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Our Desistance Story

This story was also recorded for The Witness Podcast Episode 8.

My daughter (I’ll call her Sinead) announced to her dad and me—via email—that she was non-binary just a month before her thirteenth birthday. I realize now that ours is a very typical, practically cliché, rapid-onset gender dysphoria story.

Sinead is high-functioning on the autism spectrum. She’s brilliant, and an artistic prodigy who has been drawing representationally since she was two years old. My husband and I always said that of all our kids, Sinead would be the one least likely to be influenced by peers, because she always had a very high opinion of herself and couldn’t have cared less what anyone else thought of her. After being tested for autism in early elementary school, I took her out to her favorite place for breakfast so we could talk privately about the diagnosis. “Do you know why you’ve been doing all that testing with the psychologist at school?” I asked her. She nodded gravely, then smiled. “It’s because I’m so smart.”

But all that self-confidence evaporated when she entered middle school. Suddenly her peers’ opinions meant a great deal.

Very recently she reflected on her sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade years in public school: “They all knew right where I was vulnerable, and that’s exactly where they hit me with the message that I was transgender.”

Sinead’s big announcement came three weeks before the end of seventh grade. My knee-jerk response was to pull her from public school that day, and never send her back. I’d seen enough already to know what was going on. Every hallway in her school had sex and gender propaganda on the walls. The teachers were giving students books about trans-identified kids. The school board was pushing through a transgender student policy whose underlying message communicated the school’s opinion that parents are dangerous and need to be excised from the decision-making process regarding their children’s sexuality and gender identity. But my husband talked me down. “It’s the end of the school year. Let’s just see what happens over the summer.”

We cut off Sinead’s social media when we discovered the influencer she had met on DeviantArt. On April 29 Sinead asked the person, who presented as a thirteen-year-old girl, “What’s being transgender about?” On June 10 Sinead announced to her dad and me that she was transgender.

I talked to the school principal, vice principal, and her teachers. They told me that best practices said one must affirm the transgender identification lest the child commit suicide. I talked to my pediatrician. He gave me a list of gender clinics to which I could take my child. When I told him that studies are showing a correlation between autism and trans-ID, he said he knew of no such information. I talked to Sinead’s elementary school counselor, who knew her very well. Rather than asking questions or reflecting on why Sinead might have suddenly adopted this belief, the counselor instantly demanded, “You have to affirm this or she’ll commit suicide.” The counselor had never, ever made a blanket pronouncement about anything in the past. She sounded like she’d been programmed. Every so-called “expert” I spoke with parroted the same thing: “You have to affirm or she’ll kill herself.”

I didn’t believe that, because it made no sense at all from the perspectives of education, psychology, or child development. Sinead had never before indicated any discomfort with her biological sex.

My husband and I decided not to affirm the trans-ID, nor to use the preferred name or pronouns. We indicated that in our house our daughter would be called Sinead and referred to as she/her.

Sinead was militant about trans ideology at the beginning of that summer, and she tried to bully everyone in our house to fall in line with it. I found out after a trip to the community pool that she’d threatened to hold her sister under water unless her sister used Sinead’s preferred name and pronouns in front of the other kids.

The kids were scheduled to go to a Christian camp again that summer, and I called to let the staff know what was happening with Sinead. They received her, but let her know that she would be called Sinead, housed with the girls, and referred to as a girl.

By the end of the summer Sinead had calmed down a lot. While she still insisted she was either a boy or non-binary (she went back and forth), the militancy had cooled and she was much easier to get along with. We naively thought we’d crested the hill and were on our way back to sanity with her.

How wrong we were.

We sent her back to public school for eighth grade, and she sling-shotted straight back into the militant mindset. In retrospect, I realize that having her out of that environment, and away from all those influences, had started to bring her back to herself. But when she got back around the GSA club and the teachers and staff who applauded and threw parties every time a student announced an alternate identity, she’d fallen right back into the cult.

All year I struggled with what to do. I investigated options like private, Christian, and military schools. I visited another middle school in the district, and was horrified to find that the situation there was exactly the same. “It’s so wonderful that kids are starting to explore their sexuality and gender,” the school counselor gushed, like some kind of Queer-Ally Stepford Wife.

I researched transgender ideology and was daily horrorstruck at what I found. We were definitely not alone: at the time of this writing more than two million high school students in the United States identify as transgender. Girls as young as thirteen are having their breasts cut off. Eighteen-year-old boys are having their penises and testicles amputated. How could this possibly be happening? I spent many nights crying myself to sleep, not just over what was happening with our child, but because of what was happening to children all over the world.

In April Sinead told us she’d been using the boys’ restroom at school. I contacted the principal and told her that I did not want my autistic 13-year-old daughter alone in the restroom with boys. The principal told me that it’s the school’s policy to let students use whichever restroom makes them most comfortable. In other words, “To hell with you, Mom. You don’t matter.” I decided at that moment that my daughter would not go back to public school the next year.

I’d never seriously considered homeschooling before, so I started interviewing friends who homeschooled their kids, and I researched programs and curricula. We let Sinead know early in the summer that she wouldn’t be able to go back to public school.

In response, she ran away. The note she left on the table told us that she didn’t want to live with people who didn’t love and validate her.

Before we even found the crumpled note, a neighbor called to say she’d come home to find Sinead asleep on her porch. The neighbor put Sinead in her guest room for the night.<