Every time I come across an article on social media about children who are transgender, I see the same accusation in the comments — some ignorant bigot yammering on with their faux concern and nonexistent medical knowledge, claiming that parents of transgender children are guilty of Munchausen by proxy.
First of all, these random keyboard warriors obviously didn’t bother to use Google to learn that this disorder is no longer even called Munchausen by proxy. It is now called factitious disorder imposed on another (FDIA). At least do the barest minimum of research to maintain the appearance of knowing what you’re talking about.
Now that we have the terminology right, let’s talk about what FDIA actually is. It has very specific diagnostic criteria — none of which apply to the parents of children who are transgender.
FDIA, according to the Cleveland Clinic: “In this mental illness, a person acts as if an individual he or she is caring for has a physical or mental illness when the person is not really sick. The adult perpetrator … directly produces or lies about illness in another person under his or her care, usually a child under six years of age.”
This most basic definition already doesn’t fit as a descriptor of the relationship between a parent and their child who is transgender. Mainly because a person who is transgender is not mentally or physically ill. Even gender dysphoria — the distress a person feels due to the mismatch between their gender identity and their sex assigned at birth — has been reclassified from the previously named “gender identity disorder” to be clear that the incongruence between gender assigned at birth and gender identity is not itself a disorder. Dysphoria is treated simply by affirming a person’s stated gender identity. Affirmation is the treatment.
Now, even if a parent were attempting to foist gender dysphoria onto their child, how in the world would one go about that?
Back to the Cleveland Clinic’s definition of FDIA: “People with FDIA are even willing to have the child or patient undergo painful or risky tests and operations in order to get the sympathy and special attention given to people who are truly ill and their families.”
What painful or risky tests are parents of children who are transgender subjecting them to? Socially transitioning (expressing oneself as their chosen gender) or going by a new name, for transgender children, are the opposite of painful. They are in fact the means by which a child suffering from gender dysphoria finally finds relief and can begin to feel more at home in their body.
If any of these people who leave ignorant comments would take a few minutes to read the stories of what these parents have gone through for their kids, they would see that the vast majority of pain the child in question was experiencing was before they were allowed to socially transition. Any pain experienced afterward is caused by bigotry or lack of acceptance in places besides the home where they’re being accepted and affirmed.
More from the Cleveland Clinic: “FDIA most often occurs with mothers—although it can occur with fathers—who intentionally harm or describe non-existent symptoms in their children to get the attention given to the family of someone who is sick. A person with FDIA uses the many hospitalizations as a way to earn praise from others for their devotion to the child’s care, often using the sick child as a means for developing a relationship with the doctor or other health care provider.”
Again, none of this applies to parents of transgender children. Sure, when a parent is vocal about advocating for their child who is transgender, they are likely to get lots of attention. Private messages threatening bodily harm, accusations of child abuse, “concerned” inquiries about the state of their souls once they enter the afterlife, etc. I mean gosh, who wouldn’t want that kind of attention? So fun!
FDIA craves attention and pity, and that is most definitely not what parents of children who are transgender get when they openly advocate for their kids. I am personal friends with enough parents of children who are transgender to say with confidence that for most of them, the last thing they expected or wanted was to be thrust into the spotlight along with their child, fighting every day just to be granted the slimmest scraps of human decency, the same simple rights and comforts the rest of us don’t even think about because they seem so obviously self-evident that we take them for granted.
Parents of children who are transgender just want their kids to be able to present as the gender they identify with, to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity, and for teachers and students to use the correct pronouns. They would love for all of this to happen quietly and without drama, but people like the idiots who make accusations of FDIA make that impossible. Ironic, isn’t it?
If these keyboard warriors and bigots in general would keep their misguided accusations to themselves and stay in their lane, no one would have to make a fuss. Parents of kids who are transgender wouldn’t have to get loud about demanding basic rights for their kids. I wouldn’t have to write this article. Transgender people of all ages could simply exist as the gender they identify with, same as everybody else.
Because the bottom line is, you can’t convince a child to “act” transgender. You can’t “give” your cisgender child “symptoms” of being transgender. And if you’re a person who has ever thought that a parent of a child who is transgender was guilty of FDIA, and none of the foregoing convinced you, think about how hard it is just to get a kid to put on their shoes when you ask them to. And then imagine trying to brainwash a kid to “act” transgender. Ridiculous.
The simple truth is that parents of children who are transgender — especially the ones who are outspoken in supporting their kids — are the opposite of mentally ill. They are heroes, every one of them, making this world a safer, more affirming place, not just for their own kids, but also for the children of the ignorant folks who complain about them most. Now how’s that for irony?