As a female scientist, I have never been into princesses. So when I had my first baby girl, there was no way she was going to be dressed in pink or brainwashed by commercial movies of pretty big-eyed girls being saved by dashing young princes. Instead, my baby Samantha dressed in a mix of “boys” and “girls” clothes. In terms of toys, she initially had her train phase, followed by her super hero phase, and then her Lego phase.
At the age of 2.5, after her little brother was born, Samantha started pushing back when I tried to put dresses on her. She also started to rebel at the idea of ballet classes and her friends were mostly boys. I started to wonder if my anti-princess sentiment was really a good idea but my pediatrician wasn’t worried.
By the age of 4.5, Samantha began expressing frustration with all things gender-segregated. Why was it that all her favorite super heroes were boys? Why is it that her super heroes are only on boys clothes? Why do they divide the kids at school into boys versus girls teams and then the boys always win? Why do the boys get to pee standing up but the girls can’t?
Given that Samantha already wore boy’s clothes, and had relatively short hair, people were starting to mistake Samantha for a boy, which she enjoyed. So Samantha had an idea: how about she could change her name to a boy-sounding name? She chose “Sam”?
At this point, I started to worry. It was 2016 and the transgender topic was starting to get more attention in the news. I did a bit of online research and talked to a family friend who was a child psychologist. This was the first time that I heard the words “gender dysphoria.” She encouraged me not to worry because 80% of children with gender dysphoria grow out of it by puberty.
I asked my pediatrician what she thought and she recommended a local counseling practice that specialized in LGBTQ support for children and young adults. I felt like I had hit the jackpot! I had actually found experts that could help Sam! We started by joining group sessions (led by a trans man) where I was able to meet other parents with children just like mine. I found comfort knowing I wasn’t alone. At the same time, I started searching YouTube and found some helpful documentaries such as “Gender Revolution” by renowned journalist, Katie Couric. I believed that there was a whole world of transgender men and women out there that I was just beginning to learn about. I felt bad for the transgender kids who were persecuted for wanting to go into bathrooms or join sports teams for their gender.
We met with our counselor, David, who was very good with 5-year-old Sam. She played games with him while they chatted about Sam’s gender woes. David asked Sam, “If there was one thing in the world you could have what would it be?” Sam replied, “I would want a penis.”
After a few months, David encouraged me to “socially transition” Sam since many people already thought Sam was a boy anyway, and Sam wanted to be a boy. The discrepancy between Sam’s boy-like presentation and her use of she/her pronouns was creating anxiety for her. David said transitioning Sam to using he/him pronouns would lessen her anxiety and that I was the only one holding Sam back. In every other aspect of life, Sam had already socially transitioned and pronouns would be the final step. I did feel pressure at this point but I figured that my counselor knew better—so we started using he/him pronouns for Sam.
Our school was extremely accommodating throughout this process. We live in a fairly rural area so our school staff isn’t very experienced on this front though they are very loving. Before Sam started kindergarten, I let the school nurse know that Sam had gender dysphoria. The nurse and the principal were extremely kind and asked me what I needed in order to accommodate Sam at school. Because this topic was so challenging for me, I often found myself breaking down crying. Imagine: my first conversation with my daughter’s principal and I’m uncontrollably sobbing! How embarrassing! The problem was: the school wanted to know what I needed for Sam but I was still so confused and figuring it all out... I was the one that needed to know what Sam needed, not the other way around. Either way, I did my best to let our principal know. I suggested that if possible, it would be great if Sam could have access to a gender-neutral bathroom. Since Sam looked like a boy but used the girls bathroom, older girls would make comments when Sam went into the bathroom. One of the girls even was peeking at little kindergarten Sam through the cracks in the bathroom stall! This only aggravated poor little Sam’s sense of gender. She certainly wasn’t fitting in with the girls in the bathroom!
Teachers were very accommodating with respect to transitioning to he/him pronouns for Sam. Once I was on board with the idea, I now became an advocate for Sam’s male pronouns every time she was misgendered at school. To support Sam, I looked for children’s books about trans kids such as “I am Jazz” or “Red: A Crayon’s Story.” Sam also joined the Boy Scouts who had recently began to allow girls. Sam loved it! Perhaps the hardest step for me was when I shaved Sam’s hair off into a full boy’s buzz cut. I cried so hard but I did it because I loved Sam so much and wanted to support her. I even bought Sam a she-wee so she could pee standing up like the boys. I also looked into children’s packers so Sam could have her own little bulge in her pants ... yes they have them!!! In some ways, all this affirmation brought Sam and me closer together.
However, through all this affirming support, I couldn’t stop thinking about where was this all heading. How does this social transition unwind itself assuming that puberty reverses 80% of these kids’ gender dysphoria? I tried asking this question and David said, “we will just follow Sam’s lead since she knows herself.” This answer didn’t give me comfort though, since I also started to learn about puberty blockers. If puberty reverses gender dysphoria but kids take puberty blockers, have we just interfered with this process? I tried asking David, but I got the same answer about how the kids know their true selves. I also tried asking this question on Facebook and I got chastised. I thought it was a very logical question so I was disheartened by the emotional responses.
How can I possibly let a young child make a decision to block puberty and potentially sterilize themselves without clear answers?
Seeking out additional experts, I found a local medical doctor that specialized in transgender medicine. I again felt like I had potentially opened the door to finally find the answers I was looking for. The doctor sat with me, my husband and Sam, looked Sam straight in the eye and asked, “Do you want to be a boy?” Sam immediately replies, “Yes.” The doctor asked “Do you want breasts like your mother or a beard like your father?” Sam said “a beard like my father.” The doctor replies, “No big deal, we will just give Sam puberty blockers in a few years... It is totally reversible.”
This was the last straw for me. Why do all these so-called-experts only have one answer? Where are the stories of the 80% that reverse their GD?
I immediately stopped having Sam attend our gender-affirming counseling and I went back to internet digging. I started researching the science of puberty so that I could get my own answers to the 80% statistic. I was obsessed. Yes, I was still running a household and holding a job, but I would find myself staying up late after the kids were in bed googling down gender rabbit holes.
That is when I found a counselor in Texas named Sasha Ayad who questioned the whole idea of transitioning children, and my world opened up. I was able to have a phone consultation with her and I realized for the first time that the reason I wasn’t getting my answers was because these so-called experts didn’t have answers! They were literally experimenting with our children. Unfortunately, Sasha was too overwhelmed with patients to take us on but we remained in touch so that she could share pointers. Plus her practice at the time was exclusively focused on rapid-onset gender dysphoria in teen girls versus my little 6 year old.
So I went back to my online gender rabbit holes. I joined Twitter and started following people around the world that questioned puberty blockers. I found podcasts that I began to listen to nonstop while doing laundry, cooking, driving, exercising... I was obsessed. My child was in danger and I had to fix it before she was permanently sterilized. I had trouble sleeping. I was thinking, breathing, and talking about gender questions non-stop. It was fully consuming me.
I found the Benjamin Boyce “Boyce of Reason” podcast series extremely helpful. It was the first time I had heard such comprehensive coverage of the many angles of gender dysphoria. My challenge was that most of the coverage was related to post-pubescent teens instead of young children. But then one of the episodes was about Stella O’Malley who is a psychotherapist in Ireland who had gender dysphoria as a child and grew out of it as a teenager... bingo!!!!
I immediately contacted Stella and she was available to speak with me. Unlike others I spoke to, Stella didn’t take Sam’s wishes at face value but wanted to understand the underlying drivers of Sam’s desire to be a boy. Yes, the world is unfair to girls in many ways and our competitive Sam likes to be on the winning team. It’s not fair that boys can pee standing up. It can feel wrong that boys are often stronger, faster, or more aggressive. But liking Legos, super heroes, and trains doesn’t make you a boy. For the first time, Stella helped us dig into these underlying factors in order to assess where Sam’s true self really was. Sam knew she was a girl ... she just wasn’t happy about it. This is not a transgender child.
Truly supporting Sam long term became about helping Sam feel okay about her true self—not hiding behind a shaved head, boys’ clothes, and false pronouns. But we had some work to do to get there. We silently started letting Sam’s hair grow out and we covertly tried to find the most feminine-looking clothes Sam could tolerate. As I explored this issue, I realized that this wasn’t being sneaky, this was like giving a child their vegetables—they may not like them but they need them!
I must acknowledge that my family had been wonderful throughout this whole process. Though I’m sure they were worried, they never interfered.... they even started calling Sam he/him. At this point, it had been almost 2 years since we had socially transitioned Sam. We now had neighbors and friends that only knew Sam as a little boy. So our 7 year-old Sam carried around extra anxiety associated with her gender secret. She knew she was a girl but didn’t want people to know. I was worried about this so we needed a plan to unwind this social transition.
We decided that the best approach was to essentially break the cycle cold turkey in two steps. The first step was to have a conversation with each person in Sam’s life that knew her as a boy and tell them that Sam is indeed a girl and we will now be using she/her pronouns. Not surprisingly, all our friends and neighbors were extremely loving and kind and said they love Sam no matter what her gender was. The second step was to have a conversation with Sam that was very matter-of-fact. “Sam, we think that living with this secret that you are a girl is not healthy for you so we are going to start using she/her pronouns. Everyone knows you are a girl and they still love you just the same.”
And guess what? Sam was extremely relieved! We never saw her so happy. She didn’t really vocalize her sense of relief but we saw it. She no longer was paranoid about being found out as a fake boy. It certainly helped that we embarked on this effort during COVID when we had less contact with others that could potentially comment on Sam’s gender status.
It took approximately 2 years for Sam to start to become comfortable living as a girl again. She continued to use the boys’ bathrooms until she wasn’t comfortable anymore. She still wears boys’ clothes but her hair is shoulder length. Every once in a while, we catch a kid at school calling her “he” but we make sure to find a private way to update them.
One of the biggest vegetables I made Sam swallow was joining our local girls’ soccer team. I figured it was the best way for Sam to meet non-girly girls, since all her friends were still boys. When Sam found out the team I signed her up for was a girls’ team she revolted. So I bribed her with an iPad in exchange for trying it out for one season. It turns out Sam was the best on her team! She started to feel pride in that. She was then scouted for another local soccer team and felt even more proud. She was even invited to sleepovers at her teammates houses and went! Some of the other girls are even envious that Sam gets to wear boy clothes when they aren’t allowed by their parents.
Sam is now in her second year of soccer and loves it! She is calling herself a girl and is using girls’ bathrooms. She no longer growls when we refer to her as a big sister or our cool daughter. Sam has even met other trans people and asks us “why would they do that?” It almost feels like she has forgotten her previous self. We don’t make a big deal out of any of it because we know she is still trying to figure it all out. She has started puberty though so I can now tell you that she is one of that 80% that I couldn’t get answers about.
I am so extremely thankful that Sasha and Stella helped open my eyes when they did. I was obsessed and lost sleep because I almost lost my daughter to so-called gender experts. I feel horrible thinking about the other families that are part of the gender affirming counseling practice that I left. Will those kids be sterilized when they didn’t have to be? Why wasn’t that part of the story in Katie Couric’s documentary?
1. Katie Couric "Gender Revolution" (
1. “I am Jazz” by Jazz Jennings
2. “Red: A Crayon’s Story” by Michael Hall
3. “Boyce of Reason” podcast by Benjamin Boyce
4. “Gender: A Wider Lens” podcast by Stella O’Malley and Sasha Ayad