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 This is a description of behaviour or interest (and based on outdated stereotypes of ‘cross gender behaviour’).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.
- If you are in the UK, have a transgender or gender non conforming child Mermaids provide help and support: http://www.mermaidsuk.org.uk/
- This resource from the American Academy of Pediatrics is a fantastic resource for the evidence supporting a gender affirmative approach: Supporting and Caring for Trans Children
- Some of the many critiques of Zucker’s flawed research findings:
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