The first time I heard my daughter's masculine voice, I threw up.
I was caught off-guard, alone in the house (I thought), picking burrs off the dog.
"Hello, hello? Hello, is anybody home?!"
I knew my son was not home. And his 15 yr old voice was deeper than this voice. Was it him? Was he in distress?
My 18 year old trans-identified daughter had left home 5 months before, claiming we had "kicked her out". She moved in with another family who prided themselves, in their “woke” church community, on taking in the poor, homeless trans kid. She had proudly started testosterone injections 3 months ago. I had not realized that these injections could cause such rapid change.
Mind you, I had no idea what doses she was getting. Since she was 15, I was completely excluded from giving input or receiving any feedback or even guidance about her health care decisions. The doctors had colluded with her and excluded me, her mom, in the name of “privacy”, making it clear that her health is none of my business. Though, of course, I was still expected to drive her to appointments, buy her breast binders and pay for therapists. I never questioned her evolving identity, whether gendered or otherwise; but I had questioned the medicalizing of it.
She would say to me: “Mom, your problem is that you are a scientist, and you know too much and you read too much! You need to go meet with some other kids’ parents who let them transition. Maybe then you would let me do this.”
When I was young, people talked about lobotomies and thalidomide. My copy of ‘Our Bodies Ourselves’ talked about diethylstilbestrol (DES) and the Dalkon shield. I knew that people had been unsafe at the hands of doctors and pharmaceutical companies for decades. I could also see North America buckling at the knees from an opioid crisis that had expanded and infected communities in every corner of North America, thanks to Big Pharma’s appeal to treat pain with their newer, more improved opioids. ”Pain is the 5th vital sign. Doctors need to treat it more aggressively. Let the patient decide how much they need. When they have real pain; it’s not addictive.” These were the marketing mantras that doctors now reveal they were given. Now, in my community and in the whole country, I am watching doctors buy into a new mantra: ‘medical affirmation’ is the only treatment approach for all these kids.
As a mother, I had not worried about the safety of my child before trans; I was not an over-attentive parent. I often forgot to take her for check-ups or to get her vaccines. She, on the other hand, was cautious, anxious, and a bit of a hypochondriac, sometimes obsessing over the workings of her body. It was common to hear things like “Mom, I have a thing in my throat. Is this normal? Do I need to see the doctor? Mom, I ate yoghurt and 3 peaches this morning before I ate the Froot Loops. Am I eating healthy?”
My little girl’s father had an unpredictable presence in her life. He lived in another city and contacted her by phone only once or twice a year. When he did speak with her, he tried to lure her to live with him because he knew it would upset me. He offered her pets, treats, a new house, a trip to Disneyland. These conversations would accelerate if she went to see him for a few days at Christmas. She would come home in tears, crying that she felt sorry for him and guilty, although she did not really want to go live with him. It made her anxious, especially at night. She stopped going to sleep unless I was within 20 feet of her. She told me she was never going to grow up and move out, that she was going to live with me forever. She became increasingly insecure as she struggled through middle school.
Only her father had ever made me feel unsafe about my relationship with her. And even then, I knew the bond between her and I was immutable and solid. Nothing could loosen it. So I focused on reassuring her that she was good, that she was a healthy eater, that the thing in her throat was just a tonsil stone. She was with me; we were a safe dyad.
But there I was, in my living room, realizing all at once that the croaking sound of a pubescent, 12 yr old boy that was emanating from our doorway was my daughter. And that our dyad had been permanently broken, by other adults who I felt should know better, should be reading the scientific evidence that says that doing this to children is not safe, is not settled.
What hit me was not a sudden wave of transphobia or even shock at the change itself; the sound of her voice made me feel threatened. It reminded me that, beyond the normal teenage modus operandi of rebellion and doing things to herself against my advice, I was no longer allowed to protect her and that there were health professionals out there willing to harm her in the name of ‘gender affirmation’, the newest political football.
The first time I realized that our dyad was in trouble and that “professionals” would exclude me completely from trying to protect her was the day I walked into a psychiatrist’s office with her at 15. Her anxieties about bedtime and about her body had started to generalize as she reached menarche and her pleas for “treatment” of her “gender dysphoria” had worn me down. She had begged me, for months, to see a doctor to “treat” her with “T”. I still felt confident that we would walk out of that office intact—I knew the psychiatrist as a competent professional in our community. Surely they would reassure myself and my daughter that this was something she had learned about and glamourized through social media that this trans identity was a phase of development that would evolve and resolve on its own. Or perhaps it was a new manifestation of her profound anxiety. But after 30 minutes in that office, I was welcomed to “the gender journey” where my daughter sat smugly as the psychiatrist spoke down to me, skirting pronouns by saying: “Well, you’re ‘the’ mother; it will take a while for you to adjust”.
When we left that office that early summer afternoon, my cheeks burned. I drove away flushed, speechless, nauseated by this sudden disempowerment. My daughter tried not to stare at me as I drove. I believe she was almost as surprised as I was by this new acquisition of power she had just been given. But she was pleased with the outcome; her “transgender path” had now been cleared for her. And by a perfect stranger.
Now, she was back at home again. The drop in her voice- which I also knew immediately was permanent— signaled that all the years of parental love and devotion I had given to this child had now been tossed onto a familial pyre by (supposedly) well-meaning, but inexperienced and incompetent clinicians. In fact, I am not convinced they are all so well-meaning. I often wonder whether this is just a new way to be paternalistic while the old ways are frowned upon as politically backwards. How ironic.
This "team of wellness providers" offering "gender affirming care" had no idea who she is or was. None of them knew her growing up. None of them knows or has ever asked her about her absent father or tried to analyze her vulnerabilities or even to attempted to fully assess the roots of her anxiety or the extent of her body obsessions. Nope. They were and continue to be bent on their singular mission of "affirmation". In fact, as far as they knew, her most traumatic life events consist of being misgendered, verbally violated and “abused” by her own mother.
Affirmation used to be a benign, gentle word that made me think of things people stick on their mirrors and repeat to themselves every morning for positivity and self-confidence. Now everything linked to the term "affirmative care" just makes me nauseous. Which welled up into a force that pushed its way from my throat that afternoon when I heard my daughter’s voice.
She called out again. I answered with my son's name and a question mark, thinking it was him, home early. She said "it's just me!".
"Oh" was my response, "Oh!" was my realization.
She slipped passed me and up the stairs as if she had never left the house 5 months ago. I ran to the nearby bathroom and retched. As a scientist and as her mother, I realized that my daughter and her female voice were gone.
This is not transphobia, nor bigotry. I know, I work and socialize with transgender adults. I understand and have seen the barriers they have faced. None of them knows or has ever asked her about her absent father or tried to analyze her vulnerabilities or even - to - attempted to fully assess the roots of her anxiety or the extent of her body obsessions. But children and teenagers suddenly announcing to the world that they need to permanently damage their bodies with the help of doctors, medicine and surgery is not the world of gender medicine that I have known. And, anxious children being alienated from the care of their parents in the name of “affirmation medicine” feels like yet another attempt for marketers to ply a new demographic with their wares, which will be needed for my daughter’s lifetime. All the while, this unsafe industry is supported and promoted by a “woke” new world of post-modern intellectual domination, which has now taken over my home and my life and left me to vomit quietly, alone, into the void left by my lost, confused child.