My Advice for Gender Critical Parents of Trans-Identified Teens
Hello, my name is Hazel. I’m a 31 year old woman, who previously identified as trans at 17 years old. I experienced what is now referred to as ‘Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria’. Whilst I hadn’t ever felt particularly comfortable with most forms of femininity, I didn’t consider myself trans until I was 17, and then things went from 0 to 10 very, very quickly.
Whilst the title of this article is ‘Advice for Parents’, I would like to remind you that I am by no means an expert on the situation. I am merely someone who has been where your trans-identified teen is now. Please take everything I say on a case-by-case basis. Take what you want from this article, and leave the rest. This is merely me speculating, from what I know now, as to what I may have benefited from when I was 17.
Don’t ‘Affirm’, But Don’t Deny
A little of my story. My mother wasn’t at all accepting of my identity. She did a lot of telling me that I was ‘wrong’ to say I had gender dysphoria, due to what she had read online. Now, this only caused me to dig my heels in deeper. (The fact I’m autistic, with pathological demand avoidant tendencies, did not help here.)
You have to be truly careful what you say to trans-identified children. This is because you’re up against what they’ve read online. They’re told that parents who refuse to ‘affirm’ them are abusive, and don’t love them. So you have to be extremely careful not to get yourself labelled as ‘abusive’ in their minds, otherwise you’ve lost them to the ideology. The most important thing here is making sure that you are still able to be a person who is safe to them – someone who loves them, who supports them, and most importantly, someone they feel they can talk to. Arguing, telling them that they’re wrong, or dismissing their very real feelings, is not the way to ensure your child continues to be open with you.
At the time, what I wanted more than anything was for everyone to affirm my new gender and my new name. To be given the hormones and surgery I wanted, right now, no questions asked. But, as we now know, affirming children in this way is a sure fire way to almost guarantee that they continue down the ‘trans’ path. Looking back, my mother would have needed to dance a very thin line between affirming my delusion, and becoming the abusive mother that trans ideology would tell me she was, if she did not fully affirm my gender and support my medical transition.
I’ve seen parents of trans kids on Twitter who have said things along the lines of, ‘I don’t affirm my child, I don’t use preferred pronouns, but I also don’t use their old pronouns’. This makes sense to me. You’re not affirming, nor are you ‘misgendering’ or telling them that they’re wrong, in a way that will cause them to call you abusive or unsupportive. You need to remain supportive of THEM, whilst not affirming their gender identity, and not ‘misgendering’ them or ‘deadnaming’ them in a way that will have you perceived as abusive.
In retrospect, rather than affirming me, I feel that I would have benefitted from my mother telling me something along the lines of, “Okay, so this is what you feel like you need right now. However, I notice this is quite a new feeling – you didn’t feel like you wanted this so badly previously. I love you, and if you do choose to go this way in future, I will still love you. But let’s wait this out. Let’s talk about it, let’s discuss your feelings. Let’s get you into therapy if that is what you need. Let’s do what we need to do to keep you alive right now. I’m supportive of whatever you want to do with your life, and I believe you that you are feeling dysphoric about your body. But I would feel much happier and more comfortable if we slowed down a bit, so that you can be absolutely sure this is what you want before proceeding in ways that we can’t undo if these feelings do fade”.
I can’t say how well that would have worked. I may have still deemed her the villain. But I know that, had she affirmed my choice, it certainly wouldn’t have led to anything good. Perhaps I would have continued to identify as trans for longer than I did, and may have gotten to the point where I made irreversible changes to my body.
What I most needed, I think, was to be loved regardless. To be told that, no matter what path I chose in the future (desisting or transitioning) I would still be loved. In retrospect, I believe what I would have benefited from most, is my mother being open minded towards my feelings, without affirming them or furthering them. To help me through my suicidal feelings, rather than insult/mock me for them and kick me out.
My mother ended up telling me to find somewhere else to live. I moved in with my father. I suspect that he, like me, is autistic. He did not talk about things like emotions or mental health. Honestly, from what I can remember, he barely spoke about the gender stuff with me at all. It was only about 1 month after moving in with him that my gender dysphoria began to fade. So whilst I wouldn’t advocate ‘ignoring it completely’ like he did, it certainly seemed to work in my case!
DON’T Make It All About YOU
I think this is probably one of the most important pieces of advice you could take on board if your primary goal is to maintain a relationship with your child.
Yes, your child’s decision to transition hurts you. Yes, you feel like your world has been torn apart. Yes, you’re grieving for the son/daughter that it feels like you have lost. But don’t act like this is more important than what they’re going through. In fact, I would make it your priority to not let them know that you’re feeling this way. If you’re struggling, speak to someone about it. Preferably a counsellor or a therapist. But it is not your child’s responsibility to take on the burden of your feelings. Remember, they are the one going through this extremely difficult emotional time. You’re just a secondary victim. Let’s keep the conversation about them, what they’re going through, and what you can do to help them.
My mother absolutely made my decision to transition all about her. About how she was ‘losing her only daughter’ and how hard she was finding it. She took it upon herself to out me to anyone who would listen (DO NOT DO THIS!) so that everyone would pity her and feel bad for what SHE was going through. When I was at the height of my gender dysphoria, she ended up telling me to find somewhere else to live, because I happened to also be suicidal, self-harming, and called the police on her husband during an argument about it all. She was incredibly unsupportive, but not just of my identity, but also of my mental health, and also of me as her child. In the end, she lost her daughter anyway, because the way she treated me during this time (and afterwards) was unforgivable to me. She has absolutely never stopped making this all about herself. Even now, she throws pity parties on social media about how she ‘lost’ me – when everything she did pushed me away.
Reduced Access to Internet & Echo Chambers
Here’s something that only occurred to me more recently than I’d like to admit. When my mother told me to get out, I went to live with my father. He was a dinosaur as far as technology was concerned, so he did not have an internet connection in his house. This was 2009, so access to mobile data on phones is far more limited than it is today. As a result, I was not able to access my online ‘trans’ communities (which happened to be on a website called LiveJournal – the 00s version of Tumblr). It was only a month after moving in with my dad that my gender dysphoric feelings started to go away. My depression started to go way almost immediately (though this was definitely also helped by the fact I no longer had to deal with my emotionally abusive mother).
If you can, find out where your child’s echo chamber is. If it’s at school, there might not be a lot you can do to get your child out of the situation. However, if they’re part of online communities, like I was, where people are ‘affirming’ them and putting more ideas in their heads, you may be able to help them by gently removing their access to these communities. Examples of online trans communities exist include: Tumblr, Twitter, Reddit, and TikTok. I’m sure there are others, but those are just some of the big ones to be aware of.
One thing I saw on Twitter was a mother who had told her trans-identified daughter that she was willing to support her, BUT first she wanted her to give up internet access for a month, to see if the child still felt the same way at the end of the month. As I recall, the child did feel a little better about herself by the end. This is very similar to my story. As above, it’s very important to remember to not make yourself to enemy, and not let it get to the point where your child considers you abusive, or no longer a safe space. If you can get them to agree to take a timeout from the internet of their own free will, this is obviously a much preferable way to go about it, compared to taking an authoritarian approach and banning it outright. Perhaps plan some fun activities as a family, to take their mind off the internet and their echo chamber for a while. Perhaps play their favourite games with them, or take them out into the ‘real world’. Whatever helps distract them from their wishes to be involved in these ‘affirming’ communities.
Gently Remind Them That There is NO Right or Wrong Way to be a Girl/Boy
Again, you must be very careful about how you do this. As above, telling them that they are wrong about their identity is unlikely to be productive or helpful, and may cause harm to your relationship.
For me, looking back, I felt very different from other girls, and very ‘ungirly’. This led my black-and-white autistic brain to the conclusion that I simply should have been born a boy. Being a teenager is hard, especially when you are different. You face a lot of pressure to fit in, and be like the other children. This is especially difficult when you feel like you are incapable of doing so.
I wrote in my Letter to my 17-Year-Old Transgender Self: “Their acceptance of you feels important now, but in the long term, it isn’t. In the future, you’ll find women who are just like you. Ones who also felt like aliens growing up. But regardless of how they felt, how masculine they were, how badly they failed to fit in with other girls, they were still girls. Perfectly valid, perfectly wonderful girls, who were perfect just the way they were.
“What I want you to know with all of my heart, is that there is no right way to be a girl. It is absolutely okay to be a girl who doesn’t act like other girls. It is okay to be different. And the older you get, the more comfortable you will be with that. ‘Being a girl’ isn’t liking make-up. Being a girl isn’t having female friends. Being a girl isn’t the ability to act like and fit in with other girls in your peer group. Being a girl isn’t any of those superficial things. Being a girl is simply being born female. What you choose to do with it from there, is entirely up to you.“
That is something that I truly wished I understood as a 17-year-old trans-identified child.
Reduce Negative Gender Stereotypes in the Home
I was in the Air Cadets as a teenager. My mother always got me to iron my own uniform. A few years later, my younger brother was in the Cadets. This happened to be at the same time as I was struggling with gender dysphoria. She always ironed his uniform for him, and once even asked me to do it for him. I asked, why did he not have to iron his own uniform, but I did? She told me, “Because you’re a girl, and girls are supposed to iron”. This felt like a huge slap in the face to me, when she knew that I identified as male. At the time, I thought she had simply made an oversight, briefly forgotten that I identified as male now, or simply didn’t care about offending me. But, looking back, perhaps this was her trying to force me back into female stereotypes. A misguided attempt to ‘fix’ me. Obviously, she had some pretty deep seated internal misogyny to deal with herself (which presented itself in a myriad of other ways, but I digress). But her pushing these unfair expectations on me when my brother didn’t get them because of his gender, just added to my frustration.
Is your home one of gender equality? Do you put unfair gendered expectations on any of your children, that their opposite-sex siblings don’t have? Try to keep things fair. Try not to push unfair gendered roles onto your children, especially if they currently don’t want to be that ‘gender’ at all.
Talk of Desisters/Detransitioners Will Likely Have Limited Impact
Whilst it is true that more and more ‘trans’ people are detransitioning, this argument isn’t necessarily going to have to impact you want to have by presenting it. (As above, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend arguing with the child at all. Don’t affirm, don’t deny.) Whilst it may be possible for your child to acknowledge that some people who transition do regret it, they are almost always going to be so assured in their identity that they’d not even consider the possibility that they might be wrong. (Remember back to when you were their age – were you ever wrong?) I didn’t think that I’d ever regret it. In fact, I felt like I would surely commit suicide if I couldn’t transition. There was not a single shred of doubt in my mind that I was trans, and that I wouldn’t regret transitioning – and yet, here I am.
As I said in my Letter to my 17-Year-Old Transgender Self, I am so grateful that I didn’t transition, because if I had, I wouldn’t have my wonderful daughter now. But a child deep in the throes of gender dysphoria will likely be adamant that they don’t want to have children, at least not the way their current body allows (for example, pregnancy always seemed like it would have been highly dysphoric for me). The fact I went on to have my daughter is something that I could only be grateful for in retrospect. I wouldn’t expect a trans-identified teen to be at all concerned about their future fertility (which is why we, as parents, have to be).
Again, your child may very well respond differently than how I would have. You know them better than anyone.
Don’t Discount the Power of ‘Non-Binary’
I want to start this off by stating that I do not believe that there is truly any such thing as ‘non-binary’, by the definition that is currently accepted by society. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that it’s a meaningless identity, because everyone is non-binary. I do not believe ‘gender identity’ is a real thing. What sex you are, as far as I’m concerned, has absolutely no bearing on what you choose to do with your life, how you choose to act, or how you choose to dress. I see non-binary as a form of youth subculture – similar to hippies, goths, punks and teddy boys. You know, all those other groups of teenagers who were adamant that their identity wasn’t just a phase? If it was separated from the medicalisation and insanity of trans culture, I may even argue that the non-binary goal to move away from sex stereotypes could only be beneficial for society.
However, despite the negatives around it, and its unfortunate link to the trans community, I do wonder if ‘non-binary’ may be the lesser of two evils when it comes to trans teens. If a teenager is adamant that their gender identity doesn’t line up with their body, I’m confident in my belief that a ‘them/them’ child who doesn’t feel the need to make any changes to their body, is better off than a trans-identified child who wants to take hormones and have their body parts removed. You can grow out of a non-binary identity. You can never outgrow a double mastectomy or a hormone-induced opposite-sex puberty.
Perhaps if non-binary was a ‘thing’ back in my day (yes, I said it, get over it) I would have been happy to identify as non-binary, and perhaps wouldn’t need to have gone the full whack of identifying as the opposite gender. If non-binaries have anything right, it is the fact that one’s birth sex does not have to have an impact on how we choose to present to the world.
So, even if you can’t encourage your child to ‘identify’ with their birth sex, if you can get them to consider the idea non-binary, that might be a happier middle ground – one that doesn’t result in a lifetime of medicalisation.
If They Are Actively Suicidal, Be EXTREMELY Careful
As I’ve said above, please take everything I’ve said on a case-by-case basis. If you do not think what I’ve said is relevant or helpful for your situation, then please happily discount it – especially if your child is actively suicidal. I may have been a suicidal trans kid myself, but by no means do I feel comfortable taking the place of qualified medical professionals. If they are truly, truly suicidal, and you are immediately fearful that they will take their life, the trans propaganda of ‘It’s better to have a trans kid than a dead kid,’ (whilst usually a scaremongering narrative) may be truly worth bearing in mind. I would certainly rather have a regret-filled detransitioned child than a dead one. Your child’s mental health is truly the most important thing. Make sure they see the relevant mental health professionals, and prioritise keeping them alive.