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‘We Thought We Were Safe’

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A stunning letter from a reader reaching out to all of you for advice. I publish this here with his permission. I know his name, but am withholding it to protect his family’s privacy:

A question that has been on my mind, that I don’t think I’ve seen you address in too much detail is, how to BenOp when the enemy has already struck deeply into your turf and “claimed” one of your own children. What is the playbook for this? Where are the tips or resources for bewildered parents?

Here’s my story, which is tame in comparison to what many families are dealing with. We are a homeschooling Catholic family, living in a very rural area of Minnesota. I am an IT remote worker, so we are not idiots and are quite familiar with how our Big Tech-fueled society works. We know better than to give our kids cell phones or have unfiltered internet. Outside of a few other families from church (most of which are Catholic homeschooling families like us) our kids have not been interacting with kids in the public school system or elsewhere. Owing to this and our rural life, WE THOUGHT WE WERE SAFE.

Fast forward to September of last year, when the scales came off our eyes. In hindsight there had been previous hints (there always are) but they were really just bewildering blips in what we thought was the life of our normal healthy 13yo daughter.

Long story short, she was severely depressed, suicidal, cutting herself, and drinking from our liquor cabinet. All in secret. She had rejected every value our family holds dear (she considered our “forcing” her to come to church on Sundays as a form of hostage-taking). And the most central thing to her self-understanding was her LGBT identity, which she had assumed somewhere around age 10 or 11. She asserted herself as bisexual, and was playing around in the “non-binary” headspace (though thankfully with no apparent intent of transitioning). Her mind had been completely taken over by LGBT activists, and every bit of the lingo spilt forth out of her mouth.

After the initial shock, when we were in “how did this happen??!?” mode, we discovered that it all had come in through the influence of one person, her best friend (who was from one of those “safe” Catholic homeschooling families I mentioned). As it turns out, the family was living a double life, with the public image of being devout but with severe dysfunction at the heart of the home. In the dysfunction, the “best friend” had no supervision and unlimited internet. So, with all the sleepovers the girls had in that house over the years, Lord knows what they were doing.

And in our house, with internet protections, etc, we nevertheless considered the other girl “safe” and had allowed the girls to have lots of interaction via Google Hangouts without us looking over their shoulder. We thought they were just talking about their pet bunnies! Nope. The chats were filled with profanity, LGBT themes (her friend also “identified” as LGBT by age 10), attempts to “hook up” my daughter with random 16yo girlfriends on the internet and requests from my daughter to her friend for vile content such as screen recordings of the latest video from Corpse Husband (google if you dare) because with our internet restrictions she couldn’t get it herself, but she knew we weren’t watching their chats.

Well, well, well. Lesson learned (and word of warning to your readers): If you aren’t seeing what your kid is doing yourself, you don’t know what they are doing, period. NOBODY IS SAFE. Trust perhaps, but always verify.

I am happy to report that 6+ months later her outlook has improved (though there is a long way to go). Yes our daughter is still basically an atheist and still a vocal LGBT advocate, but at least the depression has subsided and she no longer wants to cut herself just because her evil parents won’t let her have Snapchat. Here’s what we did (in addition to putting controls in place that ensure she and her best friend can’t continue behaving that way together):

1) Therapy. This is a hard one because you can’t trust most therapists. We asked around, and got a referral from a Catholic doctor to a therapist we were reasonably certain wouldn’t try to prematurely affirm her LGBT identity or otherwise encourage further exploration there. If in fact she does have a degree of same-sex attraction (at present we are skeptical), that will work itself out over time and our love for her will remain constant. But she needs to work that out free from undue coercion or propaganda.

2) Involvement in extra-curricular activities. This was hard because of Covid restrictions, but once things lifted a bit she was able to join the local school gymnastics team, which is something she was actually interested in. I cannot believe how much just a couple months of this has helped my beautiful, but painfully shy daughter come out of her shell! She developed confidence, responsibility, and healthy relationships with other mostly well-adjusted girls.

3) Exposure to a healthy peer group. In our case, this has happened via a well-run youth group at a local Evangelical church. (Much to the shock and dismay of my uber-Catholic mother, who is freaking out about the possibility of her becoming Protestant. Oh mom, if you only knew!!!!) We didn’t have good Catholic youth options in our area, plus with her hostility to everything to do with our faith that wasn’t the best option anyway. But she was invited to a camp run by this group, had a blast, and has been going to their weekly sessions ever since. At this point her “friend group” would be the peers from this group.

4) Prayer and sacrifice. In our parish a group of men were doing an Exodus 90 (www.exodus90.com) program of prayer, fasting and sacrifice, and I joined up so i would have some accountability to my attempts at offering supplications on my daughter’s behalf. I am convinced this had an effect.

So she is at a place where (and even she realizes this) she is kind of living a double-life now. On the one hand she and her “best” friend live out their shared LGBT life together, which is all struggles with mental health, complaints about the homophobic nature of organized religion and how it hurts people like them, and especially complaints about how awful my wife and I are because we now have restrictions on their shared behavior and media intake (in contrast to the friend’s Best. Mom. Ever. because she lets her daughter do what she wants). But then my daughter immediately shifts to the “other” personality where she actually enjoys blasting Praise and Worship music in her room, and has a good time with her friends at Youth Group, even though they actually pray and read the Bible. Oh, and after I chaperoned a ski trip for the group, she was absolutely aghast to find that all her friends there said that she had a “cool dad”. Lol.

So while we don’t know what the future holds, we have hope! But the past 6 months have been filled with a lot of parental anguish, and the question that has been forefront in my mind is, how do we BenOp now????

I had been greatly moved by the story of the Benda family and envisioned their home life as our model. But suddenly the enemy claimed one of our family as their own, and that option seemed to be taken off the table. Now we were faced with a home life where we had to be VERY careful what we said, and somehow try to support our errant daughter’s mental struggles, while still forming our other children (and not allowing their big sister to pull them astray). And it was hard to know what to do, in practical terms — for example we were pretty sure signing her up for gymnastics would be a good thing, but what if the team happened to have some vocal LGBT personalities in it? If so, that would have completely derailed the focus on the sport and undermined the benefit of getting her out of the house.

Our situation is not rare, as your 3/31 mention of your Massachusetts friend helping a homeschooling Catholic family with a “trans” daughter reminded me. And its not that we didn’t find *some* resources out there, but for the most part it feels like everyone is playing rear-guard here and just trying to figure out what the heck is going on. There isn’t a good playbook, at least not yet. Most of what I knew to do came from piecing disparate pieces of info together from your blog and other sources.

Is this something you could address, or throw out to your readers? There are so many parents that need help right now navigating this Brave New World.

Readers?

UPDATE: Having read the comments, the father sent this update:

1) The occult.  Yeah, there is some weird synergy right now between parts of the LGBT subculture and goth/occult stuff.  And the Corpse Husband videos definitely have satanic imagery in them.  We have no sign so far of demonic possession or anything (thank God!) but yeah, we are in touch with a good priest on that.
2) We may have sounded like “head for the hills”-type BenOppers.  We actually aren’t.  We live where we do  A) to be close to my aging parents, B) to keep the family farm in the family, and C) to give our kids the freedom and joy of growing up in the country on a hobby farm.  It really is an idyllic life.  We have sheep, chickens, bunnies, a dog, and a gazillion cats.
3) Had to giggle at the suggestions that we are the cause of internalized homophobia and other distress in our daughter.  Look, there are religious homes that are authoritarian and filled with fire & brimstone.  Ours is definitively NOT one of them.  One of the major factors in our daughter’s suicidal impulses last year was that she believed that her parents would reject her for being gay.  When she “came out” to us, and we responded only with love and empathy, she told her friend with relief “well that was easy!”.   Why did she believe such terrible things about our love (or lack thereof) for her?  Because she had been taught that by the LGBT social media “influencers” that she was obsessed with.
4) Re-reading the letter, we also probably sounded like we are overprotectively shielding our kids from other kids.  Actually we are intentional about getting them out quite a bit and interacting with people from all walks of life, because we know that their “normal” peer group has been the other Catholic homeschoolers.  The main reason we homeschool is because we don’t have any Classical curriculum-based schools near us.  To the extent that “we thought we were safe” it was just because we had let down our guard because we felt like we could exclude being attentive to her falling in with the wrong crowd at school or else getting some objectionable ideology taught to her at school from our “list of things to worry about”.  The shock (and word of warning) of this all is just in learning how A) you can’t trust anyone, even people you think are on your side, and B) how much filth can sneak in through the tiniest crack.
5) I stand by my comment that you can’t trust most therapists.  Not because they are bad people, or are out to undermine religion, but because, despite all the wonderful and useful research and tools available these days, the prevailing philosophy which undergirds all modern psychology is still based upon a different philosophical anthropology which places the “self” in the center and uses that as the sole guidepost for determining truth and correct action.  It is fundamentally incompatible with Christian anthropology.
6) Our daughter may (or may not) authentically have same-sex feelings.   We really don’t know at this stage of her life.  What we DO know is that she developed an unhealthy obsession with gay “identity” and all the nuances of its manifestations in internet subculture, all before she was even on the other side of puberty.  Did you know that each letter of the LGBTQ alphabet has its own “flag” and style of dress?  Yep, she had the Bisexual style down pat.   And there’s even a super-secret code phrase that girls can use to ask other girls if they like girls.  It’s clear to us that for her this was more about being “part of the cool girls club” than about having authentically discerned her feelings.

7) When I said “what’s the playbook for this” our struggle really was how to navigate all the practicalities of this, when the prevailing culture is against you and you don’t know who you can trust and who you can’t.  It’s like a minefield, where at every turn a bomb might go off!  There was a time in October where our daughter was a runaway risk (she was plotting how she could run off and live in her best friend’s house).  We thought we might well have situations requiring interaction with police or other public health officials.  In fact, our daughter even told her friend that if she could, she’d tell the police to take her away from her “toxic” family.  I kept thinking about the Benda family and how they would have been able to function if one of their kids had been a Communist informant.

This father is being dragged by a number of people in the comments. I want to take this opportunity to say I’m on his side. He is not crazy, and he is not alone. The fact that what this child is doing is taken as normal teenage rebellion, or even a good thing, is a sign of the decadence of our culture.

UPDATE.2: The dad sends in one more update:

There is a great deal of consternation in the comments about intentionally over-protecting or controlling kids. Conversely some have expressed horror that we still allow our daughter to interact with her best friend.

A confounding factor here is that our daughter has always had paralyzing social anxiety. Previous attempts at getting her “out” invariably ended with her sitting in a corner alone, crying. For whatever reason though, she really clicked with this one other girl and they’ve been best friends since age 5. This was about the only other person she could talk to. We were just glad she had a good friend, from an ostensibly “good” family. (Clearly we were oblivious to the dysfunction in the home. One commenter asked if we had talked with the parents of this girl. We have; they are unable or unwilling to do anything about the situation. There are layers of untreated mental illness going on in the family.)

So in a way it’s a miracle (or at least happy coincidence?) that her ability to overcome that social anxiety on the gymnastics team came at a time in her life when she most needed it. I guess she was just at the point in life where she was ready to mature a bit.

Why do we still let her talk to her best friend? Precisely because we DON’T want to be too controlling, and it would do more harm than good, considering how close they are. Her therapist has been adamant from the beginning that we will have better success exposing her to other “positive” peer influences over time rather than abruptly cutting off the existing relationship. Hence the gymnastics team, youth group, etc. What we HAVE done with the friend is put guardrails in place. There is no more getting together at the friend’s house (she can come to ours though). They can talk over Google Hangouts, but there is a set time limit per day. And I beefed up our internet controls so that they can’t share media content.

UPDATE.3: Reader Elizabeth K.:

I haven’t read through all the comments, but based on the updates, I can imagine the reactions. As a mother of several children, a college professor, and classic liberal horrified by the new progressive totalitarianism, I can say with certainty that anyone who thinks this is about homophobia or not accepting bisexuality has absolutely no clue whatsoever about what is really going on here.

My experiences with one of my children is almost identical to the one the father describes here. For some background, mental health issues run in my family, and I have dealt with anxiety, depression, self-harm, suicidal ideation with several family members, including my children. I know the drill.

Something important has shifted in the past ten years, which is about the gap between my first child who needed intensive intervention for mental health issues and the most recent experience, and that is the fact that the latest social contagion for girls is to believe they are bisexual or gender neutral, fueled almost entirely by an internet subculture promoted on TikTok. What makes this different from other social contagions I’ve seen sweep through girl culture is that unlike cutting, or anorexia, or nude selfies, or what have you, this new one is not seen as universally harmful the way the other ones are.

This makes it much harder to address, because unlike starving oneself to death, believing oneself to be bisexual or gender neutral does not appear to many to have immediate or long-term dangers. Indeed, even at my daughter’s Catholic school, and even in a class that has absolutely nothing to do with health, gender ideology has promoted and accompanied by an offer to get kids in touch with adults at a nearby university if they’re struggling with these issues.

My daughter has no less than four friends from her elementary school class (all girls) who identify as bi- or gender neutral–this is out of a total of maybe 16 girls, and a large number (9-10) additional friends she’s made recently who also identify as queer in some way. Like the daughter in the letter above, these girls often “identified” themselves well before puberty. When gently pressed as to whether it seems likely that there are quite so many young women who are queer, the usual answer is something along the lines of “queers know queers,” so childhood friends who all discover that they are bi or lesbian simply had really good gay-dar as preschoolers, or so the explanation (again from TikTok and the like) goes.

I was so glad to see you publish this letter, Rod, because Christian parents really do need to know the best things to do when this happens, especially when it’s accompanied by a mental health crisis, self-harm, etc.., without histrionics and without succumbing to despair. All of the suggestions above are excellent. And yes, there is absolutely an occult aspect to this; if anyone doesn’t believe that, do take a spin around the TikTok communities that blend the occult and gender ideology, it’s an eye opener.

Like the family in the letter, we have embraced our daughter and met her with love. Yes, we are religious, but we are and have always been more of a Fr. James Martin, Ignatian spirituality, social justice leaning brand of Catholic. So before anybody jumps on me about this or dismisses what the father is saying, please consider what is actually happening.

Even parents like me and my husband, who would be entirely fine if one of our daughters were gay, are witnessing what can only be described as a fight for control of our daughter’s autonomy and sense of self–a fight between social media machines, and her own emerging sense of who she is. Instead of wanting to challenge the oversexed third wave feminist version of a female, these girls want to retreat into a eunuch position. Who can blame them? It was the dream of George Sand as well. But it’s a pipe dream, and it leads to self-loathing. Think again before you offer your knee-jerk support to something that you think is old-fashioned coming out–this is not what this is.

Finally, I want to underscore how important it is for parents to talk about this and think ahead of time of how they will address it. Educate yourself. Cultures go through periods of androgyny, usually with the female body (as usual) getting the shaft. This particular movement probably has a shelf-life of at least 6 more years, before whatever comes next takes hold. You can’t shield girls from it; you can be prepared to gently lead them through it, with the help of good therapy and good friends, to whatever is waiting on the other side. Trust me, a lot more parents are dealing with this than you might think. We need to open up about it, and again, I’m so grateful to see this letter published here.

UPDATE.4: Another reader writes:

A couple of thoughts in response to the father’s post about how to help his homeschooled daughter being abused by transgendered ideology:

1) Good for this family for connecting their daughter with a Christian youth group from a different community, when that’s what she needed. Happy healthy kids need friends, and Christians of all stripes need to work together to provide that, rather than viewing each other as “the enemy” because of their doctrinal differences.

Christians have done this successfully in the pro-life movement without sliding into doctrinal relativism. It’s time to do this in the face of transgender ideology attacking our young.

I’m a Catholic in the rural northeast in a diocese where Catholicism has been dying for many years. The Catholic families here who are serious about their faith generally won’t consider socializing with non-Catholic Christians; even when this means that their children don’t have many or any friends. Our pastor has discouraged our very small Catholic homeschool co-op from collaborating with the much larger (and conservative) Christian homeschooling community in our area. I think it’s partly resentment that these Christian communities are thriving more than ours (including with ex-Catholics), and partly fear that our children (or his parishioners) will go over to the “other side” – as the father’s Catholic mother feared. But LGBT+ ideology and our pagan, anti-Christian culture is the real enemy, not other Christians with traditional values.
Work together, people!

2) Transgender ideology is a form of child abuse, and we need to address it with our kids as part of a practical and ongoing “here’s how to handle abuse situations” talk. We should also be talking with trusted relatives and friends to ask them to let us know if they see any signs that our children are being abused in this way. Think this is unfair? Read the Old Testament to see how God guided the Chosen People to keep their faith amidst a pagan cultural with plenty of sexual deviancy. This stuff isn’t new. We need to deal with it.

Speaking to both points, we should consider reaching out to other Christians across “church lines” to have book club discussions on this issue, and to form alliances to help each other stay informed and provide our children with friends and allies. The books you’ve highlighted on this blog – Ryan Anderson’s When Harry Became Sally or Abigail Shrier’s Irreversible Damage would be great starts.

Would love to hear from other parents or church leaders what they are doing practically and proactively to help protect children in the face of this kind of abuse.

UPDATE.5: Another reader:

We are Orthodox Christian, and homeschooled with many other families. We generally shielded our kids from the culture, but did allow some internet usage. One of our kids decided that she was gay after reading about it on the internet.

However, I think I can say now that it was inevitable that she would have come to this conclusion eventually, once she went out in the world anywhere. The fact is that these feelings exist inside her; and the minute she met someone gay, or heard our society’s ideas of acceptance of gayness as an identity, she would have recognized these feelings inside herself. So the first thing to know is, shielding your kids won’t work if they have these feelings. Yes, you can teach your kids about the biblical view of the love, marriage, and family. But you can’t prevent their struggle with gay feelings if they have those feelings. And once they grow up, and are anywhere in the world today, even most Christian colleges, they will hear about it and it will bring it to the surface.

Second, if it does happen to you that one of your kids thinks they might be gay, don’t panic. A nun told me this shortly after I found out, and now that it is 10 years later, I can say she was right. It is not the “worst” sin; acting on the feelings would be a sin, yes; but we are all struggling with sin, and let’s not lose sight of that. This is one sinful tendency among many, and many others are way worse. Third, focus on loving your child. This was hard line to walk for me. I am a Christian and I believe the biblical view of marriage; I could not affirm my daughter being gay, and by that I mean living a gay lifestyle, in a relationship. This was very, very hard. How much easier it would have been to be a “loving” affirming parent as we see praised in our culture. And I really think my daughter felt rejected on some level because I would not do that.

At first, we had many long discussions about biblical marriage. I don’t think that did any good. Eventually, I tried to show my love in other ways; all the ways a parent does. Cooking good meals, helping with school, helping her apply for jobs, helping her sort out friend trouble, supporting her in all she does, in any way I could. I do hope that she knows I love her. I try to tell her. But I think what she really wants is my affirmation to her being gay, and I can’t give that. It really isn’t easy. But if this happens to you, know that you are not alone.

I never told anyone about my struggle, it was too painful, and I was afraid, I am ashamed to admit, what people might think. But then I went to lunch with two devout Catholic friends, and one of them confided that her son was struggling with being gay. And she said she belonged to a group of Catholic parents struggling with this issue. Chances are, people close to you are struggling with this and you don’t know it.

Lastly, but most important, advice paraphrased from St. Porphyrios, a Greek beloved modern-day saint: instead of talking so much to your child about it; you should talk to God about it, and pray that He, who loves our children infinitely more that we do, would speak to your child’s heart in the ways that He knows. I highly recommend prayer to Mary, the Mother of God, too. Many times, I have just silently appealed to her for help when we have been in crisis with our daughter, and she always helps us!

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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