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 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.