A History Lesson on Families
By a Historian
I have now heard many heartbreaking stories about parents whose efforts to help their gender-questioning kids have been undermined by health professionals and schools. (Here are a few accounts: My daughter thinks she's transgender. Her public school undermined my efforts to help her., A Trans Estrangement, Outside influences: how our spirited daughter boarded the trans train, Letter To a Well Meaning Bystander, ROGD: Lived Experience and the Hypocrisy of the Trans Movement, UNSAFE: Parental Disempowerment by the Gender Industry, Why are US Schools Teaching Gender Religion to Kids?, Cheerleaders: My Gender Confused Son Isn’t a Game, Who exactly is the bully here?).
Schools across North America and around the globe now have explicit policies to hide a child’s trans identity from his or her parents, often under the guise of the human rights code. Abigail Shrier has been doing some excellent investigative reporting into the issue in California, while other parents are starting to fight back, notably in Florida and Wisconsin.
Here is the easily searchable policy of the Toronto District School Board, the largest school board in Canada, which uses the Ontario Human Rights Code as its legal justification and also has no lower age bound.
Here are a few excerpts from the Toronto School District Board policy:
“There is no age limit on making an accommodation request, and young students have the same rights to privacy and to have accommodations made on their behalf with or without their guardians' knowledge.”
“Privacy. All students have a right to privacy; unless specifically directed by the student, schools must keep a student’s transgender/gender non‐conforming status confidential. Therefore, school staff should not disclose a student’s transgender/gender non‐conforming status to others unless there is a specific “need to know” (e.g., to fulfill a specific accommodation request).”
“When school staff contact the home of a transgender or gender nonconforming student, the student should be consulted first to determine an appropriate way to reference the student’s gender identity. It is strongly suggested that staff privately ask transgender or gender nonconforming students at the beginning of the school year how they want to be addressed in correspondence to the home or at meetings with the student’s parent(s)/guardian(s)/caregiver(s).”
Teachers may even call child services on a parent for not using preferred names and pronouns or if they feel a parent is not being either sufficiently supportive or not supportive in the “proper” way, as determined by them. This almost happened to me.
This Ontario government resource guide from 2018 (which includes the “gender unicorn” on page 9) advises the following to child welfare workers to ask the following (emphasis mine):
“How have the child/youth’s sexual orientation, gender identity or expression been considered in the development of the plan of care (e.g., possible peer supports, affirming placement and caregiver, identifying affirming service providers), and access to transition supports and gender-affirming health care, if desired?”
Moreover, glitter families abound, with some radical trans activists even advocating that gender-questioning kids be removed from their families. They offer to take in trans-identifying kids from their “abusive” parents, often not realizing the larger context and failing to see an overall loving and supportive home. All they see is the trans identity and have no clue about possible comorbidities or the fact that most children with gender dysphoria grow up to be gay. This also almost happened to me.
All this got me thinking: Why have certain segments of society decided that separating children - at any stage of development - from their loving parents is the correct way to go, when the psychological literature underscores the importance of the family unit to good mental health? This article states that: “Overall, the effects of parent–child separation are consistently negative on children's social-emotional development, well-being, and mental health.”
So, given this, I decided it would be constructive to look at other times in history where there have been concerted efforts to separate children from their parents.
Some examples are widely known. For example, the North American slave trade explicitly separated children from their parents, and warlords that recruit child soldiers do something similar. First Nations children in Canada and the US were separated from their parents and forced to attend group residential schools with the intended goal of assimilating them.
When one turns to the history, there are other examples with frightening parallels to what is going on today in the name of gender ideology.
The Chinese Cultural Revolution was famous for pitting children against their parents. Children routinely denounced parents on behalf of the state. For instance, this article outlines a very sad case.
“In April 1970, as a 15-year-old Red Guard in the Chinese town of Guzhen, Zhang Hongbing did something he has regretted ever since. After his mother, Fang Zhongmou, angrily criticised chairman Mao, he reported her to the authorities and she was executed by firing squad on April 11th.”…
“The education Zhang received at the time was the orthodox education that children received during the period, which was based on total dedication to the party and rejection of the family.”…
“Part of the Cultural Revolution education, which first appeared in an editorial by arch ideologue Chen Boda in the People’s Daily in June 1966, was to destroy the “four olds” – old thinking, old culture, old customs and old habits – and cultivate the “four news” – new customs, new culture, new habits and new ideas.”…
Does that last part sound familiar? Sounds an awful lot like educators now teaching kids about the unscientific “genderbread person.” Or what happened in this Canadian classroom, when a teacher said that “"parents and grandparents may not be as informed about these topics."
Another extreme example is the Hitler Youth:
“For the Nazis, the group had other benefits. Not only did it allow the Third Reich to indoctrinate children at their most impressionable, but it let the Nazis remove them from the influence of their parents, some of whom opposed the regime. The Nazi Party knew that families—private, cohesive groups not usually under political sway—were an obstacle to their goals. The Hitler Youth was a way to get Hitler’s ideology into the family unit, and some members of the Hitler Youth even denounced their parents when they behaved in ways not approved of by the Reich.”
Now to be clear, I’m not in any way comparing gender ideology to the unimaginable violence of slavery, child soldiers, or Nazi or Maoist ideology, although to be sure it is an ideology not based in science with only certain ways of thinking permitted, more akin to religion. But what I am saying is that when the natural family unit is disturbed by the state or outside actors who think they know best, or at least better than loving parents, it can cause trauma for generations to come.
In a much more benign and much less extreme example, the kibbutzim of Israel routinely separated children from their parents within the same larger complex. The concept was founded in 1909 and was a socialist experiment. It also promoted Jewishness and agriculture and was utopian in its ideals. However, it had a downside, according to this account (emphasis mine):
“The setup of having children sleeping away from their parents was not only an unusual practice, it went against nature and eventually became a thing of the past. Not surprisingly. Maybe the kibbutz took the idea that it takes a village to raise a child a little too far.”…
“You might be thinking, “But, why?”. There were a few reasons for communal sleeping. The philosophy of parenting on the kibbutz was based upon an inherent distrust of parents to raise their children alone. The idea was that a children’s house, and the collective upbringing in general, would protect these children from their parents’ shortcomings.”…
“My opinion, which turns out is a common one, is that this separation of children from their parents is unnatural, to say the least, and could only be destined to fail. You might even say that it could never have prevailed because it overlooked the most essential need of both parents and children: security. It’s what every human needs.”…
“Well if it was all fine and dandy, then why doesn’t it exist anymore? The reason is mainly because those babies grew up into mothers who refused to let their history repeat itself. They were uncomfortable leaving their children in the hands of someone else at night and wanted their babies at home with them. They began to reclaim their parental rights. My assumption is that it didn’t feel right for them.”
It’s an intriguing conclusion, and I wonder, how will our children separated from us, either physically in some cases or emotionally, with us pitted as the enemy by teachers and society, grow up? Will they have normal adult attachments with lovers and partners? If they have children, what will they do differently?
Will they finally understand then what their own parents tried to do for them?
Consider how the courts now assume that divorced parents will co-parent. That’s the default because society knows generally that keeping the family together is what’s best for kids—a major zeitgeist shift in the legal life of families.
The impulse to help gender-questioning children, no matter the cost or situation, seems to start as social justice, motivated by a desire not to repeat the mistakes of the past towards the gay community, and feeling like this is part of some sort of natural societal progression. But it has turned into a crusade, in which loving parents who actually want what’s best for their kids, who are far from neglectful or abusive, are painted as enemies.
Who benefits from such a wedge? Certainly the gender clinics, clinicians, surgeons, and pharmaceutical companies don’t mind the increased business; while I don’t believe they are actively pushing this agenda, they certainly have financial benefits to reap. Schools don’t mind either because having a child on their side makes the kids more compliant (though this might be a danger to private schools, where parents foot the bill) - one could almost call it assimilation into a certain way of thinking. And activist educators and bystanders, especially in the post-Trump era, certainly feel good about themselves for a social justice job well done. Also, in an increasingly divisive political era, having more people “on your side” and against the perceived “bad guys” might feel like actual progress.
What none of these people seem to understand is that even a seemingly innocuous social transition (names and pronouns) is a powerful social/psychological treatment because it can prolong a trans identity that would otherwise naturally desist and lead to medicalization. That means schools, teachers, well-meaning friends, and child welfare workers are all deciding to give medical treatments to minors without not only the permission of parents but often without their knowledge. One peer-reviewed paper goes as far as to say:
“A gender social transition in prepubertal children is a form of psychosocial treatment that aims to reduce gender dysphoria, but with the likely consequence of subsequent (lifelong) biomedical treatments as well (gender-affirming hormonal treatment and surgery). Gender social transition of prepubertal children will increase dramatically the rate of gender dysphoria persistence when compared to follow-up studies of children with gender dysphoria who did not receive this type of psychosocial intervention and, oddly enough, might be characterized as iatrogenic.”
Moreover, in the peer-reviewed study linked to previously in this article, Not social transition status, but peer relations and family functioning predict psychological functioning in a German clinical sample of children with Gender Dysphoria, the authors have this to say (emphasis mine): “Peer problems and worse family functioning were significantly associated with impaired psychological functioning, whilst the degree of social transition did not significantly predict the outcome. Therefore, claims that gender affirmation through transitioning socially is beneficial for children with GD could not be supported from the present results. Instead, the study highlights the importance of individual social support provided by peers and family, independent of exploring additional possibilities of gender transition during counseling.”
In other words, family functioning is the greatest predictor of good mental health—more than social transition. So in a family with a gender-diverse kid, helping that family cope and support one another together is the key.
It turns out that removing children from and turning them against their family -whatever the reason, is actually bad for the kids.
Looks like it’s time for us parents—just like the parents who grew up on kibbutzim—to reclaim our parental rights.