This testimony was written for us by a mother and a teacher whose daughter once thought she was a boy over a period of three years. She is a member of parent support group Our Duty and although she must remain anonymous she tweets at Kate @garrottecake. Our Duty can also be found on Twitter at @OurDutyGrp.
We won’t say much about this post because it speaks for itself. This account reflects the unprecedented situation that parents find themselves in now and our hope is that it will be shared widely, particularly in schools. We are very grateful to the author for allowing us to publish it.
This is where we are right now. You’re not here, except in the words I say about you. But you are the reason I sit here. In this room with ten or so other parents, united only by one thing: our children believe themselves to be the opposite sex.
This isn’t a group anyone would wish to be a part of. We are fragile. Everyone cries at least at one point. The anger at authority – doctors, politicians, teachers – is palpable, as is the sense of betrayal. All of us have lost trust. Some of us have lost friends and family. For some of us, the very children we are here trying to protect have rejected us, sometimes in the most brutal of ways.
We are the bad parents who don’t believe. The parents who have faith are in every paper you open, in every YouTube video; royalty smiles on the supportive parents, and corporations line up to be a member of their glitter family. Whereas we meet in secret; we carry passports to prove our membership of our sad circle; we whisper names only if we want to. Here, we tell the truth – sometimes only in this room – and feel the luxury of it like a stretch: my son says he is a girl; my daughter says she’s a boy. It’s not real; it cannot possibly be so.
You are always on my mind and on my tongue. I’m different from anyone else in the room: at the moment, you aren’t saying you’re a boy. That passed, four years ago, when you entered a different stage of childhood. You thought that your difference meant you were a boy for three years, and I feel like I barely breathed for a lot of that time. I knew what the NHS said about children who were persistent, consistent and insistent in saying they were the opposite sex. Children who only played with the opposite sex. Children who exhibited extreme distress at being made to wear the “wrong” gendered clothing or hair. This was you.
Not any more. You still have the same likes and dislikes (you’re known for your constancy) but now, for this precious time, you are proud to be a different sort of girl. You are embarrassed to be reminded that once you said otherwise, sliding off the sofa with an eye roll at your youthful self as you go to play football with your mates.
So why am I worried? Why do I sit here with these parents, one of them and not one of them? Maybe I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t a teacher. You see, they aren’t very much older than you, those girls. The girls I’ve always taught, have always known, who close their arms and hide their bodies from approaching womanhood. Girls chose to starve themselves until they disappeared back in my day. At the start of my career, they chose razor blades to peel away the flesh they hated.
And now they have a different way.
One of my friends at school didn’t starve, or cut. But she stopped speaking to any of us, buried herself in her books and was never seen again. When I started teaching I recognised this girl for the first time in others, and realised she’d been a lesbian and that was the difference, that the difficulty. I felt terrible that she’d never been able to say. Now, however, I watch these girls, the different ones (so like you) and they are absorbed into a rainbow fantasy. They dress like butches always have but that’s not what they call it anymore. Now they call it “being a boy”. They bind their breasts. They change their names. They join the queue for drugs and surgeries. For the chance to be someone new. For escape. Even five years ago, I had never seen this in my school. Now it’s commonplace.
In the staff room, people applaud. They say to me: “isn’t it great that these kids can finally be themselves”, as they self-consciously correct themselves around the new pronouns, the new names. Teachers think of themselves as accepting and kind: this is kindness, now. There are very few who object, and most of these are the moaners: “what, another one?” they say, and roll their eyes because it makes their life harder. There are fewer who are like me, who knock on doors and say “maybe this is dangerous?” Always trying to be as neutral as possible: I am aware that women like me are regarded as dangerous witches. I do not want to lose my job.
But I’m on a countdown. I have three years until you become a teenager. Three years until you start to move away from me and hear other voices ahead of mine. And I know, you see, what’s out there. I’ve seen the LGBT+ assemblies, the posters on the walls and the leaflets; the words put in your teachers’ mouths. You will be told that gender is innate and that you’re not a proper girl. Can the resistance we have built up to this idea survive when you turn from me to the outer world?
So I sit here, in this room, and listen, and speak, and cry. And I know this small and fragile group will take what we say here and bring it out into the world to try to change it. What else can we do? You need us.