The Sun has reported on new guidelines issued from local authorities in Cornwall, Lancashire and Scotland to “properly accommodate transitioning pupils in school” by allowing transgender pupils extra breaks during physical education lessons.
And why would transgender pupils need breaks during P.E? Because:
“some youngsters who choose to bind their chests may suffer from “breathing difficulties and fainting” during sports sessions.”
“Youngsters” here means “girls,” but transgender rules don’t allow us to name them as girls. This conveniently prevents us from assessing the differences in the experience and typical treatment pathways between girls and boys, or study any differences in reasons for transitioning. If we can’t view these girls within the wider context of teenage girls as a group we can’t make the connections to the underlying causes of such behaviour in girls, nor position breast binding within a continuum of self-harming practices.
Even the term ‘chest binders’ hides the fact that these particular instruments of torture are used exclusively by girls. Our “support” for these girls by our acceptance of the use of breast binders prevents us from viewing their use as a harmful cultural practice (albeit one “chosen” by children) while at the same time we condemn similarly harmful practices of other cultures such as “breast ironing.”
The harms of breast binding are serious. Cornwall County Council alludes to the physical harms but minimises them in relation to the psychological “benefits,” stating that wearing a binder:
“can be hot, uncomfortable and restrictive – but very important to their psychological well-being. It might make certain PE lessons difficult for them and could lead to breathing difficulties, skeletal problems and fainting.”
The harms of binders are documented in a 2015 study which indicates 28 potential negative outcomes. Effects of wearing a breast binder include: compressed or broken ribs, punctured or collapsed lungs, back pain, compression of the spine, damaged breast tissue, damaged blood vessels, blood clots, inflamed ribs, and even heart attacks.
Anecdotal evidence paints a picture of the necessity for shallow breathing which in itself restricts the flow of oxygen to vital organs and results in a restriction in physical activity harmful to overall health. A mother speaking on Radio 4’s Bringing Up Britain recently explained her response to her daughter’s double mastectomy as relief that she had “got her lungs back” after a year of wearing a binder (another example of how one stage of ‘transitioning’ inevitably leads to a need for the next step).
Any other practice of self-harm is recognised as such but in this case we have adults in a position of responsibility declaring that this particular form of self-harming, unlike any other, promotes psychological well-being. A trick of language absolves us of any duty of care: placing all youngsters in the gender-neutral ‘trans’ category means that these girls are lost to any studies in the psychology of adolescent girls as well as denied the treatment and support which recognises their unique problems and needs. And it also means, of course, that we don’t have to look at the culture which produces so many adolescent girls who don’t want to become women in the first place, or make any effort to understand why.