Should schools have gender-neutral uniforms? Should tampons be available in the boys’ toilets for pupils who were born female but now identify as male? Which changing room should transgender pupils use after PE lessons? Should parents be informed if their daughter asks to be treated as a boy at school? Should transgender children be prescribed hormones to delay the onset of puberty?
Discussion about the treatment of transgender people often focuses on the experiences of children. In part, this is because it is down to adults to determine what is in a child’s best interests, and what is best for transgender children is fiercely contested. But it is also because transgender activists make children the focus of campaigns, television programmes and teaching materials.
Children serve as a useful moral shield for transgender activists, deflecting questions and criticism. The very existence of trans children lends support to their claim that people are born with a sense of gender identity, that sometimes a male brain develops in a female body and vice versa. The figure of the trans child, now ingrained in the popular imagination, makes it seem as if transgender people have always existed. This, in turn, lends further weight to the argument that being transgender is an innate characteristic. Inventing Transgender Children and Young People, a new book edited by Michele Moore and Heather Brunskell-Evans, shatters each of the convenient myths that have built up around the transgender child.
Inventing the transgender child
Inventing Transgender Children includes contributions from academics, psychiatrists and parents, as well as young adults who transitioned as children but are now questioning the process they underwent. Together, they show that far from being an ever-present biological reality, transgenderism is an entirely invented concept with no basis in neuroscience, psychology or psychiatry. They argue that there is little evidence to support claims that brains are sexed, and no evidence whatsoever to suggest that some fetuses develop with mismatched brains and bodies. In fact, they note, ‘The idea that transgenderism is an internal, pre-social phenomenon that has existed throughout history is not an evidenced fact, but a proposition’. And far from being a long-standing proposition, it was only around five years ago that the existence of the transgender child became widely accepted.
One contributor locates the invention of transgenderism within the medical profession: ‘It became possible to conceptualise “gender identity” as dislocated from biological sex when new medical technologies for the first time made it possible for doctors to change the bodies of those born with indeterminate genitals and to assign them to a sex.’ In this way, he argues, ‘the availability of the treatment appears to have essentially created the demand’.
When it comes to children, Brunskell-Evans traces the formation of two distinct transgender identities over a 30-year period. The first, she suggests, ‘is that of the unfortunate victim “born in the wrong body”‘, while ‘the second is that of the revolutionary adolescent who bravely sensitises the older generation, including trained clinicians, to the subtleties, complexities and politics of gender’. These two distinct identities, victim and revolutionary, increasingly merge to form ‘the transgender child’, promoted by charities, present on YouTube and taught as part of the school curriculum.
Hiding behind children, especially children who are both victims and revolutionaries, may be useful for transgender activists intent on promoting their own ideology. But, as the contributors to Inventing Transgender Children make clear, it has devastating consequences for children, who are not only exploited by activists, but also by some teachers, doctors, social workers and psychiatrists – the very people meant to protect them from harm.