In recent weeks and months there has been much talk about the rights and wrongs of policies promoted by such bodies as education authorities to meet the needs of children who identify as “transgender”.
One example is recent policy guidance from government which advocates allowing boys who believe they are girls to use the single-sex changing and toilet facilities, and also allowing these boys to compete as girls in sports. Many have voiced concerns about the rights and needs of girls in these circumstances.
However, I believe that there should be concern about such guidance, not just for girls or women but for all children. What are children being taught? Why has the transgender case been so readily accepted without any assessment of the impact on all children and on their mental and physical health and welfare?
I am also concerned that children who are unhappy about their bodies and their gender are being identified as the problem. In the example above, it is not the boys, it is the adults who are letting children down in their promotion of this unthinking guidance.
All children are being failed in the rush to accept explanations and prescriptions promoted to respond to the discomfort and distress that some children feel about their bodies and the expectations of them. The explanations about gender and sex which have been promoted in relation to children have huge holes in them. Nevertheless the trans lobbyists’ dictum that children should be encouraged to understand their distress as being evidence that they should “transition” has been accepted by state funded organisations right up to the highest levels of government in Scotland.
The holes in the case are becoming more and more evident. Firstly there is the assertion that children may be born into the “wrong body” and that they can “know” whether they are boys or girls regardless of their actual material biology. The assertion is made consistently that gender is merely “assigned” at birth on the basis of the misleading evidence of biological sex. In this explanation, children who are unhappy about the biological fact of their male or female bodies are in fact discovering their “real” identity. They can then be reassured that any unhappiness that they feel about expectations of them as boys or as girls is because they are not boys but girls, or vice versa.
It is all too easy to understand why children should be unhappy about the expectations placed on them about their behaviour, feelings, identity, and futures. Like other women I talk to about this, we firmly believe these expectations and some children’s unhappiness are based on sexism. Rigid gender policing not some quackery notion of being born in the wrong body is at the root of these children’s distress. Offering them an explanation that it is something wrong with them that can be put right by magical thinking is not an answer.
Many women I have spoken to recall the same horror of realising that we were destined to grow into women, with women’s bodies, breasts, periods, hair. This horror may be shared by boys when they realise that they are destined to grow into equally alien hairy muscly men with penises and testicles. I vividly remember lying awake mentally designing a device for preventing breasts, and imagining ways that I could pee standing up like my brothers. I also remember being given a toy ironing board for Christmas while my brother got a chemistry set. I was humiliated having to stand and pretend to iron clothes for the aunts and uncles while he was encouraged to perform scientific experiments. If anyone had told me that there was such a thing as being a boy trapped in a girl’s body I would have leapt at the opportunity.
Being offered no such explanation for my misery, I instead discovered feminism. It was not me that was wrong, it was society. I read de Beauvoir, Fanon, Greer, Millet, Friedan, Spare Rib. I was not only reconciled with my biology but went on to appreciate the enormous privilege that it is to be a woman, despite the daily insults to our intelligence and worth.
Sexism means that there are huge downsides to being a man – expectations about their behaviour and feelings that can make boys feel as miserable as girls at being trapped by their bodies. But it is not their bodies that are wrong. How can a healthy body need to be changed, stunted, denied? Why should fertility be suppressed?
It is wrong to claim that challenging transgender explanations and rights is the same as challenging homosexual rights. It is the exact opposite. The celebration of physical love and desire for persons of the same sex is not a denial of the facts or of their minds or bodies, but an acceptance of this. No hormone treatment, no surgery, no change of pronouns, or of birth certificates or legal names is required to accept homosexuality entirely and without reservation.
Feminists and others who have attempted to discuss or challenge what to us is sexism that is putting children – boys and girls – at risk have been shouted down, labelled “transphobic” and accused of bigotry and even “hate crime”. Feminists including Germaine Greer, Jenny Murray, Julie Bindel, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie have been “no platformed” and vilified for questioning the claim that anyone can be the opposite gender to their biological sex.
A woman who was punched by a trans activist was actually rebuked by the judge in the court case for not referring to the aggressive young man who had attacked her as “she”. Many people have and are keeping silent in the face of the threat to their personal safety, their reputations and the sheer illogic and irrationality that seems to have triumphed. The fact that agencies like the Children’s Commissioner not only accept the arguments put forward but actually espouse them is frightening. It puts all children at risk. It seems that no-one in authority is prepared to challenge any of the claims made on behalf of transgender ideology so that irrationality has rapidly become an orthodoxy.
Proposals that are being – rather quietly – consulted upon by the Scottish Government at the moment give cause for even greater concern. These proposals are that anyone who declares themselves to be of the opposite gender to their biological sex should have that gender accepted and that they should be treated as women or as men legally, socially, and in private and sexual lives. The Children’s Commissioner has responded by saying that he believes children as young or even younger than 12 should be understood to have capacity to make this decision with or without parental consent. Edinburgh City Council has suggested that if parents withhold their consent, the “named person” for the child should be able to intervene in favour, and to ensure the child is able to “transition” and to have “treatment” by way of hormone blockers, breast binders and perhaps even surgery.
I think that the Children’s Commissioner has forgotten that children have the right to be protected from making wrong decisions or being exploited. That is why children cannot marry, or legally consent to sexual activity under the age of 16 years. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child holds that children should not be understood to have adult criminal capacity until they are 18. But both the Children’s Commissioner and at least one local authority have declared that they believe it is a child’s right to make an irrevocable and life-changing decision at the age of 12. This is not protecting children’s rights.
If the ideas that have apparently taken hold among politicians and policy makers were to be openly debated and discussed without suppression by the threat of vilification and even physical harm that currently pertains, we would very quickly become a discussion about sexism, about unfair and stupid expectations of how girls and boys should act, and how they should feel. This would be much better promotion of children’s rights and children’s welfare than adopting badly thought out guidance that will help no children at all.