Mass Media & Munchausen-by-Proxy
According to lists on Wikipedia (presumably incomplete), since 1970 there have been 68 movies & 77 TV shows featuring transgender characters. If we include individual TV episodes, there are over 200 listed for the 1990s alone (there are no lists for the 2000s or 2010s). Is this an accurate representation of the experiences of the people involved in those shows? Or is it evidence of an agenda shared by the corporations behind them?
As much as or more than evolving social policies and education programs, mass media certainly influences people in their values and behaviors. If identity confusion, including or especially confusion around so-called “gender,” has always existed, there has never been a time when corporations, governments, and ideologically-driven factions were so busy providing “orientation,” “guidance,” and “direction” towards pre-established recourses designed to “alleviate” the problem. But is this true assistance, or is it exploitation? Is the supply meeting the demand, or is it only genetically modified snake-oil for new generations of desperate and credulous people?
The article “Transgender children allow non-traditional parents to perform stereotypical parenting roles,” September 8, 2016: cites a transgender mother blogger reflecting “on the exalted status of traditional motherhood that she experiences in her role as parent of a transgender child.” It suggests “a new phenomenon: women falsely identifying themselves as parents of transgender children in order to join and participate in their private groups.” The article goes on to cite “Hilton Ryan’s finding that mothers of transgender children are using their children to express and perform exalted female gender stereotypes of caregiving and motherhood . . .” These are some of Ryan’s other findings:
- The parents in her study were predominantly white, middle class, and residents of the United States.
- The majority of parents self-identify as liberals or progressives.
- Parents of transgender children were more likely than the general population to be gay, lesbian or bisexual (19%).
- Prior to diagnosis as transgender “Nearly all” parents believed their children were exhibiting pre-homosexual behaviors and would develop into gay adults.
- Parents tried to force their children to stop gender nonconforming behaviors such as choosing non-stereotypical toys or clothes prior to diagnosing them as transgender.
- Parents of transgender children diagnosed their male children earlier: between the ages of 3-5 for males and females between 9-14.
- “All” male children in the study were diagnosed as transgender by their parents before the age of five and “most” before the age of three.
- “Most” female children were identified by their parents as transgender after the onset of puberty.
- Parents of female children were more immediate “instant adopters” of a transgender diagnosis.
- No parents in the study used the descriptors “genderqueer” or “nonbinary” or “gender fluid” to describe their child.
- Mothers “overwhelmingly” take the lead in diagnosing their children as transgender.
- Mothers of transgender children take on the majority of parenting responsibilities.
- The majority of heterosexual mothers of transgender children are more professionally qualified than their husbands.
- 51% of heterosexual mothers of transgender children have advanced education that vastly exceeds their husbands.
A mother of a trans child made a comment below the main article that I found especially interesting:
Apparently, these moms want to be special snowflakes—to enjoy the beautiful agony of suffering and the triumph of being ever the martyr. Sounds like Munchhausen by Proxy. . . . Having a stunning and brave kid makes the moms feel like they are also stunning and brave by proxy, I guess. My daughter’s childhood isn’t about me-me-me. I don’t want to be in the Stunning and Brave Club with those martyr moms. I would give anything for my daughter to give up this trans nonsense. I believe she just doesn’t want to be a female in today’s porn-soaked patriarchy, and/or is bi or lesbian. She clings so tightly to trans instead, as she thinks it protects her from being female.
Munchausen syndrome is when a person feigns disease, illness, or psychological trauma to gain attention, sympathy, or reassurance. It fits within the subclass of factitious disorders with predominantly physical signs and symptoms, but patients also have a history of recurrent hospitalization, travelling, and dramatic, extremely improbable tales of their past experiences (hence the reference to Baron Munchausen).
“Munchausen syndrome by proxy,” on the other hand, was first coined by the afore-cited John Money (the pioneering transgender specialist who treated David Reimer) and June Faith Werlwas to describe the abuse- and neglect-induced symptoms of the syndrome of “abuse dwarfism.” Also known as “factitious disorder imposed on another,” this is a condition wherein a caregiver or spouse fabricates, exaggerates, or induces mental or physical health problems in those in their care, with the primary motive of gaining attention or sympathy for themselves. Some experts consider it an elusive, potentially lethal, and frequently misunderstood form of child abuse, or at least medical neglect—as in cases when mothers have actually been poisoning their children to keep them in a sickly state.
Munchausen syndrome by proxy might not always manifest in such extremes, however. It may be a case of a subtler, and far more common, condition coming out in full-blown “pathological” symptoms. Closely related is something called the “masquerade syndrome,” in which “mothers keep children at home from school for long periods with apparent chronic illnesses, the illness being a ‘masquerade’ for an enmeshed relationship with the child.” (Ref.)
Maternal Enmeshment Related to “Gender Fluidity”
There is, in fact, a far more common condition which rarer forms such as Munchausen by proxy and masquerade syndrome appear to stem from. This is what’s known as parental (usually maternal) enmeshment, a condition that—judging at least by how under-observed it is—may be closer to the rule than the exception in the West. This dynamic is most commonly recognized—probably because most destructive—in the form of mother-son enmeshment, with Psycho’s Norman Bates as the broad-stroke exemplary (based on serial killer Ed Gein). But it is by no means limited to this dynamic. In “Maternal Enmeshment: The Chosen Child,” Dee Hann-Morrison describes how enmeshed families are “characterized by levels of emotional closeness that are often seen as constraining.” Such families “use manipulation, usually in the form of overly excessive, but superficial expressions of love and unity to demand loyalty from their members.” While enmeshed families “depend on each other excessively,” family members “tend to have a limited sense of their own identity”; they “make decisions based on emotions, and as a reaction to the perceived wishes of other members of the system.”
Parental enmeshment “not only hinders but also prevents differentiation of the child.” It creates “a dance of circular immaturity and reactivity between the parent and child.” The enmeshed parent “blurs familial boundaries and engages in hovering behaviors.” They are “overly accessible to their children” and “do too much” for them, resulting in a loss of autonomy for the child.
Adolescents with enmeshed maternal relationships
not only show difficulties in formatting identity but they also have difficulties in participating in interdependent peer relationships. . . . In such cases, these relationships are laden with boundary violations and breaches of familial subsystems. [E]nmeshed mothers usually do not know the difference between parenting and partnering. These women, they say, are not knowledgeable about the emotional needs of children. [A]mong the primary liabilities of enmeshed mothers are their lack of role models and their own unresolved emotional issues.
Significantly, so far social contagion goes, the paper also points out how “parenting fallacies portrayed by television families” contribute “to the notion of women’s maternal responsibilities.” As an example, it cites Leave it to Beaver’s June Cleaver, “immersed in the goings-on of Wally and The Beaver, while placing little emphasis on her own circle of friends or on her relationship with her husband. [M]ore contemporary media portrayals of maternity offer up the continually self-sacrificing divorced mom as the epitome of morally correct parenting” (emphasis added).
As the “chosen child” (Love, 1990, p. 8), the boy who has found himself in his mother’s continual graces usually finds the special privileges and extra attention he receives from his mother gratifying. [A]s lofty a position as being the “chosen child” may seem, the victim of maternal enmeshment is precisely that—a victim. In exchange for his service to his mother, this child actually relinquishes his entire life. [He] loses out on opportunities to interact socially with peers, and ultimately loses out on his childhood. This loss of childhood . . . has a downwardly spiraling effect.
Besides “rendering the child unfit for adaptive peer interactions, the unhealthy mother–son relationship” steadily reduces opportunities for healthy adolescent interactions, preventing the assumption of more adult roles.
The chosen child reacts to his mother and she reacts to him. The reaction becomes generalized to the whole family, and this child becomes the crusader, so to speak, for maintaining the status quo. This reactivity leads to deepening of the fusion between mother and son, as the child is being programmed to have similar values and tastes as his mother.
In most cases, the chosen child, isolated in childhood, “continues to be isolated in his adult life.” It is not uncommon for them “to develop narcissistic traits, if not full-blown narcissism.” A sense of superiority may lead to “extreme efforts at outdoing peers in his professional life. He wants to earn more money than . . .; garner greater recognition than . . . .” and so on.
Revenge of the Supermoms
Compare all this to the blog “Parenting Jeremy—a Gender Journey: A Wander through Parenting a Transgender Teen”:
I’ve been pondering what would motivate someone to pose as a parent of a transgender child; in the words of my beloved sister I got curious instead of furious. [F]rom the outside looking in, for the person who is not going through what we are going through, I guess we look inspirational. I’ve realised it’s because we are. So to every parent who can’t speak out, I have seen you. I have seen you when you have had to play parent, housekeeper, mediator and suddenly therapists when in the middle of your busy family day one child’s dysphoria becomes overwhelming. I have seen you driving across country to meet each other. I have seen you go toe to toe with schools, insurance companies, medical professionals and governments to demand rights for your child. I have heard the quiet whisper that this may become overwhelming, only to see you get up the next morning to give the world a great big middle finger and keep going. I have witnessed a million moments of love and pride. I have wept with you when you have trusted me with your child’s pain. I have watched in awe as you have woven safety nets, under children that have been rejected by families, under each other in moments of medical or marital crisis. I have had my hand held tight by men and women who I have never met but who completely understand the raw heart-searing pain that can occur when your child feels alone and isolated and you just can’t help, all you can do is love. . . . You accepted your child, and there are days that are hard and shitty and yet you still turn up. You turn up because one of the miracles in your family needs you. You turn up because your child’s smile is precious and seeing it is its own reward. You turn up because their happiness is your breath. You are the tireless voice even when you are so very tired. You are a million conversations with strangers to demystify being transgender/gender diverse. You are signatures on petitions to have discriminatory laws overturned from bathroom bills to access to cross hormone treatment. You are strong voices howling into the maelstrom of life that our children are valid, wonderful and miraculous, look them in the eye and keep trying to deny our truth. . . . We are thousands of stories of ordinary people on an extraordinary parenting journey. What binds us is that we are testament to the power of love.
To the power of something, certainly.
Meanwhile, here’s Diane Ehrensaft, one of the nation’s top pediatric gender specialists, advising a medical conference on how to tell if one’s baby is transgender:
[Preverbal children] are very action oriented. This is where mirroring is really important. And listening to actions. So let me give you an example. I have a colleague who is transgender. There is a video of him as a toddler–he was assigned female at birth–tearing barrettes out of then-her hair. And throwing them on the ground. And sobbing. That’s a gender message. They can show you about what they want to play with. . . and if they feel uncomfortable about how you are responding to them and their gender. . . if you’re misgendering them. So you look for those kinds of actions . . . like tearing a skirt off. . . .There was one on that Barbara Walters special, this child wore the little onesie with the snap-ups between the legs. And at age one would unsnap them to make a dress, so the dress would flow. This is a child who was assigned male. That’s a communication, a pre-verbal communication about gender. (Ref.)
Ehrensaft asserts that “children will know [they are transgender] by the second year of life. . . . they probably know before that but that’s pre-pre verbal.” (Ref.) Yet Ehrensaft also claims that gender identity can be fluid, meaning that, while a baby innately “knows” its gender identity, at the same time it depends on their mood in a given moment. On the third hand, if gender-fluid children begin to transition and then change their minds, that’s OK too: “there is ‘no data’ that it harms kids to switch back and forth between identities, as long as we ‘support’ them in their ‘journey.’”
And those who don’t, may need to prepare to give up their rights to oversee their children’s development at all: “In Ontario, where pro-trans legislation has been passing swiftly, the state has the right to seize children from families that do not support the child’s wish to live as transgendered.” (Ref.)
What Munchausen by proxy, maternal enmeshment, and many of the transgender child narratives appear to have in common is that all of them either precipitate or demand an unusual degree of involvement in the child’s life by a parent or parents. The involvement is both inner and outer—i.e., it covers both the child’s internal preoccupations and perceptions and their behavior and decisions, from the smallest (what clothes to wear) to the largest imaginable (what sex to be “assigned”). Such parental involvement is abnormally intense, to the point of being destructive in extreme cases, unlimited in both scale and time (transitioning children will most likely always require some degree of “management” around their decision). For a mother or father who wishes to have unrestricted, unending involvement in their child’s life, these psycho-situations provide the carte blanche required.
Unfortunately, the complex psychological nature of maternal enmeshment and Munchausen syndrome by proxy means that only a tiny percentage of parents—never mind children—are likely to ever recognize it, even in the people closest to them. And if they do, what are the chances they will dare to say anything? Only a fool tries to come between a lioness and her cub—and what are the chances of rescuing a potential victim if he or she is fully complicit with the abuses being inflicted upon them? As one paper, “Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy,” by Deirdre Conway Rand, puts it
older children may become active participants in creating their factitious illness, with either the child or the mother initiating aspects of the deception with which the other then goes along. Mother and child may develop a folie â deux relationship concerning the child’s medical condition, with both believing that the child is genuinely ill or disabled.
Folie à deux is French for “the madness of two.” It is more profanely called shared psychosis, a psychiatric syndrome in which symptoms of a delusional belief (sometimes including hallucinations) are transmitted from one individual to another. The same syndrome shared by more than two people may be called folie à trois, folie à quatre, folie en famille (“family madness”), and, ultimately, folie à plusieurs, the madness of many.
It is also associated with the lesser known term “symbiotic psychosis,” a condition seen in young children with abnormal relationships to their mothers or maternal figures. It is often the result of a precipitating traumatic event or series of events. In old-world or archetypal terms, it is known as possession.
 Award-winning or nominated films with transgender subject or characters, since 1990: 2018: Out Run, The Pearl; 2016: Passing; 2015: Major! Kumu Hina; 2014: Zanderology 101, Lady Valor, The Kristin Beck Story; 2013: Open Up to Me; 2012: Trans, Riot Acts 2011: Tomboy, Albert Nobbs; 2010: Enter the Clowns; 2009: The Celestial Brides, Two Spirits; 2007: Cruel and Unusual, XXY; 2006: Red Without Blue, Almost Myself; 2005: Transamerica; 2004: Beautiful Boxer, Wild Side; 2002: The Cockettes, Venus Boyz, 2001: By Hook or by Crook, Southern Comfort; 1999: Boys Don’t Cry; 1998: The Adventures of Sebastian Cole; 1993: Farewell My Concubine; 1992: The Crying Game, Orlando; 1990: Paris Is Burning