Transgender Kids – Who Knows Best?

The documentary Transgender Kids – Who Knows Best? broadcast on BBC2 on Thursday night, January 12, was a long overdue presentation of an important debate which needs to be heard in public. (It can be viewed here on BBC iplayer, or here if you’re not in the UK.) Previous media coverage of “trans kids” (BBC’s output summed up here) has relentlessly kow-towed to trans activists in presenting only one story: that of brave kids becoming their “authentic selves” and brave parents supporting them to do so. The “innate gender” ideology behind the transition of children has not been questioned. This documentary is the first to present the other side of the debate and to include the stories of children who happily grow out of cross-sex identification and those who later regret their transition.

The documentary is built around the controversial firing of Dr Kenneth Zucker and the shutting down of the CAMH Child Youth and Family Gender Identity Clinic in Toronto last year, after a review which has since been investigated for false and libelous claims about Zucker (and the original review subsequently taken down from the CAMH website).

The documentary represented professionals and spokespersons from both sides of the debate and gave them a platform to speak for themselves. This even-handed approach gave us the chance to listen to all arguments, weigh up the evidence and make up our own minds about which side of this debate makes sense.

On the one side trans activists want nothing less than “gender affirmation” for every child, framing any other approach as conversion or reparative therapy. On the other side are those who urge a more cautious “wait and see” approach which takes into account the psychological and cognitive developmental stage of the child and recognises all the possible reasons behind an individual child’s cross-sex identification (what Dr Kenneth Zucker described as “developmentally informed therapy”).

Listening to the language used by those on both sides of the debate was illuminating; the contrast was stark. On the one hand we had a fatalistic, fixed certainty about diagnosis and outcome and on the other a nuanced and flexible openness to exploration with no pre-fixed assumptions about any individual child.

The suicide narrative is a staple of trans propaganda; here it was reinforced with absolute certainty several times by Cheri DiNovo, a church minister and politician who fights for transgender rights in Canada:

“…that child will kill themselves if they’re trans because that’s what trans children do. Is that what parents really want?”

“Do you want your child to be safe? Do you want your child to grow up? Do you want them to be free from suicidal ideation? Do you want them to be free from excessive trauma?”

Dr. Norman Spack is the most prominent advocate for lowering the age of medical treatments for children and he has no doubts that a transgender identity just is. According to Spack it is a “difference in the human condition” which a doctor must simply enable,  helping young people to “give birth to themselves”:

“I had the tools to do this thing. I felt like a midwife.”

Spack’s comment that 17 year-old “Ella” who had already completed a full transition was “feminising beautifully” came across like a satisfied cosmetic surgeon proudly surveying his creation; no evidence of any self-doubt, caution or humility.

Hershel Russel, a psychotherapist and trans activist stated with confidence:

“If a child says they are trans, chances are they are.”

Such certainty, although mis-placed, (statistics show that if a child says they are trans, chances are they’re probably not) can obviously be very reassuring to parents. It can be difficult to tolerate uncertainty about your own child’s situation and its outcome, and the relief of finding an “expert” who can restore your lost confidence was reflected in the words of the parents who went along this route. This is Ella’s dad:

“Ella was never a boy. She might have had male genitalia but she was a girl from the moment she was born.”

“Finally the world was aligned when I could say ‘that’s just like a girl running’ instead of ‘look at my son, he runs like a girl.'”

It was a strength of the documentary that parents were represented from opposite sides of the divide in terms of views and beliefs, it gave us the chance to see these parents as human beings struggling to cope the best they can with an issue which can be devastating for families. There couldn’t be more of a contrast between Ella’s dad and the father of Alex, who started to say she was a boy at age two and whose behaviour included screaming “I’m a boy, I’m a boy, I’m a boy” and “freaking out, yelling and punching herself in the vagina.” Alex’s dad’s reaction:

“She was born a girl, she’s a girl. That’s the way I looked at it. I wouldn’t give in.”

If we imagined that living with the uncertainty of not knowing your child’s outcome was easy, Alex’s father put paid to that idea, describing the time that his daughter “accepted of her own volition who she was” as:

“Earth-shattering. A huge weight off my shoulders – it was a huge battle which lasted six years.”

In both these cases, the young people involved were shown happy with their outcomes: Ella fully surgically transitioned, Alex reconciled with her femaleness from age 12, having joined a baseball team and met other girls who shared her interests. The documentary made no judgment about these outcomes, that was left to the viewer to decide.

What Alex’s story did illustrate is that some of the most extreme cases can result in desistance. Kenneth Zucker again:

“What I think is very important for parents to know, little kids can present with extreme gender dysphoria but that doesn’t mean they’re all going to grow up to continue to have gender dysphoria. Some will, but a lot won’t.”

This throws into question the idea promoted by trans activists that there is only one reason for a child to say they are the opposite sex (they are transgender) and only one possible outcome (they will be a transsexual adult).

Actual evidence, empirical and statistical, says otherwise. Past trauma, psychological family dynamics, ASD kids’ fixation on gender, a girl’s disgust with the female role and lack of role models and social contagion were examples which were touched on in the documentary as factors behind cross-sex identification in children and young people. The overwhelmingly most likely outcome amongst the 80% of children who desist is a gay, lesbian or bi sexual orientation as adults and therefore if we were going to allow for just one reason for childhood cross-sex identity it would make logical sense to see it as predictive of adult sexual orientation and not future transsexualism which is the least likely outcome.

The role of the therapist, however, is not to assume a reason nor predict a fixed outcome. If we take any one-size-fits all approach we will inevitably miss other potentially serious factors behind the identification of individual children as the opposite sex. We would not countenance assuming past sexual abuse as the one and only reason that children present with cross-sex identification (although it sometimes is the reason) and then treat every child as if that were true; this would be recognised as influencing the child with an adult agenda and beliefs. Children are suggestible and easily influenced and they believe adults. No-one could seriously believe that affirming a boy and reinforcing daily that he is a girl (or the other way round) could have no influence on that child nor that this approach would inevitably increase persistence rates in children.

It was a relief to hear the words of those on the other side of the debate and especially to get the chance to hear Kenneth Zucker describe his approach in his own words:

“When I work with a family I try to understand a child on a case-by-case basis. There are different pathways that can lead to gender dysphoria but it’s an intellectual and clinical mistake to think that there’s one single cause that explains all gender dysphoria.”

“You’re always trying to think about what these behaviours mean, you’re trying to understand what is the relationship between the surface behaviour and the underlying feelings. Just because little kids say something doesn’t necessarily mean that you accept it or that it’s true, or that it’s in the best interests of the child.”

“I don’t think it would be responsible to just run with it if he said ‘I want to be a girl.’ There may be issues behind it: social issues or past trauma, he may become happily gay.”

If you watched this documentary and tried to pretend it wasn’t about “transgender,” as if it was documenting an argument about any other issue of childhood behaviour, the correct approach would jump out as obvious. True listening to a child is a process of decoding messages and being open to finding out what they may really mean, not taking a child’s words at face value. It involves an openness and willingness to admit that you don’t know the reason or the outcome and it requires that you understand that this person is a child and not a mini-adult.

The reason that an approach which would be acceptable in any other area is even questioned in this one, is a result of adult transgender rights activism. As Ray Blanchard, researcher in sexual orientation, paraphilias, & gender identity disorders, pointed out:

“What we’re talking about here is not the adult transsexual community taking control of its own destiny but the adult transsexual community trying to interfere in the destinies of children who aren’t even their own.”

Children need to be recognised as children first and not, as a result of sustained activism, seen as transgender first. Adult identity politics needs to be separated from the diagnosis and treatment of children and young people, who do not live in a cultural bubble, immune to all influence. When we are dealing with children it is children’s rights which must be paramount, including the right to unbiased and impartial therapy. Children should not be used as pawns in any one group’s political agenda.

The approach and the tactics of trans activists which were revealed in this documentary felt more like recruitment than care for individual children and nowhere was this illustrated better than in the experience of “Lou,” a young woman who regretted her transition. Her account of being influenced by the “transition or die” narrative and the subsequent death threats she received after going public about her regret should be a wake-up call to everyone about the true nature of this movement.

We need this argument to be become much more public. The stakes are high: children taking puberty blockers almost inevitably progress to cross-sex hormones (the figure is 90% at the Tavistock gender clinic in London), resulting in sterilisation and some irreversible effects on the body. The typical pathway for girls is to use harmful binders followed by a double mastectomy. Children set on a “gender reassignment” pathway become medical patients for life, taking off-label synthetic hormones with all the associated risks and side-effects. This generation of children are effectively guinea pigs in an experiment for which we have no long-term clinical research trials into the effects on their health. Threatening parents and children with the suicide of young people, and smearing opponents as “transphobic” are not arguments for this pathway, but silencing tactics.

Because of previous one-sided media coverage, most people don’t realise that there is even a debate to be had about the treatment of “transgender kids.” Trans activists tried to get the documentary pulled for prior “review” by an “independent expert” before it was aired and Trans Media Watch have since “made the BBC aware that we believe an internal investigation will not be sufficient in this case. We intend to take further action” according to their Facebook page. This is a debate that activists don’t want you to see. We are very grateful to Executive Producer Sam Bagnall and Producer and Director John Conroy for having the courage to make this documentary in the face of such threats, and to the BBC for broadcasting it. We hope that this is the start of proper journalistic investigation into this area; as adults we have a responsibility to allow open debate about any issue which affects the lives and health of children.

15 Comments

  • Sue Reply

    Excellent commentary and review of the program. I couldn’t agree more.

  • Sys Reply

    I’m in the US and am unable to view this documentary on the BBC site. Does anyone know if another way to watch this from the US

  • SashaLPC Reply

    Excellent write-up. I completely agree with this analysis.

    One part of the film that really disturbed me was the gender camp. And I want to just encourage everyone to do a simple exercise:

    If you are familiar with the “reality tv” shows about little girls in beauty pageants, what do you think of them? Do you think there is anything psychologically and developmentally questionable about putting young females in beauty contests? I know that I, as a therapist, certainly do! Feminists for decades have been arguing that it’s inherently harmful to teach young girls that their appearance is their best asset. Putting little girls in gowns and makeup and parading them like commodities is psychologically damaging, they’ve said.

    So why no is it ok to tell little boys that that’s EXACTLY what it means to be a girl!?!? How are we still here, while touting these camps as somehow progressive and leaders in “breaking” gender norms? These are the same old ideas we’ve always had about what makes a woman and what makes a man. I’m so disappointed that femininity/masculinity are still falsely conflated with biological sex.

    I am working to help kids untangle these outdated and sexist ideas. Feel free to check out my site for more of my professional take on this issue.

    I am so grateful that sites like TT exist to provide a voice of sanity amidst the confusing indoctrination.

  • Janet Reply

    As a parent of a teen with sudden onset gender disphoria i was so relieved that this documentary was made and shown. I would love someone like dr zucker or his team to work with my child regardless of persistence/desistence outcome.

  • mama2-4wains Reply

    Parents who say it’s my way or the highway bla bla. Then the kid is going to kill themselves? What an idiotic statement for her to make. Does not matter if the kid is trans, or not. Are parents just going to let kids, railroad over the top of them? Yeah because that works. Kids who get there own way all the time after taking a hissy fit are the ones who become social delinquents and damaging to society.

    My 6 year old was purring, meowing and licking her wrists like our cat does. It means she is imagining being a cat and it’s fun. I would defy any HCP to turn around and say, let’s get that kid booked in, we will implant some fur and whiskers, bring her ears to teh top of her head, and oh what colour would you like your fur to be kid? Blue, Purple, Yellow? White with stripes. What colour would you like the stripes to be. No of course no doctor is going to do that because they can face up to reality.

    And that is the madness and severity of this situation. You cannot feel to be something. You are something. Completely different. Some people really do need to face up to reality.

    I am so glad sites like this exist. Because without it I would not have been able to help my gender dysphoric teenager. She is not conforming to anything, just because she likes to wear shirts does not make her a boy and no one has the right to put that idea into my daughters head, which is what they were doing to her. They (her peers and online trans activists) were telling her that because she likes females, in order for her to be accepted into society she can became straight by one simple fix. Grow a beard with a hormone called T and change her sexual organs to a mans.

    Thank you, and I hope Dr Zucker sees this too, thank you to everyone as my daughter is starting to desist and has faced up to reality and is so much happier now.

  • trish Reply

    So people who are too young to legally have sex (and not just too young to have sex, but too young to make other life-altering movies like signing contracts, getting married, moving out of their parents’ homes) are definitely old enough to decide that their bodily sex is wrong. When I think of the joy and closeness of my relationship with my husband, I feel really sorry for these kids, who are being encouraged to do things to their bodies that may make such closeness physically impossible.

    Next, we have these “trans experts” who act like no one has ever been confused, or lived through a phase or been subject to social contagion – and that these people who may have only met the child once automatically know the child better than that child’s parents know that child.

    And all of this for a goal which can never be achieved – changing the sex of a human body. At this point, our technology can engineer a lousy imitation of the opposite sex.

  • Johnny Reply

    For anyone who is truly open to discussion, please do consider all sides of this conversation, including mine. I recognise a lot of the issues above, and they revolve around my lived experience.

    I am a man, born female (transgender). For me, being transgender presented as a persistent feeling of physical unease throughout my life, for as long as I can remember, with depression and anxiety following physical changes at puberty, and many years spent (and lost) in a black depression as an adult. Once I learnt at the age of 24 that something could be done about this feeling, I began to have hope again. When you have a constant feeling of wrongness about yourself physically, as though you were deformed or diseased, it affects your mind, your mood, and your ability to move through life. To learn that there was a remedy for this ill feeling I had, it was revolutionary, and no less than saved my life.

    Though my parents did not force me to go against my interests in toys as a child (to them I was a tomboy), I was always treated as a girl and there was never any question or confusion put to me about my gender from my parents. This did not change the way I felt about myself. Although I knew that I was seen as a girl – regardless, my sense of self and subconscious expectation of how I should be was always male. So although I knew I was a girl in everyone else’s eyes, when growing up I still had this innate expectation and subconscious hope that surely at some point things things would right themselves, though I knew they never could.

    To be transgender is a terribly innate feeling of wrongness. I felt like a boy that had developed breasts and curves at puberty, and aside from the physical discomfort and feeling that physically something had gone wrong with me, I felt the shame that any teenage boy and adult man would of having breasts and a woman’s body shape. I am a science graduate, I know only too well the realities of biology, so I know how this must sound deluded to others. Nevertheless, it is a feeling I felt against all attempts not to. I was healthy and I was fortunate for that, and beautiful too, from an outsider’s perspective. I tried to embrace and accept how I was and to move through life positively, I tried to adjust my mind, but this constant feeling of unease never went away and strongly affected my relationships, my day to day life, and my ability to do anything alone or with others. Although I continued living so as not to cause unhappiness to my family, I was numb to everything around me and I simply did not wish to exist.

    I started hormonal transition in my late twenties, and finally developed as an adult male. Within months this feeling of bodily discomfort vanished as everything shifted to a masculine set. I felt at ease with myself physically. I felt able to breathe, and all the anxiety I carried lifted from me. It was what I had been waiting for since I first started puberty as a kid. It was not at all about being able to wear the clothes I liked or have stereotypical male hobbies and to have a face that matched those. It was just feeling right, physically. Thoughts of suicide have disappeared, as now I feel like I am not physically deformed or ill. Moreover, I have a sense of a future for myself, and I am happy, something I have not been since I was a child.

    I tell you this so that you know that yes, being transgender is a real thing, and that for some of us that physical change is exactly what we need, and is essential to living. It is just to have the right hormones in our systems. God knows why, but it works for us. And yes, a great number of people who suffer from this same dissonance between and the brain and the body do feel like suicide is the only choice for them, because of the unhappy life they lead, because of the trappings and claustrophobic nature of this illness they feel, and because of the feeling it creates of not every really being seen by others and of never being truly known, of not being able to recognise your self. I’m not asking for pity, just stating that this is a reality for a lot of people. Medical transition does in fact help most people who feel this way, and the majority are able to move past the mental health issues such as depression and anxiety that are an effect of this condition, and are able to finally live.

    This is our reality, and obviously this poses medical, legal and social issues. This is where rights and activism come in. For the main part, we just need it to be recognised that we exist, we’re just people trying to live our lives, and to be able to do so we need to smooth over these medical and legal obstacles, so people who need it can get treatment, so that we do not face discrimination in the workplace or in seeking housing, and so we do not face harassment in the street. That’s pretty much it – the same standards of living any other person would hope for. Obviously, as with every issue, you do get extremists who don’t represent the majority but who shout the loudest and so misrepresent the cause. Also, in this case, there has been a lot of media misunderstanding, which is not surprising as it is hard to understand admittedly as it is an unseen illness to begin with. With transition and activism, now it is visible, and people seem to think it is a new thing for this reason.. So there’s a real freakshow element which the tabloids (of course) exploit, and then the more respectful media channels (coupled with political correctness) go and overcompensate for that, taking us further away from real awareness and a real conversation.

    With all of the above in mind.

    I agree that not every child who leans towards the other sex’s preferences and way of life are in fact transgender, it is ridiculous to think and proclaim so. I find it concerning that some young individuals feel that because they like the clothes and toys that are marketed to the other sex or that perhaps their expressed way of acting is more effeminate or boyish, they suspect it means that they are transgender and that they must live as that sex. Which is a load of tosh of course. Everyone has likes and dislikes, everyone has their own personality and way of seeing and approaching the world.

    The whole and only point of transgender awareness is so that people who feel this brain/body misalignment can have the choice to rectify it, and to live their lives as everyone else does. It is not to CAUSE this brain/body misalignment in people who fine to begin with, and create problems where there were no problems.

    To be honest, I feel that the strict gender roles we have as a society are more of a threat in this regard, and the inflexibility of society in accepting people who don’t conform. Butch girls/women and effeminate boys/men are generally looked down on or told “you’re a girl/boy, act like it”. It leaves these kids feeling like they don’t fit in with what is accepted as male or female, that they are outsiders amongst their peers, and that maybe they belong on the other side.

    Awareness, acceptance and approval of medical treatment where necessary is essential for transgender people to lead safe and productive lives. However difficult it is for non-transgender people to understand what is going on in our heads, there has to be an element of trust – we do know ourselves, and we come to the decision to undertake medical transition knowing this is right for us. Of all the people I know to have gone through this, they have all come to feel complete and right in themselves.

    Yes I have heard of people undergoing it and it being a mistake, and in these cases it has always been that they were butch or effeminate in their behaviour with no bodily dysphoria, and they felt that they must conform their body with their interests and behaviour, which of course only ended in unhappiness as there was no physical problem to begin with.

    To further confuse the issue, I think there are a couple of groups of people who call themselves trans – those who transition for this brain-body alignment or because or they have a strong sense of being the other sex, and another group who do so for societal reasons. In the latter group I think they are people who are largely inflexible with gender roles and feel pressured by them, who feel that to act and dress like the other sex they must say that they are that other sex (i.e. that to be a masculine person you must be physically male). If you are changing your body to fit society’s image and not for yourself, you are not going to be happy.

    This is what needs to be taught I feel: that it is okay to have a range of interests and expressions and that this does not determine your gender. Sadly some doctors (in the transgender field) still hold this belief. There are so many ways to be a man, and so many to be a woman, and this goes for transgender people too. There are many feminine men who are happy with their bodies, and many masculine women who do not wish to change a thing. There are many trans men with effeminate personalities, and many butch trans women – this does not detract from the fact that they transition to the other sex to feel right physically.

    It is all well and good challenging the nature of transgender awareness in the media, but whether it seems malign to you or not, you have to accept quite a large number of transgender people do exist, which of course includes children. In situations where there is a SERIOUS question of being transgender, it is better to give the option of hormone blockers – due to the irreversible consequences of puberty which would later require surgery – which can put these developments on hold and give a person a chance to mature mentally and the freedom to decide how they truly feel and whether medical transition is necessary and right for them. This is better for health in the long run as well as money-saving for the NHS. For those who realise they are not transgender, they can develop as any normal teenage would by stopping hormone blockers, they would simply join that group of late developers. For all of the media furore over this, no young person would be given cross-sex hormones to transition before the age of 15 in the UK anyway, and even at 15 is rare.

    For those who complain about the expense of this hormone therapy to the NHS, it’s worth a thought that most all of my female friends have been on hormonal contraceptives from the age of 17 or so – a form of hormone therapy in itself (for purpose of birth control, to ease/stop menstruation and various other reasons). I’m just taking different hormones. For many trans people, there’s no further expense to the system than that (particularly if they have access to hormone blockers as adolescents – so little to no surgery is required). Also, as medical transition significantly improves of mental health in transgender people, we can simply weigh it up against the cost of counselling and medication for depression and anxiety which transpeople have a very high incidence of if they do not undergo medical transition.

    So a few things to think about, I know everyone is approaching this issue from different angles, there’s my two cents and for sure I agree there is an issue. In trying to help the transgender issue, we don’t want to create more issues.. I think that is the concern for a lot of well meaning people, and they don’t deserve to be labelled as transphobic for saying that.

    Lastly, just in response to Trish’s comment there.. technology is a lousy engineer it’s true, and surgeons can only create a facsimile of male genitalia for people like myself and for men who’ve lost their parts to cancer, injury or birth defects.. Hormones however – the very thing that make men look like men and women look like women – work wonders. I have been on hormones for only 2 years. There is not a trace of anything female left, no one except for my friends or family knows I have ever been anything other than male. The only thing I could lament is what I am lacking in the penile department, but this is shared by other unfortunately sized men, and is easy to compensate for in the bedroom. Hard to believe isn’t it, it seems like it would be an issue, but I am in a sexual relationship with a straight woman who has only ever been with (born) men before, and all my other physical features (broad shoulders and back, musculature, body hair, no hips, flat chest, masculine jaw and brow – I am male in every visible respect) she finds very sexually attractive. I can honestly say that being trans isn’t an issue, and my partner of several months is more than satisfied with the man I am 😉 We are very, very intimate with one another, and it is quite wonderful. So not to worry, we get our happy ending too.

    • ScaredMum Reply

      Johnny thank you for your thoughtful and considered response. I am glad you have a fulfilling life and that the treatment you have had has made you content. It must be the case that hormones and/or surgery works well, otherwise the world would be full of discontented patients. But, and it is a big but, we as parents are concerned that there is no longer a considered, careful exploration of alternative causes of identity difficulties, co-morbid mental health problems, so that young adults are embarking on transition before they are fully mature. If my child has been helped with the considered exploration of all the alternatives, and is in a good state of mental health, and mature in outlook, I will wholeheartedly support her transition. I just can’t see that happening under an “informed consent” model.

  • anotheranonmale Reply

    Who is doing SRS on minors for hormone scrip writers Spack and Olson? And, in the case of someone like Ella, how on earth is this working given that their tissue never sexually matured at all? It seems a given that clinical outcomes would be poor. I wonder if the Dutch have data on this front. Seems like a lawsuit waiting to happen, especially as such men would struggle to detransition.

  • Mrs DK Reply

    Johnny, that is great. But right now there are no objective medical tests to indicate when transition is warranted and when it is not. People who transition in various ways later detransition, sometimes years later, having made invasive and permanent changes to their previously healthy bodies that they are now unable to undo. And this medicalized transition is now being pushed as THE answer to child and adolescent dysphoria. That’s why it is so very important to question the trans narrative.

  • Ms Hippie Mom Reply

    After a year of listening to my child and the Trans community. Thank goodness I found this site. This is my daughter! I have compassion and respect for the trans community but when I have voiced my feelings of doubt about my particular child, I was silenced and called a transphobe. Medical professionals listen!

  • Alex Reply

    The trans lobby always promotes the suicide angle, thinking that it will gain more sympathy for trans people. The truth is, trans people are more likely to commit suicide after transitioning than before. The suicide rate after transitioning is 41%. What is the rate before transitioning? Dr. Spack himself said one in ten had attempted suicide before seeing him. So that’s a 10% rate before transitioning and a 41% rate after. That would seem to indicate that transitioning increases the chances of suicide by about 4 times. To say the least, transitioning is not effective therapy. So why is it being promoted? Hasn’t anyone looked at the numbers? – Alex

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