Parent Question: Communicating with Questions
Communicating with someone who is indoctrinated.
This is a question I received from a parent and responded to on my old Medium account. I think its worth re-sharing here because it begins to unpack how to better communicate with a young person who is indoctrinated into trans ideology, which is something parents are struggling with across the board. This is certainly a complicated and sensitive topic and my thoughts are still evolving, but this article does have some useful tips on how to reframe your approach to conversations with someone who is indoctrinated.
What could be a question that one could present to a teen that firmly believes she was born trans? Even though said child told me at 16.5 she was glad she was born a girl but now when people think she’s a boy she feels more confident. what could be some questions to cause her to pause and think? She is extremely angry at me and moved out after grad. I tried for 2.5 years to keep her from using testosterone. I had her watch your podcasts of pique resilience and she told me that she could not relate. I think she convinced herself of that. She told me that most people that detransition only thought they were trans because of trauma ( due to things I had her watch) and she has never experienced trauma or been sexually abused so therefore she’s the “real deal”.
I think it’s great that you are trying to think of ways to deepen the conversation with her. The fact that you went from an approach of showing her things and trying to reason with her, and noticed that that didn’t work, shows that you are adaptable and willing to work with what you have. That’s good!
When it comes to what kind of questions to ask, I’m sure I could come up with a list of a few that might get the ball rolling. But, that to me risks neglecting some of the most important work at your hands: listening.
Active listening is the most important part of communication with someone who is in a fixed mindset. When dealing with someone in a fixed mindset or someone who is emotionally reliant on a particular belief, whether that is about themselves or political/religious/ideological belief, many times the reason for such strong and inflexible convictions is emotional, and in the background of the conversation that happens on the surface level. Think of it like an iceberg: the part of the conversation that actually comes out of your mouths is only the tip. The bulk of the experience is happening on a deeper level, influenced by many converging emotions. Your job in conversation is not to persuade, but to listen empathically with the intention of understanding those internal mechanisms behind what she is saying on the surface, and if you’re doing it right questions will naturally come to you out of a curiosity to dig deeper and deeper one tiny step at a time.
This is basically what a (good) therapist does. A (good) therapist isn’t some kind of wizard with tricks up his or her sleeve to get someone to think differently, they listen intently and are highly sensitive to things that come up during that connection and lead the client through the twists and turns of their own mind, on multiple levels (rational, emotional, and primitive). That sounds complicated, and you don’t need to be an expert analyst, but effective communication with someone who is in a fixed mindset requires taking this seriously.
It may mean connecting with your own emotions so that you are not blindsided or driven by them. For example, feelings like desperation or resentment can operate on a subconscious level even if you are logically trying your best to be open minded, and thwart successful connection. If you notice feelings like that coming up when you think about or talk with her, it might help to explore them on your end before and continuously during your conversations with her. Journaling is always a great option because it allows your thoughts to come out easily and be concrete before your eyes. You can’t help someone if you yourself are being driven by stress and poorly understood emotions. And it’s likely that that stress and emotion have led you to make decisions that harmed your ability to communicate with your daughter. Part of the healing process and the journey to better communication is going to be resolving those emotions so that you can connect with her over how your behavior made her feel. Hard, I know, and that’s normal, but whatever resistance you feel to that is exactly what you need to be tending to with acceptance and curiosity in yourself.
So now that I’ve talked a bit about how important active listening is, the true nature of conversation, and about the need to connect to and care for your own emotions, I may be able to guide you further by giving you an idea of what kinds of things you are looking for when you are actively listening, and how to use those little bits and pieces to lead you to meaningful questions.
As I’m sure you’ve noticed, it can be very frustrating trying to communicate with someone who is enveloped in trans identity, because it seems like every question you ask gets a canned answer you’ve heard from activists and trans communities online. This is the nasty thing about ideology, it manages to find a vulnerability in a person and re-orient their entire self perception in a way that results in them funneling a majority of their inner experience through the ideological structure. But, under the ideology there are real emotions, and often they are being suppressed with great intellectual might with the help of ideological beliefs. It’s important in conversations to try your best to ignore the impulse to argue with ideological beliefs, even if they are so wrong it makes you itch, even if you have a fact or statistic that you know disproves what they just said, and rather try to be as sensitive as possible to any authentic emotion that makes it’s way out. Be open to body language, changes in voice, changes in eye contact, etc, anything that signals a shift has taken place from the surface level ideological thinking to the more raw emotional space. From there, ask open ended questions (not yes/no questions, and resist “gotcha” questions) using phrases like “when do you remember first feeling that way?” “what came up for you when that happened?” “why do you think you had that reaction?” that will get her talking more, so that you can continue listening and tuning into her emotions.
Try to remember that you will not have one conversation that ends in an epic finale where she has a light bulb moment and realizes you were right. These should always be conversations where the #1 objective is becoming closer and more authentically connected. I know that obviously your goal is to keep her safe from medical intervention and psychological harm, but in these moments that has to be set aside. The only way out of these woods is through them, and it may take a long time. It may take a lot of conversations where they end and you’re up late that night ruminating on if you said the right thing or if she had any realizations because of it, but always use that as an opportunity to assess how well you did with listening, tuning into her emotions, empathizing selflessly, and managing/caring for your own emotions as they came up.
I say this to parents all the time: it is never too late to change things, but that often means changing some of the ways you think and being extremely humble. It will be worth it though. Your goal is connection, with that comes authenticity, and a false trans identity cannot survive against authenticity.
This is excellent. I could have sent you the question at the top; sadly, we happen to be in almost the *exact* same place as the questioner. The hardest part for me is when I *know* how false and wrong something our 18-year-old daughter says is ... and it takes every fiber in me to bite my tongue and not point out the contradictions or faulty logic of the culture's "sound bites" we're given, or push back at her with facts that so easily disprove things she says. (I can be passionate about things I feel are right or wrong, and I'm naturally inclined to try to present logical arguments for them!) It's a challenge for me to stick to asking open-ended questions, rather than coming at her with declarative statements debating her position. But this essay reminds me to try to resist all that for now, and focus more on reinforcing a space of forging empathy, connection, and authenticity. So, thank you so much for this. I need to keep it handy to remind myself over and over!
Edited to add: Although we realize this more patient, active-listening approach is what we need to do to best help our daughter, I can't convey strongly enough what torture it is to have to "take it slow" in what is to us a very urgent situation. She started testosterone injections 8 weeks ago, against our strong objections (it was prescribed on her first visit to Planned Parenthood, no counseling or evaluation at all, and she is high-functioning autistic and has a long history of serious psychological issues). Tragically, her voice has already deepened quite a bit—sooner than we expected it could—and her face is already changing. God only knows what other permanent damages are happening internally. So we are devastated and terrified, helplessly watching these permanent changes happening to her right before our eyes, and yet we realize we have to tread very patiently and carefully to try to help her get out of this—resisting every instinct to just grab her up from college and take her away from everything, and confront her directly to make her realize how crazy and "not herself" and dangerous what she's doing is, and how she is almost 100-percent likely to deeply regret it a few years hence. It is absolutely killing us and is a dark, heartbreaking time for our always very close-knit small family. (She is our only child.) For now I have saved the last voice messages I have from her on my phone, and listen to them, when I can bear to, to remember her lovely, familiar female voice we loved so, so much, now forever gone.
This is an unbelievably wise and articulate piece of writing. I am a therapist, but I fell for all the things you point out when communicating with my daughter (subconscious fear, distress etc) and trying to force her in a one-and-done conversation. Fear and rage will do that to me. Since I worked out where I was going wrong (and, as you suggested, journalled, to understand what I was really thinking) communication has been restored.
To be clear, my dtr is not trans, but was a vitriolic ally for trans people in high school. This anti-social, irrational behaviour got me interested in what was going on, and I began researching. What I found and continue to find, horrifies me. Also, when I was 15 (in the early 80s) I identified as a "boy" for a year due to rape. I shaved my head, wore men's clothes and changed my name.
If I was a teenager now, I can only imagine the outcome. I am beyond-grateful that I went through that at a time when my development was allowed to continue unimpeded by drugs, surgery, or indoctrination into the cult of trans.