22

My daughter, 13, has said she wants to be a boy. A little background: we moved to a new state a year and a half ago. In her new school, she felt isolated among her peers until she met a girl in art, and became good friends. She joined the drama club, and made friends with some 8th graders. They joined “the diversity club”. This club is a LGBT club. The kids put on a play they wrote and starred in, which had homosexual connotations. “Romeo and Juliet”, but script rewritten to include 2 females as the couple, for instance.

My daughter got so wrapped up in it, that her life was as if she was copying the play. She’s no longer friends with the friend from art, but remains close with the 8th grade crowd. They all labeled themselves. One week, my daughter said she was gay, then, changed to bi, then onto pan. (I had to google that one). Now she is emphatic about being disgusted with her body and wants to be a boy. She wants to donate all the “girly” clothes she picked out last year, and tossed out all the makeup she bought a few months ago.

All her life, she was the classic girly girl. She had crushes on boys, and she and this boy were inseparable since first grade. She was sad when it came time to move away. When we settled here, she became sullen and angry, putting herself down. She now sees a therapist who she really likes. We’ve been working on her self esteem issues. She’s wanting us to call her “he” and by a male name. I can’t do that. She’s my daughter. She is female. Had we seen this coming, maybe I could come to accepting. But it happened out of the blue.

Sometimes the old her comes back-I got a makeup sample and she was interested in trying it, looked at me, then quickly put it down and said “ewww, makeup”—just a few months ago, she bought a bunch. She’s now wanting to wear boys clothes and talks of wearing a suit to her prom. She is very impressionable, and seems affected by viral YouTube videos about kids coming coming out to their mothers, and the mothers gleefully embrace with happy tears. She has told me when she’s 18, she’s having her breasts removed.

Nothing seems normal to me anymore-in terms of how she always was-this new situation just doesn’t fit.

My gut tells me this is a phase. I’m hoping it’s a phase. But with all I’m seeing in the media about this, I’m not sure. I love her; this is too much for me to process. I’m a stay at home mom; we were inseparable. I knew her. Until now.:( She cut off all her beautiful hair, and wears boys shorts, baggy tee shirts, and bought this awful men’s deodorant spray. Please help me sort this out. I’m at my wits end.

Do you think this is a phase? Is this common?

  • If you want to chat, you can click this link: Parenting Chat and then click "The Playground". – Joe May 22 '18 at 19:24
  • @Harvestmoon - there are some good questions in the sidebar you might want to read and see if any help you, like this one in particular talking about a girl the same age. – Joe May 22 '18 at 19:26
  • @Harvestmoon - It's a possible solution, but probably one she will resent. You should be asking her therapist for guidance here. Have you been doing that? If not, what happens when you take your daughter to therapy? – anongoodnurse May 23 '18 at 5:11
  • What are your child's friends up to (local and on-line)? Peer pressure can be very strong at all ages, and very especially young ages. – Zayde in NY Jul 27 '18 at 14:18
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Rory Alsop Aug 28 at 7:13

10 Answers 10

15

Preface
The topic of teens wanting to change genders is a very delicate one and also one without much information available. There are plenty of people who want to argue their ideological viewpoint, but that isn't helpful when you're dealing with a real situation with someone you love.

The key term being discussed is Gender Dysphoria.

Gender Dysphoria involves a conflict between a person's physical or assigned gender and the gender with which he/she/they identify

An Article in Quillette, which I think your daughter should read, states:

In the past decade, however, a new presentation of gender dysphoria has suddenly become widespread, in which teens or tweens come to identify as transgender “out of the blue,” without any childhood history of feeling uncomfortable with their sex. Experts have dubbed this presentation rapid onset gender dysphoria, and are beginning to study it.

The American Psychiatric Association states

For many children the feelings do not continue into adolescence and adulthood.

WebMD states

People with gender dysphoria have higher rates of mental health conditions

The previous 3 statements are not made for any other reason than to point out the seriousness, complexity, and the gentleness that this issue should be taken with. They also both serve as further resources a reader may use to do their own research.

With this minimal amount of information about the topic I'd like to offer some reasonable information on how to handle it. I'm going to the anecdotal research by a Social Worker with experience in these issues. The source information is not a long read and I suggest you simply go read it yourself. There are 2 posts that discuss having a teen with Gender Dysphoria (the author is the same author who wrote the article in Quillette above):
Part 1
Part 2

Summary
Don't fall into the trap arguing about gender dysphoria. Keep in mind how much you love your child as you go through this. Try to ask questions and understand why your child feels this way.

The ideology of innate gender identity doesn’t make much sense of a lot of the time, and many young people seem to sense this

At all costs avoid shaming or punishing your child over gender identity. At the same time, you can choose to not agree to the identity. Choosing your response needs to be a unique choice based on personal information no one here will have. Part 1 discusses this in more detail.

Challenging a child’s beliefs should always be done without anger. As much as possible, it ought to be done respectfully and with genuine empathy for the child’s suffering. Some parents have had good success with carefully timed, short reality-based statements, delivered with authority but not anger

Remember children are children because they simply are not ready to live on their own. They don't know enough and they are not mature enough. It is your responsibility to be in charge and keep your child safe during this time.

It is really hard to research this stuff on your own when your world feels like it is falling apart. I genuinely believe the content posted by Lisa Marchiano in the 3 main links is reasonable. It is also all I have been able to find. This is a very new phenomenon.

Note on Social Media
There is strong evidence about the negative influence of social media on teens and tweens. That is not the main topic at hand, but from your question it seems to be a major impact on this specific situation. There are other questions which have answers to this topic.

More Personal to you
I could give you many more opinions, but there are many questions. I wonder how much you know about the therapist you've chosen, how much you know about what your daughter does on social media, and of course what core issues were that led to the therapist in the first place. There is a lot for you to unpack, my questions are rhetorical for you to answer.

Appendix 1: American Academy of Pediatrics
Further reading is a PDF printed by the Children's Hospital of Chicago by the American Academy of Pediatrics. They officially support Affirming gender change in children, however there is a group of pediatricians who actively reject that position.

At the least, if your daughter does start to consider therapy in the future with or without your consent, please review pages 39-41 and see the side effects of testosterone therapy.

Irreversible Effect of Testosterone Therapy:
Lower voice Increased Hair Growth
Mustache and Beard Growth
Male Pattern hair loss and baldness
Genital Changes
Loss of Fertility

Side Effects of Testosterone Therapy;
Cardiovascular Risk
Increased Weight gain
Increased Triglyscerides
Increased Blood Pressure
Insulin Resistance
Hepatotoxicity (liver disease)
Aggression
Irritability
Headaches
Acne
Polycythemia (increase change of heart attacks, blood clots, and more)
Increased risk for breast cancer
Increased risk of Endometrial cancer

Post Research Note
It appears there is a good amount of support for Gender Dysphoria in some national groups like the APA. However, no reading of the definition of Gender Dysphoria has shown to be anything other than supporting what people feel. I cannot find genuine objective information on the topic.

Post Research Note 2
Parenting Stack Exchange is not the place for questioning the topic of Gender Dysphoria in general. I opened a self-admittedly long winded question on the Psychology & Neuroscience Stack Exchange site where I address some of my concerns over the general validity of the APA holding a stance that supports and affirms gender reassignment, especially in children.

Post Research Note 3
I think there is a huge gap between the reality of this topic and how we talk about and understand it. I have posted a position on this gap at the Psychology & Neuroscience Stack Exchange site here.

  • 3
    Thank you!So happy to see this first thing this morning! Lots to read, but it sheds light and gives me hope. Right now, she sprayed on that Axe spray I can smell from her room, and I dread tis scent. But I have to just go with it for now. And pray. Oh how hard this is. – Harvest moon May 23 '18 at 11:11
  • see also 4th wave now 4thwavenow.com/2017/12/07/gender-dysphoria-is-not-one-thing – WendyG Jun 4 '18 at 13:34
  • 5
    If it's a phase or not, only time will tell. However, if it's not a phase, you could be harming your kid by not accepting them for who they are. Trans teenagers whose chosen name is respected are at a much lower risk of severe depression and suicide. news.utexas.edu/2018/03/30/… – user31493 Jun 8 '18 at 2:31
  • That is an inaccurate statement. – Stu W Jun 25 '18 at 20:42
  • 2
    "rapid onset gender dysphoria" is pseudoscience. – dn3s Jul 7 '18 at 7:15
15

I'm not surprised that being exposed to LGBT+ culture for the first time would be the starting point of this "phase". I know plenty of people (myself included) who settled for trying their best to perform their assigned gender before discovering they didn't have to. The pattern you're describing is not necessarily one of imitation or fitting in, but of exploring a new and previously-unknown possibility.

You can't necessarily have your "old daughter" back. This can't be forced without causing serious harm. You haven't lost your child though, you just may have been mistaken about their gender. The best thing you can do right now is to hold their gender lightly. This doesn't mean don't take it seriously, rather, give them space to explore. If one week they're a "he" and another they're a "she", go with it, use the pronouns they want, try out the name they want. Let them explore and try things on for size. You want to lower the cost of experimenting as much as possible, otherwise there will be pressure to "resolve" this as quick as possible, potentially leading to regret down the road.

It's also possible you missed your opportunity to be involved in the experimentation. If they've already made up their mind this is something you need to respect, although this amounts to the same thing: respect their choice in clothing, name, and pronouns, work with a trans-friendly doctor to delay puberty if that's what they want, and make sure they know you love them unconditionally.

And if it does turn out to be a phase? No daughter is going to grow up to resent you for allowing her to delay puberty until she was sure she wanted it. No daughter is going to resent you for taking her experiments with different names and pronouns with you, until she could truly decide for herself what she wanted to be. Even if it turns out to have just been a phase, you've given your child the empowering gift of letting them truly claim their gender as their own.

11

The question of whether or not this is a phase isn't something that can be answered by us. That answer will need to be answered through a combination of your child's development, work with professional therapists, and time.

Ultimately, though, the bigger question is how you, as a parent, approach the situation. If this isn't a phase, it is risky to treat it like a game, or something to fight against or ignore -- Adam has outlined gender dysphoria pretty thoroughly, and I agree that it needs serious consideration.

But either way:

It is OK to feel disappointed and confused about this. A changing teenager is an exhausting parenting challenge in any situation, and you potentially face bigger changes than most people. You feel like you're losing a person you thought you knew, you miss your "girly" daughter, you don't want to see your child unhappy, you hate the smell of Axe body spray. (Side note: I'm with you on that one, it's pretty yucky.) It's normal to need time to process, to learn, and even to some extent to grieve.

However, you can't force your child to be happy with the same things that make you happy. Dealing with something like changes tastes in music is a pretty common teenage situation -- you're currently encountering a larger, more complicated, and more sensitive situation. Whether this is gender dysphoria or a phase, your child is exploring gender identity and gender presentation and finding what makes them personally comfortable. As a parent, you need to provide a safe space to support that exploration. Arguing that they don't know what they're feeling, that their choices are wrong, whatever... anything like that just leads to resentment, depression, and an erosion of trust. And trust is important, because you want your kid to be able to come to you with their problems so you can help.

And, this is still your child. You still love them, you still want them to be happy, you still want them to be safe. Changes, even big ones, do not affect those fundamental bonds.

Find a family therapist in addition to her personal therapist. This provides a safe space where you and your child can discuss these issues together, with a professional to guide conversation so topics are focused and constructive. Absolutely keep the individual therapy for your child, because that's their personal safe space -- but this would give you a way to work and understand the situation together. There, you can be honest with your child that you're confused -- that could be a very positive communication to have, explaining that you want to understand and accept but it's a big change and will take time. I guarantee that even those tearful accepting "coming out" videos are only one small piece of the journey. It is OK to "shop around" for therapists (for you, for her, or for you both) as you start and continue this journey. Sometimes a therapist just isn't a good personal fit; if you don't feel like you can trust them with your feelings, it won't be as helpful.

Personally speaking, I have a close friend whose child is trans, and it's taken me a fair amount of time to adapt: I still use the wrong pronouns and the wrong name. There are years of habit that I am trying to break, and I sometimes mess up. I still tear up a little when I see adorable pictures of a very different person from years ago. And that's not even my kid. But no matter what emotion I have about it, this is a much harder process for that child, and so I do my best to be there for them.

4

Definitely agree with Adam and just wanted to add that I know you love your child, and make sure they know you love them whether they choose to be called a boy or girl. Try your best to respect their decision because right now they probably need one person they can trust to just be themselves around.

You mentioned that sometimes you get some new makeup and your child gets interested but then remembers that "boys aren't suppose to like makeup." So it seems like they want to get you to accept them as a boy, but they still actually like make up, but they tried to hide that even from you.

As a part of the dysphoria, they might see girly things as "lesser" than boyish things, but I think it might be important to remind them that men can wear make up too, and not all of them are stereotypically gay (which also, nothing wrong with gay people) Your child can still like make up even though they want to be a boy, but if they change their mind in the future to being a girl that likes make up again, that's ok too. (I think it's important to not shame them for changing their mind, they're 13, and still learning)

I think it's important to let them at least explore themselves a little bit and make a decision. It seems they're willing to wait until they are 18 to make any decisions about altering their body (hopefully they will get a job and pay for the treatment themselves if they truly want it), so they have time to learn and experience until then.

Just be there and love them the best you can and let them know you love them. If you reject them and their identity right now, they might even close off to you because you just "don't understand." Not only that, it might hurt them in a way like "not even my parents love me for who I am."

3

You seem to have trouble believing that things fit because it's sudden and because your child was very feminine before announcing the dysphoria. This is understandable, but it's important to emphasize that this doesn't make the gender dysphoria invalid.

The are generally two forms of gender dysphoria that have been documented, early-onset gender dysphoria and late-onset gender dysphoria. The early-onset form makes more intuitive sense to many people, since it is associated with a lot of gender nonconformity and looks a lot more like a "boy trapped in a girl body" than late-onset gender dysphoria. In fact, it may make more sense to think about late-onset gender dypshoria as "girl trapped in a girl body".

Here's what the DSM says about late- and early-onset gender dysphoria:

In both adolescent and adult natal females, the most common course is the early-onset form of gender dysphoria. The late-onset form is much less common in natal females compared with natal males. As in natal males with gender dysphoria, there may have been a period in which the gender dysphoria desisted and these individuals self-identified as lesbian; however, with recurrence of gender dysphoria, clinical consultation is sought, often with the desire for hormone treatment and reassignment surgery. Parents of natal adolescent females with the late-onset form also report surprise, as no signs of childhood gender dysphoria were evident. Expressions of anatomic dysphoria are much more common and salient in adolescents and adults than in children.

Adolescent and adult natal females with early-onset gender dysphoria are almost always gynephilic. Adolescents and adults with the late-onset form of gender dysphoria are usually androphilic and after gender transition self-identify as gay men.

Not much is known about female-to-male late-onset gender dysphoria, but it is reasonable to infer that it is similar to male-to-female late-onset gender dysphoria. This form of gender dysphoria is better studied, and in particular it is known that those with late-onset gender dysphoria still benefit from transition, even though it may not logically seem like they "should". Late-onset gender dysphoria is thought to be a progressive condition, in the sense that it gets worse over time. This is in contrast with early-onset gender dysphoria, which generally remains stable beyond a certain age. You may have heard statistics finding that most trans kids grow out of it naturally. These statistics apply to early-onset gender dysphorics, but not late-onset gender dysphorics.

Another responder linked to Lisa Marchiano. My impression is that she is a quack, since she tends to ignore the context of late- vs early-onset gender dysphoria. In addition, the groups she works with tend to actively obstruct my attempts to document the outcomes of the kids they work with. She also says nonsense like "Cosmetic outcomes for natal females who transition when they are older are not significantly impacted by waiting.", which is absolutely not true.

  • This answer would be improved if the final paragraph was deleted and posted instead as a comment on the relevant post. – Michael MacAskill Jun 16 '18 at 3:41
2

I'm appalled at the disconnect here from what the actual research says in regards to this issue.

In a systematic literature review on the elevated risk of health issues among transgender and gender variant youth (Protective Factors Among Transgender and Gender Variant Youth: A Systematic Review by Socioecological Level), there were found some consistent protective factors. First of all, let me make clear that questioning one's gender, even if it doesn't result in a permanent identification as transgender, is a form of gender variance. This means that the findings discussed in this literature review represent a form of consensus of research on how to handle youth like your teenager.

This review covered articles spanning 1999 to 2014. The data analyzed pertains to youth aged 10 to 24 years. The paper notes first:

Transgender and gender variant (GV) youth experience elevated risk for poor health and academic outcomes due mainly to social experiences of stigma and discrimination.

emphasis added

Now, here are the protective factors uncovered by this study that mitigate the risks:

Within these articles, 27 unique protective factors across four levels of the ecological model were identified as related to positive health and well-being. Self-esteem at the individual level, healthy relationships with parents and peers at the relationship-level, and gay-straight alliances at the community level emerged as protective factors across multiple studies.

emphasis added

The availability of transgender health and social services in schools and neighborhoods was cited as important for finding emotional support for and tangible assistance with legal and medical transitions

Now, I will note that medical transition is not something to undertake lightly. The NHS states:

Most treatments offered at this stage [children under 18 referred to specialists for gender dysphoria] are psychological, rather than medical or surgical. This is because the majority of children with suspected gender dysphoria don't have the condition once they reach puberty. Psychological support offers young people and their families a chance to discuss their thoughts and receive support to help them cope with the emotional distress of the condition, without rushing into more drastic treatments.

If your child has gender dysphoria and they've reached puberty, they could be treated with gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRH) analogues. These are synthetic (man-made) hormones that suppress the hormones naturally produced by the body.

The effects of treatment with GnRH analogues are considered to be fully reversible, so treatment can usually be stopped at any time after a discussion between you, your child and your MDT.

That said, there is a lot of misinformation out there. Here are the findings of a Cornell University review:

  1. The scholarly literature makes clear that gender transition is effective in treating gender dysphoria and can significantly improve the well-being of transgender individuals.

  2. Among the positive outcomes of gender transition and related medical treatments for transgender individuals are improved quality of life, greater relationship satisfaction, higher self-esteem and confidence, and reductions in anxiety, depression, suicidality, and substance use.

  3. The positive impact of gender transition on transgender well-being has grown considerably in recent years, as both surgical techniques and social support have improved.

  4. Regrets following gender transition are extremely rare and have become even rarer as both surgical techniques and social support have improved. Pooling data from numerous studies demonstrates a regret rate ranging from .3 percent to 3.8 percent. Regrets are most likely to result from a lack of social support after transition or poor surgical outcomes using older techniques.

  5. Factors that are predictive of success in the treatment of gender dysphoria include adequate preparation and mental health support prior to treatment, proper follow-up care from knowledgeable providers, consistent family and social support, and high-quality surgical outcomes (when surgery is involved).

  6. Transgender individuals, particularly those who cannot access treatment for gender dysphoria or who encounter unsupportive social environments, are more likely than the general population to experience health challenges such as depression, anxiety, suicidality and minority stress. While gender transition can mitigate these challenges, the health and well-being of transgender people can be harmed by stigmatizing and discriminatory treatment.

  7. An inherent limitation in the field of transgender health research is that it is difficult to conduct prospective studies or randomized control trials of treatments for gender dysphoria because of the individualized nature of treatment, the varying and unequal circumstances of population members, the small size of the known transgender population, and the ethical issues involved in withholding an effective treatment from those who need it.

  8. Transgender outcomes research is still evolving and has been limited by the historical stigma against conducting research in this field. More research is needed to adequately characterize and address the needs of the transgender population.

In summary, your goal right now should be to create a supportive environment for your teenager, help build their self-esteem, and allow them to continue to engage with the LGBT community while continuing to seek therapy with professionals who understand transgender and gender variance issues. Anything less is a risk to your teenager's health.

1

It is not bad to want something, or want to be something, even when you are 13 years old. I remember wanting a lot of things back then, and indeed I didn't immediately get what I wanted.

Another consideration. If she would be joining a LARP club, she would suddentlty want to be an elf (maybe a goblin also, but likely an elf). But as she were joining LGBT club instead, she now wants to be a boy. Not that it requires any more action in the latter case than in a former.

I imagine it is not even a phase but a game. But, why not wait and see if it sorts out in the following years?

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

1

What has been overlooked is the reasons why your daughter "suddenly" changed. She did not suddenly change and this is not a phase. Your answer(s) can be found in the first paragraph of your story. Your daughter is heartbroken and was feeling (and still feels like) a damaged ship without its sail, captain or navigation system (that's you). Since, you did not mention anything about discussing the move, helping your daughter to make new friends, engaging her and joining her in community, neighbourhood or school activities to help with the transition of a new city, new environment...new everything; then no wonder she feels lost, alone and desperate for some sort of inclusion/sense of familiarity she can include herself.

Now, it's not too late to have a heart-to-heart talk with her. First apologizing that you did not realize how difficult or how much the move affected her, her life and sense of security. Prior to speaking with her find some activities you and her can participate in that you know without a doubt she will enjoy especially anything she has not done since the move. If she enjoys the arts discuss that with her and the girl she had made friends with in art class.

Basically, what you need to do here is step up and become your daughter's confidant-no judging, a whole lot of loving, understanding and sharing. Speaking of sharing, if you have anything remotely similar that happened to you in your childhood share that with her and how you overcame. Just a thought, have you ever thought of making a visit back to your other city? If not and you can afford it surprise her with the news, make the trip and encourage her to keep in touch with your friends back home. Maybe even a simple phone call to her best friend would help ease the pain.

I hope this gives you pause for thought and reconciles your daughter in being confident in knowing who she really is.

-2

Is she joined an LGBT club and participated in a lesbian play, it's hardly surprising that this would bring thoughts of transgenderism to her mind.

Which came first? Did she join the LGBT club because she was thinking she might want to be transgender? Or did she join out of curiosity, or because a friend was a member, and from there went to the transgender thoughts? Your first paragraph makes it sound like she just joined because her friend did, but whether that's the reason or a coincidence is hard to say.

You say that she cycled through several "sexual identities". This could mean that she's just playing games, experimenting, seeing what reaction she gets.

Have you asked her why she wants to be a boy?

You say that she was separated from a boy she really liked. Not quite the same, but I've met a couple of women who became lesbians after having very bad break-ups with boyfriends or husbands. It's an easy amateur psychoanalysis that the thinking, conscious or unconscious, was, "This man treated me badly. Men are all jerks. I'd be better off if I formed relationships with other women." There might be something similar here. "Being separated from my boyfriend was painful. I don't want to ever go through that again. I'd be better off if I was a boy so I didn't get attached to another boy like that again."

Was she particularly feminine before? You might ask her if she misses feminine pleasures. Like, "wow, why would you want to be a boy and miss out on all the fun of being a girl?"

  • Removing comments as they were getting too confrontational. Please take any further discussion to Parenting Chat. – Joe Jun 2 '18 at 13:08
-4

Is this a phase?

Almost assuredly. I would be shocked if many things about her don't go into flux based on her age. The eighth graders made an impression. It's ok. Solid move on getting therapy.

Is this common?

I found a quoted incidence of gender dysphoric disorder in adolescents of about 1% [Zucker KJ.Sex Health: 2017 Oct;14(5):404-411.]

However, subclinical "symptoms" are probably 10 times as common, but this is a new area of interest in medicine.

Minority Opinion?

Reality testing is good. "Do you have a penis? No? Then you're a girl."

Insistence on something that's not true despite profound evidence to the contrary is called a delusion. You have every right as a parent to sensitively but firmly present reality to her. This may be in consideration with things like bras and tampons which she might find frightening or disgusting.

Fortunately, wearing boys clothes isn't going to hurt anyone. Maiming one's body is another thing entirely.

  • Let's see, +6, -10. I'm still way ahead, on points, but it does appear to be the minority opinion – Stu W Aug 28 at 19:06

protected by Rory Alsop Aug 28 at 7:12

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.