There must be tons of people who have Substack sites that I don’t know about. Reader Steve just acquainted me with the site of Abigail Shrier, called “The Truth Fairy.” Shrier, of course, is the person most demonized as transphobic by transgender activists, but unfairly so, for she is not in the least transphobic.
Rather, she became persona non grata because of her book Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters. If you’ve read that book, and I have, you’ll see that it’s about questioning the narrative of teenage girls who desire to transition to the male sex while they’re still very young. Some of these people, say Shrier, are sincere, while others may succumb to social pressure to transition (this pressure is often very strong) rather than ride out the pervasive angst of teenage years or, if they’re lesbian, go that route. It seems that wanting to change gender is seen as a heroic act, while not doing so, if you have doubts, is denigrated. And saying you’re a lesbian gives you no points.
This valorization of transitioning among teenage girls—and also boys, but Shrier’s book is mostly about girls—is the basis for “gender affirmative” treatment, which is basically a one-way push towards transitioning. Without proper therapy, counseling, or parental discussion, girls may be socially pressured into making irreversible decisions, including getting hormone therapy and surgery. For raising these questions, and suggesting that in some cases “gender affirmation” may not be a healthy way to go, Shrier has become Public Enemy Number 1 to transgender activists, replacing J. K. Rowling. (There will be another.) An ACLU official suggested that her book be banned, and it was briefly removed from at least two book-selling venues, including Target.
In her latest post (click on screenshot below), Shrier takes up another contentious issue, another one that cries out for public discussion.
The issue is “Gender Support Plans” used by many secondary schools, in which a child’s name, desire to change gender, preferred pronouns, and so on are kept on record and used in schools, but hidden from the parents. Here’s one example given by Shrier:
Last week, I spoke with another mother who discovered her 12-year-old daughter’s middle school had changed the girl’s name and gender identity at school. The “Gender Support Plan” the district followed is an increasingly standard document which informs teachers of a child’s new chosen name and gender identity (“trans,” “agender,” “non-binary,” etc.) for all internal communications with the child. The school also provided the girl a year’s worth of counseling in support of her new identity, which in her case was “no gender.” Even the P.E. teachers were in on it. Left in the dark were her parents.
This duplicity is part of the “plan”: All documents sent home to mom and dad scrupulously maintained the daughter’s birth name and sex. But Mom noticed her daughter seemed to be suffering. Although far from alone in declaring a new identity – many girls in the school had adopted new names and gender pronouns – this girl’s grades fell apart. She became taciturn and moody.
When the mother failed to uncover the source of the girl’s distress, she met with teachers, hoping for insight. Instead, she slammed into a Wall of Silence: no teacher was evidently willing to let a worried mom know what the hell was going on. (Finally, one did.)
I’ve heard of such incidents many times. A very important decision by a student is not only supported by the school, but hidden from the parents. That seems to fly in the face of what being a parent is all about. Shouldn’t parents know this stuff at least at the same time as the school, at the very least? And what right does a school have to hide such a momentous change from the parents? It is the school usurping a parent’s right. (Of course, if the student wants to hide a gender change from both the school and the parents, that is also her right. Further, if the child wants to discuss it only with a therapist, that is also fine, as therapeutic sessions are confidential.) But I know of no other case in which schools keep such information from parents. As Shrier says, “For Pete’s sake, the state requires that teachers ask parental consent before they offer a child Tylenol.”
The schools, of course have their reasons, but they don’t seem to be good ones:
Teachers and activists who support this policy typically make two arguments in its favor. The first is that the very fact that a teen would want to keep her new gender identity a secret from parents is proof that home is an “unsafe” place for her; that is, her parents, if they knew, would abuse her. The second is that this gender declaration is a deeply held and personal decision of the child’s. The school, in this scenario, is merely a polite bystander—at most, a kindly chaperone. It’s not the school’s job to ask mom and dad for their approval.
The first is absurd; the second, dishonest. Why would a teen agree to keep a secret from her parents, if not for the presence of abuse? Well, as one sharp Twitter user pointed out in response to the documents I posted, one can think of a few things a teen might want to keep secret from mom: an eating disorder; her decision to join a religious cult; her dabbling in drugs; a decision to send or post nudes; or have sex with a much older boy. Teens tend to keep from mom and dad a wide variety of healthy and unhealthy teenage experimentations—sometimes to avoid parental protest; sometimes, just for the pubertal frisson.
And in virtually none of these cases is the primary motivation to keep secrets from parents necessarily fear of abuse. Sometimes it’s to avoid—groan—another lecture or even a conversation. Other times, teens keep something a secret just to avoid a “No.”
I think Shrier is right here. How many of us can say that we didn’t keep secrets from our parents in secondary school because it might upset them, or lead to “discussion”? When I was in high school everyone was smoking weed or taking hallucinogens, but I would never mention that to my parents. (My dad finally caught me smoking once, and hit the roof!) Why would it be okay for the school to know this but not my parents?
The fact is that growing up is a process in which parents guide their children by their own best lights, and sometimes that involves difficult conversations. But why are parents not as good as teachers and principals at trying to understand and deal with a child’s transitioning? Shrier’s thesis (and that of other people) is that in many cases gender transitioning is a symptom of mental distress rather than a genuine feeling that you need to be transformed into a member of the opposite sex, and that perhaps parents would understand a child’s behavior better than school officials (though not necessarily better than a good therapist). Plus, as Shrier says, once a kid leaves middle school or high school, the teachers move on to a new batch of kids, but the parents have a lifetime interest in the child.
A peculiar power imbalance has arisen between public school teachers and the parents for whom the necessity of work renders them too dependent on these schools to question them. Parents discover radical materials pushed on their children by accident, like passersby happening on a crime scene. They are treated as interlopers, trespassers; they are made to understand they have no right to be there; information on the ideology pushed on their kids is revealed on a strictly need-to-know basis. When parents do object to classroom gender ideology, they’re treated as morally obtuse or child abusers.
The contempt shown parents would be inexcusable even if teachers stuck to reading, writing and arithmetic. In a time when so many public school teachers are properly described as activists, that arrangement strips children of their families’ protection. And families must indeed protect them from an ideology that would turn students against any adult who suggests that a seventh grader suddenly jonesing for hormones and surgeries slow down. I have more than once wondered whether public schools that would openly pit students against their families, turn them against themselves and each other, aren’t doing more harm than good.
Shrier’s solution? A federal law that would allow parents access to their children’s public-school records.
Actually, there is such a law, but schools can get around it simply by not keeping the records “in a centralized location”. While grades and courses may be kept centralized, schools are apparently careful to keep records about gender and the like in other places. (I have no idea what a “non centralized location” might be.) This kind of end run around the law is unconscionable.
At the end, Shrier gets a bit apocalyptic about the issue, but remember that it is her main interest as a journalist now, and, importantly, she has children.
This is where the most critical cultural battle will be fought. Not with reckless doctors, for whom lawsuits are coming. Not even with the therapists—in many cases, a luxury, parents can walk away from. It will be fought with America’s activist teachers. Will we allow the activists among them unaccountable access to the next generation of America’s children?
If conservatives and liberals hope to save this country, this is where they will place their energies: campaigning for federal legislation to grant parents full access to all curricula. And no, granting parents’ review over sex-education materials alone wouldn’t solve this problem, since the SOGI (Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity) curriculum, for instance, is often inserted into other areas of the curriculum or disguised as “anti-bullying” education. We need legislation that grants parents a right to opt out of any instruction regarding gender and sexuality and stops schools from changing a child’s name, gender marker, or pronouns without the approval of a parent or legal guardian. This has nothing to do with “outing” students and everything to do with whether a school should be permitted to hoodwink the primary locus of love and responsibility in her life.
I’ve thought about this for a while, and I can see no reason for schools to keep this secret from parents unless there is a genuine danger to the child if she tells her parents. And how would you know that without telling the parents? If things become so bad that a parent becomes abusive about the issue, the child needs to be moved out of the home and given proper care (no not necessarily a regimen of “gender affirmation”). But I can’t imagine that most parents wouldn’t be sufficiently concerned about the issue to try to help their child or get help for their child (the right kind of help: not “rah rah, cut off your breasts and take hormones” kind of help but help from an empathic and thoughtful therapist).
Do any readers feel that schools have a right to keep this information secret from a child’s parents?
UPDATE: Bari Weiss announced in her newsletter that she will have a discussion (“cocktail hour”) with Shrier this week, so if you subscribe look for a link.
I’m excited that on Thursday at 8pm EST/5pm PST we’re going to host an event for subscribers only.