Note from the Author: I feel comforted as I read other parent’s stories about rapid onset gender dysphoria. I am now reassured that I am not crazy and that the therapeutic and medical worlds need to catch up to those of us who have been struggling with our teens for years. I have said from the start that my child being transgender is a symptom of the underlying mental health challenges she faces. Please know that our family is very accepting and open minded. We are not “transphobic” and are accepting/supportive of the LGBTQ community. The following is our story.
Our child is a 15 year old, 10th grade student, who has struggled with gender since junior high. I will use the pronoun “she” but it is not our child’s preferred pronoun. I, like many other parents, have become adept at not using pronouns, to avoid misconceptions. She is one of our four children, two of whom are our biological children. She and one sibling are adopted. We have always been open about adoption and she has always struggled with wanting to know more about her birth family.
The infant who came home as a one day old baby, grew to be a spit fire, self assured and courageous. In grade school, she sang a solo with close to 900 people watching, something I couldn’t ever dream of being able to do. She was a fierce protector of her younger sister and tried new sports/activities all the time.
Then things changed.
At some point during 7th grade she renamed herself Elliot online
At some point during 7th grade she renamed herself Elliot online, which I only discovered following an endless online chain. During 7th grade she entered into a partial hospitalization program for severe depression, anxiety and cutting. This was when we became more aware of her transgender thinking. She met a female-to-male (ftm) friend there and proclaimed her love after knowing this person for only two days. This is a good example of how quickly our child can attach to people and ideas.
Now very out and proud (with a non gender specific name), she assumes that others will know she considers herself male based on name and appearance. Because of inpatient treatment she hasn’t lived at home for nearly two years and many people don’t know specifics about her journey. She is pretty good at talking openly with my husband and I about gender since it has been part of treatment but can still only recite what I consider the online mantra of explanation of being transgender. Her tolerance for any other views is limited.
Our child withdrew from her friends and family over a period of a year and a half. She switched to a new school in middle school and all reports were that she interacted well with lots of different kids. Throughout sixth and seventh grade, she began trying on different personas, ranging from very feminine to emo. In retrospect, there were small indicators that she struggled socially at times but nothing that seemed out of the norm of growing up.
Over time, many more connections were made online with incredibly dysfunctional people.
Over time, many more connections were made online with incredibly dysfunctional people. She became engrossed in the online world far more than we were aware (at the time one of her sisters was in a deep depression and a grandparent was terminally ill). In short, she is very adept at finding ways to be online and hiding her trail. She made many friends online we didn’t know, was secretive and very connected with the Cosplay (dressing up as characters) and transgender worlds. This led to being disconnected from most school friends.
After a lot of back and forth we agreed on an androgynous name. To me this seemed better than a boy name and those counseling us said it was good to give her this autonomy. While she expressed wanting to be male it wasn’t entirely fixed and we thought it would be another short-lived phase.
She was comforted with the trans group online because they gave unequivocal love and support, all the while, instilling the transgender narrative.
I do believe that the online world influenced her perception of gender and herself. She is a psychologically vulnerable individual, struggles with anxiety/depression, and reached out to troubled peers. She was comforted with the trans group online because they gave unequivocal love and support, all the while, instilling the transgender narrative. A year after starting to Cosplay, she would come home from school and change into a Cosplay character with full make up and wig everyday. What I thought would be a good artistic outlet turned into escapism and became the norm, especially when we restricted the internet.
School was academically challenging and our student who was previously eager to do well was now avoiding teachers and not completing huge amounts of work. She was very good at manipulating the people around her. The school was very supportive of the transgender identity. She spoke with her teachers in a staff meeting about being transgender which led them to conclude she should come out to classmates in homeroom to explain what being transgender is. We did not allow that to happen.
When I expressed to a new therapist she was seeing that we were not comfortable using a new name, I was told that I was doing irreparable damage to my child.
A low point for me was when I expressed to a new therapist she was seeing that we were not comfortable using a new name, I was told that I was doing irreparable damage to my child. The school counselor and therapist were focused only on one family member to the exclusion of our family system. Regarding family, she had a great deal conflict with her older brother growing up and desperately wanted attention from him. I wonder if this plays into the desire to be a boy.
Body image issues began with puberty. Prior to that she was all girl, spunky, independent and proud of her femaleness. She loved her long hair until junior high. When she was a toddler she went so far as to cut her sisters hair really short because it was “her thing” to have the beautiful long hair. Puberty came early so at a very young age she had large breasts, gained weight and began hiding her figure by dressing differently.
Now she says she hates her female body parts and would like to get rid of them. At the all girl residential placement, peers have referred to her as “he” from the start and staff began using male pronouns exclusively to us a few months ago. She began wearing a binder in 8th grade. It was less consistent back then but now it is the only thing she wears. I am concerned about the effects of constant binding. Even 6 months ago she seemed unfazed by wearing a female bathing suit. I believe the constant affirmation has contributed significantly to single minded thinking about gender.
I believe the constant affirmation has contributed significantly to single minded thinking about gender.
We struggle with knowing how far to let our child push boundaries. We know what limits to set with school performance, self care, and electronics. We struggle with boundaries for social media, appearance and how she presents to the world. Recently, she asked when she could start hormones which led to a very unproductive conversation. I did however set a boundary of at least 18, which she told me she appreciated (yes that was the word she used).
She has been in a protective bubble for a few years and is moving home soon. Now, I constantly search for a therapist that will understand our perspective and challenge my child’s thinking rather than unequivocally validate it. I feel like we have a short window to try to influence this situation in a positive way for the physical and mental well being of our beautiful child. Discovering new resources and other families who are experiencing a similar journey led me to question some of our decisions with name, hair and binding. But I do feel more hope now, that I will be able to help guide my child in more productive ways. And I hope I can delay hormones and surgery long enough.