The Guardian is generally known for its rigid adherence to the politically correct paradigm, so it was a surprise to see this (albeit in an advice column) from an anguished mom, whose situation sounds a lot like that of many of my regular readers. [Update 8/17/15: The comment section is still open, and the pro-con comments are far more balanced than I originally noted in this post.]
My daughter, who is 16, has a history of mental health issues. Her father is an alcoholic who left the family home when she was very young; she hasn’t seen him for some years and finds meetings with him upsetting. I am sure that this perceived rejection is at the root of her troubles as she suffers from very low self-esteem. She is overweight and was bullied at school, finally refusing to attend. She has been out of education since she was 12.
We have had some input from the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), but nothing has helped and she will no longer engage with them. She has never slept well and was prescribed melatonin. Then, last November, she was prescribed medication by a GP for persistent headaches and took a month’s supply in one go. To the family, this was the strongest example yet of her self-loathing and tendency to self-harm, albeit also perhaps a cry for help.
Following this, I had a telephone consultation with her psychiatrist, who raised the issue of autism – this has been a concern of mine, as she does display a number of traits associated with autism.
However, she is now convinced that she needs a sex change. Given that she has never previously shown any inclination to be anything other than female, it would appear that this is yet another form of self-harm and/or a cry for help.
I am worried that because of the amount of time she spends on the internet, she is being influenced to believing her intentions are correct.
She needs someone she respects sufficiently to listen to and open up to, who will dig deep enough to uncover the underlying issues, and help her to resolve them. I feel that, without such help, she will continue down her unhappy path, perhaps pursuing gender-change (without realising that this would not resolve any of her underlying issues), or leading to an even worse conclusion.
This worrying story has all the familiar plot points: painful childhood, mental health issues, self-harm, the sudden idea that “transition” is the answer from a girl who never mentioned it before. And let’s not forget the influence of the Internet…
As of this writing, many of the commenters (in so many words) either accuse the mother of transphobia, or insist that the gender dysphoria is the root cause of the teen’s other problems, although, interestingly, not a few do acknowledge that a trans identity seems to be pretty common in people on the autism spectrum–particularly natal females. This comment is typical:
So many of the problems you have described could have a root cause of body dysphoria. Your child is struggling with something huge, distressing, and potentially life-changing, and little aggressions like misgendering or voicing doubt at their confession will not be helping.
Mom. Stop with the misgendering. That’s a form of “aggression.” Don’t you know it’s against the rules of trans-parenting to “voice doubt” about what your child is saying?
Your language choices really concern me. “I am worried that because of the amount of time she spends on the internet, she is being influenced to believing her intentions are correct.” – you’re worried that your child is finding people out there that make them feel supported? ” perhaps pursuing gender-change (without realising that this would not resolve any of her underlying issues), or leading to an even worse conclusion.” – you think that gender-reassignment is comparable to suicide or serious self harm?
Hey, the Internet is a benign force in the lives of young people. It’s just a support group! And the Thought Police don’t like your “language choices” when you talk about this person you’ve known for 16 years.
I think you should take a look at your fears and what they mean. What are you afraid of here? Is it truly that your child is just latching on to an idea, or is it the fear of the change that comes with a trans child? It’s a big thing to adjust to. Educating yourself will help, as will talking to other parents, and, of course, listening to what your child has to say.
Remember, mom: your child knows best. Let’s turn the spotlight on your fears, your lack of education. Maybe you’re the one who needs the psychiatrist?
There are a few who are pushing back, though. And very incisively.
.“…you’re worried that your child is finding people out there that make them feel supported?”
This kind of obsequiously emotive statement is so nebulous that it could just as well apply to a child communicating online to ISIS recruiters.
But the Tumblr and YouTube trans communities surely aren’t comparable to a destructive cult?
She is clearly concerned about her child talking to an inherently biased group of people encouraging a specific pattern of thinking, rather than a medical professional seeking an evidence based diagnosis. That should not be difficult for you to accept, unless you are already biased towards a particular outcome.
also encouraging a near irreversible change that a TEENAGER wants could also be seen as neglect and aggression.
Heresy! I thought the parents who DIDN’T go along with transition were the abusers?
Fact is 9 of 10 decisions a teenager makes are bad ones, it’s a time when we are are most suggestible and very, very easily influenced. a time where science shows that we are irrational and make bad decisions, I didn’t pick up a tone for the parent to suggest she is against trans, it was one of concern at her child making a rash decision.
Someone who actually brings up the fact of poor executive function in adolescents–another taboo topic allowed to surface in the pages of the Guardian.
And using the internet to self diagnose is all sorts of bad, she could have Aspergers instead, maybe she doesn’t, we don’t know. but she could go on a forum for that and find support, hell, she could find support on a website for those who want to commit suicide, doesn’t mean it should be welcomed.
The most forbidden topic of all: The cult of “transition or suicide” is exposed. Are the Guardian’s comment moderators asleep at the wheel?
Clearly she wants people to talk to and people who have undergone the change aren’t the ones to talk to as their advice to her would be biased, intentionally or otherwise.
But if she is serious about finding out who she is she should spend a few years actually in therapy and see what she wants and work out who she is that way, not through unregulated internet forums.
So this is a good start. Now can we see some of this un-Thought Policed discourse in the news or features section of major newspapers–not just in advice columns?