OK it’s time once more to talk about Transgender issues. If you are totally bored, fed up, sick and tired of hearing about this seemingly ubiquitous topic, I understand. Feel free to scroll down to the next post. However if, like me, you are baffled and confused and would like to understand it better, read on.
But first I would like to discuss something that’s happening a lot at the moment, and that is the closing down of debate. I’m all for disallowing a platform to those who would use it to spread hatred of other groups; to insult people or to incite violence. These are unacceptable and besides, we have laws about them. But this has got confused with the idea of denying a platform to people who we disagree with. Universities have banned speakers who support the state of Israel, for example, and Germaine Greer fell foul of students who disliked her stance on transgender people. And last week a number of people decided (without watching it) that the BBC were ‘promoting’ the views of Dr Kenneth Zucker, who believes that parents know better than children when it comes to gender issues. Now, as it happens I don’t agree with him – but that’s not the point. Kenneth Zucker lost his job at a gender clinic for expressing and acting on views which most people (it seems) now disagree with. There’s a new orthodoxy: challenge it at your peril.
I find this worrying. We have to be free to express certain views, even at the risk of upsetting some people. This is not the same thing as abuse or hate speech: to say that parents know best about their children’s gender, is not the same thing as calling trans people names, or saying they shouldn’t exist (and there’s plenty of that about). People like Kenneth Zucker should be allowed to express their views, provided that within the context of a documentary they are balanced by a range of other views – which in this programme they were.
So: to the documentary, broadcast last week and called ‘Transgender Kids: Who Knows Best?’ The programme featured the voices of children and parents on both sides of the argument, centring on – as the title says – who knows best: children – or parents and ‘experts’?
Now, I confess to a bit of seeing both sides here. As a home educator I am firmly child-centred, allowing my children to choose how, what and where to learn (I don’t want to defend this approach here but I have blogged about it elsewhere: https://wordpress.com/post/lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2199)
So I am sympathetic to the idea that children know best who and what they are. I also disagree with Kenneth Zucker’s view that the child is play-acting. ‘You wouldn’t feed a child dog-food because they pretend to be a dog,’ he points out. No, you wouldn’t – but play-acting is different from gender dysphoria. A child might pretend to be another gender for a while, but gender dysphoria is, as the mantra has it, consistent, insistent and persistent. In other words, it is repeated long and loud and it doesn’t go away. If a child pretended to be a dog insistently over a long period of time, you would get help: so clearly something serious is going on here. But on the other hand, childhood is a process, an evolution; a becoming. So I’m uneasy about allowing children to make choices at too young an age which will affect the rest of their life.
What did become crystal clear to me was this: traditionally gender has been assigned at birth by the body you were born into. This was the bottom line, and whatever thoughts or feelings the child was experiencing needed to come into line with the body. Whereas nowadays, we tend to think the opposite: the mind and feelings express the ‘reality’ and the body must come into line with them, even if that means surgery.
Alongside this there is a demand that society should accept the transgender person for what they are. Again, fine with me (in general, that is, putting aside my personal issues). However, in practice this means remembering names, preferred pronouns and styles of address, and for the hapless ‘ordinary’ person it can be a minefield. The other day I witnessed an unhappy interaction between a friend of ours and a m-to-f trans woman. Our friend had known this woman for years as a man and was struggling to remember to call him ‘she’. The woman really tore into him and I felt embarrassed and sorry for him because he was clearly not doing it to upset her; he just kept forgetting.
These demands that everyone accept us, remember what we want to be called and do it Or Else, are problematic. I’ve just started doing an online course where one of the tutors, for reasons best known to herself chooses not to capitalise her name. With the best will in the world, it’s extremely difficult to remember an individual set of names and pronouns every time you meet someone: I found this when I went to the ill-fated discussion on Gender in Nottingham (see this post: https://wordpress.com/post/lizardyoga.wordpress.com/12186). To be honest, these days it’s as much as I can do to remember people’s names without having to deal with genders and preferred pronouns. Yet if you forget, all hell can break loose.
So here’s the thing: no-one has the right to deny another’s right to exist. Yeah, right on. Totally signed up to that. But no-one (and that includes me) has an absolute right to self-expression: we have to take account of those around us. There has to be dialogue and interaction and discussion. Which kind of brings me back to where I started…