Published: June 15, 2021
A Muslim Pakistani immigrant father who checked-in his 16-year-old autistic son to a Seattle hospital in a “terrible state of distress” was shocked to be told that his son was transgender and ended up hiring a lawyer who advised him to nod along with the state’s assessment just to get his kid back so he and his family could flee the state.
Ahmed is a Pakistani immigrant, a faithful Muslim, and until recently, a financial consultant to Seattle’s high-tech sector. But when he reached me by phone in October 2020, he was just one more frightened father. Days earlier, he and his wife had checked their 16-year-old son into Seattle Children’s Hospital for credible threats of suicide. Now, Ahmed was worried that the white coats who had gently admitted his son to their care would refuse to return him.
“They sent an email to us, you know, ‘you should take your ‘daughter’ to the gender clinic,'” he told me.
At first, Ahmed (I have changed names in this essay to protect the identities of minor children) assumed there had been a mistake. He had dropped off a son, Syed, to the hospital, in a terrible state of distress. Now, the email he received from the mental health experts used a new name for that son and claimed he was Ahmed’s daughter. “They were trying to create a customer for their gender clinic . . . and they seemed to absolutely want to push us in that direction,” he said when I spoke to him again this May, recalling the horror of last October. “We had calls with counselors and therapists in the establishment, telling us how important it is for him to change his gender, because that’s the only way he’s going to be better out of this suicidal depressive state.”
Syed had been a “straight-A student” and–according to his parents and the family’s therapist–quite brilliant. He is also on the autism spectrum, a young man who neglects to make eye contact and must be given rules for how long to shake hands, shower, or brush his teeth. High school was a slog for him, as it often is for kids on the spectrum who find that the social demands of adolescence have risen beyond their capacity to meet them. “He tried to ask a few girls out. It didn’t work out and he got frustrated and angry, and that kind of thing. And so, those girl-boy things get kind of tough for autistic kids, those developmental issues. And that’s where puberty can be very, very hard with the hormones rushing and all this stuff.”
When lockdowns hit, the boy who was already struggling socially and befuddled by questions neurotypical teens take for granted (How do I show a girl I like her? How do I make the other kids include me?) began to spend all day and night on the Internet. “He’s an autistic kid, and so he kind of lost track of time. And he was staying up a lot. So he was staying up, just being on the Internet, Twitter, Tumblr, whatever. . . . And he was in his room, just, you know, sleeping one or two hours a day. And that can really be devastating. He was very confused. He was seeing things, visual hallucinations. And we didn’t know why.”
It is not definitively known why many neurodiverse adolescents identify as transgender, but more than one scientist has pointed out the high rates of coincidence. As several autism experts have explained to me, those on the spectrum tend to fixate, and when a contagious idea is introduced to them–such as the notion that they might be a “girl in a boy’s body”–they are particularly susceptible to it.
As child psychiatrist and expert in gender dysphoria Susan Bradley said to me: “The messages these kids pick up [from trans influencers] when they’re online is, ‘We’re the only people who understand you. Your people, your parents, don’t really understand you.’ And it may be the first time in their lives that anybody has said to them, ‘We understand you. We know you. You’re okay. You’re just like us.’ And it’s powerful.”
I asked Bradley if introducing gender ideology to kids who tend to fixate is like introducing cocaine to those susceptible to addiction. She agreed: “It has the same power to assuage all the alienation and grief and distress that these kids have been struggling with.”
Because of a Covid-19 policy, Ahmed could not stay at the hospital with his son back in October. Syed, in a sleep-deprived and confused state, furious at the parents who had admitted him, and in consultation with hospital staff and a social worker, decided that his problem was gender.
The age at which minors in the State of Washington can receive mental health and gender-affirming care without parental permission is 13. In other words, the emails Ahmed received from the hospital were effectively a courtesy; the hospital did not require Ahmed’s permission to begin his son on a path to medical transition.
But unlike some other parents I would later speak with, Ahmed’s cool head prevailed. Believing he might be walking into a trap, Ahmed reached out to both a lawyer and a psychiatrist friend he trusted. The psychiatrist gave him advice that he believes saved his son, saying, in Ahmed’s words: “You have to be very, very careful, because if you come across as just even a little bit anti-trans or anything, they’re going to call the Child Protective Services on you and take custody of your kid.” The lawyer told Ahmed the same: “What you want to do is agree with them and take your kid home. When the gender counselors advise you to ‘affirm,’ go along with it. Just say ‘Uh-huh, uh-huh, okay, let’s take him home, and we’ll go to the gender clinic.'”
Ahmed assured Seattle Children’s Hospital that he would take his son to a gender clinic and commence his son’s transition. Instead, he collected his son, quit his job, and moved his family of four out of Washington.
Even North Korea is not this nuts!