When Two Worlds Collide: Part 3 - The Collision
I am the mother of both an older teenage son and a young adult daughter. My son was diagnosed with leukemia two years ago and is still in active treatment. My daughter announced a transgender identity six months after my son’s diagnosis. Thankfully she seems to be desisting. Having one child with cancer and one with gender confusion has given me next level anxiety. There have been many days when I can barely get out of bed and function, and may not have except for how much care my son needs. To say that these past two years have been the hardest of my life might be the understatement of the century. In order to survive these ordeals I’ve had to compartmentalize my separate roles as a cancer mom and ROGD mom.
During the day you’ll find me doing whatever I can to help my son—keeping him comfortable, making any food that sounds appetizing to him, administering medication, doing endless laundry because he sweats out chemo that makes his clothes and sheets stink, and being with him at the hospital for treatment.
Late at night you’ll find me scouring websites and substacks for information, reading the latest PITT article for support, and crafting endless dialogues in my head that might plant just the right seed to help bring my daughter on this tenuous journey back to reality. I have real life and online cancer mom friends, and real life and online ROGD mom friends and have to be careful to keep straight who is who so I don’t inadvertently say the wrong thing to the wrong friend. Most days I’m walking a very thin line of sanity. Occasionally my two worlds have unexpectedly collided. This has very nearly pushed me over the edge into a complete meltdown.
When you’re a cancer mom you spend a lot of time at the oncology clinic at the hospital. There are two types of families that come to clinic—those whose kids have hair and those whose kids are bald. Kids with hair are either at the end of treatment or just diagnosed. It’s easy for a veteran cancer mom to tell the difference. Kids with hair who are at the end of treatment look great! They’re through the hardest chemos so their hair has grown back. Their eyes are bright with relief. They’ve been through hell and back. Clinic feels like a reunion. The parents greet the staff by name and hug other kids and parents who have traveled this journey with them because they have come to feel like family. These families come to clinic in regular street clothes because the kids are going back to school and the parents back to work after a quick check of labs and a visit with their doctor. They travel light. Just a small backpack or purse will do. They won’t be in clinic very long that day and don’t need much. Other parents look enviously at these families hoping to be them someday. Many families will get to this point, but some will not.
Kids with hair who are newly diagnosed don’t look so great. They’re in the early days of treatment and their hair hasn’t fallen out yet. Their eyes are tearful, full of worry. The parents are scared and a bit shell-shocked, still in the early stages of grief and disbelief that this could be happening to them. They sit huddled and isolated in the waiting room. They don’t know anyone at clinic yet and can’t imagine how someone could come to this place and smile. They too are in regular clothes and have packed light. But it’s because they don’t yet know that it takes a lot of stuff to keep a kid comfortable and entertained during long treatment days. Other parents look at these families with compassion. Everyone remembers how the early days felt.
Then there are the bald kids. These are the kids in the thick of it, the hardest most grueling part of treatment. These families have eyes heavy with fatigue. It’s a lot of work to care for a very sick child. Parents wander the clinic halls familiarly, helping themselves to snacks, blankets and pillows, and maybe even a toy or game from the cupboard if the kid is up to it. They might visit briefly in the rooms of other families they’ve met, but keep it short because kids are tired, nauseated, and immuno-compromised. No one wants to risk spreading an infection that could be serious in a kid with no immunity. They’re dressed in comfortable clothes. The kid might be wrapped up in a blanket from home. They pack heavy in big backpacks and bags full of whatever they can think to bring to get through the long day—snacks, electronics, chargers, an extra change of clothes. Other parents look at them with concern. They’ve either been here or will be soon. Sometimes people tell cancer families how brave they are. But really, what’s the alternative? It’s not bravery. It’s just putting one foot in front of the other and hoping you get through it.
I don’t have to describe to PITT readers what it’s like being an ROGD mom (or dad). They’re in the thick of it too. ROGD parents are full of anxiety. They analyze every detail of their child, looking for any signs of movement towards or away from the most serious harm. They do everything they can to support and love their child, to affirm the distress without confirming the identity. To preserve the relationship. They do this even when their child has been groomed by online and real-life influences into making impossible demands, and when they’re treated in appalling ways by their child who has been conditioned to believe that their parents are the enemy. These parents hold the line and hold space for their child’s true identity. They do all this in the face of blatant opposition from ignorant people who undermine their every effort, because the hubris of ignorant people makes them believe they know what’s better for a child than loving parents do.
My son is one of the kids at clinic with hair. We’ve made it through the worst of treatment. You’re never completely out of the woods when your kid has cancer, but for now things are looking good. Thankfully too, my daughter seems to be desisting. She told me recently that she clung so hard to the belief that she was trans because she wanted it so badly to be true. Otherwise she would have to admit to herself how much time and energy she wasted over many years believing in something that turned out to be nothing more than wishful thinking. She says it’s “so embarrassing.” And she would have to come to terms with the fact that she has problems in her life without a straightforward solution. We know we’re not out of the woods with her yet either. Kids boomerang in and out of ‘trans.’ But again, for now things look good.
Here’s how my two worlds have collided. A few months ago I happened upon a long social media post from an affirming mother. “My son got his 2nd blocker yesterday! YAY!” She then described what an ordeal it was getting the blocker. Numbing cream was applied and numbing medicine injected. When the doctor came in her son “freaked out.” It took over an hour to convince her son to go ahead with the procedure, requiring a child life specialist’s intervention for distraction and reassurance, and bribery with money. Her child cried, and she was scared the child wouldn’t comply. She said the medicine cost $43,000 and has a limited shelf life, so coming back for sedation wasn’t an option. She expressed pride in her son’s “bravery for going through with the procedure” even though her son declared how “unfair it was that he has to do this.” She said that she can’t explain to her friends who don’t have a “trans child” how “stressful it all is”, and that “being the parent of a trans child is not the same as just being a parent.”
I could sympathize with this mother. This is my reality too. Numbing cream, tears, child-life specialists, unfairness, bravery, even bribery to comply with treatment are the experience of cancer families. But then it dawned on me. This mother was talking about her daughter, a girl, who she is referring to as her “son”. This child is being cajoled into getting ‘treatment’ using the same techniques cancer moms have to use when their kids are getting chemotherapy. I say ‘cajoled’ because this child isn’t sick! Her healthy body is being irreversibly damaged by so-called treatment. Reading the post I began to shake and cry. I felt like I might throw up. This mom wants to be a ‘cancer mom.’ She wants a medical team to take care of her ‘sick’ child. She wants to be ‘brave’ in the face of adversity she didn’t ask for. She wants to be me! Well, she can have it! Hard treatment days, fear of an unknown outcome, taking care of a very sick child, being a parent with hollow eyes that has to steel yourself to make your child go through the unimaginable. Hearing your child beg you to not make them do this. She can have it all!
Reading about this child’s manufactured medical crisis felt almost beyond comprehension. But parents don’t manufacture a medical crisis alone. It requires clinicians who believe they’re doing the life-saving work of oncologists. The hubris of clinicians who provide ‘gender affirming’ care is jaw dropping. The arrogance and lack of clinical curiosity is something to behold. It’s known that tragically one of the patients in the original Dutch study died from a post-surgical infection. Describing this medical atrocity and the questionable data used to justify it UK sociologist Dr. Michael Biggs stated, “There was much less of the empirical evidence. In fact…when you read the article carefully, a lot of the results, the ‘good results’… they didn’t give the questionnaire to all the kids or the kids didn’t fill out the questionnaire. So some of the results might rest on 32 kids. So the 70 [kids in the study] goes down to 55, but actually they’ve got data on maybe 32 kids which is a relatively small number to base a massive medical procedure on. And then they kill one of the 70 of the kids! That’s actually a big deal and would close down any other treatment if you had that kind of fatality rate among healthy kids. I mean these are not kids with leukemia or cancer. These are kids who are healthy Dutch teenagers. And they killed one of the 70 of them!” Some time ago my son and I were checking into the hospital for treatment. At the reception desk I noticed a posted list of department phone numbers. I scanned down the list and was sickened, but I guess not surprised to see that the children’s hospital where my son has gotten such excellent care has a “Transgender Medicine” department. I’m horrified to know that the hospital that is saving my son’s life is also harming children. But hopefully not for long.
Early this year the state of Utah where I live made headlines as the first state this year to pass a law banning ‘gender affirming’ surgical procedures on minors and placing a moratorium on puberty-blockers and cross-sex hormones. Some states have already done this, others are set to follow suit. To many this seems like the obvious right thing to do. But of course, that’s not how it’s being framed in the media. Somehow banning the chemical castration and genital mutilation of kids is deemed “controversial.” The bill has gotten a lot of press. The sponsor of the bill is Senator Michael Kennedy, a family practice doctor. Based on his comments to the press he seems to have a very clear understanding of the issue. In interviews he’s explained that European countries and the state of Florida have halted medical and surgical procedures for minors after they’ve done a systematic review of the literature and found that there’s no evidence to support them. It’s such a relief to hear him saying things that are true.
I knew there would be push back against the bill from activist organizations but I’ve been stunned to see the passionate pleas from parents who seem truly convinced that their children need these extreme interventions. During a legislative hearing one local father recounted his daughter saying “‘if she cannot be who she knows she is, then there is no point in her continuing to live.’” He went on, “I guarantee you that if she did not have access to these life changing opportunities, she would not be with us today.” My heart breaks for these parents. I can only imagine what it must feel like to be in a legislative hearing where testimony is given that there is no evidence to support the extreme, irreversible medical and surgical interventions your child has had. I can understand why parents double down. The cognitive dissonance of these parents must be overwhelming. You’d have to double down. The only other alternative would be to admit that your child has been irreparably harmed by interventions you were promised would help. It’s unimaginable. No wonder these parents feel like this is a personal attack.
Realizing you might have harmed your child when you were trying to help would be almost too much to bear. Helen Joyce explained this in a recent podcast interview. “The specific people who are going to be most angry are those who have made irrevocable choices on the basis that the rest of us would go along with those choices. Most of all the parents who transitioned their own children, because if you transition your own child you are in effect making a promise to that child that the whole world is going to step in line for the entire rest of that child’s life, and now there’s people like me saying, actually that’s not going to happen. You can tell your boy that he’s your daughter if you like but he’s not going to be able to play in women’s sports, and I’m going to fight tooth and nail to get him out of women’s changing rooms as well. Those people are all in. They’ve bet the house. They bet their lives on an ideology that we’re now fighting back against. They’re going to fight to the death on this.”
The response from activist organizations is exactly what you’d expect. Lots of talk of “marginalized” and “vulnerable” kids for whom this care is “life-saving” and “medically necessary.” The ACLU of Utah and the National Center for Lesbian Rights have already said they will be filing a lawsuit. “We’re putting together a challenge as quickly as we can,” says Shannon Minter, the NCLR’s legal director. “If a child cannot get treatment they will be harmed, they will become sicker, they’ll become worse, they will suffer very serious consequences…even life-threatening consequences.” Once again my worlds collide. Is Shannon Minter talking about chemotherapy being withheld from kids with cancer? No! She’s advocating for a 15-year-old girl to be able to amputate her healthy breasts! British legal commentator Dennis Kavanaugh has foreseen this moment. He’s described the eventual “fall of the gender creed” in three stages: “The flight of the cowards. The howl of the zealots. The prosecution of the monsters.” It seems we’re witnessing the howl of the zealots. The statement from the NCLR is so hyperbolic as to be almost comical. It’s really next level and doesn’t make for good optics. It’s almost as extreme as aggressive men shouting down women for simply talking about their sex-based rights. It’s enough for even the most casual observer to say, “Hang on now. What’s actually going on here.”
ROGD parents and affirming parents are not enemies on opposing sides of a battle. We both want what is best for our kids. With legislation removing medical and surgical treatments as an option for kids I encourage ROGD parents to reach out to affirming parents whenever we have the opportunity. Offer them a golden bridge. Model and invite them to explore other ways to support and show love to their child. I know this can be hard when so many of us feel the need to remain anonymous for the sake of our children. Senator Kennedy said he crafted his bill as a “firm and responsible but also compassionate response to this very complicated circumstance.” He wants to “partner with honest, professional people to try and do justice to this community” and make sure “our children are cared for in the safest most effective fashion.” This is what PITT parents have been asking for all along. Compassionate, evidence-based care. Senator Kennedy, as parents with inconvenient truths about trans we couldn’t agree more.