Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood

A Parent Aims To Decipher A Teen’s Transgender Declaration

February 3, 2017

By Tina Traster

I remember the phone call from the boy’s mother. She told me my daughter and her son were dating. Didn’t I know? I didn’t. It was one of those moments when your brain cleaves in two. The stronger half said that can’t be possible. The dueling half said maybe it was, perhaps she was ready for intimacy?

With that, I began to pay closer attention. J leads a secret life. She does not share. She is not transparent in any way at all. I got on board and invited the young boy over and eagerly drove her to “dates” at his house and to spend time with his family. From what I could observe, I wasn’t seeing anything that seemed like a romantic foray. My daughter and her new “boy” friend existed in concentric circles, never showing an overt affection for one another, let alone showing an interest in each other’s interior life. They played video games. Watched movies. Went to the mall.

To my husband and I, the young man seemed gentle, effeminate, and possibly on the spectrum. Our daughter showed no sign of a hormonal teen in love. We knew we didn’t need to talk to her about experimenting sexually with this boy because it was so obvious neither once was showing the slightest inclination of sexual attraction for the other.

I figured the phase would pass. I’d deduced that she and the boy had been pushed together by their entirely-female alternative peer group. I thought it might hasten what I thought to be inevitable: that she would finally come out and declare her gayness.

Instead she told us she was transgender; she was a boy trapped inside a girl.

I don’t care how cool LGBTQ is at the moment, or how much the media and other industries are propping up the visibility of people with these choices. In the end of the day, this is not welcome news to a parent. Period.

The moment of reckoning did not take us by complete surprise. Another parent in her peer group alerted us to disturbing online activity. A couple of the girls, including ours, were outing themselves on trans sites on Instagram, posting pictures of wearing binders in order to hide their breasts. My husband and I absorbed the shock together, sharing our mutual belief that our daughter was confused and misleading herself. But, by the time she outed herself to us, we realized she was vested in this so we had to walk an emotional tightrope having decided we would not outright support this nor would we oppose it.

Adolescence is a time of intimacy, sexual experimentation, and vulnerability. We knew our daughter, a Russian adoptee who rejects physical and emotional closeness, was going to be more socially challenged than she’d ever been in her life, and more challenged than most.

Before 8th grade, our daughter never had a close group of friends. This group seemed to make sense. The anime crowd. Arty, musical, smart, angry, edgy. Almost all with IEPs (individual education plans). But we were so thrilled that J, who had only ever bonded with us, was finally making connections to others. We had to temper our disappointment during the first half of eighth grade when she withdrew from us. We told ourselves that’s normal adolescent behavior. She became moody, hostile, shut down. Obsessed with the smart phone, she wouldn’t let us help her with homework anymore, and her grades slipped precipitously. Her appearance became appalling. She wore baggy shapeless clothing, talked about wanting to chop her lovely golden hair off, packed on weight, and asked to be called a male name. She made it a concerted campaign to reject anything feminine – literally cleansing her room of anything pink or girly with a vengeance.

My husband and I rode out the year, convinced J was not mature enough to really know whether she is trans or not. We did not oblige her a male pronoun though it became clear she’d only wear boys’ clothing. We talked about this constantly, reaching into the past for clues. Trying to understand where this began and what it all means.

What we derived at was this: being “trans” made our daughter interesting, edgy, different, among her peers. Mostly, she tells the world she’s a boy, and dresses like one. What I believe is that our attachment-phobic daughter is using transgenderism as a shield against intimacy and sexuality. When I’ve suggested to her that perhaps she’s a lesbian, she is most defensive and unhinged. If you’re straight or gay, you’re still in the game of sexual exploration, and some of the girls in her group have experimented with one another. But J’s otherness keeps her a step apart. She never talks about sexuality, only genderism.

She’s also never been interested in boys or in the masculine realm. In fact, she’s always responded to female mentors and teachers, and specifically not to men. She may not have played with dolls much, but she also didn’t play with trucks or guns. Nothing about her existence up to this point suggests that she’s “a girl in a boy’s body”.

J hungers for attention and at times her appetite is insatiable. We have always known that. When she got involved with this circle of friends, she was particularly drawn to L. This child is exceptionally bright and manipulative. She has a lot of freedom, and based on text messages and other correspondences that came to our attention, we believe this child had a significant hand in leading J to the pot of gold she’s found in advertising herself as transgender.

Just pick up a newspaper or flip on the television, and there is a storm of growing acceptance affiliated with the LGBTQ movement. It is hip, now, even glam. I believe in some cases it’s a haven for teens who are having trouble defining themselves in emotional ways. Is this sudden spate of transgenderism real, or is it a social contagion? It’s a means of standing apart. Some youngsters use these labels and preferences to garner a sense of inclusiveness. In J’s case, I believe it’s a shield.

What we’ve decided to do is stay relatively neutral. We’ve told her that when she’s 18 years old, she’ll have legal rights. She can change her name. Take hormones. Make adult decisions about an adult topic. She’s not going to wear a skirt or date a boy, or even date a girl. But it is critical not to alienate her, because that’s a death sentence for adopted children with attachment disorders, and we’ve worked too hard to get her to attach and stay attached.

Recently I was talking to a therapist friend who specializes in LBGTQ teens. I told her what was going on, but said I was skeptical. I was expecting her to talk me down, and tell me why it’s important that my husband and I embrace J’s declarations and enable her. Instead she told me the therapy community is having to dial back on what seems to be an “outbreak” of transgenderism, and to approach the subject with more skepticism. That was enough for me, for now.

Tina Traster is a award-winning veteran journalist, author and filmmaker. She is the author of Rescuing Julia Twice: A Mother’s Tale of Russian Adoption and Overcoming Reactive Attachment Disorder (Chicago Review Press). She writes a column in Psychology Today called Against All Odds.


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  • Reply Alexis Anderson February 3, 2017 at 9:39 am

    This article is so deeply transphobic it hurt me, physically, to read. (It felt like a punch to the gut.)

    Normally I’d refrain from commenting, delete this blog from my rss feed and try to shake it off, but instead I feel called to try my hardest to help the author. Painful as it is. Because if it’s painful for me to get triggered like this, twenty years after being told my sexuality was “just a phase” (and many years since being finally accepted for who I am), then I have a duty to try to help the kids whose parents don’t get it (yet).

    I am gender fluid and I can assure you your child knows what their own body is feeling. Even if that changes, year to year or even day to day. I’ve known since before I had words to adequately express the idea. I came out as bisexual because I didn’t even know being gender fluid existed, in the 90s. Having the words to describe who I am now isn’t “hip” or “glam” or even a “social contagion.”

    I’m a boring middle aged person. Looking at me, most of the time, you’d think I identify as a woman (I like colors and skirts and have large breasts). I’ve been married to the same person since 1999. I’m not looking to be rebellious or hip. I’m just happy to have found words that describe who I am accurately.

    I’m happy for the kids who don’t have to go looking for the right words and who don’t have to get used to people misgendering them. Who can ask for the right pronouns for themselves.

    And I’m scared (and furious for) the kids who find the right words and are then told by their own families that they aren’t going to be “enabled” to have autonomy over their own bodies.

    Having body autonomy means being in control of your own body and the pronouns you choose are part of that self control.

    Use your child’s pronouns.


    Just using the correct pronouns right now would be such a big difference. You may not even need to use “he” and “him,” though you should, if your kid asks you to. Many of us prefer “they” and “them” instead.

    Stop with the “she” and “her.”

    I can’t speak to wanting surgery or hormones (it’s not part of my personal identity) but there’s plenty of other trans people who can. Start learning from them, instead of someone who may or may not have transphobia themselves (lots of LGB people/allies are transphobic and therapists are no exception).

    I hope this will be a helpful article:

    • Reply RadicalMum December 18, 2018 at 8:19 pm

      I too am the mother of a suddenly trans teen.

      I find it so frustrating when transpeople leap on articles like these with accusations of transphobia.

      I understand that many of the people making those claims are trans adults who realised their transness as teenagers, and who were unable to get access to what they needed. They are speaking from a position of pain and lived experience, and seeing themselves in the teens represented in these stories.

      But just because many trans adults knew as teenagers that they were trans, it doesn’t mean that every teenager asserts a trans identity really is. I know you were hurt by your parents, but this story isn’t about you.

      I don’t doubt that some or even many teens are trans, but not all. Trans activist may use strong arm tactics to silence stories of desistance and detransition, but bit by bit there are enough stories finally getting out about teens, written by those teens, who once believed they were trans and came to realise it was something else. So you cannot say all.

      Given then many many thousands of teenage girls now coming out as trans, surely even the most ardent activitist should be able to accept that some of them could be confused, or seeking attention, or looking for a way to fit in, or looking for a way to be different, or expressing some inner pain unrelated to their gender, or expressing fear about their changing bodies and what it means to become a woman in today’s society. I am certainly not saying that no child who claims a trans identity is trans. I am however saying that some children who claim a trans identity are not. Surely one should be able to understand that without seeing it as an attack on trans validity?

      Unfortunately they cannot, because accepting the possibility that any child might mistakenly claim a trans identity threatens their argument that gender is inate and unchangeable. And the idea that anyone could mistakenly believe they are trans is problematic because it justifies gatekeeping.

      If parents like this were “forbidding” their child to become trans, or forcing them to wear gendered clothing, or saying negative things about transpeople, then maybe you would have a point. All I see here is a loving parent doing their best to navigate a very challenging time in their child’s life. Like me they are trying to keep the lines of communication open, stay neutral so as to not unnecessarily hurt the child’s feelings, and ride this thing out trying to delay permanent changes because they are mindful of the possibility that feelings could change. Because sorry but have you met a teenage girl lately? They become deeply obsessed with all manner of things. When it’s clearly nonsense we’re allowed to write it off as a phase, but as soon as they hit on the magic words “gender dysphoria” we’re supposed to distinguish that this is the one thing amongst a whole bunch of passionately felt ill conceived plans that we have to take seriously and take immediate action on. And frankly the blocker+T permanent irreversible sterilization path isn’t one I’m keen to put my child on. And if you go to a gender specialist, that is exactly what they will do.

      Truly my heart goes out to transwomen who are stuck with adam’s apples and deep voices, but at the end of the day I would rather my daughter transition at 18 and be pissed with me for having to have a mastectomy scar, than transition at 12 and be pissed at me that she can never have children or experience sexual pleasure because her genitals and reproductive organs never fully developed. (I will acknowledge that sexual impairment is not certain, it’s just a risk. Sterilization however is 100% on blockers + T).

  • Reply Renee February 7, 2017 at 11:46 am

    This has happened with my daughter as well. She fell into an online group and suddenly became convinced she was transgender. She wanted us to call her a male name and pronouns, asked for a binder, testosterone and planned for a double mastectomy. She was persistent for about a year. But she eventually decided she wasn’t transgender after all. She admitted that she was confused. Now she is back to feeling female again.

    I totally agree with the author that it is very trendy for kids now to suddenly come out as transgender. This isn’t transphobic to admit. It is really happening. At my daughter’s high school there is a whole group of girls that feel they are some variant of gender, pretty much anything but female.

  • Reply Colleen May 12, 2017 at 6:29 am

    I am in the midst of this right now. My adopted 13 year old daughter, who is a tomboy and wore boy gym shorts to school, is now in a new school and is being supported by the school and friends as non binary. She has gotten a boy’s haircut and wears boys clothes exclusively. She requested gender neutral pronouns and I was informed only after the fact. When I approach the school to question this I am iced out. I am a single mom and fearful that she is going down a path that a 13 year old is to young to choose.
    I am afraid to call a therapist as the underlying anxiety and wanting to fit in to a new school may not be addressed.

  • Reply penny greenhough May 14, 2017 at 11:39 am

    I hope you have read 4th Wave Now – where you can get a lot of support and tons of information about this social contagion among teenage girls from other parents and from professionals who are working against the tide trying to keep their oath to Do No Harm…
    Please ignore daft comments from trans activists (as above) . There is a strong paedophilic interest in trans kids. adult fetishists are very keen to recruit your kids into their cult. it doesnt take long on google if you know what search terms to use to find the horrifying truth about this ‘new world order’. Gender non conforming is deemed a sickness in need of hormones and surgery to correct the body to the behaviour. healthy children are being poisoned and mutilated and once socially transitioned, puberty blocked and sterilised and mutilated are henceforth dependent for life on ‘gender specialists’ surgeons and doctors only too happy to straighten out your gay child into something that appears more heteronorative though non functional. there are horror stories out there of FtM transitions – and many many de transitioners in this group.
    Never think you are wrong. Your daughter has the best parents she could hope for in this situation. dont give up on her.

  • Reply Sofia May 14, 2017 at 1:49 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story.
    For anyone who is crying “transphobia” after reading this, please take a step back. This is not about you. This is a very personal story about a child, and their parents are clearly intelligent, caring people who know their daughter very well and are very conscious of the social influences that are affecting her. Also keep in mind that many young people detransition after growing up to be adults. And to be a young (lesbian) girl in this society is very very hard and many of them find it easier to join the queer trend than to accept themselves. No body is a wrong body. Being female is a biological fact and we can’t identify out of it. I think these parents are very wise to let her explore herself and try to wait for her to realize what she wants as she grows up. The trans activist community is very unforgiving with anyone who is not repeating their mantras and gaslight people who make rational arguments by claiming that they “phisically hurt them” by questioning the trans narrative. As a lesbian I’m deeply troubled by the many young girls I hear about who want to transition in order to “fit in”, because the world is so homophobic that they can’t accept a non-feminine girl who loves girls. Young children today grow up with the idea that “liking things that traditionally are associated with the other sex” means that they are actually “the other sex”. This is reinforcing gender stereotypes which are very harmful, especially for girls. We have to work towards self-acceptance, which includes accepting our bodies as they are, and accepting our personalities even if we don’t fit in. Keep being awesome wise parents, good luck to you and your daughter.

  • Reply Linda May 15, 2017 at 7:15 am

    You are NOT transphobic. You are doing what is best for your child who you love and care about. Trans is a cult and your daughter is vulnerable. I lost my own beautiful, very feminine daughter to this fad (though she was an adult at the time, so I could not have any influence) before I knew much about it. Make sure you connect with the 4th Wave Now community and best of luck to you.

  • Reply Kate September 29, 2017 at 10:09 pm

    This is not what you think. The “world” is not accepting the LGBTQTIA community. All of these marches and gender less bathrooms and gay marriage laws are a diversion to make the LGBTQTIA people think they are making progress when really they are lambs being led to slaughter. Beware. Things are not what they seem.

  • Reply Trevor January 28, 2018 at 1:38 am

    I don’t get the comments calling you transphobic. As a transgender person myself who transitioned during my teenhood I would have very much wanted a parent like you. Someone who doesn’t just blindly follow their child’s directions, but is also open to discussion.

    From your post, I believe you said that you called your child by whatever pronouns they wanted and also let them wear whatever they wanted. It was only on irreversible surgery/hormones that you drew the line. But even then, you still gave your kid the option to do those as soon as they became a mature adult.

    I think this is a great stance in a world where there seems to be largely two types of parents.
    1) Parents who completely cut off emotional support with their children upon hearing their child’s declaration that they are transgender
    2) Parents who are eager to please the child by immediately giving them everything they want without a thought.

    The first type is bad no matter whether the child is ultimately transgender or not. For a child who is not really transgender, they may grow older and understand that they made a mistake. However, they will likely never forget that you were not there for them in their time of hurt and confusion.
    The second, while good for a true transgender child, has the potential to be harmful if the child is just seeking to be transgender as a form of attention seeking.

    All in all, I hope for the best between you and your child.

  • Reply Julia Mason MD November 22, 2020 at 9:09 am

    Thanks for this essay, and I wish you luck in supporting your daughter through a difficult time. I found this article after the brouhaha over your piece at Psychology Today. I’m sorry that they broke under the weight of activist’s sternly written emails and comments.

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