“I wanted to come as close as possible to having a male body even though I knew inside I would never actually get one. I wanted to get rid of the female aspects of myself.”

Livia, 23, has lived as a trans man for five years. When she was 20, she underwent a double mastectomy, a hysterectomy and an oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries). And she now regrets it. She is one of a panel of seven young women discussing their feelings about transitioning at the very first meeting of the Detransitioner Advocacy Network (DAN) earlier this month.

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Since its formation, in October, more than 300 women who regret transitioning from female to (trans) male have come forward for support and advice. It’s an extraordinary number. Perhaps not so surprising when you see that in the past ten years there has been a 3,200% rise in children who believe they are transgender in the UK, three-quarters of whom are girls. A quick search of the crowdfunding site GoFundMe shows more than 26,000 girls and women are seeking money to have “top surgery” (an elective double mastectomy) in order to appear more masculine.

When she was 15, Livia was diagnosed with severe anorexia. “It’s so scary to realise that my anorexic thoughts were about [hating] my female body,” she tells a stunned room. “I really wish someone had been there to tell me not to get that body castrated at 21.”

It would seem that Livia had body dysmorphia, a disorder which leads people to believe their body is flawed, something which is becoming increasingly prevalent because of pressure on women to conform to feminine stereotypes. But she was led to believe she had gender dysphoria, where people think it’s their biological sex that’s wrong, which leads to the desire to have irreversible surgery, often at a young and impressionable age.

Livia is one of a devastating number of girls who are presenting at gender clinics and being prescribed ‘puberty blockers’. These drugs halt the natural development of a person’s sexual characteristics and increase the likelihood that a child will remain on a medical pathway and progress to cross-sex hormones. But, shockingly, there is no research on the long-term effects of this medication, described by various senior clinicians at the DAN launch as “highly toxic and potentially dangerous”. Nonetheless, the NHS recently changed its policy to allow the NHS Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) to prescribe them to children under 12 who are in established puberty.

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There is, though, a growing number of concerned clinicians and mental health practitioners who are willing to speak out about the problem. These professionals are deeply worried about the massive increase in and normalisation of transgendering children and said as much — even though our current climate means that to even question transgender ideology is to be labelled transphobic and to have jobs and livelihoods threatened. Everyone attending the Detransitioning Conference was taking a risk.

DAN was set up by Charlie Evans, a 28-year-old science writer who was born female but identified as a trans man for a decade. Last year, Evans decided to detransition and go public about her reasons. Evans’ life trajectory is similar to that of many detransitioned females. Coming out as a lesbian aged 11, Evans felt uncomfortable about the negative response from boys and girls at school. She endured their cruelty and homophobic remarks for several years and then, at the age of 14, discovered that many in her group of friends were transitioning from female to male. It was compelling, she said.

“I got pulled along by it,” Evans tells me. “I like other girls and I like guns and trucks and mud and I don’t like having long hair and I’m really messy and my room looks like a boy’s room, therefore I must be a boy.”

Evans, who is autistic, started binding her breasts and shaved off all her hair when she was 16. “I said to my parents, ‘Your daughter is dead, and I don’t want you to treat me like your daughter anymore. If you buy clothing for me, I want boys clothing, not girls’.” She had bought in to the idea that transitioning was magically going to solve her problems.

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Many detransitioning women have taken testosterone and had irreversible surgery, such as double mastectomy, hysterectomies, and the construction of a fake penis known as phalloplasty. But Evans never went that far. She changed her name and her pronouns and lived as her chosen sex, but didn’t go through with the gender reassignment operation.

And then a number of things led her to reassess her decision — including the slow realisation that transitioning wasn’t the cure-all she had hoped it would be for her particular ills. She now lives as a bisexual woman with a profound concern for the growing demographic of children whose confusion over their sex and gender is being mismanaged by gender identity clinics.

Although there are a number of male to female transsexuals that have spoken out about regretting their transition, Evans prioritises those young lesbians who have been, “caught up in the cult that convinces them they are boys”, because this is the group currently at risk of “being groomed by the extreme transgender ideology”.

It was this group that interested me in particular, too. As a feminist campaigner, I assumed that part of the reason so many girls are attracted this ideology is to escape their femaleness, especially with the current rise in misogyny.  So I wanted to know how much those psychiatrists who were making a diagnosis of ‘gender dysphoria’ and those surgeons who were removing breasts and wombs really knew about the underlying issues.

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The detransitioners’ stories were harrowing. A lament for what has been taken from them. It was hard to listen to the succession of young women standing on stage, expressing such regret.

Kira is 22 and has taken testosterone. In her deep, masculine voice, she tells us how, after starting secondary school, she became unsociable, severely depressed and alienated, and believed that being attracted to other girls made her ‘unnatural’. At 14, Kira’s mother asked her if she wanted to be a boy.

“I thought I finally had an answer and began to obsess over the process,” Kira told the audience. “Two years later I was diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder and from the age of 16 I went through the process of hormone blockers and testosterone and eventually a double mastectomy at 20.”

“I’ve now accepted who I really am — a gender non-conforming woman. I don’t believe I should have taken medical transition to get to this point.”

Max is 29 and has a full beard — but no longer takes testosterone. She transitioned in order to escape the confines of being a woman in a misogynistic society. “Pretty much every person born female is policed by appearance and forced to bend over backwards to look feminine,” she said. “Transitioning gave me an opportunity to avoid that.”

Many of the delegates were angry. As we heard the survivors talk about the surgery and hormonal treatment they had endured, one shouted out that the surgeons who carry out operations to remove healthy body parts should be, “in prison”.

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The only NHS facility for transgender young people in the UK is the Tavistock and Portman Trust. Since 2015, 35 staff have resigned from the Gender Identity Development service citing the lack of credible research into gender dysphoria and treatment and why there has been such an increase in cases. As one doctor at the conference told me:

“As demand surged for under 18-year-olds, it became clear that these young girls, in particular, had some very serious psychological problems, but were almost instantly affirmed as being ‘gender dysphoric’. That diagnosis is all that is needed to be rubber-stamped for testosterone, and subsequent surgery. Many of us that resigned over this are very worried indeed where it is leading.”

But few dare speak out. Dr David Bell, consultant psychiatrist at the Tavistock, described why it’s so difficult for those services which deal with trans identity to accept the detransition movement. “Detransitioners are a threat to an ideology that has acquired an almost totalitarian quality and cannot be challenged,” he says. “It is extraordinary the way in which, without any evidence at all, trans ideology has had the ears of politicians up to the highest level.”

A number of the clinicians I speak to echo those fears of being labelled ‘transphobic’. They worry about the rigid mindset defines much treatment and intervention, creating a ‘You are either with us or you are against us’ approach to the issue. This attitude is resulting in the over-medicalisation of these young women. It certainly seems extraordinary to me, and many at the conference, that so many girls are being fast-tracked down this path of life-long medical treatment, including radical surgery, before being offered alternatives such as therapy.

Dr Victoria Rose is a consultant plastic surgeon at the London Clinic. She is aware of the rise in numbers of clinicians offering hormones and referring young women for surgery. “We know there is abuse of the system,” she says. “We know there are people who set themselves up as gender GPs who dole out hormones and refer patients who haven’t gone through the pathway. At the moment there’s long discussions about the younger population and how they’re treated.”

Part of the problem, she says, is that “this generation is very impressionable”.

It’s true there is more cultural pressure and online influence on youngsters than ever before. Why, then, weren’t these “impressionable” girls given more help along the way? Why weren’t they offered expert therapy before the drastic action of puberty blockers is prescribed?

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The British Psychological Society (BPS) guidelines suggest that clinicians affirm the young person’s gender identity, meaning that it would be considered to be ‘bad practice’ to offer therapy and other non-medical interventions rather than hormones and surgery. In other words, if mental health professionals suggest to a child that they could perhaps give them help and support to feel good about living in their bodies without having to change it with major surgery and lifelong hormonal treatment, they would be considered transphobic.

The trouble is, as Dr Bell explained, “The body isn’t like a video recorder that you can put on pause. It’s more complex than that. When you’re a young person, you think the way you feel now is the way you’ll always feel.”

I left the conference with fewer answers than I had hoped for. Just a litany of stories of young lives disrupted and young bodies distorted. I did find out that cultural attitudes and the reinforcing of gender stereotypes — what a female should look like (body dysmorphia) and how she should behave (gender affirmation) — are very much a part of the problem.

What is crystal clear is that the trans lobby’s determination to shut down dissent and discussion isn’t helping these women and girls. It’s an approach which promises them liberation without determining what they want to be free from. We were once making incredible progress on breaking down the gender binary and encouraging freedom of expression.

Now the power of the supposedly progressive trans lobby means we can’t question it when a girl chooses to mutilate her ‘wrong body’. It’s time to stop listening to the lobby and start listening more carefully to people like Max. We certainly were in Manchester, when she said to a roomful of people: “It’s highly possible that if I had got expert therapy I may never have transitioned.”