Not A Desistance Story
This is a not a desistance story—this is a middle of the road story. Or, maybe this is just a journey story, as there is no road and there is no end.
My son is 17. It’s been almost a year since my son announced, at the age of 16, that he was transgender.
“Are you shocked?” he asked, almost cheerfully.
I was shocked. I was also shaken and devastated…but also strangely optimistic and confident that my bright, beautiful child would find his way in this world, no matter what gender he chose to live as. Images of him as a woman flashed through my mind. I can handle this, he can handle this, I said to myself. I hugged him and told him that I loved him. “You’d be an amazing woman with gorgeous hair,” I said.
“You’ve done well, Mom,” he said, beaming.
It took me about three days of soul searching and research to realize that he was a clear case of ROGD (Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria), and a part of an alarming trend. He was following the online script. As I came to discover, even him reassuring me that I did well was part of the script. I also learned that the cross-sex hormones were an experimental treatment with life-altering side effects, not “gender affirming treatment”, and they did not necessarily improve mental health outcomes. I deleted the bookmark for the local gender clinic from my browser.
“I’m really worried,” I told my son. We had a long conversation and I laid it all out. The side effects, the social contagion, the ideology, the homophobia and the erasure of women…I told him that while I respected his identity search, I couldn’t support cross-sex hormones and surgeries, at least not until he was neurologically mature, at about 25 years old. He asked to see an exploratory therapist—whether because he was doubting or to appease me, I don’t know.
Ten months have past since then and, in that time, so much has changed and yet nothing has changed. My son is an amazing kid. He is bright, kind, witty, insightful, gentle, creative, easy-going, well liked. Like many ROGD boys, he was raised in a liberal family without rigid gender roles and stereotypes. There were dolls and trucks, lego and playmobil, princesses and superheroes to play with. Also like many, he has rewritten his childhood and now feels he had known he was a girl since he was nine. He doesn’t remember playing with trucks, superheroes and legos. Unlike many boys who question their gender, he is not on the spectrum and is not socially anxious, but due to our local homeschooling community disintegrating during the pandemic years, he’s been socially isolated. His confidence suffered. He met his best friends on a Minecraft discord server. They all identify as trans.
My son hasn’t asked me to use different pronouns. He likes his gender-neutral name. He promised me not to rush to medicalize, but I don’t know whether he means weeks, months or years. His sister is gender critical and they are still close. Now that he’s been in therapy for months, gone are his occasional irritability and moodiness that I attributed to him being a teen. He is more focused, more motivated, more outgoing, more assertive and confident. He still thinks, acts, and dresses like the boy (albeit a long-haired boy) he’s always been. We enjoy spending time together, we talk a lot, we watch movies and online lectures, we play board games, we hike, we bike. We laugh a lot. He hugs me often and tells me he loves me. We talk about everything, but not about gender. His therapist tells me that not talking about gender might be a way of helping him focus on other things.
I haven’t learned how to talk about gender yet. When he brings it up, I try to ask questions and listen, but it is excruciatingly difficult to hear my bright critical thinker tell me there is no biological sex, that cross-sex hormones are reversible and that transitioning and then potentially detransitioning is not a big deal. He told me I’m not a good listener, and I agree. I’ve been reading books on asking better questions and on being a compassionate listener, but I’m too terrified and numb to actually listen. I have a lot of learning ahead of me.
At this point, I think it is as good as it gets. I’ve put myself back together, more or less. I don’t wake up with the overwhelming feeling of dread anymore. Instead, it is a softer pain, one I’m learning to live with.
If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought that being transgender wasn’t a defining factor of his personality anymore. I see the same boy, who jokes, discusses politics, laughs at silly memes, helps out around the house, get annoyed with his dad, reads books and plays board games. But his therapist tells me that while he’s made amazing progress, he still thinks he is a girl. His therapist thinks we just need more time—time for him to mature.
Everyone says this is a marathon, yet no one knows the distance. Everyone is a little bit out of breath, but no one is giving up. I remind myself that this is a marathon for my son as well—he is attached to his newly found identity and giving it up can be emotionally draining, confusing and destabilizing. Just as I lost my footing as a parent, he lost his footing as a young man. He found an escape which, under examination proved shaky and uncertain, but he is still clinging to it, because the alternative is to be lost yet again.
From my position in the middle of the road, I try not to live in the past nor in the future. Yet I yearn for the time when we will be remembering this year or two or three as a minor bump that we weathered well—a part of the journey that made us stronger.