The parents kicking off because their son's friend wore a dress to school shouldn't be given a platform

The Rowes have pulled their son out of school for fear of him seeing another boy in a dress. Their opinions seem confused and misguided, with their prejudices disguised behind religious rhetoric. I feel sorry for their children

The pupil chooses to wear either trousers or skirt to school – who could that possibly hurt?
The pupil chooses to wear either trousers or skirt to school – who could that possibly hurt?

This morning Radio 4's Today programme interviewed parents Sally and Nigel Rowe, who have taken the decision to withdraw their child from school, citing concerns around another pupil at the school who was sometimes presenting as a boy and sometimes presenting as a girl, correspondingly choosing sometimes to wear trousers and at others a skirt.

They presented us with a dizzying and dangerous smorgasbord of confused prejudices, all the while trying desperately trying to cram them into a misshapen framework of "Christian" concern and love.

I think it's quite important to note in this case that this particular outpouring of parental dismay has been triggered specifically by the fact that someone who had been presenting as a boy had begun (albeit intermittently) to present as a girl. It's as simple as that – as Nigel eloquently remarked, "it's inconsistent, for starters". "We're concerned... for the welfare of all the children, we're worried that it's going to cause confusion".

It strikes me that the solution here really is quite simple given there are so many resources out there to help people learn more about gender (I'm thinking especially of some of the resources provided by charities like Mermaids). Life is confusing for any six-year-old, but with learning comes understanding – why is there such a reluctance to do so here? I think we should all just take a moment to consider the ridiculousness of the idea that what one child wears at school could somehow threaten the welfare of other children.

Summer camp for transgender children in California

I don't know anything about the particular child in this case. The parents may well be in consultation with medical professionals or charities, but it's important to bear in mind too that if for instance I wanted to wear a skirt to work tomorrow, no medical consultation would be required – Sally and Nigel are assuming quite a lot in this case.

Citing "gender confusion" – a phrase beloved of organisations like the Core Issues trust (you might remember Mike Davidson's slot on GMB last week) – Sally suggests that things should happen "in private with experts". If the child is consulting with medical professionals, then doubtless these consultations do happen in private. Gender expression though is a pretty public thing. That's why it's called expression, surely. I feel patronising pointing it out, but we live in public, so gender is by definition public.

In amongst the various rhetorical cliches regurgitated by the Rowes this morning was that of the "agenda": "The point is we're in a public space, we're in a school here where you have children from different families and we just don't believe that's the environment where this agenda should be pushed."

Again I hesitate to point out the blindingly obvious, but the implication that somehow a six year-old is motivated by some sort of conspiratorial agenda is barely worth contemplating. I would invite Sally and Nigel to think about whether it is not they who are in fact pushing their agenda – on this child; a child who of course has no voice here, as their right to an identity is being debated over breakfast.

It has been quite difficult to put together any kind of coherent picture to sum up what it is the Rowes actually believe, and I think the reason for that is pretty simple – beliefs on this frankly aren't particularly coherent themselves. There is a very clumsy set of prejudices at work here, cemented together by an arrogance afforded only to the dogmatically religious who "know" they are right.

As someone who has navigated their sexuality in the context of quite overbearing family religion, I have lost count of the number of times that I have been told how much I am loved by people who in the same breath will dismiss my entire ability to love as being somehow a symptom of human brokenness.

Here we see a fear of "confusion" around gender – a concern ostensibly borne of love but in reality rooted in a deep prejudice and a lack of understanding, or a reluctance to accept the facts when it comes to statistics around self-harming and suicides amongst transgender people.

Speaking as someone who grew up in an environment where pretty extreme religious views prevailed, I can't help but feel empathy for Sally and Nigel's children. What are they going to learn from all this – being withdrawn from school, and continuing to experience the world through what I believe to be quite a distorted and damaging lens, the place beyond the confines of their parents beliefs must seem terrifying. I hope one day they will be able to break through it and they are given the opportunity to form their own beliefs and make their own judgements, independently of those they are having forced upon them.

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