Katee Churchill affirmed her child when he began exploring gender fluidity, and now, her entire life – and the lives of her children – has been upended.
New York Magazine tells the story of Churchill and her child, Finn, who, starting at three-years-old, began showing an affinity for wearing dresses and being called a princess. As he grew, he vacillated between wanting to use male and female pronouns. Sometimes, he said he was Finn. Other times, he said his name was Lisa.
Based on the advice of a therapist who specialized in gender variance, Churchill did all she could do support Finn and allow him to lead the way on who he was and how he wanted to be addressed.
But in the small, conservative region of Clare County, Michigan, this didn’t go over well. In 2014, someone anonymously reported Churchill to Child Protective Services (CPS), accusing her of child abuse and neglect.
Churchill was accused of forcing Finn to identify as transgender, as well as pretending her youngest son, Theo, had autism.
Chase Strangio, the ACLU’s deputy director for transgender justice, said it’s a common – and “absurd” – ploy to accuse gender-affirming parents of forcing transgender identities on their kids.
“The idea that people are being pressured to be trans in a world that has such unrelenting pressure to be cis is absurd,” he said. “Most of the time, what you have are parents who reject their children in one way or another for a significant period of time or take a long time to come around. You have the child resisting it internally, you have the parents resisting it, and then eventually the family comes together and says, ‘Okay, we have to support our child or the child is gonna die.’ This is usually how it works.”
Despite the fact that the children’s father, Chris, had a history of domestic violence against Churchill – and the fact that he was not affirming of Finn’s gender expression – CPS recommended the kids be placed with him. She also lost custody of her third child, who has a different father and was placed with him.
As part of the case, a clinical social worker spoke with Finn and concluded that Finn’s thoughts on gender had all been placed into his head by his mother.
A therapist, however, came to different conclusions, stating that Finn’s behavior was “not abnormal” and that his father clearly did not support his exploration of gender the way his mother did.
Meanwhile, Finn continued to fluctuate in his gender presentation, troubled not by his gender but by the conflict it caused between his parents.
Churchill got custody of her children back in 2015 when a family court judge concluded she was not abusing them. However, CPS brought on another case that would involve a jury. In a county that went 64% for Donald Trump in 2016, a highly conservative makeup of the jury was likely.
In the second trial, Churchill’s involvement in Facebook support groups for parents of gender-variant kids was used to argue that she was an activist using her kids to push her own agenda.
Despite the violent history of her children’s father, Churchill lost custody to him again.
She eventually spent three months in jail for leaving a park with her children during a visit with them. For two years, she barely saw her kids. Then out gay Attorney General Dana Nessel took office and dropped all charges and vacated the verdicts against Churchill.
However, Churchill remains on the child abuse registry, which renders her unable to work at her previous child care job. She still does not have primary custody of her kids, seeing them only every other weekend.
As Republican-led legislatures continue to fight for the passage of dangerous anti-trans bills, situations like Churchill’s may continue to become more common. Whether or not legislation actually passes, the rhetoric surrounding the proposed laws – one of which, in Texas, would have branded all parents child abusers for allowing their children to access gender-affirming health care – contributes to a culture that is increasingly hostile to trans youth.
Finn, who is 11 now, currently identifies as a boy and presents as such. He told New York Magazine, “I chose to be transgender. [My mom] did not tell me that I couldn’t be, that I had to be… Yes she might have encouraged me, like, ‘It’s okay if you are, like, I don’t really care if you are not.’ But I did choose… No one forced me.”
Finn said he tries not to think about his gender now because it makes his stomach hurt.
“I keep my mind busy so I don’t think of anything that scares me or makes me uncomfortable,” he said. “Although I still get uncomfortable all the time — I can’t block all of it out.”