Our Sons: A Mother’s Correspondence About Her Trans Identified Autistic Son

In early January this year we received an email from a mother asking for advice about her trans identified autistic son.  Our advice to parents is always “trust your instincts, you know your child best” but in this case we also asked two other mums whose situations were very similar if they would be willing to link up for mutual support and advice. This post is a document of this mother’s side of the email correspondence which ensued, beginning with extracts from her initial contact with us and continuing with a series of emails, subject: Our Sons.

This is a long post but worth reading to the end. We are extremely grateful to this mother for being willing to share her emails as written in the hope that her story will provide help, comfort and hope for all other parents in the same position. We can’t thank her enough and we need add no more comment to a story which speaks so eloquently for itself.

9 Jan 2017: to Transgender Trend

Hi there, my son is soon to be 18 and has high functioning autism. He stated he was female in October 2015 (no prior indications of this until he went to college) and we have had one appointment to date at the Tavistock centre. In his autism diagnosis, it was stated that he should be guarded from things that may influence him inappropriately in the future and when he went to college, he discovered kids there that were transitioning on his course, he also discovered Anime – a Japanese animation cult which he is obsessed with and loves the female cartoons.

10 Jan: to Transgender Trend

I would appreciate the joining of the email correspondence between the other parents please, I don’t find Mermaids helpful for me so if these parents have similar circumstances, that will be helpful.

10 Jan: to Transgender Trend

I had to reply further, I am so angry. I feel like all these years of supporting my son with his autism has been disregarded by the medical profession, the NHS itself. So much advice and support put into his health and well being from a baby and now a total disregard of these issues when he discloses the trans-gender identity problems.

Truly, I see it as none other than him being vulnerable to abuse if he is not given time and space to work out if it is an obsession again rather than the real thing. If it is for real, he will always have my love and support, but how dare the medical profession not take the autism as being the main priority in all this, the heart break and challenges we have faced as a family over the years has been incredible and I feel like I am hanging my son out for all and sundry to do whatever they damn well want with him – obviously it is his choice but hell- he is autistic. It is abusive and I don’t see why things should always be safeguarded, it is essentially wrong to encourage him.

I took him to an LGBT group for counselling and they started off by wanting to know if he wanted to be called a ‘she’ and called by his female persona- I stopped it immediately. Even these smaller local groups who are there to support haven’t got a clue when it comes to learning disabilities, more awareness needs to be raised – if there is any way I can be key to this raising of awareness then please let me know because I am sick of so-called professional people knowing what is best for my child and our family. He will certainly be suicidal if in future when all is said and done, he feels it has all been a mistake.

I cannot accept that the NHS can do what they please with him without everything being explored first, no matter how long it takes.

14th Jan: Our Sons

Hi
I was passed your details and I hope you don’t mind me getting in touch? My son is 17, nearly 18. He was diagnosed early on in life with Childhood Autism, it is high functioning but when he was very little, he was very unwell and when he was just 6 he had a breakdown and was out of school for a year to get well, I never want to see him in that state again. He returned to school where he was given a statement of educational needs, a place in a unit and one to one help. This level of support continued throughout his school life and was exceptional when he went to secondary school, he is now in college and doing very well.

Our situation is a lucky one, we have been blessed with excellent support and as a result, my son has thrived, I have heard some horror stories with children with autism not getting the support they need and the end results are frightening. In school, my son preferred the company of girls and there were boys too that he befriended but neither girls’ nor boys’ friendships were ever taken to another level, that is, he would only associate with them loosely in school, never made plans to meet up outside school or anything and was happy in his own company; this is purely down to the autism in my eyes; he used to feel exhausted at the end of a school day and that time was totally detached from school time and the associations were different. In year 9, he was introduced to sex education and I had calls from his teacher saying that he refused point-blank to participate, it distressed him and he found it all revolting. His level of distress meant that he was given permission to sit it out in the ASD unit much to his relief.

When my son started college, the transition was traumatic, I described him like a rabbit startled in the headlights of a car about to hit it. However, with support he managed to get on with his work. He met 2 girls in his year group who were transitioning from female to male, one left the course after about 3 weeks and the other lasted until the Christmas and then left. My son had never met anyone trans-gender until this point. He struggled with friendships and fitting in at college and then lo and behold, he suddenly stated to me and my husband that he was transgender and wanted to be a female. He said that he had felt this way for a long time, years, but just didn’t know what it was and couldn’t articulate it until now.

In a state of testosterone shock, my husband went bonkers and stated it was never to happen under his roof; a knee-jerk reaction and all hell broke loose. My husband is known for his Victorian values and old fashioned lifestyle and it has been the butt of many a joke from me since I met him 25 years ago. I had dealt with much of my son’s distress growing up associated with his autism and felt that this may well be another of one of his obsessions; he does have obsessional behaviour and each individual one lasts around 3-5 years. I calmed my husband down by explaining to him that this may well be another obsession. With my son in a distressed state, I took him to see the doctor because his mental health was suddenly a concern again, he was scared of dad, he was starting his nervous ticks again and said he felt suicidal, the doctor prescribed anti-depressants for him but I decided to pack in my job and support him again through this time and as a result he didn’t need the medication. I got a job with an agency instead which means I can now be there for him anytime he feels low or stressed.

We got through this traumatic time, my son was referred back to CAMHS and he has had a year of further counselling related to the gender dysphoria he was diagnosed with and then referred onto Tavistock. At college he started to fail, he was luckily given a 2 month extension on his work so by working on his projects throughout the summer holidays, he managed to get work finished and wasn’t thrown off the course, thank goodness. However, during all this time, he has spoken only to me about the gender identity problems, asking me for reassurance every time he is on his own with me that he will one day be a girl? I of course am in just as much shock as my husband to be honest but putting on a brave face to try and prevent any major mental health deterioration, all I could ever say to him was that I didn’t know the answers to any of his questions because it was a subject area I was unfamiliar with.

The college diversity officer referred him to a counsellor, a lady involved with the LGBT group, this was in November just after he had declared his feeling about his gender. This counsellor asked him if he wanted her to call him by his female name and refer to him as ‘she’. I was horrified, I stated to her that he was autistic and this wasn’t helping, that it was wrong because he was on the first step of this process and that he wasn’t to be encouraged in any way. She said that this is the way the counselling is done and that he wouldn’t be treated any differently to anyone else so I abruptly ended this counselling as it was clear that his autism wasn’t understood in this situation.

My son continued to see a doctor at CAMHS and she was great, none of the politically correct LGBT stuff, just pure listening and acting on my son’s needs. I tried getting him involved in a couple of groups but he didn’t cope with them because of his autism, he didn’t want the social scene at all. I was doing this behind my husband’s back because all he wanted was for it to go away, and still does! I am dealing with all this on my own and my teenage daughter is also being hit hard by it all, so much of my attention going to my son and her needs being neglected. I took my son to his first appointment with Tavistock in January and we are going again soon. He will soon be 18 and will be then put on the adult waiting list. I am extremely scared for him, I don’t know if this is an obsession due to his autism or if it is real. He behaves differently around me to what he does around his dad, he says he does this because he is frightened of expressing his female side around him.

My son is also now involved with a couple of friends at college who are into Cosplay and Anime, he has become hooked on the Anime films and costumes, one of his friends is making him a dress for an event where people can go dressed as their favourite characters if they wish. My son is absolutely loving the attention and has stated that since he came out as being trans, that it has won him much love from some of the students, particularly the girls.

I know he is now in the system but am scared that his autism and all the years of support he has needed with it is going to be brushed aside for this trans gender support. I cannot simply accept it as totally justified whatever he says about feeling this way for years, there simply was never any indications of any feminine behaviour, just a fear of male boisterousness and tactile things like team sports. He has always been a quiet and very sensitive person but in my gut, I can’t see where this came from and can’t remember any clues.

You have possibly had an experience similar to mine, and maybe can help in some way? I am now scared that my family will split up because my husband and daughter cannot accept it, I don’t want to split up but can see that if my son will be sad then I need to protect him. It is a no win situation from my life’s point of view and to say I totally accept it, without sounding bigoted, I can’t accept my family life falling apart.

Thank you for your time reading through this.

15th Jan: Our Sons

Hello again, thank you so much for your email. I am glad I am not the only one who freaked out about it, I was calm at first doing the understanding mum thing and then went and threw out my wardrobe of clothes to prove that females were not defined by what cloth they put on their bodies, I did a delayed freak out after trying to appease my husband and hitting my head against a brick wall. I tried to change my son’s mind – his name is Jacob. I wasn’t sure if we were allowed to say their names – I work in the care sector and am used to avoiding names so an old habit but am really pleased we can open up like this. I am still facing the chance that it may be the case of the family divided if Jacob does get through the transition process and my husband still won’t change his views and attitude at the end. I too am not prejudiced and certainly believe in live and let live for all, but it is the innate gut feeling that this may very well be another obsession linked to Jacob’s autism.

As far as your son’s diagnosis of autism is concerned, it is very relevant, the traits you described sounds like it could have been missed in childhood and the fact he chose his own company, found University life, not the work necessarily, very difficult, means a lot. I know that Jacob would be capable of University if nothing else was going on, if the social side was not a problem and if it was only that exclusive to all else was his focus. Our kids with autism are very clever in many ways but the extra stuff that they need support with has to take precedence over additional problems like the gender identity because, well in Jacob’s case anyhow; there is an element of fickle and obsessional behaviour; the autism has to be respected and taken more seriously over the gender issues. My daughter is a teenager and doesn’t grasp Jacob’s behaviour as being linked to his autism sometimes with just flippant remarks about him generally being embarrassing and a geek.

I can see where you identified the mental health concerns with your son, if pushed into a stressful situation, they can very easily have breakdowns and it was clear that he was in a crisis and the self harm for our kids is a very real concern.

I watched a documentary on the BBC the other day, you may very well have watched it, http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b088kxbw/transgender-kids-who-knows-best, it stated that one of the Sex researchers Ken Zucker was dismissed due to accusations of reparative therapies for trans kids, I disagreed with the accusation from trans activists because I think he was saying that other things need to be investigated before the transitional process is entered into; this is what I think my son needs. I have a friend whose son has autism and for years he thought he was a cat, he used to walk on all fours and meow like a cat, it was comical but he really believed he was a little black cat. She didn’t go and buy him cat food and make him eat from the floor. She bought him a black kitten who he adored and he grew out of this obsession. He dresses up now in marvel characters costumes and does other quirky stuff but all in line with his autistic behaviour. I wish I could see someone like Ken Zucker for Jacob just to help him to explore how wonderful life can be as a male too and to have a balanced view of life before he makes this major decision.

Also, I noted that you said your husband has very old fashioned ideas about fatherhood, this is similar to my situation. I do actually call my husband a Victorian for fun! He is very masculine, his son from a previous relationship is a boxer and again, testosterone bound! I remember Jacob witnessing many a fuelled row between my husband and Stepson when we lived in Birmingham and do believe it frightened him to death, I used to remove Jacob from the situation whilst the males fought! It sounds horrendous but just a slightly raised voice used to rattle Jacob with his sensitivity, I want to explore if this had a profound effect on him first too before we go down the trans gender option.

I am not sure how you can help but as we are experiencing/ have experienced similar things and you are not Mermaids, if we can keep in touch and exchange any valuable stuff that may help each other, that would be wonderful. I never got on with Mermaids, I did try but hated the set up, not knowing what parents you were dealing with and scared to offend, I felt empathy for some of the situations but under pressure to describe Jacob as a ‘she’ instead of a ‘he’ which I refused to do and got corrected a few times, so quickly stopped all contact as it didn’t sit right with me, especially so early on.

I am back in the Tavistock centre with Jacob tomorrow and am wishing I could be home with my daughter who has had a traumatic week, she has to go back to school tomorrow after some bullying and I desperately want to get the balance of attention right too, Jacob takes up so much of my time it is exhausting and I feel that this transgender stuff is another way to get my undivided attention too which I do have moments of great resentfulness over.

Thanks for sharing your story and I hope things improve after the Christmas you have endured. I will let you know how the appointment goes at Tavistock as I will be asking questions tomorrow, we need to make the right decisions and not be influenced by the press and medical profession to rush things.

1 Feb: Our Sons

I’m sorry I haven’t been in touch, I have been really low, I am reading through the emails slowly, thanks for keeping in touch.

15 Sept: Our Sons

I have refrained from emailing news because I knew how sensitive these things are and didn’t want to hurt anyone but I am pleased to announce that my son, for about 3 months now, has said that he no longer wants to be a woman and that he recognizes he has feminine traits but his creativity has kicked in and he has decided that he is happy in the skin he is in and is now actually going to the gym and trying to put a bit of weight back on.

My son also talked about the disallowance of not being able to express himself as a girl feeling like abuse, I had allowed it but his dad didn’t and the conflict at home was horrid. I would let him dress and come out with me however he wanted, albeit it really hurt and I wanted the world to swallow me up, I hated the prejudice people showed him and I wanted to punch everyone I noticed whispering and giggling and glaring, I came very close to being arrested! But he was oblivious to it all and the autism in him was so evident in his gestures and actions that anyone decent looking on could see he has differences. But the ongoing conflict between him and his dad was unbearable and I am still picking up pieces from broken jobs and income being sporadic in times of me needing to police situations at home to keep Jacob safe, his dad would never have hurt him physically but the emotional support and reassurance were needed all the time.

I will never know why Jacob wanted to be female but Cos Play and difficulty making friendships at college having transitioned from comprehensive school seemed the top things that influenced him. Also, a fear that being male meant he had to be macho – having a big brother as a professional boxer and a highly testosteroned father from the Victorian era didn’t help his view on males. But like your son, my son had a friend, also with learning difficulties, at college, who was obsessed with Comic-Con and dressing up and he felt this was a way into being seen favourably in her circle of friends and she became Jacob’s only tenuous relationship since leaving school. Also, so much in the press had influenced him too, the different sexualities and awareness of Trans being the T in LGBT, it all influenced him.

I totally agree with your observations on gender dysphoria not making you the opposite sex, I did beg the doctors to see that his autism needed to take priority in all this and was alarmed when he was treated just the same as everyone else when referred to the gender dysphoria clinic, who were not at all professional. The outcome of their letter was shocking, so many mistakes and things stated that had been taken out of context that Jacob had said at their meetings. I am yet to respond to them and he is on the list to be seen at Charing Cross for adult services. I have delayed cancelling it altogether at this stage but will be informing them that he no longer needs any further treatment shortly because I wanted Jacob to actually write the letter himself and so I need to sit with him and support him in doing so because I don’t want that control and want it to come from him entirely and like your attitude with your son, if Jacob wants or not, then he can be in control of it all himself.

I am totally with you on all you have said and support your views on the media, I stayed away from everything, social media, blogs, and websites to work this one out privately and we have. We have done tons of talking, walking and caring for each other devoid of any outside influences and we have reached this place now where I can safely say – yes it was just another passing obsession and thanking the powers that be for their influence. One funny thing is that I noticed about myself that I was a very passive mum and didn’t ever express my own sexuality in front of my children so I decided that if my kids wanted to openly express their sexuality then just because I am in my forties, why should I suppress mine and so took on a can’t beat them join them attitude. So, I started to openly admire gorgeous looking men, melt at the sight of pop idols and actors I liked on the telly and have a good stare at fit blokes jogging half naked past me when out walking. I would literally say how attractive I found them and oh, if only I were 20 years younger and single!!!! I would state how and what I found beautiful about the male bodies and males in general. Also, going to a music festival recently with Jacob, I pointed out to him about how the men there seemed to be the more beautiful of the sexes in society at the moment because they could carry tattoos off much better than women, men didn’t really have to try so hard to be naturally beautiful. It was a little reverse psychology but there was a lot of truth in it and it got him thinking.

I don’t think your views are bigoted in any way and your son may be prone to some depression after all that he has put himself through, you too, I cannot advise on that but I always think time away on a holiday or just a bit of time out to heal is good, sometimes the doctor can help.

But if you can get anything out of what we have done to help your situation then please do. Spend time away from these sites, from the telly and do things your way, don’t care about others’ opinions and certainly don’t care about the LGBT community and Trans activists, they are a formidable group. At the end of the day, everyone is individual and that is where it stops. Groups, whether heterosexual, gay, pro or anti anything, dancing, art, any group in the world covering any genre, they are unimportant, what is important is the individual in that group. Work with him and him alone.

Bless you for getting back in touch, hope I have helped by giving you my experience and good luck with this.

16 Sept: Our Sons

Thank you for your relief for us, I am still giving it all a wide berth and want to give it more time before I cancel any future appointments but am as sure as anything that he is over it all now. I think the gender conditioning has been around for many years even when we were little – dolls for girls and cars for boys etc, but society has to challenge these things I suppose because women do men’s jobs and vice versa these days.

As far as being accused of letting your son get away with far too much, don’t take any notice, you are his mum and he has differences, all you are doing is trying to protect him. One thing you can do is have a praise/gratitude diary. People with depression have difficulty remembering things, especially praise for anything good they have achieved; to record it and look back is often a good tool to use in recovery.

Your younger sons need never know about this, there is no need for them to know and it is between you and your older son, no one else’s business. My daughter used it to manipulate me into letting her have much more freedom herself than was healthy for her age like longer evenings out with so-called friends to work things out in her head which wasn’t healthy for her because she was addressing her views in an unsafe environment, so it would have been wiser to have kept things a lot more private away from her to protect her as she wasn’t really mature enough to understand it all.

Enjoy them and protect them from it all as much as possible, they will learn about all this in school anyhow regardless of what your son has gone through, you cannot protect them but keep everything on a need to know basis only.

Take care and I will update you on any further events that transpire from this if I think it will help you. Good luck to you too and I hope your son will work more on his mental well being now.

21 Sept: Our Sons

I am so sorry to hear that you are still going through a huge amount of challenges, it is tragic that someone has to reach rock bottom and need sectioning before anything is done. On a positive note though, time is proving to be a great healer, four years in his life have evidently challenged his ideas on gender and his own identity. It definitely sounds like more complex mental health issues with him with the social obstacles even getting in the way of his gender identity connections, and you mentioned cults- it does feel as though the youth are all looking for some sort of identity and in varying ways forming their own little cults with various titles; all in the need of social uniqueness.

Like you I started to ignore a lot of what Jacob was doing with me, just not adding any drama to it and allowing him to express himself without all the angst. It was hard but I told him that whatever he wanted to do in privacy was his choice but not to expect me to help him in any way eg – hair styling, nail painting, make up etc. So he had to get on with it and he soon discovered how annoying all these things were to do all the time – I don’t myself as a woman do these things unless I am going out specially and then it is natural make up so he hasn’t seen all this with me. But the interest has died and now Jacob acknowledges his autism and embraces it more now, he is not looking for a tribe anymore and has found some confidence to be himself regardless of what people think of him, even if he is socially awkward, he is using it to his advantage and if anything good can come from the transgender phase, he has got the confidence to dress how he wants to now and wear his hair longer – without needing to be female.

He is struggling tremendously with friendships still and only has me and his dad outside college which is sad but I am getting support from an Autism advice group on getting over some of these obstacles. It was easier when they were little to get them socialised, very difficult as adults.

I am thrilled you too have focused on everything else, I have tried this and it has worked. I emphasised that his career was the highest importance above everything else and he threw himself into his work which worked.

Keep believing that your son will recover because this time 2 years ago, since Jacob first came out, and after all the trauma we have gone through as a family as a result, I do believe that miracles do happen, I never thought that he was going to change his mind but he has, out of the blue, and we live in hope that it will continue. This is what I was telling the Tavistock centre, I explained that with his autism he typically goes through obsessions which last between 2-4 years at a time, they insisted on treating him normally like everyone else that passes through their system and referred him onto adult services. I am just grateful that this one has only lasted a shorter time compared to other obsessions and we can now start the process of “I told you so” to all the experts.

If our story can help anyone through what we have gone through then I am happy to share information. I just know that there are genuine cases in society where people can feel as if they are born into the wrong body and it must be a gruelling life to live but I knew and had a gut feeling with my son that it wasn’t right; that the outside world was impacting on his behaviours and beliefs and his autism.

The NHS is too quick to diagnose and needs to do a lot more of investigation and therapies with these children without fear of reprisals from activists and groups who differ with their opinions. Huge changes needed.

Take care and please keep in touch, my story may change but I hope it doesn’t and I want to continue supporting others with this too. We will all get there.

7 Comments

  • ScaredMum Reply

    That is a very moving set of emails, thank you for publishing them. Can you get these somehow to the NHS consultation? I have asked the autism team who diagnosed my daughter to participate in the consultation too, but I don’t know if they will. It is medical negligence to ignore or dismiss autism as a major factor in gender dysphoria, as I believe it is in my daughter’s case. Tony Attwood writes about it in his book on Asberger’s.

  • GILAW Reply

    Thanks for letting us get a glimpse of this long and difficult process your family went through. Fingers crossed that the happy ending lasts with regard to gender identity. I think the “I told you so” process really needs to happen. Is there any way you can get the staff and management of Tavistock and Mermaids to listen to you about this? I am afraid that they will think of your situation as a failure for them, as “one who got away”.

    • Alex Reply

      I think you should copy it and send it to Dr Polly Carmichael at the Tavistock and to the Board of Trustees at Mermaids, but take out any offensive comments first which criticise support groups.

  • Alex Reply

    I began reading this but have stopped at the line

    Even these smaller local groups who are there to support haven’t got a clue when it comes to learning disabilities, more awareness needs to be raised

    how offensive. I have worked with people with learning disabilities, i have my own learning disabilities and and i have a transsexual history.I ran a group for six years and was thanked by some parents for saving their childrens lives. I hadt saved lives i;d just offered a little positive intervention and some reliable information. I believe Transgender Trend is doing a good job in some parts in that they are asking organisations and the NHS to be careful. No person should begin any type of medical intervention without a thorough, person centered approach. I’ve witnessed plenty of cases where people have believed themselves to be in desperate need of medical procedures that will give them some kind of help with their identity, its all happened far too quickly and a few months down the line these people are in a mess. So i know that its important to listen and to actually hear before any action is taken but if Transgender Trend want to be taken seriously please stop publishing comments that are offensive. This story might have been interesting but when its containing ignorant untrue comments it turns readers away.

    • Transgender Trend Reply

      We didn’t feel that the comment was intended to critisise all smaller support groups, but was made only in regard to this mother’s own experience. Although we can see that the way it was phrased may come across in that way, because the whole piece was about her own personal experience we read it within that context. Thanks for commenting and we take your message on board.

  • Tim Bennett Reply

    We have been told by Tavistock that autism is treated as a ‘complicating factor’ and will delay the diagnostic process.

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