From the PITT Substack:
I’m not a parent of a trans-identifying child, but for six years my brother was involved in the Satanic panic, falsely claiming “repressed memories” of Satanic abuse and Multiple Personality Disorder. There is no question that we are now living through another moral panic, this time targeting even younger people: the Trans moral panic.
Today, watching the Western world being swept up in the Trans moral panic, seeing it destroy families, jobs, and lives, I feel both overwhelmingly angry and oddly sane.
This time, I know what’s happening to the young people being brainwashed. I know how the rights of girls and women, the LGB, the disabled, and the vulnerable in our shelters, rehabs, and prisons are being destroyed by a contagious mob madness that denies science, logic, and reality.
Everyone knows someone who is going through it. And we hear of families who do, indeed, find ways to separate their children from the brainwashing, although the steps are so extreme that most families can’t manage them.
I recognize, in the transgender lobby’s attempts to label gender criticism a “moral panic,” the most amoral DARVO. The leaders of that lobby know what they’re creating. They understand moral panics only too well.
I, also, know what a moral panic is. I know how fragile the human psyche is. I know how powerful is our need to be accepted. I know how very little we actually depend upon facts or logic for our beliefs, unless we deliberately force ourselves to remain objective. And I know how the amoral among us can use our fragility and very human neediness and powerful emotions to manipulate us into a machinated mass insanity.
This has all happened before in my life, when my brother was swept up, in the 1990s, into the repressed-memory delirium of the Satanic panic. Although, only 30 years later, the story of what my family went through might seem like the stuff of fiction, the parallels to today are unmistakable. Hopefully, the transgenderism lobby will one day be viewed in the same way, as an unbelievable social contagion: the Trans moral panic.
In 1987, I was in my mid-twenties and deep in therapy. My brother, two years older, had recently moved to a different state, married, and had a child.
He and I had been very close during his late teens. I thought of him as Zonker Harris, the ultimate peace-&-love hippie of the Doonesbury cartoons. He was kind and compassionate and extremely caring toward me while I survived a very troubled adolescence. When I finally ran away from home at 17, I went to him, and he took me in.
Narcissism, Misogyny, Childhood Trauma and Mental Co-morbidities
However, my brother—always, as the only boy, encouraged by our parents and grandparents to think of himself as the most intelligent of our intelligent family—had grown up insecure and anti-social, and our unusual childhood as leftist political activists overseas had left him alone, in a family of girls, with the unique pressures of his boyhood.
Both our parents have severe narcissism and attachment disorders, and our father is chronically depressed and extremely misogynist, so our family life—isolated overseas—had been remarkably close, but traumatizing. Both my brother and I suffered from severe depression in childhood.
As a teenager, my brother had been pressured by our father not to “act like a teenager,” but to be an “intellectual,” and our father arranged for my 15-year-old brother to take the GED to get out of high school and move away to college. I often spent time with my brother at his dorm, and he told me how, as a 15-year-old, he was drawn into sexual experimentation with the young adults there.
By the time I ran away to him, he was 19 and had developed a severe intolerance for romantic intimacy. His ex-girlfriends spoke of his emotional neediness and sudden reversals into shocking heartlessness—qualities he shared with our parents.
When he moved to a new state after college, my brother dropped the atheist hippie lifestyle in which we’d been raised, as well as all his close friends. His new marriage to a narcissistic young woman brought out his own extreme narcissism. Along with his very religious wife, he embraced the middle-class lifestyle that we’d been raised to reject.
For years, he’d been struggling to separate himself from our overbearing far-left atheist father, and he knew these choice would enrage him (as they did).
It was strange to see my brother alter his personality so abruptly and drastically: from adamant feminist ally and atheist to patriarchal head of a religious household, from peace-&-love leftist activist to solid mainstream middle-class. But he seemed happy.
Now my brother and I connected only occasionally by phone.
I knew that he was involved in co-counseling, a therapy substitute in which patients counsel each other for free without professional supervision. It had been the basis of his deep bonding to his hippie friends. Like many of us on the left in the 1980s, I assumed he was looking for meaningful personal connections and a source of spirituality outside traditional religion.
However, the unsupervised delving into imagination-as-reality bore an uncanny resemblance to young people’s social media use today.
My brother’s wife was not involved in the co-counseling. She very much wanted an ordinary middle-class life based around her religious faith.
“Recovered Memories” of Satanic Abuse
I was stunned when my mother called one day in 1987 to say that my brother had announced to her and my father that his co-counseling had uncovered “repressed memories” of Satanic childhood abuse by family members.
I called my brother. Yes, it was true. He had discovered these “repressed memories,” he said, in co-counseling, and he was deeply involved in pursuing them. He asked hopefully if I remembered them too.
I was in therapy at the time, dealing with adolescent sexual abuse. But at no point had I ever imagined the abuse came from within our family. I knew who had abused me. My brother did too. Everyone in my family did.
So I had to say, truthfully, that I did not remember what he “remembered.”
I began to notice that stories of “repressed memories” of Satanic abuse were appearing in the news.
I continued to call my brother every week or two to check on him. He would tell me about the love-bombing he and his friends did, as part of their co-counseling. Every time one of them discovered a “repressed memory,” the others overwhelmed that one with affection, positive You Statements, and congratulations for such “bravery.”
Pressure to Conform
He told me in detail about his “repressed memories,” and I responded as calmly and non-judgmentally as possible. I didn’t want to call him a liar or fantasist. I believed in believing the abused. But, no matter how often he prompted me, or how many times I discussed it with my therapist, I could not honestly claim to share his “repressed memories.”
One Group Elevated Above All Others
He and his co-counseling friends considered themselves beyond questioning. Believe the abused: that was the zeitgeist at the time. Mental health professionals didn’t believe in false memories. If someone remembered it—however bizarre—it was considered true and not to be questioned, on pain of intolerable further traumatization.
I told my therapist about my brother, and when my father met her in passing one day, he asked her opinion.
“Well, we’re taught to believe anyone who says they’ve been abused,” she said. “But my personal opinion? Sounds nutty as a fruitcake.”
Loss of Reality
My brother seemed to have regressed to a child state, in which his feelings were all he understood, his new friends were the only people he believed, and adult comprehension was simply beyond him.
It was very odd to hear him, with his intellect—once always able to beat me in a logical argument—now unable to use logic or reason in our conversations. He relied on circular logic, which I easily proved false, at which he’d laugh and admit defeat.
He seemed almost proud of the loss of his ability to analyze a train of thought. Something in his life was rewarding him for dumbing himself down.
To question his “repressed memories” in any way, however, was tantamount to debating his “truth.” I knew it would result in instant and complete rejection.
Denial of Reality
Every time, as soon as I hung up the phone with my brother, I called my mother, and we puzzled over what could be leading him to sincerely believe impossible things, such as that during high school in America he’d actually been in Nicaragua fighting with the freedom fighters.
I suggested that, as he’d always been sensitive to allergies and he’d moved to the one of the worst areas for allergens, his allergies might be affecting his emotional state, leading him to try to intellectualize a cause.
Beliefs Based on Emotion, Not Fact
Over the ensuing years, I continued to call him regularly, to make sure his mental illness hadn’t landed him on the street. And I continued to call our mother every time, to tell her that he was alive and all right.
I never told my mother the details of what he told me. His claims were nightmarish and also quite cliché, involving her conservative parents and our father’s conservative brother (but not our father or any of the liberals in our extended family).
I wasn’t surprised to see my brother adhere to our family’s political split. That split had been very painful throughout our childhood of leftist activism in the 1960s, and our father had always been contemptuous of the Christianity and conservatism of his brother and our mother’s parents. (It was still a point of great irritation to our father that one of my sisters found Jesus as a teenager.)
It seemed that my brother was trying to show his allegiance to our father through his new “repressed memories.”
Rejection and Self-Isolation
My brother had no friends in his town, besides his wife and his small co-counseling group. When he’d moved to a new state, he’d inexplicably cut off all his old friends—much as we’d all been forced to cut off our childhood friendships when our parents decided to become political activists overseas. (We had all lived without friendships for years throughout childhood, and all of us later struggled with the after-effects.)
Rejection of Parents
Our mother bought a book on schizophrenia and tried to talk my brother into seeing a doctor. He responded by inserting her into his “repressed memories” of Satanic abuse.
He abruptly cut off all contact with first our mother and then (when he couldn’t go along with my brother’s accusations) our father.
Rejection of Spouse
My brother’s marriage collapsed under the weight of his “repressed memories.” His wife, whose religion didn’t allow divorce, tried desperately to believe him, but she finally said, “I’m sorry. I love you. But I know your parents, and that did not happen.”
So he divorced her.
It was, of course, a burden for me to be the only one in our family in contact with my brother. I knew he wouldn’t speak to our parents, so I asked my sisters to call him too. But they refused, saying they didn’t “feel comfortable.”
I had always been the black sheep in our family, at odds with both our parents and our oldest sister, and I could easily have walked away from them all. However, I felt deeply the severity of this situation. It was not something I could write off as “uncomfortable.”
Someone had to take responsibility for remaining in contact with our brother, if he was going crazy—if only for the sake of his young child.
My brother’s claims became wilder and more bizarre. There was incest, rape, babies ritually murdered on stone altars, our German grandfather a Nazi in hiding. (Our grandfather had never set foot in Germany, and his family had not lived in Germany for generations. He’d certainly been horrified by the Nazis.)
My brother also “remembered” certain events from early childhood that our oldest sister could corroborate, although he remembered them as intensely violent and involving knives, when they were, in fact, just our parents horsing around.
When I asked where the scars were from the horrific abuse he said he’d survived, my brother said he and his co-counseling friends believed their fear of being killed by the Satanic cultists was so strong that their bodies magically healed themselves.
This, from a young man who had majored in human biology.
No Evidence/Denial of Evidence
My brother eventually claimed to have once discovered a child sex-trafficking ring at his grammar school and burned the school down in an effort to stop it. When I asked why it wasn’t in the news, he said the police hushed it up to protect the Satanic cult.
There was no question that my brother—the idealized son and grandson, favorite child of our father, and sole escapee from our father’s misogyny—struggled with being a privileged young white male in a family of girls and leftist activism.
He must have found it easier to claim his trauma (in his mind, worse than anything my sisters or I had survived) through an official victimhood than try to claim it with nuances that our social zeitgeist didn’t recognize.
Manufactured Emotional Distress
There was also no question that he absolutely, sincerely believed every bit of his imaginary claims and that they caused him enormous emotional pain.
Multiple Personality Disorder
When my brother ran out of ways to increase the nightmare of his “repressed memories,” he began to claim multiple personalities. He sent me stories of his “repressed memories” that he claimed were written by his other “personalities.”
I recognized this writing behavior from childhood, when we’d often consoled ourselves—in our isolation overseas—by writing stories together in the voices of our characters.
Multiple Personality Disorder was very much in the news then, following the success of the 1976 television movie “Sybil.”
Denial of Biological Sex
When I told my sisters that one of his “personalities” was a lesbian, they laughed uncontrollably.
My brother began to bounce from job to job. No one was good enough to him. Cooperation with others seemed beyond him. He felt embittered and alone.
He eventually gave up trying to work for others and began advertising himself as a handyman and therapist, although he had no training or experience in either. (This was legal in my brother’s state, at the time.)
Naming Others the Enemy
My mother called to say that my brother had written to our grandparents, accusing them of unspecified abuse of him and acts “against God.” Our grandparents knew that our father had always demonized them to us (especially to my brother) as conservatives; but now they couldn’t sleep for worrying about him.
I called my grandmother and explained my theory that he might be suffering mental illness caused by allergens.
She asked, in anguish, “But what does he think we did to him?”
I told her it could be as trivial as tying his shoes too tight or cutting his sandwich the wrong way. Whatever his mental or emotional problems, she had not caused them.
(Years later, I found his letter among my grandmother’s effects, after she died without ever getting a chance to speak to her grandson again. It was an appalling letter, but fortunately made no mention of Satanic abuse.)
After about five years, I was once traveling through my brother’s town, and his ex-wife agreed to let me spend the night with her, so I got to see the now-seven-year-old child. She also agreed to let me call my brother and ask him to meet me at her house.
My brother had become romantically involved with one of his fellow co-counselors, and she came with him to meet me, but stayed in the car. He and I sat on the porch while he told me all about how their small group of co-counselors had taken over a local Alcoholics Anonymous group and changed the rules to encourage cross-talk. When the other members objected, my brother and his friends called the police and “blew the whistle on them” as Satanic cultists. Eventually, the other two young women dropped out of the co-counseling group, leaving only my brother and his girlfriend. Now they planned to marry.
When my brother abruptly got up and said good-bye, I stood on the front step watching him walk away and burst into tears. He was getting into the car when his girlfriend spoke to him, and he returned. We put our arms around each other, and I sobbed uncontrollably.
It was the last time in my life that he silently acknowledged what we had once meant to each other.
My brother’s ex-wife entered a custody dispute with him over their young child and asked if I would testify in court that my brother was unfit for custody. As much as I hated to do it, I said yes. I was working with abused children at the time, and his wife and I were the only people not involved in his co-counseling who knew the contents of those “repressed memories.”
(Luckily, that never happened—she obtained sole custody from the court, although my brother had regular overnight custody.)
One day when I called my brother, his child answered and asked who I was. When I explained, the child said, “Oh! You’re the people who did bad things to me.”
I was trained in responding to disclosure from an abused child, so I answered with sincere concern, “What? Who did bad things to you, sweetheart?”
The child immediately switched context, I followed the child’s lead, and the child handed the phone to my brother.
(Many years later, I learned that my brother had been in the habit of waking the child in the night throughout childhood, saying, “The bad people are coming for us,” and bundling the child into the car to a secret location.)
After six years, my brother became increasingly suspicious of me. I had uncovered no “repressed memories” of Satanic abuse—although I was in hypnotherapy—no matter how many times he prompted me. Clearly, this meant I was secretly allied with the Satanic cultists.
One day when I called, my brother instantly hung up on me.
So I knew I had also been inserted into his “repressed memories.”
That summer, 1992, my brother called our father on his birthday and said, “I think I’ve made a big mistake.”
After six years of hell, my brother suddenly and inexplicably no longer believed he had been raised in a Satanic cult or had multiple personalities. He wanted to return to the family with no questions asked, as though the past six years had never happened.
Our parents agreed.
Overwhelming Need for Validation
I learned from my mother how my brother gave up his “repressed memories” of Satanic abuse and his “multiple personalities.”
He and his girlfriend—apparently bored, without anyone left to share their “repressed memories”—decided to join a church. They went to the church leaders and told them their story of Satanic abuse and multiple personalities. The church leaders said, “Yes, you can join our church. But only if you admit that you made all that up, and you never see each other again.”
And that was it: six years of intense manufactured emotional distress and undebatable beliefs about Satanic abuse and multiple personalities gone. Instant recovery.
Over time, they asked the church for permission to meet for coffee, then dates, and eventually they married, dutifully attending the church and disowning their “repressed memories,” as the church required.
Their overwhelming need for outside validation was, apparently, satisfied by the authority the church leaders held over them.
Soon after, my brother called me and forbid me to tell our parents any of the nightmarish things he’d made up about them. I said I wouldn’t have anyway, because they didn’t need that ugliness in their heads, but not because he forbid me. He was just my brother.
He hung up coldly.
And that was the end of my brother’s relationship with me.
The Aftermath: Return to Family of Origin
That was 1992. It has now been decades since all this happened.
My brother has remained a church-going Christian and, I believe, become a political conservative. (He’s certainly found a way to separate from our father.)
My brother and his new wife had a child and continued to live their lives around their extreme narcissism. They moved to the Deep South to follow a new church, then back again. His wife spent a year in bed with a mysterious ailment. He eventually divorced her and quickly married a much younger woman from his church. He is now a grandfather. I know nothing else about his life. Although he stays in touch with our parents, he has no contact with me at all.
I’ve returned to my role as the black sheep of a deeply dysfunctional family. My parents and sisters have virtually no contact with me, although they are in full contact with my brother, and none of them will talk about what my brother did.
My oldest sister cut off all contact with our father after discovering her own “repressed memories” of incest (although she shows no signs of PTSD in his presence, only a strong desire to annoy him). Having once laughed uproariously at our brother’s claim to be a lesbian, she is now a gender identity counselor.
During those dark years of my brother’s involvement in the Satanic panic, my grandparents and I were extremely frightened and confused, unable to explain what was happening to him. We didn’t know anyone else going through that. We thought he was losing his mind.
Once, I spoke with the mother of my brother’s new wife about it—a perfectly normal mother, not at all like my own dysfunctional family—and she too was baffled by what her daughter claimed to “remember.” None of us had any idea how to handle it.
It was only years later that I saw the media acknowledge the moral panic that had swept the Western world and the extent of the damage to families, jobs, and lives. Now, of course, that moral panic has been analyzed and named: the Satanic panic.
I believe that the current Trans panic, like all moral panics, will end.
I believe reality will return to our zeitgeist, and the amoral who are machinating this moral panic will be forced to find some other resource to exploit.
I believe that those who have rejected their families will return to them.
I believe the madness will subside.
But this Trans moral panic will leave an enormous legal mess to be repaired, and the crippled bodies of its young victims in its wake.