I recently had the opportunity to appear on the “Dr. Phil” show to tell the story of my daughter’s two-year struggle with gender confusion. After taping the show, I was overcome with emotion. It took all the courage I had to walk on stage in front of a likely antagonistic audience. I relived this terrifying moment in our lives and felt pressure to represent the many other families I know still suffering. These families love their children more than anyone, as is most often true. They are not rejecting their children but protecting them.
It never gets easier to tell the story of when our 11-year-old daughter believed she was a boy. For six months, the public school she attended “socially transitioned” her behind our backs. We were horrified when we learned of the medical harms to which this “identity” always seems to lead. We were concerned that the school and a school therapist were casting us as the enemy of our child, concretizing these ideas in our daughter’s mind by corroborating them and using wrong-sex pronouns and a new made-up name.
In secret, the school was reinforcing these ideas that our daughter was innocently exploring as a way to get social capital, making her feel special and thereby reinforcing this path for her. At the time it was happening, we were unaware that once-trusted adults were leading our daughter deeper into this confusion rather than out of it.
My story isn’t that bad, but it was terrifying, nonetheless. I imagine how it must feel for families still in the grips of fear for their child’s health. That’s what always keeps me going. That propels me to tell my story publicly in front of an audience who may criticize me while I’m reliving one of the scariest moments of my life. No amount of public shaming or derision will make me stop. What is being done is wrong. Full stop.
When I got home from taping “Dr. Phil,” I went into my daughter’s bedroom to check in and say goodnight, like I always do. She asked me, “How did it go, Mama?”
I told her that I gave myself mixed reviews. She asked, “Why? What happened?”
I responded, “Well, I told them how I pulled you away from all of the ‘trans’ influences and how you grew to be comfortable with your sex. I told them how you desisted and decided you didn’t want to be a boy anymore.”
Then I sat back, allowing the critics to get in my head. I asked her, “Am I wrong about that?” My daughter responded, “No.” Then I continued, saying, “Well, it was mentioned I could be wrong about that. Guests clapped as if they didn’t believe you had desisted. It was implied that you may be ‘trans’ after all.”
My daughter burst out with laughter, and the familiarity of it cracked through all of my fears. I breathed a sigh of relief. This is the laughter we were missing the whole time she was experimenting with this identity. I was definitely not wrong about my child like my critics wanted so badly to believe.
The activists are not on her side when they imply I might not be supporting her. They want to prove an unprovable point. They want me to be wrong about my daughter. They want to believe any time a child says they are trans, we should believe it and “affirm” that idea. If we don’t, they say we aren’t “supporting” our child.
My critics, who know nearly nothing about my relationship with my daughter, reframe the healthy boundaries I set as “abuse.” I have kept her from potentially dangerous ideas, situations and people. This is not isolation. These are healthy boundaries that all adolescents need.
My daughter is surrounded by family and friends who love her. My story refutes the activists’ narrative. They don’t like that. They were looking for the holes in my story and my assessment of what happened with my daughter, and there were none. I know my daughter, as most mothers do.
The only hole my critics could poke was the wound in me that is still raw from people in my life who didn’t believe I knew my daughter and that I might not be supporting and loving her the “correct” way. I might be harming my “special” and “fragile” child by questioning her assessment of herself at a mere 11 years old. These are people whom I thought were friends. Some of them were family. They’re people whom I thought knew me as a loving, competent parent. That all went out the window the moment my daughter used the word “transgender.”
The mothers whom I’ve met through this experience are warrior moms. Some of the strongest, maybe. We fight for our children and for the children of others against powerful forces that want to tear us down, shake our foundations, and take our children from us because we are concerned about their long-term health and happiness. We know them. They came from our bodies. That knowing can’t be usurped.
In the end, we’re the ones who are there, waiting to catch them, wrap them in our arms, bring them home, kiss their wounds, and help them feel whole again. We are not the villains in their story. We’re the ones who will reflect the truth because we know enabling a lie is not helping them.
As was suggested on “Dr. Phil,” the activists might hope my daughter’s story ends differently. Indeed, her story isn’t finished. Neither is mine. We all grow and change. Most adults understand this. Peddlers of “gender” want her to come back to their cult. She has escaped; they don’t have her. I did my best to put up healthy guardrails. Those guardrails helped put her on a safe path. For now, that is my story, her story, and our story.