Why helping a trans identified kid is more complicated than "just take away their phone".
"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." All of this is so true. Thank you so much for this post! Parents are human. I don't think any family is immune to this ideology invading their home since it's so pervasive and children will try on identities--the problem, as I see it, is the child is straddling two worlds and is biologically driven to try to adapt to the larger culture, one that is arguably unhealthy and misguided. We've created a culture that frays the natural attachment that parents would normally have to aid them in raising their children, and it's no wonder our children are confused about who they're supposed to follow. It's my belief that we have an epidemic of hopelessness, and this is just another presentation of that. Hopefully we'll use this cultural moment as inspiration to look at what's not working and move toward a healthier way to do childhood. I think our children are inviting us as parents to have that "painful reckoning with past wounds," do our own healing, and model an adulthood that looks doable and attractive. This is an incredibly destabilizing experience, and I'd love to see more of a focus on supporting families to find solid ground (again). I like to tell parents, your children are inviting you to this work--what are you going to do with it? (Btw, I'm one of those parents who's been in this for years, my daughter is still trans-identified, and yet I like to consider ours a success story. I'm incredibly grateful for the growth this journey with my daughter demanded of me, and I know I'm so lucky to still have a good relationship with her.) The journey will be different for each family, and I think we need to encourage curiosity and (self)compassion and recognize there will be no "one-size-fits-all."
Thank you for this Helena. No one really understands how terrifying and difficult and crushing this is, except the parents who are in the midst of it. You are right, it’s so very easy for others to give this advice. They have no idea how impossible it can be. My favorite online comment to a distressed mother is always: oh, just don’t pay too much attention to it. Surely she will grow out of it! We all did silly things when we were young.
Thank you articulating the pain of parents who are trying their best whilst society rebukes us. I have never known pain like this. Every fibre of my body aches permanently with the pain of knowing my son is struggling and I feel helpless to help him. Damned if I do, damned if I don’t. Functioning is exhausting but each day we try our best. All with judgement of those who have no idea - many well-meaning ‘be kind’ apostles. The weight of this every day is like carrying the world on our shoulders but that weight is invisible to so many. Thank you for articulating your understanding.
Thank you, Helena, for another excellent assessment of what's going on, with more insight into some of the why. I am happy to read in your essay that you are connecting with what your own parents were trying to do, even if ineffectual, and I think you recognize that they profoundly love you and care about you, but just didn't have it together to parent you in a way that would protect you from outside forces pulling you in a destructive direction. Like most parents, and like all parents in this situation, I have had my fair share of doubts about my own parenting "skills." But, in the end, I don't think any of the skills matter as much as the basic ability to let your child know you love them, you care about them, you respect them, you like them, you have their best interests at heart, and you are, as another parent said, on their side even if you aren't siding with them on this issue. I know my daughter knows I am on her side (she has doubted it at times when her friends and their families bad-mouth me, but she ultimately realizes they don't know me and are being too judgmental), and, even though she is still drawn to her fantasy world as a happy effeminate man, at least she knows I will be there for her no matter what. Like Stoic Mom, I'd say that's as much a "success" story as I can presently hope for. Do I also hope she will see reality and realize her fantasy is unrealistic, and will only cause her unnecessary problems and pain down the road? YES. Am I scared for her if she goes further in the direction of harmful medicalization and delusional thinking? YES. But she is 16, willful, and resistant to any of the "tactics" people lay out. She has made it clear that she would see attempts to isolate her from her fantasy world, with her internet friends, and real life friends egging her on, as abusive, (ironically) cult-like behavior. That's right. She would see attempts to take her out of her world as trying to engulf her in a "transphobic" world and cut her off from what she believes is reality. I also realized that my daughter is highly sensitive and acts out angrily when she is bothered, and then feels bad about it, but can't always figure out how to stop herself. What she needs is help regulating her behavior and emotions, and a cheerleader letting her know that trying to do better is great - so she doesn't fall into a pit of despair, thinking she is just a miserable person. Taking away her phone won't touch on those issues, but will make her angry. So I resist doing those things. Besides, she ultimately has to live in the real world. I won't be there when she goes off to college, so this could only delay things for a bit. I don't believe she would have an epiphany if she had her phone taken away. For my daughter specifically, I think the better route is to just love and support her (not her fantasy), and give her the time and space to figure things out. I have made my stance on gender ideology abundantly clear, and continuing to beat her over the head with it won't help at all. I just have to be there for her while she figures it out. If anyone wants to judge me, that's fine. At this point, given all the people who think I'm a bigoted hateful "transphobe," I'm pretty used to the judgment. It doesn't faze me at all.
Thank you for this. I know many parents who need to hear it right now. We're exhausted and desperate. Discouraged and traumatized. Our situations are complex. Our kids are complex. And we are faced with derision from every angle and a society actively working to destabilize our kid and family at every turn. Just last night I read a comment somewhere or other from a woman who said point blank, "It's the mother's fault if her child is trans." So much like the "refrigerator mom" blame thrown around about schizophrenic and autistic children early on. In early support groups, I'd hear advice like, "Quit your job and move to a developing country," leaving me to feel like a terrible parent, wondering if my unwillingness to plunge my family into dire financial circumstances and sacrifice everything I've built and worked for to chase an unknown outcome meant I really didn't love my kid enough. We have physicians and others telling us we just didn't recognize the signs of our kid being trans, that the deep understanding we have from raising them from birth is meaningless and that we've been living a complete delusion all along; that if we were good, devoted mothers — never fathers, we would relinquish all medical oversight and ignore what our experience and gut tells us is not only wrong for our child, but horrifically, hideously dangerous. Everyone I know who is stuck in this nightmare started out searching for expert advice on how to help our child out of this only to find that the "experts" were advocating for transitioning our kids as quickly as possible. We're the true experts now, still navigating these uncharted waters with no clear route ahead.
Helena, you truly have a gift with language. Clear, concise, heartfelt, real, caring, insightful and wisdom bought with the price of years of turmoil that has melted into clarity.
Nothing has humbled me more than being a parent. Nothing has made me feel more helpless than being a parent. And yet, nothing gives me greater joy than being a parent. Having a trans-identified daughter is terrifying. I never thought I'd wish for Goth. But this experience has awakened me and shaken me into action. The best part is knowing I am not alone and am in the great company of other parents navigating this unholy chapter of our lives. In ten years, we will be writing tomes on how it all turned out.
Thank you, Helena, for reminding us that each family dynamic has its own unique set of strengths and weaknesses and that the trans cult uncovers/magnifies problems that already exist. Unfortunately, as you so articulately state, this ideological cult is so insidious and widespread throughout our culture that those of us who were caught unaware--like deer in the headlights--were at once paralyzed and instinctually reactionary, and by the time we began to understand what we were actually dealing with, it was too late. Here in California, surrounded by woke society, woke church, woke friends, and woke family members, my husband and I walk a tight rope as we struggle to hold on to our relationships with our eldest daughter (22, 2+ years on testosterone) and our youngest daughter (18, non-binary/questioning, strong ally to her sister) while at the same time maintaining our belief that sex is a binary and refusing to give in to the pronoun/language demands, etc. It is a very lonely and stressful space in which to exist.
I am so deeply grateful that you are sharing with all of us the wisdom of your experience. The insights you have gained are extremely helpful. Thank you again for reminding us that we parents are only human and that we are doing the best that we can. You are an admirable and courageous young woman. God bless you and your family!
I suffered two sibling losses before turning 7, then divorce. My wife was sexually abused. My daughter's trans announcement triggered my trauma -- fear of loss -- and my wife's, because sexual abuse is part of my daughter's story. Add in that my daughter is autistic and OCD with dangerous intrusive thoughts, and I have no idea how to navigate any of this.
We discovered the abuse and her autism diagnosis 6-7 years after the incidents took place, and after my daughter turned 18. She refuses to do therapy around trauma. She wants affirmation, hormones and surgery.
As I write this out (and there's plenty more to the story), I wonder what family could have survived this.
The way you describe how existing family dynamics can interact with & aggravate a child’s trans identification reminds me a lot of the stories I heard many an adolescent girl tell about her own family while at an residential eating disorder treatment center.
The more I think about the similarities between EDs & trans, the more I think the residential ED treatment model could be adapted to serve trans-identified girls & boys.
Has anyone else thought about this?
Thank you Helena. Parenting this is the hardest thing I've ever done. I'm a Gen Xer born in 1971. I was sexually abused as a child, lost my best friend to tragedy at the age of 10 and my Dad was the local drug dealer. Trauma was my middle name. I wasn't introduced to therapy well into adulthood. I, quite literally like so many of my generation, stuffed this trauma deep deep inside the depths of my soul and carried on. I accomplished great things, had great adventures and hid my trauma remarkabley well. I had a beautiful baby girl, healthy, vibrant and the love of my life. When she was 13, I gave her a phone with parental control and warning after warning. The trouble began showing up shortly there after, but I chalked it up to normal early adolescent behavior. Spring of 2021 she came out as non binary and shortly fell into the I'm a boy status. Since coming out, she has threatened suicide more times than I can count and has over 200 scars on her body from cutting. The suicidal ideation is so frequent that we hide all sharps, meds and vitamins in the safe. Besides divorce, my daughter has had no trauma to speak of. She is on her 7th therapist. I have heard therapists suggest everything from BPD to social phobia. She currently stands with 8 comorbitites. Yes, it is very acceptable that she has learned these behaviors online. Maybe with a side of past incestral trauma from me, an unavoidable messy high sensitivity mixed with fear and anxiety. Yes, I belive this.
I also know that I have not waivered in my non affirming stance. She has blamed me for all the cutting and if I find her dead, rest assured it is to be my fault she killed herself. I am lucky. I have friends and loved ones who are empathetic. They know I'm not transphobic as much as they know she is not trans. But it doesn't make the fact that I am completely on my own in this war. Every child, parent and situation will end in different outcomes. We can try and model tactics, try what other parents said works, but in the end, the formula hasn't found a solution yet. We've moved, taking the phone away, multiple therapies, medications, etc, etc. Currently I'm trying the Sasha, Stella, Helena method: sit back, wait, love, listen, question softly, and inspire kindness and compassion. And you know what, I see her eyes changing. One can only hope. ♡
Love this! YES I have felt tremendous guilt for not taking my daughter out of school, for not confiscating her screens, for not striking preemptively. And yes there are valid reasons for it all.
And! I do resent the “Just do X” gang. They’re on par with well-meaning friends who use my kid’s chosen name and pronouns when discussing the situation. Opposing viewpoints but equally infuriating.
Finally, old wounds have indeed resurfaced. I’m also experiencing martial conflicts for the first time--previously buried issues that have bubbled to the surface. If we all escape intact we will be so much stronger for it.
In the meantime, therapy for everyone! Along with humility and enough intelligence to play a long game and know when to speak up and when to lay low.
Thanks for such a thoughtful and thorough essay. It feels really good to have your understanding and support.
This is something that any parent in any circumstance with their child needs to read, because the larger issues of family dysfunction move from generation to generation if they don't get positively resolved. It's all well and good to say "just do X,' but in a dysfunctional family, it's about as useful as saying to a novice pilot in a stalled and diving plane "Just restart the engine and then fly to an airport and land."
As you so correctly point out, without taking cognizance of the underlying issues, the cult always wins.
Thank you for posting this. So very much.
Very insightful, Helena. I agree that it is very complex. Our daughter desisted but I am well aware that we were very lucky for many reasons. Our daughter was very young (10/11), I was lucky enough to have a therapist who saw through it and corroborated my feeling that things were off, and we had the warning of another family who had recently been through it with their teen. There are many other reasons we were able to get our daughter out of the trans ideation quickly but I won't name them all.
I think it is true that many of us are dealing with generational trauma and have either handed down some of that genetically or by example. I remember a moment after I started therapy to heal from my own cptsd and I was talking about one of my trauma responses. My daughter was listening and said she did the exact same thing. That was a revelation to me. I knew what happened to me to cause it but I knew of nothing similar that had happened to my daughter.
It's true none of us are perfect. My mother used to say "everyone has had something happen to them." I've come to believe there is no such thing as a "functional family." We HAVE all had things happen to us and we go from there. Many of us have been forced to face those things in order to be able to help our children. This is one of the many reasons I was lucky with my daughter. I was in the middle of facing them when she got caught up in this. It's very likely much of the reason she did get caught up as I was completely distracted by dealing with my own healing and I think she was left feeling alone, ironically, one of the things that happened to me as a child at about the same age as my mother was recovering from a divorce and spending time in school and at work while my brother was supposed to be watching me. Consequently, I felt abandoned as I think my own daughter may have felt while I was recovering from my childhood traumas. It's amazing how we keep replaying these histories as much as we want to change the story for our own children and shelter them from the pain we experienced.
Anyway, she got caught up young, it was probably because I was neglecting her but I was also able to respond and react in a way that I wouldn't have been able to if I hadn't dove into my recovery the way I did. We were lucky. I count every blessing.
I would never want any parent to feel it is their fault that their child got caught up in this ideology. It shouldn't be a choice that is out there on the menu for them, IMO. I don't believe there is just one easy thing parents should do. I get how complicated it all is and I am still here fighting against these ideas because I don't think any child or parent deserves to go through this kind of rite of passage. At the same time, I don't think it has to be the end of the world kind of scenario. After all, right now, it is one of the many things that can happen to young people and many of you come through it wiser than the average young person. Maybe you were always on that path or maybe you are more so than you would have been otherwise.
I try not to compare our situation to that of other families. If anything, I might feel guilty sometimes of having it too easy. But then again, I really didn't. How would one know what someone else has gone through or why things went the way they have for others? I think comparisons are often not helpful unless we are comparing our old self to our current one. Usually we fare well, in that comparison.
Thank you. I thought I was a tech savvy parent. We had internet contracts, no secret passwords, no friends I did not know. But 18 came and all of those protective rules went out the window she was an adult now. Even after she started meeting online friends we took trips to meet those people and their families together. We even met this guy and his family that she had been talking to (long distance relationship). He broke her heart but he also introduced her to JoJo’s bizarre adventure and Hedorodoro. At first I just kind of sighed about how weird it was but she became obsessed buying everything she could find $$$$ but Hedorodoro was where it got dark and disturbing and sexualized. That was when the friends became stranger and pronouns began to change with friends and the lies. She is 23 now and living with her trans identified friends. I have a good relationship with her (she calls me every day)but she knows we will never call her by a different name or gender. I can only love her and pray for her. She has to come to this decision on her own. We also have had to chose not to own this as our fault, we would be destroyed if we did. Her friends are creatives and we treat them with respect as we have all of her friends. We can agree to disagree and still love them.
Helena, you nail so much of it. We should have done family counseling from the beginning, but when the child is almost an adult, then is an adult, the individuation is appropriate, but when the cult inserts itself, everything changes. Woulda, coulda, shoulda is what we all live with everyday. But I still have hope. And you along with the other detransitioners give us that and we keep the light on, there to be an adult with our adult child, when the time is right.