Advocates Protecting Children's new Advisory Board member Petra Harangir (pseudonym) speaks to parents and their kids.
Petra, thank you so much for being willing to join our advisory board. Voices like yours are so important.
Can you tell us, based on your experience as a child who suffered gender dysphoria, what should parents do when a child announces a transgender identity? What were the best things that your parents did, or that you think they shouldn't have done?
The first thing I would say is don’t freak out at them, because then all of their friends will tell them, “Oh, your parents are abusive because they panicked, because they didn’t just immediately affirm you.” Don’t fall into the pit-hole that they’re going to try to lead you into of just talking about this all the time. They’re going to try to get you to talk about it all the time, so they can complain to their friends about how abusive you are for not agreeing with them.
The best thing to do is to continue to build the relationship, doing activities without talking about transgender ideology. If you have a daughter who is pretending to be a guy, then take her fishing or camping, something that’s stereotypically masculine so that then when she says, “You just want me to be a pretty princess,” you can say, “I took you fishing. I took you camping.” Even though those are only stereotypically masculine activities, if you continue to do these kinds of activities, but then continue to call her she/her, that will help break the black & white barrier between, “I’m a girl, so I have to like girlish things,” or “I’m a boy, so I have to like boyish things.”
Another thing is, when you do have to talk about it, which you will, don’t try to throw reason at the child. Because as much as it’s tempting to, because you know how stupid all of this is, people are emotional animals and do not take well to getting slapped with reason, even if it is superior to the “reason” that they’re currently following.
Ask questions, and very specific questions that they can’t just answer “Yes” or “No.” For example, if she tries to tell you, “I’ve felt like this all my life, I’ve just kept it secret,” ask something like, “Do you think that we would never have accepted you not following stereotypes?” This kind of question is almost rhetorical, to get her to understand that you would never force her to conform to stereotypes. If she says, “Millions of transgender people are dying every year,” don’t get mad, just simply ask, “Where did you find that? Can I see where you found that statistic?” This forces her to ask, “Well, where does this statistic come from?” because likely she just heard it from her other friends and it sounded good, so she’s been repeating it.
One of the best strategies, I think, is to distract him or her from constantly thinking about gender. Autistic people such as myself get very, very fixated on one thing, whether it’s gender ideology or a superhero character from a comic, or a particular phrase or joke. We will continue to think about that and think about that until we get so incredibly bored of it that we cannot think about it anymore, and then we move on to something else. If you can get them to stop thinking about gender ideology all the time, it’s likely that he or she will find something else to fixate on that’s less harmful and more benign, such as a Star Wars character or a fictional universe.
If your child does find something else to obsess about, he or she will very likely become bored of transgender ideology. And if you’re bored of something, then you’re less biased toward it. Don’t throw reason at them until he or she gets to the point where he or she would be receptive to reason. Until kids get to that point, really the best thing to do is to build the relationship and provide things that distract from the ideology.
When I identified as transgender, my parents pulled me from public school and put me into a homeschool curriculum. That way I no longer was surrounded by people who thought exactly the way I thought, and who wouldn’t just blindly affirm my transgender identity. Although transgender-identified kids will pretty much never be receptive to their parents’ reasoning, the power of peer pressure is phenomenal. If your kid has other kids around him or her who are asking questions and thinking critically, then remaining willfully ignorant and refusing to think critically will embarrass him or her. He or she will want to start thinking critically in order to prevent the other kids from thinking that he or she does not. That’s exactly what started to get me to think critically—not wanting to be embarrassed by my own ignorance.
What would you say to a young person who thinks s/he is transgender?
I identified as transgender for two and a half years. During that entire time, I knew for certain that I was absolutely 100% right. As an older, more experienced person now, I now have the humility (and maybe wisdom) to realize that even though I may think that I am right about something, I might actually be wrong. I mean, I think I’m right about everything that I think, but if I was right about everything, I would be absolutely perfect, which I am not, so clearly I’m wrong about something.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of listening to and respecting people who are older than you. Even though they, as well, are not always right, they have far more experience than you and it will be hard to realize that until you’re the one with the experience telling younger people that they should listen to their elders.
A lot of people say that you should have an open mind always, but the irony in that is that they very often close their minds when their pride is at stake. Many people fall into the same fallacy as I just talked about, where they think that they are right about everything and thus that they are the ultimate source of wisdom on planet earth.
If somebody really was as wise as they think they are, they wouldn’t fear being proved wrong, because they know that they couldn’t be. I encourage you, that if you really think you’re right, to ask questions and not be afraid of the answers. Because if you’re right, then asking questions will only prove you right. And if you turn out to be wrong, then you will discover that you were wrong and you will become a little bit wiser by realizing that.
For more resources on dealing with a child who is transgender-identified, please see our website. To contact Petra Harangir, please email Advocates Protecting Children at firstname.lastname@example.org.