BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday (May 13th) ran a feature on “trans kids” as part of their news item on President Obama’s letter instructing schools in the U.S. to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice.
In the following report, we don’t judge either of the children featured (who were both charming and very likeable), we use their interviews only to question the level of rigour in the reporting of these cases, as well as the ideology which underpins the assumptions made about appropriate ‘treatments’ for such children.
What’s striking about the coverage of this issue on the Today programme is the lack of incisive questioning of the kind you would expect for a serious news item; John Humphreys tried, but came across as out of his depth on an issue which demands serious challenge. Children’s bodies are being medically altered into a biologically intersex condition to fit a psychological identity: the ideology behind this practice is not one which needs to be treated with polite deference.
The adoption of the new language – “assigned the wrong gender at birth” for example – obfuscates the issue from the start, and subsequent inaccuracies in language further confuse things. Visiting the Tavistock clinic to chat to both patients and clinicians, the reporter for the Today programme, Sima Kotecha, tells us that 9 year-old Poppy:
“biologically remains the same, in all other aspects of life she has transitioned into a female.”
‘Female’ is a descriptor of a woman’s biological sex, so this statement makes no sense. If the listeners are going to understand the issues, the terms used at least need to be accurate and not misleading; this is a fundamental point we would expect the Today programme to get right. Just as the confusion in language is revealing of misunderstandings around the difference between sex and gender, the lack of any questioning of childish thinking reveals either an ignorance or a willful putting-aside of all we know about children in order to accommodate a new theory we are afraid to question. Poppy makes the statement:
“I wished I was a girl and that wish came true.”
Is it fair to foster a child’s magical thinking stage of perception in this way? – adults know the reality of adult transsexualism but for a 9 year-old it really is this simple: a boy can be a girl if they wish it. His perception that his preferences were indication that something within himself was ‘wrong’ is not questioned, and the bullying he clearly experienced for being too ‘feminine’ is not challenged but validated:
“Something felt wrong inside. I didn’t feel like myself. I didn’t feel right.
They made fun of me so I changed to a girl and they like me more now, they like me as I am.”
Are we really willing to so readily accept that a child is ‘wrong’ at this age, rather than address the bullying that tells him so?
Next to be interviewed was 16 year-old Colin who we are told “transitioned from female to male” after “discovering the world of gender” online. This rang no alarm bells even though Colin was previously happy as a girl:
“It wasn’t something that came up… It wasn’t something that was important to me… I was perfectly content.”
Although Colin does not plan to have surgery to alter her body, she now wears a chest binder which causes ‘a lot of back pain’ – “I’ve known people who have broken ribs from them” – and she flawlessly repeats the new transgender ideology we are used to hearing from activists, which denies the sexed body completely and replaces it with ‘internal’ gender:
“Gender is what’s between your ears not what’s between your legs. I feel like it’s something that’s really innate within you, your gender…it has no correlation to your body…like when I get periods it’s just something that happens to my body and it’s not like this is a woman thing, it’s just a thing.”
From being “perfectly content” Colin has moved to a life which is “not easy at all;” she has learned to hate the thought of living as a woman and has internalised the bleak transgender narrative of suicide and prejudice:
“It’s emotionally and physically painful. Not easy at all. Statistics about trans people having shorter life spans because of suicide or murder or so many different prejudices that I am kind of terrified about experiencing as an adult but I’d rather go through that than be living as a woman and hating it.”
This contrasts with the rosy picture painted by Bernadette Wren of the Tavistock clinic:
“It enables people to live fuller lives, I think that’s certainly our experience in the clinic. The majority of young people, whether or not they have suffered greatly, or more of Colin’s experience of being quite adaptable, if they make the transition and they make a go of it, their lives are fuller, richer and more rewarding, and they’re more productive people.”
Bernadette Wren’s comments on this programme were particularly troubling. There seems to be no awareness here that Colin is actually an example of a worrying trend of adolescent girls who don’t ‘fit in’ who discover trans forums on Reddit and Tumblr and are urged to transition. We don’t yet know what the effects will be on their psychological health from the effort to disconnect from their female bodies and see themselves as disembodied entities, together with the prolonged state of cognitive dissonance inherent in denying female biological functions such as menstruation.
A mind-body split used to be seen as a state of dis-ease and health practice has always been centred on mind-body integration, but in this case it seems that disconnection has been re-cast as a psychologically healthy state.
Bernadette Wren paints a picture of a Brave New World of freedom and personal choice. If this is the case, why do we need gender clinics to be involved at all? From providing treatment for cases of genuine and distressing sex dysphoria, are gender clinics moving into a role of supporting what is presented here as a new kind of positive and progressive lifestyle choice? If this is the case, then gender clinics are essentially the partners of transgender organisations who peddle an ideology which says that gender identity is material reality and biological sex an illusion. Adults are free to agree with the ideology and make this decision, but the Tavistock clinic is for children and adolescents for whom there is no ‘free choice’ in a bubble outside of cultural forces and social contagion which even adults find difficult to resist.
Bernadette Wren’s comments warrant serious challenge on several points, something which the Today programme failed to do adequately:
“I think Colin, if you don’t mind me saying, you’re typical of, in some respects, a new wave of young people who are coming to us who I think are partly responsible for the increase in numbers. I think when the opportunity to come out and speak frankly, to transition, even to have medical interventions, when that’s less known about you tend to get probably the group that you expected to hear about, so a core of people who are really, really struggling, really in pain, psychologically in pain, and are absolutely desperate as are their parents.
I think when the thing is opened up more, you yourself Colin said that when you began to find out more about [it], that actually you CAN have more freedom in a world that seems to be very settled with clear gender categories, male or female, actually there’s not a lot stopping you from challenging that a bit. I think that has been an opportunity for a wider range of young people to come forward and begin to ask, as, you know, as Colin is, whether the future lies in going down another gendered route. For some of them that really means living as, what we used to call, less so now, “the opposite sex.” For others it means exploring perhaps an in-between position or just saying they don’t really know at the moment but they’re not comfortable staying in the initial, quite clear, category of male or female.
And I think now, we are beginning, in a privileged society, we are beginning to allow people to exercise more freedom, people simply have more elbow room to think about how they want to live their lives. Now, yes people could, as people did in the past, just try to make the best of it and live their lives, but I don’t think that we feel that that’s necessarily appropriate now. If this is something that people can do for themselves, it doesn’t really harm other people.”
We know that gender clinicians are monitored very closely by transgender groups and are under extreme pressure from every angle, but that doesn’t excuse a lack of knowledge of the real harms caused to other people, both by the transition of family members and by the adoption of this new theory throughout society. These comments describe a world outside of any wider cultural context, a culture within which there is enormous pressure on children and young people to fit gender stereotypes; a youth culture which glamorises the trans ‘choice;’ and a relentless promotion of happy trans kids stories throughout the popular media.
Especially concerning is Bernadette Wren’s seeming lack of awareness of credible research within her own field, which points to the opposite conclusion about transgender people’s lives and advises against the social transition of pre-pubertal children.
The Today programme needs to balance their reporting by inviting on guests who will challenge the rosy positive picture promoted across the media. If you’d like to see that happen, send your suggestions to them at this email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.