When Anne’s 13-year-old daughter announced she was a boy, she wanted to explore the reasons behind her sudden change in identity and to get help from a psychiatrist.
But before she had even begun, she was too late. Her daughter’s school had socially transitioned her. They changed her name and her pronouns without discussing it with her mother.
Teachers at the West Midlands private school saw no harm in instantly affirming a belief that the mother believed was harming the teenager, and when questioned told her they would accept any identity the student chose.
“Somebody may want to be called a banana one day and if that is going to make them have a safer Tuesday, then we will do it. If on Wednesday they want to be a table, then it is our job to make them feel safe and included at that moment,” the teacher said.
Anne's daughter has Asperger’s, and she believes she is responding to traumas in her life, including the damage that has been done to her mental health by the pandemic lockdowns.
“My daughter needs help, she doesn’t need to change her identity every day. I would do anything to protect her, but I have been treated like I am her enemy,” said Anne.
“I feel like my child is dead, but I don’t have a grave to go and cry over.”
‘Bigots and monsters’
Anne’s experience echoes that of other parents who have agreed to speak to The Telegraph about their experiences as their children are swept into a gender “cult”.
Many of the teenagers are autistic or suffering from mental health issues and the parents believe that they are using the label to make sense of the world, or as a box in which to contain the confusing experiences of puberty.
Those who have been bullied or struggled to make friends are suddenly celebrated for their decision to come out as trans, often encouraged by their teachers.
Whilst most see little harm in their son wearing a dress or their daughter having short hair, their fear is the race toward medicalisation. Powerful puberty blockers could lead to lifelong harm or irreversible surgery.
The parents, whose stories are rarely heard in this increasingly toxic debate, have been labelled bigots and “monsters”, cut out by teachers and medical professionals and told they cannot question the decision.
Some of the five families who have agreed to discuss their experiences on the condition of anonymity – all names have been changed – have been cut out of their children’s lives completely. Others are rebuilding relationships, and one 13-year-old has desisted from believing he is trans.
Anne’s now 15-year-old has gone to live with her father, despite a court granting the mother custody after their divorce, as he has agreed to sign the forms consenting to medical treatment and uses he/him pronouns. She has not spoken to Anne in almost a year.
She has no idea now whether her daughter is having medical treatment, as the doctors did not notify her that they were referring her to a gender clinic at the age of 14.
‘Treated like criminals’
Many believe that teachers and schools who have fallen victim to “institutional capture” are behind the new trans identity, and question whether their encouragement could land them in legal hot water if children later detransition.
Hundreds of schools are paying controversial LGBT charity Stonewall to be a part of the “School and College Champion Programme”. The membership includes training from the trans rights lobby charity which has been accused of misrepresenting equality laws.
Other campaign groups receiving taxpayers’ money have told teachers to drop all gendered toilets and language - and not to tell parents if they change their child’s identity.
Sarah believes that her 13-year-old son’s decision in 2016 that he was a girl was sparked by a gender identity lesson which suggested that if he did not fit a male stereotype, he might be a girl.
“His belief was definitely prompted by the school,” Sarah told The Telegraph. “After the lesson, he went online, and he got into Reddit and other sites and he found a community of other children who all felt that they didn’t fit in.”
Though Sarah’s son decided that he did not wish to change the way he dressed or his pronouns and did not want to see a GP to talk about medical treatment, he told the school he was trans and they did not tell his parents.
“He goes by she/her online, but not in real life, this whole thing has played out online,” she said.
“Schools are telling children lies about the fact that you can change your biological sex. If he hadn’t been indoctrinated to the ideology in a lesson at 13 then he wouldn’t have gone searching on the internet for it.”
It was only during lockdown several years later that he became “obsessed” with transitioning and the police came to her home to take him to a friend’s house as they claimed his parents were “keeping him hostage”.
Sarah, who lives in the West Midlands, could do nothing as he was 18. “We have been treated like criminals, essentially like we don’t care about our son, but all we wanted was for somebody to help us.”
Diana, in Kent, said that teachers thought it would be “harmless” to change the name and pronouns of her 13-year-old son, who has suspected autism.
“Schools should view a request to socially transition with great caution”, she said.
She believes that her gay son felt safer being a girl and was swept up in a “social contagion” and “being trans/non-binary is often higher status”.
Within a year he had changed his mind but “now he is stuck with a girl’s name that he can’t change without losing face or being bullied”.,
“Another reason why schools should not readily socially transition a child,” Diana said. “A teenager’s peers may be prepared to accept a new gender identity, but not a reversal, which is often seen as a lie.”
She noted that the Cass Review, commissioned by NHS England, has found “there is a disproportionate number of children on the spectrum, in care, same-sex attracted or with trauma in their background who identify as trans.”
The ongoing independent review, led by Dr Hilary Cass, former president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, was commissioned amid concerns about the way the NHS’s gender identity services were treating young people.
“Schools are not qualified to decide if a child is trans, especially given the high number of children who self-identify as trans with existing mental health issues. Will schools be sued in the future for enabling a social transition that led to a medical transition?” Diana asked.
Charlotte’s 15-year-old daughter decided she was a boy at the beginning of lockdown. It took “a five-minute period” for her Home Counties school to transition her - but they did not inform the parents.
She had an email from the school using the new name and was told that as her daughter was now 16, she had no say. “Teachers at the school have no qualifications to take that step, to make decisions impacting on the mental or physical wellbeing,” she warned.
At the time the family were suffering from problems at home, and her daughter had finally found a group of friends who accepted her - many of whom were trans.
“I'd always imagined that name changes only happened after proper therapeutic exploration, that we would all sit down and discuss it and agree”, Charlotte added. “That's how we had assumed it had happened for her friends. When it happened to us I could see it was a vulnerable person grasping onto something who needed help.”
Her husband, David, remembered being told that one of her friend’s fathers would not use their trans name and he thought “having a bigot for a father must be really hard”.
“I feel very differently now”, he admits. “When it came to our daughter, I just wanted to slow things down.”
On a school trip abroad, their daughter was due to sleep in the boy’s dorm because of her self-identification as male and a teacher made her tell her parents.
“The school set it up to make us look like monsters,” David said. “They set it up so that we had to tell our child that she can't go on this trip of a lifetime because it was a safeguarding issue.”
Charlotte believes that school “absolutely” made it worse. “From a very early age, we’ve always told our children to learn from the teachers and respect them. Having them say you are a boy has a massive impact.”
Anne was also shocked by the speed at which her daughter, who had always been a tomboy, had socially transitioned. It was the beginning of lockdown and with home schooling, she was spending all her time online, where she found a community of people who “indoctrinated” her.
Eventually, Anne found a therapist and her daughter was assessed as having Asperger’s.
There is growing evidence of a crossover between autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and gender dysphoria.
The largest study to date, by Cambridge University, found that transgender and gender-diverse people were up to six times as likely to have autism than the rest of the population and had “significantly higher” self-reported measures of autistic traits.
The Cass review found that a third of young people referred to gender identity clinics have autism or other types of neurodiversity.
Charlotte, whose daughter has had a working diagnosis of ASD, said they think she grasped onto being trans as a “simplistic explanation for why she felt so bad”.
For Bonnie, whose daughter came out as trans during her first year of university, she can understand why the little girl who had never fitted in would want to be part of a “community which accepted her without question, celebrated her revelation, her epiphany”.
Lockdown accelerated the feeling for many. The number of children seeking treatment at the NHS’s Gender Identity Service at the Tavistock rose by more than a fifth during the lockdowns to 5,500. A decade earlier in 2010/11, just 138 children were referred for treatment.
Studies have found higher rates of mental health conditions and mental distress in transgender people.
‘Accused of child abuse’
Charlotte’s daughter took an overdose and ended up in A&E. Desperate with worry, she noticed that the second question her daughter was asked by the nurse was: “Do you have any other names?” Then the next question that followed was: “What are your pronouns?”
The hospital changed her gender on forms and Charlotte “realised that I was in actual danger of being accused of child abuse because I am not affirming my child”.
When David arrived, it took him nearly an hour to find them because the names and gender had been changed after admission.
Her daughter was referred to NHS mental health teams but “they wouldn’t speak to me unless I was using the new name”. “I just needed advice about how to put the knives away,” Charlotte said.
The idea that a child’s decision to change their identity is sacrosanct is echoed in the Cass report, which found that doctors felt pressured to “adopt an unquestioning approach”.
But, ask the parents, how will my child ever forgive me if I do not question them and it turns out that it was just a phase? What if they regret their decision?
They are aware of the growing evidence from detransitioners, who say that they were rushed through medicalisation and are now physically deformed and mentally damaged.
It’s hard to know how many detransitioners there are because there is no data. Even more murky is the number who have desisted from their belief that they are trans.
Recent data from one gender identity clinic suggests that 56 per cent completed their treatment and seven per cent detransitioned. Data from a GP clinic found that around 10 per cent detransitioned and double that number stopped treatment.
Bonnie, who lives in London, was unable to stop her 18-year-old when she decided to use the money that she had been saving for years to train as a doctor to fund a double mastectomy.
“She signed up to a private clinic and she was fast-tracked. Within six months she was on hormones and six months after that she had been offered a double mastectomy,” Bonnie said.
“I found out that the psychologist had only had two-hour long sessions with her online before he recommended her for surgery.”
She wrote raising concerns that her daughter was autistic and had body dysmorphia, having been bullied throughout school, for her large breasts. They paused the surgery whilst she saw another psychiatrist, who said she did not have dysmorphia.
She had the mastectomy at Christmas, less than two years after coming out, and now lives with her boyfriend, a biological male, as a gay couple and does not speak to her family.
Instead of studying medicine, she now has an Only Fans account where she sells pictures of herself in revealing lingerie as a “Fem Boy”.
“Having wanted to be a boy, she has done a complete 360 with her body since the surgery.”
There is a feeling that the tide may be beginning to turn. These parents have found a way to come together, share research and talk openly through the Bayswater Support Group, which has 450 members across the country.
The Department for Education (DfE) is the latest Government department to stop paying Stonewall for advice on trans inclusion, citing concerns over free speech.
A spokesman has said that they “recognise that gender identity can be a complex and sensitive topic for schools to navigate" and they have asked the Equalities and Human Rights Commission to help develop “the clearest possible” guidance for schools.
He added that school should be “a safe and welcoming space for all pupils, regardless of how they identify, and we sympathise with any child or parent who has not had this experience”.
For Sarah, her son has come home. They have not raised his transition, because they are too scared that he will leave home again. He does not appear to have taken any medical steps.
But for some parents, like Bonnie, it might already be too late.
“This is irreversible. She can survive without breasts, but the longer she is taking hormones the more damage it will do. The testosterone turned her from someone who is gentle and creative into someone who is aggressive and tries to be physically domineering.
“There is nothing I could do. If the word trans were not involved I could probably get her sectioned on the basis that she has had a complete personality change and she is doing irreversible damage. But because of the trans label, I have to leave her spinning in the wind.
“If she walked in the door tomorrow, she wouldn’t have anything to be ashamed about, we wouldn’t say we told you so, we would just welcome her back with open arms and tell her we love her.”