The news this week that a doctor running a private gender clinic in Wales is prescribing cross-sex hormones to children as young as twelve unfortunately comes as no surprise; if we are intent on diagnosing pre-pubertal children as transgender it is an inevitable development in their treatment. The child in question has been on puberty blockers since the age of nine, and as the average age for the onset of puberty is 11 for girls and 12 for boys, this child’s peer group may be surging ahead in their development. The stress and unhappiness at being left behind by your peer group is the reason that activists have been pushing for the lowering of the age at which cross-sex hormones can be administered at NHS clinics (currently 16).
The doctor in question, Helen Webberley, explains:
“This child has always been a boy, never worn a dress, always played with boys. He was so ready, his mates are starting puberty and he’s desperate to start puberty.”
That the equation of “never worn a dress” with “always been a boy” can be used so unselfconsciously by a doctor indicates the level to which we have elevated sex-role stereotypes as the definitive indicator of whether a child is a boy or a girl. Biological sex, although relegated to a position of irrelevance, is the focus of a treatment pathway the very purpose of which is to change it, as young as possible.
It is reassuring to hear Dr James Barrett, a consultant psychiatrist at the Charing Cross gender clinic, expressing caution:
“If you wait until puberty has got a little way along, a fair proportion of the children change the clinical presentation and feel more like straightforward lesbian and gay kids. They don’t seek social role change any more and will end up with no need for lifelong medical intervention, surgery and with no loss of natural fertility should they want children.”
His comment exposes the underlying homophobia implicit in the rush to diagnose and change the sex of children we know are more likely to be gay or lesbian as adults if left alone. Rupert Everett’s recent admission, in an interview for the Sunday Times magazine, should be a wake-up call to all those supporting child transition:
“I really wanted to be a girl. Thank God the world of now wasn’t then, because I’d be on hormones and I’d be a woman. After I was 15 I never wanted to be a woman again.”
For girls, same-sex sexual orientation typically emerges later than in boys, in the late teens or early twenties, putting lesbians at greater risk of defining themselves as ‘straight guys’ before they have had the chance to experience a lesbian relationship in their intact female bodies. It is transgender ideology itself which denies us the tools to differentiate between the sexes in our analysis of these different pathways of development for girls and boys.
Polly Carmichael, the lead clinician at the Tavistock clinic sums up the reasons we need to stop and analyse what we’re doing in this statement:
“The reality is we still don’t have the long-term outcome data. What’s happening is our society is moving faster than the evidence base. It seems that there may be something about puberty that’s important in terms of identity formation and so there are questions about if you intervene in the early stages is the outcome going to be the same for that person as if you didn’t. But it’s incredibly hard for young people if there’s a feeling that there is a treatment on offer but they’re being denied it.”
To take apart that statement point by point:
- There is no long-term data to support current treatment protocols let alone faster earlier treatment. ‘Born in the wrong body’ theory originated from adult transgender activists, it is a political social justice theory, not a scientific or medical one. The worlds of neuroscience and medical science have been co-opted to provide ‘evidence’ after the horse has already bolted. Treatment which leads to the sterilisation and life-long medicalisation of children is already being performed with no reliable scientific evidence base to support it.
- The release of sex hormones at puberty is what triggers the enormous changes in the brain which do not complete their job until the mid-twenties. Adolescence is a crucial period of exploration and searching for one’s adult identity, a time when everything is in flux. Of course, if you block puberty and administer cross-sex hormones this will alter the brain and its development, it’s just that nobody knows exactly how.
- If you tell children they are living in the wrong body, the only solution for which is to change that body, then of course you create the demand for treatments which are on offer. You also create the anxiety and the impatience to get on with it for both children and parents, especially if you present the alternative as suicide, as many transgender organisations do.
Jay Stewart, the director and co-founder of the trans youth group Gendered Intelligence expressed a seemingly cautious view of earlier hormone treatment – “wouldn’t be opposed” – but added that another step might be to lower the age at which surgery can be offered:
“Some people will be looking to get access to surgery at 16, especially chest surgery. You’ve got people who have been binding [their breasts] since they were 11, so I think there might be health reasons to offer that.”
“People” here means girls: again, transgender ideology prevents the differentiation between the sexes which enables us to name specifically who is being affected, hiding the fact that it is girls for whom surgery is an almost inevitable aspect of transition. Although a large percentage of both boys and girls will never have “bottom surgery,” the removal of breasts is a rite of passage for girls who transition, and again it’s obvious that the earlier the better especially for girls with larger breasts.
To give little children the story (“wrong body”) and the solution (blockers, hormones, surgery) and then to withhold that solution during the most critical and self-conscious stage of maturation from childhood to adulthood (puberty, adolescence, sexual development) seems like a deliberate cruelty. The only humane thing to do would be to skip the blockers altogether and get children straight onto cross-sex hormones before puberty kicks in, so that they can mature along with their peers in the “right” bodies. This is what transgender activists push for, and as the details of adolescent suffering emerge it will begin to seem like the right way to proceed, no matter that the initial diagnosis sets in train the subsequent problems for which the only answer is more of the same treatment, but earlier. The option of not giving children the story in the first place has already become inconceivable in a world where a knowledge of biological facts has become in itself a form of transphobia.