Simon* is a dad whose teenage son ‘came out’ as transgender over a year ago. Simon contacted us for help and advice and then wrote to let us know that his son seemed to have desisted, offering to share his story if we thought it could help other parents in the same situation. We put together a list of questions and the following post is Simon’s thoughtful and considered response to those questions.
We think Simon’s testimony will be really useful for other parents and we are very grateful to him for writing it and for allowing us to publish it here.
How old was your son when he ‘came out’ as trans and is there anything that you think led to it – events in his life, influences etc? Is there anything you think made your son particularly susceptible to the idea that he may be trans – for example, personality, underlying mental/emotional health issues or sexual orientation etc?
My son was 14 and a half when he told my wife in early 2017 that he wanted to live life as a girl, and that he wanted to go see a doctor and start the transitioning process. He also said he wanted to change his name.
We believe that there were multiple factors that led him to that point:
- We had recently moved to a new area so he was separated from his friends
- His body had changed from that of a boy to a young man in a very short time, starting young, when he was about eleven years old. We believe this rapid change in his body gave him anxiety. For example, he hated his body hair and would shave it all off. He wouldn’t wear shorts, even in hot weather, because of the hair on his legs.
- He had been exposed to positive transgender videos on YouTube (social contagion)
- Lack of social stigma
The final two points cannot be underestimated. There are a significant number of trans activists on YouTube, some of whom have nonsensical gender ideas, yet most parents don’t monitor YouTube use. Also, a recent newspaper article that said many children are not afraid to declare themselves trans, as it is seen as being ‘cool’ by other kids. This matched our experience. Our son had already told all of his friends he was trans, and they didn’t seem to care.
Had you suspected anything or were you taken by surprise when your son announced he was trans and how did you react to it?
We were completely taken by surprise. He told my wife first, and she spent time for the first couple of weeks talking to him and reassuring him. I decided I would not talk to him about it until after I had found out more information, so for about two-three weeks I read everything I could, including transgendertrend.com and other sites, which were a great help.
What did you decide to do about it and what were your reasons? Can you explain a little about what your concerns were and what you felt was the best route of support for your son?
The first thing was to understand as much as possible about the situation through various websites, blogs and TV programmes. It immediately became apparent that treatment was highly politicised, with transgender ‘born-this-way’ ‘the-child-is-always-right’ activists pushing kids into treatment on one side, while doctors who were looking to find underlying issues such as anxiety or trauma, being vilified. In part, I believe the situation is based on a logical distortion that equates doctors trying to find an underlying cause with the practice of gay conversion therapy. However, it is a fact that children’s gender identification is fluid and that many children who identify as trans, but who do not transition, later identify as gay.
Also, if a child is pushed into treatment, the underlying trauma or trigger will not be identified, so that even if they transition they may still not be happy. Of course, we were worried about the reportedly high rate of suicide, but it is not clear if treatment actually improves the suicide rate.
As our son had never mentioned wanting to be a girl before, and had never displayed any feminine traits, we felt that there must be something else that had triggered the issue (primarily the reasons outlined above), so we had two objectives: 1) To identify the underlying symptoms before even considering any treatment 2) to avoid – at all costs – any contact with mainstream transgender clinics, the NHS, transgender charities, transgender-friendly doctors, and activists.
How did you manage the situation at home – were there arguments and conflict, did you discuss your views with your son and how far did you go to accommodate your son’s identity? For example, did he ask you to use she/her pronouns and did you comply?
We didn’t have any arguments, and he was very reasonable about the situation. Mainly he wanted to be assessed by a doctor so that treatment could start. We told him that it would be best to talk to a therapist first, and then we could move on to that stage when the time was right, which he accepted. He did ask to use a different name (which to our mind was not even a proper girl’s name – more of a fantasy girl’s name), which we put off.
Our overall strategy was to give it time and see if he still felt the same way in a year or more. We took him to see a couple of therapists, for a few weeks each, so that he felt that we cared and something was being done, but we did not allow him to see any doctors, or go to any clinics. We told him “step by step”. We felt that, the more he got involved and ‘stuck’ in that groove, the harder it would ever be for him to change his mind or grow out of it. Of course, if he had still felt as strongly after a year, or continuing, we would have very slowly and gradually moved along that path with him, always supporting him, but, at the same time, always making it perfectly normal and comfortable for him to change his mind.
Most of the time we simply asked him how he was feeling. I asked him if I could send him the occasional article I had read, but only ended up sending him one, which was fairly non-combative.
Another strategy we considered was to alert him that choosing to transition may bar him from certain activities. For example, if he said he wanted to live abroad, we could ask if he would be able to do that if he had to be near a clinic?
Can you say something about your attempts to find a therapist, what kind of therapist you were looking for and why, and did you find anyone helpful?
It was very difficult. The situation was complicated because we didn’t have spare funds for therapy, and could not go anywhere near the NHS in case our son was shuttled into the ‘transgender pipeline’. We asked for recommendations from various websites, such as transgendertrend.com, who were supportive, but despite this, there were no recommended therapists in the local area. So we looked online for local therapists, selected a few, and talked with them to ascertain their views on the topic. Our son visited the first therapist for four weeks. However, all she determined was that our son was a highly-intelligent young man with no problems, and that there were no family problems, so that didn’t seem to help much. Or maybe it did. We tried a couple of others for single sessions, but we had no money and the clock was ticking down until our son’s 16th birthday, when we feared he would just go to the clinic by himself.
Were you surprised when he changed his mind or do you think in retrospect that there were signs? Why do you think he changed?
One day, after almost exactly a year, when we told him we were trying to find another new therapist, he simply said that he ‘felt much better’ and wasn’t going to go forward with that plan any more. By that time, he been in a relationship with another boy for about ten months, and we believe that the stable relationship and the confidence he got from that, in addition to becoming slightly more mature and getting used to his grown body, all helped. He is still with his boyfriend. Our son is not exhibiting any signs of anxiety any more.
However, despite his relationship, about six weeks ago he surprised us again by saying he may still be interested in transitioning. But, since then he has barely mentioned it. Yesterday, as part of a wide-ranging political discussion we talked about transgender politics, during which he was also highlighting some of the absurdities of the current debate. There was no inkling that he was taking any position, based on thinking he could be transgender.
It’s all a bit strange. We have a boy, who looks and talks like a boy. There’s nothing effeminate about him. He doesn’t identify with transgender issues. Yet there’s something in him that thinks he might be better off as a girl. I still think that the longer we wait – and the more he becomes an adult – the more he will realise it’s not really a good idea.
Anything else you feel is relevant? And what would your advice be to other parents who find themselves in your position?
- Read and watch as much as you can before you have an in-depth chat with your child.
- Don’t use what you’ve learned to push your agenda on them. Just listen and try to understand where your child is coming from.
- Try not to get in a confrontation with your child: they have come to where they are through their own logic. Their decision makes sense to them and pushing against it could simply make them more entrenched. Instead, work with them to find out how they got to this decision and work slowly with them over time, so they can see that their proposed solution is just one of many potential paths forward.
- Reach out to other parents who have gone through this issue.
- Go slowly. Delay where possible. As your child matures, their understanding may change.
- Don’t be put off by politically-correct pressure. Your child is under your care and is not the property of activists.
- Avoid the NHS, transgender clinics, activists at all costs. They will all push you towards the ‘transgender pipeline’.
- Find a therapist who will help to find any underlying issues.
- Obviously, if there are underlying issues, try to resolve them.
- Don’t be afraid to send your child articles and news clippings to discuss (with their permission).
*name has been changed