Where's Our Life Raft?
This is my rant. My attempt at a cathartic retelling of a story so many know.
Our daughter was—is—a wonderful little girl. Funny, outgoing and pleasant. Loving and caring, empathetic to a fault. Wildly smart in math and science, she’s always excelled academically. And, like every other damn story I read, COVID happened, and so began what I sometimes call The Oppression Olympics.
It started, as it always seems to, with simple things. Declarations of “I'm gay” or “I'm bi” transitioned to “I’m asexual” or “pan sexual” or some variation I’d never even heard of and had to google. I felt like what was going on here was simple: Everyone is online, and how do you stand out as interesting among a group of 50 kids? Well, the more esoteric and mysterious your particular brand of weirdness is, the more likely you are going to get a reaction. It’s the digital equivalent of being outside a bar at 3am in the morning dancing drunk on a stage. Look at me!
Whatever, she’s 12 years old I told myself—she’ll figure this out. And then came the trans identification, (with a nickname that I later discovered was that of a particular TikTok influencer…). Then the trans stuff morphed a bit—it wasn’t enough anymore to be trans, you had to be an oppressed trans. And so the kids all started sort of competing for who had it worse—“my dads a homophobe!” or “my moms a TERF!”—“I have it worse!” “No I have it worse!”. Terms like “AFAB” and “Dead Name” showed up. It all seemed a bit much, but kids will be kids right? I grew up with crass garbage patch kids trading cards, bootleg copies of Easy-E or NWA we secretly listened to, and kids stealing their parents’ Marlboros.
I told myself: Maybe this generation’s stick-it-to-mom-and-dad was that they wanted to be called some silly name and complain to their friends that they had it tough? We acquiesced. Be gay, be trans, tell your friends that your mom is awful because she won’t buy you a binder, or that your dad’s an asshole because you had a bedtime. We get it, we were teens once too, and look, if it turns out you really are trans after all, we are supportive. We love you unconditionally. Gay, bi, trans, and anything in between. Like all parents, we just want you to be happy. So, sure, explore what feels right. What’s the worst that could happen?
Ignorance is bliss. Our kid spiraled into depression. And, in retrospect, of course she did—she’d basically been told that, for the rest of her life, she would inhabit the wrong body. That feels pretty inescapably difficult. Not surprisingly, she became besties with other trans kids and, also not surprisingly, a disproportionate percentage of those new friends were also depressed. Self harm started. Demands for T and surgery started.
We needed to do something. We contacted one of the preeminent hospitals in the country for a gender evaluation. I can’t stress this point enough—it was not a clinic, not a backwater therapist…it was a bona-fide medical facility of the highest caliber, nationally recognized and ranked.
One brief 45 minute session later, via zoom (of course), I received an email, addressed to our daughter directly by her new name. It stated, with confidence and vigor, that yes, indeed, the medical community has Determined That You Suffer From Gender Dysphoria™, complete with a diagnosis code for extra-credibility and gravitas. It was tantamount to prize winner letter, saying “Congratulations! You are a legitimate trans!” As I read, I became increasingly confused and concerned. What therapist diagnoses anything in one session much less something as complex as this? Do they not think that effectively telling a 12 year old that a doctor agrees with you is, well, kind of leading the witness a bit?
The letter continued, “…and compose the needed WPATH letter that is required to start puberty blockers or hormones at the end of his evaluation over a minimum of 3 visits.”
Only three visits? WPATH letter? (It was only later I discovered WPATH is a special interest group). The letter continued, “you may be a good candidate for puberty suppression“….(Remember this was all addressed to a kid).
It didn’t end there. They made sure to emphasize that it would be in our best interest to act quickly—“They are scheduling out in [month] currently, so we encourage you to make an appointment while considering your options.” I half expected a coupon code at the bottom for 10% off your "top surgery"! Act Now! Supplies are limited!
Are we practicing medicine or applying for a free t-shirt?
Then I saw the attachment. In all my life, I’ve never seen a more intellectually dishonest representation of facts. The document, titled “Pubertal blockers for minors in early adolescence”, was supposedly an informed consent form. It started off innocuously enough.
Before considering a medication for your child…. There are several things you need to know … possible advantages, disadvantages and risks with pubertal blockers.
Okay, that seems reasonable right? I remember seeing something like this for LASIK once.
It goes on to list a number of what I’ll call non-things – such as
I know that my child and our family will be participating in therapy with a therapist experienced in gender issues while my child is taking the hormone blocker.
Which I’m pretty sure is neither an advantage, disadvantage or risk. It actually reads like a thinly veiled attempt to cite qualifications. Do surgery consent forms also state “Your surgery will be performed by an actual real-life doctor who - for realsies, no backsies—went to medical school”?
And then I got to the risks section. It included:
I know that my child may not get taller while on these medications. This can be beneficial for transgender girls to achieve a normal female height. In transgender boys, delaying the onset of puberty may actually make him slightly taller (one of the reasons that girls are usually shorter than boys is because puberty is started earlier).
So they’ve managed to take a risk, albeit an oddly specific and modest one—differences in height versus say bone density problems – and actually spin it into a positive light. So this risk is...not a risk...I guess? I kept reading.
I realize there may be a stalling of typical adolescent cognitive or brain development while on these medicines. This will resume when not taking the blocker.
So again, same modus operandi. They present a risk and then immediately invalidate that risk. And yet, elsewhere in the document they do note (arguably the only risk that is properly documented in my view):
I know that the side effects and that the safety of these medicines are not completely understood. There may be long-term risks that are not yet known.
So cognitive development will just resume.... we think? But maybe not?
The last risk noted made me laugh:
I know that I can ask my child’s provider and therapist for help advocating for my child.
I’m sure they didn’t mean it this way, but yeah, I couldn’t agree more, your therapists are a risk. The phrase “criminally negligent” came to mind. I wouldn’t be shocked if this document becomes Exhibit A in a lawsuit one day. I really do wonder what lawyer reviewed it.
Run, do not walk, to the nearest exit.
By then, though, it was a bit too late—the depression, anxiety and unhappiness had taken over. The self harm had become frequent. The sadness had set in. TikTok and Discord and whatever else had spent eight—or maybe twelve – hours a day feeding our child a carefully curated diet of weapons-grade bullshit. And us, in our demanding jobs, had been, for too long, blissfully unaware.
I started to understand what was going on. I read. The more I read the more I became appalled: What in the ever-living-fuck is going on here? How is the incidence rate of trans identification so much higher in girls than in boys? Why is it predominately an affluent, white, democratic leaning issue? Where did my kid learn the 'key phrases' to tell a therapist? Where did such an idea even come from? What cultivated such vehemently held convictions in such a young mind?
I discovered that our school district has a policy (according to them “in some cases”, but this seems the default) to NOT tell parents when kids change genders. The policy states “notifying parents or guardians carries risks for the student, such as being kicked out of the home”. And no, that emphasis isn’t mine – its bolded in the policy book.
What kind of contorted logic lead to this conclusion? Shall we also stop sending home report cards because, wouldn’t telling parents about bad grades also possibly lead to getting kicked out? Should we also hide if little Timmy wants to play in the school band?
The policy document even outlines how to use the internal computer systems to systemically hide the gender issue—so that any official communications use a birth name, but unofficially, teachers can see what the kid prefers. The policy also notes that, by law, if a parent requests the records, under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) they are entitled to see what is in the computer system. Now, if you think that’s because they want the teachers to know that parents have a right to know this information, you’d of course be wrong. They raise this point so that in the very next section they can instruct teachers who may have a concern about that to instead use the name in class but not to enter it into this system: “In this scenario, school staff should make a change socially, calling the students by the preferred name, while their official information remains the same.”
Okay, so as a matter of district policy, teachers will go out of their way to ensure that crazy transphobic assholes—aka mom and dad—won’t know. And you might be forgiven for thinking—surely this isn’t what kids are internalizing, right? Mom and dad are not the enemy—it’s just some random policy issue buried in some esoteric document only wonks read right? I would have agreed with you a year ago, until one day our daughter came home deeply distraught, convinced that her friend was about to be disowned and thrown out on the street. How did such a dire thing come to pass? Well, it turned out some poor teacher had accidentally used this other kid’s preferred pronoun and name in an email to the parents and therefore “outed them”. But where could the idea that this would result in them being kicked out of their house come from? Well, your honor, I'd like to enter in Exhibit B, page 9.
Look, I feel for teachers. Education is a bloody minefield. A little after that story came to light a teacher sent us an enormously apologetic note about having misgendered our daughter in class—which our daughter, now Obviously Oppressed, responded to by storming out of the class. Why on earth is the teacher apologizing to me? Sadly, it seemed clear—the note was dripping with fear—fear of what I'm not sure.. but perhaps that I would go apoplectic and demand the teachers firing? That they'd be dragged from class, tarred and feathered and deemed persona non grata forevermore? Can’t we just focus on education? Shouldn’t the issue be my kid storming out of class? And, what lesson is this imparting on my kid, mind you? That, if you feel slighted, don't worry, you are obviously vindicated? The Oppression Olympics lives on.
The spiral continued. I'll skip the details in interest of anonymity, but suffice to say, the depression got markedly worse. This new gender identity, rather than help, seemed to just make things much more severe. We sought more sustained professional help. Our insurance company, and their ‘experts’ - for whom I can only hope there is a special place in hell—denied coverage, claiming that therapy wasn’t medically necessary. We sucked it up and paid out of pocket. We are ridiculously fortunate to have the ability to afford care. I recall with horror a parent support group call where one parent shared that they were on their seventh hospitalization, their insurance wouldn't cover more than a week at a time, and as a single parent she couldn’t afford to keep their kid in any kind of treatment program. So they were stuck on this permanent loop—marginal short lived improvements followed by a slide back to depression. Rinse. Repeat. I think about that woman a lot. She haunts me.
Today we face a litany of challenges. The bills aside, my health has suffered. My family has suffered. My mood is worse. My marriage is worse. My happiness is worse. Our kid has improved a bit, we think, maybe? But what happens when school starts up and she immediately jumps back into the cesspool? What then? What happens when she can go and get T without our knowledge, something surprisingly easy in many states? What happens if, in a decade, she realizes that at it was the wrong answer and she hates us forever? How do I adequately recognize my kids feelings—which to her are very real—and yet somehow explain to someone who doesn't yet have the capacity to understand that the things she seeks—T, surgery, etc—have real and material long term risks, and are largely irreversible? I have no clue. I feel alone in the dark, clawing at the sides of a sinking ship desperately seeking safety.
For now, I’m on the Titanic hours after it hit. I’m looking for the life rafts, but I can’t find one.