FOREWORD (edited 2021)
My daughter Jessie identified as a boy for at least nine months. There were nine months between when she first told me and when she desisted; her feelings had obviously been going on for longer.
She was consistent, insistent and persistent. She wanted to change her pronouns, register at college as a boy and visit a gender therapist. I said no. Jessie is adamant that had I allowed her she would have taken testosterone and undergone ‘top surgery’. Yes, sixteen year olds do do these things.
This was nearly six years ago. Jessie graduated from university this year. I have never seen her so buoyant and enthusiastic about her future. She is happy and confident in her body and her relationships & I am grateful every day that things worked out for her the way they did.
Many young people are not so lucky, and many families are being torn apart by the current trend in identity politics.
This article was the first thing I ever wrote on gender issues. It was published on the 4thwavenow site in December 2016 where it has received over 400 comments. Those comments in themselves make fascinating and moving reading, and many of them are documented in my blog post ‘my mother heart bleeds‘. You can read the article below, but if you want the comments on the 4thwavenow site you can find them here.
Here is my story, with an afterword by Jessie.
My daughter Jessie was not a ‘girly’ girl.
As a small child she was often mistaken for a boy, despite her long hair, because mostly she wore jeans and dinosaur tops. She didn’t care much for the pastels, glitter, hearts and lace that tends to fill the girls’ section of most stores. Growing up, she liked Dora the Explorer and Ben 10; she liked Lego and Bratz dolls. Occasionally, she chose a pink sparkly top, or a crystal ballerina for the Christmas tree.
Once, when she was about 7, a woman in a second-hand shop said to her, “Oh you’re a GIRL! Why are you playing with that dirty old truck? Here’s a nice doll.”
So I bought her the truck to make a point, and on the way home we talked about how silly it was to have different toys for boys and girls. We always applauded the strong women in movies and cartoons. My kids would tell me, “Mum, you’d like this film, there’s a Strong Female Role in it.”
Jessie played with both boys and girls growing up; she had siblings; she was sociable; she had a wide circle of friends. She did ballet for half a term, but tripped over her feet and hated it. She tried football, but tripped over her feet and hated getting up early. She liked jujitsu and roller skating, drawing and writing stories. She hated skirts and dresses and tomatoes.
By age 12, she was spending a lot of time online. She had a Facebook account and loved YouTube, music videos, cat videos; Naruto and Hannah Montana. She hung out mostly with a small group of close girlfriends, but mixed well with anyone. At 13 she had her own iPhone and laptop, and worshipped One Direction. At 14, she began watching videos by lesbian YouTubers Rose and Rosie, and ElloSteph. For the most part, I liked them. These young women were funny, happy and confident, and they gave out good life advice. Their videos were well composed, although there was a bit too much of the obligatory YouTube navel-gazing for my liking.
Jessie, slightly goth, long dyed dark hair and occasional black eyeliner, always in jeans and a band T shirt, Jessie came out as gay just before her 15th birthday . I wasn’t surprised. She’d briefly ‘dated’ a boy she’d known since she was five but it was obviously no great passion, so I had suspected she was going to tell me weeks before she did. Shortly afterwards she made a ‘coming out’ YouTube video and posted it on her Facebook page. She said she was ‘gay’; she didn’t use the word ‘lesbian’. I did think she was quite young to define her sexuality so suddenly and utterly, and declare it to the world before she had even had a relationship. By this time, I was very aware of the part YouTube youth culture played in the decision to ‘go public’ with a video. I told her that, but I wasn’t shocked or discouraging. I had a few girlfriends myself when I was younger. If she was a lesbian, so be it. I just wanted her to be happy and healthy.
Soon thereafter, Jessie began watching ‘transitioning videos on YouTube with her friends and siblings: cute boys who became girls and cute girls who became boys; endless slideshows of their stories, entitled, ‘My Transition Timeline’.
The girls all had the same sideways smiles and little bum-fluff beards. “I never liked pink,” they declared, “I never liked dresses, I wasn’t attracted to boys. I wore guy clothing.” The boys twisted their long hair as they spoke through heavily lipsticked lips, leaning forward coyly and peering out from over-mascara’ed lashes. “I always liked pink,” they cooed, “I played with girls’ toys.” I wondered why this generation seemed desperate to put itself into boxes and mark them with labels, but mostly I worried that my kids were spending too much time online.
“Read a book; go outside!” was my mantra. “Turn off the internet and put down your phone.”
Jessie took me to a YouTube convention and we sat at the front during the LGBT discussion. She had a crush on a high-profile teen who identified as a boy. Chris was on hormones and had had a double mastectomy. Chris was kind to Jessie at the ‘meet and greet’ afterwards and posed for a photo. I didn’t see Chris as a boy, but I didn’t think much of it at the time. What I do remember was those eyes, like a frightened rabbit, a frail little thing despite the smiles.
Jessie asked to cut her long hair short. I said, “Of course.” I was surprised how much it suited her. We donated her hair to the Little Princess Trust, to be made into wigs for children with cancer.
Jessie still had her phone 24/7. I ‘trusted’ her, despite knowing that many of her friends were online half the night. I knew some of them self-harmed, or starved themselves, or posted half-naked pictures online. I know now that it isn’t about trust. No one ever thinks their child is doing that stuff. Social media cliques are like a spiral, ever more insular and self-serving. They are more than the sum of the parts of their users. The internet can be a great source of support, but whole online communities have grown up to normalise disturbing behaviours: from the personification of eating disorders with Ana and Mia, through forums where kids discuss who cuts the deepest or most frequently. If my bright, happy child was vulnerable, anybody’s child can be vulnerable. You can’t ‘trust’ your child not to get drawn into a cult, any more than you can trust them not to get run over by a truck.
A month after cutting her hair, Jessie said she had something to tell me. She was distraught, red-faced and bleary-eyed. There was a tiny part of me that knew what she was going to say, although I didn’t realise it until later. After almost an hour of pacing the room she grabbed a pen and wrote on a scrap of paper, ‘I am transgender’.
Despite having half-known what she was going to say, I was shocked. I had heard of people who said they’d always known they were ‘in the wrong body’ but there had never been anything in Jessie’s past to suggest that might be the case with her. She insisted the signs had always been there. She hated wearing dresses, she used male avatars in video games, she didn’t want to flirt with boys. She didn’t ‘feel’ like a girl.
“Do you want to go on hormones?” I asked, at one point during that first conversation. “You’d grow a beard.” I added, pointlessly.
She nodded. She never mentioned surgery, but I saw it looming in her future. The prospect terrified me. I didn’t know what to say. So I said, “It’ll be ok.”
She seemed much happier after telling me and then went to bed, a million miles away, in her room next to mine. I went to bed too, and the darkness screamed at me. I got up again, and spent the night googling ‘transgender’ and crying. I tried to be open-minded. I wanted to support Jessie more than anything; to do the best thing to help her, but I was sure transition wasn’t the answer she needed. I told myself I was open-minded, but was I really? Was I in denial? I slept very little over the following weeks.
I spoke to a lesbian friend, in a panic. “What does he want to do next?” she inquired. I felt as if I’d been punched in the stomach.
One of the first places I looked for information was the National Health Service website, because I presumed there would be impartial advice: something about helping people with the issue of reconciling their bodies with their identity. I thought that thinking you were transgender would be treated as a mental health issue; surely transition would be recommended as a last resort.
I typed ‘NHS transgender’ into Google, and the first article that appeared was the story of a boxing promoter who came out as transgender at age 60; about his ‘dreams, diaries and dress-ups’. A link on that site led to the children’s trans support group, ‘Mermaids’. which is run by parents who believe their children are born in the wrong bodies. Their advice to confused teens, in the section ‘I think I’m trans, what do I do?’ is ‘you can speak to your GP without your parents being able to know if you are not comfortable with coming out to them yet.’ Next, I flipped through the testimonials from parents. Mermaids receives UK lottery funding and is often the first port of call for concerned parents in the UK. As far as I could tell, every single child mentioned on the site has transitioned.
Another link on the NHS transgender page led me to a glossy brochure called ‘Living my Life’, featuring studio photos of good-looking transgender people. It struck me as more of an advert for plastic surgery than an information booklet.
A spikey-haired 20-something plays a guitar and shouts into the camera. ’We’re here for a good time, not a long time.’ A coiffed and manicured blonde wears a low-cut salmon pink top, and a pair of surgically enhanced breasts take up most of the bottom half of the picture. ‘I was always me but I just didn’t look like me.’
There was nothing on either of those two links about helping kids to reconcile with their natal sex. Nothing about working through it; nothing about learning to love yourself as you are. I saw nothing stating the obvious: that a healthy natal boy has a penis and testicles and a healthy natal girl has a vulva and vagina, and that both sexes should be able to do all the things they love while wearing whatever damn outfit takes their fancy.
I typed ‘Am I transgender?’ into Google and clicked on the link to amitransgender.com. One word filled the screen: a black YES on a white background.
“I want to change my pronouns,” Jessie announced. “I’m a boy in a girl’s body.”
“How can you know what a boy feels like, when you’re a girl?” I demanded.
She couldn’t or wouldn’t answer.
“You’re a girl,” I insisted. “You can do anything as a girl, achieve anything as a girl that you could if you were a boy, but you can’t just become a boy any more than you can become a cat. It doesn’t work like that.”
My eyes were opened over the next few weeks. Staying up most of the night, every night, Google led me beyond YouTube, to Reddit, to Tumblr, to Pinterest and Instagram. To posts about pink, clothing, hair and make-up. To seemingly endless pictures and slideshows of men, dressed like pornstars, claiming to be women. Vague explanations about ‘feeling’ different; about ‘being yourself’. It led me to videos of girls in checked shirts with cute quiffs and bound breasts, who genuinely believed they were gay men. They talked of ‘gender identity’ and the sex they’d been ‘assigned at birth’, as if births were attended by a gender fairy who absent-mindedly distributed random gifts of genitalia. A huge amount of importance was attached to public bathroom access and locker rooms of one’s choice. Endless posts claiming, in all seriousness, that ‘misgendering’ transpeople is an act of violence tantamount to trying to kill them, and how the only way to stop the feeling of dysphoria is to embrace transition and start living as your ‘preferred gender’. Immediately. There is no shortage of gender therapists offering to help a child do that, because if you even suspect you might be trans, then you probably are. Type ‘child gender therapist UK’ into Google and you get over 15 million results.
Everywhere I looked, the internet seemed eager to affirm that transition was a simple and marvellous thing, the one and only solution to all the problems of physical and social dysphoria. If you don’t support your child’s transition, parents are warned over and over again, they will probably try to kill themselves.
I learned a lot. I learned that if you don’t believe a man can become a woman; if you are gender critical, you will be called a TERF, transphobic and told to ‘educate yourself’ at best; ‘die in a fire’ at worst. I became familiar with the term ‘die cis scum’ (‘cis’ are non-trans people). I learned that if you are a lesbian who doesn’t want to give fellatio, you are transphobic. You may be called a cisbian and you are responsible for the ‘cotton ceiling’. Men get pregnant and you should say ‘chestfeeding’ not ‘breastfeeding’. Vulva cupcakes are violent. Women who menstruate should be called ‘menstruators’ so as not to trigger transwomen who cannot menstruate, or transmen who don’t wish to be reminded that they do. The term ‘female genital mutilation’ is ‘cis sexist’. Often, middle-aged people with names like Misty or Crystal will be the ones helpfully explaining this to confused ‘non-binary’ youngsters. If your child thinks they’re trans, there are a host of interested adults out there. They’ll help you select underwear, they’ll advise you to start transition as early as you can. Some will advise you to keep your feelings from your parents because they may become ‘crazy, hateful people’ if you come out to them. Worried siblings are told to keep quiet if they don’t want suicide on their hands. A few clicks will get you tips on how to get a binder without your parents knowing; some sites will even post you a second-hand binder for free. Tips on how to get hold of hormones illegally online and how to get ‘top surgery’ quicker by lying to a therapist are just a few clicks away.
I started taking Jessie’s phone away at night.
Here’s the thing – teenagers are dysphoric. Dysphoria is defined as ‘a state of unease or generalised dissatisfaction with life’ and that just about sums up being a teenager for a lot of kids. Many teenagers feel they aren’t in the right place, the right life, the right time. It is not such a huge leap, especially for a lesbian girl, to conclude that she is in the wrong body. Transkids call the name their parents gave them at birth their ‘deadname’. The appeal is clear. Society demands such impossible things from our youth. Our boychildren are expected to be tough, to ‘man up’, to scorn women yet acquire them, to value money and power above everything else. Is it any wonder if they shirk from what they are told is manhood? And if it is hard for them, it is so much worse for our girls. They are faced with endless images of airbrushed physical perfection in a society where women are told they can ‘have it all’ but are everywhere portrayed as constantly sexually available and intellectually and physically inferior. We are raising our girls in a society where women still earn nearly 20% less than men for the same work hours; where online porn is only a click away; where a third of young women age 18-24 report being sexually abused in childhood and only one in twenty reported rapes ends in a conviction. Is it really any wonder when young women want to cut off not just their hair but their breasts and fantasise about emerging, as if from a chrysalis, to join men in their position of power and privilege?
“Gender is a social construct.” I repeated. “You are a biological girl. You can have no idea what it feels like to be a boy, because you aren’t a boy. Being a girl doesn’t have to dictate what you like to do, or wear, or who you love.”
She said, “I’m a boy.”
“No, you are a girl.”
“You can’t tell me how I feel.”
I worried myself sick that, at almost 16, my child was only a few months away from being able to visit a doctor privately and start hormone treatment. In fact, as I later learned, some UK children are receiving cross-sex hormones from private doctors as young as 12.
When I first started my research into transgenderism online, I could find nothing that questioned the trans narrative. Everything said transition was the answer, the only answer. Then I found 4thWaveNow, Transgender Trend and Gender Critical Dad. Those websites were saving lights in the blue glow of my laptop on those sleepless nights. From there I was led to others who questioned Transtopia. I read, with a mixture of relief and dismay, articles showing the huge increase in young people identifying as ‘trans’ and presenting to gender clinics in the last few years. Those most likely to be sucked in seemed to be white, middle class girls who spent compulsive amounts of time on social media. I read blog posts by thissoftspace and crashchaoscats. I watched YouTube videos by the inspirational Peachyoghurt. I read Sheila Jeffreys’ ‘Gender Hurts’. I joined online radical feminist groups and met wonderful women full of love and anger who taught me a lot. I read stories about five year old children transitioning, and about parents discovering their child had ‘changed pronouns’ at school months ago, but the school had a policy not to discuss the issue with parents. I saw picture books encouraging children to question if they were born the ‘right’ sex. I read about a woman who started a fundraiser for ‘top surgery’ for her disabled daughter who was hospitalised in an intensive care unit. I watched videos where young boys donned false eyelashes and lipstick and curled their long hair, and told the world that they were really girls, while their parents held the cameras that broadcast their lives to the world via their own YouTube channels. Trans-identifying Jazz Jennings stars in a reality TV show. I read about MTT (male to trans) boxers hospitalising women in fights, about MTT golfers who suddenly became world champions, about middle-aged MTT playing on girls’ basketball teams. And I read story upon story about women and girls being assaulted in bathrooms, locker rooms, prisons and refuges, by men who identified as women and used the privilege that gave them to invade women’s spaces. In all my internet surfing, I never found a single story about an MTT being attacked in a men’s restroom.
I showed Jessie a graph that registered the sweeping rise in girls identifying as trans over the last decade. She seemed somewhat subdued by that.
“A woman can’t become a man, it’s impossible.” I reasoned. “How can your body be wrong but your brain be right?”
She repeated, “I’m in the wrong body.”
We went round in circles. And then, in my Internet wanderings, I discovered ‘Jake’.
Jessie had created an elaborate online persona as a transboy, as Jake. As the story slowly unravelled, I discovered that Jessie hadn’t met her new girlfriend, Beth, at a party, as she had told me. Instead, they had met online, and as far as Beth was concerned, she had a boyfriend, a transboy called Jake. As far as Beth was concerned, Jessie Maynard didn’t exist.
I was devastated, I was lost, I was furious. We’d had a strict ‘no fake profiles online’ rule and she had broken it, and then had lied to me.
“It’s not a fake profile,” she yelled, as she slammed her bedroom door. “It’s me!”
I changed the internet passwords and I bought her a ‘brick phone’, a phone without internet access. She was not impressed.
But I didn’t try to stop Jessie seeing Beth, or any of her other friends. Beth lived two hours away from us, but I paid Jessie’s train fare to visit her fortnightly, and gave her back her old phone to FaceTime most evenings. I was touched when Jessie wanted me to meet Beth, and I took them out for dinner. I had mixed feelings. On one level I felt the relationship was reinforcing her confusion. On another I felt it might help clear it. Yet I was horrified that Jessie had created this online world, slipped so easily inside and pulled it back into reality with her. There were others calling her Jake now, friends she had met online, and a few ‘IRL’ friends. Even some of her friends’ parents, I discovered, used the new name and pronouns.
“Do you think Beth really sees you as a boy?” I questioned, one afternoon.
“Yes.” Jessie didn’t look up from her book.
“She says if that’s how I identify, that’s how she sees me.” Jessie looked up this time, and seemed a little uncertain. “I have wondered about that,” she admitted.
Sometimes I would sit with her, coaxing her to explain how she felt, trying so hard to understand how she thought she really could be a boy; telling her what a talented and creative person she was and what a great life she had ahead of her.
Sometimes I couldn’t bear it any longer.
“Whatever you do to yourself you will always be a woman,” I shouted, exasperated. “Do you want a life where everyone around you creeps about pretending they think you’re something you’re not? Do you want to spend the rest of your life on hormones? Do you want a half-beard, phantom breasts, a life based on a lie?”
Sometimes she would not speak to me at all. And I didn’t blame her.
As I’ve said, the internet told me repeatedly that my child might kill herself if I questioned this new identity or whether transition was the best response to her feelings. I didn’t believe it. Jessie did not seem suicidal. Angry and confused, yes. There seemed to be no space for question, no one out there to tell these kids they might be ok as they are – that it was society’s expectations of what makes a man or a woman that should change, not them. This self-diagnosed condition seemed to be accepted without question by most therapists and health professionals.
I started a Facebook group just for Jessie and me, where I posted blog links, news articles and reports I found online, and checked if she had read them by bringing them up in conversation.
Sometimes I’d say, “You can have your phone to call Beth after you’ve read that article.”
Or, “I’ll wash up, you go and look at that video.”
Many of the links I shared with her explained gender as a social construct. Some unravelled the myth that our brains are gendered; some discussed what makes a woman a woman. Many linked FTT (female to trans) transgenderism to male domination, some discussed internalised misogyny. I made sure she knew that detransition was ‘a thing’ and that detransitioners were rejected by the community that had encouraged them to transition in the first place. Sometimes we read articles or watched videos together. She rolled her eyes a lot but didn’t seem to mind too much.
I read everything I could get my hands on. I stayed up most of the night, most nights, reading and copying and pasting appropriate links for Jessie to read. It was easier than lying in the dark, thinking about my perfect child removing her breasts a few years down the line. I learned about breast binders and the problems they can cause. I learned that the facial hair produced by testosterone often remains even if hormones are stopped. I googled pictures that I now wish I could unsee. A pre-op torso sporting breasts and chest hair. Photos of badly scarred, crooked chests; of nipples that looked as if they had been glued or badly stitched back on, reports of nipples that had ‘fallen off’. A photo of bloody breast tissue lying in a silver surgeon’s bowl. I saw pictures of constructed penises that looked like ready-rolled pastry and the raw exposed flesh that was cut away from arms or thighs to build them. I learned about how an artificial vagina can be constructed from a scrotal sack, and how, in the words of one MTT, “some of the tissues get starved of nutrients and oxygen (and) tends to die off”. I learned about ‘phantom penis syndrome’ and how it can affect some post-op MTTs when they become aroused.
It was horrific. It was nothing like the ‘My 2 Year Transition Story’ YouTube videos. I did not make an appointment for Jessie to see the doctor. I did not take her to a gender clinic.
“You’re not a straight boy, Jessie. You’re a lesbian.” I reasoned.
She shouted, furious, “I am not a lesbian!”
Her 16th birthday came and went. She had a party and her friends took over the ground floor. I kept one eye out from upstairs. Some cross-looking little goth girls smoked and drank beer at the bottom of the garden.
“Who were those girls?” I asked the next day.
“Those boys were Ryan and Jake.”
I did try to find Jessie a therapist who would help her reconcile with being female. The only openly gender critical therapist a Google search threw up lived in Texas. No use to us, then. I was put in touch with several people by email, but I could find no-one who worked in our area. Those I did communicate with were wonderfully supportive but asked me not to name them, not to give out their email address or talk about them. The message was clear – publicly questioning Transtopia could be professional suicide.
Jessie talked disparagingly of ‘otherkin’, the world of people who seriously ‘identify’ as animals. Cats, mostly, or wolves, and sometimes dragons. She didn’t take them very seriously. I said I couldn’t see a lot of difference between their beliefs and her own. She scowled–but then she laughed.
I showed Jessie photographs of Danielle Muscato and Alex Drummond: both men who consider themselves to be women.
I showed her a picture of an FTT (female to trans), who claimed she was a gay man, breast-feeding her baby.
“Man or woman?” I pestered her. “What makes a woman? What makes a man?”
We watched a video about Paul Wolscht, a man in his late forties who now ‘identifies’ and ‘lives as’ a 7- year old girl. Jessie was horrified. She said it was gross. I said that if gender really is all about identity, then his identity is surely as valid as any other. She looked at me, incredulous. I shrugged. There was a silence.
I showed her Peachyoghurt’s YouTube channel and we watched the videos together. Peachyoghurt made Jessie laugh. Sometimes I felt like we were getting somewhere, but when I asked her, the answer was always the same.
“Nothing’s changed. I’m still a boy.”
“What about Rachel Dolezal?” I asked one day, in the middle of dinner. “She was born white but honestly feels as if she is black. How is that different?”
“It just is.”
“I’m eating my dinner, mum.”
I taught her about how gender is a hierarchy; I gave her articles that showed that ‘transwomen’ are as likely to be arrested for violent crime against women as men; and that wealthy, older men are investing huge amounts of money in the transitioning of children.
Sigh. “I’m still a boy, mum. Nothing has changed.”
When Jessie was due to register at college at 16, she told me she wanted to register as a boy, as Jake. I had seen this coming and I was not keen at all. I felt that the more she indulged Jake; ascribed the good things in her life to being perceived as a male, the less there would be left of Jessie. The deeper she waded in the waters of Transtopia, the harder it would be to turn back. I worried about the effect on her education, and the damage that would be done by people in authority appearing to buy into her delusion. I was determined to at least find her some time and space to think a while longer before stepping into a life in which her ’transness’ was either the elephant in the room or the main focus of her being. She’d been offered a place at an excellent college an hour away from us. I took a gamble.
“You can do what you like when you are 18,” I told her. “But for now, you register as Jessie- as a girl- or you go to the college two blocks away from our flat.”
To say she was not pleased is an understatement. There were tears and there was shouting. But she registered at college as Jessie Maynard.
We know that we are supposed to say that transwomen are real women. We know that it upsets them when we don’t. We also know, although we think about it far less, that we are supposed to believe that teenage girls who think they are boys, are actually men. The reason the cry ‘transwomen are real women’ is so important is that the minute we stop buying into that ‘reality’ the whole house of cards collapses.
I talked with Jessie about the way we treat boys and girls differently and how their brains develop differences because of that. I reminded her that in Victorian times, and well into the 20th century, pink was considered to be a boy’s colour and boys wore dresses until they were as old as eight. Gender expectations are different in different cultures. How could your brain be right but your body wrong? Is Caitlin Jenner really a woman, and is the hardest part of being a woman really deciding what to wear? Can sixty years of male privilege be wiped away with surgery and a lipstick? I talked a lot.
After a while I would always ask, “Do you want me to go away?” Usually she would say, “Yes,” but sometimes she would shake her head. “No, you can stay.”
I told her how angry it made me feel that she had friends whose parents used her ‘preferred pronouns’, because I wouldn’t tell an anorexic girl she looked better thin, or comment on how cool the cutting scars on a boy’s arms looked.
I tried to give her support and let her know that I would always love her, but I never wavered for a minute from the idea that a woman cannot ‘become’ a man. Jessie and I went out for walks, to the cinema; out to lunch. I watched her and thought how clever she was, how compassionate, how thoughtful, how beautiful. I couldn’t bear the thought that she might mutilate herself in pursuit of something she could never really have. I wore sunglasses far too often that summer, but it helped to hide my eyes.
Then, at a party, Jessie met up with a friend she hadn’t seen for a year. Hazel had lived as a boy called Harvey for 8 months and then re-identified as a girl. Unbeknownst to me, they talked a lot over the next few weeks.
“What does Hazel say about it all?” I asked, curious, when Jessie told me.
She shrugged. “Pretty much the same as you.”
When she asked if she could stay the weekend at Hazel’s house, obviously I said yes. I began crossing my fingers and hoping for a light at the end of the tunnel.
A week later she said “I’m thinking about it all, mum. I’m not sure what I think anymore.”
Jessie started at college and had never seemed so happy. Slowly, she seemed to begin reconciling with her femaleness. Then she told me she wanted to tell me something ‘later’. I thought I knew, I suspected, I hoped and I hoped. I waited and time passed slowly.
One day she texted me on the way to college, “I am a girl. I was never a boy.”
She has told the group of friends that called her Jake the same. Beth has been accepting, saying “Now you’re my preferred gender.” The only friend who is disappointed is a boy.
“You are becoming problematic.” he told her. “You need to educate yourself.”
Jessie saw the irony.
Jessie wrote a respectful but trans-critical post on her Tumblr account, and two of her ‘transboy’ followers messaged her saying they had also been feeling that way for some time and asked her to tell them more. She is currently messaging with several young people who are experiencing gender confusion. I hope she can help them, as her friend Hazel and I helped her, to realise that your potential should not be governed by your genitals; that the problem is gender and the solution is to try to change the system, not yourself.
I realise that it could have all gone horribly wrong: Jessie could have turned her back on our family and bought into the myth that anyone who questions trans ideology is phobic, full of hatred, and should be discarded in the name of liberation and finding yourself. If things had gone that way, I could have lost a child as well as a daughter. Every family is different and I would not presume to tell another parent how to deal with their child’s assertion that they are transgender. It is a minefield. If I had ever felt that Jessie needed to transition to stay alive, I would have acted differently, but I never once felt that she was in danger of taking her own life. Of course, I had never expected my daughter to tell me she was my son, either.
I do not dispute that, for a very small number of people, their gender and body dysmorphia has gone so far that the only comfortable way for them to survive in this culture is to live as the opposite sex. These people should have the same rights as the rest of us, they should not be discriminated against and they should be able to move about their business in safety. Housing and jobs should be open to them, just as they should to any member of society. I don’t want to belittle their suffering and I would not ‘misgender’ someone to their face. But a man is not a woman and a woman is not a man. These are biological differences, and biology is the fundamental basis of female oppression. To claim that being a woman is no more than a feeling is to instigate the erasure of women. The idea that we should buy into the myth that our young people are ‘born in the wrong body’ because they do not want to conform to contemporary gender stereotypes is doublespeak worthy of an Orwellian dystopia. The fact that teenage girls, predominantly young lesbians, are rejecting their womanhood in an attempt to become their oppressors should fill society with horror. Instead we are making ‘being trans’ into the latest fashion and parading these children in newspapers and on reality TV shows. I don’t know where it will end.
What I do know is that if I had let Jessie register at college as a boy and taken her to a gender clinic, we would be looking at a very, very different picture now. My beautiful 16-year-old daughter would have stepped down the road to public transitioning and a lifetime on medication. She would be looking towards a very different future.
Thank you to those of you that gave me support. To the women and men who have written so honestly about their experiences as parents, or as gender questioning young adults. Words cannot describe the strength you gave me when I needed to believe that I was doing the right thing in not supporting Jessie’s immediate transition. One more strong, healthy young woman is growing up a feminist.
Thoughts from Jessie Maynard:
Although at the time I didn’t appreciate it, the constant repetition of “you can’t be a boy” did me good. A lot of good. I had been spending too much time on the internet and I had got it into my head that somehow, biological girls could really be boys, if they “identified” as such (& vice versa).
As someone who’s always had a mostly realistic grip on the world, for some reason I had been pulled into a world where boys could become girls and girls could become boys. I felt that because I said I was a boy, I was a boy.
At the time, I felt that my mum not immediately calling me Jake and using male pronouns was horrible and transphobic. But in the long run, without her resistance, I probably wouldn’t be as happy as I am today, as I would still be thinking I was a boy and trying to “pass” as a boy (which I would never be able to do without body-altering hormones.)
I think that if I had changed my pronouns in September, and registered at my college as a boy I would be a lot more unhappy as I would constantly be trying to “pass” and I wouldn’t be making the friends I wanted to, as I would be trying to fit in with the “male crowd”. When I arrived at my college, making friends wasn’t my primary motive, however the friends I have made are almost all female, and I don’t think I would have those friends if I had been trying to fit in as a boy.
Most of all, understanding gender as a social construct has taken me a long way in my personal life, and in my ideas about feminism and the way women and men are treated, especially women by the trans movement.
I’m glad that I realised before it was too late, as I am now happier in my own body and identity. I think that as a whole, many girls who wouldn’t’ve identified as transgender 10/20 years ago are now thinking they are which is dangerous and harmful to them, and that talking to them maturely and explaining gender as a social construct could really help them.
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Wow: what a story! I especially like this line: “The idea that we should buy into the myth that our young people are ‘born in the wrong body’ because they do not want to conform to contemporary gender stereotypes is doublespeak worthy of an Orwellian dystopia.”
I’d also like to add that there are only two chromosomes in mammals: X and Y, and gender is not assigned at birth, but at conception. If a Y chromosome enters the egg you end up with a boy, and XY chromosome, and an X for an XX (girl) and that these millions of chromosomes in our bodies cannot be changed, no matter how much pink or lipstick you wear. Neither can they be changed with surgery. A girl will always be XX, even if she has her breasts removed and a penis constructed.
You are sick if you believe that is true. Having a male/female birth certificate, having a penis/vagina, and being recognised is as male/female by family, friends, peers, and strangers means they are male/female. NO ONE is ever going to check another person’s chromosomes. Even then there are men born with XX and women born with XY. Stop being ignorant and delusional.
You should better educate yourself.
Hi N. I’m replying to the helpful links below. It is useful to understand these things. I’m unclear of the relevance of them to the debate, however. In the case of most young girls and boys experiencing gender dysphoria there are no chromosomal abnormalities we have so far detected. Do you not think some basic research into the causes of dystopia would be useful before advocating drastic surgery? In this context it’s a shame trans activists arw out to silence debate. Proper scientific enquiry can’t exist in a climate of fear.
This gives me some hope, thank you for being strong and loving enough to not give in, to ask questions!
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Hey there, I don’t know if this message will be seen, but would your daughter be open to chatting with me about her thoughts further?? I am definitely gender confused and not sure of what to do and am trying to get both sides of the argument before committing to hormones or anything permanent. I don’t know if i am trans or not.
My daughter keeps out of all this now. She did a couple of interviews shortly after desisting but this happened over 2 years ago and she has moved on.
Contact pique resilience project through their website or you tube channel or specifically try one of its members , chaira, on twitter They are willing to speak to people like you who are questioning.
All the best
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Also, people who fully transition are not transgender, they are now just men and women respectively. People do not transition to be transgender, they are either male or female after the transition, nothing else.
Literal ‘transition’ isn’t possible. You cannot change sex; gender is a set of harmful stereotypes.
If you have XY chromosomes, you can take endless hormones and have surgery, and in the end you will still have XY chromosomes and probably your prostate gland. YOU ARE NOT A WOMAN.
Thank goodness for people like you, Lily. Your loving and intellectually honest persistence with your daughter has absolutely made the world a better place – not just for Jessie but for all of us who read your enlightened blog posts.
In some respects, your story feels similar to mine – only in my case, it was my husband, not a child, who bought into transgender ideology. It’s an insidious process – and for me, it didn’t have a happy ending. I spent far too much time trying to reconcile the weird claims of trans activists with what I believe to be true about the world; and when I finally realised it couldn’t be done, it was too late for my objections to make a difference.
I am curious about some things and thought perhaps you could answer questions; I hope my questions won’t offend you.
Do you think the fad for transgenderism has anything to do with very privileged children living in very privileged societies? Do you think the fad for transgenderism has anything to do with children who do not have enough to do and consequently spend (too much) time online? I live in a rural area and have only had other people’s teenagers living with me — and we kept them very busy!
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Wonderful piece. I love when you point out that teenagers are inherently dismorphic. They are changing from one person into another. It is absurd to place the extra question of whether they should change their sex. We don’t let teenagers make major medical decisions. My son can’t go alone to his pediatrician and request that his ADHD medication be changed, why should he be able to embark on a course of opposite sex hormones and mutilation? There is never a single moment where anyone makes sure the kid is actually trans now. There are no efforts to diagnose underlying conditions and determine if the dysphoria is a result of one of those conditions. That’s why trans suicide rates are pretty much constant before and after transition. These people need real treatment, not drugs and plastic surgery. And until we wake up and realize that sex is a fact, not a feeling, people are going to continue to die.
I’ve been traumatised since my 15 year old son suddenly declared that he’s transgender and petrol was then poured onto the flames by CAMHS and The Tavistock Clinic who instead of helping him, accepted, embraced, celebrated and even congratulated him on his announcement and obsessive determination to live as a female. The transgender obsession was announced 4 weeks after having a complete acute OCD breakdown and becoming practically a bed-bound recluse. Within weeks he went from being at mainstream school to becoming a recluse -very mentally unwell with acute OCD fear of contamination, terrifying intrusive thoughts, anxiety, depression and IBS. In the months preceding this he’d been worryingly addicted to being online every minute he could, til very late in the night despite being told to switch off all gadgets. Ignoring all
the other disturbing behaviours and signs of being mentally very unwell, CAMHS and the Tavistock Clinic embraced his rapid-onset delusion that he was female. They became a danger to my son, totally biased and blinkered in favour of the bizarre cult-like ideology that the root of all his psychiatric issues was that he was simply born into the wrong body. The NHS and the Tavistock Clinic are recklessly damaging lives of young people with Aspergers and gender issues. It’s a scandal and needs to be looked at.
Thanks for writing your story and highlighting what’s happening. I felt totally isolated fearful and alone trying to battle for my son to get balanced rational care from the nhs mental health services. In the end I had to give up, and find him a private psychotherapist. As caring parents we love our kids and want the best for them
just because the nhs and the media are normalising sex changes for adolescents it doesn’t mean it’s automatically and unquestioningly the right thing to do.
Louisa, it’s some time since your comment.
I hope you and your son are okay.
Can I ask what happened in the end?>
Found your page from your tweet today regarding the guy with his legs spread. Didn’t like you tweeting it out to the world, however if you had not, I would have never come across this thoughtful article. Good job mom. Your daughter is lucky, as I suspect you feel equally as lucky to have her:)
Hello all. Can I just say something though. I’ve been a charity worker most of my life and the way you describe CAMHS and the NHS is very familiar to me.
I remember my first chat, in a bail hostel, with a lesbian girl from Wales who was into selling prescribed drugs and addicted to them too, hence being in the hostel. I asked her where it all started and she told me she was the only gay in the village, got beaten up and bullied etc. The drugs were to take the edge off. There she was aged 35 and still gay. I learnt that they will tell you who they are and your job is to listen and respect that. We know that not respecting abused people is abusive to them…..and that rings bells with what you’re saying.
I don’t know much about being trans; my rather simple view is that it’s someone else’s business. It’s eye opening to realise that for young people today, they almost have a smorgasbord from which to choose, when choosing is not what they need on top of everything else and it was eye opening to read your blog.
But how do we tally that with cases like that woman in the hostel? I know she was only gay, but back then that was seen as wrong and yet she still was it. The question of whether you can ever transition is a question I can’t answer, as I’m a woman and very proud of it. I just wanted to say that respecting what a person tells you in our line of work, with the vulnerable, is something we all do. I’d like to think that robust listening goes alongside that though, and issues are pulled apart properly. I don’t like to think of the places you can get treatment under the table at all, as that’s taking advantage.
Great read. One million thumbs up.
It deeply disturbs me that you can bully and harass your own child to such an incredibly severe degree until you finally succeed in warping their mind in the same exact way that you seem to think TRAs are doing. I hope your daughter – or very possibly so-has a better life when they leave the nest.
Well, there really is no need to feel deeply disturbed! This all happened several years ago now. My daughter is happy at uni, confident in herself and in her relationships and has just come home for Christmas despite having plenty of other places she could stay. I know that you, and many other trans people, are very keen for my daughter to be my son – sorry not sorry, it isn’t on the cards, you’ll have to find your affirmation elsewhere. As the Tavistock well knows, traditionally most children desist. My daughter was not bullied and harassed: she wasn’t affirmed but was treated with love and support: she’s a wonderful young woman, we have an excellent relationship & I’m proud to be her mum.
How anyone can think that preventing a child going down a road that will lead to surgery and life long hormone therapy is bullying and harassment is beyond me. It’s tough supporting a child with gender dysphoria and Lily is brilliant!
How anyone can think that preventing a child going down a road that will lead to surgery and life long hormone therapy is bullying and harassment is beyond me. It’s tough supporting a child with gender dysphoria and Lily is brilliant!
Can I ask why it felt like a gut punch when your friend referred to your daughter with the pronouns that (at the time) would have been appropriate? You talk later about the “house of cards” that trans people build up their understanding of reality on. You also talk about the idea that no one really believes that trans women are women, or trans men men. Yet you had an extreme, visceral reaction of dismay when someone identified your child as a boy. Was it because you thought your friend was faking it for the sake of your child? Was it because you felt your friend must be delusional? Or was it because you genuinely didn’t understand what was going on?
I daresay we all have our houses of cards that we live in. Our understanding of reality is based on personal experience, and everyone lives different lives, so it’s not uncommon for what seems like basic facts to be shaken by someone else’s version of reality. Your behavior, as described in this article, has much in common with the behavior you point out in trans ideologists: you try to shut down conversations with mantra-like declarations (“a woman can’t become a man”) while basing your own arguments around a gut feeling which you avoid explaining in any detail. You associate surgery and full transition with death, comparing it directly to anorexia and wrist-cutting despite there being no reasonable equivalence between these things. You yourself were never concerned with your daughter actually dying on the surgery table, but only of living an imperfect life (“boobs with hair”, really, that’s the worst you could think of?), subject to criticism and rejection by others. And yet, in the year they spent attempting to live as a trans man, the only major source of criticism and rejection they seem to have encountered is you! Perhaps the death you were worried about was a metaphorical one, despite your insistence on basing all arguments around physical bodies – maybe you were worried about the death of your child as someone you fully understood and had control over.
I’m not trans, and I’ve never had any sort of ‘gender crisis’. But I’ve spent a good portion of my life in the queer community, and I’ve seen hundreds of trans people who are above all else happy to be out, living the life they want to live on their own terms, just as you intermittently encourage your daughter to do. Their lives aren’t perfect, but neither is anyone else’s, and there is overwhelming agreement that their lives would be worse if they had stayed as they were. I am glad your daughter is happy with where she ended up, but I hope that the next time something comes along that calls into question your basic understanding of the world and the people living in it, you don’t react by inflicting pain and misery on those close to you.
Well, firstly, I believe that pronouns describe your sex, not a vague elusive personal sense of gender that many of us don’t even possess. So the pronoun ‘he’ was not appropriate for my daughter, who was at the time a fifteen year old child. A girl, not a boy. This is where our ideologies differ, yours and mine. I see gender as an oppressive social construct, something that should be deconstructed, with its roots firmly set in sexism and stereotyping and which harms us all, but specifically harms females. Our sex is not a ‘gut feeling’, it is a biological fact. The existence of intersex people does not change that. To believe this is not an act of hatred. Incidentally, the friend you refer to is now a radical feminist, partly due to discussions we had concerning how transgenderism erases lesbians like both my daughter and my friend. I never try to shut down conversations. I am very open to dialogue. Here for example. Despite your rudeness in insulting my intelligence with reference to my ‘basic understanding’ and accusing me of inflicting pain and misery on my child, I have answered you politely. You’re welcome.
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I am expecting my daughter to be born any day now. It’s definitely a bit early to worry about what her teenage years will bring, but that doesn’t stop me of course.
Just wanted to say thank you for posting this, for keeping it posted, and for doing that brave, loving thing that children need- being a parent.
Blind affirmation does not equal love, seems many people confuse the two. So I’m grateful for women like you, even though we’ve never met.
Best wishes to you and your daughter, she sounds like an awesome human.
I am glad that Jess is happy and confident now, but you could have handled this a lot better than you did. You claim that you tried to be open-minded, but your blog post says otherwise. You seem to have looked and looked for articles that would support your vision, not things that might genuinely help Jessie. You just didn’t want a trans kid. A lot of it was genuinely difficult to read, not because of what Jess was going through, but because of your reaction. I actually winced a couple of times. Taking away your child’s phone, cutting them off from things that make them happy, forcing them to do things on your terms (“you can have your phone call with Beth after you’ve read that article”) is not good parenting. Neither is constantly harassing them, niggling them about their identity. Maybe you convinced yourself it was out of love and that’s why you did what you did. Maybe you *were* a little bit scared, and that’s okay, but you didn’t handle it right at all. You paint yourself as the victim when in reality, Jess was. She needed a supportive parent, and you weren’t one. I hope that even though she detransitioned, you apologised for your behaviour. Surely you have to recognise that the pain and suffering you caused your child was not okay.
Imagine if you saw a parent treat a child that way because they came out as gay. That they took away their phone, changed internet passwords, made them watch anti-gay videos or read anti-gay articles. Told you that they cried and mourned their “straight” child. Ask yourself; were you worried about Jessie, or about yourself.
If it’s anything, I have many trans friends, trans boys, trans girl, and non-binary people, and they’re all happy and confident and lovely people. Even moreso since they started medically transitioning. Maybe you could do from having your perspective broadened, talking to trans people. Learning about the very real dangers that trans people-and yes, trans boys too-face.
And maybe instead of being upset that Jessie hid her online profile from you, ask yourself if it is concerning that she felt she could not talk to you about it.
Thank you for your article and unwavering commitment to your daughter, it is a beacon of parenthood warning of the imminent yet out of sight danger confronting our youth. Such warnings are seen too infrequently and are dimmed by the clouds of dissent whirling ferociously around it the moment the wick are lit. Rational discussion regarding therapy and treatment is no longer even possible. I wonder how this ideology could ever take root, let alone be embraced and encouraged in the very institutions to which we entrust our children. How could this indoctrination be viewed as rational or scientific? “ Follow the money” is always my mantra but this seems much more insidious. Who and why has this been inculcated into our very psyches as “accepted science”?
God bless your strength and courage.