Lord Robert Winston joins the transgender debate and shares his concerns for young children

Lord Robert Winston

We very much welcome the considered and authoritative views expressed by Lord Robert Winston that children who question their gender identity are potentially being put at risk by doctors intervening too early.

In an interview on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 Lord Winston expressed his concerns that we do not yet know enough about what happens in the cognitive development of children to cause their gender discomfort. This makes it very difficult to know how best to support them.  He spoke about how the brain is reassigning itself in a major way during puberty and how we don’t really know the long-term effects of intervening in that process for young children who present with gender issues.

The interview was reported in the Telegraph:

“Speaking on the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4, he said that “results are horrendous in such a big proportion of cases”.

He said 40 per cent of people who undergo vaginal reconstruction surgery experience complications as a result, and many need further surgery, and 23 per cent of people who have their breasts removed “feel uncomfortable with what they’ve done”.

He added: “What I’ve been seeing in a fertility clinic are the long-term results of often very unhappy people who now feel quite badly damaged.

One has to consider when you’re doing any kind of medicine where you’re trying to do good not harm, and looking at the long-term effects of what you might be doing, and for me that is really a very important warning sign.”

Professor Gary Butler from the specialist Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) for children at the Tavistock and Portman clinic in London was also interviewed alongside Professor Winston. He agreed that we don’t know enough about the cognitive development of gender identity in children yet but said that it must be remembered it is ‘incredibly rare’. He quoted a figure of only 1 in every 20,000 children who question their gender.

FACT CHECK: Although it was not challenged in the interview this figure of 1 in 20,000 of children having gender issues seemed dramatically low. We know from the GIDS own published figures that over 5000 children have been referred to them since they started in 2009. This represents 1 in every 2500 UK children having had serious gender issues at some point. We know that just over 2000 children were referred in the latest annual figures alone (in the 12 months up to April 2017) and since then rates have risen to 50 children referred every week in the past six months. That’s equivalent to 1 in every 4000 children having been referred in the last 18 months and most likely still experiencing these gender issues today. 1 in 7 of all referrals have gone onto puberty blockers (800 since 2009). If that rate is the same today that means 1 child goes onto medical treatment for gender issues every single day. There are claims that rate is now much higher and that 40% of all referrals go onto puberty blockers. That’s an amazing 20 children every day. We dispute the claim that this is ‘incredibly rare’.

What are the long term consequences of pausing puberty?

Professor Butler went on to talk about how only 20% of the children referred to the GIDS are pre-pubescent and that only 1 in 20 of these go onto pause their puberty using puberty blockers.  Nevertheless this still represents a sizeable number of children (32 in the last 18 months) having their puberty paused because of gender issues. Although pausing puberty may feel like a relief for these 32 children and their parents this is a completely experimental area. There is no evidence whatsoever that pausing puberty like this will be beneficial in the long run. As Lord Winston alluded to, it is perfectly possible that by intervening in the normal cognitive processes that happen during puberty we are actually preventing the resolution of the gender dysphoria that would have occurred naturally.

Puberty blockers are commonly referred to as ‘harmless and fully reversible’ despite being strong anti-cancer drugs being used off-label in children. This means there have been no efficacy or safety studies in young children for this indication and so their use has not been approved by NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence). Moreover, despite being theoretically reversible we already know that once on these blockers virtually ALL children continue onto cross-sex hormones. So it is highly likely that these 32 children will NEVER experience puberty. Going onto cross-sex hormones does not trigger puberty of the opposite sex it can only induce some secondary sex characteristics.

In the case of any natal boys in that group of 32 they will grow breast tissue but their penis and testicles will remain sexually immature and the size of a pre-pubescent child. This will adversely impact their sexual responsiveness and reproductive capacity. There is a well documented case of a young boy in the US who was socially transitioned at age 3 and then later put onto estrogen. Jazz Jennings is the star of a reality show documenting the transition. Jazz is currently 17 years old with a 2 inch penis, has never experienced an orgasm and is struggling to find a surgeon to perform a  vaginoplasty. Jazz’s small genitals will not give them enough ‘material’ to work with during the procedure.

In the case of any natal girls in that group of 32 they are likely to never menstruate and so will be infertile. Long-term use of testosterone is known to cause serious side effects like vaginal atrophy and high cancer risks which means that early hysterectomies are often advised. Testosterone will also cause beard growth, male pattern baldness and their voices to break, These are all permanent effects even if they later choose to stop taking testosterone. If they one day want to have genital surgery to create a pseudo penis there is a high rate of complications; something else Professor Winston referred to in his interview.

Can these 32 young children really understand the consequences of infertility and life-long dependence on medication before they’ve even had a chance to go through puberty? Lord Winston spoke of how he was seeing the long-term consequences of gender affirmation treatments in his fertility clinics. It is increasingly common for young people to have their eggs or sperm frozen before progressing onto cross-sex treatments that are known to cause infertility. Professor Winston emphasised that this is not the totally reversible step some people believe. Despite advances in fertility treatments it is well known that freezing eggs is ‘extremely unsuccessful’ and the chances of leading to a future pregnancy very low.  Likewise, freezing sperm is known to cause damage and lowers the fertility rate.

Lord Winston  warned: ‘there are lots of very unhappy people who feel quite badly damaged’.

This Post Has 19 Comments

  1. Deborah Berns

    The doctors and other “health workers” doing this to children should be prosecuted for child abuse/mutilation; one of the children who has been disfigured, made infertile in this way must surely be willing to be a test case

  2. Heather W

    Please don’t use male pronouns for a jazz Jennings. It makes you look petty and unkind and you lose the upper hand. This is a good resource and we need to be able to refer people to it without offending them immediately.

    1. Nic

      Thanks for alerting us. We do try to take care but it can be tricky and we sometimes slip up. We have edited the article.

    2. Kamilla

      I don’t see how anyone can be critical of current transgender ideology without being ‘offensive.’ To refer to a human being using the pronoun that describes their actual sex, outside of a personal relationship one may have with that person, should simply be common sense.

      1. Transgender Trend

        It is an impossible task: the importance of speaking in clear and correct language versus losing a proportion of people who would otherwise read our posts. We don’t just want to appeal to those who already agree with us. We err on the side of being correct – language is important and we draw the line at calling a male ‘she’ or a female ‘he’ – but try to be sensitive when the subject is vulnerable children.

        1. Sally

          Agreed, but you can be neutral at least. That way you aren’t inflaming anything and can’t be accused of ‘transphobia.’ It’s a delicate balance but the views on this site should be accessible to as wide an audience as possible and a small compromise in this way allows the real messages to be heard.

          1. Transgender Trend

            Yes, that’s what we strive for, and you’re right, it is a delicate balance. We may always be accused of ‘transphobia’ because we are challenging the transitioning of children, but we don’t want to unnecessarily alienate people. Thanks for your feedback.

          2. Molly12

            What?? This is a MALE child and it’s ok to refer to HIM as such. It’s interesting that the main concern here is pronouns instead of what happened to him and his body.

            “Don’t use he/him pronouns! Think of all the transphobia! Walk on eggshells and never ever mention biological sex!”

            Hell no. Stop ignoring reality. This is a boy with stunted puberty. Male. He/him/his. End of story.

      2. Deborah Berns

        It might be best just to refer to “transgenderees” by their full name and so avoid the pronoun issue.

        1. Sally

          I agree – also, if we conceptualise the children as victims of the ‘trains doctrine’, then to upset them/disrespect them any further seems totally unnecessary.

          1. Molly12

            Using the correct pronouns which refer to sex and not imagined gender is disrespectful? Right. Because ignoring biological reality and walking on eggshells because of pronouns totally helps.

            Stop denying the biological sex of children.

  3. c lewis

    Children need to settle down into their biological gender. This settling is disrupted by those who seek to declare them dysphoric when they are not. Almost all children who may appear for a t ime unsettled will settle in due course, especially with therapy. The activists want to ban therapy, in order to swell the ranks of the dispossessed. Their prejudiced and insensitive approach is a threat to our children.

  4. Libby

    I could have wept with joy when I read Professor Winston’s informed and considered opinions. I have waited for a long time to hear a respected professional question the benefits of treating increasing numbers of children and teens with puberty blockers, cross sex hormones and ultimately gender reassignment surgery. The 1 in 20,000 figure is way off the mark in my opinion. Based on cases in my own town (and that I am aware of) there are currently 3 children/teens asking to be recognised as the opposite sex to the one they were assigned at birth. These 2 secondary schools, with less than 1300 students between them, either have a well above average transgender population or people are choosing only to count a young person pursuing a referral to gender services.

    1. William

      It’s a trend; the evidence shows that it occurs in clusters i.e. due to herd instinct and copying. This is particularly prevalent in children/teenagers. We’ve all been part of trends in our lifetimes and observed them in others.

  5. Jack

    If someone says that they are trans and (in the case of someone who has a female anatomy) want to be seen as a boy, then you should encourage them and accept them. They may in the future decide that they are not trans, but that is up to them and you should support them in and respect their decisions.

    1. Guglielmo Marinaro

      I fail to understand why you should encourage someone in a delusion. It is not doing them a service.

  6. Janet Wright

    Jack – no one should encourage anyone to self-harm. If someone has anorexia, would you encourage them to starve to death? Once a child’s body is damaged by powerful drugs preventing its natural development, they have little chance of undoing the harm later.

  7. Andrew Hughes

    I’m 56 and still coming to terms with what it means to be born as a male and live as one in a complicated and complex world

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.