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. (No longer available on BBC iplayer but you can view it here) Previous media coverage of “trans kids” (BBC’s output summed up here) has relentlessly presented only one side of the 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.