How can we help transgender children? This is a question greatly exercising politicians and many are confused about what to do. In Scotland, children are now expected to ‘demonstrate an understanding of diversity in sexuality and gender identity’. The Scottish government supports a new classroom resource that tells primary school children that they may consider themselves to be a boy, a girl, or neither. ‘You know who you are,’ it explains.
What guidance are teachers given? I found out two years ago when I was one of the 3,000 teachers and classroom assistants from across Scotland dispatched for training by LGBT Youth Scotland, a campaign group. During our training, we were told that ‘transgender children’ may include boys who want to be girls, girls who identify as boys and so-called ‘gender non--binary’ children. The last camp may be at ease with their bodies but prefer to reject gender norms altogether.
Naturally, some of us wondered how we might identify these children (particularly as we were told many have not ‘come out’ yet). But the trainer insisted on the importance of letting the kids decide their own identity. As in so many progressive schooling fads before it, children are the experts and teachers are there to affirm and facilitate. We were advised to decorate our classrooms with positive images of trans people and to talk about trans celebrities, especially those with large social media followings. This would make gender non-conforming children feel more included. Should they feel excluded, they are at risk of killing themselves.
It’s not just in Scotland. A trainee teacher in England who took part in a compulsory class on transgender issues last week told me it was run by the mother of a trans child on behalf of Mermaids, a charity which ‘raises awareness about gender nonconformity’. Teachers were told that gender is a spectrum and shown a graph with Barbie at one end and GI Joe at the other. They were asked to consider where they and their students would fit on this chart. Posters and stickers encouraged children to contact Mermaids directly if they didn’t feel they could talk to their teachers about trans issues.
Where are the parents in all of this? They are often not told if their child is worried about their gender. During my training, we were told to avoid ‘outing’ potential transgender children to their families. If the child so wished, we might want to keep mummy and daddy out of the loop. Un-believably, this is in line with Scottish government guidelines.
One thing that wasn’t mentioned was the clinical term gender dysphoria. This is a well-established medical diagnosis for when a person experiences a strong incongruence, and accompanying distress, between their perceived gender and their biological sex. Gender dysphoria is on the rise. The NHS’s leading specialist clinic, the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, has seen an increase of over 400 per cent in the number of young people referred to its Gender Identity Development Service in the past four years. That’s 2,519 children (more than two-thirds of them girls) potentially put on powerful hormone treatments with the intention of delaying puberty and allowing full surgical reassignment in future.
One reason why gender dysphoria wasn’t mentioned is possibly because the research about it contradicts accepted orthodoxies about ‘trans children’. Studies in the Netherlands and elsewhere have shown that up to 80 per cent of children who are referred to these programmes eventually decide to abandon the treatment and live happily in their original gender.
Last month, Dr Lisa Littman, an assistant professor at Brown University, conducted a study of parental reports of teenagers whose symptoms of gender dysphoria came on suddenly during adolescence. She found that ‘social and peer contagion’ as well as underlying psychiatric conditions could be a factor. Her study was peer-reviewed and published in PLOS One, a well regarded science journal. However, following pressure from activists, Brown removed the study from its website, explaining that: ‘The conclusions of the study could be used to discredit efforts to support transgender youth.’
One American mother shared her story with me. ‘My young teen daughter first started thinking she was a boy after attending a school presentation about transgender children. After she told her teachers they changed her name and referred to her by masculine pronouns. The school did not inform me or my husband. After we withdrew her from this school, I later discovered that she had shared a room with the boys on an overnight school trip. Apparently it was common to allow children’s self-proclaimed gender identity to override sex differences when determining where they should sleep.’
Gender dysphoria used to be more common among boys but has now become more prevalent in girls. A ‘formerly transgender’ American teen told me that when the majority of her all-female class identified as male, she decided to join in. It was only when exposed to ‘packers’ (for stuffing crotches) and ‘binders’ (for hiding breasts) at a conference that she decided it wasn’t for her. Stories like this further complicate the debate.
What’s worrying is that anyone who challenges the new teaching on trans issues can find themselves in trouble. So when Victoria Atkins, the Minister for Women, admitted to being ‘a little cautious’ about teenage sex-changes, she was accused of bigotry. And Dr Kenneth Zucker, perhaps the leading authority on gender dysphoria in children, was recently ousted from his clinic in Toronto after being accused of ‘transphobia’ and supporting ‘conversion therapy’ because his 40 years’ experience and research had led him to the conclusion that affirming a child’s perceived gender can be counterproductive.
Many of these transgenderism training programmes are publicly funded. Last year, LGBT Youth Scotland received more than £1 million in grants, including £350,000 from the Scottish government, £160,000 from local authorities (all but one SNP-controlled), and £75,000 from Education Scotland. Mermaids UK, meanwhile, was granted £35,000 from the Department for Education and £128,000 from Children in Need.
Something is off here. Teachers are being asked to put ideology before evidence and to exclude parents from serious welfare decisions about their own children. Parents are often not allowed to take part in the discussion. Children are being asked to make important decisions about their gender, which is a surprisingly adult notion for many to grasp. What’s clear is that the issue of gender dysphoria in children is one of tremendous complexity, both medical and moral. To suggest otherwise — to children or teachers — is a dangerous mistake.