The author, a mother of two daughters, has graciously permitted us to post her story in the hopes that it may help others. Names and identifying details have been changed.
My eldest daughter Sophie turns 21 in a few weeks and our family is nothing like I imagined and hoped it would be on the day that she was born. I've recently learnt through a family member reading Facebook posts that Sophie has an appointment to discuss surgical transition into a Transgender male.
Sophie is the eldest of our two daughters. There's 16 months between them and although they're like chalk and cheese they've always got on pretty well. My husband is from overseas but moved to the UK around age 19 where we met shortly after. When our girls were between ages 4-11 we moved to his home country, living in a farming community surrounded by nature.
During all of this time the girls were home educated but were involved in many activities horse riding, swimming, gymnastics, Brownies and had a wide group of friends.
On returning to the UK Sophie (aged 11) she attended a Rudolph Steiner school where she had a few good friends but was bullied by another group. Unable to resolve this issue Sophie returned to home education. For the next 5 years Sophie was happy and confident. She was always the most easy going of the two girls, even when hormones kicked in and she began her periods.
Sophie's body changed from a prepubescent girl to a shapely 5'7" young woman within a short space of time. She had an issue with being seen as a sexual woman. She would become very upset and angry when men would shout lewd comments or honk their horn in the street. She was understandably uncomfortable with unwanted male attention.
Sophie began an Art course in college (ages 16-18) which she excelled at. During the second year Sophie made a new group of friends - one of them particularly stood out, a gay young man who liked to cross dress. He seemed to enjoy the positive attention it gave him. Towards the end of this year she said that she wanted to go to Uni and began researching courses.
Sophie found a course five hours away from home - a specialized course in nature photography. We were all a little concerned about the distance from home but, as her parents, we supported her choice just as we have through her life.
Also during this period, Sophie and her sister were spending more time online and showing less interest in spending time with family, whom they had previously been close to. They are the eldest of 10 grandchildren.
Both Sophie and her sister were big fans of Sherlock Holmes and Marvel movies and began talking about 'shipping' - relationships of male characters eg. Holmes and Watson. It was difficult to have conversations with them that wasn't about gay relationships. They became confrontational and moody. We passed it off as teenage angst, but in hindsight it was the beginning of Sophie's transgender exploration.
In the summer holiday before beginning Uni Sophie said that she felt she was bisexual. We talked about this as a family and said it wasn't unusual to be attracted to either sex and we loved her regardless.
I began to learn about Asperger's at this time, thinking that this might be a factor in our family. Sophie has always had periods where she would become obsessed and focused on things: Richard Scarry's alphabet dictionary, dinosaurs, Harry Potter, eating specific foods, collecting Schleich model ponies and researching horse breeds, collecting semi precious gemstones and learning about Iceland in order to write a fantasy novel.
We had always supported our kids, with me being full time mum/home educator and my husband helping out at activities the girls were involved in such as Air cadets. My husband has a very different family background to mine. His family is not close or supportive. He left home as soon as he was able. So although he'd been a strict father when the girls were younger, once they reached around 15, he increasingly said that they had to make their own decisions and mistakes.
When Sophie went off to Uni, she made it clear that she didn't need our help and was fine. She spoke to me every couple of days, but the conversation became increasingly confrontational.
Sophie, who had never been a drinker, began drinking and going to gay clubs with a gay male in her flat. The other people in her flat were very girly girls. Sophie didn't fit in with them. She has always struggled with the dynamics of girls' relationships and generally preferred male company. Sophie is more 'Kate Humble' than 'Kim Kardashian'.
Within two months of beginning Uni, Sophie had referred herself to a GP and received a diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome. She began taking antidepressants and things went downhill from there.
Sophie began a relationship online with a boy she'd known in childhood. He was two years younger and it was her first serious relationship. I think she was using him as an emotional crutch to cope with University. Sophie returned home at Christmas and the relationship fell apart.
We barely heard from Sophie over the next term at Uni. I became increasingly concerned about Sophie's mental state as she became withdrawn, aggressive and challenging. Her behaviour became increasingly erratic and she began posting provocative statements on Facebook. My husband saw it as typical teenage mood swings and we struggled to deal with it. He felt I was overreacting.
At Easter she came home and announced she intended to live as a man and had sought counselling from a gender clinic with the intention of taking testosterone and having surgery as soon as possible. Neither myself or my husband saw this coming, though he said that he would support her choice but had concerns about medical intervention. He agreed to use male pronouns if that would make her more comfortable. Sophie's sister felt the same way. Though I've since learned that she struggled with this.
I didn't accept the situation. I believed at the time, and still do, that Sophie is not living in the wrong body. I do believe that Sophie has issues with body confidence and she doesn't agree with gender roles and expectations that come from societal norms and are imposed upon us as women.
We have had no contact with Sophie for over a year. She is due to finish her course this summer, but I have heard that she's had difficulties with her studies, even though she had previously been a grade A student.
Our younger daughter, Kirsty, has left home and is struggling to deal with what's happened to our family. We barely have contact with her, either.
People say that our family would have been the last that they would have thought something like this would have happened to. We've bought our children up to be personally and socially responsible. Sophie has been a vegetarian all her life and we have lived a healthy active lifestyle with very few medical interventions. We avoid the doctor as much as possible. We take responsibility for our actions and are aware of the consequences of negative ones, such as smoking. Sophie' s lifestyle is now the opposite of this, becoming a life long patient. She seems to revel in portraying herself as the underdog, a victim of society. She enjoys fighting for a cause, having her choices affirmed and being told she's 'brave' by society for being her 'true self'.
I feel broken. My relationship with my husband has been under great strain. But mainly I feel really sad about what Sophie is doing to herself and the lifelong consequences of her actions. My 'talk therapist' suggested that I should go along with it, just pretend to affirm her choices in order to have some contact with my daughter, but I believe it's other people affirming her as male that's resulted in it going this far.
When I was Sophie's age, I was just coming out of a four year period of depression and anorexia. Where would I be now if society and the medical profession had said to me, at 5'7" and below 6 stone (84 lb) in weight, "Yes, it's just as you see when you look in the mirror. You are obese. Now which bits do you want chopped off and what drugs can we give you for the rest of your life?"
I think one of the most telling conversations I've been able to have with Sophie about all of this was when I asked her how she thinks her life would have been different if she'd been born our son? She thought for a while and replied that she doesn't think that we'd have treated her any differently, but society would have.
Why are the media not seeing that at the same time as there's a rise in the sexualisation of young women there's also been a huge increase in gender dysphoria, anorexia and mental health issues amongst those same young women ?