“Inventing” trans children and young people

A new book claims that school books featuring trans children “fail child safeguarding and conflict with the law”. Unfortunately, there is not the expertise to back this up. “Inventing transgender children and young people”, edited by Heather Brunskell Evans and Michele Moore, is another attempt to inflame fears against trans children.

I know Dr Brunskell Evans. I have seen her bewildering trans people. “It’s ridiculous,” said a nonbinary friend. “She claims you’re a danger and I’m mutilated.”

The Telegraph, a hard-Right publication, was delighted. Under the headline “Children being put at risk by transgender books that ‘misrepresent’ medical knowledge, academic claims”, its first paragraph blared out that “Children are being put at risk by transgender books in primary schools that “misrepresent” medical knowledge on puberty blockers, an academic has claimed”. Only later did it reveal that the “academic” was a “senior research fellow in creative writing”. How could that academic have any expertise on medical treatment for trans children? One such book, “Julian is a Mermaid” by Jessica Love, has just won the prestigious Klaus Fugges award for the “most exciting and promising newcomer to children’s book illustration”. It describes how a child dreams of looking like the spectacularly dressed women they see on the New York subway, and “his” grandmother helps them join the Mermaid Parade.

What else does the book say? Transgender children who undergo medical or surgical treatment risk “serious or irreversible damage”, says Dr David Bell. Who is he? The President of the British Psychoanalytic Society: an eminent man, but not one with particular expertise on endocrinology or paediatrics.  Of course there are risks to puberty blockers, but I prefer to trust experts, such as the paediatricians and clinical psychologist drafting the Australian Standards of Care and Treatment Guidelines for trans and gender diverse children and adolescents.

One chapter is by the discredited psychotherapist Robert Withers, recently described by the discipline tribunal as defensive, inconsistent, muddled and avoidant. His professional experience of trans is two patients, one of whom made a successful complaint against him.

One chapter is by Michael Biggs. It discloses that he is a sociologist (not a paediatrician, endocrinologist, psychologist, or any relevant discipline) at the University of Oxford. It does not disclose that he used the twitter handle “Henry Wimbush” to tweet abuse such as “transphobia is a word created by fascists, and used by cowards, to manipulate morons”. This says little for his ability to be objective.

Transgender children are not invented. There has been transition since 500BC, as seen by prohibition in Deuteronomy. The reason children are allowed to transition is that they demand it. People say they knew something was wrong aged three, and what it was aged five, that they were of the opposite sex. This arises spontaneously from the child, usually resisted strongly by parents and wider society until the parents, unable to block the child’s desire, try to do their best for their child by investigating transition.

This polemic book claims to “demonstrate the considerable psychological and physical harms perpetrated on children and young people by transgender ideology”. Not ideology, but rather research and observation. No psychiatrist, no parent wants to harm children in their care. Social transition improves emotional functioning. Medical transition is extremely difficult to get.

Books like this cause bullying and make children seek medical treatment. If the authors think that medical treatment for trans-identifying children is a problem, they exacerbate it. Trans children know who they are. Social transition improves their lives. The campaign against trans children, and trans people generally, encourages social conservatives to noisily oppose transition and bully trans children. One author in the book encourages teachers to tell children that transition is not possible.

Faced with the hostility of the wider culture, school staff and pupils, trans children feel the need to prove themselves. They do this in the way trans people do, by seeking hormones and surgery. In a more child-centred environment, children could be nurtured by social transition. Those for whom it is wrong will realise that. Social transition is not like playing dress-up for an afternoon. Trans children will not respond to the bullying by developing “normally” according to their assignation at birth, but by withdrawing. When transition becomes impossible, transition becomes the only important thing in the world, threatening school work and emotional development.

Dr Brunskell-Evans is “co-founder of the women’s human rights campaign”, various book plugs proclaim, named as if the United Nations 1981 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women had never happened, or no one else campaigned for women’s rights. Her declaration is bizarre: it starts, “On the re-affirmation of women’s sex-based rights, including women’s rights to physical and reproductive integrity, and the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and girls that result from the replacement of the category of sex with that of ‘gender identity’, and from ‘surrogate’ motherhood and related practices.” Surrogacy and Trans are the only issues this campaign recognises.

Most people are not trans. I estimate 0.1% of the UK population is; finding space for one in a thousand people is very different from “replacing the category of sex”. Most people are cis, and most women don’t even notice trans people in real life.

This is what the hard right funding of anti-trans campaigning seeks to achieve: that the campaign against trans rights becomes a symbol feminists are cozened into fighting for, without achieving anything concrete for women, and progressives are divided. Someone who does not know a trans person is made to fear by an article claiming “children are being put at risk”, and progressive campaigning energy is diverted to punching down at harmless trans people.

A response to self-righteous trans-bashing

How can you justify attacking innocent people? By pretending to yourself you are the victim.

Here’s an article from Spiked. Spiked is a highly problematic site, linked to oligarchs and sowing division. This article follows that agenda:

The Ministry of Trans Truth: The language of transgenderism is designed to silence dissent.
by Heather Brunskell-Evans
5th December 2018

Topics Feminism Free Speech Politics

Clare: No, the language of transgenderism is designed to allow us to live with ourselves. I transitioned because it was what I wanted, more than anything else in the world, because it allowed me to express myself more congruently than I could before. The language allowed me to conceptualise the issue and move towards a (partial, imperfect) solution: the best solution I could find.

Article: I’m fascinated by the way that concepts apparently arise from nowhere, take hold in the popular imagination, then become naturalised and beyond question.

One such idea is that individuals can be ‘born in the wrong body’, so that men can be women. Since there is no scientific evidence, neuroscientific or otherwise, that an unambiguously biological male can in fact be female, how can society have arrived at a stage where people who question the claim ‘trans women are women’ are routinely labelled Nazis, bigots and transphobes?

Clare: There is some evidence, though not conclusive and bitterly disputed, that there are differences in brains between men and women, and that trans women conform to the female type in some areas. AI shown scans of trans women’s brains can thereafter pick out which brain scans show trans women. Against persecution and prejudice, people have been transitioning for centuries: the Emperor Elagabalus proclaimed themself “Empress”, and was assassinated shortly after. Many trans people would object to the old phrase “trapped in the wrong body”- we find it problematic.

Article: A new nomenclature has arisen which bifurcates women into two groups, ‘cis’ (biological women) and ‘trans’. This performs a linguistic sleight of hand that enables the idea that some men can actually be women. But no matter how cultivated their ‘feminine’ outward appearance, ‘trans women’ (as opposed to transsexuals) have penises.

Clare: That’s not the difference between “transsexuals” and trans women. People don’t generally use the term transsexual, because it is a scientific sounding classification, made by outsiders, just as people identify as “gay” rather than as “homosexual”. 60% of trans women seeing medical services want genital surgery, and after waiting up to twenty years often get it, many privately. So many identifying as M-F “transsexual” will have a penis, and many trans women will not. Someone holding herself out to be an expert on trans issues, writing books and articles and speaking on the matter, should know better. It is a sign she does not care what we think, which is a weakness in her: it prevents her from understanding.

Article: The concept that ‘trans women’ are women, and that we must believe this is so because they affirm it, is further translated into the idea that ‘trans women’ are even more oppressed by the patriarchy than their ‘cis’ sisters. Progressives routinely turn with vitriol on women who challenge this newly minted ‘Truth’, labelling them ‘trans-exclusionary radical feminists’ (TERFs), no matter how moderate, thoughtful, or indeed trans-friendly those women are.

Clare: You complain that you are being reasonable, and treated with “vitriol”. Many progressives are aware of the hatred and prejudice we still suffer, and seek to mitigate it. However many progressives are anti-trans: even the Guardian prints strongly anti-trans articles, and articles briefly alluding to trans women get comments denouncing us, which get the most “Likes”. You are not in a minority, even on the Left. And, while some of your friends may be trans, other trans women will judge you by what you say publicly, not by those friendships. And this is how you live with yourself: you imagine you are the victim. If you are the victim, any action you take against others is justified.

I think she imagines herself trans-friendly because she can tolerate someone post-op in a woman’s toilet, though probably not other women’s space. That makes it impossible for us to try out expressing ourselves female. The operation is the end of a very long process, so it is unfriendly to those pre-op, and unworkable as no-one will consent to a groin inspection.

It depends what you think the default is. She might think herself trans friendly because women’s space should strictly be women only, and she would grudgingly allow some trans women. But trans women have been in women’s spaces for decades, without problems. You haven’t seen us, perhaps, because there are so few of us and we try not to be noticed. My psychiatrist encouraged me to go about expressing female, to check whether I could hack it, and that involved going into women’s spaces. I had already been there.

Article: This new definition of womanhood is having bizarre effects on our political institutions. The Labour Party now admits men who identify as women on to all-women shortlists, without any necessity for a gender-recognition certificate. A number of these men have successfully applied to the Jo Cox Women in Leadership programme.

Clare: It’s by the Equality Act. Trans women who have transitioned male to female are treated as women, unless it is “proportionate and legitimate” to exclude us. That was the law by a statutory instrument before the 2010 Act, which consolidated older equality legislation.There has never been a need for a GRC, except to get an earlier pension age, or to change the gender marker on a marriage certificate. Trans women have had passports marked “F” for decades, and still have, without GRCs. That’s one of the main lies of A Woman’s Place and other campaigning organisations, that something new is happening. You are seeking to expel us from where we have been for decades.

Article: Then there’s the misogyny. Labour continues to support Lily Madigan in the role of women’s officer for Rochester and Strood, despite his bullying of gender-critical feminists and other women. One of his latest Twitter missives states that TERFs ‘can go fuck themselves’, and he is allowed to say this with impunity not only by the party but by Twitter itself.

Labour also (briefly) appointed the ‘trans woman’ Munroe Bergdorf to an LGBT working group. Bergdorf had recently been quoted in Grazia saying that many feminists are biological essentialists, because we apparently ‘summarise women as walking vaginas… a similar approach to that of misogynists’.

Clare: This is inflammatory. You quote two offensive remarks. There are all sorts of offensive remarks. Your collaborator on your book, Miranda Yardley, was excluded from Twitter for among other things a sustained campaign of bullying against Lily Madigan, and has been shown on TV twice shouting “Fuck that shit”. You continue the attempt to dehumanise trans women by endless harping on about penises.

Article: A kind of informal Ministry of Truth has emerged around the trans issue – or rather, a Ministry of Propaganda, since it is responsible for the falsification of historical events and biological facts. In keeping with the concept of doublethink, the ministry creates and then spreads ‘Truth’ through the new language of ‘cis’ and ‘trans’.

Clare: What is the truth? In all sorts of cultures people with testicles seek to be seen as women, and vice versa, with varying degrees of tolerance. Except in the rare cases where it’s a sign of being a shaman, it does not increase our status, and may lead to persecution or murder. Still we do it. We exist. You can’t foreclose the debate by saying females need female spaces and males must be excluded. You are arguing that the grudging tolerance we have experienced should simply be withdrawn. You may be able to justify that position, but should not take it as read.

Article: And in a chilling twist, it is now feminists who are the alleged extremist misogynists, purely because they don’t allow human beings with penises to control the political narrative. The statement – both mundane and tautological – that women don’t have penises is now considered inflammatory. When a feminist group distributed stickers making this observation recently in Liverpool, the police opened an investigation.

Clare: They vandalised Antony Gormley sculptures. “Opening an investigation” simply means recognising a crime was committed. You minimise the wrongs on your own side, exaggerate the wrongs by others. That’s the divisive rhetoric poisoning public debate.

Article: A cold wind of authoritarianism is blowing through our allegedly progressive, liberal-democratic society. When telling the truth becomes hate speech, when oppression becomes ethics, when non-facts become Truth, we all better look out.

Heather Brunskell-Evans is an academic philosopher and spokeswoman for FiLiA. Her latest book, Transgender Children and Young People: Born In Your Own Body, is available now. Follow her on Twitter: @—

Clare: Who is the authoritarian? I would say, the ones who want to exclude trans women are the authoritarians, and the liberal left includes trans people- see Labour Party policy, for example. The article is part of a gender-critical campaign to mock, vilify and dehumanise trans women, and to pretend that we are a serious threat to women or to women’s rights. I am no threat to women, and my living my life in peace is not a threat to women. I have no wish to discuss my operation status with strangers, and pre-op and non-op trans women are not generally a threat either. You could bring up Karen White, I suppose, the rapist briefly in a women’s prison; and last year a man screamed at me “I’ll kill you you fucking poof” in broad daylight in a town centre.

The answer to the “free speech” argument is so well known as to be hardly worth rehearsing- but the writer does not try to answer it, so I’ll say it again. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions. No-one cares that you think a trans woman is a man, only that you want to exclude trans women- it appears from your writings you want to foment fear of us. But if people are offended by your opinions, they are entitled to judge you for them, and you are not entitled to a platform for them. So you go and get a platform from the Koch brothers. Ask yourself why they would want to give you a platform.

Or ask what they think of feminists. About a year late, Spiked discovered the false controversy over gender recognition, and called on a feminist to hate on trans women. But even on 9 February their assistant editor it was calling for “An end to feminism”, calling contemporary feminists deluded, narcissistic, wilting wallflowers not achievers, and accusing them of insulting the Suffragettes. She said they are “determined to row back some of these hard-won freedoms”- and that’s just in one article. Spiked is using Dr. Brunskell-Evans, whom it despises almost as much as it despises me.