Picture credit: mrs/Getty

Abuses of affirmation

Inside the communities of trans mums

Artillery Row

My son’s appendix burst in March, and it was my fault. I had dismissed his stomach cramps, having been burned by too many wasted visits to doctors who prescribed only water and rest. “Water and rest,” I told him, as he watched cartoons in the foetal position. By the time he got rolled in for the first operation, his situation was too advanced for dainty keyhole surgery. Three all-nighters later, a surgeon cut a wide gash across his perfect torso and took his guts out to wash the goo off in a bowl. We didn’t get out of the hospital for weeks.

This summer at the campsite pool, I cried at the sight of his jagged, discoloured scars. I’m so sorry, I told him when he ran to me, drenched, to brag about a backflip. It was all my fault. I had probably been scrolling Twitter as I dismissed his “weird pain”. Other mothers have reassured me that it happens to us all. I nod at them. You’re right, I say — but my heart’s not in it.

This kind of martyrdom feels primal to me. It’s why I can only look on in horror at the phenomenon of the “trans mom”, the women (and it’s almost always women) who affirm their child’s transgender identity. In mild cases, they concede to pronouns and name changes, whilst in the more extreme version, they doctor-shop for a dysphoria diagnosis and live-stream the car journey to their daughter’s mastectomy.

I know all this because I’ve spent the last couple of years lurking on their online fora. Whilst some of the women are quite clearly mad or bad, most sound like they just really love their kids. At a complete loss, they join the groups for information, only to have the trans suicide gambit deployed at any hint of scepticism. Posts are policed for noobs using deadnames and correct-sex pronouns and any other non-affirming language or concepts. Once they’re far enough along their child’s “gender journey”, the moms turn into evangelisers themselves, becoming the blood-sucking zombies who only moments ago were aghast at all the blood-sucking zombies. It’s a pyramid scheme of misery.

These groups exist to support the belief system, not the families suffering under it.

One of the worst posts I ever saw was a woman whose trans-identifying daughter had a “serious chronic health condition”. Her specialist had said that testosterone could cause liver failure. Mom came to the group, but only when her mind was already made up. She had “purchased the meds” and needed to be told she had done the right thing. She got what she wanted.

Desperate women rallying to lift each other up: it’s almost heartening, until you remember it’s like egging each other on the Jim Jones queue for juice. After a year or so of cross-sex hormones or puberty blockers, you’ve medicated away your child’s ability to have children of their own. You have arrested their essential development, and nobody knows the real long-term cognitive consequences.

Let Women Speak

On 16 September, the women’s rights campaigner Kellie-Jay Keen will be in Dublin for her trademark Let Women Speak event, where she will hold court on things like disappearing lesbians and males in women’s jails. One of the groups that will come to drown her out is called “Mammies for Trans Rights”.

The cutesy name was no doubt chosen to give the group a grassroots feel, but there is very little about the transgender movement in Ireland that could be described as “grassroots”. The Mammies are part of a coalition called Trans Equality Together, which is a joint initiative of Ireland’s three big state-funded gender NGOs.

These groups are popping up everywhere to reassure hesitant women that social, hormonal and surgical transition of your child are the actions of a doting mother, actually. American groups called “Free Mom Hugs” and “Second Home” (yikes) have been established for the same reason.

It makes perfect strategic sense for activists to build up squadrons of trans moms: whilst NGO careerists and government ministers will swap jobs and eventually lose interest, mothers will be stuck with their choices forever. That makes them the perfect ideological foot soldiers. The child-focussed Irish NGO BelongTo spent €1.5 million on grants in 2022. Though it doesn’t go into specifics about who got the cash, one of the pillars of their activities is “supporting parents”. No doubt it hopes the “support” will go both ways.

Female but not feeling it

Every now and then in the trans mom groups, a mother announces that her child has decided they’re not trans after all. “Thank you all for your support, but I don’t need this group anymore.” Just like that, she’s gone. (I like to picture her gleefully setting fire to breast binders in the garden with a glass of wine in her hand).

After she was walking on eggshells for three and a half years, this happened to Clare. Her autistic daughter desisted a few weeks ago, telling her: “I know I am female, but I’m just not feeling it.” A mother of four girls, she never affirmed her daughter’s body dysmorphia. Instead, after a period of fighting, she decided to shut her trap and wait out the storm. She will be present in Dublin at the KJK event, but she probably won’t speak. She doesn’t want to push her luck. “I am so happy,” she said of her daughter’s announcement. “My instinct told me from the very beginning that this was wrong.”

The mothers who go the other way are relentless, and it’s not hard to understand why. They will be the last holdouts when the gender fever breaks. Even if they eventually concede that it’s all bonkers, they are likely to drag us all down before they crash. As author Helen Joyce has said, they need to believe that they did the right thing for their own sanity.

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