Discover more from gender:hacked by Eliza Mondegreen
Conservative parents and 'trans' kids: Is this what acceptance looks like?
For some conservative parents, it’s easier to accept a transgender child than a gay or gender-nonconforming child. In an unvarnished interview with Good Housekeeping, a mother describes how she came to “embrace” her “trans” child. The story begins with her then-18-month-old son’s “feminine” behavior and preference for girls’ toys and clothes. Kimberly Shappley remembered:
“Family members were flat-out asking me if this kid was gay. It made me nervous, and I was constantly worried about what people would think of me, of us and of my parenting… I used to lead a small ministry teaching Bible study, and I didn't support or condone those living the LGBTQ lifestyle. That was just part of the Christian makeup I'd been brought up to believe. I knew I'd instill those same principles in my children… As a Christian mother raising a Christian family, it was a very difficult time for me.”
Shappley described “time-outs, so many time-outs,” and “spankings and yelling matches and endless prayers.” In her testimony to the House Labor & Education Committee, Shappley recounted her attempts to implement a “home-remedy version of conversion therapy based on counsel I had received from my family and friends, who are also devoutly religious. I hated every minute of it but felt a responsibility to save my child’s soul from hell.”
In a video produced by the American Civil Liberties Union, Shappley expanded on these concerns:
“I remember even thinking — before Kai was three — that I think this kid might be gay! And I thought that, that could not happen. And that would not happen. We started praying for our family. Prayers turned into Googling conversion therapy and how can we implement these techniques at home to make Kai not be like this.
But “no matter how much punishment this kid got, you couldn’t beat it out of her… You couldn’t pray it out, I couldn’t cast it out.” As Shappley tells it, her prayers were not answered (we’ll come back to this), but a friend provided an alternative framework to understand her child’s behavior:
“While family was questioning whether Kai was gay, a Christian friend of mine, who is also a child psychologist, asked me: "Have you noticed Kai's feminine behavior?" It was such a gentle question, as opposed to the harsh accusations of others. I said, "I've noticed, but I figure she'll just grow out of it." I can laugh at that now. It's so clear, in retrospect, that this was not a passing phase. But when my friend asked me that, I still wasn't ready to accept it. As I continued to watch my child developing, my friend started pointing out red flags that there was something very real going on. She told me that Kai being transgender may be something I needed to consider.”
The friend’s guidance put Kimberly Shappley’s toddler on the path to transition, though Shappley remembered that “guilt and confusion were eating away at me in a constant battle to find a solution.” Ultimately, she came to feel that she had been “armed with a new understanding of scripture.” Once she ‘accepted’ that her son was really a girl, the clashes over toys, haircuts, and feminine behavior stopped:
“I knew I had to choose to accept my daughter exactly the way God created her — and there was also a beautiful freedom in that. A few weeks after I stopped punishing Kai for ‘acting girly,’ she put on a wizard robe she'd received as a birthday gift, making it her "first dress." She stole my headband to make a belt and pulled her hair forward as much as possible. When I look back at photos of that day, I have mixed emotions: Regret that I made her suffer so long. Pride for what a tough cookie she is. Respect for such a young child to teach me unconditional love. And then I just laugh, like, how could I not tell this kid is a girl?” [emphasis added]
Kai’s transition changed the course of Shappley’s life. As indicated by all the press clippings, Shappley has adopted a new identity of her own: mother of a transgender child:
“I currently work with Equality Texas as Faith Outreach Coordinator and frequently speak at press conferences, give interviews, and have speaking engagements in conservative spaces… Because of the mindset I overcame, I am uniquely qualified to do this. This philosophy has made me a successful advocate and mom.”
The happy ending? “I now have a happy, healthy, outgoing, loving, beautiful, sweet little girl who loves Jesus and loves her brothers.”
You can hear echoes of Kai’s story in those told by other conservative parents, like Brandon Boulware in his testimony to the Missouri House of Representatives:
“One thing I often hear when transgender issues are discussed is I don’t get it. I don’t understand. I would expect some of you to have said that and feel the same way. I didn’t get it either for years. I would not let my daughter wear girl clothes. I did not let her play with girl toys. I forced my daughter to wear boy clothes and get short haircuts and play on boys’ sports teams. Why did I do this? To protect my child. I did not want my daughter or her siblings to get teased. Truth be told, I did it to protect myself as well .I wanted to avoid those inevitable questions as to why my child did not look and act like a boy.”
Conservative parents like Kimberly Shappley and Brandon Boulware often describe embarking on a journey of personal growth to accept their "transgender" child. But what growth or adaptation is required of such a parent? At the beginning of each story, a parent who is deeply uncomfortable with a gender-nonconforming, possibly gay child worries that there's something wrong with their child. The parent describes their futile attempts to "fix" the child. Then — or so the story goes — there’s an ‘aha!’ moment when the parent sees their child for who they really are: not gay — God forbid— but transgender, and the parent finally moves toward acceptance.
But isn’t there another way to read this story? Rather than challenging the parent, transgender ideology agrees with the parent that gender-nonconforming behavior or same-sex sexual orientation indicates that something is wrong with the child — and provides hope that the problem can be fixed. Rather than changing the child's 'deviant' behavior — the target of parents at the beginning of these stories — transgender ideology provides a roadmap to changing the child. Where the parent may have once felt guilty for not accepting their child and attempting to fix their child, now they're celebrated for their exertions — not only by fellow conservatives, but by progressives as well.
Where's the acceptance here? Where's the growth? Boulware wanted to avoid “inevitable questions as to why my child did not look and act like a boy.” Shappley vowed that her child could not and would not end up gay. Wittingly or — more likely — unwittingly, transgender identification provided a way out of those dilemmas.