Referral figures for the Tavistock clinic Gender Identity Development Service, just announced, have risen from 1,419 last year to a total of 2,016 this year, an increase of 42%. The number of children who feel they are ‘trapped in the wrong body’ and need to transition to the opposite sex continues to soar year on year.
Although the headline of the Tavistock’s announcement is ‘GIDS referrals increase slows in 2016/17’ and goes on to state “the rate of referral increase for this year is the lowest since 2009,” this year’s figure in fact represents a rate increase on last year’s unprecedented 104% – so in actual numbers the total increase of 597 new referrals is second only to last year’s 722. The increase in numbers between 2009 – 10 was 41.
Dr Polly Carmichael, Gender Identity Development Service Director and Consultant Clinical Psychologist, comments:
“There is no single explanation for the increase in referral figures, but we do know in recent years that there has been significant progress towards the acceptance and recognition of transgender and gender diverse people in our society. There is also greater knowledge about specialist gender clinics and the pathways into them, and an increased awareness of the possibilities around physical treatments for younger adolescents.”
Dr Carmichael is obviously right to say that there is no one single reason for the increase in referral figures. In a future post we will break down and analyse the referral increase more closely, but for this post we wanted to focus on just one aspect: the media. It is the media which has facilitated the speedy public ‘acceptance and recognition’ of not just ‘transgender and gender diverse people’ but the completely new belief that children are ‘transgender,’ together with the idea that invasive medical intervention is a necessity. The press has a big influence on people’s views, including parents, teachers and all adults in a child’s life, and it plays a pivotal role in normalising and creating acceptance of ideas within society as a whole. Whether individual people believe that some children are ‘transgender’ and that “physical treatments for younger adolescents” is a good idea is largely dependent on a societal consensus created in large part by the way the media reports it.
Celebratory media coverage of ‘trans kids’ has continued unabated since the Tavistock referral figures were announced this time last year, with ‘serious’ publications like Time magazine and the National Geographic getting in on the act with glossy promotional features. A quick search reveals that in the UK the BBC alone has covered the subject of ‘transgender kids’ in at least 35 online articles, 23 radio broadcasts and 7 TV shows (including those promoted directly to children) over the twelve month period.
We decided to take a section of the media – the UK national daily newspapers – not only to find out the number of articles about ‘transgender kids’ published between April 1 2016 – March 31 2017, but to analyse the content of those articles in order to understand the actual message which the ‘general public’ has been receiving over the twelve-month period. What are the ideas that the media is promoting and what kind of societal beliefs is it helping to establish?
Is the media helping to create a culture which supports without question the teenage girl who says “I’m really a boy and I need blockers/hormones” or a society within which that teenage girl feels comfortable with who she is, without feeling the need to cosmetically change her body to look like a boy? And is the message from the media likely to encourage parents 1) to believe that their child or teenager is ‘transgender’ and 2) to accept a medical treatment pathway as the safe, normal – and, indeed, only – ‘solution’?
We used the online search tools on the websites for the Express, Mail, Guardian, Independent, Mirror, Sun, Telegraph and Times to identify all the articles relating to ‘transgender children’ in both the daily and Sunday editions over the year. The words ‘transgender’ and ‘child’ (including common homonyms) were used as search terms. We discarded any articles which were about adults or politics, where children may have been mentioned incidentally but were not the focus of the story. Duplicates were then removed and only articles relating to UK based stories or news were selected for further analysis (114 articles out of a total of 152), on the basis that UK stories are more relevant for the UK public and are likely to have a greater impact on their beliefs.
Our methods were not fail safe (some articles may have slipped through), but we expect that those we found will be representative of the total enough to give us a broad brush-stroke picture of overall press coverage.
This was the proportion of articles we found relating to countries:
We grouped all articles into the main categories illustrated below:
As an idea of the range of issues encompassed within the subject of ‘transgender kids’ this is a timeline of the main news reports of UK stories during the year:
We then read and analysed the content of all 114 UK based reports and scored them according to a standard set of questions.
First we examined the messages which encourage an interpretation of non-stereotypical gendered toy choices/clothes and appearance/behaviours as evidence that a child may be ‘transgender’; messages which normalise the idea of the ‘transgender child’ and messages which encourage a belief in ‘gender reassignment’ as an inevitable, established and safe medical pathway. We also looked for information which may frighten parents into supporting their child’s medical transition. These are the factors we searched for:
- Name change and pronouns – reported as normal/inevitable/a harmless way to ‘socially transition’
- Gender/sex-role stereotypes – toy choices/clothes & hair/behaviours cited as ‘evidence’ a child is trans
- Puberty blockers – mentioned as normal/reversible/safe/a method of ‘buying time’
- Any medicalisation – binders/cross-sex hormones/surgery cited as normal progression
- Reference to the Tavistock clinic
- Transgender organisations – Mermaids/Gendered Intelligence/GIRES etc promoted without critisism
- Reference to a parent ‘finding out about transgender’ through online research
- Reference to ‘gender neutral’ – language/toilets/school uniforms, as a means to support ‘transgender kids’
- Risk of bullying – ‘trans’ status referenced without question as reason for being bullied
- Risk of suicide – inference that without support to transition a child may commit suicide
We then searched for facts, information and statistics which may make people, especially parents, think twice about whether a child is ‘trans’ and whether ‘gender reassignment’ is necessary:
- Any note of caution
- The Endocrine Society advises against ‘social transition’ of pre-pubertal children
- Effects of blockers on brain development are unknown
- ‘Trans kids’ become life-long dependent medical patients
- Risk of infertility
- Lack of long-term research/evidence base for gender reassignment treatment
- Link to autism spectrum disorders
- 80% desistance rate
- Majority of ‘gender dysphoric’ children grow up to be gay or lesbian
- Facts about detransitioners/people who regret transition
- Social contagion as a factor in teens’ self-diagnosis as ‘trans’
- Mention of organisations who question the ‘trans’ diagnosis and treatment of children
This table shows the results for all UK articles:
Note: the figures in bold represent the total number of articles which mentioned one or more variant of a category.
It is clear that the numbers are top-heavy; the factors which may positively influence an interpretation of a child’s defiance of stereotypes as evidence the child is ‘transgender,’ and that parents must support their medical transition, far outweigh the reporting of actual facts and information which may make parents, together with the whole of society, think twice. Our analysis of percentages reveals the clear bias:
The comparison between newspapers reveals very little significant difference in the overall message. The Daily Mail published more articles which were critical or balanced (such as this one) but this was offset by the number of uncritical/celebratory transition stories (such as this). The Sun followed the same pattern, critical of ‘politically correct’ policies in schools (like this) but encouraging of childhood transition (this for example). The Express was also critical of school policies (here) but totally unconcerned about young girls ‘socially transitioning’ at home and school (here). The worst paper for promoting child transition was the Mirror, with nine stories of individual children transitioning out of 11 articles altogether (such as this one).
Of the broadsheets, the Independent was unquestioning in both in its news reports (here for example) and its individual transition stories (here). The Telegraph seemed most concerned about school uniforms (here) but is happy to promote the idea of a four year-old ‘knowing’ he’s a girl (here). The Guardian had no personal transition story features but its news reporting in itself was an unquestioning promotion of ‘gender identity’ ideology, whether in schools (here) or in the number of children contacting Childline (here). The Times published a glossy feature about the Maines twins Jonas and Nicole in the Saturday Magazine (here), but also ran a more thoughtful balanced piece in the same magazine about the Tavistock clinic (here – all Times articles behind a paywall).
The Daily Mail published by far the greatest number of articles (57 including world stories) followed by the Sun (24). The Times and the Mirror published the fewest (11 each).
We then analysed the percentages for the three largest categories: schools, gender clinics and social transition stories. We selected these categories for comparison as the ones which contain the most ‘information’ about the transitioning of children (rather than articles which simply report factual details of a court case or a young person’s problem at the barbers for example). The percentage tables below show the stark contrast between the messages which normalise the transition of children and the facts and statistics which encourage caution:
What this comparison reveals most starkly is that the caution expressed by clinicians in the articles about gender clinics is not making its way over into other news stories; there is very little note of caution in the child transition stories and none at all in the reports on schools even though there was some outrage about school policies and teaching materials. It is not, therefore, that editors are unaware of at least some of the risks and questions around diagnosing and treating children as ‘transgender’ but that they choose largely to minimise them and continue to publish cheer-leading child transition stories as if the issue is settled.
There was not one mention anywhere of the Endocrine Society guidelines which advise against the full social transition of pre-pubertal children, but there were feature stories of young children being socially transitioned both at home and at school presented as not only normal, but positive. The four mentions of detransitioners came from references to the BBC documentary Transgender Kids: Who Knows Best? which featured a young woman who regretted her transition, but nowhere else was the existence of ‘regretters’ mentioned. (The Guardian did actually feature a personal story from a detransitioner this year but we didn’t include this article in our study as the young woman initially transitioned as an adult). The two mentions of questioning organisations refer to Transgender Trend (in the Times and the Mail).
Within the 27 child transition stories, of the 13 which referenced puberty blockers only one mentioned that the majority of children grow out of gender dysphoria during puberty, 2 referenced the greater likelihood of these kids being gay or lesbian as adults and only one mentioned that we don’t know the effects of blockers on the developing adolescent brain. Although cross-sex hormones were referred to in 12 articles and future surgery in 10, only 4 articles mentioned the risk of sterility, 2 the lack of long-term research, 1 that a child will become a life-long medical patient and not one that anyone ever regrets their transition. Finding out information online was referred to 9 times and specific transgender organisations were named 8 times, leading parents to a source of ‘information’ which will be 100% encouraging of the diagnosis and treatment of their child as ‘trans’ with 0% facts and evidence encouraging caution. (Transgender organisations were referenced a total of 36 times amongst all 114 UK based articles).
The most depressing aspect of these child transition stories is the uncontested belief in gender and sex-role stereotypes as evidence that a child is really the opposite sex (referenced in 22 of the 27 articles). But the lowest point must be that the cruel and emotionally manipulative claim – backed by zero evidence – that a child will commit suicide unless a parent supports their ‘transition’ is given a platform in no less than eleven articles.
The best source of challenge to the new gender orthodoxy came from opinion and commentary pieces, notably from Janice Turner (The Times), Julie Bindel (Daily Mail), Sarah Baxter (Sunday Times), Virginia Blackburn (Express), Rachel Johnson (Daily Mail) and Sarah Vine (Daily Mail). There was also an editorial comment in the Mail on Sunday.
Across all other news reports, even in the gender clinic articles, the message is heavily weighted towards acceptance of invasive medical treatment for the completely new diagnosis of children as ‘transgender.’ Getting a message across depends as much on what is left out of a story as on the information included. In the absence of balancing information, the message is that it is now an established fact that a child’s ‘gender identity’ is what makes them a boy or a girl, and not their biological sex, and that the medical treatment pathway is established and safe. This message from the media is helping to create a cultural climate where no adult dares to question a child’s ‘identity’ and teenagers are left completely at the mercy of a new ideology promoted to them by strangers on Tumblr.
In fact the idea that you can actually be a ‘boy trapped in a girl’s body,’ or vice versa, is backed by no credible science and the medical treatment pathway is backed by no long-term research or evidence base: we are witnessing the first generation of young children who are being diagnosed and treated in this way. The whole of society has become complicit in selling to children a false ideology together with the promise of a quick and safe fix.
The idea that children can be ‘transgender’ leads to the risk of their sterilisation (guaranteed if a child is given blockers in early puberty followed by cross-sex hormones), life-long dependency on synthetic cross-sex hormones with some irreversible effects, and possible surgery with all the usual risks and complications. This is a subject we would expect to generate some alarm and serious public debate. Trans activists have worked hard to shut down any opposing view but in this country we have a supposedly free press and we hope to see UK newspapers play a part in instigating that debate over the forthcoming twelve month period.
We would like to express our gratitude to our large team of supporters covering all the daily papers who found, read and scored the articles, including our colleagues from the organisation Fair Play For Women, as well as our supporter who researched the BBC coverage and our Data Analyst for her observations and advice. Our biggest thanks go to scientist Nicola Williams PhD. Dr Williams managed the project, collated the numbers, double-checked the findings and designed all the charts and graphs which present the figures and percentages so clearly in this post.
A major reason for setting up Transgender Trend was the previous lack of any voice of caution in the media other than the occasional right wing or religious view. We are glad we are making some inroads; although there were only 2 mentions within the articles sourced for this study, we have had a fair amount of media coverage over the year which we have collated on this page: In The News. Our thanks to all journalists and producers who sought our comments.