Is It ‘Emotional Abuse’ for Parents to Deny a Child’s ‘Transgender’ Claims?


Published on October 17, 2021

National Review Online

A recent Australian court decision sends a chilling message to parents who transgress the new gender orthodoxy: Refusing to validate a child’s “transgender” identity may be “emotional abuse” and put parents at risk of losing custody of their child. There’s a larger message here too: If parents are no longer free to acknowledge biological reality, speak the truth to their children, or refuse consent for ideologues to experiment on their children, then gender ideology has put freedom and truth on the chopping block — for everyone.

(Case-related quotes are from the Australian court opinion.)

By all accounts, the “M” family — two parents, three kids — was a happy one until a few years ago. When their youngest daughter (“TM”) became depressed, they sought psychotherapy for her. Months later, the family was thrown into crisis when TM became suicidal and was admitted to the local hospital. There, she revealed her “gender” confusion and described deep emotional pain, particularly over her parents’ “disparaging and derogatory comments” about her desired “male” identity. (The court refused to disclose the actual comments.) The hospital’s “gender-affirming” social worker reported that TM did not “feel safe” at home because her parents did not accept her “identifying as male.”

In short order, the hospital initiated the process of separating TM from her parents on account of their “emotional abuse” of her. The hospital psychologist diagnosed TM with “gender dysphoria” and urged TM’s parents to consult the hospital’s Gender Diversity Service for gender counseling that “would be life-sustaining for their son.” The parents refused. (Although TM is female, hospital staff, caseworkers, and the courts consistently referred to her by masculine pronouns.)

The state petitioned for the protection order, arguing that TM’s “suicidality was very, very high” at home, while suicide risk would be “low” in a “safe” environment (i.e., anywhere but home). Nevertheless, within months of being discharged to “supportive” state care and counseling, TM was hospitalized again for suicidal ideation.

In 2020, nearly a year after the state separated TM from her parents, a magistrate entered a protection order. The parents appealed, but on September 28, 2021, the Supreme Court of Western Australia upheld the protection order and the magistrate’s assessment that the parents’ “response to TM’s expressed beliefs and distress . . . their unwillingness to acknowledge TM’s views and feelings and . . . their use of derogatory language in relation to him” constituted “emotional abuse.”

It’s a shocking decision. “Parents should be terrified and outraged,” says Maria Keffler, author and co-founder of Partners for Ethical Care. “No society should ever presume the right to take children away from their parents over an ideology,” she continued. “Today it’s gender, tomorrow it’s anything at all.”

This Is What Policy Capture Looks Like

From start to finish, this case illustrates how gender ideology has captured governments, policies, and institutions in developed countries. Gender ideology aims to “liberate” the person from the constraints of nature, the sexed body, and morality. For activists, gender ideology is a path to power. For entrepreneurs, gender ideology is a market opportunity.

There’s big money to be made. As researcher Jennifer Bilek points out, “body dissociation” is being “normalized” for profit, driving global expansion of transgender-related pharmaceuticals, surgeries, and related products. Children are the most vulnerable victims, ripe for long-term exploitation by “gender-diversity services” like the one recommended for TM. A puberty-blocking implant for a “dysphoric” 10- or 11-year-old, for example, costs between $5,000 and $95,000, depending on the brand, and requires yearly replacement until the child desists or begins cross-sex hormones. Multiply by the thousands of newly diagnosed children every year and it’s a healthy revenue stream. Nearly all “dysphoric” children on puberty blockers move on to cross-sex hormones, a lifelong dependence and a financial boon for Big Pharma. Many trans-identifying teens and adults become repeat surgical patients, too.

Meanwhile, the market expands. Medical entrepreneurs hawk “micro-doses” of hormones to the rapidly rising ranks of “non-binary” young people seeking a customized look “on the spectrum” between masculine and feminine. New “gender-affirming” products roll out regularly, including breast binders, “stand-to-pee” devices, and “packers” (fake penises) in all skin tones and sizes, even “itty-bitty” ones for wee little “trans kids.”

State agencies, government social workers, and judges, on the other hand, tend to be motivated by ideology. Already convinced that “trans” identities are healthy, and zealous about empowering adolescent self-determination, they wield the power of the state to side with “trans-identifying” children against their resistant parents. Gender clinicians provide “ethical” cover, arguing that “situations where a parent prevents a minor from receiving treatments related to gender dysphoria violate the Harm Principle and justify state intervention.”

In TM’s case, “the Court failed to recognize parental rights and protect vulnerable children from overzealous government institutions,” says John Steenhof, lead attorney with Australia’s Human Rights Law Alliance. “Overzealous” social workers, hospital staff, and child-protection workers marched lockstep, reinforcing TM’s distorted self-perception by calling her a “male” despite her parents’ objections. Little wonder that TM felt “quite unvalidated” by her parents’ refusal, given that the “experts” affirmed her “trans” identity.

Similarly, the courts’ use of masculine pronouns for TM implicitly confirmed her belief that she is male. The courts’ opinions were larded with ideological terminology, referencing TM’s “gender identity” as well as her “male” identity — terms that incorporate the transgender premise that feelings determine identity and “sex” is just an “assigned” label. Whether or not the judges truly believe that TM’s female biology can be overridden by teenage desire, they leveraged the institutional weight of the courts to confirm that belief. How can parents even hope for a fair outcome? (A U.S. Title IX lawsuit involving trans-identified male athletes raised similar bias claims when the judge used female pronouns to refer to the males.)

Trampling Parents’ Rights and Destroying Families

TM’s parents were undermined at every turn. They were blindsided first by their daughter’s declaration that she was “male,” and then by social workers who affirmed TM’s “trans” identity and her tales of abuse without question, even though the parents, and TM’s siblings, denied the allegations. The professionals were eager to validate the latest “trans kid” and ardently believed that the parents’ refusal to acknowledge “their child’s expressed views as to their gender identification” amounted to “emotional abuse.” The magistrate tried to split hairs, insisting she didn’t view the parents’ “beliefs” as abusive (only their “words” and “conduct”), but nevertheless citing the parents’ refusal to “believe” TM as an aspect of TM’s “abuse.” It’s a distinction without a difference.

This framing — that the real problem is the parents’ belief in the reality of sex and their stubborn unwillingness to help their children chase the trans mirage — is common wherever gender ideology has taken hold. For courts to “label parental care and responsibility as ‘emotional abuse’ . . . [and] remove a child from the family as a result sends a threatening message to all parents in similar situations,” says Kirralie Smith, the founder of Binary Australia. Maria Keffler warns that “we’ve already seen parents lose custody of their own children in the United States, when activist judges decide that people who don’t buy into this duplicitous and contradictory gender ideology are not fit to raise their own children.” Gender gaslighting is also happening in America’s schools. According to Keffler, “the supervisor of counseling at Arlington Public Schools said . . . that schools need to ‘help parents along’ if mothers and fathers don’t believe that their children can change sex at will, which is really what gender ideology claims.”

When gender ideology goes unchallenged and parental views become suspect, authorities are likely to dismiss legitimate parental concerns, even denying, as in TM’s case, requests for independent psychological evaluations. More broadly, the court’s decision carries troubling implications for the freedom of parents to decide appropriate care for a troubled child. “Parents have the right to question transgender diagnoses for their teenaged kids and to object to unnecessary and irreversible medical treatments,” warns Steenhof. But this ruling may “embolden further government intrusion into families to compel parents to acquiesce” to medical pressure for “gender” treatments.

‘Sloppy’ Medical Care on Display

The combination of gender ideology and financial gain has radicalized medicine, mental health, and social work — a fact that parents often discover too late. (Education has been radicalized too, as I’ve discussed here.) Although there is little evidence of benefit and growing evidence of irreversible damage, “establishment” medicine and mental-health groups remain powerful advocates of “gender-affirmative” medical interventions for “trans-identifying” adolescents. Gender docs engage in “happy talk” about the hormone therapy and “magnificent surgeries” they do on kids. There’s pressure to toe the “party line” on the benefits of “affirming” medical interventions, admits Dr. Marci Bowers, a leading transgender surgeon, leaving “no room for dissent.” However, Bowers and another gender specialist, Dr. Erica Anderson, admit that the gender-affirming model has resulted in “reckless” and “sloppy care,” including the “abject failure” of some gender therapists to properly evaluate the mental-health histories of troubled teens.

Although TM did not undergo medical “transition” while the case was pending, the court’s opinion exposed the “sloppy” treatment she received. Within the first week, the hospital psychiatrist diagnosed TM with gender dysphoria, based on TM’s feelings of depression and discontent and her claims to be “male.” But the hospital psychiatrist relied only on “the history provided by TM,” without speaking to or reviewing the records from TM’s prior therapist and physician. Gender therapists routinely defer to an adolescent’s self-diagnosis of “being trans” or “gender dysphoric,” without a deeper assessment that explores patient history or underlying issues. No one questioned TM’s shifting timeline about when she first identified as male — she initially said the feelings emerged in the past two years, but later said they began in childhood, at age eight. The retrospective shift fits a common pattern in “rapid onset gender dysphoria” (adolescent onset of trans-identification). Troubled teens risk being fast-tracked towards gender transition while the real source of their pain goes untreated — especially when hospitals with gender clinics, such as Perth Children’s Hospital, where TM was admitted, link their mental-health services to their gender clinics. Gender “experts” bully parents into submission or, as with TM, seek to remove the influence of “abusive” (non-compliant) parents.

The truth is that parents’ refusal to “believe” their child’s claim to “be” the opposite sex is only “abusive” within the paradigm of gender ideology, where identity is self-defined by feelings, regardless of the sexed body.

What Now?

As gender ideology permeates law and culture across the globe, vulnerable teens and their families will continue to suffer devastating harm, defenseless against the power of states captured by a poisonous ideology. TM’s father, interviewed by The Australian, puts it starkly: “This is the Pied Piper — all of these government officials play the flute, to steal and take away our children.” But families will not be the only victims. Bystanders will be intimidated into silence or forced to “live by lies,” lest they too become targets. Our freedom to speak the truth is on the line. The open question is whether we have the will to do anything about it.

Mary Rice Hasson is the Kate O’Beirne Fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. An attorney, she also directs the Person and Identity Project, an EPPC initiative that assists faith-based organizations in promoting the truth of the human person and countering gender ideology.


Mary Rice Hasson is the Kate O’Beirne Fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

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