Mark Latham and Gender Fluidity

Mark Latham wants schools to teach that trans people do not exist. He wants any teacher who breaks this rule to be sacked, and prevented from teaching ever again. Could he do that?

If you ban something, you have to define it. If Latham’s bill were passed, the Education Standards Authority would have to revoke accreditation for any teacher who “teaches gender fluidity”. Here’s Latham’s definition:

gender fluidity means a belief there is a difference between biological sex (including people who are, by their chromosomes, male or female but are born with disorders of sexual differentiation) and human gender and that human gender is socially constructed rather being equivalent to a person’s biological sex.

It’s not well defined. A girl with androgen insensitivity syndrome is, by her chromosomes, male XY. Someone with Klinefelter’s syndrome, XXY, is not clearly “by their chromosomes male or female”.

But, leaving diversity of sexual development out of it for the moment, there is a Truth, to be defined in law, that teachers must teach. There are two views posited, though in reality there are many shades of opinion.

For Latham, the Truth is that human gender is equivalent to biological sex. That might mean that changing the word from “transsexual” to “transgender” makes no difference. I could go back to being “transsexual”, and “have a sex change”. I’m female. Or, changing my gender means that therefore I have changed my sex.

Or, it could mean that “gender” is a redundant concept, that there is only sex. But then, what are we to call particular behaviours? Is playing football “masculine”, and doing ballet training “feminine”? Is a long curly wig and brightly coloured velvet clothes “masculine” or “feminine”? Here are some portraits of Charles II.

If gender is the same as sex, then anything a boy does becomes masculine. A little boy uncomfortable with another playing with dolls should not mock or bully him, because (gender being the same as sex) playing with dolls is gendered masculine. If gender is not socially constructed, then gender does not exist. Or it can be individually constructed. The boy is not constrained by gender norms. He can do what he likes, wear what he likes. The only thing he can’t do is claim to be a girl- unless he is “transsexual”.

If you can’t teach that gender is socially constructed, the bully mocking the boy playing with a doll stops being part of normal society, constructing gender as normal society has evolved to do, and becomes merely a bully. The teacher turning a blind eye to the bullying, because the boy with the doll has to learn how society works, is then abetting the bullying.

Then Latham’s other requirement, that parents define the values taught in schools, comes into play.

matters of parental primacy means, in relation to the education of children, moral and ethical standards, political and social values, and matters of personal wellbeing and identity including gender and sexuality.

That’s the responsibility of the parents, the bill says. The school can’t teach it. Imagine a boy is gay. The teacher does not know that boy’s parents’ view. It’s not a matter of “values”, but of fact. The boy is same sex attracted, whether or not the parents accept that, or consider it a good or bad thing. The teacher is forbidden to teach that this is in any way objectionable, because such things are for parents to decide.

Latham’s Bill requires schools to consult parents on teaching such values. What if parents disagree? In a conservative area most parents want to teach that being gay is an abomination unto the Lord, but one parent has a gay brother and wants to teach that gay is OK. That parent’s right must not be curtailed by the school. So any suggestion that gay is not OK must be refuted by the school, as trampling on at least some parents’ right to teach that gay is OK.

That the bill is ridiculous and unworkable does not mean that it is not evil. Law should not dictate reality. Science should decide whether “gender is socially constructed”, or whether the concept of gender has any value at all. But it is a good sign: Latham cannot rely on society to construct itself in the way he desires, so he tries to make the law force it to. Society is moving, despite Latham’s efforts.

Mark Latham’s ridiculous attempt is in New South Wales. I heard of it here. Here is the draft Bill. In that Guardian article, I also learned the word “endosex”. It’s a way of accepting intersex people, and the first sites when I googled it were Australian. Endosex means not intersex, just as cis means not trans, straight means not gay or bi. Intersex people are people, not “abnormal”.

TERF propaganda

In a Youth Drama group a 17 year old boy at the start of their transitioning journey informs you that you must refer to them by their chosen female name and only cast them in female roles and that on an upcoming residential they would expect to be sleeping in with the girls. If not they would report you and the young person quotes their rights at you. Parents always insist that their teenage sons and daughters would sleep separately and under safeguarding you need to ensure separate sex accommodation. In addition two of the girls in the group are survivors of sexual abuse.

It starts by referring to the child as a boy. She’s a trans girl. Then it uses innuendo. It implies a threat, of unwanted sexual conduct by the trans girl, but does not spell it out. If you spell it out, you render it ridiculous, but the writer seeks to inflame fear and suspicion so leaves the reader to imagine what might but probably won’t happen.

It raises an issue without any context. How long has the teacher known the pupil, and the other pupils involved? What dormitories or rooms are available at the residential centre? What do the other girls think?

It implies that the survivors are vulnerable. Survivors respond in a variety of ways. All the children here are entitled to the support of the staff, tailored to their individual needs, and as a teacher you would know those needs. A teacher positive about the gender change could create acceptance in the group.

It demands an instant response. A teacher should certainly agree that the pupil should not take male roles, and would use her chosen name, but could reasonably request time to discuss the residential. That teacher would be aware of transitioning children and possibly of the ways schools supported them.

Well, I would not want to play a man, either. The girl quotes her rights and threatens to “report” her teacher. We can be fearless in enforcing our rights, but generally when transitioning we do not want to adopt a defensive posture from the off. We want to make transition work, and to maintain good relationships. Has the teacher shown hostility in the past?

It is ignorant of the law. Schools have various ways of coping. A residential fee-paying girls’ school in London has a protocol on allowing pupils to identify as male or non-binary. We consulted the pupils to find out what the issues were. Their main preoccupation has been to look after people who don’t want to identify as one gender or another, said the head teacher. So the pupils want to be supportive, and the teachers do too. There isn’t the problem insinuated by that writer.

Another fee-paying school put a trans boy in the boys’ boarding house. The Telegraph report misgenders them as “girls”, but they play in the boys’ football team. It quotes as reasonable a head teacher claiming trans is “a hysteria”, and as ridiculous a head teacher who does not use gendered language for pupils. Any problem would be immediately reported, so there is none.

The propaganda ignores the law. Wrigleys solicitors suggest that as sex and gender are different, and because of exceptions in the Equality Act, it may not be discriminatory for a boarding school to refuse to admit a pupil to a single-sex boarding house and its facilities because of the pupil’s sex or gender reassignment.

A little time critically analysing the propaganda shows the fear it seeks to insinuate is unfounded. The propaganda is dangerous, though, as readers might be affected emotionally by it, lacking the tools to analyse it. It is fear-mongering, and therefore reasonably called transphobic.

Bullying in Schools

The Church of England supports homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools shock! It would not admit that-

The church has just published “Valuing All God’s Children”, which says some lovely things. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, said in the introduction, Every one of us is loved unconditionally by God. We must avoid, at all costs, diminishing the dignity of any individual to a stereotype or a problem. Church of England schools offer a community where everyone is a person known and loved by God, supported to know their intrinsic value. In the context, that means trans kids are accepted for who they are. The guidance, according to their press release, aims to prevent pupils from having their self-worth diminished or their ability to achieve impeded by being bullied because of their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity.

However, they quote Stonewall’s research: 9% of trans pupils receive death threats at school. 46% of pupils hear transphobic language “frequently or often”. 84% of trans pupils have self-harmed, 45% have attempted suicide, and 68% of LGBT pupils report that school staff only “sometimes”, or never, challenge HBT language when they hear it.

In the early years context and throughout primary school, play should be a hallmark of creative exploration. Pupils need to be able to play with the many cloaks of identity (sometimes quite literally with the dressing up box). Children should be at liberty to explore the possibilities of who they might be without judgement or derision. For example, a child may choose the tutu, princess’s tiara and heels and/or the firefighter’s helmet, tool belt and superhero cloak without expectation or comment. Childhood has a sacred space for creative self-imagining.

Um. Not every child with gender diverse play is trans. The guidance is not clear on this. That should be general guidance, not guidance on HBT bullying. The language teachers use when they comment, praise or give instructions [should] avoid labels and assumptions
which deem children’s behaviour irregular, abnormal or problematic just because it does not conform to gender stereotypes or today’s play preferences. In our highly gendered society, everyone needs that protection, not just trans kids.

Tutus and tool belts, a memorable example, was picked out by the New York Times for its headline covering the matter. I hardly think the NYT would cover any other guidance by the Church of England to its schools, but trans stories, with the frisson of weirdness, get coverage.

The Daily Mail rushed to a transphobic nutcase, or “conservative Evangelical”. What would she say? These rules are unkind, unloving and lacking in compassion. We are all against bullying, but the church is using these guidelines to pursue an agenda that runs counter to the church’s teaching. We are getting to the point where if you are not careful, the slightest slip from the correct agenda in a Church of England school will get you punished. The anti-bullying agenda is aimed against people who step out of line — the anti-bullies are becoming the bullies. That is, she wants to stand up for children and adults who would enforce restrictive gender norms, and deny we are “made in the image of God”, even by mockery, taunts and bullying. She gets reported in the Daily Mail and NYT.

Grassroots Christians, including teachers and school staff, have HBT views on Christian Doctrine, and are self-righteous about that, banding together to protect their right to bigotry. The Church’s report confirms that when it reports those statistics on bullying, teacher non-intervention, and self-harm. Possibly the Mail is looking for the controversy, in an attempt to make the story interest its readers, but it dredged up another homophobic windbag who said she and others long for clear and courageous biblical leadership, that is, they want bishops and press-releases to be as openly homophobic as they are. That bigot was recently on the Archbishop’s Council- the bigotry is at the top and throughout the church.

It is important that the church hierarchy says nice things, though perhaps they only do so to continue to get funding from the State. They could do more, but have not: We have not offered lesson plans or materials for physical, social, health and economic education (PSHE) or relationships and sex education (RSE), but the appendices do provide practical examples and templates for schools to use as they instigate anti-bullying policies and strategies.

Meanwhile, little girls are discouraged from playing with superhero capes, in case they are thought to be unfeminine. It’s insane.

The report pdf.

At school

Some beautiful things I learned at primary school have made a lasting impression. I remember single lines of poetry. In The Bat, it was “And Oh! A little one, that clings!” They are still worth reading:

Lightless, unholy, eldrich thing,
whose murky and erratic wing
swoops so sickeningly, and whose
aspect to the female muse
is a demon’s, made of stuff
like tattered, sooty, waterproof,
looking dirty, clammy, cold
Wicked poisonous, and old;
I have maligned thee!… for the cat
lately caught a little bat,
seized it softly, bore it in.
On the carpet, dark as sin.
In the lamplight, painfully
it limped about and could not fly.
Even fear must yield to love,
and pity make the depths to move.
Though sick with horror, I must stoop,
Grasp it gently, take it up,
And carry it, and place it where
It could resume the twilight air.
Strange Revelation! Warm as milk.
Clean as flower, smooth as silk!
O what piteous face it appears
What great, fine, thin, translucent ears
What chesnut down and crapy wing?
Finer than any lady’s things
And oh a little one that clings!
Warm, clean, and lovely, though not fair.
And burdened with a mother’s care;
Go hunt the hurtful fly, and bear
my blessing to your kind in air.

In this one, “Take hold of the Loam”.  Sylvia Plath, plotting a takeover:

Overnight, very
Whitely, discreetly,
Very quietly

Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.

Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room.

Soft fists insist on
Heaving the needles,
The leafy bedding,

Even the paving.
Our hammers, our rams,
Earless and eyeless,

Perfectly voiceless,
Widen the crannies,
Shoulder through holes. We

Diet on water,
On crumbs of shadow,
Bland-mannered, asking

Little or nothing.
So many of us!
So many of us!

We are shelves, we are
Tables, we are meek,
We are edible,

Nudgers and shovers
In spite of ourselves.
Our kind multiplies:

We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot’s in the door.

I thought that was grass. I had forgotten it was mushrooms. I remembered the sense of Love and beauty, strength and silence.

In secondary school, the rollicking drama of Bagpipe Music grabbed my attention:

If you break the bloody glass, you won’t hold up the weather.
If you break the bloody glass, you won’t hold up the weather.