An Open letter to MPs on the UK Gender Recognition Act

Dear MP,

As a parent of a transgender child I wanted to write to you ahead of the upcoming review of the Gender Recognition Act, to emphasise the importance of care and respect in any debate on this topic.

As you will be aware, the 2010 Equality Act already provides legal protection for girls like my daughter. My transgender daughter already uses girls’ changing rooms, girls’ bathrooms, attends school as a girl, attends the girls only Girl Guides, plays for her girls’ football team. She is accepted and seen by everyone in her life as a girl. She faces the same discrimination and sexism as other girls, in addition to the discrimination and hate she encounters for being transgender.

As a concerned parent of a transgender daughter, I want safety and protection for all women and girls (including for my daughter). Yet I am aware that there are a small group of people in the UK arguing that rights and respect for my daughter come at the expense of rights and respect for other women and girls. This is simply not true. This ‘protect women and girls’ argument has in the past been used to dismiss the rights of other minorities and is now being rolled out to argue against transgender rights.

Many of the arguments being put forward about the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act are not relevant to that Act, but are attacking rights already guaranteed by the 2010 Equality Act. Arguments bring up ‘monster’ scare stories about the new Act letting men invade women’s spaces, arguing that it is a threat to women’s and children’s safety. This ignores the reality that transgender women have always used women’s changing rooms in the UK (with no harm to anyone), and the 2010 Equality Act already guarantees their right to do so.

The current Gender Recognition Act already allows legal gender recognition without surgery or without imposing a stereotype of what a woman or a man should dress like.  A reformed Act would simply make it easier and more dignified for transgender adults to change their birth certificate – a change that has no bearing on ability to change passport, or change gender marker in systems including education, sport, or the NHS, areas where a Gender Recognition Certificate is not in any case needed. The proposed reform to the Gender Recognition Action would enable legal self-identification rather than the current humiliating, time-consuming, bureaucratic and expensive process.

Self-identification has already been adopted for 2 years in Ireland, with take up by only 240 individuals, with zero significant impact on non-transgender people. My daughter is not an adult and this change would have no direct impact on her until she reaches adulthood – but the upcoming review of the act is relevant for her right now in two important ways.

Firstly, a streamlined and less pathologised approach to Gender Recognition sends out an important message to her that she lives in a country where the government respects her as a valued human being. Reform of this Act sends out an important message to an ill-informed public that my lovely daughter is not someone to be feared, is not a threat, is not mentally ill, is simply a girl who is a member of a very victimised and vulnerable minority who needs love, respect and acceptance.

Secondly, the upcoming debate about the Gender Recognition Act is of current relevance to my daughter because she notices and is affected by any discussion on transgender rights. Debates such as the reform of the GRA provide a platform for transphobic individuals in the UK to raise their powerful voices. For me as a mother, at this point in time, the outcome of the reform of the Gender Recognition Act is less important than the way in which the debate is conducted.

Transphobic groups are trying to set the tone for this debate. They are trying to feed an ill-informed general public and media with ignorant lies about transwomen and girls being a threat to other women and girls. They argue that improving rights for transgender girls like my daughter risks damaging the well-being of other women and girls. These messages are insidious and cause tremendous damage to my daughter’s safety, happiness and well-being. Please bear in mind that the girls who are most vulnerable in this whole debate are transgender children like my daughter, who just want to find space in this society to quietly live their lives.

Please do not give credence to arguments that suggest a gain in rights and respect for a tiny and very marginalised minority reduce rights for other women and girls.  I am a mother who cares deeply about the well-being of women and girls, and rights are not zero sum.  We all benefit from an inclusive and respectful society, a society in which my daughter, all women and girls and all transgender people can thrive.

I am currently very protective of my daughter’s confidentiality (given the amount of hate that is directed towards transgender children and their families), hence this email is sent anonymously. However if you would like to know more about transgender children like my daughter, please reach out to Mermaids, the UK’s leading support organisation for transgender children and their families. CEO@mermaidsuk.org.uk

Please also see the following useful resources:

On self-identification and a reformed GRA
https://nutlgbtexec.blogspot.co.uk/2017/08/statement-on-gender-recognition-act.html?m=1&fref=gc&dti=627122064058158

http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2017/07/26/what-will-actually-happen-if-the-uk-adopts-a-self-declaration-gender-recognition-law/?fref=gc&dti=627122064058158

On transgender children
http://assets.hrc.org/files/documents/SupportingCaringforTransChildren.pdf?fref=gc&dti=627122064058158

http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2016/02/24/peds.2015-3223?fref=gc&dti=627122064058158

Warm regards,

Loving parent of a wonderful girl (who happens to be transgender)

 

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The Reality behind the Myths about Trans Children: An Interview with Truth & Tails

Vincent-the-Vixen-2Hey there loyal reader,

We were recently interviewed by the lovely Truth & Tails, after they had read our blog and sent us a copy of their book ‘Vincent the Vixen’ which explores trans issues from the perspective of a gender questioning fox.

In the interview we share our experience of raising a Trans child, including advice for other parents, some myth-busting about the realities of transgender children, and the reasons for starting this blog.

You can read the interview here: Truth & Tails Interview

 This blog has been verified by Rise: R4c1d40dc407da1a0ac3a1e615a7f7e16

About Truth & Tails:

Truth & Tails are a publisher who aim to write stories for young children in a straightforward, sensitive, and easy way. They seek to explain difficult concepts like feminism, racism, gender, and sexuality to children, and believe in the strength of stories to help children  grow up with a sense of understanding, empathy, and acceptance of those who are different to them.

 

 

 

A plea for better transgender research on the perpetual myth of ‘desistance’ and the ‘harm’ of social transitioning

desistance-is-futile

Parents of transgender children search high and low for evidence to guide them on how to best support their child. Clear evidence is rare, with the majority of the available research being of dubious quality.

Despite the poor quality, and low relevance, of much of the older academic literature, writers continue to refer to  this and use it as evidence for sweeping and unjustified claims relating to transgender children, particularly relating to ‘persistence’ and to the potential harm of early social transition.

A new paper on this topic was published in 2016 (Ristori and Steensma – Gender Dysphoria in Childhood).

This paper, at first glance, looks to be a very recent overview of the evidence. However the article is based on no new research, instead it uses a number of older studies on which to base its conclusions and recommendations on transgender children.

As a parent of a transgender child, I’m familiar with the older studies that are summarised in this new paper.

The majority of the listed studies (whose conclusions inform this 2016 paper) were published prior to 1988, namely Bakwin 1968; Lebowitz 1972; Zuber 1984; Money and Russo 1979; Green 1987 etc. These papers were based on data from even earlier (50’s, 60’s, 70’s), collected at a time and in a social context so very different from the present, in an era when the day to day experience of being a transgender child was unrecognisably different to how it is in contemporary Britain.

These studies were undertaken in a context where transgender identities were viewed as ‘pathological and delusional illnesses’ to be ‘cured’ and in a context where any form of gender non-conformity was rejected (e.g. the focus on ‘the sissy boy syndrome’). Significantly these studies made no effort to distinguish between gender non-conforming and transgender children.

For these reasons, studies on children published prior to 1988 are not a strong guide for how to best support transgender children three decades later and can be discarded as evidence.

Only three of the listed studies were conducted post 1988.

Two of these were Canadian studies conducted under the leadership of Zucker: Drummond et al 2008 – Zucker is one of the co-authors – and Singh 2012.  Singh is a protégé of Zucker and based this publication on data collected by Zucker.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18194003

https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/bitstream/1807/34926/1/Singh_Devita_201211_PhD_Thesis.pdf

If you’ve done even cursory reading on the subject of transgender children you’ll probably be aware that Zucker’s approach, once the accepted mainstream, is now widely discredited. Those of us who care deeply for the well-being of transgender children have significant reservations about anything he has shaped. His recent statement “if your 4 year old said they were a dog would you feed them dog food”, has done nothing to help us feel our child’s best interests are his concern. At long last even the academic establishment have begun to turn their backs on him. At the recent US-WPATH convention, Zucker’s first speaking slot was disrupted by a protest and walk-out, and the second was cancelled, with the US-WPATH organising committee apologising for having invited him in the first place.

There are many, many problems with Zucker’s approach and his data, and it is clear even from his own publications that his studies lumped together children who were non-conforming and those who were transgender (with Zucker not distinguishing between the two, as he did not, and does not, really believe in the existence of transgender pre-pubertal children). Many children in his samples were below threshold for diagnosis of Gender Identity Disorder (GID).

Zucker’s data is highly suspect, and not useful in guiding parents on how to best support transgender children. It can safely be discarded as evidence.

A brief note on Gender Identity Disorder, or GID. This was a measure that was used to diagnose children and distinguish them from those who had no discomfort with their sex at birth. Note that Gender Identity Disorder is itself a contested concept. For many, being transgender is not a disorder, and increasingly it is being removed from psychological text books – these papers use the term GID, and it makes sense to use the same terminology here, if only as  useful shorthand, however that doesn’t mean we like or support the acronym or the concept of diagnosis -in fact the opposite.

In this new Ristori and Steensma 2016 paper we are therefore left with just one study post 1988 that does not rely on Zucker’s data, namely Wallien and Cohen Kettenis 2008. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/23449293_Psychosexual_Outcome_of_Gender-Dysphoric_Children

Like many fellow parents, I have read this Wallien and Cohen Kettenis 2008 study closely (and also much of Steensma’s PhD which looked at the same data available at http://dare.ubvu.vu.nl/handle/1871/40250). The abstract for the 2008 paper states that the study found a 27% persistence rate. I like to look through the actual data (presented in a clear summary table in the main article of the Wallien and Cohen Kettenis 2008 paper). I was surprised by what I read.

They started with a sample of 77 children.

19 of these children were not classified as reaching the criteria for GID to begin with.

Interestingly zero of the children from this non-GID group (not transgender to begin with group…) were transgender at follow up. It is not at all surprising to me that children who were referred to a gender clinic for non-conformist behaviour but did not meet the criteria for GID would not end up transgender later on. It is surprising however that this conclusion, that is clear in the data table (zero percent of non-GID children end up as transgender), is not mentioned once in the paper or in the abstract. Seemed strange to me to omit this obvious finding. The only reason I could think of to avoid mentioning this clear finding is if the author wanted to lump together non-GID children with GID children in their analysis.

There were 58 children in the original sample who were assessed as meeting criteria for GID at the start. From this sample, 16 were not contacted, leaving 42 children who could be traced. 6 were unwilling to be interviewed but allowed their parents to be interviewed – the study adds these to the desistance group based on very unsound reasoning (it states that since the demographic of this sample of 6 matches the demographic of the desister sample (in terms of nationality, family income) these 6 can be added to the desister category. This assumption lacks both logic and research ethics, so these 6 need to be omitted.  That leaves 36 children (both with GID at the start and willing to be interviewed later on) upon which the study needs to rely.

From these 36 children, 21 were counted as persisters. 15 were counted as desisters. We can do some very basic math on this. 21/36 persisters, 15/36 desister. This study shows that for children reaching criteria for GID, 21 (58%) persist and 15 (42%) desist. Yet this 58% persistence figure, that appears very clearly in the data table, is not mentioned anywhere in the paper or the abstract. Nor is this 58% persistence statistic mentioned at all in the recent 2016 paper that uses this paper as evidence.

In a later follow up study on the same cohort, researchers found that some of the supposed ‘desisters’ had re-entered the service at a later point and so were not really desisters and that the persistence rates found ‘would likely be higher in reality’. So this study itself suggests a persistence rate of higher than 58%.

Given how clearly the two above conclusions are in the data table (zero persistence rate amongst children who were not classified as GID to begin with, and 58% persistence rate in children who were classified as GID to begin with) I was astonished that this paper could be published in a reputable journal without the peer reviewers or editor asking the author why they omitted these two findings and instead reported a 27% persistence rate (which can only be deduced if you include the children who were not GID to begin with in the sample and if you assume the children who were not contacted or unwilling to be interviewed were all desisters). Perplexed by this I looked up the journal, and saw that this article appeared in a special edition with the editorial by Zucker. You couldn’t make it up.

Certainly these studies listed in the 2016 paper provide no conclusive evidence that consistent, persistent, insistent transgender children are likely to desist. In fact the best of these bad studies does not support desistance at all, but instead clearly showed a 58% persistence rate).

Yet this 2016 paper does indeed use the percentages in this range of outdated and unreliable research studies to draw strong conclusions stating confidently that “the conclusion from these studies is that childhood GD is strongly associated with a lesbian, gay, or bisexual outcome and that for the majority of the children (85.2%; 270 out of 317) the gender dysphoric feelings remitted around or after puberty”.

For children who are consistently, insistently and persistently stating a clear transgender identity, the available research simply does not show “that for the majority gender dysphoric feelings remitted around or after puberty”. This is very poor research and analysis – our transgender children deserve better.

The best that an ethical and responsible researcher should conclude from the available studies is that there is a lack of effective research data available, and further research (that clearly distinguishes gender non-conforming from transgender children) is desperately needed.

Another subject that this 2016 paper focuses upon is the different options for how to best support transgender children, including consideration of a gender affirmative approach (the approach clearly endorsed by the leading US pediatric organisation). Here the 2016 paper quotes a finding that appears time and again in recent academic publications – the concern that socially transitioned children (who haven’t had permanent medical interventions) would be traumatised if they needed to later transition to a natal gender identity. The 2016 paper states that “the fact that transitioning for a second time can be difficult was indeed shown in the qualitative study by Steensma et al. (2011) where children who transitioned early in childhood reported a struggle with changing back to their original gender role when their feelings desisted, with the fear of being teased or excluded by their peers reported as the main reason for this”. This conclusion, which is the key listed reason to avoid a gender affirmative approach, is based on a single study.

This study by Steensma, included discussion of two natal girls who had not at any point socially transitioned to male – the two girls had changed their gender role and adopted less feminine clothing, but neither had changed their name, neither had changed to a male pronoun, they had not told their classmates they identified as male, they had not told classmates to call them a boy – in short they had clearly not socially transitioned. The trauma that is reported occurred when they changed their behaviour or gender role back to a more stereo-typically female behaviour/role/clothing and was not linked to ‘transitioning’ back to a female identity (they could not transition back since they did not socially transition to male in the first place).

It is unethical for the original piece of research (again by Steensma) to quote this as an example of the harm of social transition, and it is lazy and unethical of later researchers (like this 2016 paper) to quote Steensma’s finding without re-examining the original case. There are now hundreds (or thousands perhaps) of socially transitioned children, and parents are regularly being told that our children would be harmed if they needed to later (before medical intervention) transition a second time. This advice is based on the irrelevant conclusions of a tiny sample within a study made up of flawed data. The conclusion simply has no relevance on social transitioning.

Caring parents of transgender children are desperate for clear evidence on the pros and cons of different approaches, and are of course interested in issues including the likely persistence rate (for children who are consistently, insistently and persistently stating a transgender identity to start with) and also the potential harm if socially transitioned children needed to later (pre-permanent medical intervention) transition again. On these issues families with transgender children are greatly let down by the available academic research.

Criticisms of often mentioned 80% desistence figures have been written numerous times in blogs, presentations, conference seminars and non-academic publications.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brynn-tannehill/the-end-of-the-desistance_b_8903690.html

https://gidreform.wordpress.com/

http://transadvocate.com/the-new-york-magazine-lies-to-parents-about-trans-children_n_18875.htm

http://juliaserano.blogspot.co.uk/2016/02/placing-ken-zuckers-clinic-in.html

http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2016/01/14/what_alarmist_articles_about_transgender_children_get_wrong.html

However correct and damning, these critiques in non-academic publications appear to hold little influence on those medical professionals whose opinion shapes the care that transgender children receive (at least in the UK context).

We need a clear critique of the current evidence (and how it has been and should be interpreted) to be written by an academic and published in a respected peer reviewed journal. Until that happens, parents of trans children will continue to have deeply flawed ‘evidence’ (like this 2016 paper) foisted upon us.

I know some researchers out there are very aware of the lack of effective evidence on persistence and outcomes for transgender (as opposed to non-conforming) children. Such researchers are undertaking much needed new research – which will be extremely useful to families in future decades.

To help parents and families right now, we would much appreciate a peer-reviewed journal article clarifying why this new research is so very much needed, and why the studies listed in this 2016 paper are not an effective evidence base on which to ground strong conclusions on likely desistence and harm of social transition.

An Open Message of Solidarity to Parents of Trans kids in the USA

Yesterday our family watched in sadness and fear Trump’s callous and cruel actions against transgender children.

We, and fellow parents of transkids in the UK wanted to reach out in solidarity with parents of transkids in the US, to let you know that we are thinking of you, and to send you words of love and strength and support from across the Atlantic.

Some of the battles we face are different; many are so very similar. Most importantly we share in common our pride and admiration for our amazing transgender children. They deserve so much better than they are getting at the moment – we can, we must, and we will change the world, to make sure that the struggles our children face today will be resigned to history books by the time they reach adulthood.

The world is gradually moving in the right direction. For so long the USA (in some areas) has been ahead of the UK, a beacon of what we can hope for in terms of acceptance, affirmation and support for transkids. Clearly Trump now is trying to move the world backwards, but this tide is not going to turn. Together, with courage, love and support we will continue to change our world.

We were particularly moved to reach out by words of fear and sadness from three brave and truly inspirational parents of trans children – Debi Jackson, Marlo Mack and Ron JR Ford (the former two speaking together on the phenomenal ‘How to be a Girl’ podcast and the latter speaking about his daughter from the steps of the Whitehouse). All three of these courageous and ground-breaking parents mean such an indescribably great deal to our family. They have put themselves out there (and in a way that we have felt unable).

We came across these inspirational parents at a time when our own family was questioning if, and how, to accept our young transgender daughter and we were desperately searching for answers and knowledge that couldn’t be found in obsolete psychological journals. From half-way across the world, the experience of these families and their children almost exactly mirrored that of our child. We no longer felt like we were alone in the world. It was their lived example, and shared stories in podcasts, blogs, videos, and interviews, which gave us the necessary confidence to support our daughter and fight for her right to be accepted for who she is. It also helped us to search for others closer to home where we found support from the amazing parents in Mermaids UK.

Deciding to accept and support our daughter was, in hindsight, so clearly and obviously the best decision ever. Our trans daughter is now the happiest, most confident and care-free child, so different from her life before.  We truly don’t know if we could have found the strength to do this without the example set by the three of you and your families, who had trodden that very same path before us and made the way that much clearer.

From the bottom of our hearts, Thank You, for all that you do. From the two of us, and from all the other parents of trans kids in the UK we appreciate you; we are indebted to you; we stand by you; we are so proud of you and to the US #transkids superheroes including Jazz Jennings and Gavin Grimm who are role models to our child.

While we all felt alone once, know that you will never be alone again. In this defining battle for civil rights in the 21st Century, we stand shoulder to shoulder, fighting for our children on this side of the world as you are fighting on yours. Together we will keep changing the world for the better.

All our love and a big hug from fellow parents from the UK to all parents of trans kids in the USA (and anyone, anywhere, in the world with #transkids)

 

p.s. If you ever visit the UK, we will make you very welcome.

 

X

 

If you haven’t seen these you should definitely check out:

How to Be a Girl Podcast at GenderMom.com by Marlo Mack (@gendermom)

“That’s Good Enough” speech by Debi Jackson (@the_debijackson)

JR, Father of Trans Daughter, Speaks at #ProtectTransKids Rally [and mum Vanessa!](@VanessaFordDC)

Gender Revolution: A Journey With Katie Couric  National Geographic Documentary

Mermaids UK Supporting Children Young People and their Families (@Mermaids_Gender)

HRC (Human Rights Campaign) and their amazing Guide for Supporting and Caring for Transgender Children

If you want to keep up with our blog please do subscribe. You can find us on twitter and follow @DadTrans (We do this thing together, but Mum mostly writes the blog and Dad mostly does the social networking bit 🙂 )

 

Transgender children need Stonewall’s support: SOME CHILDREN ARE TRANS. GET OVER IT!

Feedback on Stonewall ‘A Vision for Change’ – Parent’s perspective.

We warmly welcome Stonewall’s commitment to transgender advocacy. This consultation is a very timely opportunity to build a strong coalition to fight for the rights of transgender people. There is much good in the document.  Alongside appointment of a Trans Advisory Group in 2015, and recent recruitment of a Head of Trans Equality, it demonstrates Stonewall’s new commitment to Transgender equality adding the missing T to their excellent work on LGB.

Stonewall has had a lot of trust to recoup with the Trans community. It is right that this document was not written by Stonewall itself but by the arms length Trans Advisory Group. Written by Trans people for Trans people the Vision statement provides a foundation and mandate for action.

There does however appear to be a missing voice – that of transgender children and their parents.  As non trans people, parents of transgender children (unless trans themselves) are unable to attend the five planned consultation meetings. The two-week window to feed back comments in writing or by phone, is also short, and those with busy lives (and I think this would include all parents of trans children), may find it difficult to input.

Following publication of the Vision on Monday evening, we spoke to other parents with transgender children, mainly those supported by Mermaids, which helped to shape our thoughts on the document. We shared these with other parents and then submitted detailed comments (below) to Stonewall. We also sent a copy to Susie Green CEO of Mermaids.

Please note, this feedback is intended to complement rather than detract from the much needed work outlined in the Vision. We’ve focused upon the references to trans-children (or their absence where we think they need inclusion) . While critical, the comments come from a good place. We are simply parents who want to do the best for their children.

We’re now asking  for advocates from the Trans community to read this feedback, and take forward these comments, in person if possible, to the consultation meetings we are unable, as parents, to attend. 

Transgender children are one of the most vulnerable groups of transgender people. Transgender children cannot themselves lead or achieve the changes that they need. Supportive parents of transgender children are in a unique position to raise the voices of our children, and need to be explicitly included in this dialogue.

Supportive parents of transgender children are some of the most well-informed, passionate and motivated allies for transgender people, but we are often unable to speak publically (to protect our children). We need allies like Stonewall. Working in partnership we will achieve far more than working in isolation.

We hope this can be the start of a dialogue and partnership between parents of transgender children and Stonewall.

Key Recommendations

  • Explicitly acknowledge the existence of transgender children in this document and explicitly acknowledge your support for transgender children. (Comment 1, C4, C8, C9, C21, C32).
  • Work with parents of transgender children to improve critical sections of this document. (C2, C14, C24, C25).
  • Work in partnership with parents of transgender children, and invite both a parent of a transgender teenager, and a parent of a transgender child to join the steering team, with an explicit remit to represent the concerns and needs of transgender children. (C15, C22, C30, C33)
  • Acknowledge the significant challenges (prejudice, hate, discrimination) faced by transgender children. (C5, C10, C11, C12, C13, C26).
  • Propose concrete ways in which Stonewall will help transgender children. (C3, C6, C7, C20, C23, C27, C28, C30, C31),
  • Avoid repeating and reinforcing prejudicial and damaging attitudes towards transgender children in this document. (C16, C17, C18, C19, C29
  • Embrace this opportunity to build a coalition with a group of very motivated trans allies (supportive parents of transgender children).

Detailed Comments

Comment 1 (C1):P. 4. Shared Mission: The mission statement does not seem to include trans children, one of the most vulnerable trans groups. Add ‘schools’ to ensure it is clear that trans children are important trans people.

C2: p.5 The document is ‘driven by trans people and achieved by trans people’. My daughter is a vulnerable and important trans person. She cannot drive the changes that she needs. As her parent I need to be her advocate. Trans-children are a group who are uniquely unable to drive and achieve the changes they need. Allies for trans-children (of whom parents and organisations like Mermaids are an important component) need to be part of this dialogue and this agenda, otherwise the important needs of trans-children will be overlooked (as seems to have been the case in this document). Do you have a member of the steering group on the panel as an advocate for trans-children? Of course all trans adults were once trans children, but the experiences and problems of trans-children (particularly those who are early transitioners and openly trans) may be quite different to the experiences and problems that adults had in a different time when they were children.

C3: Amplifying voices. Important to add here that Stonewall will raise the voices of those who can’t speak openly. This is particularly relevant for children and their parents, who are very isolated and can’t speak openly as we need to protect our children.

C4: p. 6 Transforming institutions. Says improving services and workplaces. Suggests people become trans at age 18. Absolutely needs to include schools as the institution where our trans-children spend most of their time. Change to “Improving services, schools and workplaces’. Avoiding mentioning schools (and therefore children) here perpetuates a culture of denial of the existence of trans-children. Bullying at school (including by teachers and other parents) can be horrific. A transgender child was recently shot at school (in the UK) simply for being trans after months of sustained bullying. Schools cannot be omitted here.

C5: p. 12 Representation in media. Media coverage of trans-children is horrific. Yet this is not even mentioned. Harmful media messages about trans-children not existing causes direct damage to trans-children.

C6: Network of allies – National campaign to educate the general population doesn’t mention the need to educate the general population about trans-children, around which there are so many misconceptions and so much fear.

C7: p.12 Challenge transphobia – research needs to encompass the experiences of trans-children.

C8: Language – the document has not once used the term ‘trans-children’. This is part of a wider societal culture of fear and prejudice where the existence of trans-children is denied. If even a stonewall trans advocacy document cannot be brave enough and say ‘yes there are trans children’ then what hope have we got. Using the term ‘young people’ and avoiding the term trans children very much suggests that being trans is a choice that can be made by competent (Gillick competent) teenagers/young adults. My child is certainly a child. They have not chosen to be trans it is who they are. Avoiding the term trans-children is insipid and perpetuates a culture of denial of trans-children’s existence.

C9: p. 15 Institutions. In the heading the word school is again omitted (it definitely needs adding). In the subtext the term ‘in school’ finally appears. First implicit acknowledgement that trans-children exist in the document?

C10: p.16 Criminal justice. No mention of social services investigating parents who support their child in their gender identity. No mention of justice system discriminating against parents who support their child in their gender identity. Both critical issues for transgender children and supportive families (especially in child custody disputes). Nor indeed is there any mention here of the legal rights of transgender children themselves.

C11: p. 17 Faith schools worth a mention here as a particular area for discrimination.

C12: p. 17 There are specific challenges for trans-children in the healthcare system that are not acknowledged here.

C13: P, 17 Sport. Some sporting bodies have trans policies that require information on hormone levels in order to compete, some require “evidence of SRS” or a formal assessment by a board. This clearly is unreasonable for trans-children and creates situations were trans children are prevented from accessing sport either through explicit exclusion or implicitly made unwelcome.

C14: p.18 Young people and education. This section is extremely weak. By far the weakest section of the whole report. I can make some comments but this really needs a significant overhaul and input from a wider group of trans child advocates.

C15: The weakness of this section makes me wonder how well the current working group is representing the experience and needs of trans-children. Do you have any members of the working group nominated specifically to represent the interests of trans-children. A parent of a trans-child (where the parent may or may not be trans themselves) would be an important addition to a working group otherwise the voices of trans-children will be lost (as I fear they have been in this current draft).

C16: Why is this section talking predominantly about gender stereotypes, and about gender expression, and gender roles and colours/toys/clothes. This is extremely worrying.

C17: Of course gender stereotypes are unhelpful – this is not an issue that is specific to trans-children, nor specific to trans-people – it is a broad issue affecting everyone. There is no reason to have a section on gender stereotypes in a section on trans-children. My trans-daughter thought she couldn’t be a pirate captain as she is a girl – so yes gender stereotypes are a problem for everyone, including for trans-children, but this is not the issue to be focused upon in a section on how Stonewall can best support trans-children.

C18: Likewise, there is no reason to talk about gender expression or toys, or clothes,0 or gender roles, or fitting with gender stereotypes in this section. This plays into a deeply harmful cultural narrative that assumes ‘transgender children’ are not really transgender but just like wearing different clothes or toys or colours or don’t fit with traditional stereotypes and are being pushed (by transgender activists) into being transgender when they are really just non-conforming. This is all irrelevant for transgender children like mine who don’t give a damn what toys or clothes they have as long as they are recognised as a girl. For trans-children like mine who knew they were trans way before they had any understanding of gender stereotypes.

C19: The section here on ‘people exploring their gender identity and how they fit with traditional gender stereotypes’ is deeply patronising and unhelpful. Would you put this stuff in the adult transgender section? I don’t think so. Talking about gender non-conforming or questioning children who reconcile their questions’ is deeply unhelpful and plays into a cultural narrative that discredits children knowing who they are, and talks about it being a ‘phase’. Gender non-conforming children who reconcile their questions are not trans-children – they do not need emphasis here. I like the stonewall poster ‘some people are trans/gay – get over it’. I’d like more bravery here ‘some children are trans – get over it’. There seems here to be fear to acknowledge the existence of trans-children. This hesitancy wouldn’t be reasonable in the adults section of this document, and shouldn’t be present here. There are trans-children in this world, and they face serious issues (hate, discrimination, prejudice).

C20: This section needs to discuss the serious issues that trans-children face, and talk about how Stonewall is going to help this extremely vulnerable group.

C21: Furthermore, the term ‘young people’ is too vague. As mentioned above, the term ‘transgender children (no matter what their age)’ would be better. Or perhaps ‘transgender children and transgender teenagers’. Otherwise it seems like this document is denying the existence of transgender children (and if you don’t acknowledge they even exist, how are you possibly going to help them?).

C22: The section on LGBT mentions the hostility or confusion towards the trans community within the LGB community. As a parent of a young trans child I’m aware that a minority of trans adults are themselves sometimes ill-informed or and unsupportive to the needs of trans-children. Some trans adults are sceptical of the need to support and help trans-children. There cannot be an automatic assumption that trans adults will always understand or advocate for trans children, and I think it is worth acknowledging.

C23: p.19 The key recommendation on how stonewall is going to help my transgender child is to avoid gender stereotypes. This belittles the genuine challenges my transgender child faces, and is not in any way a good enough recommendation given the mountain of challenges my child will face before they reach adulthood.

C24: This section needs starting again.

Service Providers

C25: p.22 This section does not acknowledge the particular challenges in the Gender Identity service for children. There are many specific issues that could be acknowledged and addressed if this was developed in consultation with those who support transgender children. This needs to consider how the system works for children of all ages, not just for those old enough to access medical interventions. Fostered trans children and young people face particular challenges and aren’t mentioned in the document.

C26: Particularly this section does not consider the issues around the gatekeeper role that the children’s GIDS service plays to approve or deny access to medical interventions. Practices that are (hopefully) considered unacceptable in adult services are standard in children’s services, with much questioning of why the child has chosen that they would prefer to be a girl, intrusive questioning about genitals, parents being blamed for ‘causing’ their child to be transgender, children being told they are not dressing or acting sufficiently in their affirming gender role to be properly transgender, or children being told they are not sufficiently upset with parts of their anatomy to be properly transgender. Panels of medical professionals make decisions for which there is no appeal. This is in addition to timescales and protocols that are arbitrary and damaging. In addition, in a monopolised and unaccountable system, parents of transgender children are afraid to complain for fear it will damage their child’s support. There needs to be a system put in place for complaints from parents about the children’s GID service to be effectively dealt with.

C27: Also the final wording ‘New models of care, which don’t require psychiatric diagnosis as their foundation, should be explored’ brings to mind the wording of the government response to the Women’s and Equalities select committee report which was full of issues ‘to be explored’. Not a helpful thing to bring to mind, when what is needed is action not ‘further exploration’.

C28: p.24 A better section. Note, this is the only page in the entire 37 page document which uses the term “trans children”. The text is fine, though a bit vague on what are the very many problems and what are the issues that Stonewall plans to help tackle.

It needs to talk more about the crunch issues ‘right to wear uniform, right to use toilet, right to be addressed by preferred name and pronoun (without a deed pole or Dr’s permission), right to change gender marker on record, right to be safe, right not to be persecuted, responsibility of school to protect from bullying, responsibility of school to help other pupils understand, right to socially transition at any age without medical permission etc etc. The current text is too vague and avoids many key issues.

C29: Again the section blurs the ‘children exploring gender identity’ and transgender children topic. The adults section does not devote space to adults questioning gender identity – it focuses on what are the needs of trans adults. The children’s section should similarly prioritise the needs of transgender children (many things that will help transgender children in schools will also help gender questioning children, but to merge the two adds to the confusion around whether transgender children exist (ie some people want to put all children into the gender questioning category, as if you have to be an adult to be actually transgender – pretending they don’t exist is deeply unhelpful for addressing the needs of transgender children.

C30: p. 26. Great to hear about the #Stonewall education research project. Would be good to see commitment that this will mean understanding the experience of transgender children of all ages, in both primary and secondary school. It will be unlikely that this research will be appropriate to directly speak with primary school children like my daughter, in which case this research will explicitly need to reach out to and include the parents of transgender children, otherwise an important voice will be lost.

C31: The Stonewall training will sit alongside existing stonewall LGB trainings. I imagine (I do not have expertise here) that most LGB trainings are aimed at secondary school age? For transgender children, unlike LGB children, there are transgender children in schools and pre-schools from as young as age 3. How is the Stonewall education programme being adapted to ensure transgender components support primary age transgender children? Many schools are in denial about having young transgender children (until they have a young child transition, at which point they go into panic and melt down).

C32: Unless you have a clear policy on the existence of transgender young children, you will not be able to support the schools that are unconvinced of the existence of transgender young children.

C33: p.26 Great to see this commitment to work with #Mermaids. I’m a member of Mermaids and fellow parents who I have met through Mermaids have been the only support at all we have had on this very lonely journey as a parent of a transgender child. We need organisations like Mermaids and Stonewall to work together to help our transgender children.

Thank you for taking the time to read this submission.

We look forward to hearing more about the consultation.

BBC sponsor vicious attack on transgender children

This evening BBC2 broadcast a programme “Transgender kids: who knows best” ‘challenging the new orthodoxy that promotes affirmation (acceptance) of transgender children’.

As a parent of a transgender child, I am accustomed to the hate, fear and ignorance that we regularly face from the media. But I wasn’t prepared for this show from the BBC. I am left shaking, tearful and sick to the stomach.

I don’t think anyone can properly understand how tough it is to be a parent of a transgender child. To face the continual onslaught from the media, from those who hate or deny the existence of transgender people. To have your parenting, your judgement, your child, debated, critiqued, ridiculed.

The show seems to have been designed to cause maximum harm to #trans children and their families. I can hardly begin to tackle here the number of areas in which the show was inaccurate, misleading, demonising, damaging and plain false.

I’ll share just a few of the main problems with the programme.

The show regularly confused gender identity with behaviour. There were multiple statements discussing whether or not it is ok for a boy to like Barbies or for a girl to like playing football . This is nonsense and terrible journalism. Of course girls are allowed to like climbing trees. Of course boys can like dolls. This is a description of behaviour or interest (and based on outdated stereotypes of ‘cross gender behaviour’). No-one with any sense would say a boy who likes Barbies is automatically transgender. My transgender daughter (who said consistently from a young age she is a girl) has never had any interest in dolls. Behaviour does not equate to identity.

I am horrified that the BBC presented as fact the widely discredited 80% desistance figure (that 80% of gender dysphoric children do not end up transgender). This is so very important, an absolutely key statistic that has been thoroughly and repeatedly shown to be false, and yet the BBC presents it as uncontested fact. How dare they? I am so sick of lazy journalists repeating this debunked research without fact checking or seeking to understand the underlying motivations.

The show also presented as ‘fact’ the lie that the majority of gender dysphoric boys are likely to end up gay, and in doing so repeatedly insinuated the gender affirmative approach is homophobic. Competent researchers, academics and physicians conclude that gender identity and sexual orientation are two different things. In any event a transgender child is as likely to be gay as any other child.

The reason why outdated and discredited research studies came up with figures like 80% desistance (and most gender non-conforming boys end up gay rather than transgender) is that they included in their sample children who were gender non-conforming (boys who liked dolls, who never said they were a girl). It is zero surprise that boys who like dolls, who like playing with girls, usually do not grow up to be transgender. On the other hand, children like mine, who from the moment they could properly speak insisted ‘no mummy, I am a girl’ are very likely to continue to identify as a girl into adulthood. The leading US paediatric organisation recently published guidance saying that competent physicians can easily tell transgender children apart from gender non-conforming children, the key is the child’s identity, not their behaviour or toy preferences. Why was this clear conclusion from the most respected US paediatric organisation not even mentioned? Because the BBC chose to frame the debate as between the threatening ‘transgender lobby’ and ‘gender experts’ like Zucker and Blanchard. There was no clear indication that both Zucker and Blanchard have been thoroughly disgraced – not by a biased transgender lobby, as presented but instead by more modern researchers who found their methods and approaches to be both scientifically flawed, intrinsically biased and ethically dubious. Where was information from Dr Olson in the US (a respected expert), who recently published on the excellent mental health outcomes for children who have been supported in their identity by their families?

I am horrified with the segment on the distinction of men’s and women’s brains. No-one is genuinely claiming that transgender girls have a girl’s brain filled with kittens and roses as totally distinct from a boy’s brain filled with trucks and beer. The phrase ‘girl’s brain in a boy’s body’ is a colloquial shorthand that some transgender people have used to explain that they feel their identity is an innate part of themselves and not a choice or a whim. No-one means this literally. And the brain is one of the least understood parts of the body, there is a lot we still don’t know. Claiming that transgender advocate are perpetuating old fashioned gender stereotypes and propagating restrictive gender boxes is utter nonsense – I tell my transgender daughter that she can play with any toys she likes, I have no time for minimising her potential through old fashioned sexist stereotypes.

The show presented Zucker and Blanchard as experts – it did not explain how widely discredited their work and their approaches are. When it did highlight criticism, it presented it as criticism from ‘transgender advocates’, not including the criticism from respected academics who criticise the quality and robustness of their research and their conclusions. Who exactly is a ‘transgender advocate’ was never explained – it was presented as the fearsome, mysterious group, so powerful and threatening (if this lobby is so very strangely powerful, why are transgender people’s rights so regularly trampled on in life and in the media?).

The show presented the lie that the ‘transgender lobby’ is all powerful and that it is now ‘dangerous’ to question the gender affirmative approach. Quite the most ridiculous part of a ridiculous programme. A prime-time BBC show totally attacks and misrepresents issues surrounding transgender children, fitting into a context wherein transgender children and their families are continuously attacked in the UK media. There have been 3 Daily Mail headlines in the past 3 months viciously attacking transgender children and their families, and misinformation and transphobic views are regularly aired across all media. We are a victimised and scared minority – to present us as a powerful and threatening group is the worst blow of this awful, awful show.

The show presented the lie that families are being pushed and pressured into telling children that they are transgender. This is the very opposite of my experience. It is extremely tough to make a decision to support your child in their gender identity in today’s society. Any parent who makes this difficult step (which we do not do lightly, no one would want this difficult path for their child) will be regularly told by friends, family, the media, colleagues, total strangers even, that we are wrong, or even that we are abusive. People who do not understand the issue quote to us meaningless statistics like ‘they are probably just gay’, or ‘just let them play with dolls and stay a boy’ (to which I say, she doesn’t like dolls, but being acknowledged as a girl is the difference between her being happy and confident, and her being sad, depressed and rejected).

I cannot understate the damage that this show has already done. Shows like this decrease acceptance, tolerance and understanding, and increase suspicion, fear and prejudice to an already extremely marginalised and vulnerable group. The misinformation in this show feeds into an extremely hostile wider media, encouraging more abuse. It prompts parents to tell their child not to play with mine, in case our child is mentally ill or us parents crazy. It motivates ignorant people to complain to the police or to social services about parents supporting their transgender child (something that has happened to far too many families of transgender children).

Shows like this also directly undermine the confidence of vulnerable transgender children and young people. It makes it harder for transgender youth to find hope that the world is truly moving in a direction whereby they can be accepted as normal and live their lives without fear or prejudice. It makes it harder for families of happy, well-adjusted transgender children to have the confidence to speak out and share our stories. Stories that need to be heard. Stories of how our children have flourished since being accepted as their identified gender – how they have friends, how they have happy, well-adjusted lives, how their future is bright. The way the #BBC misled the Canadian parent into allowing her young transgender daughter to be part of this awful vicious show is exactly why most parents of happy and well-adjusted transgender children in the UK will never speak publicly. Which is a shame as it means parents who are struggling to find the courage to support their children are left in the dark as to the many positive stories.

My heart goes out to those transgender teenagers and young adults seeking support and understanding from their families – this show will make it less likely their families will understand. My heart goes out to parents who are in the position I was in a few years ago, knowing how deeply unhappy my transgender child was, yet myself struggling to find the courage to support them in their identity against a hostile, judgemental and ignorant world. I have zero regrets, my daughter is so happy, and is enjoying her childhood like any other child without her gender identity being her focus (as it was before she socially transitioned). To those parents who think that supporting their child is the right thing for your child – take courage, reach out to those few of us who have been where you are now, and know that your love and care for your child matters more than the judgements of others.  Reach out to organisations like #Mermaids, a lifeline to parents who feel truly alone.

 

Born in the right body

child-and-parents-blog

When you were born you were perfect;

strong, healthy, just a bit too yellow.

We thought you were a boy;

We now know you are a girl.

Our kind, clever, beautiful daughter.

Happy, confident, healthy.

You are still perfect – our perfect girl.

 

You are not a girl in a boy’s body.

This is your body, and you are a girl.

Your body is just like your new friends’ who are also trans girls.

You have a perfect trans girl’s body.

Never let anyone tell you otherwise.

 

As you get older, maybe you will want or need to change some part.

I know you don’t want a beard

But what you do with your body is entirely up to you.

There is no right way to be.

You are loved and perfect as you are.

 

You were not born in the wrong body.

Remember your uncle’s knee didn’t work and he had to go to the hospital to fix it?

No one says he was born in the wrong body.

You know your grandma needs to take medicine because her hormones aren’t right.

No one says she was born in the wrong body.

 

You are a perfect girl, with a perfect body.

And we love you to the moon and back,

and always will.

Sticks and Stones

Another week, another article on transgender children and their “crazy” / “abusive”/ “attention seeking” parents. Even when articles are not actively offensive and transphobic (as so very many are), they retain a heavy tone of scepticism and judgement. And then I get down to the comments section…

I know I shouldn’t look. I know there’s nothing there I want to see. I know I will leave in tears. But somehow, I can’t help myself. Partly, I want to learn what views are being shared, to try to understand what people are saying and, once I start, I’m so horrified, I’m unable to look away. A bigger driver though, is the knowledge that in a few years’ time my child will be the one on the internet. She won’t be able to look away, and I won’t be able to protect her. And the hurt I feel now will be nothing compared to the hurt she will feel when she realises how the world views her. It breaks my heart.

Parenting a transgender child seems to be a particularly lonely road. The vile and vicious comments under Daily Mail articles about transgender children and their families, are matched on the Guardian, on Mumsnet, even on supposedly LGBT friendly sites like Gay Star News. Parents of transgender children are harshly judged and attacked from the right and from the left. From traditional conservatives and from radical feminists. From religious fundamentalists and sections of the LGB exclusionary parts of LGBT+.  At times it feels overwhelming. Hopeless.

Sometimes, when I’ve pulled myself up from despair, I wonder whether, if I could just find the energy to respond to the thousands of hateful comments, perhaps I could open a few minds. Help move society a few tiny millimetres in the direction it needs to go in for my child to be happy, to be accepted, to be safe. I know I won’t overcome some people’s strongly felt prejudice, but maybe if I could explain a bit more, try a bit harder, maybe there are some people who could learn that my child is not a threat, that I am not a failure as a parent, that we just want our daughter to be left alone to enjoy the childhood she deserves without this constant stream of vitriol.

I decided to take another look at the comment sections (the majority from a recent Guardian online article), to try to understand what drives people to write such hurtful things. To break through the insults and hate and try to gain an insight into why so very many people find accepting my child so intolerable. Then to give a personal response to those comments, away from the collective pile on which often occurs when someone is brave enough to try to confront, explain, or simply give examples of their lived experience. (I’ve purposefully tried to give a personal response, rather than lots of sources, however if you are looking for more examples of evidence or reading then please do look for examples in our last blog post: GIDS.NHS.UK All the support a parent needs….)

I take a big breath, and leave a warning to parents and transgender individuals who are having a tough day. If you are feeling a bit vulnerable today, have a hug, watch this video of a ninja cat instead,  move on and smile and know that some people are so very firmly in your corner and the world is slowly moving in the right direction. I strongly believe that all those haters are on the wrong side of history.

And for those of you who are feeling up for it (or who, like me, find it impossible to look away), here we go:

‘I was a tom boy when I was a child’. ‘My brother borrowed my dresses when he was a child’

  • This is not relevant. ‘Tomboy’ usually describes girls who are perceived to enjoy stereotypically male activities or toys or friends. This is not being transgender, and nobody is claiming it is. Being transgender is not about what toys you play with, or what activities you prefer, or how you behave or how you dress or who you play with. It is about the identity that these children feel deep inside. I know this is a very difficult concept to grasp and it may not make sense to anyone who does not themselves feel any particularly strong gender identity, but to these children it is more important than anything else. It can become the driving focus of their life (right up until they are accepted, and then they often become like any other child). The thing that matters more than anything else to them is to be acknowledged and accepted as the gender that they know themselves to be.

‘I was a tom boy or a not very macho boy – If this had been around when I was young I would have been made to be transgender.

  • I don’t think that is at all likely. Girls who are ‘tom boys’ and boys who do not conform to stereotypically male ‘norms’ are not likely to be referred to a gender identity clinic – and if they were it would be pretty quick to find out how they identify. Unless you felt very strongly that you were a boy and were desperately sad about being called a girl over a prolonged period of time, your experience is not relevant to this topic. The children who transition tend to be ones for whom gender identity is the main thing that dominates their happiness. They also tend to have a deep feeling of sadness around their gender identity. Unless you were a child who was extremely sad every night saying ‘I am a boy’ or ‘I am a girl’, it is not likely you would be being supported to socially transition. The young children who socially transition have really fought for this, against a world that tells them they are wrong. They have insisted over a long period of time that this is who they are.

‘I used to want to be a boy’ ‘I used to call myself a boy and I’m not transgender’

  • For children who are potentially confused, counselling can help them work out whether they are thinking life would be easier as a boy because of their frustration about limited gender roles or limited society opportunities for women, or suffocating expectations of what it means to be a women (and vice versa for boys who do not fit into the masculine ‘norm’). For anyone to feel that they do not fit in is very sad. I hope any such children can be met with kindness and understanding. There is no fixed destination. There is no conveyor belt. What all gender non-conforming children need, like what transgender children need, is more love and openness and acceptance. Of course we don’t want gender confused children to be pushed into a path that is not right for them. But to protect gender non-confirming and gender confused children, we do not need to stamp out the rights and the hope and the wellbeing of children like mine who are not one tiny bit confused, who know who they are and just want acceptance and room to exist.

‘It is a money making scheme for big pharmaceuticals and profit hungry doctors – keeping patients on drugs for life’.

  • My child has not heard of big pharmaceuticals. She does not yet understand about hormones or any medical interventions. She does however know that she is a girl.

‘It is a trend’. ‘These children think this is a way to be famous and cool’

  • Transgender children are very likely to get bullied or socially isolated. Many are victims of hate crimes. Most transgender children desperately want to fit in and be accepted as one of the other children. This is not a path to being famous and cool  My child genuinely though she was the only child in the world to have felt this way. She had never heard of transgender. She didn’t know what being cool or famous meant. (Though as a proud parent, my child will always be cool to me).

‘Parents are doing it for attention’

  • I can’t imagine many parents wanting this type of attention, by which I mean constantly being judged and shunned and told you are a terrible parent. Losing friends and family members and feeling very alone. I certainly would never in a million years have chosen this. In fact the opposite is true, many parents shy away from attention, close their social media, try to avoid the inevitable and frequent difficult conversations. The majority of stories in the press are not self-serving, they are from parents who feel duty bound to raise awareness with the intention of de-stigmatising transgender children to make society a safer place for their child. Our family couldn’t do it, but I thank them for being brave enough to speak out for us all.

‘My child once or twice told me they were a girl when they were little. I said ‘don’t be silly Billy you are a boy. Aren’t I an amazing parent? If only these stupid parents/mums had followed my example’

  • Many parents of transgender children spend months and years telling their child, ‘no you are not a boy you are a girl’, often until the child shuts down and stops raising the issue (while still feeling miserable inside). In our house this was a daily conversation for over 6 months. Please don’t bring your crappy example of having told your child a handful of times and insinuate that we have somehow failed. Your child is not transgender. My child was so fixated on asserting their gender identity that it dominated and damaged their life for that time. The guilt of not supporting her then is on us. The children that continue to vocally (insistently and persistently) assert a transgender identity do so against a huge heap of societal and family pressure telling them they are wrong.

‘So-called trans-women are really men who are pretending to be women so that they can invade women’s spaces to rape women’

  • I’m always taken aback when I read this, and it comes up time and again in spite of a complete absence of credible evidence that this has ever occurred. My child is young. My child is not invading women’s spaces to rape women. This is not only absurd, not only deeply offensive and hurtful, it is also incredibly damaging. It conjures up the idea that ‘normal’ people should be afraid of transgender people. That they are different and can’t be trusted and our children (and women) need protecting from them. Well, my beautiful child, who is one of the kindest sweetest children you could meet, needs protecting from this kind of hate.

‘If gender identity can’t be seen, defined or objectively measured then it can’t be real or need supporting’

  • So emotions or feelings or thoughts don’t exist either. Or anything to do with identity or who you are. None of these are valid. I can’t define the fact that I like smarties, therefore that can’t be true. I can’t see whether you feel happy, so happiness isn’t a real thing. We don’t understand consciousness, so that doesn’t exist either. This argument is highly flawed.

‘This is body mutilation’

  • Thanks for that sensationalist statement. Why can’t people choose want they want to do with their own bodies without you getting so outraged? There are no operations related to transitioning before the age of 18, when they are adults, and can choose for themselves. Many transgender people do not choose to have surgery. Many non-transgender people change their bodies (eg tattoos, plastic surgery, breast augmentation/reduction etc) for a variety of reasons some aesthetic, some medical. I’m scared shitless about my daughter potentially having surgery one day, but I’d be anxious about any surgery. I’m going to do my very best to try to support her being comfortable in her own body without the need for surgery but I’m not naive, and know that for many transgender people, surgery is vital treatment for their gender and body dysphoria. I will support her in whatever she may choose to do.

‘Children naturally grow out of it’

‘80% do not persist as they mature’

‘It is just a phase’

  • When talking about transgender children the statistic of 80% of children not ‘persisting’ is often repeated but total and utter nonsense. The few studies underpinning it, have been thoroughly debunked. The key thing these studies have in common is that they grouped gender non-conforming children (the majority surveyed, highly unlikely to be transgender, often grow up gay) in with cross-gender identifying children (a small minority of the surveyed group, highly likely to be transgender, no more or less likely to be gay). The Meta analysis of these studies are also intrinsically flawed as they simply collate all the previous rubbish studies. This means the numbers we have are meaningless for predicting the future path for children like mine who, from a very young age, has consistently and very persistently stated that they are a different gender to the one assigned at birth. The most recent evidence finds that children who very strongly identify as a different gender will continue to do so and will not grow out of it. Yes more research is needed, to give a better steer on ‘persistence’, but the 80% figure should be treated as a research phase that we have naturally grown out of as we’ve matured.

 ‘Let them decide when they are 18’

  • Comments like this actually helped me decide to accept my daughter as a girl. She was miserable for years before we supported her. She felt extremely rejected by us and by others in her life. She cried every single day. Since we accepted her as a girl, and helped her be acknowledged by others as a girl, she has been so happy. So very happy. Every day. Why should a parent force their child to be miserable every day for years (for 15 years if you were to have your way!). A parent needs a very good reason to keep their child in a state of sadness and rejection, when the only thing you need to do to support your child to say ‘I love you whatever’ and to change the name, pronoun and noun that you use. We have not yet got to puberty, and making decisions then will be tough. But if our daughter at puberty still feels like she has since age 3, then she will have our full support to help her avoid the wrong puberty and have the right puberty for her gender.

‘why would a parent make this decision. Crazy’

‘Just wait’

‘The best course of action would be for parents not to make any decisions at all’

  • This shows little understanding of what it is like to parent a transgender child. Life is full of decisions. Before making the extremely difficult and heart-breaking decision to support my child, for months I made the decision to say ‘I love you, but no, you are not a girl you are a boy’ and watched their sad face. For months later, when they said ‘I am a girl’ I decided to change the subject or look away. For months further I avoided directly calling them a boy but decided to sit in silence as others called them a boy and I watched their shoulders hunch in and the sad look of rejection on their face. For months further I sat with them at bedtime as they cried and listened to them say ‘but I am a girl’ and I decided not to say ‘that is ok, we love you whatever’. Life with a very insistent transgender child is full of difficult and painful and troubling decisions for a parent who cares deeply for their child. Making a decision finally to say ‘that’s ok, we love you whatever’ was the latest in a very long line of decisions. Which eventually moved on to ‘ok, we’ll call you a girl’, and ‘ok, we’ll help others to call you a girl’ and ‘ok, we’ll help others to understand you are a girl’. We do not wake up one morning and think, wouldn’t it be fun to choose this incredibly hard and traumatic path for our children.

‘Just teach them to be happy as they are’

  • I really, really tried. It didn’t work. They got sadder and sadder. And feeling rejected by your parents is very tough. Feeling that your parents love you, but the way you feel is so unacceptable that your parents cannot bring themselves to properly accept you, is very tough on a child. We all want our children to be happy. We all want our children to have an easy path in life. This is not an easy path. But my child is now so very happy, long may it remain so. The main thing that threatens my child’s happiness is not potential future medical interventions, but the hate and anger that they receive. I wonder if, in a world of greater acceptance for transgender people, would fewer transgender people choose medical interventions? If it was more feasible to have a non-typical body and still be referred to by the pronoun and identity that a person feels. I can’t see that acceptance happening any time soon. If you care about my child’s happiness, please stop denying their existence and trivialising what it has taken us to get to this point.

‘Don’t label children’

  • Our world and our language is full of labels. If you genuinely want a world without labels, then please put your energy into trying to avoid these boxes and labels everywhere, don’t focus your energy on a very powerless and vulnerable group of children who just happen to not fit into the boxes and traditional labels that the world is accustomed to.

‘It’s all because of gender segregated parenting. The parents had too fixed ideas of what boys and girls could act like or play with’

‘It’s all this gender neutral parenting. They haven’t taught their child what gender they are’

  • Parents of transgender children get hit with contradictory accusations. Either we were parenting with too rigid stereotypical gender norms, or our parenting was too gender neutral. We hear this all the time and everyone seems very happy to share their opinion with us. The one thing that is quickly obvious when you get a group of parents of transgender children together, is the huge diversity. It is a bit like jury service. There is no common denominator between the parents. The weight of scientific evidence is also clear, including the Lancet, no less, that there is no evidence of a link between parenting and whether or not a child is transgender.

‘Young children can’t make a decision to change gender’

‘How can a young child know about transgender. What on earth are you teaching them?’

‘I wouldn’t trust a 5 year old to choose what to have for dinner let alone their gender’

  • People really don’t understand this at all. My child had never heard of transgender. They never made a decision to change gender. They always, from the moment they could speak, said they were a girl (they were presumed male at birth). They knew they were a girl before they knew most things about the world. They knew it instinctively. They knew it, despite the fact that their parents, and everyone in the world told them they were a boy. They knew it, and insisted upon it time after time, despite being told in no uncertain terms that they were wrong. They never decided to change gender. They never have changed gender. The change has not been within them, the change has been the rest of us, coming to understand what their truth is, and coming to accept it. Our child has not changed, we as parents have changed and reset our understanding of our child. How our child developed a strong gender identity that they were a girl, I really do not know. But the thing is, hundreds of children up and down the country and thousands world-wide have had the same experience. There have been transgender people throughout the world, throughout the centuries, and many of those transgender people recall having known their gender identity from a young age.

‘These are mentally unwell children, we shouldn’t fuel their delusion’

  • For many decades transgender people were classified as mentally unwell. Enormous pressure was put on them to conform, to change their view. This has led to some particularly awful outcomes for some transgender people who have had very tough lives. Lives far tougher than anyone would wish on their child. The medical consensus is that attempting to persuade people to identify as the gender they were assigned at birth is both unethical, and ineffective. Being transgender is being taken out of being classified as a mental health issue. Unsurprisingly, there is now increasing evidence that when transgender people are accepted, loved and supported, they have normal levels of mental health and wellbeing.

‘This is backward, we should be breaking down gender barriers and stereotypes’

‘Instead of supporting these children, let’s overthrow gender norms instead’

  • Breaking down gender boxes and stereotypes will be a great thing for very many children, including for transgender children. If this is what you care about, focus your attention on breaking down gender boxes and stereotypes in society at large, don’t focus your attention on a marginalised group of vulnerable children. And if in your vision for a freer society you agree that people should still be free to describe themselves as a girl, then allow transgender children this freedom as well.

‘Those parents are senseless liberals inflicting horrendous damage on their child with this trendy transgender ideology’; ‘those parents were far too liberal letting their child call the shots when they should have been more strict’; ‘Those parents were far too strict, couldn’t relax and let their children play with any toys they wanted to play with; ‘I bet the child is being abused’; ‘I bet these children are from a broken home’; ‘I bet the mum hated men so much the child wanted to be a girl’; ‘I bet one of the parents are in a homosexual relationship’; ‘Those parents must be homophobic and preferred a trans daughter to a gay son’; ‘I bet one of the parents is transgender’.

  • We hear all of these charming comments. Parents of transgender children come from all walks of life. And whatever walk of life they happen to come from, accusations like this are thrown at us as the reason why we are in this situation. The more I see these accusations (once I get beyond my own thin skinned shock and upset at how people view us) the more clearly ridiculous these accusations appear. Try to ignore.

‘It is disgusting’. ‘It makes me sick’. ‘It is vile’. ‘These children should be taken away from their abusive parents’. ‘These horrendous narcissistic parents should be locked up’

  • Yes we hear a lot of this too, some things aren’t worth the effort of engagement, try to ignore.

‘Children should be able to play with any toys – you shouldn’t force your child to be a girl or a boy just because they like toys associated with the other sex’ ‘Your inability to let children play with any toys or choose what to wear is what has caused this’

  • In my view children should be able to play with any toys that they want to play with. Our child has always been able to play with any toys. For our child, this is a question of identity, not of toys or interests or behaviour or preferences. I know it is hard to understand that a child can have a clear gender identity at a young age. But you have not lived my life. Don’t judge us (and make my child’s life harsher and more filled with hate) just because you find it hard to logically understand.

‘You shouldn’t have let your child play with opposite gender toys or choose what to wear. This is what has caused this’

  • Look, I think you have some weird ideas about toys. I disagree with you on this one. But I know plenty of families who have had fairly clear gender segregated expectations and upbringings for their child, and they have also found themselves with a transgender child. So although on a case by case basis it is easy to throw insults at us parents and say ‘this is what you have done wrong’, if you met a large enough group of us, you would see that we have very little in common in terms of our parenting styles, apart from perhaps a fierce determination to try to help and protect our wonderful children. The recent Lancet review concluded there is no evidence of parental upbringing having an influence on children being transgender. So give us a break from your mean accusations.

‘There are 2 fixed genders that are very clear cut, and it is scientifically impossible to ignore this.’

  • People who quote ‘science’ in this way have a very limited understanding of science. ‘Gender’ and ‘Biological sex’ is made up of a wide variety of different elements. Sex chromosomes, which are often XX or XY, but can come in other formations. Internal sex organs (eg ovaries). External sex organs. Intersex people can have different combinations of these (eg having ovaries and XY chromosomes). Hormone levels – some people are have raised testosterone or oestrogen. Some women are unable to process androgens and have levels of testosterone typically found in males. Biologically speaking the world is much more complex than people would like to believe. The world is full of variation, it is humans (and our language and our need to classify and define) that try to put things in neat strict boxes. Some people think there is a physical aspect to gender identity, potentially linked to levels of hormones in the foetus, but like much of the brain and human development, much remains to be discovered. Beyond this, gender consists of gender identity (who you feel you are), gender expression (how you choose to dress), gender roles (how you conform with or do not conform with stereotypical gendered expectations). Life is complicated, and for some of us, that is ok.

‘My child said they were a dog for a year’ ‘My child thought they were Spiderman’ ‘My child asked us to call them an airplane’ etc.

  • Were they playing? Were they having fun? For my child, asserting that they were a girl was not a game. They would say ‘I am a girl’ with tears in their eyes. When called a boy they would hunch their shoulders with sadness. This did not pass, this did not end. Please don’t bring your glib example of your child who played at being a dog, or Spiderman or an airplane. One other reason why this is not comparable –my child’s experience matches that of a small but not tiny number of other children who have the same experience. It also matches the experience of many adults who continue to identify as transgender, and are happy to be able to find acceptance in that identity. There is no comparison with the flippant dog/ Spiderman /airplane example.

 

Phew. Made it to the end. And this time feeling a bit stronger. The same comments seem to come up time and time again with little variation no matter the publication or source.

If you are a parent of a trans or gender non-conforming child, a trans person or a trans ally and feel your eye drifting down to the comments… If you are feeling strong and want to try to educate, challenge, or simply stand up to the haters, then please do copy/paste content or link to this post.

This is the defining civil rights battle of the 21st Century. We can rise to the challenge. We can stay strong. Our children, our society needs us to.

GIDS.NHS.UK All the support a parent needs….

The UK’s specialist Children’s Gender Identity Service, GIDS Tavistock, launched a new website this week. A website that has the potential to become the first source of guidance for people interested in issues relating to gender identity in children. A website that can help dispel the many inaccuracies and distortions about transgender children that appear in the media. A website that can be the first port of call for parents of gender questioning and transgender children.

I was very excited to see the updated website, as the old one did not provide the information and support that parents like myself so badly need, particularly in the early days when it was so hard to sort through confusing and contradictory information to find out how best to support our child.

Instead I found myself disappointed.

I’m hoping however, that the people at GIDS Tavistock have good intentions, and in the process of quickly rolling out their new site, simply overlooked the stage of consulting with parents and interested parties on what content would best support transgender children and their families.

I saw on the main Tavistock and Portman site the statement that:

issues around gender is changing all the time. If you see anything on the new site that you think is either incorrect or out of date, we’d love to hear from you. Please contact us via gids@tavi-port.nhs.uk

So I thought it would be helpful to feed back my comments on the site’s content and add a few thoughts of easily implemented changes that can be included to update the site. It is pretty long so I’ve added some scores for each of the key sections.

First up: The ‘Parents’ section:


http://gids.nhs.uk/parents

Why does my child feel this way?

The parents section starts by presenting different opinions on why children might end up transgender. It does this in a very biased way. When summarising the view that there is a physiological causation to gender identity it presents this as “Some people think”. It would be more genuine and accurate to say “X leading scientists and gender specialists have found X Y Z evidence for a physiological element to gender identity”. Presenting this view point as the vague “some people” gives little credence to this view, despite this being the conclusion of a wide number of credible gender identity specialists.

It seems to contrast this with the statement that “others argue that current research hasn’t found a major difference between boys and girls brains”. It seems to give this alternative argument greater credibility by reference to an “academic psychologist” and directly linking to a book (that outlines a lack of scientific evidence to support gender stereotypes about women being innately better at map reading or worse at parking). You may be aware that this text is popularly cited by a minority who claim that (trans)gender is a social construct and therefore argue that trans people don’t exist. This is not helpful GIDS Tavistock.

It is inappropriate to present these two (gender identity having a physiological element and male and female brains not being completely different) as alternative options. It is easily possible for both to be true.

There is clearly growing evidence backing up a physiological and pre-birth element to gender identity, and though this evidence is limited, it is misleading to ignore it or dismiss it as “some people think”.

It is entirely possible for there to be some tiny physiological element to gender identity, without there being two binary and totally distinct ‘male and female brains’. The concept of a ‘male’ brain, as completely distinct and separate from a ‘female brain’ is clearly nonsense, but I don’t see anyone arguing this. Yes, some trans people use the phrase ‘female brain in a male body’ or vice versa, but most people are using this as a short hand vernacular way of explaining that they identify as the other gender.

Most people I know who are deeply interested in this subject view gender as a complex spectrum and a complex interplay of identity, culture, expression, interests, preferences.  To introduce this strawman (or rather scarecrow!) debate on the first page is highly disingenuous, and appears to discredit those who feel that they have ‘been born this way’.

Nowhere does this section give the view of the recent Lancet report which clearly states “to date, research has established no clear correlations between parenting and gender incongruence”

http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(16)00683-8/fulltext

This section is actively unsupportive GIDS Tavistock: 1/5

Where can I get help for myself?

This section does not provide any links to the main organisations that are able to provide support to parents. Mermaids (http://www.mermaidsuk.org.uk/) is clearly an important organisation in this space, though there are also other groups that can support. This section recommends parents get support from their GP. If you had consulted properly with parents when developing this website we would have informed you that a GP is not a reliable source of advice. There is no systematic training for GPs on gender identity issues, especially for children, and many of us have encountered GPs who at best are ignorant and dismissive.

This section needs to acknowledge that GP knowledge and awareness of gender identity issues is patchy, and needs to provide clear alternative sources of support. This is critical both due to the long waiting lists to see GIDS, and also as often a GP referral is needed to even get on to the waiting list – parents needs support in these early stages, especially if their GP is un or ill-informed and refuses to refer.

This section is not at all helpful GIDS Tavistock: 1/5

 

When is the right time to ask for professional help?

This section states that “if a young person is demonstrating distress at any time we would encourage you to initially seek input from local services such as CAMHS”. Many parents that I know have been turned away from CAMHS if their child’s distress is purely down to gender identity. The advice on this website should match up with the reality of what CAMHS sees as their role in supporting children who are distressed ‘just’ about their gender identity. The advice to seek support from the mental health service should also be prefixed with the consensus that being transgender is not in itself a mental health issue..

One other concern with advising parents and young people to contact CAHMS, is this will add significantly to the already very long wait (with a waiting time to see CAHMS, and time for CAHMS to refer on to GIDS). If your child is in severe distress about their gender identity the last thing you want as a parent is additional barriers to reach the help they need.

Could do better GIDS Tavistock 3/5

Should I use my child’s preferred name and pronouns?

Well done GIDS Tavistock. This section is written with kindness and understanding of what parents are dealing with at its heart. This tone of emotional support is so important in supporting gender questioning and transgender children and their families.

Good work GIDS Tavistock 5/5

How do I know whether or not this is a phase?

You say: “it is a fact that whilst many young people retain the gender identity they develop in childhood or adolescence, some do not”. This is helpful, although you place the emphasis on the children who do not continue in the gender identity they develop in childhood. It would be helpful if your acknowledgement that “many children retain the gender identity they develop in childhood” came across more clearly in both your publications and in the media articles with which you collaborate (the recent Times article quotes you as having stated that 80% do not continue in their childhood gender identity – this is further discussed below).

In your communications, it often feels as though your priority is on the few children who might not retain the gender identity they develop in childhood, at the expense of clearly supporting the many young people who do retain that gender identity.

Pretty good here GIDS Tavistock 4/5

How can I help my younger child?

You state: “During this same time of life, children learn about gender roles and what is expected from each sex in their community i.e. ‘things that boys/girls do or like.’”

And:

“Our ideas of what ‘boys do and like’ or what ‘girls do and like’ changes over time”.

And:

“There is nothing ‘wrong’ with any child who explores interests and activities outside of the current gender stereotypes.  Indeed, it is probably helpful for all children to be encouraged to play with a range of toys, friends, activities and emotions in order that they can find out what works best for them as this will likely help them grow into rounded and accepting adults”.

More of this:

“parents may want to influence how a child plays or behaves in order to protect their child from stigma, but it is important not make the child feeling like they are doing something wrong”

And this:

“When a child’s interests and abilities are different from societal expectations, he or she can be noticed or even discriminated against by others”

Come on GIDS Tavistock, you were doing so well! A transgender identity is not about gender roles or things that boys or girls do or do not like or dislike. Why can’t you unpick this? Why not say “a boy liking dolls or dresses and a girl liking football or trousers does not mean they are transgender. These children do not need to be supported by a service like GIDS Tavistock.

GIDS Tavistock is to provide support to children and young people with a gender identity that is different from the gender identity they were presumed at birth. This service is for children who state “I am a girl” or “I’m not a boy” (when assigned male at birth), or “I’m neither”. Of course there are more complicated situations, and it can be hard for parents and children when gender identity is not clear or when there is confusion about whether the underlying issue is one of gender identity or expression / gender roles, and the GIDS Tavistock can support young people to explore these issues. But for a child who feels that they are a boy, and is a boy who likes playing with stereotypically girls toys, or likes stereotypically girls’ clothing or who has a more gentle play behaviour or is perceived to be more feminine, this is not a relevant service.

This service is surely for the small percentage of children for whom gender identity has become a critical issue in their development, not for children who might prefer non-stereotypical play or dress.

Gender isn’t all that matters.

You say: “Try and get a balance between paying attention to a child’s gender-related preferences whilst not allowing gender to become the only way in which you understand your child.  Allow your child access to all sorts of toys, friends and activities, associated with both boys and girls. “

What? Oh come on GIDS Tavistock. How is this relevant to children like mine who feels that they are a different gender. For children (assigned male at birth) who do not give a damn what toys or friends or activities they play with as long as they are acknowledged as a girl. Gender IS all that matters when you have a child who is severely distressed about their gender identity. Are you aiming this advice towards parents of transgender children (surely your target audience?), or aiming it at parents of ‘gender non-conforming children’. If the latter, please put this in a different section. Sure, gender non-conforming children may get bullied for non-stereotypical behaviour, activities, friends, clothing preferences. Sure parents who have very fixed ideas about gender roles and norms may need reassurance about what toys their child can play with, but this is not advice for parents of transgender children.

Even worse, this may lead some parents of gender non-conforming (but not transgender) children to question whether their child is transgender – making your near eternal wait times even longer. How is this helpful GIDS Tavistock?!

Woeful GIDS Tavistock 0/5

Social transition? 

You say: “Based on knowledge of child development and our experience of working with families, we know that some younger children benefit from a period of ‘watchful waiting’ when they appear to be questioning their assigned gender.”

GIDS Tavistock have you read the latest US American Academy of Pediatrics publication “Supporting Caring for Trans Children”?

http://hrc-assets.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com//files/documents/SupportingCaringforTransChildren.pdf

supporting-trans-children

This is a fantastic publication that actually helps parents of transgender children with some really clear advice. In this, they rightly clarify the term ‘watchful waiting’ as ‘delayed transition’. It would be more honest if the term ‘delayed transition’ was used here.

More broadly – please take a look at this US publication. This is the kind of material I was hoping to see on the GIDS Tavistock website. Clear and informative.

Some further reading needed GIDS Tavistock 2/5

Looking after yourself

You say: “Some parents tell us that they wonder whether they are to ‘blame,’”.

This would be a good place to reiterate the recent Lancet article conclusion “to date, research has established no clear correlations between parenting and gender incongruence”.http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(16)00683-8/fulltext

Well done GIDS Tavistock for acknowledging the difficulties parents face trying to support their children within a sometimes hostile society 4/5

Evidence base: http://gids.nhs.uk/evidence-base

I don’t really know how to start here GIDS Tavistock. The section on ‘evidence base’ is extraordinarily biased, selectively sourced, and lacking in evidence. The NHS GIDS Tavistock should think harder about which pieces of evidence to present in a section entitled evidence base. Such a section should also include proper referencing so that people can read the source material.

Further, the only GIDS publication that is referenced in this section is a presentation (not a peer reviewed publication) that does not seem to be publically available. This section should honestly present and weigh up a cross-section of the evidence that is available. It should acknowledge areas in which evidence is lacking, and should not overstate the case in areas where the evidence base is weak or contested.

How many people continue with their transition?

Oh come on GIDS Tavistock. In a section titled “evidence base” you present a very one-sided view of a subject that at very best can be described as contested (I would describe these statistics as discredited).

“In the majority of cases these feelings seem to discontinue either before, or early in, puberty (Steensma et al, 2013).“

This often repeated assumption appears in NHS, NICE and WPATH guidance, yet the evidence base is extremely weak and the supporting literature e.g. (Green, 1987; Money & Russo, 1979; Zucker & Bradley, 1995; Zuger, 1984, Drummond, Bradley, Peterson-Badali, & Zucker, 2008; Wallien & Cohen-Kettenis, 2008, de Vries et al 2010, Steensma et al 2011), have multiple flaws e.g. self-selecting participant groups, small sample sizes, outdated definitions of gender roles, philosophical underpinnings which have been criticised as homophobic or misogynistic, lack of follow-up. Findings have been used to make sweeping unsupported conclusions.

“Across all studies approximately 16% continue with their gender identification (Steensma et al, 2013).”

These statements are simply not supported by recent scientific literature. The few studies that give rise to similar statistics have been criticised roundly as flawed, and most importantly, they include gender non-conforming as well as transgender children. They include boys who like playing with dolls, alongside natal males who say ‘I am a girl’. These are clearly two different categories, and putting both in the same pool is clearly meaningless – the fact that boys who like playing with dolls end up being men is not in any way relevant to the question of whether natal males who say ‘I am a girl’ will continue to identify as female into adulthood.

The quoting of this cross study % figure is irrelevant and confusing given the admission that “It should be emphasised that most studies did not use the fairly strict criteria of DSM-5, and children might previously have received a diagnosis based only on gender-variant behaviour”. A cursory reading of the studies looked at by Steensma & Cohen-Kettenis reveals that many (all?) were flawed, and lacked basic rigour for cross comparison.

It would perhaps be more appropriate to simply state as in the WPATH guidelines that

“The current evidence base is insufficient to predict the long-term outcomes of completing a gender role transition during early childhood” and that “additional research is needed to refine estimates of its prevalence and persistence in different populations worldwide”.

Where evidence is weak, this should be stated. See for example the following for summaries of problems with the evidence:

 

You should not be self-selecting which pieces of evidence to present in a section on “evidence base”. This section should honestly present and weigh up the evidence that is available and honestly state where evidence is weak or contested.

Where evidence is weak it would be very reassuring to see you acknowledge this. Better still, to help all of us, it would be good to see your commitment to GIDS data being used properly by researchers to improve the evidence base. It is not helpful that one piece of evidence that you list in this section ‘GIDS Audit: Retrospective Look at Cases Closed at GIDS, presented at WPATH 2016’ does not appear to be available. If data is not made available, it cannot enhance understanding of this important topic.

This is a complex and contested subject. An honest review of the evidence would acknowledge this. Must try harder GIDS Tavistock 1/5

Social transition age

You say: “Quantitative and qualitative follow-up studies by Steensma et al (2011; 2013) present evidence to strongly suggest that early social transition does not necessarily equate to an adult transgender identity.  The qualitative study reports on two girls who had transitioned when they were in elementary school and struggled with the desire to return to their original gender role.  Fear of teasing and feeling ashamed resulted in a prolonged period of stress. One girl even struggled to go back to her previous gender role for two years.”

Reading the Dutch studies I found it difficult to reach this conclusion. This hinges on the use of the term ‘transition’, though as Steensma & Cohen-Kettenis (2010) state:

“None of the boys completely transitioned, that is they did not live in the preferred gender role on a daily basis (including a name change and change in pronouns). The boys were still treated as boys (be it a different type of boy) by other children. In contrast to the boys, the girls reported wearing boys’ clothing all the time. Most of them also had boyish haircuts. None of the girls ‘officially’ transitioned by changing their name or informing other children that they wanted to be referred to as ‘he’. However, as a result of their appearance and behaviour, virtually all the girls were largely perceived and treated like boys.”

To be clear, none of these children had transitioned including the two children on which such strong conclusions are made. This is very very weak evidence on which to base any conclusion on social transition. In your conclusion, for this section on social transition, you again talk about gender roles not about identity:

You say: “As such, in our approach, we would encourage exploration of gender roles in this younger cohort, with a view to keeping options open and not having any pre-conceived ideas as the longer term outcome. This could be summarised as a ‘watch, wait and see’ approach”.

This ‘guidance’ contrasts very strongly with the actually useful guidance in the new American Academy of Pediatrics publication which is worth quoting at length:

“Competent clinicians generally can tell transgender kids apart from other gender expansive children. Many delayed-transition advocates say this is impossible until a child reaches puberty, but their own studies contradict them, identifying early characteristics that predict whether gender dysphoria will continue. Persisters in these studies had more cross-gender behavior and more intense gender dysphoria during childhood, as measured on various psychological tests. Interviewed later, they also described their childhood experiences with gender differently. For instance, persisters recalled insisting that they were the “other” gender, while desisters had said they wished they were that gender.”

And:

“It is clear that many children who are gender-expansive or have mild gender dysphoria do not grow up to be transgender — but these are not the children for whom competent clinicians recommend gender transition”.

Further:

“As in most areas of medicine and life, there is no perfect test to predict what is best for each child. But delayed-transition advocates treat unnecessary or mistaken gender transition as the worst-case scenario, rather than balancing this risk with the consequences of the delay. There is no evidence that another transition later on, either back to the original gender or to another gender altogether, would be harmful for a socially transitioned child — especially if the child had support in continuing to explore their gender identity. More important, untreated gender dysphoria can drive depression, anxiety, social problems, school failure, self-harm and even suicide. Delayed-transition proponents have few answers for children and families in the throes of these symptoms. What’s more, we know little about the long-term consequences of prolonging gender dysphoria.”

You would also be recommended to look to the American Academy of Pediatrics publication for a helpful summary of ‘Gender Affirmative Approaches’.

Your ‘evidence’, GIDS Tavistock, appear to be entirely ignoring the recent studies on the gender affirmative model see for example:Hidalgo et al (2013)  The Gender Affirmative Model: What We Know and What We Aim to Learn  and,

Hill et al (2010) An Affirmative Intervention for Families With Gender Variant Children: Parental Ratings of Child Mental Health and Gender

You are falling out of touch GIDS Tavistock. Please keep up with more recent research and publications GIDS Tavistock 1/5

Case studies of young people

I’m not going to review these in any detail, but would like to feel more confident in how you’ve selected which case studies to include. It might be helpful to present these each in the same way unlike the current site in which a story of a girl who did not continue to transition is presented differently to the case studies of four trans boys. I was struck by the fact there is not a single case-study of a trans girl. Is there any reason for that?

Conclusion: 

I added up your marks GIDS Tavistock- you got 22/40 so 55%.

It is a good start but I do feel you are letting yourself down in a few areas. We know you can do better and would love to help you improve to be the best you can be. 

 

10 reasons why the #dontjudgegender verdict makes families of transgender children concerned

family-blog

Last week, when I read the news story about a 7 year old being removed from their mother’s care, I felt scared and upset. This reaction was shared by many families of transgender children throughout the UK. I knew nothing about this specific case or this specific child. Other people may have read the news and unequivocally thought the judgement correct, or otherwise, as in the words of a colleague, thought it “sounds complicated… who can know what’s right and wrong here”. Families of transgender children instead responded with shock, fear, upset – I was left with a deep worry that this could be a major miscarriage of justice, which holds serious implications for my family.

Let me give you 10 reasons why my reaction may have differed from the reaction of people with less knowledge of this subject.

Before I start, let me give one opinion (fact) on which the below relies – transgender children exist – that means, in its simplest form, there are children with a strong conviction and identity that they are a gender other than the one assigned at birth. Anyone who cannot accept this (or is dogmatically unwilling to learn about this) may as well look away now. For the rest of you, I am confident in the conviction that transgender children exist, because my own daughter is one of them. But on to those 10 reasons:

1. Gender identity is clearly at the crux of this case.

There are a couple of references to the mother’s general parenting and mental health, but the vast majority of the case (and judgement, and accompanying press release) focuses on issues relating to the child’s gender identity. A case resting on a child’s gender identity is of very significant importance for a family of any gender questioning or transgender child. In such a case, having a judge who is ill-informed, ignorant or transphobic is not a moot point – it is a critical concern for anyone interested in justice.

2. Experience of those in authority tells me even senior figures can be ill-informed, ignorant or transphobic.

I have had plenty of experience of this, of meeting intelligent, experienced professionals who are ignorant of, or confused about transgender children.
My GP had never heard of transgender children when we first approached him, and was totally disbelieving that we had a child, registered as a boy, who insisted they were a girl – only through knowing our legal right to a referral to the UK’s only specialist children’s Gender Identity Centre in London, and showing them a printed copy of the NHS guidance on gender dysphoria, were we able to persuade our GP to give us a referral.

When my daughter was in a children’s ward in our hospital for a routine operation, the senior children’s nurse was astonished to meet my daughter, and asked my young child (in front of other families) when she had had ‘the operation’ (for anyone who is not aware, i) there is not one operation, ii) surgery is not important to many transgender people and iii) surgical operations are not an option until age 18). So yes, I believe that even a senior court judge could easily be ignorant, misinformed or transphobic.

3. My own experience tells me that even supposedly intelligent, progressive minded people can be ill-informed, ignorant and quietly transphobic.

Before I came to terms with having a transgender child (and many parents describe this acceptance as a process close to grief, so traumatic is it to many parents), I knew very little about the subject. I didn’t know any transgender people, let alone transgender children. I considered myself generally progressive and kind, but a lifetime of badly informed media pieces had shaped my thinking.

Growing up I was a tom boy – I remember desperately wanting a blue BMX one birthday and crying over a pink girly one. I was frustrated from being barred from playing football just for being a girl. I considered myself a feminist (I still do after a brief period when the trans-hate from a tiny minority of people using that title made me doubt).

I had absorbed the idea of ‘gender as a social construct’. Popular press articles with transwomen (I don’t remember reading articles about transmen) often seemed to peddle a very backward message of boys knowing they were in fact girls due to liking dolls and princesses. This made me feel sad, both for boys who felt like boys and liked dolls and princesses, and for girls like myself, whose definition of girl-ness was being implicitly limited to those same dolls and princesses that I hated as a girl. I was myself confused and ignorant and quietly transphobic. I have learnt a lot from my daughter. So if I myself was once ignorant and transphobic, I am aware that of course other professionals, including judges can be.

If it is possible for a judge to be ignorant and transphobic, and if having a judge who is not ignorant or transphobic is of critical importance in a case hinging on gender identity, we now turn to the question of whether this judgement and the statements by the judge, provide any clues:

toy-blog

4. Toy choice does not equal gender identity.

We will start with the easiest one. No-one would say that a girl playing with super-heroes or cars or other traditionally male toys is therefore a boy. (Sometimes things appear in the press of boys being ‘defined’ as transgender because they like ‘girls’ toys. This is emphatically not the case). If a ‘normal’ girl can play with super-heroes without being defined as actually a boy, then it follows that a transgender girl can play with super-heroes without being a boy too.

I do not know the child in question. But the judge stating the child is clearly a boy as they have male interests and like Spongebob and super-heroes is extremely backward, and shows a very naïve understanding of gender identity. In the past, some transgender people have used the fact they happen to like certain stereotypically male or female toys or activities as part of their narrative, to justify and explain to others their gender identity.

In the past transgender people were forced to define themselves as conforming to stereotypical gender roles and preferences in order to access health care. Nowadays, transgender people are more likely to refuse to simplify their narrative along such gender segregated lines. My transgender daughter likes lego, football, dancing, running, reading, spiderman, harry potter, frozen. Her toys and interests do not define who she is. When my daughter was very young and insisting that she was a girl I remember clearly one conversation:

Child: Mummy, I am a girl
Me: I really don’t understand why you keep saying that you want to be a girl. Boys and girls can play with the same toys. You can already play with any toys you want to play with. What is the problem? (me clutching at straws) I guess we don’t have any dolls in the house – boys can play with dolls too you know, would you like me to buy you a doll?
Child: But mummy I don’t like dolls. I am a girl. Can I have a spiderman?

I have learnt a lot. And one of those things is, toy preference does not define gender identity.

5. Young children can be transgender.

The judge makes a number of references expressing disbelief at a young child having a gender identity. In one section he dramatically reminds the reader that the child at this age was 4.

Many transgender people state they knew their gender identity at a young age. No-one questions it when most children state at a young age “I’m a boy” or “I’m a girl”. They only question children’s knowledge of themselves when the child states an identity that differs from the gender assigned at birth. My child has stated “I’m a girl” since they had just turned 3 and has never wavered from this (this does not mean that I am fixed on this – at the moment she has a very narrow view of binary gender – I would not be surprised if her identity becomes more nuanced or complex as she gets older, and if she one days tells me “I’m a boy”, or “I’m not sure” or any variation, my child will have my full love and support then, just as they will wherever they end up).

Transgender (inclusive of non-binary) people have always existed, in countries and societies across the world. It is not a new phenomenon. The judge casts considerable doubt on there being any possibility of a 4 or 7 year old being transgender, a view that significantly undermines his ability to be a fair judge in this case.

6. It is not easy to persuade a child to a gender identity against their wishes.

Part of this case hinges on the child being forced to dress, identify, behave and act like a girl against their wishes. I spent a considerable amount of time and effort trying to get my child to identify as a boy. Despite their obvious sadness and feeling of being rejected by me, their own mother, I tried this for over a year – such was my own ignorance and fear of having a transgender child.

Many other parents of transgender children unsuccessfully try the same, often resulting in our children becoming sad, withdrawn, depressed, rejected. No loving parent would choose this difficult path for our child, and yet all parents of transgender children face the accusation that we as parents ‘caused’ this in our child.

A recent Lancet (highly respected medical journal) article concluded that “to date, research has established no clear correlations between parenting and gender incongruence” a conclusion the judge does not mention anywhere in this case. In the recent past transgender people were treated for delusion with ‘conversion therapy’ – medical professionals have concluded that this treatment is not only unethical, but ineffective. (http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(16)00683-8/fulltext)

I do not know the child, and I cannot say whether the child is really transgender (see point 8), but the default assumption that parents (and usually mothers) are all too often blamed for gender variant or transgender children is an ingrained prejudice that all our families have to face. This judgement jumps quickly on the assumption that the child presenting as a girl is something created by the mother, with scant evidence for this claim. This makes me very wary of this judgement.

7. Being transgender is not a mental health issue.

There is a long history in the West of pathologising transgender people as delusional or in need of mental health treatment. This view has been rejected by the medical establishment, but this flawed view of being transgender being a mental health condition persists in the media.

Nowadays, even the World Health Organisation has decided to reclassify transgender issues taking them outside of being classified as a mental health disorder (scheduled for removal from ICD 2018). Despite this, the judge strongly criticises the mother for not engaging the child with the Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service CAMHS. For those of you with no deep understanding, this criticism may seem valid. For those of us with experience, it is not.

The appropriate NHS service to support gender questioning and transgender children is the GIDS/Tavistock centre. CAMHS can provide additional support for children who have distinct mental health issues in addition to gender issues, eg for teenagers who are self-harming. CAMHS do not treat children for gender identity issues, and often are not equipped to deal with young children – they refer such children on to the GIDS/Tavistock and discharge them (or refuse to engage with them in the first place if they have ‘just’ gender identity issues).

Young transgender children without other mental health issues are not normally seen by CAMHS – my transgender daughter is not engaged with CAMHS as she is a happy child with no mental health issues (just gender identity issues). This is not controversial. The judge is either grossly under-informed, or conveniently misrepresenting this.

8. Gender identity is not ‘diagnosed’.

In several areas of the judgement, the judge touches on the question of whether or not the child had been diagnosed as transgender, or whether the mother had just made up (lied about) this diagnosis. This shows a significant misunderstanding of gender identity.

While there is increasing scientific agreement that being transgender is likely to be physiological rather than mental (the Lancet found “compelling evidence that the neurobiology of the brain is important in predisposing an individual to an incongruent gender identity”) “there is no test for being transgender”. (http://www.thelancet.com/series/transgender-health)

Many countries have now moved to a self-identification system wherein a transgender person can legally adopt the gender they identify as simply by saying ‘I am a girl/woman’ or ‘I am a boy/man’ without the need for a psychologist to validate this self-view. The Lancet similarly concluded “the only valid route to understanding a person’s gender identity is to listen to them”. (http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(16)00683-8/fulltext)

In the UK in many spheres gender identity is moving towards self-definition. For GP registration a person needs to simply state that they identify as a girl/woman. For schools new guidance from the Department of Education states that in the rare cases where there is uncertainty on which gender marker to use, the school should use the child/parent’s preference. (https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/554478/School-census-2016-to-2017-guide-version-1.3.pdf)

To change a gender marker on a passport a letter is needed from a medical professional stating that the person identifies as a girl/woman or boy/man and is likely to continue to do so. These definitions are not an externally imposed ‘diagnosis’, but an acknowledgement of what the individual themselves believes and feels.

To suggest that there is some medical test or diagnosis, and that the child’s view (usually presented by the parent) is invalid or fraudulent, is grossly misrepresenting the situation. Of course things are complicated when parents don’t agree (as in this case) or when there is disagreement between the child and their parents (as in the recent case with a 14 year old). Of course there is the possibility that in a very rare case a parent could misrepresent their child’s view. But the nuances of gender identity ‘diagnosis’ do not come across clearly in this judgement, and I fear the judge does not understand this issue at all.

9. Transphobic hate crime is a crime.

In recent years the police have made some significant steps in supporting and protecting the rights of transgender people. Transgender is a protected characteristic under law, and is protected whether the abused individual is actually transgender, or is perceived as being transgender – so in this case, where the abuse came from a perception of being transgender, the abuse is a hate crime regardless of whether or not the child is actually transgender.

The judge shows total lack of understanding of the difficulties of being a transgender person (or a parent supporting a transgender child) in a transphobic society. The judge shows total lack of empathy for the child and the mother in the coverage of hate crime incidents where others tried to pull the child’s trousers down. Abuse from neighbours is similarly brushed aside.

A school who were unwilling to accept the child are not in any way criticised. Hate crime and transphobic bulling towards transgender children, both from family, neighbours, schools, and professionals including social workers and the police is a real phenomenon.

The Judge dismissed the suggestion that staff at the Catholic school “were religiously or culturally opposed to gender dysphoria” as “crass cultural and religious stereotyping”. While Catholic teaching on transgender issues is too complex an issue to tackle here, assuming schools cannot be prejudiced is naïve in the extreme when only recently the Bishop of Shrewsbury “warned Catholic schools and colleges of the dangers of the “ideology of gender” that is spreading throughout the western world”. http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2016/10/06/bishop-urges-catholic-teachers-to-resist-ideology-of-gender/.

The judge brushes any such concerns under the carpet, again showing zero awareness of the battles the families of transgender children face every day.

10. It is not just about this child.

This is a deeply sad case. My heart goes out to that poor child. Regardless of the details of this case, this child has been very let down by the whole system. But this judgement is not just about this child. Let’s be very clear. The judge, the judgement and the accompanying press coverage has not focused on this being one sad case of a mother who was deemed unsuitable to look after her child for a combination of complex reasons one of which relates to gender identity. The case, the judgement and the press coverage has focused squarely on gender identity, a judgement on whether or not this child is transgender and whether or not the mother behaved appropriately (or abusively) in regard to their gender identity.

In making his judgement and highly public announcement, the judge gave zero care for the well being of transgender children like mine. He did not state clearly that transgender children do exist and that there is evidence that supporting transgender children is linked to better outcomes for them. No. He linked the mother’s support for their child to accusations of ‘child abuse’ and causing significant emotional damage (omitting any mention of the significant evidence of emotional damage caused by ignoring and suppressing a child’s gender identity).

The judge criticises social services, GPs and schools for being tied to a ‘transgender ideology’. He asks the Director of Child Services to review the case and draw wider conclusions. He has gone far beyond the normal remit of one child custody battle to infringe on the already very vulnerable rights of my child. He has made it acceptable for people to provide anonymous complaints to social services purely for parents ‘allowing’ their children to dress or identify as a different gender. He has made it essential for social services to severely critique and investigate all such anonymous reports, even though in this case a number of social workers reviewed the case and concluded the mother was supporting appropriately.

The judge has created a potential nightmare for my child, our family, and the families of many other transgender children who are trying our very best to look after our children in already exceptionally difficult circumstances.

Transgender children’s right to exist is protected under the Equality Act, the one piece of protection that families like mine cling to. This judge, through ignorance or transphobia, is threatening this legal protection. That is why families like mine are deeply unsettled, saddened and afraid after this ruling.