Updated: Jul 31, 2022
(This is an anonymous post from a mother whose daughter went into the gender identity maze and found her way out).
When I was pregnant with my daughter I had no interest in knowing the sex and neither did my partner. It would make no difference to how we prepared and we hated sex based stereotypes and did not want to risk an avalanche of pink or blue prior even to our baby’s arrival. Once we had her I got extremely frustrated by the targeting of toys and clothing by sex and absolutely resisted it. Whilst others bought her pink clothes and toys I completely avoided them. Toys were chosen based on what could appeal, until she was old enough to choose herself, where she was made aware anything was suitable for her.
At 3 years old she had developed a fascination with dinosaurs. She absolutely loved them and had books, toys, games and clothing. These, particularly the clothes were labelled boys. She also loved dresses and had long hair, and she played with dolls and other stereotypically “girl” things. Her main interest was reading, and at 14 she’s still an avid reader. She read a range of books, fiction and non-fiction. Space and obviously dinosaurs were favourites when she was younger. I was grateful to find others who felt like me online and followed campaigns like Let Toys be Toys.
As she got older and was in school, comments were made by other children and even adults. I remember one person in a shop expressing surprise, as she was wearing a dinosaur top along with a pink coat, with this person saying “So are you a tomboy who likes pink?”. “No, she’s a girl who likes what she likes” I politely retorted.
I had no choice but to address these things with her and tell her some people foolishly thought that there were “girl” things and “boy” things but she could like what she liked. I told her I had short hair at her age, wanted to be a boy and had played football for example. Thankfully she was confident in herself and never wavered.
Secondary school came and, she made a new friend group. Like most her age she was spending increasing amounts of time online as well. The pandemic then started and she was stuck at home. She was online more and more and we juggled work and family. Her mental health clearly suffered. She broke down in the summer and talked of suicide, saying she felt we didn’t like her amongst other things. It was heart-breaking.
Soon after she told us she was a lesbian. “OK then” we said that was basically it. It wasn’t an issue. However, a few weeks later came something else. She said she was non-binary, telling me “I know how you feel about it” and suggesting she’d been scared to tell me. She said she hated her name and wanted to use a new name. The name she proposed wasn’t even a name. It came across as her wanting to be controversial. However, we felt we had to tread carefully.
I knew from the conversations we had she felt very strongly about the issue of gender identity and we’d talked though our views after the controversy around J K Rowling’s comments. She’d been a big Harry Potter fan, reading all the books numerous times and now was calling J K transphobic. I was aware of the issues around it and afraid that if her school or any professionals knew then the approach would be total affirmation, and if we didn’t go along with this then it could cause us difficulties. However, our feelings were that she was at a time in life which we all go through, where we are seeking to establish our own identities.
At the same time, she was starting puberty and her body was changing, which made her uncomfortable. We agreed that we’d use a childhood nickname for her and use they/them pronouns when talking about her in her presence. We discussed that was the best step for now whilst she considered an appropriate alternative name and waited to see how she felt later. In school she asked her friends to call her another nickname. She had her hair cut short and expressed happiness when she was mistaken for a boy. She also talked about hating periods, which she’d just started, and her breasts. She may have talked about having them removed when she was older. We did discover she had bought a breast binder without us knowing. This worried me. I was scared of her going further and saying she was a boy and wanting to fully transition, including medically, but that not actually being right for her.
What if she went down that route but didn’t want to admit it was wrong for her and had to continue? I was afraid that by agreeing to using a different name and pronouns we were encouraging her, but we knew doing the opposite was only likely to push her further down that route as she’d rebel against us.
When I tentatively asked why she was non-binary, as I wished to understand, her answer was she didn’t feel she was a woman and she hated the term girl. That was all she could tell me and I didn’t probe further.
In the meantime, she was getting support for her mental health issues and her identity as a person was discussed (but not gender identity as she refused to talk about it). I think this helped her come to terms with who she was. My feeling was that she struggled in secondary school initially as in primary school she’d been considered “the clever one” but did not stand out in that way in secondary school. Gradually we noticed a change in her. She was happier and confident in herself. We continued careful chats about gender identity and biological sex. She agreed that you couldn’t ignore biological sex, as it was so relevant to things like medical care as male and female bodies are different.
I braved asking one day if she considered now she would be a woman and she said she would be. With her agreement we began using “she” and her proper name more and more.
Now she completely rejects gender identity. She’s proudly a young woman. She’s concerned by the idea that young children are transitioning, especially if this is based on sex stereotypes. She knows it often is, based on what she has seen online, which she previously completely subscribed to. She thinks it’s totally inappropriate that any children are medicalised. She thinks they should be given therapy if they’re old enough to talk about their feelings, before they are encouraged to transition. She has told me now that if we had told her certain interests, such as dinosaurs were for boys then she’d have ended up being trans, which she now knows she very much isn’t.
She’s in fact a girl who likes what she likes.
I am so grateful she’s come to this decision herself. I dread to think where we could have ended up.