This article republished with kind courtesy of Stoic Mom from her substack. The original post can be found at Stoicmom.substack.com
When my daughter was 13, I had a friend of mine who was also the mother of one of my daughter’s peers, tell me that my girl was using a boy’s name in her friend group. This woman shared with me her daughter’s written guest list for her upcoming birthday party in which every girl invited was recorded as how she identified along the rainbow. We were already having a rough year–my daughter’s 8th grade year–and this news seemed pretty silly at first. Then I started researching. I found Transgender Trend, 4th Wave Now, and writings by Lisa Marchiano and the reality of what we might be dealing with sunk in. And I became terrified. Then an incident happened during which my daughter hinted that she was considering or might already have begun harming herself. I was an educator and fairly confident mother who prided myself in my liberal mindset and in my healthy relationships with my children. When I reflect, this was the moment my confidence dropped out and I started to really doubt myself as a mother.
My daughter never “came out” to us and an action-packed year followed with our family attempting some very unorthodox interventions for our daughter’s failing mental health. We pulled her from school, she spent 3 months in a wilderness program (a decision I deeply regret,) we attempted several months of “world schooling”, and we moved our family of four from the suburbs of our smallish city to downtown. Approximately a year following that initial conversation with my friend, I found myself wondering why my tall, lanky 14yo girl, who had started her period about 12 months prior, remained completely flat-chested. The frightening research I had done the previous year continued to haunt me, and I decided to push the topic.
One evening after picking her up from spending time with her friends, one of them said in parting, “Later, Bro!” I asked her about using a boy’s name with her friends. Because of the research I had done previously, I knew to navigate this conversation carefully. I maintained a calm, curious demeanor that night but really had to pry to get her to tell me that she thought she was actually, somehow, a boy. She and I agreed to have a longer talk the following day and that finding a therapist would be a good next step. (I didn’t realize at this point how difficult this task would be.) That night I descended into terror again as I researched and realized things had continued to worsen over the year, with more families being torn apart as scores of teen girls opted into this institutionalized bodily harm. Somehow, the next day, I managed to show up again, calm and curious, to have an extended conversation during which I extracted a good amount of information including a strong sense of how steeped she was in the ideology and that her breast binder had been purchased for her by a friend approximately a year and half prior. She’s never told me which friend.
I regret to report that I failed to maintain that same calm, curious demeanor. Within a few days, I became gripped with fear and anxiety, a sense of complete failure and impotence, and experienced what I suspect would be called panic attacks almost nightly for months. Being this fragile made it quite easy for me to become triggered in conversations with my daughter, and on occasion, pushed even into a rare state of rage. Rage I didn’t even know I was capable of expressing. These are the moments she still holds onto and uses to justify keeping me at a distance; they contribute to the narrative she’s working hard to create about what type of parent I am.
What type of parent I am.
What type of parent am I? At some point, with some guidance from unexpected mentors as well as amazing resources, it dawned on me what kind of parent my daughter needs me to be. What only I, the mother who birthed her into this strange, new culture, within this wondrous and awesome world, the woman she’s around most often and with whom she attached as an infant, was responsible for providing her. This experience has illuminated what she truly needs from me:
My daughter needs me to model being a strong, adult human female who trusts my intuition and navigates the extreme highs and lows of life with some grace. She needs me to get clear on my values and live in alignment with those, modeling a grounded authenticity. She needs me to trust that she’s doing the best she can to get through the ravages of puberty in a pornified culture. She needs me to not let this experience wreck me, and better yet, she needs to see me living a satisfying and meaningful life so she knows what that looks like.
She needs me to embrace adulthood as the rich experience it is, in a way she might want for herself. She needs me to view the world through a lens of gratitude and to model awe and wonder. She needs me to not be a victim who blames external circumstances for my experience. She needs me to show her how to identify and let go of things beyond our control, choose to get up each day and find meaning in life’s mundane tasks, and model healthy boundaries. She needs me to make mistakes and then acknowledge those mistakes, taking the initiative for relationship repair. She needs me to see competence and courage when I look at her; to notice her creativity, her determination, her intelligence, her capacity for growth and wisdom. She needs me to normalize suffering and the human condition. She needs me to learn from this experience, and to emerge stronger and wiser for it.
Does this mean I’m not still disturbed by and furious at the influences in her life that support the damaging idea that she’s somehow been “born in the wrong body”? Of course I am, but I also am grateful for the crystal clarity this provided me when it comes to my reverence for the human body and its place in nature’s beauty. I can model how to love and care for a woman’s body: my own. She’s inspired me to get ever more serious about my own health and my relationship with nature. This experience has led me to discover new interests that engage me daily in an awe-inspiring connection to the natural world and to become more attuned to my own body and the way it supports me and communicates with me.
Does this mean I don’t feel lots of sadness about her attempts to rewrite her childhood and the story she’s trying to tell herself about the kind of mother I am? I do feel deeply sad but I remind myself she has to individuate. I can’t control what she thinks but I can take great care to not provide her with more “evidence” of parenting failures. (Doesn’t mean she doesn’t still find examples.) I also now take great care to model how to check one’s assumptions, how to not take others’ moods personally, and how to remain aware that we don’t know what’s happening in other people’s lives, contributing to actions that may seem offensive to us. I point out the kindness of others and that even if someone has different beliefs than I do, we can respect each other’s humanity and accept each other’s kind acts. Recognizing her flawed thinking reminds me that I am also vulnerable and must examine the stories I tell myself.
Does it mean that I accept all responsibility for the nightmare we found ourselves in when we discovered our only daughter’s mind had been captured by the trans cult? No, but I can identify so many things in my parenting I could have done differently and am grateful for the opportunity to model self-compassion and forgiveness while letting go of the past once we’ve gleaned what wisdom we can, being in the present moment and determining how best to move forward. I can better recognize the humanity in others and know most are just doing the best they can, however misguided that may seem to me.
Does this mean I don’t feel anger toward our captured institutions and don’t feel they need to pay for the harm they’ve caused? I do still feel anger, but I can isolate and channel that emotion to help advocate for change. And, here’s the hardest part that may not land well with you. Those that have harmed our children? Just like our smart teens who fell prey to the movement, they may need a way to save face. When backed in a corner, humans are known to double-down. It must be devastating to recognize you played a role in harming a vulnerable population while under the impression you were somehow “saving” them. This is a really hard pill to swallow. While I think there are definitely some greedy players, I think most are well-intentioned, albeit heartbreakingly misguided. Yes, “they should have known better.” But they didn’t. Upton Sinclair’s quote, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it” doesn’t read as ironic to me. With that said, apart from binding–which still devastates me–my daughter has taken no other steps to alter her body. So while I can imagine, I can’t truly wrap my head and heart around how intensely damaging that must be to a person’s or a parent’s psyche. I don’t begrudge anyone their demands for reparation.
Am I perfect at any of this? Hell no! But I can model that too. It’s okay to be imperfect. It has to be, because we all are. We all have fragile periods and get derailed and behave poorly. We’re all just humans having human experiences and do much better when we’re surrounded by a forgiving community that doesn’t demand strict adherence to any prescribed way of life. I believe being kind to myself is among the most important acts I can model for my daughter who has adopted a rigid belief system that demands self-flagellation. Let me model grace and gratitude. Awe and wonder. Joy and pain. Life is rich! It’s a wild ride that we can let beat us up and make us sick, or we can hold on and embrace the experience, letting the steep drops and fast, unpredictable curves help prepare us for the inevitable mysteries still to come.
My daughter’s 18th birthday is now mere months away. We’re four and a half years into this strange, disorienting journey that has had such a major impact on our lives. She’s still trans-identified. But while she wouldn’t consciously acknowledge this, I know this journey has led us to create a unique closeness we might not otherwise have manifested. We spend more time together than any mother and teen daughter I know. I vetted a therapist that is a 1.5 hour drive from us, and this gives us lots of quality time in the car together. I’m so beyond grateful for these precious roadtrips (that we sometimes now do even on days there’s no therapy appointment) during which she shares with me her passion for certain musical artists and what’s on her mind lately, along with her philosophical discoveries that never fail to blow me away. I know I am among the very few people in her life that can match her intellectual intensity (maybe the only one with whom she feels comfortable sharing these particular musings) and that she needs this type of interaction as much as I do–she seeks my company throughout the week to share her latest insights or content she finds amusing. Most the time I just follow her lead in conversation threads, but I can now express conflicting opinions without it shutting down the discussion.
It’s taken time and hard work on my part for her to feel safe again having conversations on the trans topic with me; lately she’s allowed brief exchanges where I can cautiously raise questions and gently plant seeds of rationality from a genuine state of confidence and authenticity. This feels so much more productive than the fearful, raging outbursts from the early days. And I believe in my kid. She’s my kid, after all. Right now, she’s chosen a different worldview than I raised her with (I remember being her age and now feel I understand what my parents went through when I stepped away from their system of faith,) but she also questions authority, thinks deeply about humanity and all its complexity, and she stands up for what she believes in. She’s going to be just fine. I still hope she’ll keep her body intact, but I’m working hard to prepare myself for the worst here. I know any further procedures will cause deep painful wounds to her body, her psyche, her family, but those wounds will eventually scar and we’ll all learn to live with them. In the meantime, I’ll choose to trust her and believe that deep down, she knows what kind of mother I am, what kind of family she has–that we’re her home. And she can always come home.
I wrote this piece for original publication on PITT.