The guest post below, by pj white, is the personal account of a mother whose teen daughter temporarily identified as “trans,” but at 16, desisted.
While “gender specialists” and researchers often discuss younger children who persist in their gender dysphoria as they reach puberty, next to nothing is said about a phenomenon that more and more of us parents have personally experienced: the teenage daughter who, never having had a problem with being female as a child, suddenly insists she is trans at puberty–after a heaping helping of social media propaganda. And often these girls, like pj’s daughter, have other mental health issues that, once explored and addressed, help alleviate the desire to “transition.”
Every parent will respond to this situation in a different way; I’m grateful to pj for sharing her own parenting journey with us in such detail. And I’m particularly glad to hear directly from a parent about how difficult it can be for an adolescent to desist from trans-identification once they’ve started down the road. The glib insistence by trans activists and some “gender specialists” that social transition and puberty blockers won’t accidentally ensnare kids who really don’t want to persist is clearly unfounded. Peer acceptance and pressure is a real thing—yet another truism about adolescent developmental psychology that is ignored by the media, as well as too many providers entrusted with the care of young people. Luckily, a few researchers and clinicians, notably those in the Netherlands who pioneered the use of “puberty blockers,” are beginning to recognize the impact of media and “social transition” on those who might want to desist.
pj white notes that her daughter could have pursued her desire for “top surgery” had she been 18. But as I wrote a couple of days ago, the trend (supported by WPATH itself) is to allow such irreversible surgery at younger and younger ages. Can a move to permit total hysterectomy for 15-year-olds be far behind?
Pj white is available to respond to any remarks or questions you may have in the comments section of this post.
by pj white
My daughter has always been a dynamo. She hit the ground running as a toddler and didn’t stop until puberty hit her and knocked her flat. She never had the slightest interest in traditional girly gender roles. When she started middle school, I expressed fear that she’d be negatively influenced by other kids and want to start acting like a “Barbie Girl.” She put her hands on her hips, rolled her eyes, and said, “yeah, right, mom – I can’t wait to get in touch with my inner plastic doll.”
But when she started to develop breasts at a young age (11), and men started hooting at her from their cars, her sense of strength and power evaporated. She stopped washing and brushing her hair. She wore baggy dirty clothes, and her hair hung over her face in greasy knots. The other kids made fun of her, and eventually, she became more depressed and started skipping school.
Right after turning 13, she told me she was really a boy. This shocked me, because she had always expressed such pride in being a girl. She was proud when her period started at age 10 (we called it “the good blood”) and I taught her from a young age to be proud of her vulva, too. Girl Pride had been a big part of her life. Now she told me she wanted to have her breasts cut off and to inject testosterone.
I was devastated, but I tried to hide it from her. I didn’t want her to be damaged by my “transphobia.” I had been a single mom for most of her life. It had always been the two of us – mother and daughter – two strong females taking on the world. But my daughter was telling me she didn’t want to be a girl anymore. And I was afraid I would damage her by challenging those feelings.
At her request, I took her to a barber to get a “boy’s” haircut (she looked adorable). I also took her shopping in the “boy’s” section of Target to get her a new “boy’s” wardrobe (which was silly, because her clothing choices had always been androgynous). She also asked me to order her a breast binder, which I did.
Perhaps luckily, I couldn’t afford a psychologist, so I took her to the Castro Mission Health Center in San Francisco where we live. The staff there is absolutely lovely, and did not pressure my daughter to transition. They just accepted her where she was. (This is actually a great resource for kids who are LGBTQ). But the staff could not protect kids from the peer pressure they felt to follow through on transitioning once the decision had been made. And to my knowledge, the topic of having room to change one’s mind was not addressed.
The pressure I felt came more from the pop psychology I’d read on the Internet than from professionals (I couldn’t afford private appointments with professionals). According to social media, I was supposed to wholeheartedly celebrate my daughter’s sudden desire to transition, and was forbidden to question or feel sad about it. I felt as if I had only two choices: to be evil and transphobic like the Duggars, or to be a great mom who loved having a transgender son. There was no room for doubt or fear or grief about losing the daughter I thought I had.
I sent my daughter to a free support group where she met truly wonderful kids. I would gladly have adopted the two young trans men I met through my daughter’s participation in that group. I’d have been proud to have them as my “sons”. But I couldn’t help noticing that they came from very traditional families (one’s family was devoutly Muslim and the other’s had come from rural China). I feared I was being transphobic for thinking they might not have felt compelled to transition had they come from backgrounds more accepting of gender non-conformity/lesbianism.
My daughter stood out like a sore thumb in this group for trans boys, because she suddenly decided, for the first time in her life, to start performing femininity. Her femme performance was so over the top she put Ru Paul to shame. Somehow, identifying as a boy gave her permission to perform femininity as an experiment and a game.
My head was spinning. My daughter was now claiming to be a gay male drag queen in a girl’s body. She also insisted, to my relief, that she did not have to cut her breasts off or take testosterone to be a man (I did an internal happy dance). But when I tried to explain to her that gay men would probably not be attracted to her (she looked like Drew Barrymore after an assault by a drunken makeup artist), she got very upset with me. She said only transphobic gay men would refuse to date her. I tried, as gently as I could, to explain that gay men are not usually attracted to people with female bodies. She angrily reminded me that she did not have a female body. When I persisted in explaining that gay men might disagree, she burst into tears.
That was checkmate. She had won. I assured her that any gay man would be thrilled to be with her. Ugh.
During this time, while she was doing female drag and looking more girly than she ever had in her life, she decided to assert her maleness by using men’s public restrooms. I was with her at a park, and when she went off to use the restroom, I assumed she’d use the women’s room. Nope. She walked right into the men’s restroom. And I walked right in after her and dragged her out (The LOOKS we got!). I angrily lectured her on the dangers of men’s public restrooms, especially when, to all appearances, you are a 14-year-old girl. She accused me of not affirming her identity. I said I didn’t give a damn about her identity when her safety was at risk.
Slowly, the hyper-femme drag phase passed, and at 16, my daughter has regained some of the self she lost at puberty. She once again identifies as female, but wears the same type of gender-neutral clothing she wore as a child. She currently identifies as a lesbian, but has not yet had a serious dating relationship.
When I was finally able to take my daughter to a psychiatrist, she was diagnosed with ADD and depression. The doctor explained that many kids with ADD miss out on developing social skills, and when puberty hits, they become very self-conscious – feel inferior – and become depressed. This is compounded in girls who also feel an acute loss of social status when puberty hits. They go from being cute little human beings to pieces of meat subject to adult male harassment and assault. I believe this is what happened to my daughter. She didn’t fit in socially “as a girl” and she loathed the degradation that came with being an adolescent female. She saw transitioning to male as a way out of her pain (sounds crazy, I know, but these are adolescents we’re talking about).
In our case, it was the trendy trans-ideology promoted on Tumblr that caused us the most difficulty. We both bought into the trivialization of a very profound and rare condition: sex dysphoria. I believe we all should be very suspicious of the sudden desire to change sex at puberty. People are so irrational and malleable at that age. Kids need room to experiment and grow without committing to permanent life-altering medical treatments and labels.
It can also be mortifying for an adolescent to change his or her mind about transitioning. My daughter is too embarrassed to face the sweet kids in her former support group. An adolescent’s need for acceptance by peers, and the pressure to follow through on transition when that’s what your peers expect of you, should not be underestimated. This is particularly true when a kid is celebrated as “brave” and “heroic” for coming out as trans. How do you change your mind about transitioning under that kind of pressure? And what if “the courage to be trans” is what people celebrate most about you? My daughter was too ashamed to tell her friends she’d changed her mind – she just withdrew/disappeared from the group. She was homeschooled at the time, which was likely a key factor in allowing her to pull back. If her peer group had been unavoidable (i.e, in school), I don’t know if she’d have been able to desist.
I worked extremely hard not to pressure her during the whole process, because I didn’t want her to defiantly assert her “right” to transition. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done: having to cry alone in another room over her desire to have her breasts cut off. I was terrified and horrified. And although I would never have let her do that under my watch, I knew she could if she were over 18. It was so hard to let her come to her own decision not to transition. In our case it worked, but I know every situation is different. In some other families, more assertive parenting might be necessary.
I am incredibly grateful that my child passed through her desire to transition. I think her depression, ADD, social awkwardness, and “gender nonconforming” personality all contributed to her falsely believing her gender was the problem.
My heart goes out to other parents struggling with this – it’s horrible to be accused of transphobia/bad parenting for not wanting your child to do permanent medical harm to herself. And while I’m very glad my daughter found her way back to herself, it saddens and frightens me that current trans ideology made her journey back so guilt-ridden and difficult.