Did you need a “safe file”?

When I’m hosting a seminar on gender questioning, gender variant, and transgender youth, probably the one item met with the greatest degree of shock is the concept of the “safe file.” Parents supporting their children–that is, not subjecting them to discipline or psychological torture–in their gender questioning process are often met with specious accusations of abuse. The “logic” is that gender variance doesn’t exist, so any child exhibiting it (or even thinking about it) must be, by definition, an abused child. The safe file is the parents’ one stop shop for all their documents proving the child’s health and, if relevant, their gender dysphoria diagnosis, and it’s necessary to argue to the State that you are, in fact, doing what the medical consensus says supports your child best. It’s only necessary because the bigots take their “won’t anybody think of the children” shriek to meatspace, and report these families to children’s services.

Now, it would be bad enough to report someone for not torturing their kid, but the scary part is that family court has occasionally concurred. An Alberta family judge ruled that a parent’s custody was contingent on ruthlessly policing what their child wore, and this ruling was not overturned for half a year, and only came after the mother was unjustly stripped of custody. Mermaids UK has also covered British examples where single-mothers following the medical consensus had their custody stripped under arguments as ridiculous as “your child can’t be a trans girl, he likes Spongebob,” and explicitly mandated conversion therapy should the child ever question their gender again.

So this isn’t small shit. These specious accusations can and will ruin a kid’s life, and no, this isn’t hypothetical either. The people making these reports are matched in the self-righteousness only by their sheer ignorance, but so deep does cissexism run in our society that children’s services and family court collaborate without being asked.

Now, I knew this was a possibility all along. In fact, when I do trainings or speak about transgender children and youth I often bring up the fact that parents are encouraged to have a “safe folder” filled with documents attesting to their child’s good health, gender expression and identity, and their good parenting in case someone reports them for abuse. People are almost universally shocked when I share this piece of information. They are shocked anyone would report a family for supporting their transgender child, and they are even more shocked that we would need documents to help prove our child is who they deeply know themselves to be.

They are more shocked than I expect them to be, because we live our lives in a day to day fight with this kind of thinking and hatred so much so that it becomes normal. Parents who support their trans kids are vilified across many circles. Usually it’s the mother’s fault. It’s her own mental illness, it’s her need for attention, it’s munchausen syndrome by proxy. Misogyny runs deep. Not every trans kid has two or any supportive parents, let alone two supportive parents who happen to be straight, cisgender, white, Christian and highly educated. Not every trans kid is neurotypical, white, economically secure, English speaking, or fits neatly into the gender binary. Kids and families who are not protected by these pretty little white picket fences of privilege are most at risk, and the results can be devastating.

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  1. anat says

    The woman in the cartoon reminds me a bit of my parents. I got gushing emails about what a great mom I was to ‘deal’ with my transgender child, emails that had the sub-text implying I was some kind of saint, doing something unusual that they couldn’t possibly see themselves doing in my place. There is a reason my son is avoiding them.

  2. says

    Misogyny runs deep.

    Hmmm, my first thought was “I’m wondering how often this is used by the non-supportive father against the supportive mother”, which seems to be like all the anecdotes I know of. It also goes along with child custody when the mother accuses the father of abuse where “b’tches be lying” seems to be the new standard of evidence.