Our thanks to Woman’s Hour today for broadcasting a thoughtful and informative item about the recent unprecedented spike in teenage girls presenting to the Tavistock gender clinic in London. We are very glad to see this subject covered, when usually we only hear an unquestioning positive account of “transgender kids” throughout the mainstream media.
1,398 children and adolescents have been referred to the Tavistock Clinic this year (compared to 697 last year) and of that number almost 1,000 are girls. Girls have been over-represented at the clinic for the past five years, with the disparity between boys and girls increasing year on year.
Throughout their interview, both Polly Carmichael and Bernadette Wren from the Tavistock clinic referenced the “social revolution” and the rapidly changing context within which teenage girls are making the decision to transition. Various points were made, such as the fact that people are much more accepting now and we live in a world where people surgically alter their bodies, a possibility which did not previously exist. Dr Wren’s view: “I don’t think we should necessarily take a negative view of this” was echoed in her neutral stance on the “phenomenal unexpected increase” in the number of girls referred to the Tavistock this year: “it’s not for us to approve or disapprove.”
Although it was reassuring to hear that the clinicians see their job in terms of “holding” these girls, enabling them to “get on with their lives without necessarily jumping into the physical interventions,” we feel there does need to be an ethical debate about whether this is a positive or negative development, given that we are talking about medically unnecessary invasive interference with healthy bodies, with some irreversible effects and a lack of research on the long-term health effects. This is not something about which we can afford to be neutral. Use of terms like “social revolution” make it very clear that the recent transgender phenomenon is sold as a social justice cause rather than a medical one, but those adolescents caught up in it will nevertheless be medical patients for life as long as they identify as transgender.
There was some exploration of the reasons why teenage girls in particular may feel that “being male and having a male body” is an attractive proposition: that many young girls have problems with their bodies, hate the development of their secondary sex characteristics and find developments such as menstruation especially distressing. Reference was made to the pressure on girls from our very “visual culture” but it would have been nice to hear a more serious and thorough exploration of how much the highly sexualised, pornified culture which surrounds young girls today has exacerbated the body dysmorphia already common amongst teenage girls. The “anxiety about being forced down a particular path” posited as a motivation to transition would seem to fit what we already know of how the normalisation of porn has vastly increased the societal pressure on girls to accept their role as being primarily sexual commodities for men. Is it really surprising that so many teenage girls don’t want to become women?
The typical case scenario was described as a girl who has already gone through puberty, who previously thought her feelings of being different and not fitting in were to do with her sexuality, but “starting to learn about trans” at around age fourteen or fifteen has given her an alternative interpretation of her feelings. Although this was seen as “positive,” this is the aspect of trans culture which we feel needs the most serious examination: if young lesbians are being encouraged through online trans forums to re-identify themselves as heterosexual transgender men, this amounts to the erasure of lesbians. People may be more accepting of transgenderism now, but how accepting is our culture of lesbianism? Compared to the media circus around all things trans, lesbians are almost invisible. What help and support is there for teenage girls to accept and celebrate a lesbian identity?
Within the changed “social landscape” referred to as an explanation for the increased “honesty” in girls’ reasons for wanting to transition, there is no mention of this relentless media promotion of transgender ideology as truth, nor the susceptibility of young minds to the influence of the media’s portrayal of transgender people as cool, special and glamorous.
The interview with Sasha, a 26-year-old former transgender man, now identified as non-binary, represented clearly the reason why there is a great need for more understanding of girls’ typical problems at adolescence as well as a recognition of the social contagion of trans blogs, websites and forums: “There is a lot more information out there now and it is mainly females who look at these sites” says Sasha.
This very thoughtful young person described a history of being depressed at age twelve, with suicidal feelings expressed by cutting and self-harm; an adolescent who “didn’t fit in” and felt that life would be easier as a man because “certain paths would be more suited to who I am,” a clear expression of the rigid cage many girls feel themselves to be trapped in.
Sasha took puberty blockers at age eighteen, halting menstruation which eased the more triggering symptoms of dysphoria, and then moved on to testosterone after a year. Two years on testosterone was followed by a double mastectomy and chest reconstruction surgery.
What jumps out from this account are Sasha’s statements around the changing nature of identity:
“I identify as non-binary now, neither male nor female, very different to when I went to the Tavistock.
My identity has become more fluid recently.
I don’t regret anything, my decisions were right for what I was feeling then.
But now I think there may have been more options I didn’t consider then – I wish I’d taken things a bit slower and waited a bit longer.”
This was a very moving and honest interview which demonstrated clearly the issue of the immaturity of adolescents whose identity is not fixed but developing. It is noteworthy that Sasha’s current age is 26, just over the age when the brain reaches full adult development.
Given the current climate of silencing any debate, it was brave of Sasha to speak so honestly, and brave of Woman’s Hour to broadcast an account of a trans/non-binary person who expresses reservations about the process of transitioning. As far as we know this is the first time that a mainstream media outlet has done so, and they will no doubt face outrage from transgender lobbyists who will pronounce Sasha’s story as atypical and unrepresentative.
For all teenage girls however, and perhaps especially lesbians, stories like this need to be heard and we salute Woman’s Hour for giving this issue airtime on national radio.
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And this is why I cautioned and encouraged, and yes, pressured, my child to wait. Just ride it out, just see what you feel like as you grow and mature. Just learn, hopefully, to accept that you may never fit into any mainstream societal role, whether it be “traditional” or “transgender”, and that’s okay. No need to do anything drastic right now. It’s okay to not have all the answers at the age of 17. We’ve since passed the stage of immediacy and have settled into a comfortable watch and wait mode, while going through supportive talk therapy with a Psychologist who understands both sides and encourages my son to talk about things other than his gender identity. Right now it’s good, although I know it can change at any moment. My son now realizes there is no hurry for drastic measures. That may change when he’s on his own, but I truly believe that putting my foot down and verbalizing my stance that nothing drastic will occur while he is under my roof, plus accepting and encouraging him to discuss his feelings, have lead to where we are now. Watching and waiting, discussing whatever he wants, following through with the Psychologist, and just allowing him to settle back into a comfortable place as a gay young man. He seems happy with himself again. Crossing my fingers every day that it lasts.
Thanks Stephanie for the very thoughtful article, as ever. I haven’t yet listened to the Woman’s Hour slot – about to do so – but feel very very worried about this trend. As I, and other lesbians and feminists, have said before, it isn’t only the erasure of the possibility of becoming a lesbian (and this still seems fairly taboo, unless sexualised in disgusting programmes like Lip Service or respectablised by ‘marriage’ – on both mainstream media and in the education system) – but just the channelling of girls who resist pornification, submissiveness and exaggerated femininity – into thinking they must be men is child abuse on a huge scale and needs to be recognised as such. . The consequences, horrific mutilation of their bodies for no reason, puberty blockers followed by testosterone, then double mastectomies and chest reconstruction, is medical abuse. We, as a society, oppose FGM, but think this outrage is ok! As a campaigner to save the NHS, I’m appalled that the trans lobby is lobbying for more money to be spent on these medical outrages within the NHS, and as a lifelong feminist, I’m appalled that at the moment the outrages are masquerading as ‘social revolution’ and that this is being swallowed by a gullible society.
Elaine, I absolutely agree that this is medical child abuse. Your analogy with FGM is excellent. That aspect of it cannot be over emphasized.
When this trans mania finally ends and the exposés into how this all happened begin the Tavistock Clinic will be at the heart of it. Oh it will be featured in documentaries. ?
Hope you all have seen the movie MissRepresentation by the Misrepresentation project on the how girls are portrayed by today’s media in the U.S. Doubt it is much different in your part of the world.
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I wonder whether we are reading too much into the “sexual” nature of Gender Dysphoria? GD is a failure of mental and social development. It is an immaturity. We observe that gender dysphoria in children is a trend like anorexia. Maybe more girls than boys are discovering GD because it is another way of “gaining control” over your body. “Seeking to control” – or the opposite, which is learning distraction and other techniques to avoid “seeking control” – is the key to understanding and then treating anorexia. Perhaps there is more than a superficial similarity? Both conditions are very dangerous. Despite the explanations of psychiatrists and other doctors the children and the parents do not understand the consequences of their actions, which are sterility and life-long dependence on hormones, because they are each blinded in a different way. Neither group can give “informed consent”: the children and the parents believe that they are “gaining control” over a process (puberty and growing up) which they find disturbing.
Is my analysis a possible key to unlocking the obsession of young GD sufferers and allowing them to live inside their natal bodies? Maybe I haven’t taken it far enough.
Just trying to help…..
This article on about the Woman’s Hour show, that sounds like the Tavistock people’s part was quite repellent, was excellently grown-up and nuanced.
But if you’re looking for something snarky and sarcastic about The ‘Tavistock Child Sex Change Clinic’ you may enjoy this animation
I think a distinction needs to be made between prepubescent children who seek a referral to GIDS and 14-16 year olds who have begun to question their gender only recently. I am a person who was referred to the gender clinic at the age of 11. I was one of only twenty or so natal females in that age group who were referred in the 2015-16 period, compared to 70 odd 13 year olds and close to 200 15 year olds. Having almost tripled over the course of 2 years, the number of 16 year old natal females in the 2016-17 period exceeded 300. The different age groups shouldn’t be treated exactly the same, and kids like me, who were terrified of pubertal changes even before they began to happen, should be allowed to take blockers, which pause puberty until they are old enough to decide if they want to transition medically. My situation is different to that of the people this article talks about – when I started puberty I was post transition, and having to develop as a girl would have been a huge disruption to my life and catastrophically affected my mental health. For many kids in this category, it would essentially equate to forcing the child to turn back into their birth gender. Frankly, the waiting period for blockers should be shorter. The six plus months of counselling before referral to the endocrine clinic, in addition to a nine month waiting list to initially be seen by the Tavistock, not to mention other waits which are too numerous to list, is unnecessary and doesn’t actually achieve anything.
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