A Huge Shock
My experience is sadly very similar to other parents in NZ and overseas. Shortly after Lockdown in September 2020, my 16 year old son “K” told me in confidence and out of the blue that he was “Trans” and felt he was a woman. He told me he had “always felt this way” and that he had been “pretending” to be happy in his body.
Although “K” wanted to keep his feelings secret between us, he was very strong on this desire to go by female pronouns and had chosen a female name. He showed me images of clothing that he liked on Pinterest. Shockingly, he expressed disgust with his body and a desire for a castration. Like so many parents this came as a total shock and surprise to me. Hearing that he was so unhappy with himself/body that he expressed a desire/fantasy of literally wanting to become a different person through “medical treatment” which would render him infertile and sexless (both figuratively and literally – my son is a virgin) among a myriad of other permanent medical and physiological changes and complications, was beyond upsetting and frightening.
I did try to challenge his thinking and beliefs and I found it very difficult to understand where these feelings were coming from. I expressed concerns regarding taking a medical pathway at least until he was old enough to understand the full consequences and he agreed to “take things slowly.”
To normalise his desire for femininity, I showed him and talked about “gender bending” icons of the 80s such as David Bowie and bought him make-up. During the school holidays he painted his toenails (a dreadful cerise pink) and came home one night beautifully made- up courtesy of one of his girlfriends who I believed was well intentioned but encouraging him.
Prior to this my son hadn’t shown much interest in femininity. I encouraged gender neutral play so when young he played with a wide range of toys. He enjoyed dress up and would wear princess dresses as well as superhero costumes. During primary school he enjoyed having male teachers as they did more “boys’ stuff”. Puberty had never been too much of an issue and he seemed comfortable with the changes in his body. He expressed some discomfort in experiencing spontaneous erections during class but really didn’t seem too upset. He was happy to wear his older brother’s hand-me-downs and was easy to buy clothes for.
He enjoyed typical young male activities like gaming and watching masculine orientated Netflix movies and shows. “K” was always somewhat socially awkward with unfamiliar people and situations and lacking in confidence but was beginning to gain more confidence. He seemed settled socially with good friendships with mainly male friends and was doing well academically.
Although now working in a totally unrelated area, I have a background in mental health and education so had some knowledge of gender dysphoria research from the late 90s and early 2000s. Back then the approach was one of Watchful Waiting, where children were supported to play with and wear what they wanted but were not treated or referred to as the opposite sex.
My son now used words and terms that I had never heard of, so I did some research of my own. What I found shocked and upset me. I Googled NZ Rainbow organisations and found information about “Trans Healthcare” and “Gender Affirming Healthcare”: social transition, puberty blockers, hormone therapy, breast binding, penis tucking, packing and padding, genital and chest “reconstruction”. All this information was freely available to anyone of any age.
I read stories of NZ parents of very young children who were being socially transitioned, young people being flown to Thailand or fundraising on Give-a-little to undergo “gender reassignment” surgery and having healthy body parts amputated under the soft euphemistic language of “Top and Bottom” surgery. I have yet to hear a young person on TikTok or Youtube use the words mastectomy, hysterectomy, or castration. I saw pictures of genital “reconstructions” that looked nothing like and wouldn’t function like a natural vagina or penis. I came to understand that many professionals were following the Affirmation Only model in favour over exploratory and questioning talk therapy for children and young people.
I read the Guidelines for Gender Affirming Healthcare for Gender Diverse and Transgender Children, Young People and Adults in Aotearoa New Zealand. I was shocked to discover a document that was used by medical and other allied professionals to guide medical treatment was written in collaboration with a majority of non-medically trained people from community organisations and universities. Nowhere did I see mention of the fact children and young people do not have the ability to make sound judgments or understand long- term consequences due to the under development of their frontal cortex. Nowhere did I find words of caution for what are life-altering and often irreversible physiological changes.
The NZ Guidelines has contraindications only available as an appendix.
Nowhere in my research of current treatments for trans youth did I see encouragement to support children and young people to feel comfortable and happy in their own bodies that they were born with. There was no encouragement for them to challenge existing gender stereotypes simply through attitudes and clothing (rather than medication or surgery) as was the case when I was a teenager and young person in the 80s and 90s. Never in the past
was there the message that a child or teen could actually become the opposite sex.
I saw examples of gender stereotypes being reinforced – if you are a girl/boy and like boys/girls’ clothing, toys or activities you must be a boy/girl. Transmen (females transitioning to ‘men’) I saw in person or on social media seemed almost hyper-masculine – growing full beards, wearing checked shirts, and taking selfies with their bare chests. Transwomen were hyper-feminine wearing twirly skirts and dresses or pink t-shirts with unicorns or kittens. To my mind, even the Trans flag had the stereotypical colours of pastel pink and blue. So the Trans movement was reinforcing old stereotypes of male and female, which we had challenged in the 70s as invalid.
TERF (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist)
I was shocked to learn that even as a person of mixed racial and ethnic heritage, and as someone with many gay friends and who marched for gay rights, I was now classed as a Bigot and Transphobe – a “TERF”. All this because I was concerned for the wellbeing of my child and others. I felt nothing but anger and resentment against what I believed was a dangerous and destructive ideology. Wanting my son to be able to find a way to be happy in his biologically sexed body and self was transphobic and bigoted.
After giving myself some much-needed time and space, I decided to research literature and support groups sharing my concerns. I discovered the name Keira Bell by chance (Keira Bell transitioned medically to a boy in puberty and when older, realizing it was a terrible mistake, successfully took the clinic to the UK court for not protecting her). From there I discovered “Gender Critical” research. I found comfort and resources from such overseas parent support groups as Bayswater Support, Our Duty, Transgender Trend; documentaries such as The Trans Train and Dysphoria; and psychotherapists such as Sasha Ayad and Stella O’Malley who are making great podcasts.
I found understanding of a mother’s feelings of pain and grief for their sons through the writings of Angus Fox. It was a revelation to read NZ based research by Jan Rivers and Jill Abigail. I found support from wonderful NZ parents facing the same challenges and other people who had been touched by the ideology in some way.
I have never felt so alone as I did in those first few months, especially since it was a secret, and I couldn’t get support from my family or friends. But finding these resources and people was life changing.
Life as Usual
After the initial euphoria of “coming out” to me “K” was a bit freaked out by his feelings and refuses to talk about it now. He did express feelings of embarrassment and shame, but I tried my best to reassure him that questioning ourselves and our identity is a normal part of adolescence. Although it’s been difficult, I have agreed to keep his feelings secret between us, and he refuses to let me tell the rest of the family. I make sure he feels loved and supported. I have discussed my concerns that there is a social contagion, and my concerns were confirmed for him when his 20-year-old brother casually discussed people he knew who were now suddenly claiming Trans or non-binary identities.
This is his last year of school so now the focus is very much on life goals: getting his license and deciding on study options for 2022. Although he is almost 18, he is very young for his age so I will encourage him to stay close to home for now. He seems very happy and settled.
He has a part time job and is learning to invest through buying Bitcoin. He enjoys hanging out and partying with a mixed-sex group of friends. He has been experimenting with alcohol, vaping, and huffing nitrous oxide and, although worrying, I feel this is a normal part of adolescent identity exploration and boundary testing and he is no different from his peer group in this respect.
There’s been no more mention of his “Trans” identity or exploring “femininity”. We seem a long way off “transitioning” if ever. I suspect that he is questioning his sexuality and has expressed interest in girls and wanting to have a first kiss. He also expressed romantic interest in one of his male friends recently.
Leave Them Kids Alone
I am angry at trans activists who I believe are projecting their own desires or past experiences and trauma onto children and young people. One of the foremost reasons given for the suppression of puberty through blockers is to slow the development of “unwanted” secondary sex characteristics until the young person is old enough to be placed onto cross-sex hormones so they are more able to “pass” as the opposite sex when adults.
Trans activists have complained about difficulty transitioning later in life with all the necessary cosmetic surgeries, voice training and hair removal in order for them to “pass convincingly”. This is the primary driving force rather than the claim that it is to act as a “pause button” or to give the child “time to think” that is sold to parents. A famous photo of a US transwoman and her identical twin brother are all too often used by “gender medicine specialists” in NZ and overseas to highlight the cosmetic benefits of early suppression at 12 years, hormones at 15 and surgeries at 18. It is important, too, for parents to know that over 96% of children placed on Puberty Blockers to ‘pause’, go on to hormones and surgery.
My own experience of puberty was traumatic, but I would never dream of imposing my own experiences onto my own or other people’s children. My puberty started when I was around 9 years old and was considered precocious during the late 70s when most girls did not start menstruating till they were 13. I was terribly bullied at primary school as a result.
By the time I was 13 I had the figure of an adult woman and experienced sexual harassment from adult men, including two family friends who I considered uncles. I feared and hated the changes to my body especially my very large breasts (C cup) and I wore tight singlets and loose clothing to hide them as much as possible. My first bra fitting was mortifying thanks to my insensitive mother and the shop assistant. Having periods was messy and traumatising especially during the 70s and 80s when schools had no sanitary disposal units. I didn’t come to terms with my body until my late teens. I am so thankful I’m not a teenager now as I am convinced I would have done anything to avoid those changes, and later would have been
filled with regret.
It has been very heartening to hear many non-activist Trans people, including a very politically prominent NZ Transwoman, question the current ideology and its impact on children and young people who they also acknowledge are too young to make such life altering decisions. Many young Trans people here and overseas are also starting to question or de-transition but are too often left with irreversible changes to their bodies.
I am very concerned there is some new social contagion happening with young people, especially girls, that adults who should know better are not questioning or challenging despite the hugely increasing number of referrals to clinics in NZ and overseas. Trans and non-binary identities have become the new anorexia, bulimia, self-harming, and “Emo” of this decade. I am so shocked that children and young people can self-diagnose and receive Affirmation of their ‘dysphoria’ without question or consideration of other underlying co-morbidities. I think it is very significant that children and young people with other health, emotional or behavioural challenges are not affirmed in all their behaviours or beliefs in such a way. Appearance medicine is the only other field enabling clients to self-diagnose and dictate treatment plans.
I feel parents are being manipulated by their own children, Rainbow organisations, activists, and allied professionals to go against their better judgements. I strongly believe using the threat of suicide in this group of young people specifically by proponents is especially traumatic and manipulative for parents. Suicide and suicidal ideation is such a complex problem, and once again highlights underlying mental health and co-morbidities need to be considered and treated separately.
I am trying to channel my anger into something positive by trying to raise awareness. I have met with my local MP and he has understood my concerns with the Conversion Therapy Bill and the ‘Affirming Healthcare’ approach with children and young people. I am very concerned the bill will prevent professionals from working ethically with this group of vulnerable children and young people as they will fear prosecution. He has written a letter
and promised to try and meet with the Minister of Health. Although I am not hopeful, I am glad at least one politician in the Labour government understands the issues.
Recently the National Party has spoken against it which is a relief. I have also approached local media and a more balanced news story recently aired regarding the controversy surrounding the use of puberty blockers.
Advice to Parents
I would advise all parents who find themselves in this situation to do their own research, so they are fully informed of all the issues before they talk to any medical or mental health professional or Rainbow organisations. Sad to say, but in this current political climate, I believe ‘No help’ is better than ‘Affirming help’. If you want to find counselling or therapy for your child, I recommend strongly that you meet with that person first to make sure you
trust and like them before allowing them to see your child. I fired my son’s first therapist.
Keep your children busy and distracted. Help them find things they love doing. Observe what they are following on the net. Above all else make sure they know they are loved and supported. Despite what activists say, good parents do know their children and have their best interests at heart. We might not know everything they think or do, but we know and understand who they are.