A “disturbing trend” in schools across the country risks psychological harm to children by forcing them to identify their gender, declare their preferred pronouns, and refer to others with confusing pronouns that don't seem to agree with reality, a California child therapist told The Epoch Times.
Pronoun discussions can usher in a more serious form of confusion, known as delirium, warned Teva Johnstone, who practices in southern California. It's especially risky for young children, she added.
It's the practice of asking children to refer to a male as "she," a female as "he,"or one individual as "they" that damages kids, she said. And forcing children to use pronouns that don't agree with the gender they observe causes "a risk of psychological harm."
That's because most children learn early that pronouns are supposed to represent the observed sex of that person, said Johnstone, who specializes in counseling young patients with psychological disassociation.
She helps children suffering from a "mind-body disconnect," mostly found in those with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
But even in children without other problems, requiring the use of "preferred pronouns" that don't match the gender they see is confusing, and making it an issue is developmentally inappropriate, she said.
When children are taught about subjects that aren't developmentally appropriate, there's a risk of “psychological harm," she said. It even can create psychological disassociation in children not struggling with other mental disorders.
Psychological disassociation is a term describing an unhealthy tendency to disconnect from the world, and a malfunction of how the mind processes information.
People suffering with psychological disassociation may feel disconnected from general thoughts, feelings, memories, and surroundings. It can affect their sense of identity and perception of time.
If the symptoms last more than a few weeks, it can morph into a more serious condition.
Conversations about pronoun declarations often are pushed by schools without parental consent—or worse, Johnstone said.
“Sometimes they’re doing it secretively,” she said.
The “saddest part," she added, is that traditional "magical" childhood is disappearing.
Childhood "should be innocent. They should be barefoot, climbing trees, and laughing. Instead, they’re being exposed to this stuff earlier and earlier, and to me, it’s heartbreaking. Childhood needs to be protected.”
But it's common now for schools to ask children to indicate the pronouns they’d like to use.
Some teachers push unconventional pronouns, such as “they, them, or ze, zem," Johnstone said, "again without parental input."
The trend in schools mirrors what's happening in the world of adults, where many declare their pronouns publicly and include their preferences below a signature on emails, or on a name badge at work or at a professional conference.
In July, Vice President Kamala Harris announced her preferred pronouns in a post on Twitter, writing, "I am Kamala Harris, my pronouns are she and her, and I am a woman sitting at the table wearing a blue suit."
More than words
Miller Lashbrook, a "gender-fluid" English and creative writing teacher in Osceola County, Fla., says pronouns are “more than just words.”Lashbrook, uses all pronouns—he, she, and they—indicating a gender identity that vacillates.
“A simple two, three, or four-letter word can empower somebody to take ownership of themselves and their identity,” Lashbrook said in an interview with NEA Today, a publication of the National Education Association.
When correct names and pronouns are used consistently, studies show that suicide rates among the LGBT community drop, and trust and feelings of belonging increase, says Saul Ramos, a paraprofessional in Massachusetts and a member of NEA’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Committee.
“It’s also a sign of respect,” Ramos said in June, during an NEA-hosted webinar on pronouns.
The NEA advocates for public declarations of preferred pronouns because it affirms gender identities and creates safe spaces by referring to people in the way that feels most accurate to them.
The association's pronouns guide asserts that "correct" pronoun usage is “critical to the health and well-being of transgender and gender-diverse people.”
Rachel Levin, an associate professor of biology and neuroscience at Pomona College in California, “somewhat" disagrees with that assertion, she told The Epoch Times. Pronouns, she said, are important “markers about how to refer to people when speaking of them.”
It’s not just children being traumatized by pronoun designations, Levin said. Young adults are suffering under the burden of using pronouns "correctly," as well. And sometimes, she added, trauma comes from having to choose which pronouns to use.
Levin teaches a science class dubbed by students as "the gender class." It examines how scientists study gender identity and sexuality. It also considers how science influences, and is influenced by, society.
“Recently, within the last year, a student revealed in an [assigned journal] entry that they thought they might be transgender,” she recalled. “The next time I spoke with the student alone, with the best of intentions, I asked what pronoun they want me to use. Their eyes filled with tears as they answered, 'I don’t know.'"At a conference a short time later, she posed the pronoun question to another student.
"She burst into tears,” Levin recalled. “She later explained that she had hoped that she 'passed' and that my question made her feel like she did not.”
Those incidents taught Levin an important lesson.
“Questions about pronoun use can be painful to the very people to whom we are trying to signal support," she said.
Young adults are in the “process of figuring out who they are," she said. Putting pressure on them by requesting pronoun preference can be overwhelming and cause emotional distress.
“It is best to ask privately or let people reveal them on their own,” Levin said. “It is also vitally important to refer to people by the pronoun they use.”
The idea behind asking people for their preferred pronouns stems from an attempt to create an inclusive, safe environment where everyone is respected, Levin said.
“It’s been my experience, however, that this practice is becoming more problematic than useful,” she said.
“Students whose gender presentation may not match their gender identity are forced to lie, or to out themselves, in a new and possibly unsafe environment,” she said. “While those who are unsure of their gender identity are made to feel uncomfortable and forced to choose a pronoun.”
Currently, Johnstone has paused her practice of counseling children, and now counsels parents, instead, because of rapid rise in the need for such guidance.
“There’s been a huge uptick in parents whose children have some gender questions," she said. "It just seems to have come on all of a sudden."
Many parents want to be supportive of their children and their choices, Johnstone said. But society suggests that if they don't support new pronouns or an alternate gender identification, children may pull away from them forever or commit suicide.
"It's manipulative to say that to parents because we don’t have good data to back that up," Johnstone said.
“It’s such a stressful time for parents," she added. "Almost all of society is telling them to do something they feel [goes] against intuition and common sense."
She stressed, though, that she does show respect for "what adults want to do with their bodies and their identities. But it’s not OK to push that on other people’s children.”