How Alice Got Her Funny, Loud, Creative Daughter Back from ROGD Misery
The Trans Announcement
Our daughter told us she was a transgendered boy shortly after her 13th birthday. This happened after a year and a half of school closures due to the pandemic. It also followed a few hundred hours of TikTok videos and influence from one friend. Other than hating the changes of puberty (who doesn't?), she had never shown any signs of gender distress until this time. She "came out" a few weeks before 8th grade started. She went from being happy and healthy to completely miserable in about a month.
Discovering & Understanding ROGD
When I first started researching this, I found information that didn't feel right to me. The websites and books told me I should smile and march forward, affirming her new identity. I didn't think this matched up with what I knew about general childhood development, nor did I think it was a responsible thing to do. I also didn't think this was congruent with the person she'd always been. I could talk for hours about why I know my daughter isn't a boy (developmentally, socially, mannerisms, fashion choices). It was hard to find information about what I now know is ROGD.
Here are some things that helped me understand that my daughter had ROGD:
- My dad (who has a degree in childhood development) sent me a link to the Lisa Littman article.
- My daughter came home from camp and reported that every single one of the girls in her cabin identified as a trans boy. I knew this was statistically improbable, and it made me wonder for the first time if this transgender idea was just a fad.
- I read a passage in a book that detailed how you should inform family members. It included examples of letters, where I was supposed to write "he's the same happy kid that he's always been; he likes the same things that he always did". This gave my stomach a twist because it wasn't true. She threw away everything in her room (art supplies, books, photos, clothes, trinkets), quit her favorite sport and started listening to different music. She wasn't the same kid and she wasn't happy.
Transforming into a Miserable Kid
Prior to ROGD, she had a ton of (girl) friends and was healthy and happy. She played sports and joined clubs and read books. She was loud and outgoing. She was sensitive and loved animals. She was responsible and level-headed. She was the kid we never had to worry about. In hindsight, maybe this made us pay less attention to her than our other kids, and that might have played a part in this. After ROGD, she was objectively miserable. She put blankets over her bedroom window to block out the light, spent all day lying in the dark, refused to hang out with us or speak to us, etc. She couldn't hang out with us for reasons like "I'm not comfortable being in a room with other people". This personality change was more evident after school started, where she was allowed to be called a boy's name and teachers all pretended that she was a boy. She was like the opposite of her formal self. It started with rude behavior towards teachers, stealing things from other kids, vandalizing school property, then advanced to more serious problems, like cutting, talking about wanting to hurt animals and eventually was overheard in class talking about wanting to murder someone. This ultimately led to school expulsion when knives were found in her backpack. It was shocking to us, because she had always been such a great kid prior to this.
Things we did to help our daughter desist
- We tried to connect with her. We did "love-bombing" and tried to spend a lot of time with her. It was really hard in the beginning because she really seemed like she hated us and didn't want to spend time with us. She'd even go to her room in the middle of family movie night and not watch movies with us. We had to keep trying. My husband and I took turns doing activities with her. He watched anime with her in the evenings (I couldn't do it, haha) and took her into the garage to help her build things. I took her clothes shopping. I allowed her to shop in the boys' section but retained veto power.
- I read the book Hold On To Your Kids by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate. It's a book about how parents and families need to matter more than peers. It's about how to find connection with teens. This is especially difficult when they don't want anything to do with you and prefer to spend time alone in their room. It's tougher when they act like they hate you. Tip for anyone dealing with this: before even meeting her, her therapist listened to me and said to me "please know that she doesn't really hate you". I think this is correct in probably all cases, and I feel comfortable saying the same thing to the person reading this. They don't really hate us. They secretly love us and need us and it is a relief to know so.
- She got a job down the road doing yardwork for an elderly neighbor. She was claiming to be "agoraphobic" and "an introvert", even though that was the opposite of her personality prior to the pandemic. She initially wouldn't go to work by herself and I went with her, doing the chores alongside her. Sometimes we just worked. Sometimes we talked. We really only talked about mundane things, like the weather, vacation plans, how ugly the neighbor's dog is, what to have for dinner, etc. Nothing heavy. Definitely not gender or identity. This helped us connect, got her outside and gave her a sense of accomplishment when she received her paycheck. I didn't know then, but this neighbor held conservative values. Looking back, I think we lucked out. It might have been a risk to have her work for someone who had progressive ideals and may have tried to have private discussions with her.
- Probably the most important thing we did was we took away her internet. Deleted TikTok and Snapchat. Took the web browser off her phone. Her phone could only text and play music. This removed a lot of negative influence. It actually took us several weeks of trial and error to properly restrict the phone because she kept figuring out ways to get around restrictions. When we finally had it set, we noticed a pretty rapid improvement in her mood and behaviors.
- We did not ever change her name or pronouns at home. This was mostly because we didn't want to, but she was also reluctant to be "out" to her siblings. She complained about us to her friends, but was never openly upset at us about this.
- We did allow the goth clothes and haircut. I took her to a salon to have her hair dyed. The advice I received from our family doctor was that I should allow nonpermanent changes.
- I did buy binders, but now I wish I hadn't. I tried stretching them, but it didn't work; they are made of really tough material. I'm not sure if this is a coincidence or not, but she started having stomach problems. She said she felt sick all the time. She independently concluded that the binder was making her sick, and she started wearing it only during PE class. I'm not aware of what mechanism might cause nausea from breast binding (unless it's really squishing your guts) so this might just have been luck.
- We found a therapist. We live in a state where the "affirmative" model is mandated and exploring gender distress is considered conversion therapy. The therapist was an acquaintance of mine, and I felt like I could trust her. She DID call our daughter a boy name (the law in our state), but I believe she saw the truth of everything. Our daughter went to therapy once weekly for about 4 months. She refused to talk about gender with the therapist. In hindsight, I suspect that she knew she was doing the wrong thing for herself and she would eventually have to admit it in therapy, so she just refused to discuss. She was willing to discuss other things, like the anxiety and depression. Over time, we noticed small changes: she would actually speak during dinner, would stand in the same room as another family member, would sit on a couch with other people in the room (as long as she had the couch to herself).
- I tried listening to her music. Some of it was actually good. I went through her playlist and deleted songs with the word "suicide" in them because I panicked when I saw them. She had hundreds of songs on her playlist and if she noticed any missing, she never said anything. Note: she repeatedly denied ever feeling any suicidal ideas.
- Luckily, our doctor is very level-headed and did not refer us to a gender clinic. It was the first thing I asked about (prior to knowing about ROGD) because I naively believed that the gender clinic would have adequate assessments. I believe otherwise now.
- If the weather was nice, I told her she had to spend at least 30 minutes outside or she couldn't have any screens. The sunlight and being in nature were good for her mind.
How I Helped Myself
The Gender: A Wider Lens Podcast helped me to understand a lot, and also helped me to feel like a normal parent doing the right thing. It also gave me a lot of background information that I otherwise wouldn't have discovered on my own. Sharing certain episodes with my husband was also helpful when we were coming up with strategies.
I joined Sasha’s Parent Group on SubscribeStar and found a ton of helpful videos. I actually wrote down a lot of Sasha's sentences and practiced them in my own words until I felt like I could repeat the ideas in a natural-sounding way. Luckily for me, I didn't have very many gender discussions with my daughter.
How we Kept Our Family Together
I found a seed catalog that was advertising seeds to grow a "goth garden". She thought it was cool so I gave her space in my garden to plant, and let her pick out seeds (black tomatoes, black flowers, purple carrots, purple basil, black pansies, flowers that looked like brains). She watered and weeded and put a plastic elephant out there in the middle of it. She gave the elephant a name and also named the "forest" around it. She never ate any of the vegetables but it got her outside. Her favorite part of it ended up being able to make flower arrangements that she put on the dinner table.
Our family eats dinner together every night. I read once that it's the best way to prevent drug use in teens. During her ROGD phase, she would ignore everyone and eat as quickly as possible and then leave the table. No eye contact. Some eye-rolling. No acknowledgement of what she was eating unless it was to complain. We persisted in eating as a family even though she was acting like that.
I let her play a lot of Minecraft with her siblings. They played simultaneously on separate computers. It sounds counterintuitive, but they were able to really connect with each other and strengthen their sibling bond. It was during this that I started to hear her laugh again.
We tried to focus on humor. We texted funny memes to each other in the family group chat. Nothing ever gender-related.
I'd heard that one of the best things to do was to keep her occupied with hobbies. She refused: art classes, sports, reading, 4-h, scouts, horseback riding, climbing, music lessons, martial arts. Would Not Go. Even threw out all of her art supplies. She was determined not to have a hobby. I still think these are good things for parents to try.
Since she wouldn't watch movies with us in the living room, we would take the family to the theater. She would only go if we went to a theater in another town. Watching a movie isn't exactly quality time, but we were together and out of the house.
Going camping as a family didn't work. She was difficult the entire time. She was "uncomfortable" about everything. She was determined to have a bad time. I still think this is probably a good thing for families to try.
We prioritized family vacations and let her (and her siblings) help pick locations, hotels, activities, etc. Going to other countries was a fun experience for her, and I think it reminded her that we are actually a cool family to be a part of.
Other Areas of Support for our Daughter
I gave her vitamins and supplements. Vitamin D is supposed to help with depression. A probiotic because I'd heard something about gut health being linked to brain and mental health. Fish oil is well-documented for keeping brains healthy. A multivitamin because of poor diet. I put them in one of those daily weeklong pill boxes. She agreed to take them because she was at least honest about acknowledging her personality change and she was curious if the pills would help improve her mood. She still takes them today; I figure they can't hurt anything.
We got spyware for her phone so we could read her text messages. We found messages where she'd said she would run away. Luckily, she never did. But because we checked her messages, we knew which house she planned on going to (surprise, surprise, a family that also had a girl going to school as a boy).
Anime & Internet
I slowly replaced anime with other things to watch on TV. I selected shows we could watch together. Some are: Ozark, Alone, The 100, Wednesday. I strategically tried to avoid shows that have "woke" issues, but we did watch The Umbrella Academy (I didn't know one of the actors would have a sex change after a few seasons until it was too late). I only allowed one or two episodes per day, and most of these shows have several seasons, so it took up a lot of time. Too much TV time sounds bad, but she was watching these things (with me) instead of watching anime alone. We had fun discussing the characters. She and her siblings also like a few harmless reality-style shows, like Kitchen Nightmares and Is It Cake.
We set our internet router to shut off at night to prevent school laptops from being used inappropriately. We thought she was reading comic book stories online called Manga. It turned out to be gay (male-male) pornography with graphic images. Unfortunately, it's impossible to put parent controls on school laptops. We were able to use our router to block those websites. We banned screens from bedrooms (but this is difficult to enforce when kids stay up later than parents).
I talked to both of her siblings about gender in age-appropriate ways (she never officially "came out" to them). Her older brother is against anything that could be considered "woke". This might sound cruel, but I told him it was OK for him to gently tease his sister a little and speak truthfully with her. She looks up to him and values his opinion. An example is that she was complaining of her feet hurting after having had to run somewhere and he said, "well maybe you shouldn't wear those lame boots". Or she was talking about a friend of hers that wanted to go by a bizarre nickname. He walked past her and simply said "that's stupid", and kept walking. She laughed genuinely at those little jabs, and I think her mind opened up a bit.
Her younger brother found out about the identity at school and came home in tears, saying "I don't want (sister) to turn into a boy". That opened the door for me to be able to discuss gender issues and mental health with him. He independently decided to start "love-bombing" his sister. I was also able to discuss this in a way that will hopefully protect him from gender ideas in the future, especially at school. We've decided not to give younger brother a telephone, because we think one of the main driving forces behind the ROGD was the TikTok videos.
Parental Agreement & Honest Following Through
One thing that was very helpful to us as a family is that my husband and I are both on the same page regarding how to approach our daughter's ROGD and mental health. We supported each other's views and agreed to a tag-team approach of reconnection and activities.
We tried family game night but were really inconsistent so that didn't help us much. It's still worth trying.
We insisted that she continue chores. We were really consistent with structure as far as chores and rules. We had a hard time enforcing good attitude (polite behavior) but had to pick our battles. I think consistent boundaries gave her comfort. Some chores were physically demanding (deep cleaning, hauling wood, moving furniture, shoveling gravel).
We confronted her when she tried to use the excuse of feeling "uncomfortable". An example is when our family was sharing a large tent and she said she didn't feel comfortable sleeping in the same room as everyone else. We made her anyway and included a lecture about growth mindset. Basically "suck it up" and "learn to adult" without being rude to her.
In the beginning, she was convinced that she could not leave the house with the exception of school. I started making her go to the grocery store with me and this progressed to her being able to get an item a few aisles away, and eventually she was able to go into a gas station to buy her own candy bar.
We got her a new pet to raise. She had gone from being a popular kid to almost friendless, so this new pet was like a new friend to her and boosted her mood.
We told her (truthfully) that her grandma would likely have serious health problems if she "came out" to family. She agreed, and said she hadn't planned on doing that anyway. In hindsight, I think this is because she knew deep down that she wasn't being authentic.
We managed to get through the first year without having any major discussions about gender/identity. This made us appear to be "accepting" when we were secretly trying to figure out how to help her. I think it was really helpful that she didn't know our true feelings because it later allowed her to have actual conversations without feeling judged. I think it prevented arguments, and likely prevented her from pushing further away from us towards the gender stuff in retaliation.
I Stepped Away from the Internet and Focused on my Family
I stopped reading about all of this on Twitter. I unfollowed a lot of people who I guess you could call gender critical activists. I stopped reading/posting on a message board for parents. I'd been spending a LOT of time on this. I thought that if I just read one more article or just listened to one more podcast or just read one more post or just watched one more video, then I would finally find the golden answer! My husband said I was like Captain Ahab looking for the white whale. I'm sorry to say that there is no magic answer. Stopping all of that allowed me to spend more time with my family, and it reduced my stress load.
Reducing her Gender-related Distress
One of the clues we had into her behavior was that we noticed a huge attitude improvement during weekends and holidays. In hindsight, I believe this is because she was having to put on a "boy costume" every day when going to school. Every day she had to keep pretending to be someone she wasn't. It must have been difficult. She had a lot of absences due to stomach aches, which she'd never had before, and seemed to only be experiencing on school days. But at home, she was able to just relax and be herself. Because of this, I started to be able to have conversations with her about OTHER issues besides gender.
For example, we discussed the recent phenomenon of girls developing Tourette's after watching TikTok. We discussed self-fulfilling prophecies and how labeling yourself can be dangerous (she'd given herself the labels of "agoraphobic" and "introvert"). We discussed girls who would be called high-maintenance, and how girls who spend a lot of time and money on makeup and hair and jewelry aren't terribly different from kids dying their hair weird colors and accessorizing their goth outfits; they all fall under the same high-maintenance category by trying to look different from their natural selves. We discussed body acceptance, such as her hair. She has fine, thin hair but wanted it to be thick and stick up like an anime character. She accepted that her hair "is what it is", and she could choose to be natural or choose to spend a lot of time and money and effort to make it look like something else (eg, high-maintenance). We discussed recent movie trends, such as changing the Ghostbusters characters to all girls, or the actress that was canceled for playing a character with autism. She said something about "the whole world going woke" and I think it was a sign that she was thinking more about this.
The Turning Point
The summer after that year of 8th grade ended up being a turning point. After being away from the influence (which by that time was mostly at school), she was able to have surface-level yet real conversations about gender and identity. It started with me asking questions like "so... how's your mental health?" Weird opening, but it worked. She said she didn't feel much anxiety anymore and didn't think she was depressed. She said she was comfortable wearing sports bras (not binders). She wanted to change schools (we did start sending her to private school her freshman year). She said something about not having any friends anymore and hoping she could meet new friends at the new school. She still hated her name, so wanted a nickname (chose a feminine-sounding nickname). We still only use her real name at home. She was understanding when I explained why her dad and I never used wrong pronouns (yes, I used the word "wrong"). I told her that it felt like lying to us and we would never be able to do it. She said, "oh I can see that".
Fast forward one more year, to today, the summer between 9th and 10th grade. We still have not discussed gender very much at all. I have a fear that if I bring it up, it will put it back in her mind. She is content. She's back to being loud and funny. She smiles and laughs all the time! She's excelling in school. She joined a club and a sports team at the new school last year, and plans to try out another sport this fall. She joined a 4H club. She has friends again. But she's still "weird". She wears combat boots and hates "looking nice". She doesn't want to hang out with her friends outside of school. I'm still worried every day that she will fall back into the gender stuff, and I don't have a concrete way of knowing for sure. We still haven't allowed TikTok or Snapchat on her phone. We haven't used the spyware on her phone in about a year, but still monitor which apps she uses and for how long, as well as websites visited. We still "love-bomb" her when we get the chance. We still keep her busy. She keeps her bedroom door open and often spends time with her siblings. She even opens her bedroom window so air and sunlight can come in. She's looking forward to sophomore year. I still follow the topic on Twitter (though much less than before) and I still listen to the Gender: A Wider Lens podcast every Friday.
I hope this list of ideas will be helpful to other families, and that it can give hope to parents who are struggling through this. It has been a long two years for us but after all of our interventions, our family is in a good place.