Trans: A Threat to My Daughter, My Family, and Women's Healthcare
“We will be examining our gendered naming conventions including the Women’s Clinics and Mother Baby Clinics in order to be inclusive of those who do not identify as women.”
As the Executive Medical Director for Women’s Services for my organization, the email landed like a punch to the gut.
I am an OBGYN and leader in my organization, where we take great pride in the respectful, high-quality care we provide patients. We are especially proud of our partnership with community organizations in our efforts towards reducing disparities in birth outcomes. Our efforts towards inclusivity include sensitivity to different family configurations and use of pronouns with our patients. But now—will we no longer be identified as caring for women or mothers?
My sensitivity to issues involving transgender individuals started as these issues began to seep into the media. I wondered: Why are people fussing over what bathroom is used? Don’t they have something more important to think about? If a child’s path to self-acceptance is through transition to the other gender, why would we object? After all, it’s a rare situation.
This all changed when the gender storm hit my family. My daughter was bright, and social with adults from an early age. She had always been a typical girl. Her friends were virtually all girls. She begged for Cinderella dresses and preferred to wear purple and pink. She ignored her older brother’s books and toys, instead preferring crafty activities. She never asked to wear his hand-me-downs. In early high school, she started going by a gender-neutral name. I laughed when I started receiving emails addressed to the mother of “X”. I assumed it was just another one of my independent daughter’s quirky pranks. This was followed by her hair getting shorter and shorter, finally culminating in a shaved head. I know now that is a typical foreshadowing of what was to come but, at the time, I was naïve. It simply never occurred to me that this was anything beyond a teenager trying on different styles. A year into the pandemic, her mental health deteriorated. She would fly into rages easily, and became intolerant of any request or slightly negative comment. It became more difficult for her to attend on-line classes and she began missing commitments. Finally came the statement: “Mom, I am a boy.”
My first response was a deep sigh as I braced myself for a shared struggle to figure this out. I took responsibility for communicating this news with my family. I reiterated my support for my daughter. Despite my initial affirming response, her anger at me only grew. My husband and I met with an on-line support group for families of trans-identified kids. There we heard similar stories of previously gender-conforming girls whose declining mental health was not reversed when they began testosterone. One family of a 5-year-old natal male shared, “We are a gender expansive family. We asked our child if they are a boy or a girl. She said a girl and we are here to learn how to support her.” This announcement was met with accolades from the group. My husband and I got off the call and turned to each other. What on earth is happening? Are they really willing to engage in this social experiment with their child?
The 14 months since then have been a whirlwind of learning and crisis. I have since immersed myself in understanding the literature as it relates to the care of gender dysphoric children and young adults. I now know the science doesn’t support transition as a path to well-being. I recognize the steps of my daughter’s journey into the cult of transgender ideology. I see how her middle-school body dysmorphia and conflicted relationship with her dad set her up for this. While I spent those years watching for signs of an eating disorder, I now see that I should have been on the lookout for the “new anorexia”, gender dysphoria. As things became even stormier at home during these months after her announcement, my daughter moved out and into the home of a friend. She has since graduated from high school, started college, dropped out of college and spent three weeks in a psychiatric facility. I have periodically raged at her, raged at the world and always raged at myself.
My grief has been dominated by a deep fear for her future. The 60 Minutes segment featuring detransitioners was aired in the same month she shared her news with me. The tragedy of the detransitioners’ regret has always been front and center for me. I grieve the loss of the beautiful young woman with a passion for singing that my daughter used to be, now replaced by this unkempt, angry, gravelly-voiced stranger. Grief has often been mixed with self-hatred. Why didn’t I catch this sooner? How did I not protect her from the harm that put her at risk? What kind of a woman am I that my daughter would want to be a man? My grief has been tinged with a deep sense of betrayal. How can you just quit the team?
Through all the turmoil and my great despair, I have had great support. My husband is a rock. My family has wrapped their arms around me and are bravely, persistently positive to my daughter.
And I have taken tremendous refuge in work. As I berate myself for my apparent failure parenting a daughter, I take comfort that I am contributing to an organization that provides for women. I take joy in the work, knowing that we support women as they grow into young adults, as some of them become mothers and throughout their lifespans. Many times, in the depths of my anguish over my daughter’s wellbeing and our damaged relationship, I had been pulled into a position of equanimity by the sense of accomplishment or good that had been done as part of the woman’s health team I work with.
The afternoon the email arrived I had left the office for a haircut. As I waited in the lobby, I quickly checked my phone for any needs that had arisen in the past hour, and my heart started pounding as I digested the message. When my hairdresser called me back and I laid my head back into the sink, the shock of the email washed over me. Tears crept out of the corners of my eyes and mixed with the soapy water. By the time I returned to my inbox, several colleagues had responded to the email with messages of support for the effort. I felt alienated from the team with whom I work so closely. I spent the evening in a new state of grief—not only has trans ideology taken my daughter, but now it is threatening my vocation and sense of self as a provider of women’s healthcare.
Subsequently, the team acquiesced to my plea that the needs of women to have sex-specific medical care should not be subjugated to the needs of men, even when those “men” have female reproductive parts. We are setting aside renaming our services for now and are instead considering sensitivity training to ensure our staff are well prepared to accommodate transmen in our care settings. I was able to influence the direction for two reasons only: 1. I have a position of power and 2. my colleagues know the situation my daughter is in and are trying to treat me gently. But I have only kicked the can down the road. Either I will ultimately decide I am not the right leader for the organization at this moment in time or, hopefully, others will see the pendulum has swung too far and attitudes will settle into a more moderate position. For the sake of the women we serve, I desperately wish for the latter.