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 This is a description of behaviour or interest (and based on outdated stereotypes of ‘cross gender behaviour’).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:
- You may also be interested in our other posts:
16 thoughts on “BBC sponsor vicious attack on transgender children”
Great, comprehensive response.
It was telling how often they used the phrase “transgender activist” when in many cases they were referring to professionals (psychologists and psychiatrists) specialising in gender. Activist is a loaded word, deliberately chosen to conjure up images of a member of some small, albeit vocal, group on the fringes.
Also, the use of stock footage of Pride featuring drag queens was calculated to associate trans women with the exaggerated performance of drag in the minds of the audience, reinforcing the transphobic lie that trans women are somehow not authentic.
The worst aspect for me is that I have seen comments about the programme on Twitter from people who have no idea about the detailed background of Zucker’s history with reparative therapy. They naively think that because two different opinions are presented in a very limited number of cases, this constitutes a balanced argument. Even the producer, Sam Bagnall, appears to have fallen into this trap. But far from explaining that Zucker’s theories and methods are largely discredited within his profession, the programme gives his point of view prominence, which leads the viewer to assume that Zucker’s side is the mainstream one, and he was hounded out of his position by a figurative howling mob. The dishonesty of the whole thing astounded me.
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Reblogged this on misswonderly and commented:
IF YOU READ ONE THING about @BBCThisWorld’s damaging documentary on transgender children, make it **THIS** by the parent of one
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May I use this on our website http://transfigurations.org.uk
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Hey Carol, thanks for asking. Yes, please feel free to share away. CC.
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It is inconceivable that the producer, Sam Bagnell, could not have known the background to the Kenneth Zucker abusive practices in Canada, which have been discredited by both WPATH (the World Professional Association for Transgender Health) and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
It is also inconceivable that Sam Bagnell could not have known that he was misrepresenting the facts in so many parts of his programme, and it is more likely that he was deliberately misrepresenting them.
Given the recent scandals within the BBC, it would appear that they at best have not yet learned their lessons, and at worst, by allowing this terrible programme to go out, they have a transphobic agenda at senior levels within their organisation.
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Hi Fellowdad, interesting points, agree with the first, though I don’t know enough about the structures of the BBC to comment on impact or existence of senior level transphobia. Certainly there might be more thought about content related to well being of children given historical abuse.
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Thanks for this awesome response. I didn’t even dare watch because I know it will be distressing.
We should be able to watch TV about issues which affect us without fear. About time people handed over the cameras and let us make our own TV about ourselves.
When will people learn that the BBC isn’t and never has been balanced. It has a heavy balance on almost everything.
The BBC are taking us backwards. We all need to talk about this lots to get the message out there, and thanks for your article which is a great starting point.
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Has anyone been able to talk to the producers, or at least register a complaint with the BBC?
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I believe Trans Media Watch have met with the BBC’s head of diversity and are trying to engage with others in the organisation. If you’d like to register a complaint or comment with the BBC it is easy to do so you can go direct to: http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/complain-online/ and there is a useful guide here: http://uktrans.info/kidsknowbest
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This is really distressing to read. We moved from the UK just before our daughter, transgender daughter, was born and I thank my lucky stars, but I’m sad and angry for the families who have to deal with this BS, it’s so senseless.
Thank you for this post. There are a few things I would like to say in response to the claims made in the program you mentioned.
Thankfully, I live in the US, so I have a bit more support as a trans person than those in Europe.
Being trans has nothing to do with being gay or straight or any other sexuality. I am a pansexual transgender male. I originally liked only men, but have since discovered I can be attracted to anyone with whom I develop a close friendship. So I now identify as pansexual. Besides, if I still liked men, that would technically make me gay, as I identify as male. So being trans is not the same thing as being gay.
Of course behavior has nothing to do with being transgender. I used to be a tomboy, but yet was okay with being female. It is quite possible I would have been okay being an aggressive female if I hadn’t been forced to be excessively feminine. Now I am fine being male, but yet I have a number a feminine traits due to being socialized as female for much of my current lifespan. But gender expression has not as much to do with sex as with an internal psychological need to be something other than what one’s assigned gender assigns as appropriate .
Anyway, great analysis of things. tl
Fantastic response. You head every nail on every head. Well done for being so comprehensive. I’m trans and watched that open mouthed too. I wanted to switch it off, but felt compelled to watch. The only people who understand this condition properly, are the ones who suffer it, and those who are close enough to love and care.
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Thank you for this post. I didn’t watch the show but I can grasp from your review that it did not provide any meaningful content, which makes me so sad. Just to spread a little bit of hope, I work in a primary school and we now have developed our curriculum to include teaching about the LGBT community. And the great thing about it is it’s not delivered individually as a ‘subject’, it’s woven in to usualise the community. I cannot tell you how proud I am that our children can now talk about transgender people with maturity and respect. We still have a way to go, but education is one of the most important tools we have in order to avoid these ignorances. Thank you for sharing your post xx
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