Why I supported my autistic daughter’s social transition to a man

by FightingToGetHerBack

FightingToGetHerBack lives in the United States with her husband and 17-year old daughter Zoe. Four years ago, Zoe made the surprise announcement that she was transgender. 

FightingToGetHerBack shares her personal story to illustrate how even smart, educated parents can be emotionally blackmailed into supporting their children’s transition. She is available to interact in the comments section of this post, and can be found on Twitter @FightingToGetHerBack


 For almost a year, I actively supported my daughter’s social transition to appear as a man. I called Zoe by her preferred masculine name and pronouns, and introduced her to others as my son. I was by her side as she marched in a Trans Pride Parade, waving pink and blue flags and dancing to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” I purchased the binder she wore to flatten her breasts.

Outwardly, I appeared as the supportive, loving mother of a transgender child. Inwardly, I was conflicted. Privately, I grieved. Alone, I cried.

As I look back on all I did to affirm Zoe’s mistaken identity as a man, I am mortified.

What caused me to ignore what seems like common sense: that my daughter could not possibly be my son?

Why did I dismiss my initial intuition: that Zoe was caught up in a false identity that was actively promoted at her school and online?

How did I fall for the unsupported scare tactics of “affirmative” gender specialists and the narrative widely promoted by lazy journalism: that Zoe’s mental well-being — and indeed, her life — hinged on my unquestioned support of her sudden self-proclaimed identity as a man?

Like my daughter, I became a victim of transgender ideology: a non-scientific, activist-driven dogma that inexplicably dictates protocol for medical practices, mental health counseling, school policies, media coverage, and an increasing number of laws in the U.S. and abroad.

Let me begin by telling you about Zoe. Throughout her childhood, she preferred feminine clothing and hairstyles, in marked contrast to my own low-maintenance appearance. As a pre-teen, she seemed to embrace the changes brought about by puberty, expressed excitement when her period began, and enjoyed shopping for bras and body-hugging clothes. When she started 7th grade, she begged for permission to shave her legs and wear make-up. Zoe had no stereotypical male interests and shied away from all sports, hating to get dirty or sweaty. There was nothing about her childhood that I would consider boyish, except for one: her difficulty in fitting in with other girls.

Zoe is autistic and highly gifted; socially challenged, yet intellectually precocious. When she was little, she talked to her peers as if they were adults and didn’t understand when they were bored by her academic monologues. Though we invited children to our house for playdates, the invitations were rarely reciprocated. At her annual birthday parties, the other kids ignored her and played mostly with each other. Fortunately, she was oblivious to their social rejection.

But as Zoe grew older, many girls became cliquish and exclusive. They judged each other on their appearances and their fashion choices. They were turned off by my daughter’s social immaturity and her low social status. My intellectual autistic girl had a hard time navigating their complex social cues. She was not aggressively bullied, but she was left out, and she began to realize that she was different.

Around 5th grade, she started to associate more with boys than girls; not because she shared their interests or participated in their rough-and-tumble play, but for their lack of drama. Thankfully, the boys were accepting of her quirky off-putting ways. Hanging out with them was much easier and preferable to being alone. And though the boys accepted her, she still felt disconnected from her peers. “Why doesn’t anyone like me?” she asked me more than once.

So when Zoe suddenly announced that she was transgender at the age of 13, this seemed to come out of nowhere. Zoe was confused, I thought, and had misinterpreted her difficulty in fitting in with the girls as a sign that she was a boy. My disbelief was not a reflexive reaction based on intolerance or prejudice (in fact, I have leaned toward the left side of the political spectrum, and have a career devoted to progressive causes), but based on a lifetime of observations as her attentive mother.

But I was concerned: How could such a smart girl believe she was a boy? What happened to make her believe this so strongly and so suddenly?

I asked Zoe to tell me when it was that she first started thinking she was transgender. She said she got the idea after attending a school presentation. I was appalled. I had no idea this was part of the school curriculum. Zoe also told me about other kids she knew who were transgender. I was stunned to learn that this was so common. Interestingly, all of the “trans” kids that Zoe knew were very similar: highly intelligent and with apparent autistic traits–and with a history of not fitting in.

I asked Zoe, “If you hadn’t known there were other kids who were trans, would you believe you were a boy?” Her answer was telling: “No, because I would not have known it was an option. But I don’t think I am a boy; I am a boy.” She patiently explained to me the differences between gender identity and sex assigned at birth. When I expressed confusion, she told me I wouldn’t understand because I am cis. I had never heard that word before. Clearly, she had been doing some online research.

I began to do some research of my own. But nothing I found confirmed my theory: that my child’s autistic thinking and history of not fitting in made her vulnerable to the false belief that she was transgender. To the contrary, all of my online searches told me that a child’s gender identity was not to be questioned, and that children, no matter their age, know who they are. Still, I held onto my belief that this was likely a phase that would pass.

I decided the best approach was to ignore the gender issue and help Zoe develop her identity based on her interests, not on her feelings. I signed her up for 4H and nature groups. I did everything I could to help her connect to who she really was, and help her find other kids who shared her passions.

isolated girl.jpgOver the course of a year, Zoe’s anger toward me grew. Our once strong, loving relationship deteriorated, and she threatened to leave home many times. She blamed her worsening depression on me and my lack of acceptance of her “true” self. It became clear that this was no simple phase that would fade away on its own, but I didn’t know what to do. Maybe she was really transgender, I wondered. My husband thought Zoe was just being a selfish, belligerent teen. But I decided that I needed someone to help me sort this out, a trained and experienced professional to answer some questions: Is my daughter really transgender? If she is, what should I do? And if she’s not, how do I convince her otherwise? I turned to gender specialists for help.

This was my first big mistake.

I went to the Psychology Today website and contacted ten local therapists who claimed a specialty with transgender issues. After explaining a bit about my daughter’s history, every single therapist responded in a similar manner: “A child would not choose this.” “A child would not make this up.” “Once teens reach puberty, there is no question that their gender identity is set.” They all ignored the fact of Zoe’s autism. “Even autistics know who they are.” They ignored the possibility of social contagion. “It’s becoming more common now because society is more accepting.” They did not see this as a temporary identity crisis, but as an absolute, undeniable truth that was dangerous to question.

Perhaps if I had found just one authoritative professional to confirm my misgivings, I would never have doubted myself.

Instead, I deferred to the apparently unanimous consensus of the experts and decided to work with Dr. Brown [not his real name], a therapist in private practice whose clinical specialties were transgender care and autism, and who was a member of WPATH, an organization that I ignorantly assumed was grounded in a scientifically-based, expert approach to transgender care.

My husband went along with my plan. We both met with Dr. Brown before he met Zoe. Surely, based upon his extensive experience, he could tell us if our daughter was really transgender. After hearing our story, he confirmed that she was. Since it had been over a year since Zoe came out to us, and because she had been “insistent, persistent, and consistent” in her identity, this meant that yes, this was real.

Dr. Brown comforted us by telling us what great parents we were for finding support for our son; that many parents refuse to believe their children are transgender and they become estranged from them. He told us that as a transgender teen, our son is at high risk of suicide and that research shows that the best way to prevent this is parental acceptance. Dr. Brown told us to start slowly by allowing him to transition at home using his preferred name and pronouns, but to wait several months until the summer to start coming out to friends and family, and to wait until the fall to come out at school.

I loved — and love — Zoe unconditionally, fiercely, and deeply. I would do anything to save her life and minimize her suffering. I have always sought the best care for her, no matter the cost. I was — and am — a vulnerable, confused, and scared mother. So I did what Dr. Brown told me I MUST do or my daughter would kill herself. I fell for the “live son” vs “dead daughter” scare tactic.

Though it was hard to hear those words — that my daughter was really transgender and that my actions were critical to preventing her possible suicide —  in a way, it was a relief. Finally, I could stop debating with myself and just work on accepting my daughter as my son. It was easier to put my faith in Dr. Brown and his expertise than to constantly question myself. I rationalized that I had been in denial for the past year, but now I needed to face reality and focus on Zoe’s mental health, our relationship, and keeping her alive.

I began supporting the first step in Zoe’s social transition that evening when I used masculine pronouns and called Zoe by his chosen name, Joe. I told Joe about Dr. Brown and his recommendations. I apologized to Joe for my lack of support over the past year. Joe was overjoyed. Later that night, I sobbed privately while I grieved the loss of my daughter.

Joe started seeing Dr. Brown right away. After each session, Joe did not seem happy or content. He seemed more fixated on transitioning. Despite the original plan to take this slowly, he immediately changed his name and pronouns at school. The school never notified me of this change, nor asked my permission. Since there were already several other “trans” kids at the school, this was seen as a normal request that did not need to involve parents.

Joe’s transition at school, as with the other “trans” students, was met with complete unquestioning acceptance by peers and teachers alike. Trans teens had become so common that no one acted like this was a big deal. And after years of not fitting in, Joe thought he had finally found his tribe.

Though I was upset with the school staff and concerned with how fast things were moving, I said nothing. I needed to support my son and maintain his mental health, so I kept my concerns to myself.

Now that Joe was “out,” I helped with his social transition by taking him to a barber followed by shopping for “boy” clothes. But that wasn’t enough. Joe begged me for a binder. I discussed this with Dr. Brown who told me it was now psychologically necessary for Joe’s social transition to be complete. Dr. Brown assured me that as long as I bought one from a reputable company, there were no dangers. He told me if I didn’t buy one, Joe would just use duct tape, which was very dangerous. Given the alternative, I felt like I had no choice. I complied.

Within one month of seeing Dr. Brown, Joe’s physical transformation was dramatic. His appearance disturbed me in a deep and visceral way. My once curvy 14-year old daughter now resembled a pudgy, unattractive 11-year old boy. I was ashamed of my feelings and felt guilty for caring about his physical appearance. I told myself it was his mental health I should be focused on, but I still found it painful to look at him.

Dr. Brown kept telling me what a good job I was doing, that Joe is so happy now, and that for the first time in his life, he feels like he belongs. Despite Dr. Brown’s assurances of Joe’s happiness, that was not my observation at home. Joe seemed more and more depressed. His periods, which had been non-events until he started seeing the gender therapist, now became a crisis. Joe refused to go to school on those days and became angrier and more depressed. After each step in Joe’s transition process, he became fixated on the next. So after binding his breasts, his new obsession was medically stopping his periods.

During the time that I supported Joe’s social transition, I purposely avoided any news articles on the topic. And when I heard critical voices — which at that time seemed to come only from ultra-conservative gay-bashers  — the unintended consequence of their hurtful words served only to harden my support for my son’s transition and bias my thinking.

As Joe continued to see Dr. Brown, I sensed that his “therapy” was mostly about validating Joe’s conviction that his was trans, while pushing the next step in transitioning. I eavesdropped on one session where I listened to Dr. Brown ask Joe about his week, how much he enjoyed being his authentic self, and about his next plans for transition. I did not hear Dr. Brown ask Joe about his increasing depression, or explore the basis for his growing discomfort with his body.

Despite this, we continued to see Dr. Brown and followed his expert advice. Although I never stopped having fears and doubts, I tried to convince myself that I was just a worried mom lacking objectivity. Meanwhile, my husband was mostly disengaged, refusing to talk with me about my worries, but willing to go along with whatever I decided.

Dr. Brown’s experienced, authoritative, and persuasive voice continued to convince me that my actions were the key to preventing Joe’s suicide. I deferred to his self-proclaimed authority, which was seemingly consistent with the overwhelming majority of the medical and psychological establishment. So when Dr. Brown recommended that I enroll Joe in a therapeutic support group for trans kids, I complied.

This was my second big mistake.

I selected a support group at a well-respected gender clinic, a collaborative practice that included clinicians who specialize in autism, clinical psychology, and adolescent gynecology. Their approach was described as research-based and conservative.

Before Joe started attending the support group, I met privately with the head of the clinic, Dr. Jones, to learn more. He told me that every meeting began with the kids announcing their preferred name, their pronouns, and the gender that they identified with on that particular day. He explained that the goal was to impress upon the kids that their current gender identity was not necessarily fixed. He told me that every child in the group had either been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder or had symptoms that suggested autism. I was reassured that Joe would fit in well with the other participants.

When I told Dr. Jones that over 5% of the students at Joe’s school thought they were trans, he denied the role of social contagion. He said the increasing numbers were a result of society and schools becoming more tolerant.

I asked Dr. Jones why kids with ASD were more likely to identify as transgender. He told me researchers do not know, but theorized that both transgenderism and ASD were caused by prenatal exposure to an excess of androgens. I asked if gender identity were innate, then why would it appear so suddenly with no signs throughout childhood? Dr. Jones explained that this was probably because ASD prevents children from thinking flexibly about gender until they are older. So although Joe’s gender identity was always that of a boy, Dr. Jones explained, Joe didn’t know his identity until recently because the ASD precluded the flexible thinking required to come to this realization when he was younger.

Privately, I thought all of his explanations seemed far-fetched, but as I had been doing with increasing frequency, I kept my doubts to myself, followed the “expert” advice, and agreed to allow Joe to participate in the program.

The kids in the group had many traits in common besides autism. Their trans identity came on suddenly when they were teens, they seemed really smart, and they were obvious social misfits. All had serious mental health issues. Compared to the other kids, my daughter appeared the most well-adjusted.

Although the clinicians acknowledged that these kids may change their minds, all of the parents were told to put their children on hormone blockers. When I questioned the possibility of side effects, my concerns were arrogantly dismissed. The head clinician told me that blockers were well-studied and perfectly safe, and encouraged me to set up an appointment with the clinic’s gynecologist. He recommended that Joe take blockers for one year, which he euphemistically described as “buying time.” At the end of his year on blockers, Joe would likely be ready to proceed to the next step: testosterone. Unconvinced, I refused to consent.

While Joe was in group, I got to know the other parents. We were all genuinely troubled by our children’s trans identity. We talked about how we lost friends and family members over this issue; how we had become more socially isolated; how our marriages had become strained; how surprised we were when our kids announced they were trans; how there had been no signs of this throughout their childhoods. Like me, these were caring, thoughtful parents who were determined to help their children in any way they could.

Unlike me, all of the other parents consented to medical treatment for their kids. Some were on blockers; others were already on cross-sex hormones. Apparently, I was the only one who had concerns about the medical protocol, and the only one who still harbored doubts about my child’s transgender identity. As the months passed, I felt more disconnected from the other parents. They began to question why I refused medical treatment for my son, told me I was endangering his mental health, and seemed personally offended by my non-compliance. I started to keep my opinions to myself and wondered if there was something wrong with me. Were my doubts and concerns well-founded? Or could I just not accept the reality of having a transgender child? I now believe that if I had met at least one other parent who shared my misgivings, I would have had the courage of my convictions to question the trans narrative much sooner than I did and would have escaped the power of groupthink.

So what finally woke me up? It was when the head of the program, Dr. Jones, the  well-respected “expert” threatened me: “Your choice is between a mental hospital or hormone blockers.” That’s when I finally realized the clinic’s true agenda: not to therapeutically help my child, but to push her on a dangerous path to medically transition under the pretense of it being a psychological necessity.

That night, I turned to the internet to figure out what to do next. That’s when I discovered 4thWaveNow, TransgenderTrend, GenderCriticalDad, and other reasonable gender-critical voices.

I could not stop reading for days. All of my original theories were shared by a group of intelligent, thoughtful, and eloquent parents and therapists.. For the first time since my daughter announced she was my son, I found evidence-based information to support my own ideas. My God, how could I have been so stupid to doubt myself? How did I fall for this? How could I have played along with her ridiculous belief that she is a boy? How did I not see that this sudden increase in trans-identifying teens at her school was part of a psychic epidemic? That these vulnerable children were being medicalized by unscrupulous professionals? That most journalists were singularly focused on portraying transgenderism as a human rights issue, rather than what was obviously a psychological and sociological phenomena?

It has now been over one year since I discovered the online support I needed to realize the truth. But my daughter remains a victim. It is as if she has been brainwashed. And increasingly, it seems as if society has been brainwashed.

Thanks to Zoe’s school, her gender therapists, professional health organizations, the media, and the internet, my daughter is still certain that she is really a boy. She refuses to discuss the topic with me, and refuses to listen to my concerns. She is also convinced that medical transition is necessary for her future happiness, a process she plans to begin when she turns 18 next year. And I will be powerless to stop her.

The only thing I can do is speak the truth and encourage others to do the same.

If you are a doctor or therapist, please don’t reflexively endorse a child’s belief that s/he is the opposite sex. Children need good therapy to explore underlying issues that are likely fueling their discontent.

If you are a member of a professional health organization, please demand that they base their professional guidelines for gender-confused children on science, not politics or ideology. Organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the Endocrine Society will continue to irresponsibly promote ideologically driven protocol as settled science until they are held accountable by their membership.

If you are a college professor, administrator, or counselor: Please speak up about a phenomenon that is becoming increasingly common across college campuses. Although most college students are legal adults, their brains are still developing and they are just as prone to social contagion as young teens. Those with underlying mental issues, often exacerbated by the stress of college life, are especially vulnerable. Many students begin their medical transition services as part of their college health plan — with little or no mental health counseling to explore other underlying factors.

If you are a journalist, please re-think the currently popular mainstream narrative and investigate this issue more deeply. Why are there suddenly so many kids who think they are trapped in the wrong body? Does science really support “an innate gender identity?” Why have the number of gender clinics treating children skyrocketed in the past ten years? What is the source of the millions of dollars that is funding this movement?  Does it really make sense to treat children medically on the basis of a belief which is likely to change over time?

Whoever you are, please speak up. Please help prevent more children’s minds from being poisoned by lies, bodies from being irreversibly altered, and families like mine from being destroyed.

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