We liberal elite can all have a good laugh at Sally and Nigel Rowe, the Christian couple who withdrew their child from school after a male pupil turned up wearing a dress. Susie Green, the chair of transgender support group Mermaids, was the progressive voice of reason against narrow-minded bigots on Tuesday’s Today programme. You could almost hear the sympathetic head-tilt of interviewer, Sarah Montague, as Green told listeners that we all have a duty to educate ourselves to alleviate the suffering of transgender children.
Taking issue with a boy who wants to wear a dress is ridiculous. However, it is equally ridiculous to suggest a boy who chooses to wear a dress is therefore a girl. To present the arguments about gender non-conforming children as “regressive Christians” versus “enlightened progressives” is to do us all a disservice.
A woman who describes herself as a “proudly progressive parent”, Penny White, explained to me the situation she found herself in when her then 12-year-old daughter “diagnosed herself with gender dysphoria”.
Her daughter’s understanding of herself as transgender was based on the articles she’d read on Tumblr and the videos she’d watched on YouTube. Four years later, her daughter slowly but surely began to outgrow her belief that she “must” be a boy. By the time she was 17 she had reclaimed her name and her body. She also came out as a lesbian; gender non-conformity in childhood is often an indication of same-sex attraction in adolescence and adulthood. Perhaps this isn’t surprising, as loving someone of the same sex is about as gender non-conforming as it gets.
Penny explains her concerns about the approach taken by organisations such as Mermaids and GIRES: “I believed that I had to affirm my daughter’s identity or risk driving her to suicide. My fear is that there are many gender non-conforming kids being medicalised at young ages and set on a path of infertility, surgery, and lifelong hormone injections when, if given the time to grow up, would be health happy gay and lesbian adults. Or even straight adults who just don’t happen to be gender-conforming.”
“Being transgender is much more compatible with conservative Christian ideology than being gay or lesbian. It’s also more compatible with conservative Muslim ideology, which is why they execute gay people in Iran but pay for sex changes.”
The conservatism of transgender ideology is often absent from modern discussions about gender, and there is a lazy conflation of transgender issues with gender neutrality. The moves by John Lewis and some schools to introduce “gender neutral” clothing are to be welcomed, but it is baffling that they have been heralded across the liberal media as a victory for “transgender pupils”. It is worth remembering that if we did not live in such a grossly gendered and sexist society, there would be nothing for anyone to transition into.
Caroline, who asked for me to use a pseudonym, is a Child Protection Officer with over 20 years’ experience. She told me: “There is no way that professionals can possibly pass on concerns [about children who identify as transgender] without being considered transphobic or bigoted. Many of us share the same concerns [about children being pushed into medical solutions] including friends of mine who are GPs, educational psychiatrists, social workers: all great people who work tirelessly for the good of young people. I see children changing their name, turning against their family, rewriting their past.”
There is no one approved way to respond to a child who declares themselves to be transgender. For decades feminists have fought to liberate people from the gendered expectations of being born female or male, and have spread the message that we should seek to change society, not bodies. The opinion that no child’s body is wrong should not be controversial and it deserves to be heard.
At the moment, we’re used to hearing only one side of a nuanced and complex debate. The number of children identifying as transgender is increasing year on year, and there are many more girls who experience body dysmorphia and want to change sex than there are boys. There is compelling evidence to suggest that some of these children would, after puberty, actually come to feel secure and happy in the bodies they were born with, eradicating the need for serious medical intervention. It is irresponsible not to investigate this possibility – indeed, by not doing so we are in danger of failing children.
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