Baptised in Fire: A relieved desister’s story

by Sam

Sam (not her real name), 22, identified as trans between the ages of 16-19. A relieved desister, she enjoys tidying, writing, and watching the weather. She lives in the United Kingdom. Sam can be found on Twitter @rainiest_day and is available to interact in the comments section of her article.

Sam joins several other desisters on 4thWaveNow who, along with their parents, have shared their experiences of rapid onset of gender dysphoria (ROGD) in adolescence.


I was not a trans child. I was a gender-conforming little girl, as far as children are ever completely gender-conforming.  I liked pretty clothes but I also jumped in the occasional mud-pit. I didn’t play with Lego very much, because I wasn’t particularly good at it, but who cares? Not I. I felt no discomfort with being a girl. I felt little discomfort with anything, really; I was a bossy, blunt, stubborn little girl with very important opinions about everything.

I was not overjoyed about puberty. I don’t think I’m alone in that! Bras–miserably restrictive. Periods–horrible. Men followed me home from school even when I was twelve and thirteen; I in my uniform was not a very pretty child, but that didn’t seem to be the point. I didn’t like high school because I didn’t understand how I was supposed to act. Being overtly smart, because I was, made people dislike me, so I tried being stupider, but even then, I was still doing it all wrong. I thought I wasn’t on the same wavelength as everyone else, which, of course, is what loads of people feel like. But I didn’t know that. My relationship with my parents wasn’t perfect, but it was good, and we all got on.

When I was in my teens, I got into a disaster of a relationship with a girl. I was no longer in control of myself, of my body, of when I slept and when I ate and where I could be when. Things got very difficult. As the situation became increasingly unhealthy, over a very short space of time I became deeply dysphoric. Suddenly I loathed my female body and its nauseating shapes and its catastrophic frailties with a vehemence I had never known before. I stood in the bathroom and knew I needed to wash but I couldn’t take off my shirt, I couldn’t, because of what was underneath it, so I went out foul. I lost a lot of weight–partly from stress and partly to prove I could still control one aspect of my body. The new flatness of my chest only relieved me, it felt good like nothing else in my life felt good. As my legs got scrawny and the line of my figure straighter I felt only relief. I dressed only in masculine clothing, chopped my hair very short, felt like it made me tough, mean, safe. I still remember the exact moment a man said, “Excuse me, mate” to me as he passed me. It felt so much better than being hit on, even if nothing felt very good anymore.

God, everything hurt. I was desperate, unspeakably desperate to be in control of my own body, in the middle of a situation in which I wasn’t. I wanted to be strong, but I wanted even more to disappear. I wanted everyone in the world to go away. If my body was different, I knew I would have power, to walk away, to STOP IT.

I knew a little about what this was that I was feeling, I’d looked it up online –oh, I’m trans.  I tried to tell my girlfriend that I was trans, that I wasn’t a girl. She carried on as if I had said nothing, wouldn’t humour me by using my new name. I was stung, confused. A friend gave me a binder. I got thinner. I was “he”, or maybe “they”, yes, that was nice, like a cool drink of water; just anyone not called “she”. The “she” I was walking around in felt disgusting to me. “She” was all wrong. Skinny male me, pleasantly mistaken for a boy, felt like a port in the storm, if still not enough. I wanted control, control, of my body, of my life, but not to be me as I had been, because whoever that was far away, getting further away all the time, waiting for all of this to be over. I wanted like hell to be everything I wasn’t, and I didn’t know that other people felt that way too, not just transgender, but apocalyptic, so I was all alone.

The relationship ended. I was in a bad way. I’d made a Tumblr blog, looking, really, for a space that I could have to myself to vent, and I found myself on it a lot more. There is good stuff on that website. But the nasty stuff is so easy to find and so hard to wriggle free of if you’re like I was: lonely, miserable, hollow, and utterly lost, uneasy about everything, because now that she was gone I wasn’t quite so sure about being a boy, but I knew very definitely I couldn’t be a girl. Everything was still all wrong.

It’s difficult to explain what the “nasty stuff” is if you haven’t spent time on there yourself, exactly how pervasive and focused the brainwashing is, how perverse and suffocating and addictive it can be. The convoluted and illogical discourse, the constant shifting of goalposts so you are always on your toes to know what can I say? What am I allowed to think? What does this word mean today? So many lies were told to me about gender, sex, oppression, people, love, health, and happiness. I didn’t get better, and neither did anyone else I spoke to, but we were assured that this way–with our made-up pronouns and our made-up genders and our self-diagnosed illnesses–was the right way. It was a real crabs-in-a-bucket mentality, where any criticism, even of downright abusive behaviour, was transphobic and/or ableist and/or racist. To suggest improving oneself, sorting out your life, was cruelty of the highest order; we were perfect as we were, they  cooed, and anyone saying otherwise hated us and everyone like us. Narcissism ruled supreme.

We copied the writing style everyone else used, and we copied what they said too. They said and then we said we were beautiful. They and then we said we were against the world, the cis world, the hateful world, the world that wasn’t ideologically pure like we were ideologically pure. Nobody suffered like us. We were martyrs, floating high above reproach and deserving, more than anyone, of every good thing in the world: comfort, other people’s money. We deserved to have every rule bent for us, because we were right and they were wrong.

I could go on, describing every argument they used to justify this attitude, but I doubt they’d work on you. A lot of us were young teens, vulnerable in some way, whether abused or ostracised from society or just weak-willed. They gave us a new self, and all the power in the world. We thought so ruthlessly, that people against us didn’t deserve to live, reasoned it out in our mad non-reason –horrible, horrible, icy, inhumanly mechanical thinking that I have never encountered anywhere else since. We didn’t think about what we said, we just repeated what we knew we were supposed to say, and really, truly thought we were expressing our own thoughts.

They told us that we could choose a gender, any gender, out of countless, that we could make up our own and they would be taken seriously; they were, but only ever by others on there. Words on Tumblr ceased to mean the same as in the real world. Words were made up. They said if we wanted to wear make-up, or pink, or feminine clothes, we had to have a label for that, and if we wanted to have short hair, and wear masculine clothes, we had to have a label for that too.

I am not even touching the language around sexual orientation, because that is a whole other article. If we liked to switch how we “presented”, we would have a label to describe that we switched, and we could also change our labels and our pronouns day-to-day to describe how we felt (FELT! That is the crux of all of this nonsense) each day. It is so, so exhausting to be constantly examining every desire, thought, inclination of your shifting, constantly changing adolescent self, trying to find a word to fit, only to question yourself again the next week, or day, or hour. We adjusted our entire sense of self once, again, again, again. Every time, distancing ourselves a bit more from the person we used to be, that we couldn’t bear to be anymore. (I think we knew the old us would be ashamed, so we hid our faces from them.)

The time I wasted! Years on this! The energy! They say “agender” means I don’t have a gender. Do I feel like that? How do I know? How can you “feel” that? They said this was freeing for us, to finally know what to call ourselves, but the boxes they said we had to choose from were so tiny we couldn’t fit, unless we had a hundred, and even then we didn’t feel satisfied. We were forcing ourselves apart into splinters until we weren’t people any more, just words, and words that didn’t mean anything.

Why on earth weren’t we happy? We were children who knew so little about the world, and we believed everything everyone on Tumblr said. They–and then we–all spoke with such perfect arrogance, like we knew everything. We knew we did. There was also an awareness we had–although never, ever voiced, even to ourselves –that if we were just a white, normal, “cis” kid, we couldn’t be part of this club. We were part of it because we were special, and we were special because we were part of the club.

I questioned nothing. I didn’t have one original thought. And I didn’t really feel a thing.

I never looked at myself and thought: girl. That wasn’t right, and what’s more, it was vile. I was something else. I knew it.

Well: my parents knew I was sad. All that I told you about above didn’t fulfil me, although I knew it had to, because I had nothing else. My misery was obvious. One day, I stopped being able to smile. I was so emotionally numb, and that frightened me. I just couldn’t make my face smile. As I spiralled deeper into the trans-cult, my parents & I had arguments over everything. I was snappy, I was mean, I was acting recklessly, I was telling them off for using language that the trans-cult said was bad, I was ignoring all of their eminently sensible and kind advice. I tried to tell them I wasn’t a girl, to use different pronouns when they referred to me.

baptised in fireWhile they weren’t angry, just bemused, and while they really did try, I never felt my parents’ efforts were good enough. It was horribly unfair of me to treat them this way when I myself was always unsure. Even when someone in the real world “validated” me, it didn’t feel as nice as it was supposed to. Why not? I didn’t know. Were they lying? Did they really get it? Why didn’t I feel happy for more than a few minutes, did it mean I was using the wrong words? I crawled back onto my online spaces for further fruitless introspection. Over time, I lost contact with virtually all my old real-life friends – I was no longer invited to anything. I must have been annoying as all hell.

One tiny event in particular– my poor parents, poor me, poor all of us– sticks in my head and makes me feel sick whenever I think of it:

I was in the car. They were driving me to a college lesson because I hadn’t got up in time, because I wasn’t sleeping. I hadn’t washed. Before I got out of the car, my mother gave me a five-pound note.

“It’s the “cheering-up Sam” fund,” she said.

I suppose it sounds silly. But it burns. I’m looking down at that five-pound-note in my hand, and it’s breaking my heart. They knew I was so sad, but what could they do? They loved me so much, but what could they do? What were they supposed to do? How could they possibly help me? I couldn’t hold a civil conversation with them. I was mad, wildly irrational. I knew I was in the wrong but my pride was searing me full of holes. I lost my temper when the conversation became stressful, I walked out of the house and wandered around, alone, sick to my stomach with anger.

I became convinced that T was what I needed. I felt sick at the thought sometimes, but other times I would feel giddily sure, so eventually I summoned up the courage and called a clinic to make an appointment to start testosterone. But before the clinic called me back, something strange happened.

My dysphoria went away. It just went! Why or where it went I can’t say. I was 19 by this time, still clinging to my “trans identity”, insistent I wasn’t “cis”, but the feeling of wrongness about the sex of my body was gone and has stayed gone since. I didn’t love my body in the slightest, but I no longer hated it and think it completely, fundamentally wrong like I had before. I struggled with my weight for a long time then and after, but I began to realise I was female.

My close brush with acquiring testosterone shook me back into my senses somewhat. I was conscious as I came back into my body that I had almost made a huge mistake. The fear of what could have been stayed with me, that as my dysphoria passed I might have been trapped in a body more foreign to me than the original, a body like a boy that my brain no longer actually needed. The irreversible changes that would have occurred weighed on my mind:  the voice no longer mine, the man-face, the dark, thick hair. So anxiously, I thought – that’s not me…

I very slowly, not quite realising it, was distancing myself from the trans-cult and its thinking.

Well, this and that happened, I struggled on, I had a few setbacks, I struggled on a bit more. I got a proper job. This was the kick in the backside, the firework up the arse that I had needed. I was busy. I was tired. I was called “she” – I was too embarrassed to ask for special pronouns. I had to wear work clothes like everyone else. I took my work seriously, but I had to listen to people chatting in such a heretical way! Saying things that I hadn’t dared to even think, for so long! Talking about men being men, and women being women, so casually using language I had forgotten I could use. At some point, I started to agree with them. The hours I worked kept me off Tumblr and Twitter. The real world beamed blinding, hot sunlight into the dark and cold and dusty parts of my world. And one day, I simply deleted all of my social media. I can’t remember why – I just knew I had to. I didn’t stay to say goodbye to anybody I knew, I just wiped it all. I have never missed it since.

My relationship with my parents recovered. It’s a lot better now than it was before, somehow. They know I’m myself– a real, human woman who knows it– again. I started tentatively using the words daughter, woman, girl, sister to describe myself in conversation. Even now when I say those words I feel them in my mouth. I worked, shopped, ate, and I was doing weird things I did before; laughing like a horse, telling off-colour jokes to make my parents snort.

I had spent a lot of time at home, and perhaps the loveliest thing is that I ended up spending much time with my mother, while I was unemployed and recovering. We talked and we argued. But we talked far more than we argued. Sometimes I fell asleep while she was talking; she has a very soothing voice. Sometimes she fell asleep while I was talking – maybe my voice is soothing too. I loved my mother before, but I didn’t know how much I could love her, because I had never tried to understand her. I wonder, if I had breezed through my teens and headed out, unhesitating, into the great beyond, would I talk to her so fondly and treat her so kindly as I do now? Every cloud.

For a long time, I was a shell of myself. But the bossy, blunt, stubborn girl wasn’t all gone. The trauma I went through took time to fade to something I could manage, but I forgave her and I forgave myself. If I met her in the street I really think I could chat with her. I go stretches of days without thinking about it for more than a few seconds. At first my views on, well, everything, flip-flopped wildly. I went to a much wider variety of websites, I read books, I learned about things happening that I had missed, or worse, things where I had believed completely untrue versions of events.

The world had been such a hostile place when everyone was supposedly out to get me, and the only safe space was my Tumblr, where people only ever told me I was right. I learned that people thought a lot of things, had a lot of opinions, and get this: that some people could think one thing I agreed with, as well as another thing I disagreed with. I had been divorced from humanity in the trans-cult, and I was shocked at the empathy I found in myself for people, shocked at all these people, walking around, all with their lives and their feelings and their hearts. The “privileged” people actually suffered; I had believed they couldn’t. There was so much more suffering than I’d known there to be, but there was also so much more goodness. Every morning I realised my horizons were broader than the morning before, only to discover by the evening there was still so much more I hadn’t the faintest clue about.

Turns out, being a woman? You can wear anything you want, and you’re still a woman. You can do what you want, and you’re still a woman. Reality never needs to be validated.

My ability to think critically returned bit by tiny bit. It took time for me to get used to asking questions, checking sources, not believing every little thing I saw or read. I had been taught to believe unquestioningly and I had to wrestle myself out of the habit. Even now, I remind myself I can have opinions and I can disagree with someone, and they can disagree with me, and it doesn’t mean I’m a bad person; it just means that people are people, and I’m a person, and I have to deal with them being people just as they deal with me, because we have a great deal more in common than not. Through it all I have had the support of my parents – we can talk now.

I’m here now. I’ve slowly, quietly rejoined the human race as a woman, knowing it a miracle, holding both the stubborn determination of my childhood and the grateful joy of my young adulthood. The old me I was once so ashamed to face is here, and we are one again, baptised in fire and back fighting.

 

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Freed from the girl pen: Another mom and desister teen tell their stories

This is another in our ongoing series of personal accounts by formerly trans-identified teens and their parents. Ash, age 16, identified as trans from ages 12-15 and has now desisted. We start with her mom Kelly’s account of her experiences, followed by Ash’s essay. Ash and Kelly are available to interact in the comments section of this article, as time permits.

4thWaveNow is always interested in hearing from desisters and their parents. Please let us know if you would like to guest post.


Mom’s perspective

By Kelly O’Connor

I didn’t take it too seriously when my daughter told me she was transgender. She had already told me she was gay, and she had ongoing anxiety and depression that I knew she was actively looking for relief from. She started puberty early, acquiring breasts which amplified her already frenetic mental state to the point that, like a wild horse, she could not tolerate most of the ropes society tried to hang her with. What young girl in her right mind wants to be culled from the herd and corralled into a ‘girl’ pen?

Prior to her identifying as trans, we had weathered a divorce, and I went back to being the single mom I had started out as (her biological father has never been in the picture). We began homeschooling soon after because there was bullying at her school. This brought the two of us much closer together, but she also began spending more time on social media looking for social outlets. That’s when the Trans Meme entered our lives in a big way. We were in a homeschooling group that had one kid who had trans’ed really young, but Ash’s biggest exposure was online on DeviantArt and Tumblr. Around the same time a close friend’s daughter, who was also on Tumblr, went on testosterone. Ash was now surrounded online and off by the idea that identifying as transgender was some sort of escape hatch.

gate 1Knowing that Ash was identifying as male online and wanted to do so IRL, I just kept up a non-committal, non-judgmental attitude about it. I never called her by a different pronoun, although she and her trans friend had made some attempts to get me to do so. I resisted because it felt like a slippery slope and reality was a pretty flexible concept for her at the time. She used to spin tales about people who didn’t exist or events that didn’t happen. She was into cutting and knives and horror films and intense, scary anime. Frankly, I didn’t have a big reaction to her coming out as trans because there were other, much scarier scenarios looming large in my mind. Her sexual/gender identity wasn’t a big concern for me. I was more focused on keeping her off of anti-psychotics. Looking back I think my non-reaction made it easier for her to change her mind. There was never a big line in the sand drawn by either of us and so nothing was ‘decided’ or set in motion. I’ve also always been very anti-interventionist. I don’t go to the doctor unless something is broken or the bleeding won’t stop. I once declined a D&C during a miscarriage – I didn’t want anyone scraping around in there – and the only drugs I take are ibuprofen, or antibiotics if necessary. Maybe that is why Ash never directly asked to be put on testosterone.

Having a child stand on the brink and stare into the maw of insanity was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. It was a years-long scream into the dark and I felt I could tell no one. I knew drugs or institutionalization would put her in a place she would not return from but I wasn’t sure others would see it that way. The possibility that she was transgender complicated matters for us and she was very vulnerable to the idea, as I can imagine any teen struggling with mental illness would be.

But we got through it. I listened to her when she would talk to me, I told her about some of the things I had been through at that age, I found her a therapist she liked and I trusted, we took lots of walks, and we got a great big dog. I kept encouraging her and trying to connect her with friends and the outside world. I took an interest in her world which was mostly anime, and horror films at the time, so we went to anime conventions and did cosplay and watched movies. I just kept holding on to her and didn’t let go. Eventually, she emerged from the other side of her darkness and slowly came to re-inhabit the body she had abandoned. Now, at 16, she’s learning to be better friends with herself, and finding ways to deal with her mental lows like exercise and diet. And the ‘girl-pen’ is just a place she left in the dust.


Ash’s account:

 Ash is a 16 year old dual-enrolled college student who previously identified as transgender for 2+ years. She enjoys art/animation, games, and learning languages.

I am writing this essay because I want people to understand that mental illnesses aren’t being given the attention they deserve for many transgender-identifying teens and also that for females who are attracted to other females, we don’t usually get to see ourselves in popular culture.

From 12 to 15, I identified as transgender. I’m 16 now and I present as androgynous but I am a gender abolitionist in that I want people to be able to present however they choose, even though I also think gender roles are harmful.

trans bus

Cartoon by Kelly O’Connor

Starting in 2012, around the time when the rates of trans people were just starting to spike, I was very much involved in the LGBT community online and beginning to realize that I was attracted to females. All of my friends were female and there was a lot of drama. That was difficult, being attracted to people who were mean. It seemed like being a guy would make everything easier.

There’s also a lot of pressure on girls to be attractive. On guys too, but it takes ten times more effort for a girl to be seen as attractive than for a boy. As a young teen, the thought of having sex with my female body repulsed me. But thinking of myself as male, with a new life, without my past trauma, was a lot more comforting to me. I didn’t want to associate anything about myself with being female because my body felt like a canvas of memories I didn’t want to remember, didn’t want to see anymore. I was molested when I was younger by an older male teen. Everything about my female body felt wrong and dirty and dangerous to me.

When female teens I know started identifying as trans, they instantly became more sexual. There are a number of reasons why: repressed emotions, “daddy issues,” negative body images, previous trauma, and some are also disabled. It’s completely unacceptable to be a fat horny girl, but it is more than acceptable to be a fat horny boy.

It’s safer and more socially acceptable in general to be a sexual boy than a sexual girl, especially a girl who is attracted to other girls. The word “lesbian” makes a woman sound gross for liking another woman but the word “gay” sounds completely fine and happy. When I was 12, I told some friends who are boys that I was attracted to girls. They basically said that’s not real, meaning it’s not possible for two girls to have a relationship. However, they also said it was hot, which made me see the label “lesbian” as a fetish term, unlike the label “gay” which is a legitimate form for a relationship.

Anime was a very big interest of mine, just like it is for many other transgender teens. That led me to fan art for shows like Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes as well. A good deal of the fan art focused on two male characters who were romantically involved, not in the show, or in canon, but in the fandom. Gay male relationships were glorified on all the art and social media websites I was using but it was very rare to ever see two women from the same show or two women from any show depicted as lesbians. Most of the females I knew were drawing gay male relationships, not female ones, because the desire was for what we thought that kind of relationship would be like (the gay male kind). My mom and I have talked about how different things were when she was a teen. She would have had a crush on the boys in the shows she liked but me and my friends wanted to be them.

I was drawing that kind of gay male relationship art when I started questioning my gender, and I received a lot of positive feedback for my art from people in the community. On social media, I set my gender to male and no one questioned it. As soon as I came out as trans, I started to receive a lot more attention. I felt happier and much more confident in myself than I ever had.

Things didn’t exactly change with my life, but I had much more confidence looking in the mirror. I used to completely break down because I hated myself so much. Once I had the word “transgender,” I had a better idea of what my identity was at the time and I was able to find information and resources to help with many of my issues: depression, anxiety, weight, etc. I truly believed I must be a boy because of how happy I felt coming out as one.

However, now I feel like the term “transgender” has become a coping mechanism for sufferers of abuse, trauma, emotional neglect, and mental illness. It’s not that big of a coincidence that many of the transgender people I’ve met have some kind of chronic physical or mental illness or come from a childhood where they were emotionally or sexually abused, or suffered neglect or abandonment. They need some way to cope and gain the attention and sense of control that they always craved and never received.

I used to feel incredibly dysphoric over certain parts of my body that a lot of transgender people also feel dysphoric over, such as my chest, my legs, my hips, etc. It is not exactly something I can explain but I have always felt very off about myself. I also struggle with quite a few mental illnesses that can make my mind not the most stable. I unfortunately mistook overall body dysphoria and the emotional results of trauma for gender dysphoria and came close to ruining/mutilating my body in an attempt to fix it.

I was the most dysphoric when I thought I was trans, I never wanted to leave the house. I was heavier and my boobs were larger and I was very obviously female. I had a binder for part of that time but it was uncomfortable and gave me breathing problems. My ribs were in severe pain from wearing it for hours a day. I almost fainted multiple times at an anime convention.

The dysphoria grew when I thought I may be a boy. I always wanted to come across as more masculine rather than feminine. I never wanted to be a tomboy, I wanted to be a real boy. When I thought I was trans, all I wanted was to have gender reassignment surgery but now, I’d never consider it, even though I prefer coming across androgynous. Part of the reason I would never consider surgery or hormones now is because I feel better about my body. I eat better now and exercise a lot. While you can’t control dysphoria, you can learn ways to get used to the feelings and those feelings get better over time as puberty ends. That’s how puberty works, it messes with you. When you first hit puberty, dysphoria spikes because there are all these changes you can’t control and in my case, didn’t like.

My boyfriend at the time, who was also identifying as transgender (I knew them as a girl for a few years beforehand), convinced me I should transition a few days after I mentioned I might be trans too. If I remember correctly, I told my mom a few months later, when we were sitting in the car at the drive through for Starbucks. We were pretty quiet until I turned away from her and said “Hey, I think I’m a boy. And I want to go by “Avery” (a name that I went by for awhile even after realising I wasn’t a boy). She turned to me and raised her eyebrow and said “Uh, alright. So you’re this now?” We got our coffee and it wasn’t spoken about again. I figured, since she didn’t freak out, that meant it would be OK to start some kind of process, but then the next day, she was talking to one of her friends on the phone, and she referred to me as “she” like usual.

During that time, I had no questions regarding the side effects of being on T; I just wanted it, none of the side effects mattered or seemed important. My mindset was just “if I do this, I will feel better about my body and I won’t feel suicidal anymore.” But, the thought that maybe I couldn’t get on T or blockers sent me into a much deeper depression than I was in before. No one was there to inform me about the side effects of hormone therapy and in the groups I was involved in, people only encouraged me to go ahead in my transition once I officially came out even though I was still a minor, still growing, and not yet receiving the mental health care I needed. They encouraged me to go ahead and do what I needed to do to be happy with myself.

Because I didn’t have much support in my life in other areas at that time, their support felt amazing. Up until that point, I had struggled with gaining friends for months, years even. The only person I really knew and talked to daily in my life was my mom and my ex boyfriend (who was severely mentally abusive towards me). All of a sudden, I had many new friends and I was getting a lot of attention for my new identity.

The next three years were me believing I was trans and my mom blowing me off. Thank goodness, because I would be close to getting my first surgery now at 16. I have a lot of transgender friends and the difference between me and them is their parents brought them to gender clinics or special gender therapists. Some of my friends self-harmed and threatened suicide so their parents would take them to gender therapists but I never did that. I did tell my mom I needed a therapist and she found one but her focus wasn’t on my gender identity. We never talked about that until this year.

While I realize now that I am not a boy and will never really be a boy, I’ve also come to discover the androgynous community. I still feel like there’s something missing and I may never find it but finding a nice balance between both genders has been better, healthier and safer for me. I’ve never supported gender roles and usually tend to ignore them and wear what I want, but the harsh reality is if gender roles weren’t so ingrained into today’s society then a lot of kids might not even be transitioning at all.

Over the past few years, I’ve worked hard to change my lifestyle. I recently registered at a community college, and I’ve been making more friends and getting involved in things outside of the house. I have a therapist who looks at my mental health issues instead of my identity. She helps me explore my feelings of dysphoria and repulsion over having a female body. I’ve come to understand that these feelings come from past trauma not because I’m really a boy.

Most of my friends are either transgender and/or gay. Some of my closest friends have struggled with their identities as long as me. I also have friends who I’ve watched go on testosterone, and while I may not agree with their decision, I support them no matter what.

For me personally, my identity doesn’t mean a lifetime of hormone therapy and it certainly doesn’t mean a series of surgeries. For me, I realized that if I had even one small doubt, it would lead to more and more doubt. That was a red flag for me and it should be a red flag in general. Once the process of HRT and surgeries starts, there’s no going back. I think it is very hard for teens who’ve made these choices to change their minds both because they’re afraid to lose the control they never had before and once they go back to being “cis,” they’ll be unimportant and nothing special in this world.

 

A careful step into a field of landmines

by Jenny Cyphers

Jenny Cyphers is a homeschooling parent. She has been writing about that experience for many years, in various online forums. Jenny has been married for 24 yrs to the father of their two children, one adult and one teenager. They all live, work, and create, in Oregon. Jenny is available to interact in the comments section of this post.


“Jenny, you’re wrong. You’re playing with your child’s life. It’s that simple. Putting your misguided beliefs before your child’s well-being could cause irreversible harm.”

This scathing judgment came from another mother in a trans-support group for parents. I’ve seen many fads and trends over the years, but I’d like to talk about the transgender fad, which has impacted my life.

I have a transgender teen. My teen has held tightly to this identification for just over 2 years. Throughout this time, I’ve heard many stories from parents whose children are gender non-conforming or questioning their gender, their identities. Like most parents, we want to support our children and help them through their obvious suffering and pain.

In order to examine the “Jenny, you’re wrong” statement, I need to address what causes “irreversible harm”. Within the trans support groups, there are two diametrically opposed camps. One–and this is important because it is the predominant narrative–is the camp that believes If a child or teen says they are transgender, the protocol is to confirm, affirm, and transition. If parents opt to not transition their child, it puts you in the other camp.

What is transgender? That’s the crucial question. As far as I can tell, the answer is a definition based off individual philosophy. I’ll let others do the defining. One aspect that’s generally accepted is that a person can be transgender whether or not they medically or surgically transition.

But there’s one exception to that accepted definition: a transgender child or teen. As the predominant narrative goes, we’re supposed to confirm, affirm, and transition a transgender child or teen. But the irreversible harm I want to avoid for my transgender child is medical and surgical harm. I made the error in a trans support group of admitting that.

“Jenny, so your support is conditional based upon what you chose to believe. So what makes you qualified to make that decision for your child aside from being the parent?”

What makes any parent qualified to make any medical decision on behalf of their children? This is both an honest question and a rhetorical one. Parents get to make all sorts of decisions for their children. We decide what to feed them, which doctors to take them to, and how and where they’ll be schooled. We decide whether to circumcise and whether to vaccinate. Both of those are medical choices fraught with contention in either direction one chooses.

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How do parents make these choices? We talk to our doctors. We talk to our own parents. We talk to our friends and people we respect. We read books. We ask questions. We research and research. The more controversial, the more we research. What parent would NOT do these things?

So, what do I believe? Nobody asks that in honesty unless they are friends who genuinely care. Trans support groups do not care what individuals believe, especially if it questions the necessity of medical intervention for a transgender child.

I’ve had surgery. I know how traumatic it is. I’ve had to take medication with terrible side effects. I know how it feels to be dependent on medicine that makes you feel sick. That experience caused me to question the side effects of drugs used to transition children. What I discovered was surprising.

“When it comes to situations that may require medical assistance parents have the responsibility to seek professional advice.”

“Your support is absolutely conditional. You have essentially decided to control how your child transitions based upon personal belief and nothing more.”

“You’ve drawn a line in the sand with nothing more than personal belief to back it up and you’re controlling how your child transitions despite what the medical establishment recommends. Disagree all you like but your prejudices should not be more important than the wellbeing of your child.”

When I started to ask questions, I found it difficult to get basic answers to the most basic of my questions. It was especially hard to get that information from trans support groups and doctors. I expected to find experts who had done their research. I did get answers, but not the sort I was looking for. I wanted to know actual data and statistics about safety of cross-sex hormone treatment. Instead, what they insisted, without corroborating evidence, was that it was safe and not a big deal at all. Given my own experience with taking medication, I did not automatically believe that. I dug deeper.

I had only ever heard of puberty blockers from knowing a child with precocious puberty. The puberty blockers had dangerous side effects. I knew that already from listening to the mother of that child and hearing her weigh the pros and cons of whether the puberty blockers were worth the risk of broken bones and eventually needing a wheelchair to support fragile bones. These are the exact same puberty blockers being used on transgender children. That alone gave me pause. My own kid was already about a year and a half into puberty, so we weren’t looking at blockers anyway.

While reading about puberty blockers, I also learned that in the United States, nearly 100% of children who choose to take puberty blockers then go on to use cross-sex hormones. So, despite hearing that blockers are meant to give a child time to figure things out, that is not actually what happens. When you stall puberty, you go on to transition. All data that I’ve read, anecdotal and otherwise, supports that. What surprised me even more, in researching, is that when a child uses puberty blockers and then goes on to transition with cross-sex hormones, it results in permanent sterilization.

That fact deeply disturbed me. Bringing up the subject of sterilizing children also brings up the question of ethics and eugenics. Currently, from what I’ve seen, we- the collective we- are okay with sterilizing transgender children. I was surprised to find that many parents were okay with this. It didn’t bother them in the least.

My personal belief, and I do believe I’m entitled to one, is that sterilizing children is wrong.

If an adult is allowed to be transgender without medically or surgically altering their body, then a child should be allowed the same. Furthermore, my bias is that children should not be medically and surgically altered based on being transgender.

I didn’t come to that decision overnight. It took a lot of research and a lot of reading. My teen may have been too old for puberty blockers, but still wanted to transition through hormone replacement therapy. But there is a huge risk of sterilization from hormone replacement therapy. It’s not 100%, all the time, but the percentage is high for all people who do hormone replacement therapy. At 14-years-old, my child didn’t care about sterilization. Very few young teens want children; it’s not on their radar, which is totally normal. That’s why parents make life-altering decisions for their children. Parents are able to see the larger picture.

“So, your answer is that you have no credible information that supports your child because everyone who says you should can’t be trusted?”

“It really sounds like you want to wear the label of supportive so you can feel better but don’t want to “walk the walk,” as they say.”

Let’s talk about support. What is valid support for a child dealing with this?

When our child told us they were transgender, we’d already experienced many teens changing their names and adopting nicknames, which made it easy to adopt a new name for our youngest kid. The insistence of pronoun changes was difficult, but we tried. My husband,who’s a lot like our child, was a champ at being supportive.

The steadfast identity of being transgender grew over time. Nearly every conversation I had with my child was like a careful step into a field of landmines, in which everything was about being trans, but we couldn’t actually discuss it without upset. The only acceptable discussion was my being supportive. One time, when I tried asking my kid honest questions, I realized I had stepped on the landmine known as being one of “those moms”. The unaccepting ones my kid was reading about online, who didn’t accept their kids’ trans identity, and who made their kids complain about how terrible and miserable their lives were because they had bigoted parents who didn’t accept their trans identity. The reality of how our actual relationship had always been up until this point was ignored in favor of feeling oppressed. Being transgender became the focus of every aspect of life.

We were already used to doing life a little differently to accommodate a sensitive child’s odd quirks. Accommodating transgender was just another step down this path. Right up until we could travel no farther down the path. And this is important. The insistence on personal gender identity is so pervasive that one cannot question it. To question it is tantamount to cruelty and violence and bigotry. Transgender is a deeply felt sense of self. Questioning a person’s sense of self is a personal violation. Framed as a personal violation of self, questioning the transgender identity invalidates their very existence. In social groups, both in person and online, there is one accepted dialog: that identities are to be accepted at face value. For most involved, it’s already an accepted truth that anyone can be whatever they identify as, that this is healthy and good and right.

jenny nat geo coversRight around this time, National Geographic put out a specialty magazine about transgender and other identities. When I studied the cover, it was glaringly obvious to me what wasn’t represented, a regular run of the mill female person. Of the kids and teens and adults represented, there is a female identified person, and it isn’t a natal female woman. There is a transman. There is a person marked as male, but nobody marked as female. To be fair, the magazine did some in depth coverage of the material reality of being female across the world. However, the cover was a tiny glimpse into transgender ideology, in which women are being erased- unless of course a transwoman identifies as one.

From that point, it was like a cascade of ideas came into focus for me. I had small epiphanies about how this all impacted civil rights. The transgender politics and policies have the potential to undo civil rights for all people. If civil rights are not based on material reality, then anyone anywhere can undo them and change them. This seemed extremely dangerous to me. When that idea hit me, it was like a sucker punch; it was the pulling of the thread that began to unravel the tapestry of transgender ideology.

Just before this time, my kid was insistent on seeing a gender therapist and getting into a gender clinic to start transitioning. I dragged my feet. Doctor appointments cost precious money we have little of. We finally did make the appointment, and my kid started seeing a regular therapist also. This is when the massive anxiety and depression started taking hold. The combination of seeking out a gender therapist and the deeply held identity of being transgender caused so much distress, which led to more anxiety and more depression. But seeing a therapist was a good thing, anyway. Right?

The cascade of ideas swept over me, just as coverage of the BBC Two documentary “Transgender Kids: Who Knows Best”. I watched it, and then rewatched it with my transgender teen. It’s no longer available to watch, which is really unfortunate. It’s a well-done documentary that helped bridge a conversation gap with my child. The unsupportive parents in the documentary really made my kid mad, and we were able to talk about their feelings. For my part, I was looking at this trans issue in light of civil rights issues and bathroom bills, and the documentary opened up a way for me to discuss civil rights with my kid. The documentary was the first and only really in-depth discussion I’ve been able to have with my kid about transgender issues.

bbc trans kids who knows best

In the profound conversation that came out of that documentary, in a moment of very deep pain, my child shared that no amount of wishing or believing or transitioning would ever make her into a he, even if they looked the part and acted the part. It was a moment filled with tears and vulnerability, as my child admitted aloud that she would never be biologically male, even with surgery.

My child was very sad about this, and I could see the struggle. The struggle is very real. Every parent who has a child going through this will understand this feeling, this pain, this struggle. This is what drives parents to do anything to make that pain stop. I get that completely. And deep inside of me, I knew there were answers that didn’t involve medical and surgical transitioning. I talked about it with my oldest daughter and she said something really important. She said, of her sibling experiencing the pain, “What’s wrong with that?” and what she meant was that it’s normal for people, for kids, for teens to feel pain and express it.

I tried to understand where this was coming from, this desire to be male, to change this body, this personhood so drastically. For years, I’d been looking at what drives individual behavior, in part to ease the frustrations my child had from being a sensitive person in a callous world. Had there been an inciting moment that had caused the identity crisis?

When this child was 11, and in the throes of the onset of puberty, I almost died. I had two heart attacks and emergency double bypass heart surgery. I didn’t make the connection right away. Nobody seems to look at underlying trauma of trans-identifying kids. I brought the subject up with both the regular therapist and the gender therapist. The gender therapist we found was surprisingly thoughtful. I didn’t expect that. I shared with her my reservations about allowing my child to transition without first addressing underlying issues. I shared with her my feelings about how impulsive this particular child was and how firm they held ideas they impulsively grabbed onto. I suggested this may be one of those ideas. She took my feelings into account when I told her I was wanting to wait until my child turned 18 to transition, that I wanted everything to go very, very slowly.

My kid was mad at the therapist’s final assessment that waiting until 18 was prudent. I made all the therapist’s paperwork available to all medical professionals that were to be working with my kid, but the pressure to transition didn’t stop.

In Oregon, the age of medical consent is 15. Since medical professionals were unwilling to read available medical charts explicitly recommending waiting until age 18 to transition, I made sure that I had access to all medical care and records. I had my child sign all medical release papers for that to happen. Every parent living in a state with low consent age should do this.

When we went to doctor appointments for totally unrelated things, they would refer my child to the gender clinic, even though we’d already been, and tell my child they shouldn’t have to suffer and that they could easily take testosterone to alleviate these horrible symptoms like periods and breast development. But they wouldn’t actually prescribe my child testosterone; they’d instead just reiterate that it was an option. My child already knew that this was an option, but that the gender specialist had said to wait until age 18. It felt like hope being held out of reach, like a cruel bait yanked away.

It happened every time. The doctors wouldn’t stop dangling the bait. Because of the turmoil this caused, I had to stop taking my child to the doctor, unless it was an emergency.

“So let’s not pretend you are supporting your child. You’ve clearly convinced yourself that you are but the fact is that you could be causing your child grievous harm and you seem totally unconcerned.”

Meanwhile, I intentionally started focusing on big-picture ideas with my kid. We acquired a telescope and fixed it up. Now, we discuss stars and planets and the universe. We used our now freed up money, that we were spending on doctor appointments, to take more dance classes. My husband, a musician, includes our kid in making music. I bring my kid with me to help in the theatre I work in, where their quick engineering skills are valued. We support their new interest in herbs and plants and research how to care for them and what to use them for. We use websites and books to identify rocks and stones. We drive to visit friends that live in nearby cities, for a change of scenery.

When we started on the new transgender journey, together, my child and I decided that no matter what, this was not going to be the life focus. We opted not to join any queer youth support groups. What I’ve seen in those groups is that life becomes very narrow. One doesn’t play music, they play queer music. One doesn’t do art, they make queer art. My kid even began to notice this and didn’t want to make life all about being transgender. A too-narrow focus goes against the very fabric of our family life, the one we built by bringing the world to our children and our children to the world. Our life has evened out a little.

Our teen is now desisting. The goal wasn’t desistence though; it was to prevent irreversible medical intervention of a teen, whose identity is malleable and in flux, as all teens’ are. If one can BE transgender based on feelings, deep seated and strongly held and persistent feelings, then why must the push be towards chemically and surgically altering one’s body? If we are to accept each person’s identity at face value, what does it actually mean to BE transgender? If my child desists, does that mean they weren’t ever transgender to begin with?

If I’d opted to follow through with all the current protocols, my kid would be taking testosterone right now, with an eye towards mastectomies and a hysterectomy. If we’d done that, and my child desisted, would they have been truly transgender? What if I’d gone into the gender therapist’s office and pushed for transitioning? If being transgender means that one is the other gender born into the wrong body, but not everyone fully transitions medically and surgically, then why must children do so to be truly transgender?

I’ve been accused of causing grievous harm to my child by not following this path of hormonal and surgical transitioning. I’ll be the first to say, I could’ve been super supportive of transitioning my child. I could have entered that gender therapist’s office and insisted that we jump through whatever hoops were necessary. I know of people who have done that. I’m sure that’s what my kid expected me to do. I’ve been accused of being unsupportive of my child by not confirming, affirming, and transitioning my child. This is laughable that anyone who knows me would say such a thing. My kids are my life, literally and figuratively. I think that’s true of most parents, even the ones who make terrible mistakes that destroy relationships. Even those parents who are lost and don’t know how to deal with transgenderism, but love their child and don’t readily accept whatever their kids say. Even parents who are religious and object on moral grounds. Even parents that are very liberal and accepting.

For every parent reading this, remember that most mistakes are recoverable. You can apologize and move towards restoring the relationship. Don’t buy into the emotional blackmail so common among the transgender community. Keep your children close. Make all the choices in the world to build up your relationship. Do it as if their life depends on it, because it does. If they can wait until they are older, and they do end up transitioning, they will need you as their support. Let me be very clear here. You do NOT have to agree with the choices your adult children make while still supporting them as people. If your focus is on imparting bigger ideas than self-identity, there will always be ways to support your child, no matter what choices they end up making.

I’m much more concerned with mental health and maturity to handle the long-term effects of transitioning, than I am about identities. Identities are always changing as you grow and learn, and while some aspects of your past will always remain a part of you, some things you choose to discard when they cease to be relevant. Teenhood and childhood are all about trying on ways of doing and being in the world and seeing how it works.

You cannot discard a body that’s been altered to bring back the old one.

Get angry, read, research. Seek help when you need it, from people you know, trust, and respect. Then get out there and focus on the things that bring you joy and include your children. Be brave. Most of all, don’t be afraid to question the prevailing narratives.

jenny landmine