The following is a personal account, first written as two blog posts by one of our parents, reproduced by kind permission of @Feudaltimes.
My daughter is extremely bright, most articulate when argumentative and loves a cause. The early teenage years were predictable, arguments were over make-up, the height of heels, the off shoulder and belly crops. By 14 she looked 17 but socially, despite her best efforts to look good, she was mostly online or at school. Chief among her better qualities was a strong sense of social justice and she loved a cause. Over a few years she moved from animal rights, black rights, gay rights, before landing on Transgender rights.
To begin with, hair got shorter and shorter, but everything else, heels, clothes, make-up remained the same. Her life online revolved around Anime, Deviant Art, You tube vids and in my naivety, when she mentioned RuPaul, I confused him with Ron Paul. Her interest in American politics was pervasive. Outrage came easy and every persecuted victim or minority got her vote. She became more and more difficult to involve in family life, spent too much time in her room, compounded by a series of chest infections and flu. She became snappier, angrier, but I just thought teenage hormones, exam stress.
I first noticed a difference in her walk, she began to affect a kind of John Wayne swagger, would exaggerate squashing her chin down into her neck as if to thicken it. This was weird, she had been lurching between Bambi and ballet before now. Then suddenly, days after a splurge on make-up a pile of bin-bags appeared outside her room, Inside I found her online, she asked ‘what would you have called me if I had been a boy?’ Unsuspecting, I laughingly offered a few names, but ten minutes later I found myself back, perched on her window ledge, I probed. “The bin bags, is there something going on, that and the name thing?” It was a moment I regretted ever after, wondering what it would have been to never have given life to the opportunity for her response. ‘I think I am supposed to be a boy” My brain did its mum thing – support, panic, reach for an expert. “Confusion is normal, maybe if you speak to a GP’. ‘From now on call me Jo.’ she instructed.
Honesty here, I never drink in the day, unless its a wedding. That day I drank and lay down and drank and lay down and sobbed. I am a professional, I deal with crisis in lives of people, I am a fixer. This overwhelmed me.
From there a few key things happened. She became unhappier, our relationship deteriorated, my most inane and innocent of comments would be over-reacted to. At times I felt she hated me. She withdrew into a world that replaced old friends with new ones. Make=up was gone, bright trendy clothes were replaced with skinny grey jeans and baby blue T shirts from the boys range. I confided in an elderly but wise aunt. She dismissed it until she saw her, then said ‘She looks like she is half way there’. I cried some more, more than anything at the searing anger inside her bubbling just below the surface. The obvious unhappiness masquerading as a kind of militant self-righteousness. Where had my daughter gone?
My first response was to speak to a GP, she had never encountered this, but referred to CAHMS. I had googled a lot, discovered 4thwavenow, read blogs, mumsnet, the possibility of ASD dawned and a referral made. Meanwhile she stormed off a lot in the supermarket when I used her name. I learnt just not to say it. Once she refused to follow me unless I did, the only time I gave in. I cried into my pillow, had nightmares, fought a constant urge to sleep outside her room and hovered when she talked online. Bewildered as to where this was coming from. She wanted me to insist the school let her wear trousers, I refused, pupils do not dictate uniform. She wanted a Deed Poll name change, I told her to save up and get on with it, she didn’t. Meanwhile, I swear to God she looked like she was shrinking before my eyes, face, hands seemed to get smaller.
Never ask an expert who does not listen
CAHMS, I think, I cried more than she did. Both daughter and counsellor bullied me. Counsellor asked, ‘Did I object on religious grounds’. I firmly insisted – No, I objected on the grounds that it was, ‘too soon, too sudden, from a place of no experience in the world, too informed by the internet’. “How can she decide she is not a woman when she hasn’t finished being a girl?’ She sneered, ‘my mum thinks I have ASD’, Counsellor reassured ‘ well I don’t think you do’. This ten minutes in. My daughter explained her ‘feelings’, “I don’t think I am any good at being a girl’. Inwardly I cheered – Daughter had answered feeling question with thinking response = Red Flag. Daughter had given self esteem issue, measuring herself negatively. I was premature and over-estimated abilities of the blonde, buxom, too short a skirt counsellor. Her red lips drew wide across her face and she arched an eyebrow revealing a bit more blue eye-shadow. ‘Well, I think you pass very well for a boy”. Heart sunk, passing for a boy is now a short hair, no make up, jeans and baggy top. This woman looked my age, didn’t she remember punk?
ASD assessment went rather better. In response to daughter’s assertion that CAHMS counsellor told her she did not have ASD, psychologist firmly pulled rank, explaining that was her job to assess and inform CAHMS. We proceeded, psychologist noting that from that point she was bad cop. They could list the interests before I proceeded to tell them, clearly a pattern is emerging, even down to the bands they like, loud, Gothic. End result – inconclusive, adult services in a year, but doubt was planted. And although she discarded books I offered about Aspie girls, and chatted about traits, it did resonate.
By this time, I had resolved the binder issue. Bought online from a dodgy site I secretly picked at the stitching and stretched in furious tempers. She restitched until finally I retrieved it from the wash and binned it. Told her I would not allow it under my roof for health reasons and took her for sports bras. No protest much relief.
Conversations became quickly fraught, I was accused of giving her ‘all my hang-ups’. She asked if she had the same ‘awful indents in her cheeks’. Kindness and compassion, never strong in her, disappeared.
Car journeys were my best opportunity. She was a captive audience. Casually I asked, ‘have you noticed the girls who want to be boys seem to hide from attention but the boys who want to be girls are very attention seeking’. She enthusiastically agreed. I added nothing.
Outwardly nothing changed, her presentation could not be described as masculine, more Hazel ‘ O’ Connor with big fringe and no make-up. It was confusing – she filled her room with scented candles in pinks and purples but wore “men’s” roll on deodorant ( with unshaven armpits). By now I felt I understood the causal factors, the trend, the aspie, insecurity, but trying to reach in and rescue her was harder. I learned that she was brilliant at argument, so stopped having them, I would not reach her that way. There was tightness in her, as if she was holding on to something that hurt but she could not let go off.
I disclosed to close family and a friend. A visiting cousin mistook her for her brother, a shop keeper called her son. Meanwhile, in between outings she gamed and sang along to Frozen. The best advice I got, was do not fight it,, it will add energy and drive to it. So I worked on the relationship, routines and responsibilities. Tried to get her out and more into the real world. Driving lessons, A’levels, Uni, a dog. But I will admit, I obsessed and it leaked into every aspect of my life. I became focused on getting ‘the truth out there’. While blogging and emailing media, lecturing friends and family was in a way cathartic and made me feel I was doing something, it was frustrating, ineffective and in it’s own way reanimating. Deprived of sleep, depressed, terrified, a GP suggested sleeping tablets, I refused and suggested she share my concerns with my daughter’s GP to add weight to caution. I was educating for Britain.
There was never a point at which she announced, ‘I’m back’. It emerged as if out of a mist, sometimes glimpsed, sometimes in front of me in killer heels, jump suit and make-up. I regretted no prom dress but was grateful.
That coincided with a new set of friends, one of whom became a boyfriend. A lovely boy who did not care for arm candy fashion statements but enjoyed sharing gaming and Sci Fi. (They are out there). She became more feminist and fixation switched to hating on most of the male population and evidence of ‘patriarchy’. I, with my much older well worn T-shirt let her explain it to me like I was hearing it for the first time. She tripped off pleased with herself.
Now she bears all the hallmarks of cult escapee, no longer sees herself as within but reluctant to ‘dis’ on her old community. I do not press for it. It is not discussed but she is happy to be and be seen as a girl. But not the type of girl the media presents. Still no make-up, still no deference to hyperfemme, but one single bold statement. The promise I made when she was 11, ‘as soon as you leave school’ was called in. She dyed her hair the brightest of Pink.
Although dealing with this has felt supremely isolating, nothing happens in a vacum and some factors that kept her safe were accidental. It was easy as a family for us to decide to give it no energy. But the sources that seem to propel girls further along this path were not available to her. Her school was more likely to hold Scripture Union meets than have a Trans Day. Living in a remote, quiet, rural area and without means to access such groups beyond the net, the fixation did not sustain. If anyone other than a parent is reading this I hope that is noted. I believe that there is such a powerful voice to be inclusive of men who choose to dress as women, and even claim to be, that society is in danger of offering up our children to prop up that demand. For fear of causing offence to a minority of adults, we risk harming a significant number of children.
Surviving Trans Teens – parents guide to not becoming a hostage
Thank you for your heartfelt responses and appreciation of the blog, ‘ From Blue to Pink…’ This is in light of the fact that parents too need support and understanding. I look back and realize that I was as much a hostage to this as she was. I hope this helps some parents to avoid that.
1.You will never get back the hours this will occupy in your thoughts, do not lose yourself to it.
2. Avoid the arguments, they have rehearsed it in their head and come at you armed. A genuine question that throws them off or ‘leave that with me, it deserves a thoughtful response’ is better than giving them a soapbox.
3. Your job is to prepare them to be happy in the world as adults. If you are meeting their needs, great! What they want is not the same as what they need.
4. Happy well adjusted adults rarely had best friends for parents.
5. Presumably you work hard and sacrifice a lot for your child (seems to be those of us this happens to). Set a good example for when they are parents and claim your right to respect and happiness.
6. However much they sound authoritative they have learnt a script online. Hold on to your common sense and do not be bullied into what you do not believe to be true.
7. This is very tough for you, this is trauma. Avoid the sharks and swim for the dolphins, a small core of support is needed to keep you functioning and well.
8. Life hurts but sometimes we learn our best lessons there. Avoiding all hurts for your child means they miss opportunities to learn. Be empathic but honest. Trans is not a magic wand.
9. Build their self esteem in positive ways. Celebrate all that is wonderful about what they do. Concrete praise – they will not receive ‘good’ anything well right now. Better to say, ‘I like the way you tidied….’
10. Trans is not the whole of your child. Work hard, and it is hard, to see everything else around it.,
It is easy in today’s world to think your child hating you is the worst thing that could happen. It is easy when they are taking all their issues out on you to feel that way. To look at other seemingly perfect families and ‘together’ kids and think you failed. You didn’t but this event can make you stop enjoying your child or make you parent like a hostage, the Trans effect takes you prisoner and gives your teenager great power in the family dynamic.
I feared losing my daughter the most, but in the end told her I could only parent her to my best abilities and values. I told her I had researched, thought, talked and decided I could no more support her in this than in dropping out of school or tattooing a lucky number on her chin. Then I dropped it all. If she wore a nice colour I said so. If she announced dramatically, ‘oh another day in school in a skirt pretending I am not who I am’, I ignored it.
Boy/Girl lost its relevance in my head, it had to, for my sanity. I focused on the type of person she was growing up to be and how well equipped for life. I realized I was shrinking as a person and my life was being dominated. I accepted she could do nothing permanent without my support until she left my care. Even going to the GP required a lift.
Finally, as with all things, I told myself, this too will pass.