I Sponsored a High School GSA...Then Gender Ideology Crash Landed on My House.
In 2018-2019 I sponsored the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) club in a midwestern high school. I feel fortunate to have survived my years as a depressed gay teen in the early 90s, and I wanted to help now, as a gay parent.
Predictably, as I’d try to usher the group out after a meeting they would begin to open up to each other about selecting a college or coming out at home as gay or lesbian. They were a small group of bright and talented students. Many were looking forward to attending a meeting of local high school GSAs at a college as our one allotted field trip.
When we got to that local GSA meeting, I was surprised. I expected the content to be related to sexual orientation. However, upon entering, for the first time, I was given a name tag for my pronouns. And there was only an all gender bathroom—a first for me. Students were handed a microphone to announce their name, identity, and pronouns. “I’m Jamie, I’m non-binary, they/them.” Another sponsor, a 30ish year old straight teacher, leaned over to me. “She’s what? What are they talking about?”
I explained, hopefully correctly, as some of the terms I had to later Google. At 43 I felt old, as if my ten year hiatus from gay pride parades and bars resulted in me missing key developments. As I looked out at the group of excited students, I thought—what is going on here?
At the end of the next school year, my oldest son announced his trans identity in a text to me and my wife. It was the week of his 8th grade graduation (May of 2020). We were stunned. We were also terrified of losing our son. While we told him we loved him, privately we had doubts about this new identity. We of course accepted and supported our child. However, there had never been any sign of gender issues for him as a child. As his psychologist later stated, “the dots don’t connect.”
For months after my son’s two-word announcement, we heard little regarding gender. My son mentioned an older trans student from Australia that he was playing games with online. Our rule had been no strangers, but with the ongoing isolation I let it go, as uncomfortable as it made me feel.
My son pulled away from his small friend group. He struggled to do schoolwork and get out of bed. On a visit to the pediatrician, he informed her of his trans identity. His doctor prescribed him anti-depressants and told me to focus on maintaining a strong relationship with him. I never envisioned what a challenge this would be with my sweet son.
Over the next year my son’s hair and nails grew longer and unkempt. He shaved his body hair. Occasionally he painted his nails black and wore women’s leggings and a sweatshirt to the table. His younger brothers, oblivious, chatted with him about video games.
When I searched online, advice all seemed to point to children knowing their gender. Anyone suggesting otherwise was transphobic. I could not be that. Maybe, I thought, my wife and I, and everyone else who ever met my son had missed some signs.
Just before turning 15, my son became more insistent that it was necessary for him, or really us, to make changes including using a new name. He thoughtfully selected the name we would have chosen had he been born a girl. When we asked questions, trying to build understanding, he stated that he had always felt this way, and was uncomfortable with his body.
For us, studying every angle, even when purchasing a new toaster or coffee maker is a family trait. We asked our son for patience as we researched the issue, just as we would if our son had another serious concern. This time I did not automatically discredit sources.
I spent hundreds of hours reading, watching documentaries, listening to speakers, communicating with other parents of trans identifying youth, and spending time with our son.
With all this information, our history with our son, and speaking to our son’s doctors, we advised him to pump the breaks and to give him time to explore his identity before making changes that are difficult to walk back, or irreversible.
We shared our own coming out stories with our son, and that we were in our early twenties before we were more certain, and came out to family, and then some good friends.
Our son, while very bright, can be impulsive like many teens. And, like many teens, he sometimes does not listen to our advice. So, he approached his school counselor about assisting in changing his name. We, the parents who named him, were never invited to the table in this decision. And so school staff who knew little about my son, his mental health, my family, and likely even less about trans youth led the way to my son’s social transition at school.
I discovered the name change when I saw a Microsoft Teams message from a teacher:
“Hola Anna! I wanted to let you know that I spoke with your counselor. Thank you for letting us know! I am proud of you for communicating your needs and staying true to yourself. I will not be in class tomorrow. The sub should not have many reasons to call out names. Hasta el Viernes!”
This past fall was a period of hell for my family. My son concocted stories of unhappiness during his childhood. He told a story of a suicide attempt that would have been impossible, saying he had been suicidal two years earlier. Only changing his name and transitioning would help him. At 18, he repeated with a smug look, he could do what he wanted.
Seldom civil, he parroted slogans including that we should never have had kids. He refused any discussion, saying that talking to us was like talking to a brick. He hid in his room or the bathroom and acted as if no longer part of the household.
Several times, in tears, I thought back to a family party just a few years earlier. A friend of the family, who had just come out as a gay man, was attempting to hold a conversation with me. I was frenzied, keeping an eye on the non-swimmers and ensuring the kids with allergies didn’t grab the wrong food. Then, he said, “I want what you have.” I looked at my extrovert wife chatting away and my three joyful kids. He was right. I had everything. Last fall I thought it impossible that my family would ever feel that happy again.
At some point though, during the stressful autumn a window opened. During an argument, my son asked me why my stance had changed, saying he was hurt by that. I realized that my thinking had progressed from how dare I question my son’s identity to wondering, if I was a teen what path would I have taken? My spouse? Our many athletic butch lesbian friends?
So my son agreed to watch The Trans Train with me, to see what I had been learning. He asked why the female detransitioner didn’t change her voice back. He insisted she could if she wanted to. Weeks later we watched the 2nd installment. This time, my son stopped the video every few minutes to discuss. He was disturbed.
Some time later my son let us know that he had wanted to change his name back at school, but he was embarrassed to address this with the school staff. He had been so adamant, so sure….
My son now says he changed his name partly to rebel and did not think ahead. Then he told me that he knew that his mothers’ holding the line came from love. He avoids talking about his period of being trans, saying he wants to move forward, and it was a mistake. He says he just wants to be treated like a regular guy.
My son hasn’t attended a GSA meeting in months. I am relieved. Instead of a place of support for gay youth, it has transitioned from a support center for same-sex attracted teens, into a place where trans contagion spreads easily and families who do not immediately affirm sudden trans identification in their children are vilified and deemed abusive.
Many mornings when my son comes down the stairs as I am getting coffee, he gives me a hug. He asks about visiting his grandmother this weekend. My pleasant, sweet, considerate son has returned. I know how fortunate I am. I will never take this for granted.
Recently I was able to ask my son why he had gone down this path. My fifteen year old looked at me and said, “well it’s like this mom. I’m a kid.”