What Happens When Schools Follow the Parents’ Lead?
On January 22, the New York Times published “When Student Change Gender Identity, and Parents Don’t Know,” at last acknowledging that secret gender transitions were happening in schools. It featured a 16-year-old teen with autism whose parent discovered the teen had socially transitioned at school. At the time of publication, the Bradford teen continued to persist in a transgender identification. The article dared to report what many parents of ROGD kids have known: our kids often have psychological issues, and many of us skeptical parents are liberals. It even alluded to the danger of schools socially transitioning distressed youth. It did not, however, delve into whether schools who facilitate secret gender transitions actually cause the identify to persist longer or how in the world school staff are qualified to implement such a powerful intervention.
So what happens when loving parents challenge a school’s unquestioning, one-size fits all approach to affirming transgender youth, and the school agrees to follow the parents’ approach?
Over a year ago, I called an administrator at my teenage son’s school. With my spouse by my side I explained we had read messages from a teacher referring to my son by another name. I stated that we loved our son more than anything, and we were concerned that he wasn’t able developmentally to understand the consequences of social transition. I detailed my concerns that my son was diagnosed with severe depression, and that he was seeing two medical professionals, neither who recommended social transition. He was struggling with his mental health and by far not in the best position to make a life changing decision. I pointed out that our school guidelines for trans students are “non-regulatory.” My last argument, in desperation: my son leaves the house without combing his hair. He is not a girl, but a depressed young man.
The day after my call, I received a voicemail from the administrator. She was in the process of speaking to all my son’s teachers. He would be addressed as James again in school. It was the day before Thanksgiving. I had joined a support group for parents skeptical of their child’s sudden trans identification less than a month before. So I still didn’t realize how fortunate our family was that the school realized they were out of their league and acted on our concerns.
At the time, we had greatly reduced our son’s internet usage, and later, sprinkled in doubts and concerns we had regarding his sudden trans identity. As a parent, I have never faced a greater challenge or more immensely stressful time period with so little support.
A month after the administrator’s phone call, my son started to show signs of desistance. A sudden shocking statement: “trans isn’t real.” A shorter haircut. No more Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) Meetings. The “friends” from GSA vanished. As the months went by my son’s sweet, sensitive personality returned. Walking on the beach, he grabbed my hand and held it. Twice. Eventually, he stopped shaving his body hair.
I followed up with the school, asking for a meeting to discuss what had transpired. Several administrators and counselors listened while I explained that facilitating a social transition on distressed youth without family involvement was reckless. I fought to remain composed as I explained how the school, not considering the whole child, overrode our approach and created turmoil in our home. As we wrapped up, the administrator in charge of the counselors asked me a question.
“What is social transition?”
She didn’t know.
Then another bumbling statement from a counselor: “but the suicide rate…we need to listen to our students….”
A month after the meeting, outside a school 30 minutes away, an acquaintance’s fully affirmed trans identified teen took his life. According to his mother it was due to his long struggle with mental illness.
In more rational times educators would not need be versed in transgenderism. But the reality is that, under guidance developed by activists, the two people in charge of my son’s decision to socially transition at school were my severely depressed child, and the school counselor. I can’t imagine that schools would want this burden, the constant worry of if we were doing the best for our child, and the lifelong repercussions if we didn’t.
The school superintendent, in a phone call response to a letter outlining my concerns, acknowledged the lack of expertise and that “what happened with my son should never have happened.”
While I’m grateful that my son’s high school eventually followed the lead of my son’s real experts, his parents, my son’s time as a high school trans girl was not “reversible.” As his depression lessened he was able to grasp what occurred: while mentally ill he was indoctrinated, he dressed in women’s clothing, and was referred to as Anabel by school staff. That reality would strike suddenly, such as when our family visited an ice cream shop for a treat. My son’s upbeat demeanor tanked as he remembered that the last time he visited the shop, he was with his trans friends, and he was a trans girl. These episodes were scary. I had worried about losing my son to suicide while he was trans identified. This concern intensified as he navigated living in a conservative community as a desisted teen.
With their rush to affirm trans identities and follow flawed new guidelines, schools haven’t considered the deep embarrassment faced by a teen boy who insisted that he was a trans girl, pushed childhood friends away, and then realized he was wrong. Many of us made regretful decisions as teens. Returning to school as a desisted teen, minus friends, is next-level embarrassment. Schools, who claim to be moving teens towards being independent, critical thinkers, are not asking “what if we get this wrong?” My family has experienced what happens when they get it wrong.
Some would wonder why we didn’t move. My experience in living with a desisting teen is similar to that of having an alcoholic relative. We lived waiting, expecting a relapse. In short, the stress of watching a child move down a path towards more harm, while having to battle interfering adults, left us parents with nothing left in the tank. My brain was not firing on all cylinders, even many months later. I thought of the trans medical and school scandal from the time I woke up to the time I went to sleep. Several times, my body reacted with hives, swelling my face. Possibly due to stress, I went into menopause 5 years earlier than my mother had. I distinctly remember feeling, as my son started showing signs of desistance, that should he slip back into the trans identity, I had no more fight left. So we watched quietly each month he struggled through and concentrated on repairing our family.
The family pictures hanging in our house are all “preannouncement;” the recent years are just too painful of a period to reflect back on. I avoid speaking of gender, allowing my son to move on. My son now says he is “one of the lucky ones.” He did not continue on the pathway. While true, I have spent some late nights with him while in tears, he discussed how difficult returning to school as himself has been. I wonder what the other students think was going on with me, he tells me. He states he can not wait to finish high school and start new. He has more than a year to go. His high school experience is not reversible.
In allowing an ill teenager to diagnose himself, the school certainly stoked the fire, making walking back the trans identity more of an ordeal. My strong son is proving that he refuses to be collateral damage to school policies enacted without consideration to adolescent development by activists focusing solely on what they believe would have been best for them.
The current school policies for trans identifying students that do not require parental involvement may actually harm more students than they help, but there are no numbers, just the feelings of activists. Desisters and detransitioners, of course, are not invited to work on committees developing guidance for trans identifying students in schools. Imagine what Helena Kerschner or Chloe Cole would have to say. Or my own 16-year-old son.
Left unanswered by the New York Times article is the question: how many students would have grown comfortable with their developing bodies had the schools not rushed to intervene? We don’t know. We don’t know if the Bradford’s teen would have desisted if not affirmed by the school. And yet the schools rush ahead, a runaway train off the rails.
I can share one statistic on what may happen when a school is willing to listen to parents: after roughly 2 years of identifying as transgender, and having briefly socially transitioned, my son has been living again as a young man for over a year.
There is no justification for secretly transitioning students in schools. It is not a “wrenching decision” as reported by the New York Times. Teens typically turn towards a more permissive parent, pushing for independence, while not yet able to foresee consequences. It’s time for parents to reclaim their authority from schools, before more harm is done.