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Too Tall: My Journey with "Gender-Affirming" Hormones
By Mariah Burton Nelson
August 25, 2023
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The essay below was written by Mariah Burton Nelson, a former Stanford and pro basketball player, member of the Women’s Sports Policy Working Group, and the author of The Stronger Women Get, The More Men Love Football. She can be reached via MariahBurtonNelson.com. I am sharing it here with her permission.
I know what it’s like to be prescribed what could have been called “gender-affirming” hormones at thirteen, in 1969, when I was a “tomboy”. I remember how innocent I was, how incapable of making wise, informed decisions about my future. I’m worried about girls who don’t conform to sex stereotypes nowadays, and how vulnerable they must be to cultural and familial pressures to modify their bodies with heavy-duty drugs and surgeries.
Kayla Lovdahl and Chloe Cole, for instance. They are suing their doctors and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals for prescribing puberty blockers and testosterone and for performing double mastectomies when they were just thirteen and fifteen years old, respectively. Lovdahl was coerced to “entertain the erroneous belief” that she was transgender. Cole is suing "for pushing her into medical mutilation instead of properly treating her."
My “gender-affirming” hormones were not testosterone but estrogen. Like many girls these days who decide they’re trans, I had no interest in dresses or dolls. By age thirteen, I was playing field hockey, basketball, and lacrosse in junior high and swimming competitively every summer. And I was already tall: five-eight. (The average height for girls that age is five-two; the average height for American women is five-four.)
My doctor was my mother. She was five ten-and-a-half. She worried that without medical intervention, her daughter might grow “too tall,” she told me. I might not be able to find clothes to fit.
She said clothes but I heard husband. Her fears were not unfounded. How many men, then or now, marry taller women?
In a medical journal, Mom read about an obscure treatment that is still prescribed for “too tall” girls whose projected adult height is anywhere between five-nine and six feet. Estrogen induces a pre-pubescent girl’s first period. After menarche, girls usually only grow about another two inches.
My sister had not started menstruating until she was fifteen. If I continued growing for another two years, I might be… “How tall?” I asked.
Mom had collected data. A Metropolitan Life chart tracked my height over the years, the penciled trajectory soaring high above the average. Mom knew a general formula to predict adult height: Double the height of a two-year-old, then add a few inches for a boy or subtract a few for a girl.
“Worst case scenario,” she speculated, “you could be six feet tall.”
Whoa. That did sound gigantic. We lived in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania. Had I ever even seen a six-foot-tall woman?
“Would I still reach five-ten or eleven?” I asked, negotiating. Already, basketball was important to me.
She assured me I was destined to be tall regardless. “I’ll leave it up to you.”
At thirteen, what did I know of myself or my future? How could I imagine that I would play basketball for Stanford; travel to five foreign countries with the best professional women’s basketball team in France; join other pioneers in the first women’s pro league in the United States (the WBL); and create a career as a feminist sportswriter?
How could I foresee that I would be a lesbian, making male preferences for shorter women moot?
I trusted my mother/doctor. I took the pills. And grew to be six-two.
At Stanford, my mentor was Sandra Bem, the psychology professor who developed the Bem Sex Role Inventory and concluded based on her research that people who choose from among an array of traditionally feminine and masculine behaviors – nonconformers to sex stereotypes – are psychologically healthier than those who rigidly adhere to either stereotype. How validating for this androgynous young athlete, and how commonsensical. Why not just be who we are?
Yet today’s transgender concept relies on sexist notions of how women and men should dress and behave. Here’s the Human Rights Campaign’s definition: “an umbrella term for people whose gender identity or expression is different from cultural expectations based on the sex they were assigned at birth.” I cannot think of a single female friend whose “gender identity or expression” conforms to cultural expectations. We are too independent. Too assertive. Too fond of sneakers.
Could we all be trans? By that definition, yes.
Do we reject bogus sex roles? Definitely.
From this perch, it’s hard to complain about stunted growth. The estrogen was probably administered too late to have a significant effect. My brother and father are just six-three (and my sister is only five-nine), so it’s unlikely I was destined to grow any taller. I have forgiven my mother.
But I’m concerned that tall, athletic, androgynous, and lesbian girls are now adopting trans or nonbinary identities in response to peer pressure and immaturity – and innocently agreeing to risky medications and life-altering surgeries to “affirm” those identities well before the age of informed consent.
Being female is not a feeling, it’s a fact. Our bodies are fine as they are. It’s our minds – the harmful belief that girls should medically modify their bodies to conform to anyone’s standard of femininity or masculinity – that need to change.
 Estrogen has never been approved by the U.S. FDA for growth suppression. But between 1995 and 2000 (the most recent data I could find), 33 percent of U.S. pediatric endocrinologists used estrogen to suppress growth in tall girls.
 This formula and variations on it are still used, though there seems to be no validating research.