process of self-discovery. Taking a big step in one direction in no way predetermines the next step you’ll take. 

But in fact every step binds. Online influencers encourage children and young people to sink costs into transition: come out to everyone and it will be harder to go back. Make ‘trans’ your whole identity and you’ll cling to it: what else do you have? 

Eliza Mondegreen is a graduate student studying gender identity. You can find her on Twitter at @elizamondegreen and read more of her writings on gender at elizamondegreen.substack.com

Eliza Mondegreen
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