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To give some background, my daughter has always been the proverbial girly-girl. Loved her long hair and styling it different ways, loved playing with makeup, always begging me to let her wear makeup and trying to steal my clothes. Total diva. She has been boy crazy, and had a mad crush on one boy for 3 years, even writing a Valentine last year professing her love for him. This all went on until last year when one of her brother's friends crossed her boundaries and scared her. He did not rape her, but he had her pinned down on a bed and wouldn't let her up, and she was very uncomfortable and afraid. (She told me about it and it has been dealt with, and I had her start seeing a therapist after that.) Shortly after that, she told me she no longer had a crush on the boy and that she thought she was gay. I told her that was fine, she could like whoever she liked, but she was still too young to date, and we left it at that. She is the youngest and has 4 big brothers who don't want to play with her so she often feels left out, and she struggles in friendships with girls, and has said many times she thought her life would be easier if she was a boy. She also struggles with depression and anxiety, and struggles with cutting. She is in therapy and on an antidepressant, but is always searching for something that she thinks will make her feel better, whether it's cutting, food, or other forms of self-harm. It's heartbreaking. Now her new thing is saying she's actually a boy.

I personally think this sudden change of identity has more to do with feeling like she'd fit into her life better if she were a boy and that she couldn't be hurt by a boy if she were not a girl. This "I'm really a boy" thing came seemingly out of nowhere, with no prior indication of confusion or anything, other than a dread of oncoming puberty. However, she is fully committed to it and I'm concerned about the obsession that's coming with it. Seemingly overnight she has changed her entire personality to fit what she thinks this lifestyle is supposed to look like, and expects everyone in our family to jump on board and go along with no longer seeing her as "her," and we're supposed to call her by a different name, refer to her as "son" or "brother," and use male pronouns. It's all she talks about, all she thinks about, and is forming her entire identity around this idea. I've told her that there is so much more to her than just her gender and that it doesn't need to be her sole defining characteristic, but she is truly obsessed right now. Of course, everything she finds on social media supports this.

When she told me, I was very calm and accepting. I let her cut her hair, I took her shopping for new clothes, and I told her we could redecorate her room if she wanted to, but that was where we were drawing the line for now. I have tried having open conversations with her, but she shuts down and gets very upset if our thoughts and feelings don't 100% align with hers. She thinks we are being selfish by not just changing how we see her and treat her, but she is unwilling to understand that it's not that simple. We (my husband and I and our other children) have been very accepting and supportive, and let her know that we love her and just want her to be happy and feel safe. But that's not enough, apparently. If we were 3-4 years into this and she was still feeling this way, or if she'd given any indication at all over the years that she didn't feel comfortable as a girl, that would be different. But this came on very suddenly and I truly feel it's a trauma response. It's so opposite of everything she's ever been that it's like she's suddenly trying so hard to be a completely different person hoping it'll fix all her problems. But I only see it making her more unhappy and unsettled. But I can't talk to her about any of this, no matter how lovingly or calmly I approach it, or she just gets so upset and completely shuts down.

I truly don't know what to do to best help her. I don't care if she's gay, straight, trans, or a polar bear. I just want her to have a healthy sense of self and positive self-esteem. But she's so focused on obsessing over and moaning over what she isn't and trying to form herself into someone else, that she's literally unwilling to put any effort into working on loving herself as she is, whatever that may look like. It almost seems like she wants to stay miserable and this is just a distraction or a way to keep herself unhappy. I want to support her, but I have doubts about how lasting this will be. I can't bear the thought of allowing her to totally transform her identity, get everyone to call her a boy and change her name, and then down the road if she realizes this isn't who she really is, having to undo all of that and start all over. I feel it would be embarrassing and damaging to her, and I want to protect her from that possibility. I want to do what's best for her, but I'm really struggling here with how to do that.

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    Have you spoken to their therapist about it? It seems the logical place to start. What did they say about it/what advice did they give you? Also, a referral to an adolescent therapist specializing in gender issues, if the current therapist is not, is appropriate. // This is a Q&A site, and while I understand your concern, we need an actual, specific (not too broad) question. Please edit to focus on a specific question. // Finally, this is not an infrequent issue. Have you searched the site for related tags? (gender, trans, etc.) – anongoodnurse Feb 23 at 22:18
  • In what aspect you need to help her. Change, the trauma, or gender focus identity? – Bahar Aykaç Feb 24 at 8:44
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    This user has not returned since posting. We have a fair number of answers to the question of trans kids, so if you think you're helping this user, please don't bother. Related: Is troll-spotting a long lost art?. – anongoodnurse Feb 27 at 17:43
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just for one moment let's accept that this really is your son and not your daughter. Then many things your describe can be explained in that context:

  • It's a sudden development. - Yes, in many cases it seems like that from the outside. That's the point of the term "coming out" that the outside world wasn't aware of the true identity and the struggles that come from living the wrong identity.
  • Your kid was hyper-girly. - Yes, this might be part of the struggle, to overcompensate from your feelings to conform to society's expectations.
  • Your kid shuts down in "open conversations". - Yes, when you make clear that you don't accept their identity, this is to be expected.
  • Your kid is only focused on their gender identity. - Yes, when you're trans and not accepted by your parents, it would be weird otherwise.
  • Your kid has a history of psychological problems. - Being closeted may lead to that.

Now, is your kid trans or not? Do they misread themselves? Are the psychological problems the cause of your kid being trans (instead of a symptom or completely unrelated? - You, or rather your child, will have to see a specialist. Not someone who performs conversion therapy (and this "love yourself as you are" is a form of that when used on trans people), but someone, who accepts your kid as they are and works together with your kid to find out what that really is.

It's likely that said specialist at some point will prescribe puberty blockers. This is a good thing: Changing your name, your pronouns, style etc. are completely reversible. The effects of puberty are not. So if your kid is trans and has to go through the wrong puberty, this will lead to lasting effects for life. Puberty blockers, on the other hand, do just that: They block puberty and give you and your kid time to decide. The effect is completely reversible, so if after a year, or two, or three your kid decides not to transition, they will end up a woman just like they would without blockers whatsoever.

In the meantime: Even if your kid is not trans: Using their chosen name and pronouns won't hurt anybody. If anything, it will foster a feeling of being supported in your child. And - guided by a specialist - they will find out if living in a different gender feels better, feels right.

If you give in here and don't fight the battle over gender, you'll have freed many resources to really talk about the many things that define your kid besides their gender.

The point about gender identity is, that in the end this isn't anything someone from outside the person's head can decide. So, you should give your kid the space and acceptence to explore their's, and provide guidance by someone, who can't look into your kid's head either, but knows many cases of transgender and/or gender-nonconforming kids as well as kids who turn out to be neither and therefore can help your kid to find their own way.

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  • I have not voiced my feelings to her about having doubts. We're trying to just be there for her. She has expressed she feels safe, loved and accepted after telling us, she just wants everyone to do what she wants. I am a proponent of giving things time and not making decisions on a whim, so it's hard for me to just give in to all her demands when we got blindsided. We love her and want to support her. We're finding the best balance we can. Thank you for your insights and taking time to help me gain some understanding. – love2bemom Mar 1 at 17:18
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    Assuming that your kid is a trans son and not a daughter - and from what I read I find this more probable than not - the very fact, that you talk about him as "her", "my daughter" and using his deadname is a very obvious form of non-acceptance. You don't have to state your feelings in an explicit way, for the message to land - even unintendedly. You may want to read "Love lives here", it's by a mother whose child came out as trans at the age of eleven. – Jan Niklas Fingerle Mar 1 at 20:27
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Thanks for sharing. It must be hard to open up on a forum like this. I have a four-year-old and she is the light of my world. I hope that when my daughter goes through difficulties as yours has gone through, I will be able to support her with wisdom.

I agree with an earlier comment on finding a therapist for yourself. Or perhaps a support group for other parents who are struggling with your questions. Everything's virtual so it will be easier to access. But more than answers, I think finding a safe place to talk and share your feelings in a non-judgmental environment will be helpful to you. It is your child who is facing some really difficult pain, but you are the one suffering. By seeking help for yourself and working through your own feelings (and perhaps trauma?), I think you'll be in a better place to separate your pain from her pain. And since you love your child so very much, I believe you will naturally treat your child respectfully and in a way that is nurturing and nourishing.

Validate, validate, validate. Feelings and most beliefs are valid for that person. That does not mean agreeing. It also does not mean that to encourage behavior or beliefs to continue. If anything, rejection and invalidation do not discourage gender identity so acceptance and validation can't encourage it either. Validating means to P.A.U.S.E. R.R.R. - to Pay Attention, Accurately Reflect, Understand, Show Equality. To Read Minds, Reflect Back, and Radically Accept. Sorry for the long acronym - Dialectical Behavioral Therapy or DBT is full of them. There's a lot to unpack in each of these skills, but the overall skill is about listening and trying to find the seed of truth in everything. A DBT therapist for yourself or YouTube videos will help and is something you can apply right away.

Be her mom. It's different for every individual, but let's say you have a good 8 to 10 years left before your child fully transitions into young adulthood. Because face it, no one just turns 18 and automatically become an adult. Right now is the time to parent your child and it's a finite period no matter how your slice it. And if your child is non-binary or trans, your child is being forced to grow up a lot sooner. To parent your child takes the work of remembering what it was like for you growing up. Did you question your gender identity? If not, that is your authentic truth and equally valid as your child's. Share that.

Try to empathize. Have you ever imagined what it would be like to be transgender? And I'm not talking about thinking you are a male. You are still you. You are female and you were born that way. But imagine society perceives your body and hairstyle as being masculine. You need to go to the boys' bathroom with all of the other people who have been labeled boys, but you are not a boy, you are you, and you've always been you. Everyone calls you he, son, or brother. I hope I'm making sense and can at least intellectually empathize with what your child might be facing. As much as you understand, check with your child to see if this is how they feel. If not, listen until you really get it.

As parents of an adolescent, the focus is more on heart-character and not behaviors per se. Yes, you want to prevent them from getting pregnant or addicted to drugs, but it's mostly about helping to shape a person who will make wise decisions for themselves. Now is that time, and the best way is to help them clarify their question or problem without solving it for them. Here's a sample of statements that helps build heart character:

Parent: "I think you've been hurting in life. I was wondering, were you always in pain on some level? Or was it something that arose later in life?

Parent: "That painful feeling, how would you describe it? Was it a lonely, misunderstood or isolated feeling?"

Parent: "Does changing gender identity relieve that pain you've always felt on some level? Or do you think it's a temporary pain relief?"

Parent: "I hope so too. In my experience, there's no magic bullet. It might be part of the solution, but the deeper we go, sometimes there are even deeper issues."

Parent: "Feelings of loneliness can have more than once cause. It completely makes sense to feel like you've been hiding a secret which led to feeling lonely. Sometimes it's the secrecy, the feeling of a double-life that causes the pain."

Be an adult. You have an identity apart from being a mother. As part of the human race, these are confusing questions and there is no consensus in the scientific or religious community. Think about the issue as it relates to you as a person and citizen of society. Ask yourself whether gender is from birth, shaped by society, or a choice. Does it matter in terms of civil rights and liberties? It can be one of them or it can be a combination of all three. If I believed it was from birth and my neighbor believes that gender is fluid and he made a choice to male, am I to enforce my perspective that he was born a male into a female body and deny him his subjective experience?

Think through the issue for yourself. Here's my example of me. I would say that I was born with male anatomy, felt rejected by my mom because I heard the stories of how she always wanted a girl. At the same time, I would cry in elementary school when the handball hit my face, but felt like I needed to stifle the tears because "boys don't cry." Truly, I relate better with women because I have better/deeper conversation with them. I never considered that I had a choice in gender. But if I did have a choice, I would choose being 50% male and 50% female. I like myself - all of myself.

Prepare to become her friend. Let's face it. The days are long but the years are short. For me, I can't wait until the day I can treat my daughter like an equal. To spend time with one another because we like each other, not because we are related. I hope I can make that transition because my parents were completely uninterested in creating that for me. Your child is already your equal. You have infinite worth and infinite value, and so does your child. We just can't reveal that we are their equals until they figure it out on their own.

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  • She told her therapist she feels loved, safe, protected, and accepted, she just wants everyone to agree to go along with everything she wants. So... where's the line, you know? I'm a fan of giving things time, rather than making huge decisions on a whim. I'm just trying to find a good balance here while supporting her through this hard time because, whether it's fair or not, it does affect our whole family. I do think it would be a good idea for me to talk to a therapist as well. Thank you for your kindness here. It is appreciated. – love2bemom Mar 1 at 17:07

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