Erin Brewer Explains the Connection Between Childhood Trauma and Gender Dysphoria
**Editor’s Note: This interview contains mentions of childhood sexual assault and self-harm.
This week, at Family Policy Alliance’s SoConCon Social Conservative Policy Conference, I sat down with Erin Brewer, co-founder and president of Advocates Protecting Children. This nonprofit organization is “dedicated to fighting the gender industry, and especially its predation on children in the form of unethical social and medical transition for the sake of political and financial profit.”
JOY STOCKBAUER: Thanks for joining me today, Erin! Tell me a bit about your organization, Advocates Protecting Children.
ERIN BREWER: Basically, it was formed in order to do everything we can to protect children from gender ideology — specifically to protect children from the medical interventions but also to stop the policies that enable the transgender ideology in our schools, churches, public places, anywhere where they’ve sort of made inroads.
STOCKBAUER: And I understand that you have a bit of a personal story behind this mission, would you share about that?
BREWER: Sure. Between kindergarten and first grade, I was abducted by two men. My brother and I were playing. I was sexually assaulted, and my brother wasn’t. Immediately after that, I decided — I mean, I didn’t even decide. It was like I just became a boy; I was gonna be a boy. It was like a coping mechanism that I came up with, and so when I went to first grade my first grade teacher was confused because the previous year I’d been a happy-go-lucky kid and I came in and I was hostile and aggressive, I was doing everything I could to act like a boy. I wanted them to call me Timothy, I wanted to be allowed to go into the boys’ bathrooms and participate in the boys’ sports.
Thankfully, they didn’t affirm me. My teacher referred me to the school psychologist who did an assessment and came up with a plan to help me manage my difficult feelings. And, thankfully, that was an option because a lot of states now have banned that type of therapy — they call it “conversion therapy” even though it’s what heals someone whose spent their childhood struggling with difficult feelings, and oftentimes this gender dysphoria is associated with trauma.
STOCKBAUER: Wow — it’s so incredibly impactful to hear you share your story and express that connection between trauma and gender dysphoria. Thank you for sharing your story with the world — you don’t have to, so it’s incredibly courageous of you to choose to do so.
BREWER: Well, and it’s interesting because I really hadn’t talked about it publicly until I started hearing about the conversion therapy ban they were proposing in Utah and I just felt like I had to go and testify. I’d never testified in a congressional legislative hearing before, and it was really scary — I didn’t want to share my experience, I mean basically talking about a childhood trauma and also a mental illness. But I just felt like it was so important for people to understand that the vast majority of children who have this, it’s caused by an underlying issue and that they can be healed from that. So, I really feel like God was guiding me — I wasn’t a Christian at the time but when I look back I realize that it was a calling, that He was calling me to share my story.
When I look back on it now, as difficult as that process was — the trauma was horrible and the gender dysphoria I developed was incredibly difficult. People maybe don’t understand how profound gender dysphoria can be. I was engaging in a lot of self-harming behaviors. Sometimes I would take rocks and just pound my genitals until they bled because I had so much hatred for my female body — so it really is a significant distress that people feel who have it. But if I had been encouraged to believe that I was a boy I wouldn’t have gotten the help I needed to process the trauma and I could’ve been put in a position of being further traumatized. If I was a little girl going into spaces where there were adult men, that would’ve been really dangerous.
I also would’ve just continued to believe that being a girl wasn’t safe and that the only way I could survive was to be a boy. I feel like a lot of kids these days are being given that message when transgender activists are saying that these kids will commit suicide if they don’t get the treatments they want — it’s basically telling these kids that the only way they can survive is to become another person. And it’s saying that suicide is an appropriate response to not getting what you want. Both of those messages are incredibly harmful.
STOCKBAUER: So often, progressives weaponize trauma to use sexual assault survivors to push their narratives. We see this on the abortion issue as well — the idea that rape and incest abortion exceptions somehow help women who are in need of real justice. How can conservatives compassionately elevate survivors’ stories without exploiting the survivors themselves?
BREWER: That’s a really good question, because a lot of people who have suffered with gender dysphoria do have mental health issues and oftentimes continue to have mental health issues throughout their life because they develop it as a result of trauma. So, it’s really important to understand when you’re working with someone who’s got this kind of a story that it’s a sensitive topic, and that they still need some support. There have been times when I’ve gone to legislative hearings and people have met me at the airport and taken me to the hotel, they’ve explained to me exactly what’s gonna happen, they’ve made sure someone’s always with me — and that’s the way to do it.
There have been other times when I go to testify and I show up at the airport, I have to get an Uber, I don’t really know what’s going on, I go to testify and there’s nobody there to really make sure that I’m safe. Because of the current climate, oftentimes those of us who are testifying get called names, we get threats, sometimes we get spit on or tripped, sometimes we get shouted at — so it really is re-triggering in a lot of ways. We have to talk about the original trauma, we have to talk about the difficult feelings, and then we have to deal with this very hostile group of people.
But at the same time, I feel like talking about my story has been very healing in some ways, because, finally, something hopefully good can come out of something horrible. If I can prevent one child from having a medical intervention, from having her breasts cut off or taking testosterone or puberty blockers, then I feel like what happened to me when I was a child makes sense, in a way — that some good will come from the bad.