At the beginning of the school year in 2019, Jennifer received an email from her daughter’s 5th-grade teacher. The teacher, a male, was using a different name for her then-10-year-old daughter. Jennifer thought it was a mistake—the teacher must have accidentally emailed the wrong parent.
But then, Jennifer went to her daughter’s room and found a yellow Post-It note stuck to her dresser with that same name, along with the pronouns “they/them.”
“Do you have a new nickname?” Jennifer asked.
Her daughter responded yes.
Jennifer didn’t think much of it beyond harmless identity exploration. But a couple of months later, Jennifer received a more concerning call from a school counselor informing her that her daughter had used the words “suicide and cutting” with a friend.
The counselor recommended her daughter start seeing a therapist who was contracted with the school. That therapist was free to use, accessible during school hours, and qualified to handle her daughter’s mental health problems, Jennifer was told. Worried about her daughter, Jennifer said yes. But because her daughter was only 10 at the time, Jennifer would have to go into the school and give written permission.
Jennifer lives in a suburb of Washington state, where children as young as 13 years old can access their own medical and mental health services without parental knowledge or consent. Parents in these cases are billed by insurance companies with no explanation of benefits, meaning they’re stuck with the tab but have no ability to know what services or treatments their child received.
When consenting for her daughter to see the school therapist, Jennifer made sure to tell the therapist that her daughter had been talking about her sexuality and gender identity. She shared that while she and her husband believed their daughter was too young to be exploring these ideas, they’d “love her no matter where she ends up.”
The therapist made no mention of her own views on the subject or her affirmation-based treatment model where, if a child declares he or she is transgender or non-binary, the therapist would affirm the child’s stated identity.
So for two and a half months, Jennifer’s daughter was meeting with a school therapist once a week who was treating her as a boy, using male pronouns and a made-up name. When Jennifer would ask how the sessions were going, the therapist acted as though nothing big had come up.
Then in February 2020, right before COVID-19 hit, Jennifer received a phone call from the school therapist with a two-fold purpose: to request that she and her husband come to the school in three days for a meeting where the therapist would assist their daughter in officially coming out to them as a boy, and to obtain parental permission to allow her daughter to stay overnight in the boy’s cabin for an upcoming school trip.
Sensing the meeting wouldn’t go well — and worse, would set them up in an adversarial position with the daughter they loved — Jennifer and her husband called it off.
“We were never going to let her do that, I don’t care who she thinks she is,” Jennifer said. “There are so many reasons not to put a girl in a cabin with a bunch of boys and a male adult teacher. So many safeguarding fails.”
At that point, Jennifer and her husband decided to take more drastic measures. They were skeptical that their 11-year-old daughter was transgender, and believed the school and the therapist were actually leading her to identify as a boy. So they revoked their consent for their daughter to see the school therapist, took away her access to online devices, and soon, unenrolled her from public school altogether.
“I already knew I couldn’t trust the school with my daughter when she was in fifth grade,” Jennifer said. “And going onto the middle school, she would be turning 13. And then I wouldn’t even know. They wouldn’t have to tell me what was going on.”
Identifying as a Boy
Jennifer’s daughter first identified as transgender when she was 10 years old and enrolled in an online drawing program. Prior to that, Jennifer and her husband had restricted their daughter’s access to online devices. But since their daughter was an artist, they agreed to what they thought was a harmless online art program.
Yet, a year and a half later, Jennifer learned it was through that group of online art friends that her daughter was introduced to ideas of sexuality and gender.
“She talked about being asexual at 10 years old,” Jennifer said. “Which of course she’s asexual at 10 years old. But that’s an identity.” She then talked about being demi sexual, gay, non-binary, and finally landed on transgender.
The transgender identity was heightened when her daughter began conversing with a group of girls at school who, at ages 10 and 11 years old, also identified as some form of lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. The friends appeared to compete over who could have the edgiest, most unique identity.
“She was trying to fit in. She was trying to have friends,” Jennifer said.
Once her daughter was out of school and no longer communicating online with peers who valued queer identities, her transgender identity lost its importance. Slowly, Jennifer said, her daughter started to let it go.
‘Wasn’t Making Her Happy’
“Her mood changed drastically,” Jennifer said. Identifying as transgender “wasn’t making her happy.”
Since giving up on being transgender, Jennifer has talked with her daughter about everything that happened over the year and a half she spent exploring identifying as a boy. After repeated unanswered requests, Jennifer also obtained notes from the school therapist, which confirmed her suspicion that the therapist was encouraging her daughter’s transition behind her back.
“I was so upset because [the school therapist] was using male pronouns for my daughter from the first moment, from the first notes,” Jennifer said. “He, him. And it seemed like all that she was doing with my daughter was helping her advocate for herself whenever somebody ‘misgendered’ her.”
This included Jennifer’s older two sons, who didn’t even know their sister was identifying as a boy. It also included a boy at the school who Jennifer said got in trouble for “misgendering” her daughter.
“At the school, they’re not just affirming and encouraging my daughter in this delusion,” Jennifer said. “It’s deluding other kids too. They are teaching kids to deny their own sense perceptions.”
More recently, Jennifer felt enough time had passed that she could ask about the idea of staying in the boy’s overnight cabin for three nights without feeling embarrassed or self-conscious.
Jennifer’s daughter told her, “That wasn’t my idea. That was the school’s idea. My teacher asked me.”
Jennifer is dismayed that anyone, let alone a teacher, would think it’s appropriate to ask an 11-year-old girl whether she wants to sleep in a boy’s overnight cabin. Given that her daughter had already identified as a boy, Jennifer described it as “a leading question.”
“Kids want to please adults,” Jennifer said. “My daughter felt she had to answer yes.”
After that incident, Jennifer said her daughter, who is now 13, decided she didn’t want to go on the 5th-grade overnight trip. Though it wasn’t then, it’s now clear to her why.
‘Going to War Together’
Jennifer feels betrayed by educators, therapists, doctors, and liberal politicians whom she spent a lifetime supporting. That list includes President Joe Biden, who told parents in March that affirming their child’s transgender identity is “one of the most powerful things you can do to keep them safe and healthy.”
“The president is recommending affirmation,” Jennifer said. “I believe affirmation is leading children down a path.”
While she requested not to use her last name to protect her daughter’s privacy, Jennifer is telling her story to be a voice—and a face—for parents who feel they can’t speak about what’s happening to their families. Parents who feel similarly betrayed by institutions that were designed to protect children.
“It’s like we have gone to war together,” Jennifer said. “That’s what it feels like. This is like a war on our families.”
Corporate media regularly features stories about children identifying as transgender. But rarely do they tell stories like Jennifer’s, where the child desisted after only a short period of time. Because of that, Jennifer also started a podcast that features parents anonymously sharing stories about how gender identity has impacted their children and families. These stories, she hopes, will shed more light on why so many parents object to the popular affirmation model.
“A lot of people think that using the pronouns and affirming a child who says they’re the opposite sex, that that is about kindness,” she said, explaining:
“Everybody’s very confused about this. Because the T has purposefully been attached to LGB, which is a completely separate issue. We know the LGB community was mistreated, and so people don’t want to do that again with trans-identified people, so everybody’s being super careful, and they want to be kind. But it’s a different situation. With LGB people, they’re saying, ‘Just let us be who we are.’ And there’s no medical consequences.
But with transgender-identified people or people who identify as the opposite sex, it’s very much a medical situation and it’s about the harm medicalization causes. Children are cutting off their healthy breasts and testicles and doing things to their bodies that they can’t undo. So that is completely different. Of course parents are concerned when their children identify this way because it carries a heavy medical burden which they will have for the rest of their life. They become sewn to the medical industrial complex. They will have to take drugs. They will probably have to have other surgeries. We don’t even know all the health consequences at this point. It’s an experiment happening right now on children.”
In the past, most parents followed the watchful waiting approach. Children were not medically or socially transitioned, and the vast majority became comfortable with their sex when they went through puberty. Today, parents are being told that affirmation is the only acceptable response to a transgender declaration. Jennifer’s story is just one example of how there is another possible outcome if a child is not affirmed.
“They might desist,” she said. “Isn’t that preferable to a lifetime of harmful medical procedures?”