Discover more from prude posting
"Just Do X"
Why helping a trans identified kid is more complicated than "just take away their phone".
Stories are beginning to come out about parents who managed to get through to their kids and help them see the harm of gender identity before undergoing gender related medical interventions, strengthening their relationships in the process. A common thread I’ve noticed in these first few success stories is that the parent was able to intervene quickly and decisively, limiting social media and toxic peer exposure while focusing on strengthening their child’s life skills, interest in hobbies, and relationships with the family. This is great, and I’m beyond happy that those families were able to turn such a stressful and frightening experience into something that turned out to be a blessing in the long run. But I can’t help but think about the parents who’ve been at this for years sitting there and thinking, “we tried that, but her friends just gave her a secret iPod, which we didn’t know about for months.” Or, “we tried that, but the school threatened to call CPS on us.” Or simply, “we tried that, but it didn’t seem to work, and we’re more estranged and conflicted than ever.”
It concerns me when I see a certain type of story get a lot of traction. Not because I’m not happy for the people involved, but because I think it paints a picture to the underinformed public that something about this is easy, and the parents who are still struggling just aren’t doing something obvious. I see a lot of judgements and unsolicited advice floating around. “Just” take away the phone. “Just” switch schools. “Just” move to a red state. What people who haven’t spent enough time learning about the experiences of families involved in this don’t realize is that if it really was that simple, every parent would “just” do whatever it is they think those parents need to do. The truth is, there are a lot of parents who have done those things, and for a variety of reasons, it didn’t result in a resolution. And those that haven’t done them usually have a pretty solid reason, whether its because of external obstacles or simply because family systems are complicated and all come with unique people with unique traits and relationships to each other that can’t easily be superimposed onto a template based off of a completely different family.
Our perception of the “parent” is rooted in our own childhoods, when we held certain expectations of our parents because we were physically and psychologically underdeveloped and helpless. The archetypal “parent” is ideally decisive, authoritative yet nurturing, self assured, and cooperative with other family members. The “parent” should be able to see a threat to their child from a mile away, and act collaboratively with others in a confident and calculated way to protect their child from it, while ensuring that child learns a lesson in the process. That’s a wonderful ideal to aspire to, but, with rare exceptions, nearly everyone knows from personal experience that real people don’t live up to that, because parents aren’t cut from a perfect mold, they’re just people. Parents have strengths and weaknesses. Parents have baggage. Parents have unresolved childhood issues. Parents have to work with family members or people in their communities who act against the interests of them and their child, often deceptively.
In my experience and from my observation, it’s not the norm that this phenomenon affects families with a baseline history of healthy boundaries, conflict resolution, or awareness of underlying emotional tensions. When it does, it seems like those parents are more able to recognize the problem quickly and accurately, and take actions instinctively based on their familiarity with how the family system truly operates. I think that’s when you get these seemingly clean cut resolutions and success stories. But what about the parents who didn’t recognize the severity of the problem soon enough, or who took action just for things to get worse, or who were paralyzed and unsure of how to take action at all, or who are fighting alone against other family members or people in their lives who are working against them, with the power of major institutions and, in some cases, the law behind them? Those are the cases in which its so important for people to hold back on judgement and get familiar with what people are struggling with before telling parents what they “should just” do. Similarly, those are the cases where parents need to be mindful of comparing themselves to people online, and remember that no one else can know their personal situation as deeply as they can.
It’s my belief that for the families who have experienced a total breakdown and crisis resulting from a child believing they are “trans”, this breakdown is a result of the gender ideology’s cult function exploiting pre-existing relationship dysfunction in the family. It sets the young person up so that when their parents react in line with whatever patterns that already exist in their relationship, it wedges itself between the child and parent and furthers the divide. This is why telling parents in a truly dysfunctional scenario to “just” do whatever is unhelpful, because when they “just” do the thing, without deeper support to change the underlying patterns, the ideology and cultish influences on their child will be right there to reframe everything the parent does in a way that pulls them further into the ideology. That is what cults do, and why its notoriously difficult for family members to get through to someone involved in one. It systematically reframes everything about the relationship as it is familiar to the victim as further motivation to align with the group and it’s ideology. I experienced this. My parents have told me about the desperation they felt to prevent me from medicalization, but now I understand that it’s precisely that desperation that led them to act in ways that reinforced the problems that already existed in our relationship, which the gender ideology and the people in my life who were influencing me in it’s direction then exploited.
The high stakes that emerge when a young person is caught up in gender ideology understandably cause parents to feel incredible anxiety and urgency. These emotional states are fertile ground for the parent’s own traumatic or unresolved histories to manifest. I now understand this with my own parents, who, due to their own upbringing, had a pattern of avoiding deeper connection and letting things pressurize until the whole family erupted into chaotic outbursts teeming with repressed emotions that could have been resolved in a healthier way. The stakes of my involvement in gender ideology absolutely maximized this dysfunction. I think it made my parents acutely aware of how shoddy the foundation of our relationships had become, but they didn’t have the skills or support to navigate it, so what resulted was a total paralysis in communication and eventually much bigger blow ups when it boiled over, which I experienced as loneliness, abandonment, and then massive rejection during the blow up. Only back then, I wouldn’t have seen it this way. I would have seen it as “they hate me for being trans, thank god I have my gender family.” From their perspective, they were trying to “set boundaries”, but it was like trying to build a bridge out of cardboard. The necessary material just wasn’t there in reality to be able to authentically communicate and set those boundaries.
It’s easy to judge my parents for the way things played out. I do, as their kid. But when I step outside of my subjective experience, I can see that what was taking place was an relational challenge that far outmatched them. My parents both suffered emotional abuse in childhood, and have struggled in life with their own mental health issues. This was smoked out by my announcement that I was trans. The things people suggest (take the phone, set boundaries, assert your authority as a parent, etc) did not or would not have worked for us. My trans identity was a misguided attempt to force things to the surface, as well as something I hoped would resolve the pain that I didn’t yet understand was the result of a childhood trauma. When my parents took my phone or laptop, I just found a way around it. When my parents took me for expensive, multiple week trips overseas without internet access, I still managed to shut myself off in a world of imagination and fantasize about being trans the entire time. I had friends, parents of friends, school personnel, and other people who were “affirming” me and earning my trust in a way my parents could not. The only thing that would have turned down the dial on my fervor to be trans would have been a change in the patterns that attracted me to the ideology in the first place. And eventually, after I had already started testosterone, that is what happened. Though it was far from perfect, my dad started reaching out with a restrained temper and my mom made the decision to go to therapy, which I now recognize lines up with when we started spending some time together that didn’t devolve into as many meltdowns.
One of the most healing things for me, and I think the reason I’m able to set aside my own feelings of hurt to take a more objective look at parents, are the relationships I have made now with other parents going through this. Its so eye opening to have a parent frankly describe to you the meltdowns and crises with their own kid surrounding gender, and see how much it truly tortures them that the same patterns keep re-emerging. It’s something that is so impossible for their own kid to empathize with. These are parents working through their own past traumas in an attempt to fix their relationship to their kid on a terrifying time restraint, and the outside world is doing everything it can to make it more difficult. Sometimes, they even face betrayal from their own family members. These are complicated, complicated situations that cut to the core of the human experience. There’s almost nothing some of these parents can “just” do. They have to learn to tolerate conflict, ambiguity, failure, shame, and fear on a daily basis as they take steps to unravel the mess they’re in, all while their child is telling them “I hate you” and running into the jaws of wolves.
I once spoke with a mother of a teenage girl in this situation. She had been at this for years, with ups and downs, just trying to hold things together. Her eyes were tired and sad. As we talked, the topic of a book on mothering came up, and she said, “I read that book looking for answers on how to be a better mother to my daughter. What I got was a reality check on how much my mother struggled to be a good mother to me.”
Therein lies the unseen tragedy, unspoken except for in closed spaces between parents who understand the unusual predicament each other is facing. This is generational. On the macro scale, it may be a societal and political issue, but on the micro scale, these experiences revolve around individual human tragedies.
It’s tempting to focus on the “easy” explanations, like too much internet or groomers at school, and I’m certainly not downplaying the importance of managing the external forces influencing the child to the best of one’s ability. What I’m saying is that how one manages these external influences can be heavily dependent on the psychological and relational realities on the ground within the family.
People are resistant to facing how truly deep and complex this problem can be on a relational level. Its easy to say “that mother shouldn’t have got her kid a smartphone.” It’s not easy to hear about how a mother had no concept of what was on the internet, because she was preoccupied with getting out of an abusive marriage, and she thought she was doing the right thing by letting her tech-savvy son invest himself in his passion for technology. It’s easy to say “that parent just needs to assert him/herself.” It’s not easy to understand why every time that parent tries to “assert him/herself”, it turns into a shouting match meltdown followed by days of the parent wallowing in shameful regret and the kid sleeping over at an affirming friend’s house. It’s easy to say “those parents just need to set firm boundaries”. It’s not so easy to hear about how those parents spent the last three years leading up to the trans announcement setting all the boundaries in the world, confiscating phones and taking doors off of their frames trying to manage the child’s eating disorder to no avail. It’s easy to say “those parents just need to switch schools.” It’s mind numbing to hear about a wealthy family who has sent their kid to three different schools in two different states just to have the same thing happen over and over again, because ideologues have captured and corrupted nearly every institution and you can never be certain that there aren’t people at schools that look to be conservative and Catholic on the outside who will sniff out your kid and manipulate them for months before you’re any the wiser.
Parents: you know you. I’m not a parent. If you feel that a certain action will be a step in the right direction, do it. This post is definitely not intended to be discouragement from action. But…
There must be a focus on how families can inoculate their relationships against these outside forces alongside any conversation on how to take action against them in the physical world. That’s what I see played out in the “success stories”. A child gets caught up in the trans craze, but the family has a sort of family immune system that is able to both cut off the outside influence and address the attack on an emotional level. I don’t believe its ever just a confiscated phone or a low-tech vacation, there is always a deeper emotional resolution that goes along with it, for both the parents and their children.
Parents: what do you think? Do you get caught up in comparison with other parents? Have you had any painful reckonings with your own past wounds that have been brought up as a result of this situation? What do people who might say “just do X” need to understand about the things you’re facing?