It has been over a year since my son desisted from his belief that he was “trans,” but I still think about this every day. It’s probably disrespectful to compare this experience to having a child go through a cancer treatment, but that’s the closest comparison I can think of. For two years now, since the day he first announced he thought he was trans, I have searched daily for any minute clues that might reveal his health and his mind frame. What did that comment mean? What happened to that friendship? Is that moodiness significant—or is he just tired from school? But, it’s been over a year since there have been any clues of gender confusion, and he says this is all behind him. I believe him. I should probably move on, too.
Just so you know: my son’s great. Fine. Happy. Doing sports. Got his license. Going to parties. Building new friendships. Making straight As. Asking a girl to prom. It’s like he had fallen off a merry-go-round for a few cycles, then he hopped right back on when I wasn’t looking. It’s hard to make out which figure is him when he whips by. He catches my eye every now and then and waves, but really, he’s just focusing on keeping his seat and enjoying his ride.
Part of my hesitancy to move on is related to survivor’s guilt. He’s fine, but I happen to know there are other battered and bruised kids lying on the sidelines. I connect with their parents each day, and the stories are brutal and heartbreaking. When they learn my kid desisted, they ask for the secret sauce, and I offer what advice I can. These fellow parents, as well as many readers on New Discourses and my followers on Twitter were supportive and encouraging to me during my dark days. It feels appropriate to share my insights.
So here it is:
The solution to helping your child desist from a trans identity = full court press of parent love + positive healthy friendships x time to evolve.
It’s a simple recipe, but here the detailed directions:
- Your kid needs tons of parent love. TONS. Like every twenty minutes, get in there and check on him. Praise his efforts on his homework. Tell loving stories about his past at dinner. Have him hear you talk proudly of him to other people on the phone. Bring him treats at pick-up. Go on special outings and buy silly things for him. Describe his positive characteristics frequently. “I’ve always admired how thoughtful you’ve been. You’re such a generous person. What do you think of this idea: you’ve always been so good at evaluating things.” Tell him he looks handsome and strong. Tell her she looks beautiful and strong.
You are going to lose your patience with your child. There will be conflicts and struggles. I’m not suggesting saintlike levels of self-sacrifice and tightrope walking. I’m talking the kinds of physical, warm, cookie-making, gooey parenting you did with him when he was four. Over-praise his every little success. Ignore and minimize his failures. Don’t give him any evidence that you are disappointed in him. And stop talking about trans.
- Healthy friendships. Nearly every one of these ROGD (Rapid-Onset Gender Dysphoric) kids has had their social life shrink down into just a few friends, usually including a social justice “cheerleader” (often female, but not always) who is actively promoting transgender identity. Some of these ROGD kids have no friends, and haven’t had any for years. Nearly every one of the boys in our group is awkward or has Autism Spectrum Disorder. These are profoundly isolated and lonely kids. There’s a reason why trans identity spiked during Covid lockdowns.
Your #1 task is to get your kid interacting and developing friendships with other healthy kids. Start with the old elementary friends—invite the whole family over for dinner. Join a church and sign your kid up for the youth group. Fill up every week of summer with activities. (I recommend numerous different camp vs. one long extended camp, so that he/she can meet a larger total number of kids, and have the ability to re-invent and try again if it goes badly.) Force your child to join an after-school activity. Expose them to different groups of kids. Have them read books about small talk and social cues. Buy them trendy clothes. Make sure they know enough about teen culture so that they can hold a conversation.
- Time to evolve. The good news: you only go through adolescence once. This is an extremely painful, challenging, awkward, ugly, humiliating, and incredibly important phase of life. Like every teenager on the planet throughout history, your child is struggling to find his/her place in the world. What is the meaning of life? Am I just hopelessly weird and unattractive? Will anyone love me?
Your role as parent is to say everyday: “You are lovely and lovable just the way you are. Yes, we all have our issues, and there were things I wish I could change about myself. But we are who we are. You can change your outside, but that doesn’t change your inside. Truth never comes from the bottom of a bottle or at the edge of a knife.”
Get their brains unplugged from the trans media stream. Get them offline and in-life. Use that time to help them learn more about life and humanity. Teach your child about brain maturation not being complete until around age 25. Expose them to stories of group psychosis. Teach them about sex. Talk about romance and love and passion. Travel. Go to museums and watch complex movies. Go on a week-long hiking trip. Talk about people you know who have circled in the dead-ends of addiction, underemployment, or bad relationships. Talk directly about the skills people need to thrive: friendships, persistence, and hard work. Use every tool at your disposal to give your child time to mature.
In our crazy world, some people will read this essay and call this a cruel approach. They will say anything that isn’t affirming is conversion therapy, and call me an anti-trans bigot. There are people who think that a depressed teenager’s pronouncement has some magical power that should require the entire world to spin around him, but they probably aren’t grown-ups. Parents know their kids. Adults know themselves. Teenagers don’t know shit.
So, you’ve got this, fellow parent. With love, healthy friendships, and time, you’re giving your child the critical things he or she needs to grow. Good luck.
Note: Donna M. has unsubscribed from Twitter in order to protect her privacy and move on. Parents of gender-questioning teens looking for support should visit “PITT”.