Much more frequently, Children of Transitioners are appearing in the media as part of our father’s narrative. It’s uncomfortable to watch a younger version of yourself put through this, with their boundaries, privacy and dignity totally disregarded by our narcissistic dads. One day these children will look back at what their fathers put in the public domain, and it will further complicate their feelings around their father’s transition.
A couple of years after I moved in with my father, who at that time was ‘living as a woman’ but hadn’t any surgery, I was brought to a pub in London for my father to discuss with another transsexual the possibility that I could be useful in some way in the fight for rights for transsexuals in custody cases. My memories are vague, but I don’t think I looked like a great spokesperson for a successful trans parenthood to be honest. I was very overweight, incredibly shy and self-conscious, and desperate to not provoke my narcissistic father’s emotional terrorism. The idea was dropped, but I still had some use: In the endless letters my father spent most of his day writing to other transsexuals, who he contacted through a newsletter which I think might have been published through The Beaumont Society, a fantasy version of ‘Emma’ existed as part of his personal mythology of the successful trans parent. My father was on a paid break from work, possibly given because they didn’t want any litigation although I also recently learned that the women in the building did not want to share a toilet with him. I rather liked the Emma in his letters – she was far happier and more confident than me! But the real Emma didn’t figure in it because he wasn’t interested in me as a person, only as a symbol of his success as a transsexual . I didn’t understand it then, but any love that came from my father was conditional on me not in any way challenging his love affair with himself. This may be why I have such a visceral reaction when I see children used as props for a gender narrative in the media. And while our voices are often buried or ignored, we are also sometimes called to do battle for our dads in the media.
As children of transitioners, we assume a symbolic value, both politically and personally. For the individual parent, we are used as proof of how well they are doing. It’s important to show that we are thriving. Pictures tend to be of us beaming away next to our cross-dressing Dad. Just as I was used as a ‘beard’ for my father and his friends – who would look twice at a ‘woman’ walking with a child? – so also do transitioning fathers use their children to add a sheen or respectability.
Have a look at the children who are dragged out to validate their parent’s gender issues. One interesting example this week is the American musician Ezra Furman. Furman announced that he is transgender and added this about being a parent:
“About being a mom: there’s enough said in public about the magic of parenthood. It is beautiful and holy and I love it—that’s all on that subject. I have not yet mentioned in public that I’m a parent because I have been afraid of being judged and grilled about it as if it’s anyone’s business other than mine and my family’s.
But. I’m telling you I’m a mom now for a specific reason. Because one problem with being trans is that we have so few visions of what it can look like to have an adult life, to grow up and be happy and not die young. When our baby was born I had approximately zero examples that I had seen of trans women raising children. So here’s one for anyone who wants to see one. I’m a trans woman and a mom. This is possible. I never dreamed it was possible to be happy and self-realized and trans and uncloseted, and also become a parent. But it is and I am doing it. Because trans people deserve to pursue the lives we want, on our terms.” [emphasis mine]
Everything about the statement screamed ‘autogynephile’ – later transition, not long after the birth of a child, and of course the pictures:
And then a couple of pictures of his child, fortunately with the face covered:
This picture of Ezra in bed with his child is worth interrogating. Who puts on an outfit and bright red lipstick to cuddle their kid in bed? He’s posing, smiling at the camera and not at his child. It’s a very autogynephile picture. The most important thing in that picture is Ezra, and Ezra’s attraction to himself. Is someone taking this picture from above? Is this the mother of the child, whose role Ezra has supplanted? Where is she?
Everything I wrote about in ‘The Invisible Mother’ is here. It feels as if Ezra has completely pushed the mother of his child aside, and claimed her role. What is a child to make of this? An obvious violation of boundaries. Ezra has since followed up with a statement containing the following:
“I am a trans woman and a mom. I do not care if some use these words differently than I do. You say I’m not a woman. Okay, so you use that word differently than I do. I use it in a way that accepts trans people and the way we understand ourselves. We can leave it at that.
People who don’t like the way trans people talk about ourselves: No one is forcing you to comply with any gender ideology. What you are asked to do, as in every area of life, is to respect people who are different than you and have different beliefs. You can do that. You can refrain from angrily “correcting” people online and thereby publicly displaying the reasons trans people have to despair.
If you think being trans is anti-feminist, let me say, though I know you are probably not listening: trans people are some of the fiercest pro-woman feminists in the world, and your anger should be directed at a mass culture built on misogyny, not at us.”
Lines like “pursue the lives we want, on our own terms” and “I do not care if some use these words differently than I do” sound like the words of gaslighting and abuse. Furman’s narcissistic need to control the language used around him, and his antipathy towards anyone who challenges it, does not bode well for this child. And, honestly, it’s very clear from social media that trans people are far from “some of the fiercest pro-woman feminists in the world.” but clearly this is Furman’s world to define. News coverage of Furman’s statements were wholeheartedly supportive and also said nothing about the child’s actual mother. Social media allowed some people to challenge what Furman was saying, but trans widows and CoTs came in for some abuse from people very supportive of Furman’s stance. Responses I received for talking about this online included:
“How is that different from my friends who are lesbian parents? Two mothers there, too.”
“OMG! You do know that many women stand by their transitioning partner, as do their families? ‘Trans widow’ is an appalling term, centring others where the focus should be on the trans person becoming his/her true self. Of course, there have to be difficult adjustments, but this is not death!”
Many people focused on Furman’s individual right to do what he wants, but Furman’s statements are both personal and political. He talks about ‘trans resilience’ and infers that he is in danger of murder and suicide, neither of which are supported statistically, but are often used to emotionally blackmail families of transitioners. The parent who threatens suicide if their needs aren’t met is familiar to many partners and children, and not just those of transitioners. These words are used to emotionally blackmail the people around him and force us to participate in his delusion.
It’s interesting how much trans-identified-fathers not only want to assume the role of mother, but want to be seen as assuming the role of mother. There was no reason why Furman couldn’t have used the term ‘parent’ all the way through and this is where the issue broadens into wider ideas about normalising the father as ‘mother’ in media narratives. Similarly, trans activist Dawn Ennis is very aware of the power of using children to normalize the trans parent in society, part of a larger agenda mostly focused on making it appear as if trans athletes have no advantage in female sports. I was interested to see that Ennis has connections to Caitlyn Jenner, when only this week Jenner said that he thought it was unfair to make women compete against trans athletes. Ennis has a history of being obnoxious online, including doxing female athletes who objected to competing against males and his social media accounts are often very aggressive towards women who challenge his trans activism.
Ennis, who blogs at ‘Life After Dawn’, was the subject of a very public sacking from a post at ABC Sports, and then was divorced by his wife. He is noted for some bizarre statements and bizarre behaviours. After Ennis came out as trans he says he had a seizure, and went back in the closet. Then he recovered and realised he wanted to be trans again. This was difficult, he says, because his family had been overjoyed by him returning to being ‘Don’ again. His wife died later from cancer and he has been raising money to help raise his children. He identifies as a ‘mother’ of his children. “I was cheating on her with another woman. That woman was me. I left my wife to become a woman … a woman who was attracted to men.” Yes, that’s definitely autogynephilia! In one video, Ennis claims that his wife did not have a problem with him using the children for publicity, “As long as I don’t show the kids’ faces.” This seems to have been ignored however, particularly here where he is raising money for his children and generating attention:
Ennis also sets himself up as the successful trans parent, just as my father did. I shudder to think what my father would have made of me if we had had the Internet back then!
In this video, Ennis describes telling his young children that he is transgender: “Being true to yourself is always important, no matter who you are. I felt like I had been a girl but I had not been able to express it. It was a secret … and it was time to express it.” Like Furman, Ennis wants very much for people to believe that transgenderism is about ‘what’s between their ears’. He talks about having a ‘birth defect’. It’s about ‘what’s inside.’ Here, Ennis is advising the father of a seven year old on what to say.
Since hearing Helen Lewis using the term ‘nutpicking’, I have really wondered if we pick the worst from the Web. But Furman and Ennis are by no means outliers. Ennis has written for Forbes and The Advocate and several other publications even after his embarrassing sacking from ABC.
We can easily be drawn into defending our Dads, even as adults. Trans writer Jane Fae’s daughter Tash has appeared in The Guardian lending some respectability to Fae’s anti-feminist views, despite the fact that Fae came out to her just before important exams, derailing her teenage schooling:
Fae is widely published and has written on how someone viewing extreme pornography such as pedophilia, necrophilia or bestiality can avoid detection. His views on free speech sadly don’t apply to feminists such as Germaine Greer, who be believes should be no platformed. So yes to extreme porn, but no to feminists. Tash, who’s pretty apolitical, has lent respectability to her father by choosing to support him but I would have done the same given the pressures I was under at that stage in my life.
And we can get manipulated into contributing to this kind of thing quite easily:
Even here, lovely loyal Ellie here feels responsible for her father’s emotional welfare: “I remember talking to Maddy [her father] one night in the car as she drove me home from dance class. She started crying because she felt so awful about lying to us kids for all those years. I just told her that I was thankful that she was finally being honest.” It’s so easy to start acting like the grown up. Ellie feels much cooler because things aren’t boring and she meets lots of LGBT allies. Yes, I did too. Fathers use this special grown-up world to make children feel more sophisticated than their peers.
Ellie’s father Brynn Tannehill is also a published author and writes online about how feminists are awful if they don’t think he is a woman, how JK Rowling (creator of Ellie’s beloved Hufflepuff house) is wrong, and how girls (including Ellie, presumably) shouldn’t have their own sports. And Ellie isn’t writing this spontaneously – her father has prompted this by talking to her about Denise Shick, a child of a transitioner who has spoken out about her experience and uses what she has learned for Christian pro-family activism. Ellie here has a chance to be her father’s ally, not like those others who aren’t as cool as she is. Oh Ellie, we have been there too. It took me decades to finally see through the gaslight.
The propaganda machine is always looking for CoTs willing to cooperate. One example is from gendergp.com, a massively controversial website.
There’s not a lot of acknowledgement of the majority experience here, although obviously it’s great that Joe had a better experience. I note that he only told one of his girlfriends that his dad was trans and it was kept a secret outside the family for many years. Telling other people is often very awkward. The placing of this piece is the more interesting thing, as ‘gendergp’ is a specialist in providing medication online for trans people. In 2018 Helen Webberley, the Dr running the site, was fined for illegally providing medical services from her home. She has subsequently moved her business to Spain. Jayden Lowe, a client who bought hormones from the service, subsequently committed suicide. Webberley has vowed to continue to provide puberty blockers to the UK despite a High Court ruling banning their use in children under 16.
I hope that adult customers of gendergp.com think carefully about receiving unregulated hormone treatments from the site, and instead opt for supervised medical treatment in the UK. The placement of this piece makes it seem very much like propaganda telling adult clients that everything will be easy with their families. Is this a realistic viewpoint?
Sometimes it feels as if it’s impossible for CoT’s to speak up – impossible to object. Children lose control of their image the moment it goes online and it follows them everywhere – even sadly to this site as we share them too. You don’t understand the sexual and fetishistic nature of your father’s behaviour at Ellie’s age. What happens when Ellie is an adult and she realises what she has associated her name with?
You believe that you have to support his behavior to keep the peace and avoid abuse from trans activists. How about this poor young woman, who received abuse for talking about her father using a gun to threaten suicide?
Even in places like schools and courtrooms there is no assurance that we won’t be policed. There is no way of opting out of being a prop for our father’s validation. In the UK, even the judges’ Bench Book encourages judges to use CoTs as props for their father’s narcissistic behaviour, stating that victims and witnesses must be told to refer to male transitioners as women.
One of the CoT’s I know tells me she is very grateful she was never used in this way. Looking back as an adult at these photos of other children it is clear just how creepy it is for a father to use his children to try and force others to deny reality, including the children he is supposed to love, and pretend he is their mother to justify his fetishes. I am relieved I didn’t become a public face of the children of transitioners as a teenager, although I also feel that there is an image of me that my father holds and perpetuates. Now instead of his fierce defender, I suspect he portrays me as the villain, the one who rejected him, when it was his unreasonable behavior that drove me away. It may be very possible that a child can come to terms with their father’s transition as an adult, and there are definitely examples of people who have done so, but this can’t be something you expect children to do.
We have to stop being props in our fathers’ narratives and claim a narrative of our own.