Parent Story: Helen

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Until July 2016 we were a standard family. My husband, me and our two children – one son and one daughter. We raised our children to believe that toys, activities and hobbies were accessible to everyone. And yet our son had a few years obsessed with dinosaurs and, to this day, loves nothing better than building with Lego. Our daughter loved pinks and purples, unicorns and mermaids. She had long hair that she liked to style with braids, hairclips and various headbands. As she grew older, she experimented with make up and nail varnish. So far, so normal.

Just after my daughter finished her GCSEs my mother-in-law died. She had been in hospital for a short while, so it wasn’t totally unexpected to my husband and I; but our daughter seemed affected by it and quite withdrawn. One day I asked her how she was feeling and her response floored me. She said she didn’t know how she felt about anything. That she felt she had been born in the wrong body; that she should actually be a boy. I had always hoped that if I could raise my children to adulthood without unwanted pregnancies or drug taking then I would have done well. This announcement had never been on my radar.

We talked, or rather I did, because my daughter couldn’t explain why she felt this way and so I tried to offer reassurances that growing up was tricky, that she still had a lot to discover about herself and that there was no requirement to be a ‘girly’ girl if she didn’t want to be. Then I went and told my husband. We sat in stunned silence.

Over the course of the next year I would raise the subject with my daughter periodically, trying to fathom out what was going through her head, while trying to work out what was going on in my own head. I tied myself up in knots trying to figure out if this was going to be just acceptable to all and everyone would move on to the idea that we could choose who we wanted to be. At this stage she had made little effort to socially transition, beyond having a shorter haircut and wearing less obviously feminine clothing, just jeans and t-shirts – what we used to call unisex.

She continued with the same interests, a local orchestra where she played violin. Amateur dramatics, often musicals – she loves to sing. And Guides. She had gone through Rainbows, Brownies, Guides and then on to Rangers. She loved it. Did as many badges as she could and took part in all the activities. In 2015 she had even gone to Kenya as part of a Guide group to build a school and bring water to a village near Mombasa. She was just enthusiastic about everything.

In the summer of 2017, she decided she should return to her final year in the Sixth Form under a new, male identity. We talked to the school, they were very understanding but we felt that they were fumbling around in the dark, not really knowing what they were supposed to do. Thankfully, they pointed out that her A level certificates would have to be issued in her birth name. That was a relief. We also suggested she speak to our GP about being referred for counselling, thinking it would help to speak to someone about her confusion. She was turned down by CAMHS, who considered she didn’t have any mental health issues. I didn’t know whether I should laugh or cry.

I set about doing my own research, discovering there was not much available although Transgender Trend was a great source of information. What I found out was that much of what my daughter had said was scripted. She had been prolific in her use of Wattpad, Reddit and had picked up phrases from others in the trans community. She enthused about anime, particularly Black Butler; went to Comic Con and had her hair cut ultra short. I cried a lot thinking about how she was rejecting one stereotype and embracing another. She said what she saw in the mirror was not what I saw (scripted phrase). She said she understood that I was grieving for my little girl (another scripted phrase); I responded that I couldn’t grieve for someone who stood in front of me, that the little girl was in all the photos, all my memories and always in my heart. When I felt ready to grieve, I said, it would be for the woman she should have become.

Then came the day she came home wearing a binder. A friend had bought it for her. It was so obvious; it took my breath away. I hated the thing, and still do. I had to remind her when she had worn it for longer than recommended and put it in the washing machine hoping it would be damaged and I could throw it away. They seem to be made to last unfortunately.

She revelled in her new identity, became popular at school. All the girls she had been friends with and fallen out with over the years, flocked back, keen to be in her circle. She was accepted by everyone as male and they used her male name. Except Guides. They wanted her to leave, as they couldn’t have a ‘guy’ at their meetings. They said she would be welcome to join them as a friend when they were having off-site activities. She didn’t recognise that she was being discriminated against. I took them on. I pointed out that she was legally and biologically female. They backed down. She stayed until she left for University. I felt it kept her in touch with her female life. We had never affirmed her at home, still used female pronouns and her birth name. We explained that we could not go along with her ideas.

The media was full of wonderful stories about trans people. It seemed to suggest that transitioning was a breeze, it never showed the anguish experienced by the families. There was no mention of risks or regrets. I watched Transformation Street on Channel 4, hoping for answers but found none. Caitlyn Jenner appeared on I’m a Celebrity…… I didn’t watch it, nor did I watch Butterfly on ITV; it all seemed so one-sided. I wondered why I didn’t feel the same. I had read about the health risks associated with hormones. I had seen images of withered forearms post operatively following phalloplasty. I didn’t want that for my daughter. I couldn’t understand why the medical profession wasn’t trying harder to help people feel more comfortable in their own skin. Surely that was a better outcome than creating a life-long patient. I became aware that there were desisters and detransitioners, but they were a thorn in the side of the lobbyists. They gave me hope, though.

Since going to University she has continued with the idea that she is not a woman. She has admitted that had she been seen at a gender clinic at the age of 16 she would have pushed for top and bottom surgery, hormones, the works. In the 4 years since then she has relaxed that a bit but still wants a mastectomy and hormones. Has now been on a waiting list for GIDS for the past 3 years. While I’m sure some counselling would have been helpful for her throughout these delusional years, I also suspect that she would have only been on the receiving end of affirmation and in that respect I am glad the waiting list she is on is so long. The time she has spent waiting has given her space to grow, to mature, to reflect. That is what puberty and adolescence is for. During lockdown she came home from Uni and seemed to be calmer than before, she wore a little make up and appeared unfussed by the amount her hair grew. She wore her binder less. I know we are not out of the woods yet; she has been caught up in a cult-like situation and until she sees the flaws in gender ideology, she cannot free herself. Now she is living away from home our influence is less. We maintain a good relationship and for that I am thankful, but I feel robbed of what could have been. The school prom, the 18th birthday, the outings and holidays. We had them, they were special, but I was always on edge, wondering if I would get upset when someone would refer to her as a male, or she would get upset if someone referred to her as female.

A little under a year ago I felt I was ready to find a support group; until then all that seemed to be available was affirmative groups, which I knew wasn’t right for me. I found Bayswater Support Group and people who understood how I felt. I do not believe it is possible to change sex; I believe trans ideology actually reinforces harmful sex stereotypes; I am hopeful that my story has a positive outcome, no matter how long it takes.