Dr Jo Olson-Kennedy on puberty, blockers and hormones

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Dr Jo Olson-Kennedy, world leading expert in support for trans children, recently gave a talk at Gender Odyssey in Seattle. She provided with great clarity a wonderful overview of puberty, blockers and hormones for trans children and adolescents. The talk was recorded, and for the benefit of those interested in best practices in healthcare for trans children, I’ve written a transcript of sections of the second half (any errors in transcription are mine).

This was a talk aimed, in part, at parents of trans kids. Note the level of knowledge and the effort to explain complex topics to parents. We never hear anything like this level of sophistication combined with practical guidance from the ‘experts’ in the UK. In part this is because the UK ‘experts’ do not see their role as one of education, and in part it is because the UK ‘experts’ do not have anywhere near this level of knowledge.

Two other things you’ll note from Jo Olson-Kennedy’s presentation that you never hear from UK GIDS. 1: Respect and 2: Individualised care.

Note how each child is treated with respect and dignity. Note how each child is provided with individualised care intended to meet that child’s need. No rigid, harmful, one-size fits all protocols. No defensive or transphobic practices either.

The UK children’s gender service is run by psychologists, psychotherapists and psychoanalysts with a few psychiatrists and social workers on the team. Not one paediatrician. Jo Olson-Kennedy, on the other hand, is a paediatric Medical Doctor. Similarly, the head of the Australian Children’s Gender Service, Michelle Telfler is a paediatrician.

It is time to move UK trans children’s healthcare out of the hands of psychologists, psychiatrists and psychoanalysts. Being trans is not a mental health condition. We need medical doctors and affirmative counsellors to build resilience, along with family therapists, the latter as much to support and educate parents, as to support the child. Mental health specialists only getting involved to support either where there is a mental health issue, noting that gender identity is not in itself a mental health condition, or where a client expresses a desire for psychotherapy.

Supported trans children have good levels of mental health and do not need engagement with a mental health service. Instead, they need knowledgeable experts with empathy, ability to build resilience and confidence, and paediatric medical doctors with the ability to treat trans children with dignity, care and respect. Moving trans healthcare from specialist mental health facilities to medical doctors (eg in primary care) is common place in other countries (including parts of Canada) and could easily be introduced here.

On to Jo Olson-Kennedy’s presentation, first on puberty tanner stages:

“Everyone is born at tanner 1, there is no zero. For people with overies tanner 2 is the differentiation of the nipple areola complex from the rest of the chest and there are palpable buds that feel like buttons, that is tanner stage 2 of chest development. Tanner 3 is actual chest tissue that is different from the fat chest wall. For people with testes T2 is testicular enlargement to 4 ccs, we use an orchiometer to assess testes size, 1 inch long half an inch wide.

Pubertal timeslines are different in overian and testicular puberty. For trans masculine kids we’re talking about 9, 10, 11 (these estimates are for white kids, people of colour go through puberty at earlier ages). Preventing puberty is needed earlier for trans masculine kids.

Peak growth velocity is also different and happens at different stages of puberty. For people with ovaries the greatest changes are in stages 2 and 3 of puberty. For people with testes the greatest changes are at tanner 3 or 4. When we think of the timelines for preventing pubertal changes we have to pay more attention to our trans masculine kids than our trans feminine kids because the changes that are really horrible for trans girls are later, you don’t go to tanner 2 and get a moustache or facial hair, your voice doesn’t even drop, those are all later.

What precedes gonadal puberty is adrenal gland development. This is critical. Because 6 to 18 months before your gonads started chugging away, your adrenal glands start, in all bodies, putting out a hormone (DHEA?) which is an androgen like hormone. This causes pubic hair, axillary hair, body odour, and parents who have kids who have transitioned at 5 will have body odour panic, pubic hair panic ad I want you to know that if this is happening at 7 or 8 years old it is probably not gonadal puberty it is probably adrenal gland development, and there is no way to block that and we would not want to, the adrenal glands are super critical to life.

What happens when puberty starts?

When puberty starts your hypothalamus talks to your pituitary gland through a hormone called gonadotropin releasing hormone (GNRH), and gonadotropin releasing hormone is called that because it causes the pituitary gland to release gonadotropins, which are lutinising hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). This is true of everybodies body. This stimulates your gonads to release their sex steroids. Early in puberty and throughout puberty you secrete gonadatrophin releasing hormone in pulses, it is diurnal, once in the morning, once in the evening, LH and FSH come out in pulses, and sex steroids come out in pulses, all these things are on a feedback loop, when there is a lot of sex steroid it feeds back to reduce production.

If you have ovaries you get oestrogen and progesterone and breast development, wider hips, periods. If you have testes you get facial hair, adams apple, broadening of shoulders etc.

Case study: 10 year old assigned female at birth, socially transitioned at 5. 5 months before I got the phone call the kid’s chest development had started and they would not come out from under their bed and go to school. 10 years old. Horrific anxiety. These kind of cases. There’s really no challenge to them. They are not complicated. This kid needs blockers.

How do blockers work?

We give a biosynthetic or analogue version of gonadotrophin releasing hormone. It is called a blocker but really that is an erroneous term, it is actually an analogue, instead of getting it in pulses, instead the body gets it in a steady state, the receptors get down regulated and now no signal to the gonads to make sex steroids. It is specific to this particular pattern of development. Does not impact your thyroid. Does not impact your growth hormone. Does not impact your social development or your cognitive development. We mimic the action of GNRH and down regulate those receptors and you do not now have a message from your brain to your gonads. When you go onto continuous GNRH you get a giant pulse and then it comes down after those receptors are down regulated. That is really important because if your kid is going to go on to a blocker, they may have 4 or 5 weeks of crappy. They may have 4 or 5 weeks of emotional lability because they are getting a strong message to release their endogenous hormone and that can be really upsetting to people.

How do we know they are reversible?

Because we use GNRH analogues for a whole load of other medical conditions, we use GNRH analogues for people who start puberty at 6, 7, or 5, we don’t want them to go into puberty at 5 for a whole host of reasons. We use GNRH analogues whenever we want to shut down the hypothalamus pituitary gonad axis, so if you have a hormone dependent tumour, we want to stop the production of hormones eg prostate cancer. Also for endometriosis.

Kids have puberty panic when they are trans ‘oh no I’m going to wake up with a beard’ – so it’s real important to talk to kids and say puberty is a process, you don’t go from tanner 1 to tanner 4 in a day, that’s not how that happens. But they are very vigilant and I have a lot of trans girls in my practice who are ‘I’m pretty sure I have facial hair’ and their voice is super high and I’m like ‘no, that’s not the order of that, that’s not how it goes’, so it’s important to have those conversations. But if you’re that panicked you actually can’t participate in your life, because this is taking up a lot of bandwidth.

So how do we do this? One is injectable and the most common one we use in the USA is Lupron. There is a subcutaneous one but doesn’t have an intermediate dose so can be challenging, then there is an implant that has a medication called Histrellin which is also a GNRH analogue, Histrellin is a really small implant, goes under the arm, lasts for 2-3 years, we take them out at 2 years as our surgeons find they become more embedded after 2 years and are harder to get out.

No blockers are FDA approved for trans care, not because we haven’t been using hormones for one hundred years because we have, but because there are levels of discrimination at our highest places.

Histrellin implants are sold as two brands, one has a pediatric indication in precocious puberty – 50mg histrellin secretes 65 micrograms a day. The other one has an adult indication, it has 50 mg histrellin secretes 50 mg a day. Both are equally efficacious in suppressing puberty in kids with gender dysphoria, there is a significant difference in cost. None of these are FDA approved so you may as well get the cheaper one which is $4,000, the other one is $35,000. Equally effective. I’m about to publish a study on this.

We have a discrepancy between the Endocrine Guidelines recommendations about blockers and what actually happens on the ground. So the Endocrine Guidelines recommends puberty blockers early to avoid development of secondary sex characteristics that are undesirable at tanner 2, tanner 3. But then they also recommend hormones at 16. The newest Endocrine Guidelines address this and says there are compelling reasons to start earlier than 16.

What happens is a lot of 13 and 14 year old trans masculine kids come (to the service), they are already through puberty, because they started at 10. When they go on to GNRH analogues, because that is what the guidelines guide you to do, they go in to menopause. They are in chemically inducted menopause, which means they have hot flashes, they will have insomnia, they will have short term memory problems, they will have exacerbation of depression. This is not really addressed and I wish more people, as they do this clinical work, are going to understand that this is 100% true. So we in my practice we actually add in low dose testosterone for kids who are around 13, 14 or so, because it helps mitigate those symptoms and I think that is really important.

Weight gain. Super common in kids going on blockers because of the complicated interaction of all of the hormones of puberty. Emotional lability – some kids just do not do well and I will tell you that I have more people having challenges with injections than implant. I just think it has to do with not getting a steady dose and getting blocker wearing off towards the end of the 3 months. Also, your kid does not need to go to the OR for an implant, it is a ten minute out patient procedure to numb the kid’s arm and put it in.

Transfeminine folks on GNRH analogues and small doses of oestrogen. Argh! I feel like in some ways we suspend those kids in the worst part of female puberty. It’s like ‘hey sit here for 6 months – none of your friends will be but here you go’ and it’s really hard on them, so the dosing can be problematic. I’m going to talk about that in hormones 201 this afternoon.

Bone density is important to keep an eye on. Bones density is the amount of bone material inside the bone – it starts going up much more rapidly at puberty, so when you go on blockers you now do not have that rapid increase so getting bone density scans at baseline to make sure someone isn’t starting with really low bone density is important, but also every year. Some people think we don’t need to do that, but there hasn’t been an awful lot published on this so we do it from a safety perspective.

Growth velocity slows down when you’re on blockers and here’s why. Kids still grow on blockers but don’t grow as rapidly as they would if they had not gone on blockers. This was a study which came out of the Netherlands which showed when you add in cross sex hormones there is a jump in bone density.

It is really hard to predict linear growth. I can show you my growth charts which have only increased my consternation about this. For trans masculine kids remember, most people with ovaries get to their final adult height 18 months after their first period, so in general if you are making mostly oestrogen in your body you are going to close your growth plates faster. Most people who have a testosterone driven puberty grow well on into adolescence.

Here’s an example growth chart for a trans masculine kid, they had their period here, and would have stopped growing 18 months later. But they went on to blockers and grew slowly and then went on to low dose Testosterone and that growth velocity picked back up again. This is a boy’s growth chart because that is what we are looking at, the growth of a trans boy on a boy’s growth chart.

Here is a trans girl’s growth chart. Here she is growing at a pretty rapid growth. Goes on a blocker, it slows down. Goes on a low dose oestrogen, look at this – holy moly! So that kid was completely panicked, the kid by this point was 15 and a half and some folks would be like ‘you can’t put that kid on an adult dose of oestrogen’ but yes you can and so I did, and it flattened out, I don’t yet know if this kid’s growth plates have closed or not.

When you measure growth velocity per year, pre-puberty 9 cm a year, on the blocker moves down to 7, then moves up to 13 cm (on low dose oestrogen), so that’s really fast for oestrogen. Oestrogen, both for oestrogen and testosterone driven puberty is what accelerates growth but then is also what closes the growth plates. Complicated.

Here’s another case study: This kid started blockers – most of my trans girls start blockers around 11 and a half or 12. On blockers growth slows down, put this kid on an escalating oestrogen and then growth goes up really high, then I said we need to up the dose of oestrogen to flatten out the growth curve, which it looks like we have.

In assigned females peak growth velocity occurs in tanner 2 in 40% individuals and 30% in tanner 3.

In assigned males peak growth velocity occurs in tanner 3.

Also growth isn’t stopped in all parts of the body simultaneously. Hands and feet fuse first, then arms and legs, followed by spine. When we do a bone age we do a hand scan and that might be premature for our trans boys.

Can we use blockers in later pubertal adolescents and young adults? Absolutely. Especially if parents or kids are not ready for hormones yet, if they are like ‘no I don’t want to do that yet’ or if the parents are (not on board), so there can be a role for blockers in kids who are not in tanner 2 or 3. But you have to be careful, especially about menopause.

You can use blockers alongside gender affirming hormones. This is important, because trans girls always have to be blocked, somehow, until they have no testes. But if someone is not planning to have that surgery, they will always need to be blocked, because they always have the potential for producing testosterone.

Non-binary. So many of my non-binary are ‘can I be on blockers forever?’ No. you cannot. Hormones are sadly binary. I am cool with non-binary kids being on blockers for maybe 2 years, around, but then I get nervous about bone density so we have to have that conversation.

Here are two case examples. Both 14 year olds, showing everyone needs an individualised approach. 14 year old assigned female had period year before I saw them, came out a year ago as male, some menstrual and chest dysphoria, no suicidal attempts, was socially transitioned living as himself. Same week, 14 year old assigned female. Happy childhood. Typical very common story for transmasculine kids, tom boy, sporty, at age 11 tanked, when puberty hit multiple suicide attempts, multiple hospitalisations, also socially transitioned living as male, kid felt very strongly about needing peer concordance, was already at tanner 5. First kid said ‘I want to be on blockers’. Second kid said ‘I want nothing to do with blockers I want to be on testosterone’. And that was right for him and he’s done great.

[Editor’s Note: earlier in the talk Jo Olson Kennedy makes reference to a WPATH presentation last year, where an unnamed person, said that almost all the kids they see who go on blockers continue in the service and they have no idea why. Jo Olson-Kennedy said she does know why those kids continue in the service – because they are trans! In the final section Jo Olson-Kennedy provides two case studies of examples she has come across when kids have decided to come off blockers.]

Let me tell you about 2 kids who went on blockers and chose to stop.

This kid, assigned female, started saying ‘I a boy’ at 18 months. At 3 years old the kid was in an enormous amount of distress saying I’m a boy. At three kid socially transitioned, started living as a boy. Lived as a boy – also liked dolls and sparkly shoes. Asked ‘if I’m a boy and I like girl’s clothes, am I cross-dressing?’ Said ‘I will live as a boy at elementary school, as a girl at middle school, and by high school I’ll know what’s right for me’. The kid decided to live as a girl at 9. 2 months later called me saying I have breast buds, I need a blocker. Said didn’t want breasts and wanted time to think. Went on blockers for 2 years. 2 years later came in and said I want blocker removed, I want to go through female puberty. I said ‘what is happening with your gender?’ They said ‘well, I don’t know yet’. I said ‘well what if it lands on boy’. The kid said ‘It’s 2017, who says boys can’t have boobs’. Touche small child, I will take your blocker out. So I took the blocker out and the kid continues to live as a girl. A year later calls to say ‘do you know where I can get a binder’. And I was like ‘oh your mum wants to pole her eyes out right now’. So this kid is extraordinary and their gender is still happening. And I asked them, do you think your parents should have supported you to live as a boy for so long, and they said, ‘I wouldn’t be here now if they hadn’t’. So that is testament to what it means to socially transition, go on blockers, come off blockers.

Another kid, assigned female, got blocked at 9, started testosterone at 13, discontinued both a year later, went through their endogenous puberty identifying as non-binary and a year later came back to start testosterone again.

So all of this is ok, and it’s all good and everyone’s going to go on their journey whether we want them to or not and we can make it easier”.

 

 

UK GIDS Failing Publicly

The heads of the UK Children’s Gender Identity Service (GIDS) have just published a new journal article, featured in the British Medical Journal ‘Archives of Disease in Childhood’:

“Assessment and support of children and adolescents with gender dysphoria” Gary Butler (Consultant Paediatric Endocrinologist), Nastasja De Graaf (GIDS researcher), Bernadette Wren (Head of Psychology at GIDS), Polly Carmichael (GIDS Director).

This latest article from the heads of the UK children’s gender service (GIDS) sets out the UK service’s position and deserves close scrutiny. Here goes:

Introduction

The article is intended for “professionals” who:

“may be unsure how best to provide supportive care, how to access the national Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) for children and adolescents, or how to deal with a transgender young person presenting with another clinical problem unrelated to their gender transition”

Referencing fringe figures

The first reference they have chosen to include is co-authored by Ray Blanchard and Kenneth Zucker, two controversial figures, the former whose theories have been rejected by mainstream practitioners and who is known for speaking about trans people with disrespect, and the latter who was sacked from his clinic in Canada for work that could not be distinguished from conversion therapy and who has compared trans children to animals.

Conflating behaviour with identity

For a guide intended for non-specialists, the publication from the very start confuses and conflates behaviour, expression and identity:

Gender atypical behaviour is common among young children and can be part of general development”.

They omit any publications (e.g. Hidalgo et al 2013Olson et al 2015, Ehrensaft 2016Fast & Olson 2017)  that evidence the existence of trans children at a young age – with an insistent, consistent, persistent gender identity different from the one assigned at birth. They also omit to mention that trans children may or may not have non-traditional behaviour or expression. Gender identity and behaviour/expression are different things, and any publication intending to educate, should be clear on this. This omission is a fundamental failing.

Focus on exponential rate of rise, not on actual numbers compared to population prevalence

The first paragraph focuses on the ‘exponential’ rise in referrals since 2011. The language is alarmist, with the focus only on the rate of increase, with no discussion of the actual numbers. The actual numbers are extremely low and as with all low numbers, can easily show exponential growth.

The section on prevalence contains no discussion on how these low actual numbers compare to estimates of prevalence across the population. There is an alarmist focus on the growth rate without mentioning the numbers for 2011 were only 200 children a year (from the UK population of 60 million) and in 2016 were only 2,000 children a year. 2,000 children a year from a under 18 population of about 14 million children in the UK is still a very small percentage. So yes from 200 to 2000 is an exponential rise, but it is still only a tiny fraction of the under 18s in the UK.

This section does not mention that recent population prevalence surveys have put the trans population at around 1%, which would mean up to 140,000 of those currently under 18 might identify as trans. Referral numbers rising from 200 a year to 2,000 a year should not be a surprise in this context.

There is also zero discussion of the wider context, not only the rise in visibility and awareness of trans people in general, but the specific context in the UK – GIDS mentions a rise in referrals since 2011 with no mention of the arrival of the Equality Act in 2010, legislation that protected trans children and enabled families like mine to feel safe enough to get support at school and in other areas – protection that allowed families to be more open, protection that enabled families to support their child.

Australian gender specialists describe a rise in referrals in a completely different manner:

“Spurred on by increasing acceptance of transgender individuals in society (and normalisation of the right for anyone to question their gender identity), the number of young people seeking support is likely to increase further”

UK GIDS cannot seriously claim the rise in referrals is unexpected – a rise in referrals was predicted by GIRES back in 2009.

Focus on rise in ‘birth registered females’ 

GIDS continue:

“A striking feature of this increase is the large proportion of birth-registered females from 2011 onwards. This increase and the change in sex ratio is also seen in other countries. 

Let’s break this down. Again the focus on rise in referrals. From 57% assigned female in 2011 to 69% assigned female in 2016. From about 100 assigned females in 2011 to about 1,400 in 2016, from a population of 64 million people in the UK. Any analysis of trans prevalence would acknowledge that the 100 referrals of assigned females under 18 years old in 2011 was a gross under-representation. A rise in assigned female referrals was predicted by GIRES in 2011. A less transphobic service would celebrate the fact that more assigned females are getting listened to, getting referrals and getting support.

The Fig for the accompanying graph states “referrals by birth-registered gender”. In the UK birth certificates state ‘sex’ not ‘gender’. GIDS should be aware of this.

Here appears the second academic reference in their paper. The first was co-authored by Zucker and Blanchard. Who is their chosen second reference? Oh, of course, it is another paper co-authored by Zucker.

Inclusion of unsubstantiated speculation

“The reasons (for rise in assigned females) are not fully explicable and a number of questions arise. Is this increase due mostly to the greater tolerance of gender-diverse expression in westernised society? Is male status still regarded as preferable?

We are still in the paper’s first proper paragraph, in a paper intended to educate professionals, who are not gender specialists, in evidence based medical consensus. At this point in the paper, GIDS decides it is appropriate to engage in unevidenced speculation about the reason for a rise in assigned females. It chooses to include unevidenced speculation that matches a fringe theory proffered by transphobic lobby groups: “Is male status still regarded as preferable?”.

This unqualified speculation implies that children and adolescents are choosing to be trans. That trans boys choose to be trans to benefit from the enhanced status that comes with being seen as a trans boy. This suggestion woefully minimises the very real challenges facing trans boys and trans masculine children in a transphobic UK. But most importantly it is not supported by evidence. This is a GIDS publication in a medical journal. Do NHS professionals in medical journals routinely apply speculation on medical care eg. for reasons for a rise in asthma? Why are professional standards for trans children’s medical professionals so dire?

And more:

“What are the benefits, as well as the possible harms, in supporting and helping these young people at different stages of development?”

GIDS are not talking about the nuances of different treatment pathways here – they are saying that ‘supporting and helping’ young people has the potential to cause harm. Implying that there are circumstances when it is better to not ‘support’ and not ‘help’ young people.

Noticeably, despite extensive evidence of the harms of withholding care to trans adolescents (See Giordano and here ), they choose not to include any reference to the known harms associated with not helping young people. The then Chair of the NHS Clinical Reference Group for Gender stated that “not treating people is not a neutral act. IT WILL DO HARM”.

“Not treating people is not a neutral act. It will do harm: there are a number of studies that report evidence of suicide and self-harm among trans people who are unable to access care.”
John Dean, MBBS, FRCGP, Chair, National Clinical Reference Group for Gender
Identity Services, England

Here is the 2017 Australian Standards of Care for trans children (now also published in the Lancet) on withholding treatment:

“Avoiding harm is an important ethical consideration for health professionals when
considering different options for medical and surgical intervention. Withholding of
gender affirming treatment is not considered a neutral option, and may exacerbate
distress in a number of ways including increasing depression, anxiety and suicidality,
social withdrawal, as well as possibly increasing chances of young people illegally
accessing medications”.

GIDS omits any reference to evidence that withholding care causes harm.

Criteria for the diagnosis of Gender Dysphoria

GIDS describe the diagnosis of Gender Dysphoria (from the 2013 DSM-5) and focus on descriptions of behaviour.

There are many problems with the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria that GIDS are either unaware of, or choose not to discuss.

Contrast this with the astute approach Johanna Olson-Kennedy takes to DSM-5 gender dysphoria diagnostic criteria.

Dr. Olson-Kennedy critiques the adult Gender Dyspohria diagnosis that requires a trans person to have “a strong conviction that one has the typical feelings and reactions of the other gender”.  Olson-Kennedy ridicules this describing her “big book of typical feelings and reactions, the blue pages are male and the pink female”.

The DSM-5 gender dysphoria diagnostic criteria for children is even more absurd. In order for a child to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria, they HAVE to say yes to at least one of these three outdated, stereotyped criteria:

  • A strong preference for the toys, games or activities stereotypically used or engaged in by the other gender.

  • A strong preference for playmates of the other gender.

  • A strong rejection of toys, games and activities typical of one’s assigned gender.

If a trans child such as mine, likes a wide variety of toys and plays with all children (and how can that possibly be a bad thing?) then that child CANNOT be diagnosed as gender dysphoric according to DSM-5. The diagnosis is obviously nonsensical.

It is a stereotyped and confused mess of a diagnostic tool, yet the GIDS paper presents this without critique, qualification, or apology, instead accepting and endorsing its focus on behaviour rather than identity. Perhaps this endorsement is because GIDS are content with a confusion between gender identity and behaviour – confusion that is consistently used by vocal transphobic lobbyists to argue against support for trans children.

The GIDS article states: “for children, cross-gender behaviours may start between the ages 2 and 4, the same age at which most typically developing children begin showing gendered behaviours and interests”.

Why are they focusing on behaviour and interests? If the authors had any understanding of gender, they would examine how and why behaviour and interest do not equal identity. This omission is astonishing.

Again, no mention of Olson 2015 or Fast 2017 that found: “Transgender children do indeed exist and their identity is a deeply held one” providing evidence that “early in development, transgender youth are statistically indistinguishable from cisgender children of the same gender identity.” This research literature from the US is completely omitted from the GIDS paper.

Do GIDS feel it is appropriate to disregard academic literature that challenges their (unevidenced) beliefs?

The language contrasting trans children with ‘typically developing children’ is also cisnormative and pathologizing. My child is developing typically. She just happens to be trans.

Cisnormative and outdated terminology

GIDS include a glossary of ‘useful terminology’. The definitions they have chosen to use, and those that are missing, evidence their cisnormativity and lack of sensitivity or awareness of trans inclusive language and risk alienating their service users.

“Transgender: Transgender refers to the broad spectrum of individuals who identify with a gender other than that associated with their birth sex”.

The phrase ‘birth sex’ is outdated – ‘assigned sex’ is used for a reason. Especially given the 2017 Endocrine Society guidelines has a whole section on the substantial evidence of a biological underpinning to gender identity (something GIDS do not reference in their paper).

Here’s a better definition, from the Australian Standards of Care: “Trans/Transgender: A term for someone whose gender identity is not congruent with their sex assigned at birth”

“Non-binary: Non-binary is a lack of identification with conventional maleness or femaleness. Non-binary people may express features of both genders or neither.”

This muddled definition places more emphasis on gender expression than on identity. It is also ironic, in a definition of non-binary, to use the phrase ‘both genders’. A better definition would focus on identity not expression: “Non-binary: A term to describe someone who doesn’t identify exclusively as male or female”.

“Transman/transboy: A person born phenotypically female (natal female), registered (assigned) female at birth, who identifies as male. Also known as female to male.”

Many trans people consider the lack of space between trans and man or boy offensive. Trans is an adjective. ‘Transman’ is a term frequently used by those who wish to other trans people. It is used by those who argue that trans men are not men. The definition is also cisnormative – the phrase ‘identifies as‘ would never be used for a cis man.

The GIDS definition of a ‘transman’ states ‘a …female….female….female who identifies as male’. The term ‘female’ appears three times in their definition before the word male.

Further, the term ‘natal female’ is widely considered outdated and offensive by trans people. The Endocrine Society states there is clear evidence of a biological underpinning to gender identity. Trans boys are not ‘natal females’. Many medical professionals already use gender affirming terminology, with even the Endocrine Society using the term transgender male to refer to trans men – there is simply no justifiable reason to use the term ‘natal female’ when talking about trans men.

“Transwoman/transgirl: A person born phenotypically male (natal male), registered (assigned) male at birth, who identifies as female. Also known as male to female.”

As above – where is the space between trans and woman or ‘girl’?  ‘Transwoman’ is a term used by those with deep seated hostility to trans women to attack and discriminate. It is considered by many to be deeply offensive. Are the authors so unaware that this language is deprecated?

Again, in their definition of a trans woman (transwoman), they repeat the word male three times before saying ‘who identifies as female’.

The text suggests that the term ‘male to female’ is a noun and a synonym for trans girl. Not helpful.

Cisgender

GIDS do not include a definition of the word cis or cisgender. The words cis or cisgender are not used ONCE in their paper. Through these definitions and omission GIDS erase and ‘other’ trans people and their service users.

Appropriate assessments prior to referral

“The GIDS is an unusual multidisciplinary service in that the initial assessment … is aimed at understanding the young person’s development and gender identification in the context of their family background and life experiences It takes account of how they feel about their gender and their body now and in the past, the context in which the gender dysphoric feelings arose and intensified, how these feelings are being managed in everyday life, and what hopes are held for proceeding in the future”.

GIDS focus is on ‘the context in which the gender dysphoric feelings arose’. They place causation at the centre (a later section of the paper discusses their quest for a diagnostic test for ‘transness’ – asking a child their identity apparently didn’t occur to them.

There is no discussion of the 2016 Lancet publication which states that parenting has no impact on gender identity. There is no mention that gender identity is resilient to external influence, and no mention that past attempts to externally change a gender identity are considered unethical and ineffective. These omissions are damning.

Compare the Australian standards of care which  explicitly covers those issues which are ignored by GIDS:

 “In the past, psychological practices attempting to change a person’s gender identity to be more aligned with their sex assigned at birth were used. Such practices, typically known as conversion or reparative therapies, lack efficacy, are considered unethical and may cause lasting damage to a child or adolescent’s social and emotional health and wellbeing”.

Autism

“Around 35% of referred young people present with moderate to severe autistic traits”.

GIDS provide no published detail, nothing of their methodology and no discussion of the number of children who have ‘moderate’ versus ‘severe’.

This sentence also smacks of ableism. The statistic about autism is given without any discussion of how their service supports and cares for neuro-diverse trans children. For a brief summary of current literature on the intersections of gender diversity and autism see this 2017 review by Gender Analysis.

Assessment

“The assessment period usually takes 6 months or more over a minimum of four to six sessions”.

Earlier in this paper GIDS have already confirmed that they follow the NHS service specification. Their own service specification clearly states on page 13:

“an initial assessment process which will be specific to the person in terms of duration and will typically be over three to six meetings depending on the individual”.

GIDS’ own service specification commits to individualised care, yet here they are stating a minimum of four sessions regardless of circumstance. In a service where waiting lists for a first appointment (once a family manage to secure a referral from a GP) have risen to 18 months!

These illegal and unethical waiting periods have a direct negative impact on young people and their families.  There are reports of families re-mortgaging homes to afford private care outside of the UK. There is a growing practice of (dangerous) self-medication. These problems are entirely avoidable and are a direct consequence of a lack of individualised care and the appalling waiting lists created as a result.

Trans teens are a highly vulnerable group – making a highly distressed trans teen entering puberty wait 18 months for a first appointment and then inflict an inflexible protocol requiring a minimum 4 sessions, spread months apart, before any consideration of a referral (with further assessment and delay) to the endocrine service, for fully reversible, safe, puberty blockers, is both unnecessarily CRUEL, and a gross dereliction of duty of care.

“At the end of the assessment, it may be possible to confirm or exclude a diagnosis of GD”.

Note the arrogance and where the power lies. The clinician can ‘exclude’ a diagnosis of Gender Dysphoria. There is no practical recourse, no appeal, and no power to challenge the monopoly service authority over trans children.

Rates of referral to pediatric endocrine clinic

For several years GIDS have been talking about rates of continuation to medical intervention, without ever providing any published data.

Head of service Polly Carmichael spoke on the Victoria Derbyshire Show on the 7th August 2017:

Polly was asked by the presenter Victoria Derbyshire:

“How often might you see a child at a young age, 3 or 4 or 5 who as they grow or mature eventually change their mind?”

Polly answered:

“Those that are referred to the service at 5 years old it will only be 6% of those who ultimately go on to seek physical interventions to change their body”

Following this national media appearance parents asked GIDS to SHOW US THE DATA.

Radio silence. GIDS confidently, publicly, state a statistic about a specific group (only 6% of 5 year olds will go on..) on national television, ignoring the negative impacts this may have on families with trans children, and then fail to publish anything to support their claim.

This is a gross abuse of their power.

For years parents have been asking GIDS to publish data to support claims that they have been stating on national television morning breakfast shows, in newspapers, at medical conferences. These claims that are interpreted by viewers and readers as exceedingly high rates of children ‘changing their minds’.

Finally, in this paper, GIDS have included data, and within the respected British Medical Journal. How exciting! Let’s take a look!

What does their data actually show?

“Following psychosocial assessment at the GIDS, on average 38%–40% of all clients attend the joint endocrine clinics, although this varies across the age range.”

That seems a clear statistic. It appears that 38% of children go to endocrine. It is strange that they have chosen to provide an average percentage across all age ranges, when they are only taking data over a 4-7 year time window. They acknowledge, straight up, that the 38% figure is an underestimate as the older cohort (who are more numerous) proceed to adult services for endocrinology. They do not however, acknowledge that the youngest cohort are too young to be eligible for endocrinology making the 38% figure even more of an underestimate. It is strange then for them to have chosen to lead with this largely meaningless average percentage number.

GIDS do not provide all the data, but do provide a graph which will assist with testing this 38% figure.

figure 2 Butler paper

The blue bars track the age at initial referral. The mean age of referral to GIDS was age 14.4 years (the mode would be a more useful statistic in this graph).

The orange line tracks the proportion who had been referred to endocrinology by 2017.

While the underpinning evidence is unfortunately missing, we can use the data visually presented in the graph in order to test the accuracy of the 38% figure for different age groups.

In the graph we are given a single combined data set for the period 2010-2013. For the sake of a simple calculation, we’ll take a single yaer within this (2012) and assume that everyone has been referred in 2012 (rather than 2010-2013 – taking the latter of the mode numbers, as referrals have risen each year).

4 year olds (age of referral) in this data set

4 year olds referred in 2012 are 9 years old in 2017. Unsurprisingly zero out of approximately 10 of these children have been referred by 2017 (they are too young to be at tanner stage two, especially as those children referred at age 4 were more likely to be assigned males who typically start puberty later than assigned females).

6 year olds in this data set

For 6 years olds referred in 2012, who are age 11 in 2017, roughly 3 out of 20 have been referred to endocrinology. Again, this is not surprising. The majority of referrals at 6 are assigned males and most assigned males have not started tanner 2 at age 11.

9 year olds in this data set

For 9 year olds in 2012, who are 14 years old in 2017, we can see around 50% have been referred (20 out of 40 children).

12 year olds in this data set

Children referred at age 12 are age 17 in 2017, and we can estimate about 80% of them have had a referral. Similar for those referred at 13 and 14 years old,

15 year olds in this data set

For children referred at 15 years old, 50% have had a referral to endocrinology a drop compared to 14 year olds at referral.

For 16 and 17 year olds  the referral rate drops further. As GIDS explains in their paper, many 15, 16, 17 year olds will have limited benefit from blockers, and many prefer to wait until adult services (transfer at 17) where they are allowed to go on to HRT without the children’s service mandatory year on just blockers.

Some assigned females presenting to gender services at age 16 choose to go on the pill through GP rather than blockers through GIDs and go direct to adult services as they know those being referred at 16 will not get referred for Testosterone in the children’s services. Adolescents presenting in late puberty have less benefit from blockers and service users reports indicate a greater reluctance of GIDs to prescribe for those entering the service at ages 15-17.

Wait just one moment here!

Let’s look again at exactly what head of service Polly Carmichael, co-author of this paper, said on national media on the 7th July 2017 [10:20 am]:

When asked by the presenter Victoria Derbyshire

“How often might you see a child at a young age, 3 or 4 or 5 who as they grow or mature eventually change their mind?”

Polly responded:

“Those that are referred to the service at 5 years old it will only be 6% of those who ultimately go on to seek physical interventions to change their body”

We are now able to check Dr Carmichael’s statement against this newly published data:

For 5 year olds referred in 2010-2013, we are not given the number who have received referral to endocrinology by 2017, but from looking at this graph it is a very low number, it may  well be as low as the 6% stated by Dr Carmichael. What does this 6% mean? Let’s dig deeper into this exact issue, using both the above graph and GIDS own referral statistics from their website:

Year  Number of 5 year olds referred

 Age in 2017

2010 3 12
2011 3 11
2012 8 10
2013 10 9
Total: 24
Average age: 9.95

The entire data set for 5 year olds is 24 children. The average age of their sample in 2017 is age 9.95 years old.

If we were to make the assumption that 100% of these children would wish to access puberty blockers, how many of those 9.95 year olds would reasonably be expected to have accessed puberty blockers in 2017?

GIDs own figures suggest younger children (including 5 year olds) are by far more likely to be assigned males – with 4 times as many assigned males as assigned females at this age.

What then, is a common age for assigned males to start puberty? This 1980 publication states that puberty for assigned males begins at age ranges 9.7 to 14.1 years.

We would therefore expect a very small number of our 24 children to have started puberty. So we would expect a very small number of our children to have reached the stage of being eligible for puberty blockers. The figure of 6% having been referred to endocrinology after the start of puberty sounds a reasonable figure given most will not yet have reached tanner stage 2 of puberty.

This data TELLS US NOTHING about how many 5 year olds referred in 2010-2013 will end up needing medical interventions.

This data DOES NOT justify the Head of GIDS going on national television and, in response to a question on whether young children ‘change their minds’ answering that ‘only 6%’ of 5 year old continue. It is dismissive and damaging.

This dismissive and damaging rhetoric from GIDS directly feeds into (and is a contributor to) the moral panic that we are facing in the UK today around trans children.

This dismissal and erasure of trans children feeds into the situation in the UK where transphobic groups hold meetings stating on camera ‘trans children do not exist’. Where transphobic groups write damaging schools guidance that has been compared to conversion therapy.

GIDS and their anti-fact media messaging is complicit in the harm that is being caused to trans children across the UK.

Misleading manipulation of data 

A person who reads this article quickly, glancing at the headline statistic and taking a cursory look at the graph will likely take away two things 1) that only 38% of children go on to endocrine treatment, and 2) that those most likely to go on to endocrine are those referred at age 15 (due to the authors decision to present a graph appearing to show a peak at age 15). These two conclusions would both be wrong. GIDS either lack basic competence at data communication, or are actively intending to misrepresent the data.

On a similar note, they are using their Fig 2 graph to discuss the percentage of children who have been referred to endocrinology. Why then are they showing us a bar chart of numbers entering the service and a line graph of numbers referred, and expecting the reader to guess the percentage. It would be far easier to simply provide a graph of the percentages. The apparent hump on their graph at age 15, fits their mantra that ‘almost all trans children desist at puberty’, whereas a graph showing percentages would have a peak at about age 11. This is manipulation of data to fit a misleading narrative.

‘Desistance’ during early puberty

Head of service Polly Carmichael has talked about the Dutch ‘evidence’ that nearly all trans children will change their mind and not go down a medical intervention path. This ‘evidence’ has been shown to be false multiple times and is now even rejected by the Dutch authors themselves who claim to have been wrongly interpreted. Polly Carmichael claims that GIDS’ own data corroborates the (now withdrawn) findings of the Dutch. She describes a ‘paradox’ that the vast majority of trans children stop being trans at puberty, whereas the vast majority of children referred after puberty do continue being trans. She has a ‘hypothesis’ that early puberty natal hormones are responsible for a change of heart in those referred pre puberty. On the basis of this ‘hypothesis’, the hypothesis that the majority of trans children ‘desist’ during early natal puberty, GIDS delays provision of hormones blockers, and tells service users that prompt provision of hormone blockers may ‘change the outcome’ and solidify a trans outcome.

We can now test this hypothesis using this new GIDS data. How can we test it? We focus on children who were referred before the start of puberty, selecting the older pre-pubescents for maximum age at time of sampling. We therefore focus on children referred at age 9. The majority of 9 year olds have not yet started puberty.

If the GIDS hypothesis is correct, and the vast majority of pre-pubertal children do not go on to medical intervention, we should spot this trend in those referred at age 9. We should see less than 20% of those referred at age 9 going on to referral to endocrinology.

Let’s look at the data. Children aged 9 in 2010 are 16 in 2017. Children aged 9 in 2013 are aged 13 in 2017. Looking at their referrals data, the average age of this group in 2017 is 14.2 What percent of 9 year olds (at referral) in this data set have been referred to endocrinology by 2017? 50%. Fifty percent.

THEIR OWN DATA CONTRADICTS THEIR HYPOTHESIS!

Their own data contradicts their hypothesis that the vast majority of children referred pre-puberty do not go on to endocrinology. Their own data shows that 50% have gone on to endocrinology by the time they are (on average) aged 14.

We know that 50% (20 out of 40 – estimate from looking at graph – actual data is not provided) have had a referral to endocrinology by 2017. Of the other 50% (20) GIDS tell us nothing (despite proposing their percentage as a noteworthy finding). Many questions are left unanswered. How many of those 20 who have not been referred to NHS endocrinology have skipped GIDS gatekeeping and gone to private healthcare services in the UK? How many of those 20 have gone to the USA? We do not know. How many of those not (yet) referred will go on to a referral to endocrinology but have not yet reached tanner stage 2 of puberty (remember, nearly half of this sample are aged 13 or under in 2017). How many are wanting a referral but have not been approved by GIDS, having not yet jumped through the right hoops in their answers or cooperation. How many are denied  due to co-existing challenges or circumstances that allows GIDS to deny or delay referral (eg being out of school, being neuro diverse, being too depressed or suicidal, being insufficiently binary, or having a presentation that doesn’t match with GIDS expectation of what a child who is trans will look or act like). How many are wanting a referral but have not had the support of their parents for referral to endocrinology? We must remember that the majority of parents of children at the GIDS are unsupportive, and unsupportive parents can block (and certainly delay) a referral to endocrinology. How many are of these ‘desisters’ are *still trans* but have decided against taking puberty blockers at this point in time due to other life factors, such as exams, travel, other medication. None of this is explored in this paper.

A reflection on data reliability: GIDS data doesn’t appear to be reliable. There is a discrepancy between the total referral figures shown on their website, and their assigned-gender disaggregated figures released through a 2017 Freedom of Information Disclosure. For the year 2012-2013 the former states 3 five year olds (the FOI lists 0 five year olds). For the year 2013-2014 the former states 10 five year olds (the FOI lists 6 five year olds). These discrepancies bring into question GIDS data management.

Pubertal status

On the timing of puberty blockers, GIDS states:

“It is a requirement, according to the Endocrine Society and WPATH guidelines and UK service specifications, that a young person has commenced puberty before any intervention is agreed, as the GD may resolve once puberty commences.

First, Endocrine and WPATH guidelines (SOC7) do of course require puberty to start before prescribing blockers (blockers serve no purpose pre puberty). However, the endocrine society’s position is misrepresented. The Endocrine society says:

“We recommend treating gender-dysphoric/gender-incongruent adolescents who have entered puberty at Tanner Stage 2”.

“At” tanner stage 2. The Australian SOC is even more clear:

“Puberty suppression is most effective in preventing the development of secondary
sexual characteristics when commenced at Tanner stage 2″

“At” Tanner stage 2. The difference between recommending blockers at tanner stage 2 and a requirement that a young person has commenced puberty before any intervention is agreed may sound inconsequential, but this emphasis has profound implications for UK trans children. GIDS have no urgency about prescribing at tanner 2 – indeed they actively encourage delays, believing that a longer period of ‘natal’ puberty is a good thing.

“It is a requirement, according to the Endocrine Society and WPATH guidelines and UK service specifications, that a young person has commenced puberty before any intervention is agreed, as the GD may resolve once puberty commences.

The GIDS statement ‘GD may resolve when puberty starts’ does not appear in either the endocrine guidelines or WPATH (SOC7).

GIDS is fraudulently linking their pet theory (GD resolving when puberty starts) with the more respected evidence from the Endocrine Society / WPATH. This is misrepresentation. No evidence is provided for this claim.

This aligns with Polly Carmichael’s pet theory of natal pubertal hormones making trans children turn cis. A theory she has been speculating about for over a decade. A theory she has never provided a shred of evidence for.  Here she is a decade ago saying the same non-evidenced theories she clings to to this day:

“if you halt your own sex hormones so that your brain is not experiencing puberty, are you in some way altering the course of nature?”

A decade ago she was saying the same thing that she says to the media today, that there is not enough long term data on the outcomes of puberty blockers:

“The Dutch data looks promising. But they have not been doing it for so many years that you have long-term follow-up. The data is not over a long enough period of time and that concerns endocrinologists.”

<https://www.theguardian.com/society/2008/aug/14/children.youngpeople>

Her position has not changed in one decade. Her position has not changed because she is not listening to trans people, she is not listening to parents of trans children, and she is ignoring medical experts who disagree with her.

In both psychiatry and social work the term “defensive practice” is used to describe a deliberate practice of risk averse decisions, strict adherence to protocols and lack of learning. Defensive practice is also associated with an organisational culture in which leaders are not challenged (Whittikar & Havard 2016).

This term accurately describes how the GIDS leadership have become stuck in defending their (outdated, pathologising, harmful, non evidence-based) ways of working. They have become defensive, and in defending, have failed to evolve, failed to adapt and failed to remember their primary responsibility – ensuring the best possible outcomes for their clients (trans children and families). Alongside defensive practices they bring an inherent cisnormativity and transphobia – in which their model actively aspires towards and prioritises a cis or ‘not trans’ outcome, above the well being and happiness of their service users.

Persistence

The GIDS paper moves on to talk about persistence (the problematic history of this term, and implication that ‘persistence’ is undesirable, is not explored in the paper):

“Fig 2 demonstrates the low absolute numbers and proportion of prepubertal children with persistent GD.”

FIG 2 DOES NOT SHOW THIS.

Fig 2 shows the percent of children referred to GIDS between 2010 and 2013 who by 2017 had been granted by GIDS a referral to the paediatric endocrine service.

It shows about 80% of those referred at 10 years old are granted a referral to endocrine. For the younger children, those aged 5 in 2012 are only aged 9.95 in 2017 and most of them have not yet started puberty. This study tells us nothing about how many of those 5 year olds will receive a referral to endocrine at some point during their adolescence.

Importantly, this study does not tell us anything about how any of these children identify. It tells us nothing about their dysphoria.

FIG 2 does not tell us the proportion of prepubertal children who have ‘persistent’ Gender Dysphoria. THIS IS FALSE.

By conflating a referral rate with a ‘persistence’ rate, it also equates requirement for endocrine interventions with identity – ignoring the diversity of needs amongst trans children, including those who absolutely ‘persist’ in an identity different to the one presumed at birth, but do not need/choose to take hormone blockers/medical transition.

By conflating a referral rate for persistence, it also overlooks (as far as we can tell from the limited information they publish), those who seek private treatment or pursue treatment overseas.

The data completely ignores the issue of gate-keeping. GIDS are extremely conservative about referrals to endocrinology, and known to discriminate against children with mental health issues, those who are neurodiverse, those who present later, those who are non-binary. We do not know how many of those who have not been referred to endocrine desperately want a referral, but have not yet been granted one.

Finally, we know that two thirds of teens in the service are not supported by their parents. Teens who are unsupported are much less likely to get a referral to endocrinology. How many of those counted as not having been referred to endocrinology have had their referral blocked or delayed by unsupportive parents.

None of these factors are acknowledged in the article.

The article overall conjures up the unsubstantiated claim that ‘GD may resolve’, falsely creates an untrue 38% referral rate (which GIDS themselves clarify in the text is an underestimate of the reality), and mis-describes their referral rate as a ‘persistence’ rate. They use this to dismiss the existence of and undermine the rights of trans children.

Pathologising language continues

The next section provides an overview of the many tests they have carried out on trans children to look for reasons for being trans.

“Endocrine assessment of the reproductive axis of the birth-registered phenotypic male….”

The phrase ‘the birth registered phenotypic male’ is extremely pathologizing and othering language for trans girls. The phrase trans girl, trans feminine people, or people assigned male at birth would be a less offensive replacement.

“A search for sources of hyperandrogenism in adolescent birth-registered phenotypic females in an attempt to explain the dysphoria has not elucidated any differences from a control population”

“It therefore appears that GD is not associated with excess androgen production in postpubertal phenotypic female”

“our search for genetic, endocrine and radiological diagnostic markers of a dysphoria-related state has proven negative”.

How many of these children gave informed and voluntary consent to these unrequested, unwanted, pieces of research, with little relation to their care? Why have UK researchers been focused on a quest to find a diagnostic test for transness, and not on the key challenges, how can we help trans children to have good mental health and wellbeing?

GIDS are so detached from seeing trans children as important individuals with hopes and dreams and high potential. They fail our trans children time and time again.

Fertility preservation

“Various medical options are considered in case of a desire to revert to their birth gender in subsequent years after irreversible treatments have occurred, or in case assisted conception techniques might be called on in adult life to assist with starting a family”

This paragraph is strange. There is no information here. No evidence on what they are talking about re ‘revertion’ after irreversible treatment. No information on numbers.

Talking about a desire to revert after irreversible treatment is a subject that needs handling sensitively with careful context. Everyone working in this field is aware that a tiny number of examples of adults with ‘regret’ are used by anti trans lobbyists to undermine and deny care to trans children.

This report is not however, by anti trans lobbyists, but advice to non-specialists focused on working with children.

Partially irreversible treatment in the form of cross sex hormones is only available from around age 16, and GIDS only permits the children with the most straight forward diagnosis and a long history of gender dysphoria, who have already been on blockers for at least a year, to access HRT at age 16. The gatekeeping is extensive. How many children can they really have seen in the youth service who have had a clear enough history and presentation to receive blockers before 15 and HRT at 16, have had HRT long enough for irreversible changes, and have sought to reverse changes by age 17 before leaving children’s services. Knowing their conservative interpretation of the protocols, I do not believe this has happened in any significant numbers, certainly no evidence is presented in this paper or any other publications from GIDS that I am aware of.

If they are talking about data on regret from other services – they need to be providing a published reference for this statement. The fact that they do not provide a reference, suggests to a reader that they are talking from their own experience. They are scaremongering without providing any data.

Blockers

“In those whose GD is clearly established and long-standing and who have participated fully in the multidisciplinary assessment process at the GIDS, GnRHa is the recommended first-stage medical intervention”.

This shows how conservative they are at offering blockers. Adolescents need ‘established and long standing’ GD. These are subjective quantities. How many months or years is enough? How does an adolescent prove this? It seems like only the most straight forward (insistent, consistent, persistent, though they avoid these terms) are eligible. Yet blockers are intended to provide thinking time for those who are distressed about puberty and need thinking time to explore their identity. Children with the longest history and clearest presentation arguably do not have any reason to go onto (just) blockers, with practitioners in the US increasingly bypassing blockers to go straight to HRT for the simplest cases. It is those children who are less sure, who are questioning, who started to question (or vocalise) their gender at the onset of puberty, who need time to think and would most benefit from blockers. This is the very group who are ineligible.

Note also the requirement to have ‘FULLY participated in the multi-disciplinary assessment process’. There is a vast and unacknowledged power dynamic here. This evidences how GIDS wield their power and absolute authority. Adolescents and families are afraid to advocate for their rights, afraid to challenge clinicians who ask inappropriate questions, afraid to not complete pathologising  questionnaires that themselves induce dysphoria and have subsequent negative impacts on the mental health of adolescents. There is no service user autonomy. The powerlessness of children and families adds to stress and feelings of having no control over the future – a powerlessness that greatly harms the mental health of trans and gender questioning children and adolescents.

“The fact that between 73% and 88% of children attending gender identity clinics who present prepubertally, whether they have socially transitioned or not, are likely not to continue with their intention of changing their gender once puberty has started”.

They are listing the 2008 Wallien and Cohen-Kettenis study as their reference. We have discussed this at length in a previous blog.

Even if we just accept their data and overlook the methodological flaws in the Wallien and Cohen-Kettenis study, from the children initially classified as GD who were later re-assessed,  21/36 were ‘persisters’ and 15/36 were ‘desisters’. So even the data in this study shows a 58% persistence rate not the 27% rate that GIDS have quoted using this very reference.

Those who have been paying attention to the current discourse, will be aware that several articles have been recently published criticising the desistance rate myth (the myth that such enormous percentages of children desist from a trans identity). Ehrensaft published on this topic months before this paper came out (notably omitted from GIDS’s references). Since GIDS’ paper was in print, there have been three consecutive publications by a team including Kelley Winters, making clear that these high desistance statistics are simply false. Steensma and Cohen-Kettenis, the latter, one of the authors of the paper GIDS quotes, have also published a new article stating that their work has been misrepresented and does not support high desistance rates.

Here’s Steensma and Cohen-Kettenis in their recent paper (2018):

“The classification of GD [Gender Dysphoria] in the Wallien and Cohen-Kettenis (2008) was indeed based on diagnostic criteria prior to DSM-5, with the possibility that some children were only gender variant in behaviour. We have clearly described the characteristics of the included children (clinically referred and fulfilling childhood DSM criteria) and did not draw conclusions beyond this group, as has wrongly been done by others”.

Cohen-kettenis is here, the very author of the paper that GIDS quotes, stating clearly that others have been wrongly misrepresenting her own work (she is one of the two co-authors of the 2008 Wallien and Cohen-Kettenis study). Cohen-kettenis here, provides final clarity that her 2008 study includes children who are not trans and merely non-conforming.

Yet GIDS have taken this study and wrongly interpret as “The fact that between 73% and 88% of children attending gender identity clinics who present prepubertally, whether they have socially transitioned or not, are likely not to continue with their intention of changing their gender once puberty has started”

The study they use as the reference included children who were just non-conforming and not trans. It did not consider which children were socially transitioned. And it most certainly does not say that children who have socially transitioned (a group much less likely to include children who are just non-conforming ) have the same ‘persistence’ rates as children who have not socially transitioned.

Butler, De Graaf, Wren and Carmichael  HAVE FABRICATED THE STATEMENT ‘whether they have socially transitioned or not’.

They have not provided a single reference for this claim.

This is unprofessional, unethical and OUTRAGEOUS.

The ‘desistance’ myth (the myth that the majority of trans children become cis at puberty) has been propagated by Zucker and by the Dutch school, which includes Steensma and Cohen-Kettenis. The Dutch have now publicly distancing themselves from association with this myth, claiming to have been misunderstood and misquoted. Zucker clings to this myth, but is now disregarded as totally out of touch with modern evidence based practice.

GIDS, meanwhile, are clinging desperately to this myth. They need this myth to justify their pathologizing and cisgenderist approaches. If they acknowledge that they are badly mistaken on the assumption that trans children end up cis at puberty, they would have to start asking what else they have got wrong.

The leadership at GIDS, the authors of this paper, are not capable of this mental step – if they acknowledge how badly they have got this wrong they would also have to acknowledge the harm they have caused their whole career.

“Some may ‘desist’ completely, with their initially perceived dysphoric feelings pointing towards developing homosexuality”.

This statement is drawn from the thoroughly discredited ‘desistance’ literature. Furthermore, there is a lot of confusion (and hysteria) in the UK media about the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation. Credible clinicians would in this section state that transgender individuals have a variety of sexual orientations and that gender identity and sexuality are different things.

“GnRHa is prescribed in standard doses for a minimum of a year before additional medical interventions can be considered”.

This requirement to have a minimum one year on blockers, regardless of age or stage of puberty, is not supported by WPATH SOC 7, nor by the Endocrine Society, nor is it in the NHS Service Specification which GIDS are committed to work within. Parents who have complained of the health impacts of forcing 17 year olds to spend a year on just blockers before HRT are reassured that minimum one year is not an official policy. Yet here it is again in writing. This one year minimum on blockers without HRT for late puberty adolescents is not evidence based and is not an approach followed in other countries – not even in neighbouring Scotland. GIDS are here applying a rigid protocol, against their own service specification, unsupported by evidence. 18 year olds in adult services would not be required to have any time on blockers before HRT. 17 and a half year olds in GIDS are forced to have a year on just blockers, regardless of side effects, regardless of not wanting to take blockers.

GIDS uses their monopoly to wield absolute power over trans children and adolescents.

Psychological benefits of GnRHa treatment

“Most young people welcome the ‘blocker’ intervention as helping them to feel more comfortable in their bodies while holding future gender options open. However, our psychometric data suggest that although it permits further time for exploration, the impact on reducing psychological difficulties is limited. Further research is needed to determine whether GnRHa treatment is beneficial for young people of all ages, or whether some age groups may benefit more from this particular treatment than others, perhaps younger rather than older adolescents?”

The evidence is clear that medical intervention for distressed trans youth is the best way of securing improved mental health. It is not surprising that blockers alone do not provide an improvement – HRT (or surgery) are the treatments that distressed trans youth (trans youth who seek a medical transition) need – blockers are simply a delaying method, to ‘buy time’. While they mitigate the fear of future changes, blockers are not in themselves a treatment which treats dysphoria. They simply delay a decision.

Eligibility for cross-sex hormone/gender-affirming hormone treatment

“Cross-sex hormone treatment, currently referred to as gender-affirming hormone treatment (namely the induction of the opposite-biological sex puberty using testosterone in a phenotypic female and oestradiol in a phenotypic male)”

There is a reason why the term ‘gender affirming’ hormone treatment is used. There is a reason why ‘opposite biological sex puberty in a phenotopic female’ is not used. Stop pathologizing trans people!

“(HRT) may be considered once full commitment to the preferred gender has been confirmed”

It is not a ‘preferred’ gender. My child would ‘prefer’ to have her gender match her assigned sex.

“At the GIDS there are psychosocial criteria that need to be met, including that the young person shows some evidence of presenting coherently in the gender role with which they identify and that mental health difficulties are not escalating.

Coherent gender role! This sounds like some 1950s housewife stereotyping. It is 2018 GIDS!

“At the GIDS there are psychosocial criteria that need to be met, including that the young person shows some evidence of presenting coherently in the gender role with which they identify and that mental health difficulties are not escalating.”

Trans youth have to demonstrate distress to be eligible for HRT. But not too much distress. Just exactly the right amount of distress.

“The capacity to give informed consent is an absolute requirement prior to commencing sex hormone treatment… It is acknowledged by the Endocrine Society that a young person under the age of 16 may not have sufficient psychological maturity to commit to such a lifelong and life-changing decision”.

Here’s what the Endocrine Society actually says:

“Clinicians may add gender-affirming hormones after a multidisciplinary team has confirmed the persistence of gender dysphoria/gender incongruence and sufficient mental capacity to give informed consent to this partially irreversible treatment. Most adolescents have this capacity by age 16 years old.”

The Endocrine Society states that most adolescents have maturity by the age of 16. GIDS changes this to “the Endocrine Society” says “under 16s may not have sufficient psychological maturity to commit to such a lifelong and life-changing decision”. GIDS has changed the emphasis and padded with additional spin. This introduces a focus on “life-changing” that is not in the Endocrine guidance. This is misleading.

The GIDS paper attributes to the Endocrine Society and to WPATH SOC 7 the statement:

“no evidence is available to understand the effects of giving gender-affirming hormone treatment before 16 years”

They do not include any reference to a key part of the Endocrine Society’s guidance:

“We recognize that there may be compelling reasons to initiate sex hormone treatment prior to age 16 years”

And they have misconstrued what the Endocrine Society has actually said which is:

“there is minimal published experience treating prior to 13.5 to 14 years of age”

GIDS have completely changed the Endocrine Society’s position on age of eligibility for sex hormones and have claimed the Endocrine Society says there is no evidence for under 16s, when in fact the Endocrine Society says there is no evidence under 14.

Further the GIDS paper fails to mention that the WPATH SOC7 states:

“Adolescents may be eligible to begin feminizing/masculinizing hormone therapy, preferably with parental consent. In many countries, 16-year-olds are legal adults for medical decision-making and do not require parental consent”

“Refusing timely medical interventions for adolescents might prolong gender dysphoria”

“withholding puberty suppression and subsequent feminizing or masculinizing hormone therapy is not a neutral option for adolescents”

Gender affirming hormones and height

“The dose increase schedule is conducted more slowly in those who have never completed puberty in their birth sex to allow emotional and social maturation, as well as the completion of the adolescent growth spurt in height”.

Some trans girls are dysphoric about their height and fear further height will make their lives harder. They are nevertheless kept on a low HRT dose, and keep gaining height, without being told that an increase to their HRT dose could stop further height.

Over 90% go to adult services

“over 90% of those attending endocrinology clinics request further support from adult gender identity clinics”.

 

Surgery for adults

It is questionable why there is any discussion of surgery in a paper which is focused on children and adolescents, who are, by definition, ineligible for surgical interventions. A critical reflection leads to a conclusion this is included simply to provide further opportunity for scare mongering.

“Male-to-female feminising genitoplasty is a well-established procedure where the penoscrotal skin is refashioned to produce the vagina and labia with preservation of the glans and neurovascular bundle to form a clitoris capable of orgasm. Concern now exists that the early blockade of puberty may result in insufficient genital skin being available for this procedure”.

This statement fails to mention well established alternative surgical techniques being used for those who received early puberty blockers. Puberty blockers have been used since the mid 1990s, and hundreds of young adults around the world who received blockers have gone on to access successful gender confirmation surgeries with extremely high rates of satisfaction and extremely low rates of regret. Stating the concern without mentioning that trans adults who received early puberty blockers have already had successful surgeries, is unnecessary, un-evidenced scaremongering.

“In full male genital reconstruction, a penis can be formed from either abdominal, thigh or forearm skin flaps. A hydraulic implant is inserted in a newly fashioned scrotum to provide controllable erectile function. This approach requires several surgical procedures and leaves extensive scarring”.

The focus on scarring without any mention on levels of satisfaction with surgery, is unhelpful.

There is a brief mention that “the few longitudinal follow-up studies that have been published in the Netherlands have generally shown a high satisfaction outcome, particularly from those who have gone through surgical affirmation of their identified gender. It is useful here to also note a recent Dutch paper from Wiepjes et al (2018)

“6,793 people visited our gender identity clinic from 1972 through 2015 .. Only 0.6% of transwomen and 0.3% of transmen who underwent gonadectomy were identified as experiencing regret” [note the Dutch, like GIDS, offensively use transwoman as a noun]:

Long-term outcomes

“In the UK, as yet there is little evidence of the longitudinal outcome from the GIDS”.

So do some proper research! Focus on topics that will inform clinical decisions. Design research in collaboration with service users and their families. Design research in collaboration with those already undertaking well-funded, large cohort, longitudinal studies in the USA and Canada.

Conclusion

“The UK, along with other developed countries, is seeing an increase in the number of young people who are questioning their gender and taking the decision to pursue social and medical transition in line with their identified gender which may be non-binary. While professionals need to treat young people with respect and to acknowledge the intensity of their gender identification, much is still to be ascertained about the impact of medical intervention. The best practice in this field currently involves close collaborative working in multidisciplinary teams”.

So the key conclusions they want their readers to take away are …. er…No. nope. Nothing clear or useful here.

We need to acknowledge that the vast majority of professionals, raised in a cisnormative and transphobic society, start with negative and sceptical views of trans children. How does this conclusion in any way helping educate and advocate for trans children?

References – hold on, this is interesting

The references are perhaps the worst part.

Some references are core texts that have to be referenced (DSM, Endocrine guidelines, WPATH SOC 7 and the NHS’s service specification)

Several are references from figures with a controversial history of transphobia (eg Blanchard and Zucker).

Most references are from their colleagues in the Netherlands.

There is an interesting article (not referenced by GIDS of course) called ‘Cisgenderism in psychology: pathologising and misgendering children from 1999 to 2008′. It talks of an ‘invisible college’ of gender specialists who often collaborate on joint publications, comprising those who worked most closely with Kenneth Zucker, and who until recently held enormous power over trans children worldwide. This collection of clinicians work was reviewed, and it was found that they held significantly more cisgenderist and pathologizing approaches to trans children than other professionals in this field.

I thought it would be interesting to check how many of the references that GIDS have selected include those clinicians know for cisgenderist and pathologising approaches to trans children.

I excluded the references that are core texts (DSM, Endocrine guidelines, WPATH SOC 7 and the NHS’s service specification)– and excluded those publications that are not about trans or gender diverse children).

No of references where one of the authors is from the  ‘invisible college’ ie Zucker or those who have published with Zucker – those who have cisgenderist and pathologizing tendencies 10
No of other references where one of the authors has worked at GIDS (including self-citations 2
No of references from other people in the Netherlands 4
No of references from other sources 2. (Both on fertility)

What references are not included

More interesting than what references are included is what references are excluded:

  • Almost all publications from experts in the US are excluded from this GIDS article.
  • Almost all publications from experts in Canada, Australia, are excluded.
  • Almost all publications from clinicians who support affirmative approaches are excluded

GIDS erase through omission any peer reviewed evidence that they instinctively disagree with.

This is not how science and evidence works. The authors completely omit an entire body of evidence from the USA which supports a gender affirmative approach helps trans children. Further, they omit any of the growing consensus of publications which criticise the UK’s delayed transition approach as harmful.

Peer review

The article was “Commissioned; internally peer reviewed”.

It is not clear who internally peer reviewed this paper. It is shocking that this has been accepted for publication. More shocking still is that this poor article is the ‘best practice’ that our children can expect from the heads of the UK children’s gender service.

This week a far better article was published in the Lancet. The Lancet article criticises as harmful many of the practices that are still core to the systematically transphobic UK children’s service. UK clinicians are well advised to learn from this new Lancet publication.

Instead of reading and learning from credible material published by those who are trying to help trans children to thrive, GIDS are choosing to look inward, reading and citing work by discredited members of their ‘invisible college’.

Caught in a defensive practice model, left behind by their international peers who support a gender affirmative model of care, GIDS are in an increasingly desperate state.

It is perhaps not surprising therefore that some GIDS clinicians are emboldened to publicly align themselves to the cause of anti transgender lobbyists who believe that transgender children both do not, and should not exist.  A ‘pay to publish’ book with the central premise of denying the very existence of trans children, recently received a glowing endorsement from a serving GIDS clinician.  The GIDS library later publicly announced the purchase of the same book via its official twitter account.

This book received a scathing review by the Times Educational Supplement who utterly discredited the “masquerade of a scholarly text”. Review quoted at some length below.

The messages of the book are bold. The first is that “transgender children do not exist”. Having dismissed the perspectives of youth, parents, charities, medicine, social policy and the law as “unproven” and “intellectually incoherent”, it suggests that trans youth are a discursive invention. “Transgenderism”, it contends, reinforces traditional gender binaries, propping up the patriarchy. This framework remains undeveloped and the chapters are inconsistent, offering a hotchpotch of pet clichés that sidestep the evidence-base. Trans youth are variously explained by tribal belonging; restrictive femininity; the distressing human condition; childhood trauma; male transvestites’ sexual desires; and really being gay.

Perhaps hopes were pinned on the highest-profile contributor, whose activism is currently aimed at blocking schools from accepting that children may be transgender. But of 57 sources cited in Stephanie Davies-Arai’s chapter, only seven are peer-reviewed research and these are cherry-picked and distort the wider medical and sociological evidence. Meanwhile, editor Michele Moore’s account of transgender theory leans on dated and inaccurate stereotypes of trans identities that make tiresome reappearances throughout. Nowhere is it acknowledged that many trans people experience binary gender norms as tyrannical, or that many (if not all) trans identities actively queer these binaries.

The second message is that children are “transgendered” by adults and that this is “abusive”. The book constructs an artifice of a society teeming with over-eager parents, whereas research consistently shows that trans youth are often rejected by their families and peers. While claiming that they are motivated by children’s well-being, the authors frequently misuse or ignore recent international studies that unequivocally show both high rates of depression, self-harm and suicide among trans adolescents and the safeguarding effects of gender-affirming support. Indefensibly, the book is almost silent on widely substantiated hate crime against trans youth.

Masquerading as scholarly text, this is epistemological chicanery, with the contributors adopting an already vocal repositioning as the silenced minority. In labelling “transgenderism” abusive, they don’t listen to the supposedly abused; in claiming to challenge “the seemingly unstoppable celebration of transgender ideology”, they present arguments neatly aligned with much recent media coverage. The irony is complete, the consequences no less serious.

In GIDS’ journal paper, Butler, De Graaf, Wren and Carmichael are guilty of many of the same techniques of misinformation, distortion, and cherry-picking literature.

This detailed analysis of the GIDS paper has revealed intentional or incompetent manipulation of data, entirely false claims, misquotations, use of pathologising language, and significant omissions of swathes of recent literature.

GIDS is a failing service stuck in defensive practice.

Our children deserve so much better.

Why does a biological underpinning to gender identity matter?

science

Biological essentialism vs social constructivism

Biological essentialism (or biological determinism), is the idea that behaviours, interests or abilities are biologically pre-determined, rather than shaped by society. In an essentialist interpretation, innate differences between men and women result in  ‘natural’ gender divisions  – with men inherently (innately) better at decision making and women better at nurturing.

Feminists, Freudians, and queer theorists have all challenged biological essentialism. Second wave feminists argued that gender-based inequalities and differences were not natural, and were instead socially constructed. Girls are not inherently worse than boys at physics (due to having pink and fluffy brains) but rather, are often denied the opportunities offered to boys. Social constructivists demonstrated the many ways in which observed gender differences between men and women are socially engineered. Some went a step further, arguing that gender is purely a learned behaviour or a performance.

Brains are complex, and social constructivists, like the popular science writer Cordelia Fine, have rightly debunked the simplified and shoddy science that underpins essentialist claims that men are from Mars with their manly brains, and women are from Venus, with feminine brains.

Gender identity and the neurology of ‘trans brains’

Where then does gender identity fit in?

Some scientists have conducted neurological imaging studies on trans people, exploring whether there are specific, sexually dimorphic areas of the brain in which trans people differ from their assigned sex (the sex they were presumed to have at birth).

Published research findings, often with low sample sizes, have been interpreted as indicating that trans women have a brain more similar to a cis (not trans) woman’s brain than to a cis man’s brain. Such findings have been publicised in newspaper headlines as proof of the existence of trans people.

Such scientific studies, and their shallow interpretation and presentation in the media, have received strong criticism from a wide number of transgender commentators. There are a range of extremely valid reasons for criticism:

  • The suggestion that one specific variable can define ‘transness’ is reductive and overlooks the ways in which society, culture and experience impact on every individual including on the structure of the brain.
  • The reliance on any study as legitimacy for human rights is extremely dangerous – if the study results are later rejected, what happens to these rights?
  • The idea that any brain can be easily classified as male or female is simplistic and overly binary.
  • The suggestion (made by inaccurate media representation of the studies) that one specific variable can be used as a diagnostic test for transness also fills people with fear that any such test could be used by gatekeepers to judge who is accepted as trans and who can be denied support and denied rights. Any such diagnostic test would be entirely at odds with autonomy, with respecting people’s lived experience, with self-identification and dignity.

These reasons for fearing how science will be politically used, or for criticising simplified interpretations of scientific data, make total sense and have historical antecedents – I understand the fear and upset.

Rejection of biology

However, such comments very often seem to take one step further, rejecting not only biological essentialism and the unhelpful simplified, ‘soundbite’ biology loved by the media, but also moving into a sweeping rejection of any mention of a link between biology and gender identity. A culture in which the very mention of biology is discouraged.

This is where as a cisgender (not trans) parent of a transgender child I feel uneasy. I’ll attempt here to explore this from my cis parent’s perspective.

Pathologisation of diversity

For many decades, psychologists and psychiatrists have been aware of trans children expressing distinct gender identities at an early age – 2 or 3 years old.

Across the twentieth century mainstream medical convention, with some exceptions, rejected out of hand any possibility of a biological underpinning to gender identity. The consensus then was that a trans gender identity was a delusion, a mental illness that could, and should, be ‘cured’.

For young trans children, misogynist male psychologists and psychiatrists, frequently working in the field of sexology, focused their attention on the mother.

Therapy and treatment for young trans children focused on presumed maternal abuse or maternal failings.

Does it even matter why trans adults are trans?

When I hear people say ‘does it even matter why people are trans’ – when I hear people dismiss as offensive and unnecessary any consideration of any biological influence on gender identity, I have an emotional response. I also see this reaction in some other parents of trans children (though certainly not in all).

The denial of any possibility of a ‘biological underpinning to gender identity’ is historically tied up with the denial of the existence of younger trans children. The erasure of the existence of younger trans children has caused untold suffering.

As a parent of a trans child who is loving life, it makes me think of the trans children from decades past (and present in too many places in the world) who were traumatised and institutionally abused by medical systems designed to prevent or convert their gender identity. Neither the genitals = sex = gender approach of simplified biology, nor the feminist ‘gender is a social construct’ mantra, left any space for younger children to be trans. Trans children did not fit with either theory so therefore could not exist.

Impact of denial on families

Denial of the possibility of some young children being trans makes me think of the consequences of this denial. It makes me think of the mums who were coerced into distancing themselves from their trans daughters, based on some unsubstantiated theory that an overly close mother-‘son’ bond might lead to a child ‘misidentifying’ as female. How unbelievably cruel to do that to a family.

Shon Faye, whose work I greatly admire, recently wrote that she disagrees with anyone who suggests gender identity is innate and that it should not matter why people are trans. CN Lester, another writer whose work, and excellent book, I’ve learnt a lot from, critiqued the reporting of the research study under discussion  and recommended reading work by Cordelia Fine, author of ‘Delusions of Gender’.

This particular recommendation makes me want to cry.

Delusions of gender as a book has real merits in its debunking of simplified biology,  in its understanding that gender-based inequalities are not natural, and that men are not inherently better at parking. So far so commendable.

However, Cordelia Fine replaces the simplified biology of biological essentialism not with nuanced and complex biology, but a nod to social constructivism. Her work is routinely used by those who argue that gender is merely a ‘performance’ and that trans identities do not exist, except perhaps as a non-conforming person’s misguided response to gender norms.

The view that gender is purely a construct and therefore not ‘real’ is pervasive and extremely dangerous. Adherents of this view may well tolerate trans adults – with a patronising assumption that trans adults made a ‘choice’ to ‘change gender’ as a response to their non-conformity. But whilst adherents of social constructivism may begrudgingly  tolerate the existence of trans adults to some degree, they allow no such tolerance for younger trans children.

The gender as purely a social construct contingent see social influence and gender stereotyping as the only reason for trans identities. They see no valid reason for the existence of young trans children.

Some of the more fringe, actively transphobic, elements of this group, throw their hate and bile at parents of trans children, accusing us of child abuse, demanding that the state take our children away, demanding that children be protected from ‘transing’.

The recommendation to read Cordelia Fine hit a particular nerve as ‘Delusions of Gender’ had a direct impact on my family. We had a family friend who was unable ‘ideologically’ to accept the possibility of the existence of a trans child. They rejected our child and through that rejection, our family entirely. In a parting gesture, they pleaded for us to read ‘Delusions of Gender’. This very book had been the germ of our now former friend’s belief that any trans identity is a delusion, and that pandering to childhood delusion is parental abuse.

Through my shock and upset, I was struck at the time by the unbelievable arrogance. The recommendation that instead of loving my daughter, I should ‘read up on Fine’ and learn that gender isn’t real. This was not to be the first such recommendation.

Fine’s work is populist and best selling, and over the years I’ve had countless similar comments from ‘well meaning’ individuals. It is not that I am ignorant or closed minded, far from it, I’d hazard I know more of Fine’s exploration of gender than those dabblers. I have read, considered, understood the theoretical position being proffered. The same cannot however be said of the Fine pushers. Their position is based on an assumption (from those who have no first hand experience of trans children) that trans children do not, indeed cannot, exist.

The recommendation to read Cordelia Fine is also, depressingly, front and centre in the advice that the UK Children’s Gender Service’s website provides for parents of trans kids. No space here for a clear and much needed message that ‘some kids are trans – get over it, try to be kind’. Instead they present a false dichotomy between simplified biological essentialism reduced to mention of “a boy’s brain in a girl’s body” and “academic psychologist Dr Cordelia Fine” and “gender as a social construct”, with differences based on experiences rather than biology. Parents wondering whether to accept and love their trans child are instead advised to read about the delusion of gender.

When parents and their children reach the children’s gender service in the UK, if they are allocated one of several apparently deeply transphobic clinicians (clinicians who hold so much power over trans children and families), they may then endure literally years of probing and questioning on parental views on gender, as the clinicians probe for the ‘root cause’ of gender diversity.

The social constructivist view also makes me think of the school teachers and class parents and wider community who argue that a child is too young to make a ‘choice’ to be trans and should wait until adolescence or adulthood. Who don’t see the harm of denying a child a happy childhood.

It makes me think of the people who look at us with suspicion, hostility, scrutiny, when I mention I have a trans child. Of the parents who steer their child away from ours, in case being trans is socially contagious.

It makes me think of the people who are no longer in our family’s life, who are unable to see a trans child as anything other than ‘social conditioning gone wrong’.

It makes me think of the people online and in person who target parents of trans children and accuse them of child abuse for loving their child. It makes me think of the haters who want trans children erased from our schools and communities. Who want trans children to be marginalised, made invisible, kept apart from other children.

The existence of trans children poses a challenge both to the simplified biology of biological essentialism and to social constructivism (the idea that gender is merely a performance).

Who cares whether or not biology has any role?

Many people argue that it should not matter whether being trans is partly influenced by biology or fully shaped by culture, society and upbringing. They argue that acceptance will not come through identifying a ‘cause’ for transness, but through people getting to know trans people.

I imagine and hope that acceptance will gradually emerge for trans adults. I think things are slowly moving forward.

What about trans children though? How do we ensure that gains in acceptance and visibility and legislative rights do not leave out trans children, the most vulnerable, those without a voice.

Too many advocates for the rights of trans adults are silent on the topic of young trans children. Many have no understanding or awareness that trans children exist. Others, consider trans children too controversial, too divisive to stick up for.

Trans children are nearly completely invisible. And whilst there remains a default assumption that gender identity is shaped not at all by biology but purely by culture and upbringing, then there will remain a reluctance to support younger transgender children.

Those who believe that gender is purely a performance, who believe that trans identities are socially constructed, do not believe in the existence of young trans children.

The erasure of trans children allows haters to paint themselves as crusaders saving children from being socially influenced or indoctrinated into being trans.

With no openness to the possibility of a trans child being part of natural diversity, they look for a reason. With young children it is blame the parents. With older children it is social contagion. In the first scenario they advocate removing children from abusive parents. With the second scenario they ask that trans identities never be mentioned, embraced or supported at school. For parents who are afraid and unsure how to react to a trans child, they advise conversion therapy.

Another way

Yet, as soon as people open their minds to the idea that there might be a (complex, messy, unattributable) biological underpinning to trans identities, that trans children exist, and have in fact, always existed, the whole deck of cards upon which the transphobes build their hate comes crashing down.

This opening of minds is possible. This opening of minds and shifting of world view happened to me.

Growing up as a gender non-conforming feminist, tired of sexist societal restrictions and expectations, I was instinctively drawn to a social constructivist view point. I had never met a trans person, but had subconscious, lazy, uneducated assumptions about trans people being enthralled to gender stereotypes. I have former friends who are still tied to this world view.

My world view was shaken when I had the good fortune to have a child who opened my eyes. An assigned male child who was insistent, consistent and persistent that she was a girl from the youngest age.

Learning to reset my assumptions

At first, I really struggled to accept my child as a girl. I told her she was wrong. Mistaken.

I did not believe it was possible for a young child to be trans.

I was certain that this child was too young to understand or reject gender norms or sexism or heteronormativity. I knew they were not making a choice, and certainly weren’t being influenced to be trans (she had never come across any representation of a trans person and I was unconsciously transphobic). She wasn’t even gender non-conforming in her interests. A suggestion I sometimes hear (from people who have barely met a trans person) that she was repressing internalised homophobia in infancy is absurd.

She had a persistent, consistent, insistent knowledge that she was a girl that withstood all forms of persuasion.

Like hundreds of parents all around the world who have experienced the same, I had to learn to reset my assumptions about gender identity. I learnt to love and accept my child for who she is. I have never looked back. She is happy and thriving.

I see how people who emphasise ‘gender as a social construct’ utilise that simplistic maxim to make my daughter’s life impossible. How they use it to argue against her rights. How they use it to accuse parents of abuse.

I see how people who claim genitals = sex = gender similarly use simplified biological essentialism to argue that my child is defined and invalidated by parts of her anatomy.

Neither the simplified biology of essentialism, nor simplistic social constructivism, leaves space for my daughter to exist.

Is there an alternative paradigm?

Holistic views of gender

I recently had a short email exchange with Julia Serano and she kindly shared a chapter she wrote on this topic back in 2013 (Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive – chapter 13: Homogenizing Versus Holistic Views of Gender and Sexuality). What follows is what I took away from her chapter, adapted into my own words – I recommend reading her chapter first hand.

In this chapter, Julia critiques the failings of both simplified biology, (gender determinism) and social constructivism, which she terms gender artifactualism.

She outlines how biological essentialists and biological determinists, (often genital obsessed religious conservatist non-scientists), misrepresent and misunderstand biology and science. They present a simplistic last century school child’s version of human biology, assuming that a simple gene or hormone or chromosome works unilaterally triggering a domino rally of binary outcomes.

She also outlines the failings in social constructivism. For decades children’s gender services were dominated by social constructivists who believed that children could not really be trans and that such children could be engineered into accepting their assigned gender. Yet these efforts failed. Medical consensus is now absolutely clear that conversion therapy is unethical and ineffective – conversion therapy did not change a person’s gender identity, merely produced shame, self-hate and depression. Julia notes that gender identities are often ‘profound, deeply felt and resistant to change’. She notes that some people have a fluid gender identity, and that some people do experience a shift in their identity over time, but that such shifts do not result from external pressure and are ‘almost always inexplicable, unexpected’.

She advocates rejection of both simplified biology (biological determinism) and social constructivism (gender artifactualism). In its place she presents a holistic model of gender.

This holistic model of gender acknowledges that biology is complicated. Human biology is not the simplistic yes/no on/off approach that non-scientists and biological essentialists like to pretend. Real biology is complex, multi-faceted, interactive. Just because some people misuse (simplified) biology, does not mean biology itself is essentialist, deterministic, reductionist or sexist.

Julia notes that ‘the human genome has 20,000-25,000 genes. Any given gene or hormone is affected by countless different interacting factors. Because genes and other biological factors act within intricate networks, any given factor will push a system in a particular direction, but will not single-handedly determine a particular outcome’.

Julia argues that ‘while our brains are shaped by learning and socialisation, they are not infinitely plastic ie they are not blank slates. Some traits have a strong intrinsic component’. She notes that though ‘socialisation has a significant impact on brains and behaviours’ it ‘cannot fully override certain intrinsic inclinations’.

She makes a comparison with left-handedness, which is observed in utero before any socialisation. Even with societal pressure to conform to right-handedness some individuals maintain a preference for using their left-hand.

A holistic model of gender allows space for a biological underpinning to gender identity. A holistic model of gender considers the complex interactions between biology, society, experience.

Biological underpinning to gender identity

A wide number of scientific studies have concluded that there is a durable biological underpinning to gender identity.

This supports what other parents with experience like mine have been saying for decades from their lived experience. This backs up what some trans adults remember from their earliest childhood memories.

There is increasing evidence of trans children who have clear gender identities at a very young age. This evidence of young trans children is present in diverse countries and cultures across the world.

The growing scientific consensus of a biological underpinning to gender identity led to the global endocrine society publishing a position statement last year:

“The medical consensus in the late 20th century was that transgender and gender incongruent individuals suffered a mental health disorder termed “gender identity disorder.” Gender identity was considered malleable and subject to external influences. Today, however, this attitude is no longer considered valid. Considerable scientific evidence has emerged demonstrating a durable biological element underlying gender identity. Individuals may make choices due to other factors in their lives, but there do not seem to be external forces that genuinely cause individuals to change gender identity.”

(for the full position statement and more on the studies see here)

I welcome this consensus. I view it with hope that it will help open eyes and minds and hearts to the existence of trans children like my daughter.

I would happily share this scientific consensus on a biological underpinning to gender identity with a wider audience – I see in it hope of greater acceptance and support for trans children.

However I note that since the publication of this evidence based position statement from the medical establishment, I cannot recall having seen this printed in the media or even referenced in the few articles commissioned by trans authors. Indeed quite the opposite – more often there is a strong resistance to any mention of biology.

Do we have to reject biology?

I understand the scepticism around how biology can be misused, but surely that does not mean this should be rejected outright?

Whilst supporters of trans rights shy away from biology and science, it allows transphobic groups to present themselves as champions of science and rationality. Claims that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Transphobes focus on gender as performance, as fake, as a delusion. Whilst a huge part of what we call gender is socially constructed, my child’s gender identity is not a choice, is not a delusion, is not a product of societal or parental persuasion.

Transphobic groups like to focus on what they simplistically call biological sex. They describe biological sex as a simple binary reality, with gender identity operating on some parallel dimension outside of biology. My daughter is 100% biological. She does not have a magic gender identity spirit disconnected to her biological body. Her biology is no less real or valid than the biology of cis girls. It is not essentialist to claim that her identity is an integral aspect of her biological reality. The true essentialists are those trying to present a simplified and fraudulent version of biological science, utilising distorted, cherry picked and biased pseudo-science to support a transphobic position.

Acknowledging biology without essentialism

The argument that we should avoid science in case it is essentialist or in case it is used against trans rights is a false logic.

  • It is possible to acknowledge the biological underpinnings of gender identity whilst acknowledging that a person’s felt and expressed gender identity is a complex interplay of biology, culture, socialisation and experience.
  • It is possible to acknowledge the biological underpinnings of gender identity whilst simultaneously recognising that identity is neither fixed, nor binary.
  • It is possible to acknowledge the biological underpinnings of gender identity whilst arguing very strongly against diagnostic testing for ‘transness’ or biological gate-keeping and identity policing.
  • It is possible to acknowledge the biological underpinnings of gender identity whilst maintaining that the only way to know someone’s gender identity is to ask them, and that a right to self-identification is a basic part of dignity

My daughter is real and valid and deserving of rights, equality, respect and dignity regardless of our current understanding of science.

But science already has plenty of evidence that trans children exist and that there is a biological underpinning to gender identity and I see no reason not to talk about this. Having a trans child (or being a trans child) does not mean rejecting science.

We should embrace science

My daughter is growing up with a love of science. A thirst for knowledge. I’ll teach her all the science I know, on microbiology, on chemical reactions, on photosynthesis, on plate tectonics. On neurology, on genes, on hormones and gender identity. On sample sizes, on causality, on peer review, on rigour, on interpretation and data manipulation.

Biology is rich and complex and we have so much still to learn. If she carries on with a love of science she will learn things far beyond my knowledge. Science (high quality science) is full of wonder and excitement and discovery.

We should not be afraid of saying loud and proud that we support science. We should be clear that those attempting to attack or dismiss transgender children and adults not only lack empathy and kindness, they also lack sophisticated understanding of science, of biology, of complexity.

Trans children exist.

They know it.

Parents know it.

Science knows (a bit about) it.

Stand up for trans children

 

 

I am (and always will be) learning. Friendly feedback is welcomed.

 

 

GPs and trans children – BBC drama ‘Doctors’ and the UK Gender Identity Development Service

dr

BBC show Doctors included a trans teenager, and their mum meeting with a new GP. The show certainly had made an effort to provide an accurate and appropriate portrayal of a trans adolescent, so does score some points. It did also include some misleading stereotyping of trans children, and ignorance/misinformation on NHS protocols and timelines. I hope upcoming ITV drama Butterfly will do even better.

The first segment was the worst for misrepresenting the experience of parenting a trans child, and for perpetuating lazy stereotypes.

The child is described by the mum as ‘born a boy’ who ‘liked girly things’. The emphasis in the first segment is on the child’s interests, toy preferences, clothing preferences, not on the child’s gender identity. A later segment makes clear the child had identified as a girl her whole life, but this is not mentioned in the first segment.

The focus on non-conformity is misplaced – many trans girls I know are not especially feminine or especially in to girly toys – trans girls are not the cliché of femininity the media leads you to believe.

The first segment suggests that the child one day stated ‘I want to be a girl’ and the parent switched pronoun. It mentions that two years later the child is on puberty blockers. It makes it sound so straight-forward. This unlikely scenario is a misrepresentation of the current NHS pathway for gender variant or trans children and does not match the experience of many families who I know.

Let’s look at a more realistic scenario.

A child, assigned male at birth, states ‘I am a girl’. Frequently. Consistently. Insistently. Persistently. (sure some children are less insistent, some are more fluid, some less clear – in my experience only the ones who are extremely insistent are likely to be supported to socially transition at a young age – it is a huge step in this gendered and transphobic world).

The parent spends months or often years telling their child that they can be a non-stereotypical boy, as non-stereotypical as they like, so long as not trans. Perhaps they say things they will later regret, like it is not possible to be trans, or that your genitals define who you are.

The parent spends months or years reading and learning, working through their own ignorance, fear and transphobia (I have met very few cis parents who did not have to first work through a lifetime of unconscious transphobia).

During this time while the parent finds the knowledge and understanding (and courage) to listen to their child, the child gets increasingly distressed and withdrawn – being rejected by your family is hard on a child.

The parent finally takes what feels like a monumental step of booking an appointment with their GP. The media may have led them to believe that things happen quickly from that point, so the parent may have delayed visiting their GP until the child is in puberty and increasingly distressed.

In, as a rough estimate, half of cases the GP refuses to refer the child to the children’s gender service, sending the parent on an unnecessary 12+ month delay via children’s mental health services. Or the GP tells the parent to come back in a couple of years. Or to come back at age 16. Or the GP flat out tells the parents that kids can’t be trans and they shouldn’t pander to a delusion. This happens a lot.

Parents with transphobic or ignorant GPs go away without any help, only returning to the GP when their child is extremely distressed, depressed, self harming or suicidal.

If they are lucky enough to get a referral from a GP to the sole Children’s Gender Service (In England and Wales), and the referral is accepted, the parents then wait in limbo for a further 14 months for a first appointment. 14 months. For an increasingly distressed child.

Once they get to the gender service the approach is extraordinarily slow and conservative, frequently breaking international guidelines that recommend puberty blockers at tanner stage two. It is often 1-3 years before approval for blockers (even for children who reach the service when puberty is well underway).

Clinicians have all the power and are quite keen to emphasise that the teenager and their parents have no rights whatsoever on whether the service will ever prescribe puberty blockers. Trans children feel this powerlessness, adding greatly to their stress and anxiety at what is already a very difficult time of progressing puberty.

Puberty blockers, let’s not forget, are a safe, reversible and proven effective treatment that has been in use for cis kids (in precocious puberty) since the 1970s, that in countries with a less transphobic health system are prescribed to trans kids (or gender diverse kids distressed about puberty) promptly at the start of puberty. A treatment that is recommended by the international experts on these issues – WPATH (The World Professional Association on Transgender Health) and the International Endocrine Society. A treatment that has been shown to be effective for trans children since the early 1990s.

If approval for puberty blockers is eventually granted by the (monopoly) children’s gender service there is a referral (and further wait) for the endocrine service, with several further appointments (each requiring further trips to London and further days of missed education (and lost earnings for parents) for yet more 1 hour appointments) before prescription of blockers.

Then the parents and child are left to manage a drawn out discussion between the NHS endocrine service and their GP about who will administer the puberty blockers (a simple injection) and who will take on responsibility for the ongoing prescription.

The NHS endocrine service says the NHS GP should do this. The GP usually refuses, claiming that this simple injection, that has been deemed necessary by NHS specialists, that they already administer to cis children, is ‘specialist’ knowledge that they are allowed to refuse to administer (just because the child is trans). Parents are left to sort out this incompetency between different wings of the NHS.

In our realistic example, the parents are now trying to keep safe a desperate teenager  who has been waiting for years for the medically necessary treatment that they need and have a right to. Reports of self harm are common. These parents sometimes have to teach themselves how to administer an NHS prescribed injection as they can’t find any NHS workers locally willing to do this for trans adolescents. A simple injection that has been prescribed by NHS specialists which the local GP and nurses refuse to administer. Stressed adolescents are injected by a parent who has never before given an injection as their GP surgery has neglected their patient.

This is for a treatment that is already given as standard to 6 year old cis kids in precocious puberty. Because we can’t have a 6 year old cis girl with periods and breasts but that is fine for a 14 year old self-harming trans boy. Because we can’t have a 6 year old cis boy with a beard but that is fine for a 15 year old trans girl.

It is basic anti-trans children discrimination in health care.

The BBC show ‘Doctors’ includes a further brief reference to sex hormones. The mum states that the only way of getting hormones pre-age 16 is to go to the US. The GP shows a face heavy with scepticism and talks about safe-guarding. It would have been appropriate here to mention to Gillick competency, a concept familiar to all doctors. Across all areas of medicine adolescents are able to consent to complex irreversible medical interventions if they are deemed Gillick competent. The same benchmark should be applied to transgender adolescents.

The segment on sex hormones omitted to mention that provision of hormones before the age of 16 is deemed medical best practice in many clinics in the USA and elsewhere in certain circumstances – based on the benefits of peer concordant puberty (going through puberty at the same time as peers), due to recognition that children with a long track record of fixed trans identities are not going to suddenly change gender identities at age 15.

A well-informed GP would have also mentioned the global Endocrine Society’s 2017 guidance stating: “We recognize that there may be compelling reasons to initiate sex hormone treatment prior to age 16 years”.

The mum in the BBC drama also makes a reference to “the operations” – a statement which is not clarified. There is so much ignorance about trans children in the UK that the fact that surgery is not considered for trans girls until adulthood does need stating.

One thing the show did portray convincingly is the parent pretty much begging a not-transphobic and slightly clued up GP to care for and advocate for her child. The programme ends with the GP in an ethical dilemma about whether to agree to be this child’s GP, and whether to be willing to state medical facts about accepted best practices for trans children’s care in a family court. Why is this an ethical dilemma? If the family were following any other medical specialist recommended health care, the GP would not consider it an ethical dilemma to defend this in family court.

The real ‘debate’ and ethical dilemma when it comes to GPs and trans children is why is there still such varied and poor practice? Why are desperate families encountering ignorance and transphobia from GPs? Why are GPs allowed to opt out of administering medically needed treatment that has been prescribed by an NHS specialist? Why are GPs treating trans children so much worse than cis children and why does no one care?

And if you want to a good indication of the wider institutional transphobia across the NHS that allows this poor healthcare for trans children to go unchallenged, look no further than the nonsense hokum that is “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria”. NHS children’s specialists have referenced ‘Rapid Onset’ in a presentation in a way that did not make it clear to service users and the general public that it is junk science.

In Canada, meanwhile, specialists working with trans children have endorsed a condemnation of Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria as junk science, bunkum and quackery.

Where is the similar condemnation from the UK Gender Identity Development Service? I won’t hold my breath.

Given the poor state of the UK specialist service, whose protocols are outdated and not fit for purpose (with a 14+ month wait for current first appointments), we need GPs to step up and do more. GPs cannot continue to refuse basic care for trans children and adolescents. GPs cannot continue to claim that simple health care for trans adolescents is ‘too specialist’. It is discrimination clear and plain.

 

Update:

In episode 2 the GP goes to see a psychotherapist who tells him that the majority of socially transitioned 14 year olds change their minds. This is an outright falsehood.

Even the discredited Zucker/Steensma studies showed 14 year olds were extremely likely to maintain a trans identity.

The latest studies (Olson 2015 and Fast 2017) show that trans children have a clear identity at a very young age, that their identity is as valid and consistent as any other child’s.

The latest stats from Australia showed “From 2003 to 2017 96 percent of all patients assessed and diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria continued to identify as transgender or gender diverse into late adolescence”.

The ‘expert’ knows scarcely a thing of the latest evidence-based scientific consensus on care for transgender children.

The Erasure of Trans Children

transgender children erasure

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.

 

Conclusion

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.

#SomeChildrenAreTrans #GetOverIt

Follow us on twitter @FierceMum and @DadTrans

 

Further info on the findings

Methodology

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

Organisation Reference to transgender children
The Albert Kennedy Trust “The right of the parent to support a child through their assignment is important.”
Genderagenda “Typically, 1 child per class will come out to me and another will say I know someone trans/non-binary and ask for help supporting them.
The Government Equalities Office has one reference to trans children, quoting Ofsted “Ofsted’s Common Inspection Framework, which takes effect in September 2015 and covers standard inspections of early years, schools and further education and skills providers, requires inspectors to pay particular attention to the outcomes of a number of specific groups, including transgender children and learners.”
A young trans adult makes one reference “I feel that children are discovering what trans means through the internet rather than in a classroom environment, and I fear that as a result, either children would grow up with a slight bias, or children who are trans would not realise this until many years later, when it is more difficult to transition. “
LGBT consortium “Medical interventions for children and adolescents have been inadequate and do not meet international best practice standards”
LGBT Youth Scotland “Further, transgender young people are aware of their gender identity and begin living in their acquired gender far earlier than the age of 16. We recommend implementing provision which would enable parents and carers to give consent for a child or young person to receive a GRC under the age of 16”
National LGB&T Partnership

 

Medical interventions for children and adolescents have been inadequate and do not meet international best practice standards
Outreach Cumbria ‘Fourthly there is no local support for children and adolescents with gender identity difficulties with the nearest (and only) gender clinic being the Tavistock and Portman Clinic in London
A volunteer with the Albert Kennedy Trust “Early access to transitioning and being accepted from a young age is vital to the emotional and mental well being of a trans person and therefore families, social services and the NHS should work with all trans children and trans youths to be able them to decide their future and how they wish to live.”
Support U “Most of the above issues all apply to young trans people, although more education of peer groups of trans children would help”
Terry Reed “Numbers presenting for treatment have grown at ~23% p.a. over the last couple of years. In the children and young people group, the growth is even faster.

inclusion of transgender people: adults, adolescents and children, in sport.”

Trans Media Watch “Louis Theroux’s recent documentary on trans children for the BBC also received much acclaim
UK Trans Info Provide a method for children and teenagers who are below the usual age requirement to obtain gender recognition with the consent of their parents or guardians, or without their consent through the courts where it is in their best interests.
Anonymous “Ensure that those working in proximity with minors are aware how potentially transgender children can and should be helped.
Equalities Officer, on behalf of UNISON Bournemouth Higher & Further Education Branch Ensure the implementation of compulsory, trans-inclusive PHSE curriculum in order that children are made aware of the issues facing trans persons, help trans children access support, and tackle transphobic behaviour before it begins.

Without access to educational information and resources on gender identity, trans children may be placed under undue stress, confusion, and harm. Through the provision of compulsory gender identity education within the PHSE curriculum, work can be done to make trans children aware that they’re not alone, that discriminatory behaviour they may face is not acceptable, and of the support available to them.

University of Leeds Particularly vulnerable groups include intersex bodied people and trans children under 18
Scottish Transgender Alliance With growing social acceptance, the annual number of children and adolescents coming out as transgender has increased five-fold over four years
Anon There is a need for a more robust communication / awareness programme to help parents who believe their children may be gender dysphoric , and how they can help and cope
Anon A close family friend has a trans child who, age 8, told his teachers that he wanted to be a boy and have ‘boy parts’. The school reported his parents to the social services, assuming that the child had been abused, based on no other evidence
Individual Studies indicate that the majority of trans people know they are trans by the age of 7, and many experience distress throughout their childhood. A growing number of children are transitioning, and the lack of any legal recognition until a child is 18 is starting to cause problems, for example with names in school systems and examination certificates.
Individual Inclusion of trans history as a compulsory element of the UK schools national curriculum, linking it to organisational support for trans children, adolescents, their families, and their friends
Individual We need to be intervening sooner, so that trans-children grow up with a chance of fitting in to society and being truly inclusive, and non-trans children will grow up with understanding and tolerance, rather than behaving in a segregatory manner and ostracising trans-people

 

 

On Gender Stereotypes

Someone recently wrote in to this blog, saying, in essence, that they ‘would like to support trans children’s rights, but can’t get over a nagging fear that children who are simply non-conforming are being pushed into identifying as trans’. The writer remembers being a ‘tomboy’ who hated dresses, and fears that such traits in today’s society would lead to her ‘being pushed into being a trans boy’. She asks whether a ‘butch woman who identifies as a woman can still be a woman’.

This is the way that very many people who are ‘on the fence’ about supporting trans rights feel. It is not dissimilar to the way I myself once thought about trans people, back when I had never knowingly met a trans person, back before I knew my daughter, back when a lifetime of ignorant media portrayals had depicted trans people, almost always trans women, as clichés of femininity.

Anyone who finds themselves thinking this way, please take a minute to consider a few things.

First consider where are you getting your information from? Have you met trans people who you consider to be making their lives harder and facing enormous discrimination simply from ignorance that girls can climb trees and boys can like dolls? Or do you perhaps know very few or zero actual trans people, and you are basing your judgement on media portrayals? If the latter, consider whether such media tropes are written by, directed by and feature trans people, or whether they simply project non trans (cis) people’s interpretation.

Second, can you really scrutinise the first statement – that you would like to support a marginalised group’s rights, but only once you have been persuaded by them that they deserve your support. Only once you have been persuaded that they are not naively/stupidly enthralled to stereotypes.

Can you not hear how that sounds?

It is not dissimilar to someone saying ‘yes I’ll support Muslim rights, as soon as they persuade me they’re not all terrorists’, or ‘yes I’ll support the rights of people on benefits, as soon as they persuade me they’re not lazy’ or ‘yes I’ll support asylum seekers rights, as soon as they persuade me they’re not criminals’.

I’m all too aware that certain people on the far right in our society hold all of these prejudiced views.

There is a mainstream portion of our society who would never dream of stating or even thinking those statements. Who understand that these sentiments and generalisations are grounded in media misrepresentation, ignorance and hate. Who would not buy into media vitriol about other minorities, yet fall into the trap of believing that trans rights, and trans children’s rights, need to be earned, can be withheld, are in some way conditional upon those children (and their parents) proving that their specific trans child is not a stereotype, and is not in fact a non-conforming child ‘forced into a trans identity’.

The insinuation that trans children are just non-conforming children being led astray is pervasive, a scare story proactively spread by those who want to marginalise trans people.

This accusation is thrown at parents like myself daily:

Why couldn’t you just let your boy play with dolls? (…she doesn’t like dolls)

Why couldn’t you just let him do ballet and wear a princess dress (…she likes football and prefers witches)

Those accusing us of stereotypes are the ones seemingly obsessed with outdated notions of gender specific toys and interests.

They worry that parental narrow mindedness or ignorance leads us to presume a ‘tom boy’ must be a trans boy, that a feminine boy must be a trans girl.

Because of course us blinkered parents of trans kids are tied to stereotypes and couldn’t love a non-conforming child.

Because of course, in their mind, all trans girls love pink and dolls and sparkly tiaras, and all trans boys must be ‘tom girls’ who hate dolls and dresses.

Having met many score of trans children, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Trans children, and trans people in general are those who are tearing down the gender boundaries.

Of course we told my daughter that she could be whatever type of boy she wanted to be. This was totally misunderstanding the point and made our child deeply sad.

It is true that media depictions of trans children often focus on gender stereotypes, with pink = girl.

Every time I see any depiction of trans kids on TV I count the seconds until the trans girl pulls out a doll or the trans boy kicks a football. But guess what. I know scores of trans girls who had zero interest in dolls or dresses. I know trans boys who collect dolls.

Trans children are no more stereotypical than any other children.

The same for trans adults of course. Some trans women are extremely glamorous and feminine (just like I know some cis women who are always in dresses and makeup). Some trans women wear jeans and t-shirts and rarely if ever use makeup – just like me and tons of cis women. Gender expression is not the same as gender identity.

If you are ‘on the fence’ about whether to stand up for trans children, please question where you are getting your assumptions about transgender children from. If it is coming from a transphobic and ignorant media, or if it is coming from anti-trans children political groups, consider if the information you receive is biased, loaded or spun. Would you accept rhetoric about Muslims from Britain First?

On Media Tropes of trans children

I’ve identified three key factors why the vast majority of media does not present a true picture of trans children:

  1. Media stereotyping
  2. Societal expectations
  3. Personal narratives (of children and families)

1. Gender stereotypes are pervasive in media coverage of trans children. There are many reasons for this:

Media stereotyping: TV shows regularly confuse gender identity with behaviour, toys or interests. Some media pieces seem to do this maliciously, to undermine the validity of trans children, to suggest to unaware viewers that non-conforming children are being made trans. In other media pieces the stereotyping may be unconscious. This is particularly the case when transgender people (directors, producers, narrators) are not involved. Many (but not all) trans adults and parents of trans children are acutely aware of the distinction between trans and gender non-conforming – and of the difference between gender expression and gender identity

Simple soundbites: Documentary producers often seek to tell a simple story, and select and edit soundbites to fit their narrative. This usually reinforces a ‘traditional’ and expected depiction wherein gender expression (eg clothing) and toy preferences (boys = trucks, girls = dolls) are highlighted as synonymous with gender identity. The public as a whole is still poorly informed – many people don’t know what the term gender identity means, many have never heard the term cisgender, or assigned gender, and some are unsure whether a trans girl is someone who was assigned male or female at birth. Documentaries need to ‘hold the hands’ of an ill-informed general public, taking small bite size steps into the world of gender identity. In this context, it is hard for a brief media piece to quickly convey complex and nuanced information on identity. It is much easier to revert to old clichés to help tell the story, looking for soundbites like ‘I adored dolls when I was little’ or ‘I was born in the wrong body’. I’m not denying that some trans people do say these things, and for some trans people this is their truth. But this is not the heart of the story for very many trans people, yet these same clichéd and simplified stories are the ones we see in the media time and again. Reporting on adult trans people seems to be moving towards more complex and nuanced stories about identity – not yet so for trans kids.

Simplified Visuals: Documentary makers like to use imagery to tell their story. A gender identity is not something that can be photographed or visually depicted. Trans kids, like all kids, will have items of clothing of a variety of colours. But it is the photo of a trans girl wearing pink that will make the documentary, that will be selected for the front cover. Trans girls, like most cis girls, will sometimes wear pink. Indeed it is hard to avoid pink in the girls section of most stores. Media images of trans girls almost always show them in pink – this does not mean trans girls wear pink any more often than cis girls. My trans daughter actively dislikes pink.

Participant selection: Some trans girls like football and trousers and climbing trees. Some trans girls like dolls and princesses and pink. Documentaries will give greater emphasis to the latter over the former (I hardly ever see the former shown, despite knowing plenty of trans girls who would rather climb a tree or play a computer game than dress as a princess). Many trans girls will like a wide range of toys, both dolls and cars and will gladly play with both. Which footage will make it into the documentary though? Of course, it will be the clichéd footage of the trans girl with the doll. This is very similar to the clichéd media portrayal of trans women always being introduced showing them putting on make-up. This is part of the truth for some people, but it is manipulative – emphasising stereotypical and clichéd aspects of lives that are rich, nuanced and complex.

2. Gender stereotyped expression may also be more prevalent in trans children, at some stages of their life due to external pressures

Medical gatekeeping: Adult gender identity services, for a very long time, insisted that trans women adhere to restrictive (and often outdated) gender stereotypes as a condition of acceptance for treatment. Trans women who might out of preference dress in a less stereotypically feminine manner were forced to conform to outdated stereotypes in terms of dress and hair style, or be denied support. This type of regressive gatekeeping is still experienced in children’s services, with reports of trans teenagers being told they need to ‘dress in a more stereotypically feminine manner’ or ‘need to sit in a more masculine posture’, or wear certain clothes, or style their hair in certain ways.

Securing support from other children: Trans kids want to gain the support of their peers. Adhering to a very stereotypical gender presentation is a way of signalling their gender identity to other children. When my child was trying to persuade her peers to address her as a girl she took to wearing sparkly hair clips as a visual queue of her identity. One day in the car en route to a party she lost her hair clips. She descended into uncontrollable sobs. When questioned she explained:

‘If I don’t have hair clips in, they will call me a boy’.

Since being accepted as a girl by all her peers, she soon stopped wearing hair clips. It was never about the hair-clip – it was about wanting to be seen by others and respected as a girl.

Asserting identity to parents: Trans kids desperately want to show their parents their identity. Clothing is an obvious route to asserting identity. When we were calling her a boy, my child refused to wear trousers (from a very young age). A very rigid and strident insistence on wearing dresses is for many trans girls a way to communicate their identity to their parents. Gender non-conforming boys like to wear dresses because they like the dress, maybe it sparkles, maybe it has a fun pony on it, maybe it is brighter than the dull colours in the boys section. But for transgender children, clothing is a means to an end, a useful way of trying to communicate and assert their identity. How do you know if it is a gender non-conforming boy or a trans girl? Listen to what the child is saying. Are they focused on liking dresses? Gender non-conforming child. Are they consistently, persistently and insistently saying ‘I am a girl’ and getting deeply upset and depressed when called a boy? That was our daughter. Once our daughter was accepted by us as a girl, her clothing choices gradually shifted to what is now a fairly neutral presentation for a girl – sometimes wearing dresses but most of the time preferring leggings or jeans.

3. Narratives of the child and their parents

Some parents of trans children like stereotypes and some parents like simple narratives that help explain their situation to a sceptical world: Parents of trans kids come from all walks of life. This is not an ideology that only parents with a certain world view sign up to. Trans kids appear in all kinds of families. These families are as varied as wider society, and the families of trans kids will mirror the views and prejudices of wider society.

Some parents of trans kids have very stereotyped and gendered expectations for their children. These parents, when recalling the childhoods of their transgender children, will remember and highlight examples of non-gender conforming behaviour. Such families may well say ‘It made sense that she was a trans girl, as she always liked dolls’. This does not mean that playing with dolls made the parent conclude their child was transgender, rather it meant that once she accepted her child as a girl, she recalled and emphasised examples of non-conforming behaviour that help her understand and accept her child.

Other parents do not have gendered or stereotyped views of children. These parents do not see any clear and simple correlation or causation between the clothes or toys that our children preferred, and their gender identity. Such parents present a more complex and less ‘packageable’ narrative. Such parents do not produce the short media friendly soundbites that documentaries rely on. This more complex parental narrative almost never appears in media depictions of trans children – instead media prefers the parents who say “my child loved dolls so I knew she was a girl”.

Some children need a simple answer: Our daughter has always known she is a girl. Like many children asked to explain her gender identity she cannot do so easily and simply. She quickly got tired of being asked “but why do you think you are a girl?” Gender identity is hard to explain, and adults would struggle to find an answer beyond ‘I just do’. When children assert an identity different to what was expected there is undoubtedly societal pressure to justify how they feel in some way. It would not be surprising to me for children to gravitate to emphasising examples of their own non-conforming behaviour or interests as extra justification for who they are. Especially when this is the depiction of trans children they see in the media. Especially when even the diagnostic criteria used by children’s gender identity services (in the UK and elsewhere) requires stereotypical ‘cross gender interests, behaviour, play preferences’ as credentials for being considered transgender (Gender Identity alone is not sufficient, children are expected to conform to stereotypes of behaviour, clothing or play preferences in order to be deemed gender dysphoric).

There is a popular children’s book written by a transgender girl called “I am Jazz” that seems to equate her liking ‘girls activities’ with being a trans girl. When I first read it with my trans daughter she noticed this and said “that’s silly, of course boys or girls can both like dancing/pink/ballet”. My trans daughter has a more nuanced understanding of the difference between identity and interests. And she shares my dislike of gender stereotyping.

It is possible to criticise some books and programmes about trans children as reinforcing stereotypes without jumping to a rejection of transgender children.

It is possible to dislike gender stereotypes and still want trans children to have happy and safe lives.

It is possible to want the best for gender non-conforming children and still want trans children to be treated with respect, dignity and acceptance.

Those of you on the fence about trans rights can carry on weighing up whether my daughter has proved her ‘not a stereotype’ credentials enough to be shown kindness, respect and acceptance.

I meanwhile will carry on raising a kind, confident, happy child.

I will carry on helping all my children to see beyond the stereotypes, limitations and restrictions society places on girls and boys (and non-binary people).

And I will teach them the importance of tolerance, kindness, and respect, especially for those who we don’t understand, especially for those who are different.

Research update: 12/04/2018

Research evidence is emerging which appears to confirm our experience of parenting a socially transitioned child:

Olson & Enright (2017) in the first ever study of socially transitioned children and stereotyping found that “transgender children and the siblings of transgender children endorse gender stereotypes less than the control group. Further, transgender children see violations of gender stereotypes as more acceptable, and they are more willing to indicate a desire to befriend and attend school with someone who violates gender stereotypes than the control participants. These results held after statistically controlling for demographic differences between families with and without transgender children.”

 

Gender Recognition for Under 16s – Consultation on the Scottish Gender Recognition Act

scot flag

Scotland is currently holding a consultation on reforming their Gender Recognition Act. This proposes options to simplify the process for transgender people in Scotland to obtain full legal gender recognition (acquiring a Gender Recognition Certificate and amending their birth certificate).

This consultation seeks views on reforming the 2004 Act. The Scottish Government proposes to streamline the process for obtaining legal recognition and also to allow people aged 16 and over to apply. We are also seeking views about the options for people under 16 and for recognition of non-binary people.

We are inviting responses to this consultation by 5pm on 1 March 2018. 1.07. Please respond to this consultation using the Scottish Government’s consultation platform, Citizen Space. You can view and respond to this consultation online at: https://consult.scotland.gov.uk/family-law/reviewof-the-gender-recognition-act-2004.

Key information:

The consultation provides key information on the Gender Recognition Act. It is critical to note however that even without a Gender Recognition Certificate, transgender people are legally protected under the 2010 Equality Act and have rights to change identity markers in systems including schools, the NHS and their passports, and have the right to use facilities matching gender identity. The Gender Recognition Act is however the only route to updating a birth certificate.

“GRC” – a gender recognition certificate. Under the 2004 Act, a full GRC provides legal recognition of an applicant’s acquired gender. When a GRC is issued under the 2004 Act, the applicant’s legal sex also changes to male or female. ”

“The 2004 Act allows transgender people aged 18 and over to apply for legal recognition of their acquired gender and to change their legal sex accordingly”

The consultation considers two main models for gender recognition, the current system of an assessment model (where a doctor, psychologist and or court ‘evidences’ a person’s gender identity) or a self-declaration model (as already applied in Norway, Denmark, Malta, Colombia, Argentina, and the Republic of Ireland).

For an example of how this is working in practice, this article provides a useful overview of how a self-declaration based process is already in action in the Republic of Ireland.

I won’t focus here on the proposed options for how the gender recognition system will operate, but will instead give attention to eligibility based on age – namely whether trans youth and trans children are permitted to get a Gender Recognition Certificate and change their birth certificate.

Under 18s.

At present in Scotland, as elsewhere in the UK, trans youth and trans children under 18 are not eligible for a Gender Recognition Certificate, meaning under 18s cannot update their birth certificate. Trans children and youth are however given legal protections under the 2010 Equality Act, and already have the right to change their gender marker in almost all other documentation, without the need for a Gender Recognition Certificate (including a right to change their gender marker in their passport, and in systems including schools and the NHS) (*as with adults options for identity recognition for trans youth/children with non-binary identities are extremely limited).

The consultation questions:

 The survey starts with 4 questions for how GRC should work for adults including:

Question 1 The Scottish Government proposes to bring forward legislation to introduce a self-declaratory system for legal gender recognition instead. Do you agree or disagree with this proposal?

16-17 year olds.

The consultation proceeds to focus on 16-17 year olds:

“The Scottish Government considers that people aged 16 or older should be able to apply for legal recognition of their acquired gender using the proposed self-declaration process.

4.05. There is clear evidence that people aged 16 do live full time in their acquired gender and want this to be legally recognised. For example, the Women and Equalities Select Committee heard evidence from LGBT Youth Scotland to this effect. In the Republic of Ireland, 8 people aged 16 and 17 have received a GRC31 after obtaining a court order permitting them to apply under their self-declaration system. The court in the Republic of Ireland is required to consider evidence about the young person’s transition to their acquired gender. ”

Question 5 The Scottish Government proposes that people aged 16 and 17 should be able to apply for and obtain legal recognition of their acquired gender. Do you agree or disagree?

It is curious that the report notes the “clear evidence that people aged 16 do live full time in their acquired gender and want this to be legally recognised” and yet in subsequent sections does not similarly note the existence of transgender children under the age of 16. Parents of transgender children, and other groups supporting transgender young people were perhaps overlooked in the preparatory consultations? This oversight makes it especially important that parents and supporters of transgender children and young people provide feedback during this consultation that transgender children do indeed exist, and those under the age of 16 both want and need full legal recognition. Inputs from any under transgender young people themselves might also be an important addition to this consultation.

Under 16s

The consultation moves on to consider under 16s:

“4.08. The Scottish Government’s view is that there is a careful balance to be struck in relation to people under 16. On the one hand, we should treat children with dignity and respect, giving weight to their views and wishes in line with their individual capacity. On the other hand, we should ensure that children have the right protection and care. 4.09. People who are under 16 years of age can act on their own behalf in relation to a range of matters. Annex E contains further information about this. The CRWIA at Annex M refers to research evidence about children who identify as transgender. 4.10. The Scottish Government considers that there are five broad options in relation to people under 16 being able to apply for legal gender recognition.”

The consultation proceeds to outline 5 potential options for transgender children under the age of 16. I’ve quoted these here in full, following which I’ve outlined my thoughts on each option:

Under 16s – option 1 – nothing for those under 16 

4.11. Under this option, applicants would have to be at least 16 to apply for legal recognition of their acquired gender. This would be straightforward, but would stop those under 16 with a clear view of their gender identity from obtaining legal gender recognition.

Under 16s – option 2 – court process 

4.12. Option 2 would be for Scotland to adopt a court based process.

4.14. Any court based process, whether instigated by a child’s parents or by the child themself, would focus on the assessment of the child’s welfare. We would also consider specifying the matters the court would have to have regard to in determining what was in the child’s best interests. 4.15. Under this option, a court action could be raised by the child if they had sufficient capacity to do so, or if they did not, by a person or persons who had PRRs (parental responsibilities and rights) for them acting on their behalf.

4.19. Malta has a court based process of legal gender recognition for those under 18. Those with parental authority for a child may file an application in the court. The court must consider the best interests of the child and give due weight to the views of the child depending on their age and maturity

4.20. In the Republic of Ireland, applications cannot be made by those aged under 16. However, applications by 16 and 17 year olds require to be accompanied by a court order permitting the application to be made. The court may only grant the order if the child’s parents, surviving parent or guardian consents. Two medical certificates must also be produced to the court. The medical certificates must confirm that: · the child has a sufficient degree of maturity to decide to apply for gender recognition; · the child is aware of, has considered and fully understands, the consequences of that decision; · the child’s decision is freely and independently made; and · the child has transitioned, or is transitioning to, their preferred gender.

4.21. Under option 2, a child who may not have reached puberty might apply to the court or a person with PRRs for such a child might apply.

Under 16s – option 3 – parental application

4.22. Option 3 would be to permit an application to be made on behalf of a person under 16 by someone with PRRs (parental responsibilities and rights) for them. Typically, this would be the child’s parents. Further information about PRRs, when parents get them and who else may have PRRs is in Annex F. 4.23. Usually, where more than one person has parental rights in relation to a child, each can exercise their rights without the consent of the other or any of the others.36 4.24. Where a person with PRRs is reaching a major decision regarding the fulfilling or exercise of PRRs, the person is under a duty to have regard to any views the child expresses, taking account of the child’s age and maturity. The person making the decision must also have regard to any views expressed by any other person with PRRs for the child concerned.37 The Scottish Government considers that seeking legal recognition in an acquired gender is an example of a major decision. 4.25. One possibility under this option would be to require the application to be made by all parents with PRRs for a child. This would mean that a person who had PRRs for the child but was not their parent would not require to be involved. However, we would still expect the person(s) applying on the child’s behalf to have regard to the views of such a person. 4.26. Another possibility under this option would be to require all people with PRRs to apply, not just a parent or parents with PRRs. This may mean that a local authority that had PRRs for a child would need to be involved in the application process. 4.27. If all the people who required to be involved in the application did not agree38, then a court order could be sought under existing arrangements. Section 11(1) of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 allows the Sheriff Court or the Court of Session to make an order in relation to PRRs. The court could then make a decision based on the child’s welfare. 4.28. There are some children for whom no one has PRRs. One option might be for a person who has an interest to obtain PRRs from the court and then apply for legal gender recognition on behalf of the child.

4.30. In summary, therefore, under this option all parents with PRRs (or, perhaps, everybody with PRRs) would have to apply, having had regard to the child’s views. If there is a dispute amongst those with PRRs, an application could be made to the court to resolve the matter. There may be restrictions on the role of a person with limited PRRs. 4.31. Under this option, applications could be made on behalf of very young children, including both those who lack legal capacity and who have not reached puberty.

Under 16s – option 4 – minimum age of 12

4.32. Option 4 would permit children aged 12 and above to apply in the same way as those aged 16 or above

4.34. However, this option would take no account of a child’s capacity to take decisions nor their physical maturity.

4.36. The Scottish Government does not favour this option as it would allow a child to apply irrespective of their capacity to understand the nature and consequences of their decision.

Under 16s – option 5 – application by capable child

4.37. Option 5 would permit a person under 16 to apply in the same manner as an adult, provided they had capacity to understand the consequences of recognition in their acquired gender.

4.38. Under this option, someone would have to test the child’s capacity. This could potentially be done, for example, by a registered medical practitioner, or by a practising solicitor.

4.40. A person under 16 has legal capacity to instruct a solicitor, in connection with any civil matter, where the person has a general understanding of what it means to do so. Someone aged 12 or more is presumed to be old and mature enough to have such understanding.

The section ends with question number 6, which asks consultation respondents to state which of the 5 potential options for transgender children under 16 they most favour.

Question 6 

Which of the identified options for children under 16 do you most favour? Please select only one answer.

 

option 1 – nothing for those under 16

option 2 – court process

option 3 – parental application

option 4 – minimum age of 12

option 5 – application by capable child

My response to the consultation

My initial thoughts to the above is as follows:

Option 1 –  nothing for under 16s, is unacceptable. Many of our trans children are living as their identified gender from primary school, including changing their gender marker in other systems including on their passport. Why then should they have to wait until 16 to have who they are fully recognised in law? When they have been living for years with a passport and other markers in their gender identity, why should their birth certificate be out of sync? Inability to update birth certificate adds to stress for trans children that their identity will be unwillingly disclosed and presents to them the reality that the state does not fully respect them until adulthood. Trans children exist, and waiting until 16 or 18 for proper legal recognition is denial of basic rights for these young citizens.

Denying rights to under 16s is at odds with the recent WPATH (World Professional Association for Transgender Health) statement on identity:

“WPATH advocates that appropriate gender recognition should be available to transgender youth, including those who are under the age of majority,”

Option 2 – court process seems like an expensive, bureaucratic, stressful and unneccessary requirement. I would like to learn more from Ireland, who has a similar requirement for 16-17 year olds which is currently under review.  Australia, which has just got rid of a requirement for trans youth to go to court for hormone treatment, provides a useful case study of this process.

CASE STUDY: Australian experience of a court based process

Australia until very recently required under 16s to go to court to gain approval for gender related medical care. Families and transgender children in Australia found the process of going to court stressful and upsetting. When one family were told that the requirement to go to court was being removed, one family reportedlywere unable to contain their tears of relief” with their child commenting “No longer will young transgender young people have to keep justifying who they were“.

World leading specialist in supporting transgender children, Dr Telfer, Director of the Gender Service at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne described the amount of time gender specialists were having to devote to guiding families through the court proceedings:

“Gender Clinic staff have had to spend considerable time on counselling families on what the court process would be like, Dr Telfer said.

“No-one wants to be in a courtroom. Usually it’s a place where you go when something is wrong.

The requirement for transgender youth to go to court was described as “costly, traumatic and unnecessary”.

The director of legal advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, Anna Brown, described the decision to stop forcing transgender children in Australia to go to court as a “stunning victory” for young transgender people.

“This will make a profound difference to the lives of many young trans people who will now be relieved of the burden of a costly and unnecessary court process”

“This bizarre legal anomaly was born of outdated attitudes to trans young people”

“Importantly, also, for the young people themselves, going to court can be hugely taxing,”

“This decision is a huge victory for so many young people and their families. The latest research shows that there are probably around 45,000 trans and gender-diverse young people in Australia, and this will save them enormous amounts of money, time and heartache.”

Australia has made the decision to move away from requiring transgender children to go to court. Why then would Scotland wish to impose this on Scottish trans children? Based upon the Australian experience, the Option 2 court process, is not the right decision for our children.

Option 3 – parental application seems instinctively a sensible option. With parental approval children like my daughter could get their identities fully legally recognised. This would however limit options for youth who do not have parental support, and such youth would either need to wait until 16 or would need to have recourse to an alternative option eg to the court option. I wonder whether there are many youth without any parental support for whom gaining a GRC pre 16 would be a major priority? I’d welcome feedback from trans youth or organisations working with trans youth.

Option 4 – minimum age of 12 is largely ruled out by the Scottish consultation, and I would agree that basing declaration on age, rather than capacity for decision-making, would be unworkable.

Option 5 – application by capable child is attractive in theory but I question how it would work in practice. It would require an administration layer including professional gate keepers, requiring our children to submit to an assessment, and I wonder who would be willing to test a child’s capacity for this purpose. This might result in a very small number of medicalised gate-keepers and subject to waiting lists, delays and arbitrary protocols. There’s also a very serious question about how to ensure such professional are able to assess a child’s capacity in a sensitive and appropriate manner – those of us with trans children are well aware of the level of transphobia and ignorance about trans children so common across the UK.

Seeking another opinion

I decided to reach out to the Scottish Trans Alliance who provided their view on the options for under 16s

Scottish Trans Alliance:

“We’re currently in favour of Option 3 – the ‘parental application‘ option – where under 16s would be allowed to change gender on birth certificate on submission of a simple statutory declaration with signed parental consent. This would mirror how name changes on official documents are already done for under 16s.

We think that if a young trans person under 16 has unsupportive parents then the most urgent problems they will be facing are likely to be whether they are safe from transphobic emotional abuse at home and whether they are able to wear clothes they want and use the verbal pronouns they want. We think that it is rare that a child under 16 with unsupportive parents will be in a confident and safe enough position to risk trying to change their birth certificate against the wishes of their parents.

We think that nearly all under 16s who have been able to successfully start living fully in their gender identity (and therefore are at the point where it would make sense to change their birth certificate to improve their privacy) will have at least one supportive parent. However, it is important that there is a way of ensuring that an unsupportive parent is not able to block the wishes of the young person and their supportive parent. If a court process is needed to resolve a family dispute about whether a young person should be granted a GRC, then we think the court ought to be obliged to uphold the wishes of the young person provided they have capacity to understand the consequences of legal gender recognition.

While Option 5 – the ‘application by capable child’ option – sounds on the surface like a more empowering option than parental application, we have concerns that it may lead to problematic gatekeeping by doctors/solicitors who could be scared to approve the capacity of individual trans young people. It could result in say a 13 year old with supportive parents having to try to prove their capacity to a trans-ignorant doctor only to be told they are too young to understand the consequences and that they have to wait as their parent can’t give consent on their behalf. That could be a very stressful and disempowering experience.

Not allowing under 16s to change the gender on their birth certificate leaves them at risk of schools not taking their gender identity and right to privacy of their gender history seriously. Under 16s usually don’t have bank accounts or many letters sent to them so proving their identity without showing a birth certificate is harder for under 16s than for trans adults. This means trans people under 16 are at greater risk than adults of privacy violation, and transphobic harassment as a result, due to their birth certificate outing them as trans. The intensity of media hostility and resulting negative social attitudes towards trans youth and their families makes privacy rights particularly essential.

Changing birth certificate would have no impact on ability to access hormone blockers but could make a life enhancing difference to moving to a new school without being outed.

It’s worth noting that parents of trans young people under 16 can already change their child’s gender on their passport and medical records so it makes sense to bring birth certificates into alignment with these other official documents.”

Preferred option

Having reviewed the proposed options, and consulted with other stakeholders, the best option for under 16s seems to be Option 3 – parental application.

 

Flawed research evidence underpinning the consultation

Before concluding, I would also like to share my views on the annexes to the consultation which contain some worryingly flawed ‘evidence’ that if accepted as presented could seriously undermine trans children’s rights.

The Scottish consultation document presents ‘research evidence’ on transgender children in annex M part 4.

ANNEX M: PARTIAL CHILD RIGHTS AND WELLBEING IMPACT ASSESSMENT

  1. What research evidence is available?

4.1 There is evidence that children can experience incongruence between their assigned gender and their gender identity early in life. One study indicates the average age was 8.

4.2 There is a limited evidence base about whether children will continue to experience these feelings in the longer term. Follow-up studies indicate overall that for 85.2% of the children, their distress discontinued either before or early in puberty. 8 However, the rates in the individual studies varied widely. For instance, a 2008 study indicated that in 39% of children the feelings did continue beyond the onset of puberty9 whereas older studies from before 2000 had very much lower rates for children continuing to experience distress after the onset of puberty. It is thought that pre-2000 studies have included children who would not now be considered to be experiencing gender dysphoria. The studies may also be affected by the small clinical population of children with gender dysphoria – studies looking at whether gender dysphoric feelings persisted had a total population of 317 people.

Part 4.2 in particular misrepresents the current body of evidence and is danger of undermining the Scottish consultation through establishing a prejudicial approach to children gaining legal recognition.

It refers to two deeply flawed studies:

  1. Ristori, J and Steensma T.D “Gender dysphoria in childhood” in International Review of Psychiatry, Gender dysphoria and gender incongruence, Vol 28, 2016 Issue 1.
  2.  Wallien and Cohen-Kettenis “Psychosexual outcome of gender-dysphoric children” Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 47, 1413–1423

We have previously addressed and demonstrated the lack of credibility of these exact studies here.

Conversely, new evidence, that has not been presented in the consultation Annex, suggests a very significantly higher rate of transgender children continuing to identify as transgender as adults and has been reviewed by us here.

4.3 There is also evidence that the more extreme a child’s gender dysphoria was before puberty, the less likely it was that their feelings will recede with the onset of puberty. For those who have reached puberty and continue to experience distress, evidence indicates that their distress then tends to intensify and that depression or self-harming behaviours are also more common in ages 12 and over. It is understood that physical changes caused by puberty may intensify the levels of distress experienced.

4.4 Available evidence suggests that factors arising around the ages of 10 to 13 may help explain changes in how a child feels about their gender: · the changes in social roles between boys and girls as their gender role become more distinct; · the anticipation or experience of physical changes as a result of puberty; and · their first experience of experiencing falling in love and discovering their sexual identity.

4.5. Evidence indicates that there is a difference of experience between boys and girls. 13 Although more boys are referred to gender identity clinics, some studies suggest that gender dysphoria is more prominent in girls.

Part 4.4 relies on one specific flawed study that absolutely does not evidence the claim presented here.

Steensma T.D et al (2011) “Desisting and persisting gender dysphoria after childhood; A qualitative follow up study” Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry Vol16 issue 4”

There is no evidence in this single referenced study that a transgender child changes identity between the ages of 10 and 13 as misrepresented here. This is grossly misleading and risks undermining support for trans children in Scotland gaining legal recognition. We have previously discussed the flaws of this specific paper in some detail here.

4.6 There is evidence that transgender young people are more than twice as likely as non-trans people to be diagnosed with depression (50.6% compared to 20.6%14) and with anxiety (26.7% compared to 10%). There is evidence that this most likely arises due to their experience of discrimination, lack of acceptance, and the abuse they may face and is not an inherent feature of their being transgender. 15 There is also evidence that transition to living in their preferred gender and being supported with gender confirming medical interventions may help improve mental health, in many cases reaching levels experienced in the general population.

It is clear that discrimination and lack of acceptance is damaging to trans youth. The government has a responsibility to tackle this, including through enabling trans children like my daughter to gain full legal recognition. Not allowing full legal recognition to children also sends out a damaging signal to those children and to wider society that transgender children are not worthy of respect or rights.

4.7 Scottish Government officials met members of LGBT Youth Scotland groups aged 13 and over. Their view was that legal gender recognition must be made available to people younger than 16. A person should be able to transition and live in their acquired gender before they have to take their qualifications or go to university. They felt that this would better support their rights not to be discriminated against, for example, at school. A high proportion expressed the desire for their parents (or other people with responsibility for them) to be involved and supporting them through the recognition process.

4.8 LGBT Youth Scotland gave evidence to the Women and Equality Select Committee inquiry into Transgender Equality which setting out the views of transgender people aged under 1817 about the benefits of legal gender recognition in terms of reducing discrimination and improving their mental health.

There is a concerted effort in the UK, as elsewhere, to deny transgender people basic human rights. This campaign is particularly targeting transgender children, the most vulnerable of transgender people, and those with the least power and voice. It is critical that this consultation focuses on listening to transgender children and to those families who support them. Trans children are a small and very marginalised group, and their voices must not get lost in the wider consultation. It is not acceptable to tell transgender children that they have to wait until they are adults before they can be recognised in law.

Appendix A TRANSGENDER CHILDREN – EVIDENCE OF NUMBERS EXPERIENCING GENDER DYSPHORIA OR DISCOMFORT WITH THEIR ASSIGNED GENDER

Appendix A presents a confused view of the difference between transgender children, and children who are gender non-conforming. It alarmingly includes reference to studies from the discredited Zucker, and makes multiple references to “opposite sex behaviour”. It is worrying that a public consultation on gender recognition should have included such a muddled understanding.

Conclusion

Transgender children are one of the most marginalised, voiceless and powerless groups in society. I encourage all who care for transgender children to complete this consultation, and for question 6 I recommend selecting Option C – parental application.

Additionally, in the accompanying comments box for the consultation it would be useful to mention some basic facts:

a) transgender children exist

b) transgender children have legal rights and need legal recognition

c) transgender children face enough challenges, discrimination and hostility already – legal recognition should not be an additional burden for them

The consultation documents mention the “clear evidence that people aged 16 do live full time in their acquired gender and want this to be legally recognised” and yet are silent on  on the existence of transgender children or their desire and need for full legal recognition under the age of 16 year.

This right, if enabled, would not be pursued by every transgender child. Parents would not take this option on a whim. This option would be most appropriate for transgender children who have already been living in their identified gender for many years, who likely already have all other identity documents including their passport updated to their identified gender. To deny these children full legal recognition until 16 is a gross betrayal of their rights.

Yet transgender children are one of the least powerful and most marginalised groups in our society. We know that transphobic groups are actively campaigning against the provision of rights to transgender children. The needs and the voices of transgender children may not be heard in this consultation.

It is vital that families of transgender children feed in to this consultation, including those outside of Scotland, making it clear that transgender children do indeed exist and do deserve full legal recognition. Inputs from transgender adults and allies who care for transgender children will also be critical, as supportive families of transgender children are already overwhelmed with the barriers we have to overcome to enable our children to get the rights and the protections that other children take for granted.

Input from any transgender children and young people who are willing to share their thoughts and words would be especially valuable, perhaps explaining what an updated birth certificate would mean to them, or how they feel about being denied the right to full legal recognition.

The consultation can be completed here. It closes on March 1st 2018

The Reality behind the Myths about Trans Children: An Interview with us, Growinguptransgender

Vincent-the-Vixen-2Trans Children Myth Busting

Following recent negative news coverage, we thought it would be good to return to this interview with the LGBT children’s story publisher, Truth and Tails, in which we share our experience of raising a child who happens to be trans. We address many of the myths about Trans children, including advice for other parents, and the reasons for starting this blog.

For the first time we’ve published it here:

Background

We were interviewed by the lovely Truth & Tails, in March 2017, after they had read our blog and sent us a copy of their book ‘Vincent the Vixen’ which explores trans issues from the perspective of a gender questioning fox.

You can read the original interview in full here: Truth & Tails Interview

Interview Th

Truth & Tails: We first discovered the Growing Up Transgender blog back in October, when we read their post 10 reasons why the #dontjudgegender verdict makes families of transgender children concerned in response to a high court judge ruling on gender identity, which resulted in a seven-year-old being removed from their mother. The blog is written anonymously, to protect the family’s identity, by parents of a young transgender child living in the UK.

We spoke to the authors, about their reasons for starting the blog, what support is out there for parents of transgender children, and what the most common misconceptions are that they face day-to-day.

Tell us about the catalyst for starting the ‘Growing Up Transgender’ blog.

A few different things prompted us to start a blog. Firstly, we remembered how alone and confused we felt when we first realised our daughter might be transgender. We appreciated so much the few parents (mostly in America) who had shared their experiences online.

Secondly, we were frustrated by the huge amount of misinformation and distorted claims that are presented as fact on the internet. It took us a long time to be able to distinguish fact from fiction, and to distinguish helpful evidence based information from transphobic bigotry. Having thoroughly researched and understood the different issues, we wanted to share our understanding with others.

And thirdly, we noted a dramatic upsurge in anti-transgender children hysteria in the UK media. Fear-mongering media rhetoric has a direct impact on how adults, and in turn, their children treat our child. We felt compelled to speak out, yet also wanted to maintain our child’s privacy. A blog seemed like the best way to ensure our voices, and our experience of a wonderful trans daughter, could be shared. We hope our blog will in some way help other families dealing with this issue.

When did you realise your daughter was transgender, and how did you know? Is there a specific conversation that you remember?

Our daughter said she was a girl from a very young age. Daily. There was no one specific conversation that opened our eyes, it was more a very persistent stream of assertion over a long period of time. At first we didn’t take it seriously. We tried to dissuade. We tried to tell her she could be whatever type of boy she wanted to be. This was totally missing the point, and made her even sadder. Eventually it got to a point where we realised that we had a very depressed child, who felt rejected by her parents. We realised that we were letting her down.

What would you say to a parent who is beginning to have these sorts of conversations with their child?

Some parents worry about their boy playing with dolls, or preferring being friends with girls, or their girl rejecting dresses and wanting short hair. These behaviours that are related to how a child plays or dresses or expresses themselves are not focused on identity and there is no reason to think such children are likely to be transgender. My view would be not to narrow your child’s horizons, to allow toys to be toys and children to play however they like.

A much smaller number of parents will have the experience we have had, and other parents describe extremely similar experiences. A child who insists that they are a different gender to what you are expecting. A child who doesn’t perhaps care what toys or clothes they have as long as they are acknowledged as the gender they identify with. A child who repeats their identity consistently, persistently, insistently and gets increasingly sad and withdrawn, perhaps accompanied with concern about their body. For parents of those children, I would advise the following:

First, consider how scary and isolating it must be for a child to be repeatedly told that something they feel so deeply is unacceptable to those who love them mostly dearly. Listen to your child. Let them know that you love and accept them whatever. Let them know that you stand by them. Let them know that there are other children in the world who feel the way that they do. Let them know that some children feel like this when young, then grow up and don’t feel like this so strongly. Let them know that other children feel like this when young, then grow up and continue to feel like this and live like the gender they identify with. Let them know that both groups can grow up to have happy and well-adjusted lives. Let them know that either is ok with you. Let them know that they are not alone.

Secondly, find out more about the subject. Read as much as you can. But bear in mind that there is a vast quantity of material on the internet that is immensely transphobic; that is misleading, and even outright lies, and that may make you feel desperately scared for the future. I’d suggest reading some blogs by parents who are supporting their child in their gender identity, to understand that the worst-case scenario that you are fearing for your child really isn’t as bleak as you may be fearing. Our child has gone from a deeply sad to one of the happiest children you could meet since we told her we accepted her as a girl.

Thirdly, get some support for yourself as a parent.

What support is out there in the UK for parents of transgender children, and where have you personally found most support?

For us, the best source of support by a mile is other parents of transgender children. Find a way to reach out to other parents, for us it was through the charity Mermaids. Channels such as Mermaids provide a secure forum for parents to speak directly to each other, to provide a non-judgemental ear, to share experience, to be a shoulder to cry on. Many parents describe coming to terms with a child being transgender as a form of grief. Parents are often completely ignorant of the issue, and often have bleak views on the prospects for their child having a positive future.

In time, in person or virtually, parents come across remarkable trans young people and adults, and learn that with acceptance and support the outcome for trans children today is bright and hopeful. But that doesn’t immediately negate the very strong emotions that parents go through, particularly when they are doubting how to proceed, and particularly when they are facing judgement, criticism and hate from a wider society – including their own friends and family – who may not be willing to understand. Finding a support network, particularly if your own friends and family are not supporting you, is extremely important.

For transgender children approaching puberty, being registered in the UK Gender Identity Service for children at the Tavistock can be critical in case medical intervention (hormone blockers) is required. Waiting lists are extremely long: nine months from GP referral to first appointment and procedures once in the system are prolonged. Don’t wait until things are at a point of desperation to get a referral into the medical system. Better to get a referral a couple of years before puberty and pull out if you don’t later need it than delay referral and enter the waiting list at puberty when a two-year wait might become a major problem. Some GPs are supportive, many GPs are ignorant and unhelpful. Request a referral to Tavistock if you feel your child is transgender, and don’t let an ignorant GP tell you no.

What is the most common misconception about transgender children that you encounter, and what is your response?

There are so many misconceptions about transgender children that we wrote a whole blog on this topic! You can read it here.

The most common ones are:

Myth: Transgender children do not exist.
Reality: Yes, they do.

Myth: This is a modern, Western fad.
Reality: Transgender people have existed in societies throughout the centuries across the world, and there are millions of transgender people across Asia.

Myth: Parents are choosing this for their children to be trendy.
Reality: As a parent who has cried and cried buckets coming to terms with having a transgender child, I can assure you I would never have chosen this – although now I’m finally less ignorant I don’t in any way see it as the terrible path I once feared.

Myth: Kids who are just non-conforming (e.g. a boy who like dolls) are being pushed into being transgender
Reality: My child didn’t care what toys she played with as long as she was acknowledged as a girl. No one is pushing our children. This is just who they are.

Myth: Children are too young to make a life changing decision.
Reality: My child has not made a decision. They have not decided to change gender. They have always known they were a girl, it just took the rest of us a long time to catch up.

Myth: Transgender children can be turned into non-transgender children if you do X, Y, Z
Reality: There is no evidence for that, and a great deal of evidence that reparative therapy causes a great deal of damage.

Myth: Transgender children are likely to grow out of it.
Reality: Perhaps, but there is no clear evidence for this, and statistics quoted on this subject are extremely dodgy – read with care.

Myth: Transgender children/people will have sad and suicidal lives.
Reality: Emotional challenges experienced by transgender people are due to the hate and prejudice they face, not an inherent part of being transgender. Transgender children who are supported and accepted by their families are shown to have the same levels of mental health and well-being as other children.

What advice would you give to parents – not just parents with transgender children, but parents everywhere – around educating their children about gender and acceptance?

The world is a complex and diverse place. The more parents that share this diversity with their children, the more that let children know that it is ok to be different, the better for us all. Teaching love and acceptance will directly benefit your child too – at some point in everyone’s life they feel that they are different or an outsider – and having taught your child that difference is ok will stand your child in good stead whenever they find themselves on the outside.

Which children’s’ books about gender would recommend?

There is definitely a lack of books for younger children about gender. We’ve found many more interesting reads that have the central message that diversity is not only ok, but should be celebrated. We’re still finding our way a bit on books specifically about transgender children and haven’t found many our child identifies with, at least not in their entirety – however well-intentioned, books about boys who like dresses can sometimes perpetuate stereotypes of gender divide.

For young children, we like:
Red, A Crayon’s Story – Michael Hall
Red Rockets and Rainbow Jelly – Nick Sharratt
Vincent the Vixen – Truth and Tails (our daughter has loved this book)

For older children:
Lily and Dunkin – Donna Gephart

is blog has been verified by Rise: R4c1d40dc407da1a0ac3a1e615a7f7e16

About Truth & Tails:

Truth & Tails are a publisher who aim to write stories for young children in a straightforward, sensitive, and easy way. They seek to explain difficult concepts like feminism, racism, gender, and sexuality to children, and believe in the strength of stories to help children  grow up with a sense of understanding, empathy, and acceptance of those who are different to them.

 

 

 

NHS Failing Transgender Children

Another day waking up to a national broadsheet newspaper accusing me of child abuse. Painting my child as mentally ill and a threat to others when she is neither.

“Under the banner of transgender equality children are being subjected to a form of child abuse by an adult world that is failing to treat or even wilfully exacerbate an often transient confusion” Melanie Philips, The Times, 3rd October 2017

The fact that we live in a country where these lies, this hate, this prejudice is regularly printed in a national daily broadsheet defies belief. I cannot imagine any other area where parents following evidence based best practice to support their children are so accused. Surely there would be an outcry if columnists accused parents of child abuse for vaccinating their children? These lies damage transgender children. These lies are themselves a form of child abuse.

Worse still than the fact that ill-informed bigots can write lies in the national press, is the knowledge that these lies will go unchallenged. Bigots in the media know that transgender children cannot speak up. They know that parents of transgender children dare not speak up. We just bow our shoulders, avoid looking people in the eye, wonder which of the judgemental faces on the playground have read the latest attack piece and believe we are abusing our child.

Where are our allies standing up for transgender children?

Where are the NSPCC, articulating the evidence based consensus that supporting transgender children is in their best interests, and that to reject and stigmatise transgender children is a form of child abuse? Where are the journalists who were so vocal when Trump was calling out for Trans service people to be kicked out of the US military? Where is the Stonewall poster saying:

“Some Children Are Trans: Get Over it”.

somechildrenaretrans

Where is the challenge from the experts in the NHS?

The NHS Gender Identity Service (GIDS) understands that public ignorance and prejudice is the number one barrier to the happiness and wellbeing of transgender children. The NHS Gender Identity Service is, as per its own guidelines, supposed to advocate for transgender children. In other countries, such as America and Australia, Gender Experts devote a portion of their time to public advocacy, defending and educating about transgender children – publically challenging lies and misinformation. They do this because they are all too aware of the impact of societal stigma, created, developed and perpetuated by a media of misinformation and fake news.

In the media appearances of UK NHS Gender Specialists, more care is given to defending their Gender Service to sceptics and transphobes, emphasising how some children are not really trans, emphasising how much caution they have, how slow and conservative their support is. They fail in their moral and legal duty of educating the public and advocating for transgender children. When media lies, misinformation and prejudice appears, instead of ignoring or fuelling this, they need to be challenging it clearly, fiercely and publically.

In response to today’s Times piece they should:

  1. Put a statement on their website in an clear area where parents and journalists can see it
  2. Put out a press release
  3. Write to the Times expressing their concern
  4. Write to the Independent Press Standards Organisation outlining that lies about evidence based NHS support for transgender children is damaging and harmful

I’ll even write it for them:

 

Press release:

“Transgender people exist. Transgender people always have existed, in countries all around the world. Being transgender is widely recognised as a normal part of human diversity. Transgender people are not a threat, or mentally ill, or confused. There is a durable biological underpinning to gender identity – this is not a choice and transgender people cannot be converted. Attempting to convert transgender people into a different identity is considered unethical and ineffective and has been outlawed by all competent evidence based professionals.

Transgender children exist. Medical consensus is that transgender children thrive if acknowledged and supported to live in their identified gender. Transgender children suffer high levels of depression, self-harm and suicidality if forced to live a lie. This is not a choice. Parents who support transgender children are following evidence-based guidance and are doing what is best for their child. Spreading lies, ignorance and prejudice about transgender children is a serious threat to their well being. Media bigotry, exemplified by today’s piece in The Times, is a form of child abuse that causes significant harm and suffering to vulnerable transgender children.”

Here’s a Tweet to go with it:

tavistep up

All the evidence shows That transgender children pre-puberty who are supported at home and at school have normal levels of mental health and well-being and do not require regular appointments with medical professionals. The single biggest support that the NHS Gender Identity Service can offer to these children is clear, confident advocacy on behalf of transgender children to an ignorant and ill-informed (and often hostile) media.

Every single media communication from the UK Gender Identity Service should be designed to serve the best interests of transgender children. This is currently not happening.

Parents are fast losing patience with an NHS service that is failing our children. The NHS must do better. Clear, confident communications supporting, normalising and de-pathologising transgender children is where they need to start.

Transgender children need Stonewall’s support: SOME CHILDREN ARE TRANS. GET OVER IT!

Feedback on Stonewall ‘A Vision for Change’ – Parent’s perspective.

We warmly welcome Stonewall’s commitment to transgender advocacy. This consultation is a very timely opportunity to build a strong coalition to fight for the rights of transgender people. There is much good in the document.  Alongside appointment of a Trans Advisory Group in 2015, and recent recruitment of a Head of Trans Equality, it demonstrates Stonewall’s new commitment to Transgender equality adding the missing T to their excellent work on LGB.

Stonewall has had a lot of trust to recoup with the Trans community. It is right that this document was not written by Stonewall itself but by the arms length Trans Advisory Group. Written by Trans people for Trans people the Vision statement provides a foundation and mandate for action.

There does however appear to be a missing voice – that of transgender children and their parents.  As non trans people, parents of transgender children (unless trans themselves) are unable to attend the five planned consultation meetings. The two-week window to feed back comments in writing or by phone, is also short, and those with busy lives (and I think this would include all parents of trans children), may find it difficult to input.

Following publication of the Vision on Monday evening, we spoke to other parents with transgender children, mainly those supported by Mermaids, which helped to shape our thoughts on the document. We shared these with other parents and then submitted detailed comments (below) to Stonewall. We also sent a copy to Susie Green CEO of Mermaids.

Please note, this feedback is intended to complement rather than detract from the much needed work outlined in the Vision. We’ve focused upon the references to trans-children (or their absence where we think they need inclusion) . While critical, the comments come from a good place. We are simply parents who want to do the best for their children.

We’re now asking  for advocates from the Trans community to read this feedback, and take forward these comments, in person if possible, to the consultation meetings we are unable, as parents, to attend. 

Transgender children are one of the most vulnerable groups of transgender people. Transgender children cannot themselves lead or achieve the changes that they need. Supportive parents of transgender children are in a unique position to raise the voices of our children, and need to be explicitly included in this dialogue.

Supportive parents of transgender children are some of the most well-informed, passionate and motivated allies for transgender people, but we are often unable to speak publically (to protect our children). We need allies like Stonewall. Working in partnership we will achieve far more than working in isolation.

We hope this can be the start of a dialogue and partnership between parents of transgender children and Stonewall.

Key Recommendations

  • Explicitly acknowledge the existence of transgender children in this document and explicitly acknowledge your support for transgender children. (Comment 1, C4, C8, C9, C21, C32).
  • Work with parents of transgender children to improve critical sections of this document. (C2, C14, C24, C25).
  • Work in partnership with parents of transgender children, and invite both a parent of a transgender teenager, and a parent of a transgender child to join the steering team, with an explicit remit to represent the concerns and needs of transgender children. (C15, C22, C30, C33)
  • Acknowledge the significant challenges (prejudice, hate, discrimination) faced by transgender children. (C5, C10, C11, C12, C13, C26).
  • Propose concrete ways in which Stonewall will help transgender children. (C3, C6, C7, C20, C23, C27, C28, C30, C31),
  • Avoid repeating and reinforcing prejudicial and damaging attitudes towards transgender children in this document. (C16, C17, C18, C19, C29
  • Embrace this opportunity to build a coalition with a group of very motivated trans allies (supportive parents of transgender children).

Detailed Comments

Comment 1 (C1):P. 4. Shared Mission: The mission statement does not seem to include trans children, one of the most vulnerable trans groups. Add ‘schools’ to ensure it is clear that trans children are important trans people.

C2: p.5 The document is ‘driven by trans people and achieved by trans people’. My daughter is a vulnerable and important trans person. She cannot drive the changes that she needs. As her parent I need to be her advocate. Trans-children are a group who are uniquely unable to drive and achieve the changes they need. Allies for trans-children (of whom parents and organisations like Mermaids are an important component) need to be part of this dialogue and this agenda, otherwise the important needs of trans-children will be overlooked (as seems to have been the case in this document). Do you have a member of the steering group on the panel as an advocate for trans-children? Of course all trans adults were once trans children, but the experiences and problems of trans-children (particularly those who are early transitioners and openly trans) may be quite different to the experiences and problems that adults had in a different time when they were children.

C3: Amplifying voices. Important to add here that Stonewall will raise the voices of those who can’t speak openly. This is particularly relevant for children and their parents, who are very isolated and can’t speak openly as we need to protect our children.

C4: p. 6 Transforming institutions. Says improving services and workplaces. Suggests people become trans at age 18. Absolutely needs to include schools as the institution where our trans-children spend most of their time. Change to “Improving services, schools and workplaces’. Avoiding mentioning schools (and therefore children) here perpetuates a culture of denial of the existence of trans-children. Bullying at school (including by teachers and other parents) can be horrific. A transgender child was recently shot at school (in the UK) simply for being trans after months of sustained bullying. Schools cannot be omitted here.

C5: p. 12 Representation in media. Media coverage of trans-children is horrific. Yet this is not even mentioned. Harmful media messages about trans-children not existing causes direct damage to trans-children.

C6: Network of allies – National campaign to educate the general population doesn’t mention the need to educate the general population about trans-children, around which there are so many misconceptions and so much fear.

C7: p.12 Challenge transphobia – research needs to encompass the experiences of trans-children.

C8: Language – the document has not once used the term ‘trans-children’. This is part of a wider societal culture of fear and prejudice where the existence of trans-children is denied. If even a stonewall trans advocacy document cannot be brave enough and say ‘yes there are trans children’ then what hope have we got. Using the term ‘young people’ and avoiding the term trans children very much suggests that being trans is a choice that can be made by competent (Gillick competent) teenagers/young adults. My child is certainly a child. They have not chosen to be trans it is who they are. Avoiding the term trans-children is insipid and perpetuates a culture of denial of trans-children’s existence.

C9: p. 15 Institutions. In the heading the word school is again omitted (it definitely needs adding). In the subtext the term ‘in school’ finally appears. First implicit acknowledgement that trans-children exist in the document?

C10: p.16 Criminal justice. No mention of social services investigating parents who support their child in their gender identity. No mention of justice system discriminating against parents who support their child in their gender identity. Both critical issues for transgender children and supportive families (especially in child custody disputes). Nor indeed is there any mention here of the legal rights of transgender children themselves.

C11: p. 17 Faith schools worth a mention here as a particular area for discrimination.

C12: p. 17 There are specific challenges for trans-children in the healthcare system that are not acknowledged here.

C13: P, 17 Sport. Some sporting bodies have trans policies that require information on hormone levels in order to compete, some require “evidence of SRS” or a formal assessment by a board. This clearly is unreasonable for trans-children and creates situations were trans children are prevented from accessing sport either through explicit exclusion or implicitly made unwelcome.

C14: p.18 Young people and education. This section is extremely weak. By far the weakest section of the whole report. I can make some comments but this really needs a significant overhaul and input from a wider group of trans child advocates.

C15: The weakness of this section makes me wonder how well the current working group is representing the experience and needs of trans-children. Do you have any members of the working group nominated specifically to represent the interests of trans-children. A parent of a trans-child (where the parent may or may not be trans themselves) would be an important addition to a working group otherwise the voices of trans-children will be lost (as I fear they have been in this current draft).

C16: Why is this section talking predominantly about gender stereotypes, and about gender expression, and gender roles and colours/toys/clothes. This is extremely worrying.

C17: Of course gender stereotypes are unhelpful – this is not an issue that is specific to trans-children, nor specific to trans-people – it is a broad issue affecting everyone. There is no reason to have a section on gender stereotypes in a section on trans-children. My trans-daughter thought she couldn’t be a pirate captain as she is a girl – so yes gender stereotypes are a problem for everyone, including for trans-children, but this is not the issue to be focused upon in a section on how Stonewall can best support trans-children.

C18: Likewise, there is no reason to talk about gender expression or toys, or clothes,0 or gender roles, or fitting with gender stereotypes in this section. This plays into a deeply harmful cultural narrative that assumes ‘transgender children’ are not really transgender but just like wearing different clothes or toys or colours or don’t fit with traditional stereotypes and are being pushed (by transgender activists) into being transgender when they are really just non-conforming. This is all irrelevant for transgender children like mine who don’t give a damn what toys or clothes they have as long as they are recognised as a girl. For trans-children like mine who knew they were trans way before they had any understanding of gender stereotypes.

C19: The section here on ‘people exploring their gender identity and how they fit with traditional gender stereotypes’ is deeply patronising and unhelpful. Would you put this stuff in the adult transgender section? I don’t think so. Talking about gender non-conforming or questioning children who reconcile their questions’ is deeply unhelpful and plays into a cultural narrative that discredits children knowing who they are, and talks about it being a ‘phase’. Gender non-conforming children who reconcile their questions are not trans-children – they do not need emphasis here. I like the stonewall poster ‘some people are trans/gay – get over it’. I’d like more bravery here ‘some children are trans – get over it’. There seems here to be fear to acknowledge the existence of trans-children. This hesitancy wouldn’t be reasonable in the adults section of this document, and shouldn’t be present here. There are trans-children in this world, and they face serious issues (hate, discrimination, prejudice).

C20: This section needs to discuss the serious issues that trans-children face, and talk about how Stonewall is going to help this extremely vulnerable group.

C21: Furthermore, the term ‘young people’ is too vague. As mentioned above, the term ‘transgender children (no matter what their age)’ would be better. Or perhaps ‘transgender children and transgender teenagers’. Otherwise it seems like this document is denying the existence of transgender children (and if you don’t acknowledge they even exist, how are you possibly going to help them?).

C22: The section on LGBT mentions the hostility or confusion towards the trans community within the LGB community. As a parent of a young trans child I’m aware that a minority of trans adults are themselves sometimes ill-informed or and unsupportive to the needs of trans-children. Some trans adults are sceptical of the need to support and help trans-children. There cannot be an automatic assumption that trans adults will always understand or advocate for trans children, and I think it is worth acknowledging.

C23: p.19 The key recommendation on how stonewall is going to help my transgender child is to avoid gender stereotypes. This belittles the genuine challenges my transgender child faces, and is not in any way a good enough recommendation given the mountain of challenges my child will face before they reach adulthood.

C24: This section needs starting again.

Service Providers

C25: p.22 This section does not acknowledge the particular challenges in the Gender Identity service for children. There are many specific issues that could be acknowledged and addressed if this was developed in consultation with those who support transgender children. This needs to consider how the system works for children of all ages, not just for those old enough to access medical interventions. Fostered trans children and young people face particular challenges and aren’t mentioned in the document.

C26: Particularly this section does not consider the issues around the gatekeeper role that the children’s GIDS service plays to approve or deny access to medical interventions. Practices that are (hopefully) considered unacceptable in adult services are standard in children’s services, with much questioning of why the child has chosen that they would prefer to be a girl, intrusive questioning about genitals, parents being blamed for ‘causing’ their child to be transgender, children being told they are not dressing or acting sufficiently in their affirming gender role to be properly transgender, or children being told they are not sufficiently upset with parts of their anatomy to be properly transgender. Panels of medical professionals make decisions for which there is no appeal. This is in addition to timescales and protocols that are arbitrary and damaging. In addition, in a monopolised and unaccountable system, parents of transgender children are afraid to complain for fear it will damage their child’s support. There needs to be a system put in place for complaints from parents about the children’s GID service to be effectively dealt with.

C27: Also the final wording ‘New models of care, which don’t require psychiatric diagnosis as their foundation, should be explored’ brings to mind the wording of the government response to the Women’s and Equalities select committee report which was full of issues ‘to be explored’. Not a helpful thing to bring to mind, when what is needed is action not ‘further exploration’.

C28: p.24 A better section. Note, this is the only page in the entire 37 page document which uses the term “trans children”. The text is fine, though a bit vague on what are the very many problems and what are the issues that Stonewall plans to help tackle.

It needs to talk more about the crunch issues ‘right to wear uniform, right to use toilet, right to be addressed by preferred name and pronoun (without a deed pole or Dr’s permission), right to change gender marker on record, right to be safe, right not to be persecuted, responsibility of school to protect from bullying, responsibility of school to help other pupils understand, right to socially transition at any age without medical permission etc etc. The current text is too vague and avoids many key issues.

C29: Again the section blurs the ‘children exploring gender identity’ and transgender children topic. The adults section does not devote space to adults questioning gender identity – it focuses on what are the needs of trans adults. The children’s section should similarly prioritise the needs of transgender children (many things that will help transgender children in schools will also help gender questioning children, but to merge the two adds to the confusion around whether transgender children exist (ie some people want to put all children into the gender questioning category, as if you have to be an adult to be actually transgender – pretending they don’t exist is deeply unhelpful for addressing the needs of transgender children.

C30: p. 26. Great to hear about the #Stonewall education research project. Would be good to see commitment that this will mean understanding the experience of transgender children of all ages, in both primary and secondary school. It will be unlikely that this research will be appropriate to directly speak with primary school children like my daughter, in which case this research will explicitly need to reach out to and include the parents of transgender children, otherwise an important voice will be lost.

C31: The Stonewall training will sit alongside existing stonewall LGB trainings. I imagine (I do not have expertise here) that most LGB trainings are aimed at secondary school age? For transgender children, unlike LGB children, there are transgender children in schools and pre-schools from as young as age 3. How is the Stonewall education programme being adapted to ensure transgender components support primary age transgender children? Many schools are in denial about having young transgender children (until they have a young child transition, at which point they go into panic and melt down).

C32: Unless you have a clear policy on the existence of transgender young children, you will not be able to support the schools that are unconvinced of the existence of transgender young children.

C33: p.26 Great to see this commitment to work with #Mermaids. I’m a member of Mermaids and fellow parents who I have met through Mermaids have been the only support at all we have had on this very lonely journey as a parent of a transgender child. We need organisations like Mermaids and Stonewall to work together to help our transgender children.

Thank you for taking the time to read this submission.

We look forward to hearing more about the consultation.