Life on a Tightrope
Lose your child or facilitate harm to her. That was my choice when my sixteen year old daughter told me, seemly out of the blue, she was trans. That was a little over a year and half ago. Turns out I was being overly optimistic, as now I know that if I lose her she will still be harmed. I don’t even have a Solomon’s choice. I would absolutely give her up if it would save her from harm, but it won’t. So why shouldn’t I affirm? I know parents who do, who have followed their daughters into the trans cult. They don’t want to lose them. They put rainbow yard signs out and get their daughters on testosterone. As one friend told me, “I want to be supportive.” But really, it is not supportive. It is fear. I understand the fear.
So why don’t I affirm my daughter? Why don’t I use her pretend male name and pronouns and go along with her belief that she is somehow a boy? Do I love my daughter less than they do? Do I love her more? I don’t know. I only know that when she was screaming at me that if I did love her I would be helping her find a surgeon to remove her breasts, I knew I could never do something like that. She made it very clear that she would eventually cut me out of her life if I didn’t “get with the program.” But I could never forgive myself for participating in hurting her to hang on to her, even if in the end I still lose her and she is still hurt. I would never be able to face myself. I would never be able to face her.
My daughter hated herself and felt like a failure as a girl. She was given the false promise that she could be someone else, could reject the self she found so wanting. I did not give her this option. I did not find her wanting. She found it online, with her peers, teachers and with the GSA at her school. I know it is a fantasy but she does not. She is working very hard to create a new self. Her pretend male self tends to grunt in what I can only assume she believes to be a masculine way. I have four brothers, a father, a stepfather and a husband. None of them grunt. I want to tell her that she is playing a part, a caricature of a boy, but that she is still there, the same person as always behind the mask. I want to tell her that the path to her true self cannot possibly be paved with cosmetic surgery and a lifetime of pharmaceuticals that will destroy her health. I don’t because I am trying to walk a tightrope between affirmation and being completely rejected. And that is where we live. We live on a tightrope, trying desperately to maintain connection without facilitating harm.
Living on a tightrope is terrifying and exhausting. I have thought about suicide. There have been days where the only thing tethering me to this life is the pain I would cause my other daughter, my husband and my family of origin if I left it. I also know that my “trans” daughter is going to have a difficult enough time once she realizes that she has damaged her body and health for a lie without having my death to deal with on top of it. But I did formulate a plan and even though I was never going to implement it, it was comforting. I knew that if I absolutely could not go on I had a way out. There were nights when that plan was the only thing that allowed me go to sleep. Sleeping overall has become a challenge. As soon as I lie down in the dark the despair becomes overwhelming. Many nights I just get up and read until four or five in the morning.
Despair ebbs and flows through my days like fog, sometimes light and sometimes heavy. Some days it is a crushing darkness and it is difficult to function at all. Getting out of my head with work, a book or trips with my husband will give me reprieves. The despair is always there and waiting in the wings though. It does not go away, just temporarily recedes. There is no escape from it, not until my daughter is safe. I have a therapist and he perks up when I tell him about those reprieves, as though they could somehow become the rule and not the exception. I humor him because he has been helpful. He sees first hand what is happening in the medical and mental health communities and has been candid about it. He tells me I am having a complex grief response.
I have gone back through my memory trying to identify where I failed her or where I missed an opportunity to protect her. I try to look back for warnings that I missed about trans ideology’s growing strength and influence but I was so ignorant and unprepared. I know it is pointless self flagellation, but the pull is so strong. This is where therapy has been most helpful. Therapists generally are not fans of using hindsight to torture yourself. My husband also finds the idea ridiculous that we had any control, any way to prevent something that comes so wholly from outside our family. I have come to understand that whether a child is seduced into this cult is not determined by the parents’ political beliefs, religious beliefs, parenting style or family configuration. It is the kids, not the parents, who are the common denominator. They are struggling with one or more of a predictable list of challenges that make them particularly vulnerable.
As difficult as the despair is to manage, it is nothing compared to the anger. The institutions and people I once trusted are either ready to sacrifice my child’s body or to look the other way. I don’t even know how to describe the rage that inspires. I understand anger and of course have felt it in my life. But this is different. It is visceral. It feels like hatred. I see my liberal friends’ faces shutter when I try to explain the medical harms that are being perpetrated against children for reasons of profit and politics. They believe I am just having a difficult time accepting that I have a son now instead of a daughter. One of them actually patted me, trying to comfort me I suppose, in an “It will all be ok” sort of way. I cannot be around them at all. I do not trust myself to control my anger. I treasure the friends and family who understand. The rest I have to keep at a distance.
I live in a very liberal community. I used to love it and now I long to leave. I can’t drive five blocks without seeing a “we love our trans youth” sign with the pink and blue trans flag background. I have the school sending me emails using my daughter’s pretend male name, talking about how well “he” is doing. It fills me with pain and rage. I had a conversation with her pediatrician once where I was using my daughter’s actual name and female pronouns and she was using her pretend male name and male pronouns. Again, it’s hard to describe the rage.
I have tried to educate both friends and professionals. I have sent links and articles, including articles written by medical and mental health professionals. I doubt a single person read them. My friends on the political left simply do not want to know. It would be too uncomfortable. Others, I believe, are trying to preserve some sort of plausible deniability. I put pediatricians, mental health providers and educators into that category. These are not stupid people and teachers especially have to be seeing the numbers rising and that they are mostly teenage girls, teenage girls with learning differences or disabilities or mental health diagnoses. They are the socially awkward girls who don’t fit in. It is happening right in front of them, in their classrooms.
I believe there will be a reckoning for the institutions and individuals who have perpetuated this atrocity. I don’t know what that will look like. It seems to be starting with lawsuits and with states like my own, banning puberty blockers, cross sex hormones and gender surgeries for minors. I listen to lawmakers from what used to be my own party attacking efforts to protect children, to give them time to grow up before making decisions that will lead to sterility, sexual dysfunction and a list of other health problems. It leaves me speechless with rage, the callousness of it.
My daughter’s eighteenth birthday is looming. I will not be able to protect her after that. My husband and I will use what power we have to try to give her more time to break free of transgender ideology before she does something that will cause irreparable harm. The only leverage we will have is financial. I am not optimistic. I expect there will be an estrangement at some point. I can only hope it is not permanent.