A teen goes from gay to transgender to pansexual. A popular but deeply unhappy girl turns into a confident boy. A college student struggling with mental illness undergoes a transformation. Here are some of the personal stories you sent us in response to our article on the life of a 15-year-old transgender boy.
A child’s declaration of identifying as transgender “tends to hit any family like a ton of bricks,” said Aidan Key, founder and executive director of Gender Diversity.
He was interviewed for a recent Seattle Times article about a transgender 15-year-old from Kenmore, his battle for hormone treatment and surgery, and the ethical dilemmas faced by health providers trying to figure out how to cope with a huge increase of kids like him.
The conversation about transgender people often strays into highly-charged political territory. This year, conservatives tried and failed to get an initiative on the ballot that would have rolled back a state regulation guaranteeing access to public restrooms, locker rooms and other facilities according to the gender one identifies with. States that have adopted restrictive laws have seen blowback. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and singer Ciara opted not to wed in North Carolina because of that state’s new law.
Behind the politics is a wealth of emotions and questions confronting those who have tough decisions to make about themselves, their patients or their child.
After Skyler Pfeil and his parents shared their story with The Seattle Times, we asked others to write in about their experiences. The responses show different sides of what happens when the bricks fall.
One dad wrote with relief about the transition made by his beautiful, popular but deeply unhappy daughter. That child has become his happy and confident son, according to the dad.
A mom, in contrast, told of her daughter becoming lost to her after succumbing to what she sees as mental illness and an Internet-fed delusion.
Still another parent explained the soul-searching he did while his child tried out different identities and ultimately concluded that one should “let things play out before pulling out the scalpel.”
Read edited excerpts from some of the responses below, including from therapists. Due to the sensitive nature of the subject, we are not identifying parents or their children.
Jump to story by:
- Dad of teenager with varying identity
- Dad of 18-year-old who had breasts-removed
- A psychiatrist in Seattle
- Mom of happy, transgender 12-year-old
- Mom of college student who cut off contact with family
- Matt Goldenberg, a psychologist in Olympia
- Justine Kreher, a blogger on LGBT issues
- Mom of transgender girl in rural Washington
- Mom who sees transgender identification as the “new anorexia”
Our child announced one day “I’m gay” with what appeared to be a tacit expectation this might draw some degree of extra attention. After some parental discussion, our response was ‘Great!’ and while supportive and periodically bringing the topic up for discussion, our path was otherwise “business as usual.”
As weeks unfolded, our child began to relate stories of their friends who also came out to their parents with vastly different, negative responses. We sensed at times the lack of our own household’s drama was perhaps a disappointment to our child.
Months later, at a family holiday, our child casually announced “I’m transgender,” just as the Caitlyn Jenner news began to break. This did get our attention and as parents actively sought information, counseling and “the facts.”
As our child’s declarations increased and talk of “treatments, drugs and not being ok inside myself” began to frequent conversations from our child, we as parents began to question our own assessment of ourselves and our child.
The quest for self identity is relentless and the freedom today to explore even the most basic 'givens' like gender is clearly becoming the norm.”
Were we wrong to not jump on the medical bandwagon? Were we misguided in our innate belief, despite our child’s incessant talk of transgender, that we hadn’t seen the signs earlier that the professionals we had consulted said surely would have appeared? Were we simply overly concerned? Were we ashamed? Were we wrong to not label our child and accept our child’s own self assessment? Were we being selfish worrying about the consequences of a public announcement that our child was transgender?
A simple question reset the agenda. We asked one day: “Do you know what it means to be transgender?” The answer, after some brow furrowing and fidgeting, said it all. “Not really” was the reply. Revelation!
Now a year or so later it’s clear our child has deemed themselves “pansexual and gender neutral,” an assessment we as parents concur with.
I am sure there are very clear-cut cases where medical intervention at an early age is warranted. There is also a strategy of taking your time, listening, getting the facts, getting counseling for your child and family, and letting the old-fashioned idea of “growing up” happen, albeit with a modern twist. The teenage years are always very hard and filled with angst and conflict.
The quest for self identity is relentless and the freedom today to explore even the most basic “givens” like gender is clearly becoming the norm. However, I would caution to let things play out before pulling out the scalpel.
I’m the father of a happy, transgender 18-year-old son.
Before transitioning to male last year, he was a beautiful, popular teenage girl who was never happy and I often worried was suicidal.
When my son came out to us as transgender, I was not a believer. I thought, here we go again with something that was an impulse, that he wouldn’t follow through on as he had done so many times before with sports or music lessons.
Aside from the physical changes he is the same exact person.”
We had our son attend therapy with a transgender specialist for almost 2 years before we were convinced that he needed to transition to male to live a happy life.
He began testosterone injections and shortly after that we had “top surgery” done so he wouldn’t need to wear a binder any longer. Our biggest fear was that he wouldn’t be the same person that we loved since he was a baby girl.
Aside from the physical changes he is the same exact person. The biggest change is he is now a very happy, confident person who is living his true life as a college freshman and I don’t worry about suicide every day.
For any parent facing this difficult issue, please take your child seriously. Listen to them. It could be the difference between the life and death of your child.
I am a psychiatrist and am very concerned about medical interventions in this identity issue.
The vast increase in claims of gender dysphoria in a short time must have a socio/cultural component. While I do not question the distress some feel and their psychological identity, this does not automatically justify an irreversible medical intervention such as surgery.
This is especially the case for minors, whose identities are fluid and who may yet regret such decisions.
Furthermore, we as a society should be able to weigh in as to whether the cost of such interventions, when undergone, should be borne by the public and insurance carriers, or like cosmetic surgery, by the individual patient.
In the end, this is as much a values-based issue as it is science. But we must tread carefully and be mindful of both the distress of individuals and how best to compassionately address the distress without causing additional harm.
Our family is new to this. Our son just came out last month as FtM (female to male) trans. He’s 12 years old but has on and off identified as a boy since he was 2.
It did hit our family like a ton of bricks. We’ve received so much support, though. My friends have rallied to support us and put us in touch with the Gender Diversity program at Children’s. (The organization runs support groups that meet at Seattle Children’s and elsewhere.)
Even the school counselor called to offer her support to our family and ask if she could introduce [our child] to another FtM trans student at his school.
Our son has no history of depression and continues to be top of his class in reading and math and have many close, supportive friends. I would like to see more stories like that of trans kids who are happy and well-adjusted and continue to be.
Being trans is normal, too.
Our college-age daughter very suddenly started acting and presenting herself strangely.
She never exhibited any gender dysphoria when she was younger. She loved dolls, fairies, was a bit shy and perhaps lacked social confidence coming into her teens.
In high school, we did have problems with her internet use. She was absolutely addicted to her phone and computer and it was a constant struggle. I discovered she was viewing pornography and was on chat rooms.
During this time she was diagnosed with a mental health disorder.
When we expressed shock and dismay at her state, she cut off all contact with everyone in the family.”
However, she seemed to be doing great when she set off to college. She had nice friends, school was fine and we had frequent contact.
We sensed an unraveling as we talked to her on the phone later in the academic year. I went to visit her and was shocked by her disheveled appearance and the fact that she had sprouted a mustache. She was hostile.
When we expressed shock and dismay at her state, she cut off all contact with everyone in the family.
Trying to find her on social media, we found her latest picture — someone who does not remotely resemble our daughter. We can see that she has used hormones to alter her appearance and she may have had surgery.
It is an unimaginable nightmare.
I still swell with compassion when parents call my practice line. They say, “I want to support my transgender child, but I’m not sure where to even start.”
So it begins, exactly where they are, and me pulling back on my own experiences as a trans person in an often unforgiving society, and noticing how clumsy parenting can feel.
The psychological community is responsible for heartbreaking abuses to the transgender community. A lack of adequate training on gender identity for developing therapists, along with Washington state’s refusal to protect its residents from conversion therapy, further promotes therapeutic abuse.
I will likely never forget how bad it felt to have a therapist stare at me and tell me that I would never be a “real man” back in 2000 when I began my own gender transition.
Transgender patients will not heal from trauma if we as providers are the perpetrators.
You may not be aware of the fact that many gay men and lesbians are starting to view gender clinics as the enemy of the gay and lesbian community, as they do not feel you can truly isolate only trans children from other gnc (gender nonconforming) children in youth transition protocols. (Most gnc youth grow out of dysphoria and are most likely to be gay.)
There has also been a dramatic, unexpected rise in female teenagers, often with serious mental health issues, wanting sex reassignment surgery recently and few people seem to care to ask why.
I wrote a blog post about all of this.
After I posted this, some parents contacted me who have a daughter who had no history of childhood dysphoria. She had been hospitalized for being suicidal twice as a tween but not because of dysphoria. She suddenly came out as trans a couple of years later, lied to the gender therapist about key issues, and is starting testosterone as a minor.
The parents were told to put them on T (testosterone) at the first appointment.
This is now one of multiple similar stories I have heard.
Several of the others are from parents of usually lesbian or bisexual youth insisting on blockers, or top surgery and T (testosterone), which the parents declined to go along with, only to have the youth grow out of dysphoria.
I live in a rural Washington community. Our transgender daughter attends high school. Our first inclination was to move to a city that would be more accepting than this Republican-led, rural farming community.
Luckily, we chose to stay.
The school system at both the middle school and high school levels did not miss a beat in accepting us with open arms. Amazing support here, no judgment or hurdles to jump through.
We are members of Group Health, and they have been nothing but amazing in navigating the health care she needs.
Having a transgender daughter, as opposed to transgender son, has its own struggles. Society has been less forgiving toward seeing a “boy” transition.
When our daughter appeared at school wearing a dress and changing her name, well, the only solace was that she has lived here all her life, so it is well known that she was horrible at throwing a ball, hated boy sports, was sensitive and empathetic toward other children. She, instinctively, would hold a towel to cover her torso, as a girl would, not wanting to show her breasts.
What I hope you might understand, is that this was not a choice. Not for me, not for my child.”
I won’t try to justify our decision to allow our daughter to transition. It wouldn’t matter to you anyway. Unless you are a parent that has watched your young child struggling to understand why the toys, clothes, hair, and body don’t match with how they feel inside.
Unless you have seen the pain in their eyes every day they wake up in the wrong body. Unless you have suffered as relatives make fun of them. Unless you have seen how the world has no place for them.
What I hope you might understand, is that this was not a choice. Not for me, not for my child.
My husband and I are “gender skeptical,” two years since our daughter self-identified as a trans man.
She was an extremely strong student and competitive athlete — and yet terrified of turning 18, graduation, college, adulthood. She spent most of junior year locked in her bedroom, watching YouTube’s transition videos, where kids document their hormone use. And she decided she was trans.
My daughter is like many of these young trans men. She is coughing up the standard middle-class teen girl psychic fur ball — a mix of academic overachievement, self-lacerating perfectionism, sexual anxiety and the internalized slut/fat/woman-shaming of our age. Yet rather than punish herself as in anorexia, she projects this fur ball out onto everyone else. I’d be fine, these girls say, if only the rest of the world accepted me.
Don’t kid yourself. Trans is the new anorexia, the new way for girls to hide, hate themselves, mutilate themselves.
She left for college in New York City, and in three appointments at a gender clinic had a prescription for testosterone.