18 months ago, my then 21-year-old son announced to me that he thinks he is transgender. Since he was fairly distraught over it, my initial response was to embrace him and tell him I would love him no matter what – I do.

But, back up about a year and he had been battling stage IIA testicular cancer, had already had an orchiectomy, and was facing yet another difficult treatment. He had two recurrences requiring a dangerous and complicated surgery called open RPLND – lymph node removal from his abdomen, leaving him with a garish abdominal scar stretching from his breast bone to his pubic bone.

The second recurrence necessitated further chemotherapy (he had already had 4 rounds of platinum-based chemo in 2020-21), but this time it was to include stem cell transplants. He got through it all and has been cancer free for a year now.

But soon after that first revelation, he was very distraught and facing the second recurrence and a tough treatment. This was trauma. His oncologist and his therapist agreed that this resembled a trauma response, since he had said “my balls tried to kill me” and he desired to “lose the cancer kid identity and trade it for a new one.”

He was likely already sterile from the platinum chemo and maybe felt he didn’t have much to offer a female partner. During the two-year battle, all his school friends had faded away not knowing what to say. Even some of the online ones did as well, since he was left with permanent hearing loss that made it difficult to engage in team gaming (shooter) events.

Around the same time, he had told me of the anime p*rn influences and online communities like Tumblr, Reddit, and Discord especially, where he got the idea that what he was feeling necessarily meant that he was transgender. Over the past three years, I have put a lot of miles on my car, driving my son to dozens of oncology appointments (3 hours away) and chemotherapy infusions (100 miles away), and even driving halfway across the country with him to get expert treatment, and over those miles, we had done a lot of talking.

Building a closer relationship (realizing I have always been a helicopter mom), I’ve had to really be careful about boundaries while at the same time, being a listening ear since he has never had a significant relationship–male or female.

In the past 3 years and all our talks, as well as through doing research, joining Facebook groups, and asking questions, I now believe he is one of those with autogynephilia (AGP). He now admits his reason for wanting to take hormones is so that he will grow boobs, and that it is sexual in nature. He has not presented (except, he later told me, locked in his room with a skirt, tights, and prosthetic breasts) not demanded a name change or alternate pronoun use.

My husband and I have told him we cannot financially support this path for him because we fear it will harm his physical and mental health and put him at further risk. He is 23 and currently saving to pay off his car and then saving to move out on his own. He has put the hormones onto the back burner and has decided to pursue schooling for the next two years.

I am hoping this gives his brain time to complete the development of its prefrontal cortex and enable critical thinking, or that I will have the opportunity to go over the informed consent so that he knows all the risks of starting HRT (genital atrophy, diminished sex drive, loss of the ability to orgasm, emotional issues. He already has been diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety, but refuses therapy.

I am super concerned about HRT for him due to his increased risk of liver damage (he already has a damaged liver from the chemo), increased risk of developing autoimmune disorders (which already run in the family, myself and his sister both have them), increased risk of a secondary cancer like lymphoma or leukemia (from the chemo), or breast cancer from the estrogen, or a recurrence of the testicular cancer – he is at 20% risk of that).

We have told him to watch a Ritchie Herron video or two. If the AGP experts are correct and this is akin to a sexual orientation like [being] gay or bisexual, rather than a fetish, then possibly it is something he was born with, but he definitely learned to act on it from online influences. He is an adult and I can’t really prevent him doing it; I can only influence him and maybe get him to put it off.

My concern is that he has shame and self-hatred, or even internalized misogyny or homophobia and that these feelings have made him feel depressed and anxious about his sexuality and his body. And of course [my concern is] that the hormones will damage him permanently and make him more unhappy than he is now. I want him to learn healthy coping skills, but he is resistant to therapy and psych medication.

My husband feels the same as me–we will love him no matter what, but his sister is devastated that she nearly lost her baby brother to cancer, to only now lose him to the crazy transgender train. She wholly rejects that he is transgender, as do I. So, that’s our story.