The current Scottish trans Gender Recognition Act consultation refers to ‘evidence that socially transitioned 16 year olds’ exist – but fails to include any acknowledgement of the existence of trans children under 16.
This got me thinking of the erasure of trans children.
All too often trans children are completely erased from discussions.
Without visibility this most vulnerable group of children continue to have their basic rights denied. All too often, trans allies and advocates avoid any reference at all to trans children – it’s too political, too controversial, or too outside of their personal knowledge. Trans children can just wait until they are 18 for fair treatment right? Maybe we can wait until the following generation, after trans adults achieve equality, and then consider trans children. Maybe your trans great grandchildren will be treated well.
Whilst trans advocates and allies pretend trans children don’t exist, the people who are left talking incessantly about children are those opposed to trans equality. Transphobes and trans-antagonists, railing ‘just think of the (cisgender) children’, ‘save them from the trans menace’!
Aside from a couple of notable exceptions (including Paris Lees) who exactly is speaking up for my child? Who cares about trans children?
I decided to do a small piece of simple research into the visibility or erasure of transgender children. I looked at the 208 submissions to the 2015 Women’s and Equalities Committee’s Transgender Equality Inquiry.
For each submission I searched for the use of the term ‘child’ (a search which will also find any references to children, childhood etc).
My results were pretty interesting. More detail is at the bottom of the post, but I’ll summarise the key findings here:
Over half of the submissions (58%) gave zero references to children (trans or cis). This included the vast majority of submissions from transgender adults, the submissions from nearly all government departments, from MPs, from Police forces, from the Royal College of GPs, from Action for Trans Health, from the Albert Kennedy Trust.
A further 16% only used the term children in reference to the (presumed cis) children of trans adults, to intersex children, or in a phrase like ‘looked after children’. This included the British Association of Gender Identity Specialists and the General Medical Council.
Three quarters (74%) of submissions contained zero references to the existence of transgender children
15% had only one or two very brief references to transgender children, some of which avoid acknowledging the existence of trans children. Both NHS England and Stonewall only mention children in reference to the existence of a “Children’s Gender service“. The Equality and Human Rights Commission manages only two references to “gender variant children” or “children whose gender identity is less well-developed or understood than that of an adult”.
89% of submissions to the 2015 Women and Equalities Commissions Transgender Equality Inquiry either didn’t mention children at all, or barely mentioned them.
The remaining 11% of submissions is where I now turn my attention:
Submissions that referred to children more than twice:
Only 23 submissions (11%) referred to children more than twice.
These can be roughly divided into three categories:
a) 7 submissions (3%) were from anonymous parents of transgender children/transgender children – This included 6 parents of transgender children, and one trans young adult who had been treated in children’s services. These submissions contained credible and relevant real life information on transgender children (but there were only 7 submissions from the families affected). These submissions were all anonymous – a great indication of how voiceless these children are.
b) 7 submissions (3%) were from people or organisations whose submission is supportive or neutral towards trans people, these included:
- FOCUS: The Identity Trust provides 3 references to transgender children and 2 to gender-variant children
- GIRES provides 4 references to transgender children, but doesn’t use the term ‘transgender’, simply calling them children (though in the context the references are to trans or gender variant children)
- Lancashire LGBT provides 16 references to trans children,
- Mermaids provides 21 references to trans children, children referred to gender services or children with gender dysphoria
- Peter Dunne provides 5 references to transgender children
- Polly Carmichael from the Children’s Gender Identity Service provides 21 references to trans or gender variant children, yet fails to use the term transgender children even once, instead referring to a variety of terms including ‘children experiencing difficulties in their gender development’ ‘unconventional children’ ‘children with GID’ ‘Children with gender dysphoria’ ‘children with gender incongruence’
- The British Psychological Society is rather a mixed bag with one reference to “rare cases it has been thought that the person is seeking better access to females and young children through presenting in an apparently female way”, with 1 reference to transgender children and 1 reference to children with gender dysphoria.
c) 9 submissions (4%) were from people or organisations whose submission is negative or antagonistic to trans people:
- A specific person, SJ, refers to children in terms of the threat posed by adults “luring children into women’s toilets in order to assault them”
- A specific person, AF, provides 16 references about protecting children from psychologically disturbed individuals and gender ideology
- Evangelical Alliance provides 7 references to the need to protect children
- Lesbian Rights Group provides 14 references to children including outlining the ‘pressures on young people and small children to transgender’ and highlighting the ‘transgendering of children – a matter of concern’.
- A specific person, MY, includes 7 references to protecting children including ‘from possible parental or other abuse’ and recommends ‘treating the parents’.
- The group ‘Parents Campaigning for Sex Equality for Children and Young People’ contains 65 references to children focusing predominantly on gender expression / toy stereotypes as well as on the need to protect against ‘transgendering children’
- ‘Scottish Women against Pornography’ has 17 references that confuse gender identity with gender stereotypes
- A specific person, SDA, provides 11 references to children focusing on gender expression/toy stereotypes and arguing the need to stop the ‘powerful trans activist lobby from pathologising normal childhood’ and arguing against ‘trans theory’
- ‘Women and Girls Equality Network (WAGEN)’, by Dr Julia Long, contains 13 references to children focusing on stereotypical gender expression/roles and arguing against ‘transgendering of children’.
These 9 trans-antagonistic submissions listed above contain 151 references to children. This is nearly more references to children than the other 199 submissions combined.
One qualification to the above research summary: I only searched for use of the word ‘child’ (or ‘children’). It is possible that some submissions focused on children without using the word children. Some submissions may, for example, have used the term transgender youth or adolescent – a more in depth analysis could consider more search terms – but arguably a decision to utilise the word ‘youth’ and avoid the word ‘child’ in a submission is itself a value judgement on the existence or not of trans children and is itself part of a culture of erasure of trans children.
Transgender children are almost completely invisible in society. Trans children need allies speaking up for them.
Yet over three quarters of submissions to the Women and Equalities Commission 2015 Transgender Equality Inquiry contained no acknowledgement of the existence of trans children.
The submissions with the most references to children (cis or trans) are those written by individuals and groups opposed to trans rights. Inputs on transgender children are overwhelmingly written by those ideologically opposed to supporting transgender people. Transphobic individuals and groups are being allowed to set the conversation on children, meaning the actual issues of enormous importance to trans children aren’t even on the agenda. The debate is instead being framed as between (trans-antagonistic or trans sceptical) people who care about protecting children versus trans adults. To re-frame this debate, we need trans advocates to talk about trans children.
Stop the erasure of trans children!
There were over 40 submissions from individual trans adults (or adults with a trans history/adults of trans experience). Almost none of these submissions from trans adults mentioned trans children. Parents of trans children are unable to speak openly (all submissions from parents were anonymous). Cisgender parents of trans children are also sometimes unsure about our credibility speaking out on trans issues. Trans children cannot speak for themselves. Someone needs to speak up.
Hardly any trans-supportive organisations mentioned trans children in their submissions. If your organisation only listens to the voices of trans adults, you are excluding the most vulnerable trans group. Organisations like Stonewall (whose 2015 submission ignored trans children) have a trans advisory panel consisting of only trans adults. Yet it is very clear from this review that transgender adults can’t be assumed to speak up for the needs of current transgender children.
Organisations aiming to support trans equality need to either work with parents of trans children (most of whom are cis, some of whom are trans), or, at the very least, make sure that at least one trans adult is designated to represent trans youth (reaching out to older trans adolescents directly) and we need at least one trans adult designated to represent trans children (reaching out to parents supporting trans children, as the stakeholders who best understand the very many challenges facing trans children).
Without proactive effort to engage with parents and families of trans children, trans children will remain voiceless.
The erasure of trans children in the 2015 submissions to the Trans Equality consultation is shocking.
We must do better for trans children.
Let’s start with the current Scottish GRA consultation (open to submissions from anywhere in the world – and we know those opposed to rights and respect for trans children are submitted from all over the world).
Please complete the short questionnaire on a reformed Scottish Gender Recognition Act. At a minimum please include in your submission acknowledgement of the existence of trans children. Better still, refer to the issues and challenges that affect trans children. If you don’t know any trans children – then get in touch with families of trans children, or organisations like Mermaids.
Trans children exist and they desperately need support.
Don’t leave them voiceless and invisible.
Follow us on twitter @FierceMum and @DadTrans
Further info on the findings
I looked at all 208 submissions to the Women’s and Equalities Committee’s Transgender Equality Inquiry.
For each submission I searched for the term ‘Child’ (a search which also found any reference to children, childhood etc).
Limitations of the research findings:
1) This research was carried out quickly to give an overview of the data. I looked at all 208 submissions, but quickly and without moderation of findings – some level of errors and oversights are likely.
2) The keyword used was ‘child’ (to include children). It is possible that some submissions focused on children without using the word children. Some may for example have used the term youth. Arguably the decision to utilise the word youth and not child is itself a value judgement on the existence or not of trans children and is part of a culture of erasure of trans children. The Gendered Intelligence submission uses the phrase ‘young trans people’ which refers to “people aged 25 and under”
Over half of the submissions (117 = 56%) gave zero references to children (trans or cis).
This included the vast majority of submissions from transgender adults, the submissions from nearly all government departments, from MPs, from Police forces, from the Royal College of GPs, from Action for Trans Health, from the Albert Kennedy Trust.
Another 16% (34), only used the word children when quoting the title of an NHS Department (eg Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAHMS); in reference to the children of transgender adults, in a generic reference to childhood, in reference to intersex children, and in brief references to children in the phrase ‘looked after children’ or ‘children’s homes’. This group included the British Association of Gender Identity Specialists, the General Medical Council and Gendered Intelligence.
Organisations that refer once or twice to the existence of trans children
26 organisations (13%) had only one or two very brief references to transgender children, copied in table below:
Some of these avoided the term transgender children, only referring to ‘children in the gender service’ for example the single reference to trans children by Stonewall states “The Tavistock and Portman is the only specialist clinic, providing early intervention treatment for children and young people.” NHS England similarly only describes the ‘Children’s clinic’.
Table: Organisations that refer once or twice to transgender children
2 thoughts on “The Erasure of Trans Children”
Thank you for this bit of research. I’ve been working my way slowly and idiosyncratically through the Scottish GRA consultation document (see https://transponderings.blog/2018/01/28/gra-reform-in-scotland-overview/), and when I get to Part 4 shortly, I’ll certainly be talking about trans children and their rights. If any trans children are too young to identify their gender, it seems to me that we have to say the same for their cis counterparts (though, if anything, they are likely to have *less* certainty about their gender!). If there is an age below which we decide children can’t have their gender legally recognised, then surely no child below that age should have a gender assigned to them.
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