The Wolf at the Door
It was right around the time the Ocotillo flowers blossomed 7 years ago that you announced you were non-binary. You were 17. Two years later you were calling yourself trans, convinced you weren’t female and never had been.
I often wonder where that story began. Our family fairy tale was dreamed about and crafted long before you were born. The way we planned it, there were no witches or wolves, no tricks, no punishments, no shaming moral at the end. We had written the wolf right out of the story. It was a story of closeness, healthy minds, and healthy bodies. We imagined it would undo centuries of unhappy endings.
Maybe it began when you were 13, and we discovered you had been secretly cutting and starving yourself, urged on by online anorexia and self-harm forums? I remember watching the unfettered ease of your movements leak away, get tighter and more restricted. No more cartwheels. Your body closed in on itself. Despite our plans, the wolf stole your playful, innocent freedom and told you your body was a thing to be despised. The beast at the door was just a puppy, whining, looking up at us with innocent eyes. We believed it could be tamed. We were naïve about the cunning of wolves.
Maybe all the years of quirkiness caught up with you, the social struggles and loneliness too much to bear. Was it the betrayal and stupidity of friends? The pain of unrequited crushes? Were you ashamed to tell us life felt too hard sometimes? Your beloved face with the dazzling smile turned away from us; the smile faded into a blank stare lit by the blue light of a screen. You were captivated by your phone and computer, while I fantasized about smashing them to bits. Those devices appeared insignificant compared to all the years of love we gave you, but they sauntered in right under our noses and took our place. After years of trusting our thinking, you looked to us no longer. We had stupidly opened the door and offered the wolf a place by the fire. We believed love was stronger than any wild animal. We were fools.
In your high school years, we laughed a lot together. We drove you to art and dance classes. We took long walks in the desert. We said "I love you" multiple times a day; we goofed around, making up stories about our cats. Together, we analyzed the social dynamics at your school; we analyzed the world, we analyzed life. We helped you make college plans; you learned to drive. You sometimes called me your best friend. One sweet night we sang karaoke together with our arms entwined. I told myself the secrecy and the outbursts here and there were just normal developmental friction. The agonies of middle school were behind you, so I let myself relax. The wolf rested by the fire, tail wagging, seemingly tamed, and posing no threat. When I worried, I told myself it wasn’t intuition, just anxiety.
I was wrong.
Were you already gone then? Already making secret plans? The phone and computer were taking you places I didn’t even know existed. Wildernesses and wastelands filled with predators. The friendly wolf was not friendly at all. It leapt up overnight, it multiplied into a pack, and the pack expressed its true wolf nature: it was not to be tamed and it was out for blood. The wolves circled, snarling, and lured you in. They wanted all of you.
For a short, painful while you stood undecided: you avoided us, and you clung to us; you pushed us away and pulled us close. I tried to learn that awkward dance. I called you back, I stood waiting with arms open, I tried to catch you when you fell, I loosened my grasp when you resisted. The wolves were right there at the edges of my vision. They were getting meaner; they were getting wilder; and they howled with excitement as they closed in. Through their sharp teeth, they whispered lies, telling you it was we - your parents - who were the dangerous ones. They slunk around the margins, their eyes focused on you. We told ourselves all the years of closeness and love were stronger than any wolf pack. We told ourselves your common sense could see the wolves for what they were.
We were wrong.
Soon every conversation was fraught, every different opinion an affront, every minor issue a huge fight. The spirits of curiosity and friendly banter, always present in our home, withered and died. Nuance was long gone. It was a slow-motion slide downward as you searched for something undefinable within yourself, yearning for an easy answer to a hard question. The wolves dangled this imaginary answer just out of your reach, tempting you further on. Like the fairy tales we used to read, you wanted the Magic Pebble, the perfect spell, the sorcerer’s wand to enchant your way out of discomfort. To our sorrow, the places you searched for magic instead offered its opposite. Your misery grew. Your discomfort was amplified. Your mental health deteriorated. Off you ran, panicked, following the wolves into the thick forest without a backward glance. You left no trail of breadcrumbs to find your way back. Don’t you remember that fairy tales always end badly? Don’t you remember that the 3 wishes always backfire; the wizard is a fake; and there is always a price to pay for trying to obtain things you aren’t meant to have? We forgot the most important lesson of every fairy tale: the wolf will never be your friend.
Your eyes and heart hardened towards us. When you shouted that you wanted your breasts cut off, I gripped the table to keep from collapsing. Horrified, I pictured bloody scars on your precious body—a body I had nourished and protected your entire life. Our concerns about irreversible medical damage from hormones and surgeries were deemed transphobic. We offered information, but you didn’t want to hear about the health risks: sterility, cardiovascular complications, compromised bone health, losing the potential to breastfeed, losing sexual pleasure; a shortened life span. We didn’t believe in permanent solutions to temporary problems, but you had one aim only: for us to pay to have your breasts removed and celebrate your new identity as male.
We told you we would never stop loving you, you had a home here forever no matter what, we would have any hard conversation, we would listen. You didn’t want these reassurances. You said you’d rather die than live with us. I hardly recognized you. Your skin was sallow and covered in acne from the testosterone you were given after one short visit visit to the doctor. Once your providers heard you say you were trans, they ignored your eating disorder and poor mental health and passed out testosterone like Halloween candy. You were unhappy, lost, confused. You ran out in the middle of therapy, hung up on us, leapt out of cars, sent cruel texts. You said it wasn’t your job to tell us what you felt. You called us names: Bigots. Transphobes. Friends and family joined the chorus, blamed us, turned their backs. Our support system disintegrated. You lied to us: a first. You stole from us: another first. Then you stopped communicating at all. I couldn’t feel anger; only fear, grief, and anguish. The child I cherished and adored, the young adult who felt so much a part of me—you had become a stranger. My heart was shattered. My stomach ached. Your dad and I stopped sleeping. We cried with each other but could not really comfort each other. We were losing you. Worse, you were losing yourself. The wolves had won. They had you now.
I wonder… how did the wolves get you to stop believing in the truth of your own body? How long did you suffer with a feeling of wrongness, not knowing this was a normal part of growing up? Who lied to you, telling you your body needed to be altered instead of your mind? When did you decide the two people you had been running to for comfort and understanding for 20 years were no longer "safe?” Social media, your friends, your teachers, your therapist, your doctors, these Orwellian “experts” all convinced you your parents were the enemies, your suffering was special, happiness was to be found through hormones and surgeries. They said you would never be happy until you left us behind, they told you we were “toxic.” We implored you to stick with us, but you left and, as you left, you said the words that broke our hearts for good: you would never be back. Your brother watched it all from the sidelines, traumatized. Watched his parents wilt, cry, lose hope. Watched his sister scream, threaten, and leave the family without a goodbye. With you went something vital, and no, we haven’t gotten it back, any more than I could get back a severed arm. The storybook is ripped to shreds, the fairytale pages a crumped mess in the corner. We had imagined many possible futures, but never one in which we were disposable. Numb, I looked outside. The Ocotillo plants had dropped their blossoms; their branches were just thorns.
So here we sit, turning the pages of a different kind of story. It has no happy ending. It’s a nightmare, a cautionary tale that scares the children. It’s a story that makes families check the window latches, look warily over their shoulders, and pull chairs close around the fire. This is the story where you learn it’s too late to throw away the magic pebble—you’ve already been turned to stone. You learn you’ve already swallowed the bite of poisoned apple. You learn no one is coming to rescue you. You learn your wishes won’t come true. You learn no spells exist to undo the curse, there is no hero’s journey with a reward at the end. We locked the doors; we said no; we placed ourselves between you and the pack; we reasoned; we pleaded; we bargained; we loved you beyond measure; we held you close; we ran after you; we wailed in grief. But we could not tame the wolf.