Headlines We Must Live Within?

The headline, ’50 KIDS A WEEK SENT TO SEX CHANGE CLINICS’ is surgically written to maximise the shocking placement of ‘KIDS’ and ‘SEX CHANGE’ in order that we envisage young, innocent children going under the knife. It is, in a cold, hard way, the perfectly formed headline – in journalistic terms, a real grabber. ‘Kids’ held apart from ‘sex change’ by four small words. You do the maths. What people will read is: ‘kids have sex changes’.

But we know, as an absolute fact, that no child will undergo any gender confirming surgical procedure and we know as an absolute fact that no one changes sex. Trans people are always the gender they are, they merely emerge through a different and sometimes complex process to others, so the headline, although competently crafted, is fake.

Fake news. No child is sent anywhere; they are possibly taken by loving, concerned parents or guardians, and there are no ‘sex change clinics’, only centres of excellence in relation to gender identity.

’50 CHILDREN A WEEK ATTEND LEADING GENDER IDENTITY CLINICS‘ doesn’t have the same shock and awe appeal.

I was born me, I still am me. The only change was no longer having to pretend – or try to pretend – to be male to please others. The only change was finding freedom and wanting to live. I never changed sex I found a way to speak truth out loud.

The article is one of many, which in the run up to the Gender Recognition Act review, will attempt to present the world as changing far too quickly for most people at the expense of innocence. Children herded into ‘sex changing’ wards because they claim they do or don’t like climbing trees, or they like or dislike the colours pink or blue. You can almost hear the transphobic lobby shouting into the void, ‘how can these children know their own minds, some of them as young as four!’

The headline, perfect ammunition, for those who would say that twenty years ago a feminine boy would have merely (they always make it sound so simple) become a feminine gay man, and a butch girl would have just slipped (smoothly) into suited and booted lesbianism. The premise being that trans people are not only stealing the innocence of gender but also depleting different sexualities of their rightful followers. That somehow if we just leave trans kids alone to rot in unhappiness, eventually they will fall into lesbian and gay lines and those ‘transsexuals’ will remain freakishly rare in society.

This fear of ‘our community’s growth’ is growing as we approach the GRA review and its central core, which will look at trans self identification.

Do trans folk know their own minds or are they really mad, bad or sad?

I spoke to the CEO of Mermaids, Susie Green and asked her what she considered to be the most harmful aspect of this misleading headline and article,

“I think the message from the headline is very misleading and plays into people’s ignorance on the issue. The children’s service is not a sex change clinic in any way. Young people under 18 do not change sex, but the headline makes it appear to be so.

“They are supported to socially transition, through appearance, name change and use of pronouns (he/she/they). Once at puberty, young people who have consistently, persistently and insistently maintained their gender identity and have been extensively assessed over time by expert clinicians are given the option to take puberty blockers.

“Puberty blockers are not “powerful hormones” and are fully reversible.”

It’s clear that headlines such as the one this yesterday morning are designed to not only spread misinformation but also to shame all those working in and around gender identity services, to apportion blame to parents who support their children, and to ultimately make children, currently experiencing gender alignment issues, feel that their choices and their instinctive feelings are wrong and not to be trusted. That they shouldn’t believe themselves.

The headline feeds into an idea that trans people are entirely processed through a medicalised, surgical process, whereas in truth we know that all young trans people discover themselves through the softness of renaming, pronouns, dress and social acceptance. Only very occasionally is puberty halted and never is sex changed.

In 2013 I attended an event at Portcullis House to examine the outcomes of the Leveson Inquiry. The meeting focussed on the tragic case of the transgender teacher Lucy Meadows. A coroner had described her as being ‘hounded to death by spiteful headlines’ – I honestly assumed after that point, that the media, especially the print and digital media would have followed a decent, kinder code of conduct, but still the headlines keep coming. We know as we approach the GRA review that the headlines will become more intense and harsh, but what is the fear around trans people arriving at their truth earlier and with greater support?

Don’t we all want happier – psychologically and physically, young people – and ultimately adults? I know that my years of addiction were a direct result of trying to hide my gender identity. It almost broke me, as it does many others. Is that what we want? Do we want to create rivulets of harm? I understand, as does every trans person I speak to, that the change we are seeing is coming thick and fast, – it is in every area of life – but surely in relation to us, as people, we should, be seeking kinder ways to exist.

The same day another headline, this time, ‘DON’T CALL MUMS WOMEN‘ as it could ‘hurt trans parents’. My first instinct is to be submissive and say ‘how silly’ and ‘I don’t know a single trans person who would agree with this’, but then I think what harm does it do to think about trans men who may give birth, and why not use the term, for them, ‘pregnant person’? Who could that hurt? I cannot find a single centralised command which is saying never use the term ‘pregnant woman’ but it is simply saying, we may have changed a little so perhaps we need to increase our vocabulary. Haven’t we done that throughout history?

I certainly don’t want to extinguish womanhood, or the term ‘pregnant woman’, but I can learn to use the term ‘pregnant person’ especially if it affords a human dignity like I’ve learnt to use the pronoun ‘they’ because it matters to the wellbeing of another person. I don’t always get it right, sometimes I ask, and sometimes their choices expand my own identity. That feels nourishing. The lack of kindness in these debates is a truly depressing indication of how harsh we can still be to each other, territorially stalking our spaces and policing them at the cost of others.

I remember back when I was teaching, a group of colleagues talking about how there was something wrong with a particular boy because he wouldn’t play football with the other boys, he ‘hung back at playtimes’, they said. A simple assumption based entirely on spurious stereotypes that could, I’m sure, have blighted his school days forever, and when a child bravely comes forward and tells us, tells the world, that they are questioning their gender we somehow feel the need to demonise them and the world around them that offers support. Two examples of not seeing the child for themselves and feeling that we must know best and should categorise them according to how we view things.

Trans kids give us the opportunity to become better, kinder and ironically simpler, just be yourself and we will love and support you whatever