Child Custody’s Gender Gauntlet
Transgender ideology has already achieved a powerful hold on our court system—and parents and children are paying the price.
Before she decided to strip him of all custody over his son, Drew*—before determining that he would have no say in whether Drew began medical gender transition—California Superior Court Judge Joni Hiramoto asked Ted Hudacko this: “If your son [Drew] were medically psychotic and believed himself to be the Queen of England, would you love him?”
“Of course I would,” the senior software engineer at Apple replied, according to the court transcript. “I’d also try to get him help.”
“I understand that qualifier,” Judge Hiramoto replied. “But if it were—if you were told by [Drew’s] psychiatrist, psychologist that [Drew] was very fragile and that confronting him—or, I’m sorry, confronting them with the idea that they are not the Queen of England is very harmful to their mental health, could you go along and say, ‘OK, [Drew], you are the Queen of England and I love you; you are my child and I want you to do great and please continue to see your psychologist.’ Could you do that?”
“Yes,” Hudacko said. “That sounds like part of a process that might take some time, sure.”
“What process?” Judge Hiramoto said. “What is the thing that might take some time? Accepting the idea that [Drew] occupies an identity that you believe is not true?”
“The identity you just mentioned to me was the Queen of England,” Ted began. “I can tell him and I can affirm that to him, to reassuring him situationally; but objectively, he is not the Queen of England and that won’t change, and even the therapist in that case would know that.”
The then-54-year-old father of two teenage minor sons (Drew is the elder) felt that he was walking into a trap. For Ted, precision is not merely a requirement for his job but almost a constitutional necessity. His recall of every fact, date, and filing of the complicated court proceedings involving him and his ex-wife is astoundingly accurate—the sort of feat you might expect from a brilliant lawyer, not a distraught father battling the legal system alone for his son.
But at this point in the child-custody hearings, Ted couldn’t understand what the judge wanted from him. His soon-to-be-ex-wife, Christine, then an executive at the investment firm BlackRock, had already agreed to shared custody of their younger son; no one—not even this judge—seemed to believe that he was anything like an unfit father.
Ted isn’t a particularly devout Episcopalian, and he describes his politics as libertarian. He’s athletic, health-conscious, and takes a keen interest in his sons’ talents. He coached their baseball teams and researched conservatory programs for Drew, already an accomplished pianist. Just one year earlier, Ted had been one-half of a Bay Area power couple with high-status careers and precocious kids. Now, he was one-half of a contentious divorce, presided over by a judge who was referring to Drew as “they” and pressing Ted to accept that his 16-year-old son was actually a girl.
“And do you think that being transgender is a sin?” Judge Hiramoto asked, according to the transcript.
“No, of course I don’t think it’s a sin.”
“So you don’t think that it’s a sin. But you probably think that [Drew], if they are truly transgender, you would prefer that [Drew] not be transgender because in our society transgender people are the subject of a lot of discrimination. Would you agree with that?”
“I agree that transgender people suffer some discrimination and prejudice. I agree with that,” he said.
“I’m sort of going off the parallel experiences that I’ve read about or heard in family court or in family law classes for judges where gay children come out to their parents,” the judge said. “And sometimes it is difficult for the parents because they believe that the identity of being gay or lesbian, in their religion, is a sin. And then some people don’t feel that it’s a sin, but they say—they take a different angle, and they say, I just would prefer my child not to be gay or lesbian because they suffer so much discrimination in our society.
“So I’m sort of asking these parallel questions to see what is your—what I see in the papers is that you think that [Drew] is not truly transgender and that they are merely confused and—”
“He might be transgender,” Ted said. “He might be.”
“Okay. So if [Drew] might be transgender, it’s just to say they might.”
Ted realized his error and corrected himself: he had used the “he” pronoun because he remained deeply skeptical that the boy he’d coached in little league—the son he’d once seen crushing on a cute girl in his fifth-grade class—was actually a young woman.
“They might be,” Ted said. “[Drew]—they might be. Might be. We don’t know.”
While trying to keep an open mind about Drew’s gender, Ted was adamant to the judge that he did not want Drew to begin medical transition. In the 312 days since he had last seen his boy, Ted had done a lot of research on medical transition and gender dysphoria. He begged the court to consider research that suggested puberty blockers could impair cognition and diminish bone density. He knew that Drew, if administered puberty blockers along with estrogen, would be at high risk of permanent infertility. He wasn’t even sure that his son had gender dysphoria. He wanted to see his son—and he wanted this bullet train to slow down.
“It sounds to me that you would prefer that [Drew], when all is said and done, is just going through a phase. Is that a fair assessment?”
Ted evaded the question. Did he prefer that his son avoid a medically risky regimen that would render him permanently infertile and make him a lifetime medical patient? Wouldn’t anyone?
In the three years I’ve spent writing about families with transgender-identifying minors, the story of Ted Hudacko stood out as a case study of how gender ideology has infiltrated family law. It also frames the unintended consequences of medical professionals’ fudging science, rewriting medical definitions, and tolerating shoddy research to placate activists. At each stage, doctors may have thought: Where was the harm? And so, as a consequence, judges now decide the fate of children and their families based on phony, medically unsubstantiated metaphysics, as if it were factual that all adolescents have an immutable, ineffable “gender identity,” knowable only to the adolescents themselves.
On June 24, 2020, following her discussion with Ted about the Queen of England hypothetical, Judge Joni Hiramoto granted Christine sole legal custody of Drew on a temporary basis and approved the shared legal and physical custody arrangement of their younger son. She assured Ted that her order was not yet permanent. Judge Hiramoto had decided to order the appointment of a minor’s counsel to investigate how the boys were faring before making any permanent decisions. She already had the perfect person in mind. “I actually know of one who was previously appointed by the court, by a different judge, on a case involving children that were allegedly transgender,” she said. That minor’s counsel was attorney Daniel Harkins.
Ted didn’t know it yet, but the appointment of Harkins would place the final nail in the coffin of his parental rights. Within just a few months, the court would definitively end Ted’s parental relationship. He would have no right to see Drew, no right to talk to him, no right to demand that Drew attend therapy with him, and absolutely no right to stop a medical transition already planned by the Child and Adolescent Gender Center of UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital.
And finally, the court also felt that Ted had no right to know that Judge Hiramoto had a transgender child of her own, whose gender transition she had publicly supported. No one disclosed this information to the parties.
I first spoke to Ted in May 2021, after Judge Hiramoto—following the recommendation of minor’s counsel—had stripped him of all custody of Drew. Ted was leaning heavily on support groups just to get himself through the day. He compared himself to the morose Edward Norton character from the movie Fight Club, who attends multiple support groups to relieve his depression and insomnia. “I’m in six support groups,” Ted said, laughing a little at himself.
Ted estimated that he had spent only 75 minutes total with Drew in the previous 12 months. His wounds were raw. Part of him wanted to blast his story across America, but he also worried that he might lose any remaining chance to see his son again if he did so. He had dismissed his attorney, who had failed to restore any of Ted’s rights, notwithstanding $25,000 in legal fees. For four months, Ted had been representing himself in court, filing motion after motion, attempting to terminate the appointment of the minor’s counsel (denied), pleading the court for more access to his son (also denied). The man I spoke to was distraught, half in shock, like someone arriving home from work to find his house being bulldozed.
The whole notion that Drew might be transgender still seemed bizarre to Ted—a fantasy told about someone else, bearing no connection to him. Even his divorce still seemed more like a nightmare than waking life. Sure, Christine had been distant in their marriage for some time, Ted told me, but that was easy to explain: for more than a year, she had been distracted by tragedy. In 2018, Christine’s sister had been stabbed 23 times at her workplace by her own estranged husband, who had recently been discharged from an inpatient mental-health facility. Christine spent the next year shuttling from the Bay Area to upstate New York to aid her sister’s recovery and provide evidence to strengthen the district attorney’s attempted murder prosecution. For the sentencing phase of the criminal trial—in June and July 2019—Christine stayed on the East Coast with both boys.
Ted was then fully preoccupied with a grueling six-week project for Apple. He hadn’t slept well in weeks, he says. On a Saturday in August 2019, shortly after returning from upstate New York with the boys, Christine walked into Ted’s home office and announced both that she was leaving and that their son Drew was transgender. By his own admission, Ted became angry. He believed Christine must have talked Drew into this during their weeks together in upstate New York. Ted says he begged to have this conversation after he had gotten some sleep. But Christine walked out, taking the kids to stay with her at a neighbor’s house.
“Saturday, when she left, I was under the impression, mistaken impression, that, you know, she simply temporarily left,” he said. “You know, maybe going out to get some fresh air or to just get, you know, give us some space or maybe even have gone to see a movie. I just went upstairs. I didn’t get up till the following morning.”
Court documents reveal Ted’s struggles with the court-appointed minor’s counsel, Daniel Harkins. No part of his tragedy is more Kafkaesque.
Harkins met with both boys, interviewed Drew’s therapist and both parents, and conducted two 90-minute interviews with Diane Ehrensaft of the UCSF Benioff Child and Adolescent Gender Clinic. Harkins also did some research on Ken Zucker, the Toronto-based psychologist and gender dysphoria specialist whom Ted preferred. Harkins never spoke with Zucker.
Zucker is arguably the world’s leading expert on gender dysphoria. He oversaw the writing of the entry of the condition for the DSM-5, the most recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. He also helped write the most recent final “Standards of Care” guidelines for the World Professional Association of Transgender Health. (New final standards are forthcoming.)
Zucker is a practitioner of “watchful waiting,” a method of exploratory therapy that considers gender as only one component of what may be causing a child’s distress. Watchful waiting, to its proponents, is the more prudent approach to treating gender-dysphoric minors, as it recognizes that over 70 percent of kids with gender dysphoria typically outgrow it. In 2015, Zucker was fired from his clinic following an activist-led campaign to purge Canada of psychologists who opposed immediate “affirmation” and transitioning for kids experiencing gender dysphoria. (The hospital that fired Zucker and shuttered his clinic later publicly apologized to him and paid him nearly $550,000, plus legal fees, for having smeared him and misrepresented his work.) Put simply, Zucker’s approach directly contradicts the “affirmative” approach now in vogue, which places gender-dysphoric minors in the driver’s seat of their own diagnosis and treatment. Harkins’s preferred expert, Diane Ehrensaft, is a leading advocate of the affirmation-only approach, and Harkins appears to have accepted her views as dogma.
By contrast, Harkins dismissed Zucker as a crank. “His views are controversial, and I have been informed are discredited in the psychological community,” Harkins wrote. As for Zucker’s approach—an attempt to encourage a child to grow more comfortable in his body by using psychotherapy to explore all his sources of distress—Harkins expressed concern that “his approach is a step away from what is referred to as conversion therapy, if not in fact conversion therapy.” That Zucker oversaw the writing of the very clinical definition of “gender dysphoria” that Harkins cites as authoritative in his report, Harkins does not mention.
Ted also supplied the court with an article by journalist Jesse Singal that explained Zucker’s work and told the story of the activist mob that claimed Zucker’s job. Harkins appears to have been unmoved: “Mr. Singal is clear that he is troubled by transgenders. He refers to Zucker’s work frequently in his articles. He has been criticized as trans-phobic. It is difficult to see why a journalist’s opinion should be given much weight,” Harkins wrote. Instead, Harkins seems to have uncritically adopted the view of a gender-medical provider who has staked her career on the existence of ineffable genders—the incongruence of which with biological sex can only be rectified through a combination of affirmation, hormones, and surgery.
Ted lost his cool during their interview, according to Harkins: “During the interview, with his attorney present, Father became very upset and stated that 5 years from now when [Drew] realizes he is [sic] mutilated himself, he will have to be there to pick up the pieces—not minor’s counsel.”
Ted’s outburst might strike many parents as reasonable. Who was this guy, freshly on the scene, to decide whether Ted could ever see his kid again and what pieces of Drew’s anatomy should be surgically removed? But Harkins read between the lines and discerned in Ted the wrong view of gender identity—namely, that it might not be immutable: “This is indicative of father’s view of [Drew’s] gender identity. It also gives us an insight as to his view in general about transgender people. He simply does not see this as a viable alternative. He is very frustrated that he has not been able to express all these ideas directly to [Drew].”
Based on the lengthy minor’s counsel report, Harkins gave Ted’s parenting a failing grade: “Father has not been accepting of [Drew’s] status as transgender. He has been quite clear that he does not accept that [Drew] is in fact transgender.”
It’s possible that Harkins has never met a father so “wrong” in all his views as Ted Hudacko. “Father has requested that a parental alienation assessment be performed by Dr. Craig Childress. First, it needs to be pointed out that parental alienation is not a proper or accepted term. The appropriate term is alignment. This means the child has aligned themselves with one parent and against the other.”
As for Ted’s proposal that a psychological expert in “parental alienation” compel Drew at least to talk to his father, Harkins can only tut-tut: “It is unfortunate but it appears that father is willing to use coercion in an attempt to force [Drew] to have a relationship with him instead of trying to accept [Drew], offer them unconditional love and listen to what he wants.”
Even Ted’s withdrawal from a 529 education-savings account to pay for Drew’s prep school tuition becomes, in Harkins’s report, further proof that Ted was “willing to use punitive measures to [sic] for [Drew] to communicate with him on his terms.” In Harkins’s book, Ted could simply not stop failing. “He is also not looking at [Drew] as an independent person.” Drew was 16 at the time.
Harkins seems to have been offended by Ted’s suspicion that Christine had influenced their son’s new identity or turned Drew against him. Harkins wrote in his report: Ted “questioned whether [Drew] wrote communications to him because of the sophistication of the language,” according to Harkins’s report. “[Drew] confirmed he wrote those communications. He had some help on the grammar but the thoughts are all his.” Harkins might have asked: Grammar help from whom? And was it help of a “not ‘there’ but ‘they’re’ ” variety, or more like, “Move over so I can type”?
Either way, Harkins crowned Christine the winner of the parenting contest and Ted the sore, mixed-up loser. “[Drew] is an independent very bright young person. Facing gender identity issues is difficult. I don’t think anyone who has not gone through this process can truly understand how difficult it must be the feel [sic] that you are on [sic] the wrong body and you are willing to go through painful surgery to correct the problem. [Drew]’s mother has given him unconditional love. She reports when she asked father if he could give [Drew] unconditional love and he stated that he did not know what that was.”
Summarizing matters as a gender-ideology-addled King Solomon might have, Harkins wrote: “These parents have a choice, they can either continue to believe that they should be in total control of their child’s life or they can come to an understanding that those days are past and they need to work with their children and give their children some independence and the ability to make some of their own decisions.” With the help of gender doctors who will profit handsomely from the procedures, of course.
Harkins’s judgment was swift and ironclad: mom should retain full legal custody on a permanent basis and provide Ted updates, at her discretion, regarding matters that affect Drew’s health, education, and welfare. Drew would commence hormone therapy, as directed by USCF. Judge Hiramoto made all this official. The only right that Ted seems to have retained is the power to prevent Drew from undergoing “any gender identity related surgery” before he turns 18, absent agreement of both parties.
In October 2021, Ted was stunned by a $209,820.34 charge on his insurance statement. When he wrote to Christine, she confirmed that a puberty-blocking implant had been inserted in Drew’s arm months earlier and that Drew had begun a course of cross-sex hormones. The combination—if not soon stopped—would likely sterilize Drew. No one had asked Ted’s permission for the procedure or even informed Ted of what had been done.
Ted responded to this news with a flurry of e-mails to Christine’s attorney. He told Christine’s lawyer that the medical procedure was in violation of a court order, and Christine was risking being held in contempt of court. A day later, Christine’s lawyer filed a request for a Domestic Violence Restraining Order against Ted, alleging that he had spoken to his ex-wife “menacingly” at their younger son’s football games. Ted was served with the temporary restraining order; California law now required him to relinquish all his firearms within 24 hours or potentially face felony charges. He quickly complied.
“It’s like being a Rodeo clown or being a professional wrestler,” Ted said to me recently, over the phone. “It’s like, ‘OK, now let’s watch Ted get body-slammed. Now watch Joni Hiramoto put him in a headlock.’ Now, for my next trick!”
Overwrought and perhaps a touch reckless, Ted joined the Apple Slack channel devoted to “trans kid parenting” and shared his outrage and concern about his son’s medical transition and the risks involved. The other members chastised him and reported Ted to “Employee Relations,” known everywhere else as “HR.” Ted now worries for his job.
As for Judge Hiramoto’s potential conflicts of interest, a check of social media reveals the following: On October 1, 2019, on a post of her biologically male child dressed in earrings and makeup, Judge Hiramoto comments: “Proud to be your mom.” In May 2020, one month before Ted and Christine Hudacko appeared in court, Judge Hiramoto’s son celebrated on Instagram his one-year anniversary coming out as a transgender female. On July 3, 2020—after Judge Hiramoto had entered her first provisional order granting Christine full custody, her transfeminine son posted on Instagram: “This is my first time wearing a bikini.” Judge Hiramoto commented: “Beautiful!!”
On February 7, 2021, in another post of her transfeminine child in eye makeup and nail polish, holding up a sea urchin, Judge Hiramoto commented: “That mussel linguine was absolutely delicious! Thank you my darling daughter!!”
On February 9, 2021: “Love the colors and make up!!” And on February 20, 2021, on a post of her adult biological son made up in makeup, lashes and jewelry, with hashtags “#transisbeauatiful” and “#girlslikeus” and “#transvisibility,” Judge Hiramoto writes “Sweet!” followed by clapping hands, heart-eyes, and fire emojis. (Judge Hiramoto posted no comments on the several photos in which her kid appears in bondage gear.)
On her own Facebook page, on June 27, 2015, Judge Hiramoto reposted her picture with the Pride flag transposed over it. And in November 20, 2020, in response to California congressman Mark Takano’s post in honor of “Transgender Day of Remembrance,” Judge Hiramoto wrote: “Thank you for speaking up for those who face some of the harshest prejudice in our society.” (I reached out to Judge Hiramoto, minor’s counsel Daniel Harkins, and Christine Hudacko for comment; none of them responded to my e-mails.)
Whether one believes that Hiramoto’s social media posts constitute admirable or appropriate parenting is irrelevant to whether any of these created a judicial duty to recuse or a duty to disclose. Without mentioning Judge Hiramoto’s name, I consulted two judicial-ethics experts to determine a judge’s specific ethical duty under the circumstances. Both experts agreed that while the duty to recuse is hard to establish, the duty to disclose is much broader. “The general rule of thumb with disclosure is that a judge should disclose to the parties anything that the parties would be likely to find relevant to the question of whether or not they should be seeking to recuse the judge,” said Richard Flamm, author of the legal treatise Judicial Disqualification: Recusal and Disqualification of Judges. I asked him whether, in a custody case in which parents were fighting over whether to transition a minor son, the judge’s having a transgender son of her own was something the parties were “likely to find relevant.”
“Yeah, I mean, don’t you?” Flamm said. “I think most people would think anything is relevant if it’s on the same subject matter. So, I gave the example before of a judge who’s been an accident victim presiding over a case involving a car accident—should disclose it. A judge who’s had a child who was molested, if she’s presiding over a case in which one of the parties is accused of molesting somebody’s else child, she’d probably disclose that because the parties would find it relevant.”
Judge Hiramoto may have had an ethical duty to disclose these facts to the parties. But the more I delved into the case, the more I realized that gender ideology has already achieved a powerful hold on our court system. It’s possible that almost any family court judge, with or without a family conflict of interest, could have reached the same conclusions.
At a February 2017 conference of the United States division of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (USPATH), an attendant asked two of the gender doctors—University of Southern California pediatrician Johanna Olson-Kennedy and Brown University professor of pediatrics Michelle Forcier—whether there was a way legally to compel parents to medically transition their children. “Even if you get a court order, the most protective factor for a good outcome is parental support. So it’s not my first line to go to the court to get [a pediatric patient] what they need. But it is my second line and I will do it.”
“There’s no precedent” for legally compelling parents, Forcier agreed. “But you can again work with the child protection team for medical neglect. Work with one parent, at least to get things started. And again, you can do some education.”
In fact, Forcier added, “We did education with judges in Rhode Island. We spent half a day with family court judges, telling them this is what gender and transgender is.”
The efforts of gender activists to educate family law practitioners have borne fruit. In another family court case in Arizona, parents lost custody of their troubled 15-year-old daughter when they refused to agree that she was, in fact, a boy. I spoke to the family lawyer involved in that case, Vernadette Broyles, who managed to obtain from the judge the court-wide “training” sessions she had received on transgender youth. The list, which I obtained, included four separate presentations by activists during the previous two years, in addition to lunch meetings hosted by the “LGBTQ Court-Involved Youth Committee.” There is no indication that any of this judicial “training” included hearing from a single de-transitioner—that is, one of a fast-growing movement of young people who already regret their hasty medical transitions—nor from any of the parents who have watched their teens’ lives made worse by a sudden gender swap, nor a single psychologist or psychiatrist who maintains skepticism about quick adolescent medical transition as a remedy.
“The problem is, when it’s a court-wide training, even if you file a motion to recuse that particular judge, you have no guarantee that you’ll be able to get in front of any judge that will give you impartial justice,” Broyles said.
Judge Hiramoto referred twice in the transcript to the things she had learned in “judicial college” and “family law classes for judges.” One thing she learned, it seems, was to refer to all adolescents whose gender identity is at issue as “they/them”—whether or not the gender identity was in dispute. Another thing Hiramoto learned, according to the transcript, was that gender, like sexual orientation, is immutable. Several times she pressed Ted, in several ways, on whether he could accept Drew if it turned out that Drew was “truly transgender.”
This is gender ideology—the belief, not backed by any meaningful empirical evidence, that we all have an ineffable gender identity, knowable only to us. This identity has no observable markers, and it is immutable (until the moment we change our minds and reveal ourselves as “gender fluid,” of course). It is promoted by virtually every practitioner of “gender-affirming care,” it is unfalsifiable, and its hold on our legal system is gaining ground.
After years of lobbying by gender activists, the International Classification of Diseases (ICD), Tenth Revision, which went into effect in January of this year, eliminated the term “gender dysphoria.” This standard international textbook of disease renames the condition “gender incongruence,” and reclassifies it under “sexual health.” The psychological symptom—“distress”—no longer appears; according to the most authoritative diagnostic text used by doctors the world over, a once-mental condition is now just a physical one. One might forgive courts for assuming, then, that a physical problem must have a physical solution.
Courts are adopting this view and seeing a child who has a feeling of gender dysphoria as no different from one born with a cleft palate. From this perspective, the only relevant question in a custody dispute involving a transgender-identified minor is: When will you allow him to get the necessary surgery to fix his body? Once a court swallows gender ideology, in other words, judges will believe that the only thing left for a loving parent to do, after an adolescent announces a trans identity, is shuttle him to the doctors who will alter his body and contribute clapping-hands emojis to the photos he posts on Instagram.
As for the doctors and mental-health providers opposing the dogmatic insistences of gender ideology masquerading as science, only a handful are willing to write and fight under their own names: Will Malone, Julia Mason, Patrick Lappert, Paul Hruz, Dr. Paul McHugh, Dr. Stephen B. Levine. And, yes, Ken Zucker. The rest work anonymously, through new organizations that have not yet managed to loosen gender ideology’s grip on the courts.
In January 2021, Judge Hiramoto transferred from Family Court of Contra Costa to the Criminal Division. For a year, Judge Wendy Coats presided over the Hudackos’ ongoing proceedings. Last Friday, Ted and Christine appeared before their new judge, Benjamin Reyes II. At issue: the temporary restraining order against Ted.
According to several witnesses, Judge Reyes commenced proceedings by stating his pronouns.
* The name has been changed for this article.
City Journal is a publication of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research (MI), a leading free-market think tank. Are you interested in supporting the magazine? As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, donations in support of MI and City Journal are fully tax-deductible as provided by law (EIN #13-2912529).