If A Daughter Identifies As A Boy How Do You Talk To Her About Issues Affecting Young Women?

There are very interesting questions raised in this post, first published in Psychology Today, which we are re-blogging with the kind permission of the author, Tina Traster. (We published a previous post from Tina here.)

If a daughter identifies as a boy, and rejects being a woman, how do you have those talks about issues specifically relating to young women? Recent cases of sexual exploitation of young women may be issues that a girl who is lesbian or who rejects femininity would also feel to be irrelevant to her, because she feels herself to be ‘different’ to ‘those women’ so it could never happen to her. But in the case of a daughter who identifies as a boy, referring to issues which affect young women may be felt as complete betrayal. It could never happen to her because she’s not a woman.

We are grateful to Tina for posing these questions as a parent and for inviting us to share her thoughts here. We welcome your comments if you are a parent facing similar issues with your daughter or son.


Weinstein. Trump. Cosby. How do parents of gender-bending kids talk about this

I’ve been gripped by the sexual abuse scandal swirling around Harvey Weinstein and the women who’ve come forward: Ashley Judd, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie. All gorgeous women. Then I cycled back to the Hollywood Access tape moment, and the women who came forward to accuse then-nominee Donald Trump of sexual abuse. They too included a lineup of blonde, statuesque, beauty queens. Even Bill Cosby’s accusers all look like they can, or at least once did, sashay down the runways.

My 15-year-old daughter is 4 foot 11 inches. She’s chunky and wears her dirty-blonde hair short. Nothing about her comportment suggests female sexuality. She also believes she’s transgender, though my husband and I remain skeptical about this (see earlier column).

So where does that leave us with needing to have “the talk?” How are we supposed to approach the idea of sexual exploitation in the workplace in exchange for advancement with a female child who is trying to alienate herself from everything that makes her female?

Admittedly I have not sat down to have the talk. But I know my child well enough to know that an attempt at this teachable moment would be met with a shutdown. She would avert her eyes. Fidget and squirm until it became clear (less than three minutes) that, as far as she’s concerned, we’re in an irrelevant territory.

Since J’s hit puberty, she has rejected anything that represents her femaleness. She’s deeply embarrassed about her menstrual cycle. She dresses like a boy. She flattens her chest with a binding “bra.” She never wears makeup or jewelry. She rejects pink. She’s chosen to call herself by a non-female name. Still, she has female anatomy.

Interestingly, however, if we approached “the talk” from the opposite side—i.e., the importance of never using male dominance or predatory sexual behavior toward women in exchange for any kind of reward—this too would not resonate.

Our child, a Russian adoptee with a history of attachment disorder, has not made it clear whether she prefers boys or girls. She never overtly talks about anything sexual—if she’s had her first kiss, we have no way of knowing. As far as we know, J has never had an intimate relationship. Our daughter rarely accompanies us to the movies. But on the occasion that she does and there is any kind of a romantic or sexual scene, she becomes deeply uncomfortable.

A parent feels responsible to impart age-appropriate advice to their child. You teach them how to cross the street. Not to talk to strangers. How to use the front key to the house.

Most parents of a 15-year-old teenager, of either sex, have probably talked about sex and birth control and pregnancy. Now, with the high-profile revelations of Trump, Weinstein, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, and others, sexual exploitation must be addressed.

Of course, it’s possible to discuss it at the dinner table as a “news Item,” and hope that our daughter absorbs the gravity of the issue. In the abstract, she can likely get her mind around the subject. But there’s no chance that she will see herself in the plight of these women, and that’s precisely the problem. She’ll view this as something that will never happen to her.

To circle back to the beginning of my comments, it’s notable that the flood of women emerging from high-profile sexual scandals are tall and striking and attractive. I assume all types of women are subject to sexual advancement in the workplace. But are they in the same extremes?

If a woman has made herself really androgynous, exuding a male vibe, is she equally vulnerable to sexual predation in work relationships? If there is not one iota of femininity about a woman, is that an insurance policy against sexual harassment?

I don’t know the answer, and I don’t know what studies show. But here’s what my gut tells me as the mother of a child who has suppressed everything that makes her a woman: She is not especially likely to be the recipient of a man’s advances. She would not be receptive to flirtatious behavior from a man. She certainly is not leaving any “scent” that she is a sexual animal or open to sex.

I’m the last one in the world to say women who are victims of sexual harassment have brought it upon themselves. I’ve had my own share of being pursued in the workplace when I was younger. I can recognize why men I worked with in the past would have wanted to pursue me, no matter how inappropriate or immoral it might have been. Back then, our mothers were not doling out advice on avoiding sexual predators. Maybe their implicit advice even hewed in the opposite direction.

Now we’ve turned a corner. It’s no longer a nebulous issue. Sexual abuse is a violent offense. But where do other mothers in circumstances like mine stand? What are you doing to have “the talk” with daughters/sons who defy typical gender associations?

Tina Traster is a journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the New York Post, Parents, Redbook, Everyday Health, among others. She is the author of the Rescuing Julia Twice: A Mother’s Tale of Russian Adoption and Overcoming Reactive Attachment Disorder.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Polly MacDavid

    Men come on to boys, too. My son was molested. If your daughter thinks that “turning into a boy” is going to keep her safe from sexual predators, think again.

    Many girls (myself included) hate the idea of growing up. Getting your period sucks. It sucks every month for the next forty or fifty years. Many of us like wearing boy’s clothes. It doesn’t mean we are boys. Many of us are short & chunky. It doesn’t mean we are boys. Many of us like the outdoors & using our brains. It doesn’t mean we are boys.

    There are many kinds of women in the world & you might start by showing your daughter examples of all these women. Women who were different & who made a difference by using their brains & their skills & their talents.

    1. sally jarvis

      The only behaviour I would be worried about is the breast binding. The rest, totally normal. It was me 45 years ago, and I’m so thankful I grew up when girls with more interests than just hair, fashion and make-up were (usually fondly) called tomboy and could get on with being themselves.

  2. Marias

    While I had began to read this post because I was hoping for some advice actually. Our daughter We Believe started this phenomenon as a senior in high school. She attended an all-girl Catholic High School. She suffered a terrible pelvic break and this isolated her from her peers for about 10 weeks. She could not walk and when she return to school most of her friends had moved on. Is Mean Girls often do they found other friends and she was alienated. She fell into a deep depression and so therefore we got her some help like any good parent would do. She visited a psychologist outside of school and since she missed school this psychologist worked with the psychologist inside the school. We felt like everything was okay and she was doing better and then she was fully online with the same girl said he only needed her inside the school. She turned it other girls who were the outcasts for different reasons, one of which was extremely troubled. Now back up a little bit and fifth grade she rescued girls who also had issues, however these girls issues or physical. She became their protector on the playground at a very young age. The school administrators like this role and let her keep it not doing their jobs to keep these girls safe. Turns out the same girls that I only needed her in grade school had also attended the high school. At the time I’m sure she didn’t realize it but she was also extremely beautiful tall and had a talent for art that was just unbelievable. She was also good at math. The unfortunate thing in fact was that there was a gay club in the school it was Secret. We knew nothing about it and her psychologist who we thought was our friend convinced her she was lesbian. This through or into a tailspin and she was hospitalized for depression and suicidal ideation. She would not share with us what was going on in the hospital administrators released her and said she was depressed and had social anxiety. When I told them what she shared with me that she was afraid that she was a lesbian they actually laughed and said no this was not what was going on. So I felt like we were back on track and got her the help she needed for self-esteem problems anxiety and depression. Needless to say we were pretty worried about her before she went to college but she seemed okay and she was excited to go. And she got accepted into a very tough program at a very prestigious art college. We were so proud of her she was so excited. When she arrived her roommate was nowhere to be found and never showed up. So there she was alone a nice girl a beautiful girl alone again to face College without a friend in sight. Her first month was tough but she wanted to stick it out. By Christmas we knew something was desperately wrong with her and when my husband tried to speak with her she blurted out that she thought she was a transgender. She had a huge cry and he assured her that this was not the case and that he was a doctor and that if this was the case we would certainly know it by now. It turns out she actually met someone else and was a transgender female to male who was 24 years old who attended the art functions and pretended to be an art dealer. Of course this person was very impressed with her daughter and courted her. We had no idea this was taking place until May came along. She came home a changed person. She was angry and wanted nothing to do with her family’s opinions of anything. We just really wanted to have a talk with her however my husband traveled and I really wanted him by my side so we could talk to her together. One conversation she and I had did not go well and I really didn’t understand what was going on. She asked me do you think I want to be a transgender? And I said this isn’t you, and I think you know that. She would show how she felt with art and it was really scary. I thought it was a good outlet for her at the time and I really believe this is true. I really didn’t take much of it very seriously because before college she dated a boy who was older and he was troubled for sure. I got to know his aunt and I thought he was actually a really good kid however he was confused. She was in love with him and I felt this with all my heart. A couple months later as I witnessed them holding hands and getting worried that he would hold her back from going to college it’s all parents a very intelligent girls feel he announced to me that he was gay and he felt terrible about that. I ask my daughter what she felt about this and I was so terribly upset for her. She said it didn’t matter and she didn’t care what he did and that they would always be friends. Deep down I knew this hurt period before that in 8th grade she had a huge crush on another boy, got all dressed up to meet him at dance and he seemed pretty excited about her too. And then that fizzled out is things do right before high school. So I really didn’t think that much about this I kind of felt that she was just trying to find herself. Not so. To that summer about a couple weeks later this person that she met picked her up while I was not here. Or siblings were and quite frankly were terrorized because we didn’t know this person and they took her away. She left a note and said that she was just going to be gone for a couple weeks and that she just needed some time to think and that she would be back. She got a new phone so we couldn’t track her and later finally gave us her address. That summer we were left to our imagination about what was coming next. She managed to become completely independent from us with the help of a college and manage to find a gender doctor to help her with her new identity which her friend was only too happy to help her with. UC I believe misery loves company. I don’t believe this person is a terrible person I believe this person just doesn’t want to be alone. And so what is quite obvious manipulation and abuse and our eyes it’s just two people trying to find happiness in the trans world. We are the enemies now. So you tell me how to talk to my daughter under these circumstances. I would really like to know. We see her occasionally and every time we do her appearance changes for the worst. Our youngest daughter has been utterly crushed emotionally then we are all heartbroken that are beautiful daughter it was such a major figure in our family. I had never imagined being a parent would be so heartbreaking and painful. We are viewed as the abusers because we don’t agree with her and we asked her to please slow down and wait. We never said we didn’t accept her or we didn’t love her. Now we wait for her to come home occasionally because she does love us and does value US but there is a boundary there that we can’t seem to cross. We have tried and tried to cross it and she’s becomes angry and belligerent as a result of the testosterone that is already begun to change her. And now oddly enough we are getting the silent treatment that the Mean Girls used to give to her.

  3. Puzzled

    Marias, what a sad story. I don’t know that there’s much you can do at this point other than maintaining an open door, until/unless she becomes violent or abusive with you.

    As for Tina — your kid sounds so much like mine, right down to being adopted. I’m reading and everything matches and … yeah, I think my kid believes that her presentation also makes her immune from female vulnerability to harassment. Nevertheless the kid is physically tiny and would be vulnerable to any kind of assault.

    I have actually offered martial arts training to her several times, as I think it’d be wonderful for her confidence (not to mention her safety). Not to mention that physical disciplines like this tend to counter the mind/body disassociation that so many of these kids (especially kids with online addictions) seem to manifest. Maybe I’ll try it again. Maybe not so much from a female protection standpoint as from the standpoint of a small-bodied person in a world of bigger people.

    I don’t know. It’s a frustrating problem.

    1. Marias

      Thank you, that’s what we are doing. It’s a tough road. We will make it. She knows the door is always open.

  4. Kamilla

    Parents and people in general need to gather their courage and calmly, without anger, state reality to their children and to the world at large.

  5. Anon

    There were 2 recent news stories that reported 2 separate instances of young women who believed themselves to be men being raped. Both stories recounted how they informed their attacker that they were men, and then were surprised to find that they were raped anyway. One of the stories is here: http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/vile-double-rapist-jailed-15-13760106. So yes, it can happen to her. Rapists don’t care about anyone’s inner identity. It’s a sign of how cultlike transgender beliefs are, that any woman would think that declaring themselves to be male would deter a rapist.

  6. Renee

    This is where psychologist could help if any of them were left with a backbone. For me, I’m at the point that I feel I will say what I feel should be said. She has already killed herself. What I say is only reality. Nothing I say can bring us farther apart. Only reality can save her. I love her. I cannot love a fake him. All I can do is feel pity and (yes, hate) for that creation that hides my daughter.

    How do you talk about Weinstein? Well, actually he’s an abusive man to everyone. This is so much more than attacking pretty girls. This is a bully who everyone, his brother, his employees were petrified of. This is not about someone jumping out from the bushes. This is about a person in power wielding it and everybody ducking. Yes he’s a sex addict. Yes his abuse was mostly rape. But besides that he was plainly abusive to everyone anyway.

    How do we as a society learn to recognize that? Because if the bully gets away with the small things, he learns to get away with the big things. This is not just a female issue. This is a society issue. He is not a pig. He is a bully abuser of all. Because he (from the work of others) created good things, he was constantly rewarded. When do people get strong enough to stand up to bullies? How do we teach our children boys and girls to stand up to them? How do we stand up to them?

    How many people should have walked away from that man? (Not just women, coworkers) I have a boss that is a tyrant (not sexually)but a bully. Some people know about HER and whisper that she is hard to work with. No, she’s a tyrant that has been given power because people don’t know how to respond to her. Now, finally 3 people are lucky enough to move on at the same time. She’s getting the message. Management should be getting the message. But will they listen? Will they stop it? As long as this is allowed to be the little persons battle. As long as the bullies make their victim feel like they have no recourse, things like this will continue. And it is not only about sex. It starts smaller. And those conversations should be had with everyone. To make sure they are not victims and to make sure they are nor perpetrators.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.