“A wonderful, smart young woman" with a beautiful singing voice. That’s how Julie describes her 19-year-old daughter Eileen.
Four years ago, when her formerly "boy crazy" daughter announced that she wanted to have gender reassignment surgery, Julie was initially overwhelmed.
Then she began "scouring the earth" to find help for Eileen. Julie embarked on a journey to save her daughter from what she feared would be the biggest mistake of her life.
Adopted 'Just in Time'Julie and her husband live in a southern U.S. state with their two "beautiful" daughters, both of whom were adopted from China. Julie is a semi-retired attorney; she practiced law for over 30 years.
Their older daughter, Eileen, was found abandoned when she was just 13 days old. She was placed in a "child welfare institute"—one of China's state-run orphanages. When Eileen was just over a year old, Julie brought the tiny baby back to the United States.
“She was placed in my arms when she was 13 months old. She was only 15 pounds. She could not cry. She could not call. And she could not even hold a bottle,” Julie said.
Back in the United States, Julie took Eileen off to a pediatric specialist, who told her that the baby was malnourished and that she had gotten help for her “just in time.”
“She might not have lasted another month,” the doctor told Julie.
Memories of Infant TraumaHer parents did not know what had happened to Eileen during her months at the orphanage, but Julie remembers her daughter's toddler years as being "filled with night terrors."
When Eileen was a little over three and a half, the family took her to a Chinese restaurant.
The restaurant had been built in Taiwan, shipped overseas, and reassembled in the United States, Julie said. It had a distinctively authentic Chinese feel, different from most American Chinese restaurants.
“It looked different. The food smells different. It’s beautiful,” Julie said. “When we walked in there, we felt like we were back in China."
"Mama, we are in China!’” the little girl said.
They sat down and Julie began looking at her menu. Suddenly she noticed that her daughter was staring at something across the room.
"What are you looking at, honey?"
“Mama, that’s where they put the beds for the new babies. That’s where they put the beds!” Eileen replied.
“And then all of a sudden, she wouldn’t sleep at home alone anymore. She wouldn’t even go to the bathroom without me,” Julie said. “She was terrified by whatever vision she saw.”
'They Made Me Be Good'When Eileen was five, a flight attendant asked if she wanted something to drink. Eileen replied, “Yes, may I please have apple juice?” When the flight attendant complimented the child on her good manners, Eileen said to Julie, “Well, they made me be good at the orphanage, Mama. I had to be good."
Her mother wondered at the remark. Clearly, Eileen had disturbing memories of her time at the orphanage, although she had only been an infant.
A few years later, Eileen became obsessed with finding her Chinese identity. Her mother found the 8-year-old on the computer, looking up the name she had been given at the orphanage.
"She was trying to find her family on the internet,” Julie said.
It took Julie a year to help Eileen accept the concept of adoption and understand that her adoptive parents were now her family.
“Ok, I get it. I am a Chinese princess being raised by a very nice family,” Eileen finally told Julie.
Her parents sent Eileen to a small Episcopalian grade school, where Eileen learned Chinese, Latin, and Spanish. Julie says her daughter has excellent language skills.
Danger SignsSigns of deeper trouble began in high school.
Eileen attended a high school with about 2,400 students, a much larger school than she was used to. In addition, there were very few Asian students.
According to Julie, Eileen had "a nice group of friends" her freshman year, but by the end of the year, most of them had fallen away, and “she was left with one girl, who dressed oddly for a girl.”
“I don’t care how anybody dresses, but something about this made me nervous,” Julie said. “My daughter really latched on to her.”
One day in June 2019, Eileen, who had just turned 16, suddenly told her parents at dinner that she thought she was bisexual. Julie's reaction was "Oh my God, can we not talk about this right now?"
The Struggle to Find A ‘Good’ DoctorTo clarify the situation, Julie took Eileen to a string of psychiatrists and therapists, whose comments shocked her.
The first doctor suggested that Eileen had an “identity issue” due to being adopted.
The second doctor assured Julie that she wouldn’t affirm Eileen as a boy. “But she did it anyway,” Julie said.
The third one “did the same thing,” according to Julie.
Over the course of six months, Julie went to one doctor after another, all of whom deeply disappointed her.
“They were horrible,” Julie said. “I took [Eileen] to the hospital once, and they [asked me], do you want a dead daughter or a living son?”
Julie replied, “You’ve been with my child for 10 minutes. I’ve been with my child for 15 years. I think I know my child.”
Online Friends, Bad InfluencesJulie also recalled a disturbing incident: one she considers to be a key factor in Eileen’s mental health condition.
In January 2020, seeing her daughter's mental health deteriorating, Julie began looking for clues on Eileen's cell phone.
She discovered hundreds of text messages between Eileen and a girl named MJ, whom Eileen had met on the internet.
To her shock and dismay, Julie found that Eileen had told MJ many things about her mother that, said Julie, simply were not true. She told her online friend that Julie would force her to wear corsets and dresses, make her wear pink, and would take away all her hair bands so she couldn't put her hair up.
However, MJ’s responses alarmed Julie even more.
MJ had told Eileen that her mother was “textbook abusive,” “a gaslighter,” and “a trauma bonder." "Your father needs to divorce your mother and take the children out of the house,” she advised Eileen.
“This is a 15-year-old girl telling my daughter [these things]. In other words, she is saying, ‘Your mother hates you,’” Julie said. She considered the online relationship to be a major factor in her daughter's behavior.
According to Julie, MJ also exposed Eileen to pornography and questionable websites.
“My daughter, who was only 15 at the time, was not mentally prepared to see that stuff. To me, that was abuse,” Julie said.
What Julie found the most frightening was MJ’s suggestion that the girls move to Oregon, where they could have sex reassignment surgery at age 15.
Julie found out through MJ’s Instagram account that she was taking testosterone and was raising money on GoFundMe to have her breasts cut off.
“It’s a very, very scary thing to go through as a parent, [seeing] her friends taking hormones and wrecking their bodies,” Julie said.
“One of them already had a mastectomy. The stakes are very high here, and the medical industry doesn’t care. They are making money off this. And these [people] are going to be patients for life. Many people don’t know what the drugs do to the body.”
‘Love Alone is Not Enough'Julie believed that love alone was not enough to help her daughter through her ordeal. She needed professional help.
“You have to be proactive. You have to research. And find the right people to help your child in distress,” she said.
“If my child, God forbid, had cancer. I would be scouring the earth looking for somebody to find the cure. I would not rest. And this is just the same thing. This is a child who is in distress, and I feel helpless.
“But with my faith and my brains and my husband, we work hard to make sure that we are doing everything we can to get her in a better place,” Julie said.
The sky was the limit for Eileen's worried parents.
After searching for six months, Julie found a psychologist who specialized in trauma and body dysmorphia. To her surprise, this doctor was different from the others her daughter had seen.
“She is wonderful,” Julie said. “She does not [simply] believe that kids are trans when they say they’re trans, so she’s been treating [Eileen] and diagnosed her with pre-adoption trauma.”
The doctor told Julie the traumatic events that marked the first year of Eileen's life had rewired her brain.
She diagnosed Eileen with borderline personality disorder (BPD). Symptoms of the disorder include unstable relationships, fear of abandonment, emotional dysregulation, and identity issues.
Among Eileen's BPD symptoms was identity disturbance. To illustrate, Julie said, “Two years ago, [Eileen] did a self-portrait. She had blond hair, blue eyes, a square jaw, and a chiseled chin. That’s what she thought she looked like. But in fact, she looks very Asian. She's got dark hair, dark eyes. She is absolutely beautiful.”
According to Julie’s own research and the many de-transitioners that she had spoken with, many who suffer from gender dysphoria have BPD.
Most importantly, the psychologist reassured Eileen's parents that with regular treatment, their daughter would recover.
Julie said Eileen has been seeing her doctor weekly since 2019, and her emotional health is "much better."
“She is doing well. I think she knows deep down inside she needs help,” Julie said.
According to Julie, the doctor is optimistic that Eileen will "come out of it gradually" as long as she stays in weekly therapy until her brain fully matures. Studies have shown that the rational part of the brain doesn't fully mature until around age 25.
Gender Dysphoria and Past TraumaJulie cited a Boston Children’s Hospital study that found a greater prevalence of gender dysphoria among adopted children.
“I think my daughter believes that she was abandoned [in China] because she was a girl. And that it would be better to be a boy,” Julie said.
'A Safe Place to Come Home To'Julie stressed that it is important to maintain a loving relationship with children who are struggling with gender dysphoria, and give them a sense of belonging: "Just to be loving and firm, and hope we're doing all the right things."
“[We must] understand when these kids ‘fall down the rabbit hole,’ they are told that ‘your parents don’t love you,’ ‘you have to get away from your parents.’ [As a result], they become very angry at you as a parent [and] combative, and that’s what we had,” Julie said.
“They have to know there is a safe place for them to come home to."
She believes love and determination are critical in fighting for her daughter’s well-being.
"As a parent, you learn you have to pick your battles," she said, noting that she doesn't go head to head with her daughter on some issues, but draws the line on others. She may be flexible on issues of dress right now, she says, but she will not allow her daughter to take hormones. Further, "There's no male name and no pronouns happening in my house."
“I can’t describe to you the love I have for this child. I get emotional because I love her so much. I want her to be happy,” Julie said. “And I want her to love herself for who she is and not who she thinks she is.”