I’m going to make a lot of people mad at me. Yup. Right here and right now. I won’t just make a lot of anti-transgender people mad at me like I usually do. I’ll make a lot of trans activists mad at me, especially those fanatically opposed to medical gatekeeping, also like I usually do.
This past week, a notable British anti-transgender organization Transgender TREND released a booklet described as a “resource pack for schools” titled “Supporting gender non-conforming and trans-identified students in schools.” 1
A great many articles can be written concerning the many points in this “resource pack,” in fact far more than what could be included in an article such as this one. As an American, I cannot assess many of the issues concerning “gender clinics” in the United Kingdom and would invite other writers, most particularly in the U.K., to write concerning them to Trans Muse Planet. I cannot personally verify what may be happening or not happening. Some of the claims are quite worrisome.
Do I believe this resource pack is biased? Certainly I do. Are there errors? Definitely. From a philosophical perspective, I cannot generally recommend this “resource pack” because it was written to advance the agenda of Transgender TREND.
I also acknowledge that not everything written in this booklet is incorrect or bad. This booklet needs to be recognized as indicative of social change and increased caution on the part of opponents of transpeople. After all, if laws have not been employed the way they have, the issue of trans kids would not be taken any more seriously than this writer’s gender issues growing up in a religious school in the 1960’s and we would never see a booklet like this distributed.
But if we’re to fairly assess the claims of this “resource pack,” we must consider ourselves including confirmation bias that typically lurks within strong partisanism. That includes the partisanism of trans activists. It’s part of keeping a level head. Our approach to questioning the questioners isn’t just a matter of questioning the writers of the booklet. It’s a matter of questioning our own claims when we do so.
TRANSPHOBIA AND THE RIGHT TO QUESTION
Is it that the motto “Parents questioning the trans narrative” must be transphobic? Nope. At least it’s not transphobic on its face and some trans readers will immediately fume at me for saying so. After all, we transpeople question our own narratives all the time as well as others who may be considering transition. In fact the more experienced among us do challenge gender identity claims precisely because we don’t want others to suffer what we have suffered over the years and decades.
In fact the more we question whether transition is correct for any of us individually, the better. It’s all part of the process of “informed consent” as the more liberal approach to assessment and treatment and it shouldn’t be hurried. How can we condemn parents for posing challenges concerning their children’s’ prospective transitions when we do as much for adults? We can’t, at least not ethically.
But consider how I described it as not “transphobic on its face.” Something may not be transphobic on its face but may be intended to undermine those kids who do prove to be genuinely trans. There’s the real worry here and that demands we consider the context of the booklet.
Supporting gender non-conforming and trans-identified students in schools is chiefly directed toward religious instruction, whether as a religious school or a school with a religious liaison. Consider this passage:
“Ensure that staff maintain clear boundaries in their role as educators and use the school’s established pastoral care and safeguarding policies as reference points”2
Pastoral care, most particularly as concerns the Church of England which dominates many educational institutions in the U.K. has offered mixed acceptance of transpeople, and this appears to be more the case in the United States than in the U.K. where relations with the Roman Catholic Church are closer, an entity whose leaders have had their own war of words against transpeople.3 Of course, not all schools in the U.K. are run by the Church of England. Attitudes toward transpeople vary by denomination and some are openly hostile toward transpeople.
One who is a pastor isn’t automatically excluded from the right to question whether approaches to trans kids may be correct. Developing approaches should have critical review. It only becomes a problem if it’s done from the position of intending to ultimately quash the existence of the demographics of trans and gender non-conforming peoples.
We also find these comments from a teaching pastor:
“Until 2015, we did not have a single child who identified as transgender during their time in school…
“I deal with incidents of bullying on a regular basis and I have noticed that there has been a significant increase in the use of sexist and homophobic language in school. Because of this, it has been a long time since a child came out to me in school that they are gay, lesbian or bisexual; these labels actually seem quite old-fashioned amongst the students now. Instead, children that I suspect might be LGB are most likely to come out as trans which is much more fashionable and means that they are far less likely to be victimised, [sic*] as being trans carries so much power. Our transgender children are very confident when discussing issues related to their identity and challenging their peers and teachers…
“The Tavistock Clinic says that not all children who are referred to them will be put on a medical pathway, but we, as teachers, are supposed to treat all trans students as if their trans identity is legitimate.4
Indeed, all trans students should be treated as if their trans identity is legitimate… with the caveat that it may take years for that to be fully confirmed. Decades ago we as trans students didn’t announce our gender issues because we believed transition to be impossible and that we are forever cursed because of our dysphoria while others would be exonerated for attacking us while using slurs like “faggot”. Many of us wish we had transitioned at an earlier age but simply didn’t see it as a possibility. It’s a different age now.
The timeline cited by this unnamed teaching pastor coincides with proliferation of reading material about transgender kids. The book I Am Jazz was published in 2014.5 The story is about a young Jazz Jennings who stated that she knew she was a girl ever since she could “form coherent thoughts.”6 Jazz has continued to advocate for the rights of trans kids today.
But it’s easy to see how people might ask when presented with the kinds of statistics as in this booklet, “What’s going on here? That many being sent to gender clinics with a rise in regret?” 7 It should be explored with hard data, much more precise than what this booklet presents. After all, if a “gender clinic” is cranking out a large percentage of cases headed for detransition, they aren’t doing assessment and education properly. This should be examined by a neutral third party and Transgender TREND isn’t such an organization.
We must consider carefully concerning unintended consequences of how gender identity issues are presented. Trans identity deserves to be honored. So do the identities of those gay, lesbian, and bisexual. Are kids in the U.K. being hurried into a transition program, circumventing who these kids really will become?
We would be arrogant to presume it can’t be the case. Anything pertaining to kids has to be approached slowly and with a great deal of care.
This writer recalls one family in Glendale CA (who have since moved away) in which the husband was a pre-operative male-to-female transsexual and the wife a cis-gender bisexual dominatrix. Their 8-year old child came out of the apartment one day claiming to be transgender. After all, a transwoman lived in the home and transpeople filled out their circle of friends. The child had positive feelings about transpeople and that’s a good thing in itself. But this took the issue to another level.
What did these parents do? They told the child it was too early to make that kind of decision. They didn’t confirm or deny that the child could be trans. They recognized that transition can’t be approached on a whim and that a child’s social connections to transpeople aren’t the same thing as being trans. They also recognized much more than the child the enormity of commitment demanded of a transperson.
The booklet quoted this from a statement attributed to the Lesbian Rights Alliance, but double-footnoted as appearing in The Telegraph about brain science:
“There is no acknowledgement or support for these young lesbians in schools and no funded youth groups for them outside of school, although there are many funded trans youth groups. We have been in contact with some of these young lesbians, who have told us about the pressures on them to define as men and who would have transitioned if they had not found lesbian feminist groups. We have also been contacted by female detransitioners who now define as lesbian. They deeply regret the harm to their bodies inflicted by sex hormones and having double mastectomies. They question how they were allowed to receive this medical treatment so young. They tell us if they had been supported in school or by lesbian youth groups they would never have transitioned. Research with young female to male trans has indicated that 95% are same sex attracted indicating the deep homophobia of the trans agenda. This must now be addressed in guidance to schools.”8
It’s a serious charge from a purportedly lesbian source. If indeed, kids are being pressured to transition early with insufficient counseling to allow any version of informed consent, not only may individuals become improperly funneled into a course of transition but such an allegation threatens to further drive a wedge between the already rocky alliance between transpeople and those who are gay and lesbian. It may become in itself a violation of human rights in our name and possibly even so a backdoor means of discrediting transpeople.
We cannot ignore the possibility of improper treatment based upon an ethic of automatic acceptance only. Again, we need to hear more from those in the U.K. who have participated in the gender clinics whether the remote effects are good or not. We actually need to hear from both, with examination of statistics that are only beginning to emerge. Unfortunately, this booklet only offers the testimony of those who detransitioned: labeled Kate, Paul, Gill, and Jessie.9
Presenting only one side in a booklet like this is a clear indicator of bias, and an example of card stacking, a technique of propaganda commonly employed by parachurch organizations and religionists generally.
A DANGEROUSLY MIXED MESSAGE
The booklet does recommend relaxing rules regarding gender expression.10 We welcome this. Many items in this booklet would be welcome by trans activists including:
- Providing storybooks and factual books about real people who challenge gender stereotypes
- Desexualizing toys
- Acknowledging kids for non-stereotypical attributes
- Inviting adults to speak who defy gender expectations
- Allowing boys to take female roles and girls male roles in performances
- No tolerance for use of terms like “girl” or “girly” as insults implying weakness or lesser status
- Pointing out examples of sexism in literature
- Teaching the difference between sex and gender.
- Treating homophobic and lesbophobic bullying as abuse11
But then what is regarded as the difference between sex and gender? The booklet uses these definitions in a manner to falsely indict the trans position:
“Children are confused by the conflation of the terms ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ which are used by transgender organisations [sic] as if they mean the same thing, or are inextricably linked. It is important to acknowledge the biological sex distinction between boys and girls but relax the divisions based on gender, both in practical school policies and in general school life, PSHE classes etc.
“Sex: Male/Female XY or XX chromosomes, biological sex and reproductive organs which cannot be changed (note: under 1% of children are born with a biological intersex condition, this is unrelated to transgender)
“Gender: Masculine/Feminine Societal expectations of behaviour, [sic] aptitudes and appearance depending on sex, which change from culture to culture. Gender or sex-role stereotypes
“To believe that your ‘authentic self’ is split off from the body (in the form of a brain‑based innate ‘gender identity’) results in a mind‑body split which is recognised [sic] as an indication of mental ill‑health. The body becomes the enemy. Good mental health is also characterised [sic] by the ability to accept reality. Encouraging children to feel comfortable in their own (sexed) bodies entails creating a culture of respect for the body and what it is capable of, respecting boundaries and differences and fostering bodily integrity. This is especially important in the teenage years when adolescents are developing sexually.”12
The charge that trans activists conflate “sex” with “gender” is blatantly wrong. Trans activism has recognized these differences:
- Sex: Physical sex characteristics which may or may not align with a chromosomal dichotomy of XX and XY, a chromosomal dichotomy which naturally doesn’t exist for everyone.
- Sexual Orientation: The sex to which one is attracted.
- Gender Identity: The internal construct of gender, acknowledging gender itself being a social construct and this usually aligns but does not necessarily align with sex.
- Gender Expression: How one expresses gender which may or may not be indicative of gender identity.
What Transgender TREND has done was couch an old claim often charged upon transpeople in a language that feigns acceptance. It does so without any outside reference to support the claim: that anyone who transitions is mentally ill, incapable of accepting “reality”. It’s a position they consider self-evident. It’s an appeal that, if not restrained by human rights law, would result in full ostracism, incarceration, and extermination.
This belief logically demands another: that even after transition, a transperson is mentally ill. There’s no allowance for any exception, except to detransition and become a good little church-going paws. But even if one does comply with such an agenda as this, suspicion will always follow those known to have transitioned.
So while claiming to offer support to transpeople, the philosophical undercurrent of this booklet gives its readers the impetus to do the opposite. It becomes a mixed message that says, “Don’t bully. But it’s okay for you to have your reasons to do so.”
This directly conflicts with the following statement:
“A ‘watchful waiting’ approach which neither ‘affirms’ a child as the opposite sex, nor shames a child into changing their behaviour, [sic] gives a child the acceptance and the space to develop without undue influence from adults in either extreme direction.”13
If this booklet were followed, the “watchful waiting” approach will never genuinely happen, but will always meet careful denial, simply because it amounts to waiting for an opportunity to delegate a persisting child into psychiatric oppression.
A FALSE CHARGE REGARDING GNC PEOPLES
Another blatantly wrong statement appears thus:
Transgender organisations [sic] use the term ‘trans and gender non‑conforming people’ as if those two things are synonymous. Extreme gender non‑conformity in childhood is more predictive of gay or lesbian sexual orientation in adulthood, a transsexual outcome is much less likely.14
Exactly which transgender organization uses “trans” and “gender non-conforming” synonymously? Such has never been the case with any organization this writer has known. While definitions have changed over the years, gender non-conforming people have been regarded as a subset demographic under the transgender umbrella in the past, as evident from this influential San Francisco document from before the time “gender non-conforming became an accepted term:
“‘Transgender’ is used as an umbrella term that includes female and male cross dressers, transvestites, drag queens or kings, female and male impersonators, intersexed (sic) individuals, pro-operative, post-operative, and non-operative transsexuals, masculine females, feminine males, all persons whose perceived gender or anatomic sex may be incongruent with their gender expression and all persons exhibiting gender characteristics and identities which are perceived to be androgynous.”15
It was the concept of “perceived gender” that has driven the initial change in California law in the form of AB 196 which passed in 2003, giving the first recognition of the civil rights of transpeople in that state. It’s a matter of how others perceive the gender of another, not simply one’s perceptions concerning himself/herself/eirself.16
While this version of “transgender” enjoyed broad acceptance by civil rights activists, it wasn’t considered precise enough for scientific inquiry, leading to a definition of “trans” as becoming synonymous with “transsexual” ( pre-operative or post-operative, with continuing debate over whether non-operative individuals conform) but not synonymous with those gender non-conforming. It’s a redefinition that has driven an even deeper wedge between transsexual and transvestite.
THE NEED TO QUESTION
But it’s interesting that this purports to represent people concerned about gender non-conforming kids becoming gay or lesbian. It may be true that they will tend toward some form of homosexuality or bisexuality and that identity deserves to be honored, not covertly denied. The booklet does cite this study from 2011: “Steensma et al. ‘Desisting and Persisting Gender Dysphoria after Childhood‘” that would deserve closer scrutiny in a future article, especially concerning it’s methodology and assumptions:
“It is estimated that 95% to 100% of girls who transition during adolescence would otherwise grow up to be lesbian.”17
However, partisans (especially religious partisans) have long taken a hostile posture toward gays and lesbians. Such religionists would accept this booklet because they consider it useful, not because they genuinely care.
Another study cited in the booklet from 2017 in The Journal of Adolescent Health deserves attention: “Rapid Onset of Gender Dysphoria in Adolescents and Young Adults: A Descriptive Study” by Lisa L Littman. The article alleges undue influence through social media and Internet.18
This writer supports social media interaction between transpeople and the public. Online friends are good to have. That’s part of ambassadorship. But the phenomenon of “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria” as described, if indeed this is the case, demands that counselors take much greater care in counseling kids. It also demands of us who are transpeople to take a neutral position concerning whether questioning people are trans or not and offer to them other possibilities. It’s part of social responsibility.
It means looking past just the sites to which Transgender TREND directs the reader:
It means getting multiple opinions, knowing that those who don’t want the inquirer to look any further than themselves have an agenda. Anyone considering the issues of identity needs a party with no stake pro or con. Anyone who refuses to consider pros and cons has degenerated to an unhealthy partisanism.
Yes. We should question. We should all question. Not only do correct treatments depend upon it, human rights depend upon it. That includes questioning the questioners.
It includes questioning one-sided positions. One-sidedness makes for good selling. But it isn’t good science and it doesn’t promote compassion for fellow humans. The booklet Supporting gender non-conforming and trans-identified students in schools is clearly one-sided, a proselytizing tool funneling people into its own training program.20
This is where the booklet can become insidious. By putting on the face of compassion, it not only serves to give people reasons to summarily disqualify trans and gender non-conforming individuals from their own integrity and promoting training to further make that happen. Instead of a “holistic approach,” the approach really appeals to majority “norms” to ultimately undo advances already made. The questioning done today would become once more, “be as you’re told.”
After all, when it comes to existential matters, each person must do this individually. Everyone has a fundamental right to transition, detransition, and even re-transition. But that right also carries responsibility, including where it evokes the wisdom not to do so unless the prognosis is a favorable one.
This article is an op-ed and does not necessarily represent the view of others at Trans Muse Planet.
*It should be noted that many of the British spellings are not considered correct in the United States.
Featured Image: the background motif of the booklet Supporting gender non-conforming and trans-identified students in schools (This booklet was issued without copyright for free distribution)
- Supporting gender non-conforming and trans-identified students in schools: resource pack for schools (Transgender TREND, accessed February 14, 2018) www.transgendertrend.com
- Ibid, p. 7.
- Lynnea Urania Stuart. “Francis’ Mixed Message” Transpire (August 11, 2016, accessed February 15, 2018) https://lynneauraniastuart.wordpress.com/2016/08/11/francis-mixed-message/.
- Op. cit., p. 19.
- Herthel, Jessica; Jennings, Jazz; and McNicholas, Shelagh. I Am Jazz (2014) Dial Books. ISBN: 0803741073, 978-0803741072
- Jennings, Jazz. Being Jazz: My Life As a (Transgender) Teen (Crown Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, NY, 2016) ISBN: 978-0-399-55464-3, p. 1.
- Transgender TREND, p. 5.
- Ibid, p. 22. The questionable reference is “brains-claims-neuroscientist.html” http://www.cps.gov.uk/northwest/working_with_you/hate_crime_schools_project/schools_project___lgbt_hate_crime; Verite M (2016) ‘The Surgical Suite: Modern-Day Closet for Today’s Teen Lesbian’ in Barrett, R (ed) Female Erasure. Tidal Tide Publishing LLC.” An attempt to find the reference yeilded an error.
- Ibid, pp. 16-19.
- Ibid, p. 13
- Ibid, pp. 14, 15.
- Ibid, p. 13.
- Ibid, p. 24.
- Ibid, p. 12.
- Human Rights Commission. Compliance Guidelines to Prohibit Gender Identity Discrimination: San Francisco Administrative Code Chapter 12A, 12B, and 12C; San Francisco Municipal/Police Code Article 33 (December 10, 1998) p. 3.
- The author, who contributed her own efforts in 2000, has closely followed the progress of this California civil rights legislation as it unfolded. Lynnea Urania Stuart. “California’s Trans Rights Collective” Transpire (June 6, 2016, accessed February 15, 2018) https://lynneauraniastuart.wordpress.com/2016/06/10/californias-trans-rights-collective/.
- TransgenderTREND, p. 43.
- Ibid, p. 45.
- Ibid, p. 10.
- Ibid, p. 47.