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.

Jenny cap 2

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

 

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