Transing children & the myth of an unbiased medical establishment

This is part II of a series on radical feminism and transgenderism. The first, The Conservative Gendered Stereotyping of Children, Radical Feminism and transgenderism’ is available here.

 

I have many concerns about the current push to medically transition children because of sex-based stereotyping as I outlined here in the case of a child whose mother was terrified he was gay – on the say so homophobic relatives. As a radical feminist, I view gender as socially constructed upon the material reality of female and male bodies. It is also, in the words of Claire Heuchan, a “hierarchy imposed by men to ensure their dominance over women’. Gender, as a theoretical concept, is inherently harmful. As a ‘reality’, it is responsible for the oppression of women globally through FGM, domestic and sexual violence and abuse, pornography, prostitution, and femicide. Women are not oppressed because they identify as female; women are oppressed because men construct women’s biological sex as ‘inferior’ and women themselves as possessions. As Marina Strinkovsky writes,

if gender is real and biological sex a social construct, if sex is not a “real” and meaningful political or economic category, on what basis did the parents of the hundreds of millions of women and girls lost to femicide know who to kill?”

This question seems perfectly reasonable: how do we decide which foetuses should be aborted and what humans to pay less if not through the material reality of biological sex. Yet, this question is considered ‘transphoic’. Any questioning of gender theory is met with abuse and threats. Suggesting children might not be capable of deciding about medical care is met with derision in cases of transgender children, but not children undergoing treatment for diseases such as cancer. There is a double standard here that needs to be explored more fully and we absolutely need more research into the way in which mental health diagnoses or suicide risks are defined within the transgender movement. However, in this essay I want to focus specifically on gender identity and the theory of an unbiased medical establishment.

Personally, I find the idea that a child born with a penis *must* be a girl if he plays with a doll or wears sparkly shoes and that a child born with a vagina must be a boy if she plays with toy cars completely insane. A 2 year old plays with toys. They have no idea what is a ‘boy’s toy’ or a ‘girl’s toy’ is without being told by their parents, extended family or peers. It is utterly ridiculous that we have now arrived at a point where a 2 year old is deemed competent to define their own ‘gender’ when we don’t allow them to operate heavy machinery, vote, or decide whether or not they are going to wear pants outside when its -20 degrees. There is simply not enough adequate or unbiased research in neurobiology and gender identity to consider a 2 year old or a 12 year old to have gillock competence over their mental health and future reproductive choices. Even if research around gender identity and gillock competence was well-established, I am extremely concerned that we are allowing children to take drugs to prevent puberty on the say so of a supposedly unbiased medical establishment and without rigorous long-term studies that assess patients according to the medical and mental health, particularly looking at how trauma harms child brain development.*

Frankly, even the research into gender dysphoria, which is real, is questionable when we remove sex based stereotypes and children who present as ‘trans’ who grow up to be homosexual. It’s not surprising that surgery to ‘transition’ an adult is considered more acceptable than being homosexual in deeply conservative countries like the US and Iran, where the penalty for being gay is death.

Since any discussion of the potential consequences of puberty blockers or gender dysphoria in general is met with cries of ‘transphobia’, pharmaceutical companies and various medical professionals  have been given carte blanche to claim puberty blockers are safe with no real research into the long-term effects of these drugs on children.

Perhaps it is my natural cynicism but I find the faith in an unbiased medical establishment deeply bizarre. This is not to say that gender dysphoria is not real. It is fairly clear that dysphoria exists and causes severe distress to many people. However, the huge growth in young people presenting with dysphoria who are given medical interventions without investigating how they came to believe they were trans is concerning.

Even if we ignore the recent scandals involving transvaginal meshes, the links between baby powder and ovarian cancer, the profit before people policies as seen in the recent price gouging in the sale of epi-pens and AIDS drugs, the well documented racist and sexist history of birth control, and the use of lobotomies to treat mental illness, it is completely unethical to push a medical ‘cure’ when there is very little research on the long term consequences of that ‘cure’ when delaying puberty or promoting chest binding in girls.

The clear history of the medical and pharmaceutical industrial complex in prioritising profit over people should have us questing the motivations of all involved – mostly how much money they will make claiming 10 year olds need puberty blockers and that surgery is necessary to decrease the rate of suicide in transgender people when it appears that the rate of suicide attempts and death remain the same both pre and post-surgery.** In the context of the US, where many people have no health insurance, and the number of people in the UK who travel to Thailand and other jurisdictions that have less over sight of the medical establishment, it is absolutely essential to follow the money.

We need more research into the rise in gender identity and gender dysphoria before assuming that pharmaceutical companies and doctors *always* have the best interests of their patients at heart. We need to investigate who gets rich through research and through medical practise. We need more research into why so many children are transitioning – and how this is impacted by homophobia from family and peers. We need more research around the links between child sexual abuse, trauma and transition. We need more research why some people regret transition, particularly those post-surgery, a question that is currently deemed ‘transphobic’.***

I have very little faith in the medical and pharmaceutical industrial complex to commit to research that does not make them rich. And, right now, the industry is making a whole lot of money off people with simply not enough evidence to support the first commandment of doctors: do no harm. This is without discussing the homophobia inherent in insisting that 2 year old boys who play with dresses have to be a girl and not a) a normal child; or b) gay  (as though we could guess sexuality on a child who has no idea what sex or relationships are). Children should not be used as medical experiments outside of strictly controlled trials – like the ones used to investigate how to manage pain in premature babies of the effectiveness of certain treatments for diseases – and never by your local GP.

People who have gender dysphoria have the right to access safe medical and pharmaceutical support. At this point, we don’t have enough evidence that ‘safe’ exists and is monitored appropriately. Call me cynical, but companies who sell drugs at hugely over-inflated prices aren’t going to be the ones who will do such research without a financial incentive.

Follow the money to unravel the myths is as true in research into pornography and prostitution, as it is in medical transition. We simply aren’t doing this.

 

*A number of high profile male to female trans women have spoken publicly about their experiences of child sexual abuse.

** This article published by The Conversation is worth reading: “FactCheck Q&A: was Lyle Shelton right about transgender people and a higher suicide risk after surgery?”.

***I would also like to see more long term studies on the rates and types of violence perpetrated by male to female trans and its relation to men who do not have dysphoria. The only real research at this point is a Swedish study that suggests trans women have the exact same rate of violence as men.

 

Bibliography

Deborah Cameron, A brief history of ‘gender’, (2016)

Delilah Campbell, Who owns gender , (2015)

Catherine Drury, ‘Gender dysphoria in children’,  (Fair Play for Women, 2017)

Jeni Harvey, The Misogyny Of Modern Feminism, (2017)

Claire Heuchan, ‘Sex, Gender, and the New Essentialism, ‘  Sister Outrider, (2017)

Claire Heuchan, ‘The Problem That Has No Name because “Woman” is too Essentialist‘, Sister Outrider, (2017)

Claire Heuchan, Binary or Spectrum, Gender is a HierarchySister Outrider, (2017)

Jane Clare Jones, You are killing me: On hate speech and feminist silencing, (2015)

Nymeses, Being Told You Have Gender Dysphoria as a Lesbian, (2016)

Thain Parnell, ‘Transition is no casual matter, and we need to talk about those who regret it’,  (Feminist Current, 2017)

Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, ‘Trans issues and gender identity’, (Sex & Gender: A Beginner’s Guide, 2015)

Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, ‘The idea that gender is a spectrum is a new gender prison’, (Aeon, 2016)

RootVeg, ‘Gender is socially constructed upon a material reality’ , (2015)

Victoria Smith, ‘Anorexia, breast binding and the legitimisation of body hatred’ (New Statesman, 2016)

The Conservative Gendered Stereotyping of Children, Radical Feminism and transgenderism.

This is Part One of a series responding to the issues around transgenderism and the media representations therein.

 When my daughter was 3 she decided she wanted to be a mermaid for the ability to swim underwater. This lasted until she realised that mermaids do two things: swim and brush their hair. Understandably, this was deemed too boring. So, she became a mermaid superhero, which combined awesome swimming skills (and potentially a visit to Atlantis) with the ability to fly and read minds (and ignore her mother). Eventually this became a superhero mermaid rock star since I, in a moment of extreme unreasonableness, refused to let her dye her hair bright blue. (She decided her way around this was to become the lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers as the band could veto my no blue hair rule, but that’s a whole different story).

My daughter no longer wants to be a mermaid or a rock star. She still loves superheroes and we spend a lot of time in comic book stores and at Comic Cons. She also has short hair. Despite clearly being a girl, at a recent Comic Con she was referred to as a boy because she chose to attend as a male superhero. The fact that many of the traditional male superheroes, such as Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye and Green Lantern,  are being replaced by women was deemed irrelevant. GrantedIMG_7717 this had a lot to do with the extreme sexualisation of female superheroes and villains, as seen in the comic artist Frank Quitely exhibit at the Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow. Quitely was involved in the changes to the X-men costumes to make them more ‘practical’, except for Emma Frost who is wearing platform boots and two tiny pieces of cloth covering her breasts.*IMG_7716

Whilst deeply annoying, the ‘misgendering’ of my daughter did raise some interesting questions on why men assumed a primary school child had to be a boy because her costume featured neither a tutu nor a corset. The teenage boys dressed as female superheroes were classed as ‘transgressive’. My daughter, however, had to be a boy.

I was reminded of this situation when the utterly dreadful Good Housekeeping article on a boy whose Conservative Christian parents decided he must be a transgirl went viral. This child was forcibly transitioned by his parents in response to their relatives suggested he might be gay because he liked to play with toys that were for ‘girls’:

“Shortly after Kai turned 2, friends and family were starting to notice her behavior. Living in Pearland, Texas, that meant we were getting a lot of sidelong glances and questions. Kai would only play with other girls and girls’ toys. She said boys were “gross.” Family members were flat-out asking me if this kid was gay. It made me nervous, and I was constantly worried about what people would think of me, of us and of my parenting. While family was questioning whether Kai was gay ….”

Kai’s parents were so horrified by a son who like to wear bright dress up clothes that they decided he must be a girl.  This poor child has to contend with homophobic parents more concerned about appearances than raising an emotionally healthy child with a wide range of interests.

The correct response to such homophobic comments from family and friends should be to remove them from your child’s life (and deal with your own homophobia). Yet, these parents were feted by Good Housekeeping for transitioning a child to cover up their homophobia. Because having a gay child is the worst possible thing than raising a son who plays with toys traditionally assigned to girls and who may be gay (or, you know, just a kid who likes playing with toys). We are expected to celebrate these parents for their homophobia and for caring more about the neighbours than their own child.

This Good Housekeeping article encompasses all of my fears about the ways in which the construction of the Trans narrative is both deeply conservative and harmful to children.** Rather than recognizing the ways in which gender stereotypes create a hierarchy of male/ femaleand the decades of feminist research into the negative consequences this has for girls, we have, once again, arrived at a point where gender is deemed a binary with children unable to be just children. So, my superhero loving daughter, who only reads comics featuring female superheroes and villains, is being defined as male by so-called leftist people, who cannot conceive of women outside of a hyper-sexualised, violent pornographied object and by right-wing religious fundamentalists who believe women are inferior to men. It is not unsurprising that an Islamic fundamentalist country like Iran forcibly transitions people with the other option being death. The story of Kai demonstrates a similar trend in fundamentalist Christian communities in the US – the isolation and shaming of gay and lesbian children within these communities is well-documented and is responsible for the self-harming and suicides of far too many children.

I cannot see anything liberating about forcing children into categories of boy/girl based solely on whether or not they like trains or tutus – and all the subsequent medical interventions – or the entirety of the bigender/agender/ genderqueer constructions that continue to reify the sex based hierarchy rather than challenging them. Certainly, the recent article in the New York Times entitled “My daughter is not Trans, she’s a tomboy” still supports the theory that ‘girls’, unless they do ‘boy stuff’ are not as good as being born male. Girls who play with Barbies are bad and girls who climb trees are good is an asinine narrative that punishes children for trying to learn who they are within a culture that punishes children who try to conform or challenge the gendered patriarchal constructs of  masculine/ feminine.

Labelling children transgender at the age of 2 is a conservative and reactionary response to the questioning of gender. It is inherently homophobic and it fails to challenge the neoliberal discourse of ‘choice’ which depoliticises liberation politics and renders any discussion of class-based politics as ‘hateful’. As a radical feminist, I want nothing less than the full liberation of all women from the white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy.  This includes recognising that gender is not a performance or an ‘identity’. It is nothing more than the systemic social, cultural and physical oppression of women’s bodies, predicated on women’s reproductive, sexual and caring labour, which does nothing more than a reinforce a hierarchy of man/woman.

*Thank you to Claire Heuchan who pointed out this part of the exhibit to me.

** Part two is a discussion of the medical establishment and the transitioning of children.

Suggested Reading:

Dr. Cordelia Fine, Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences, (London,2010).

Dr. Cordelia Fine, Testosterone Rex: Unmaking the Myths of our Gendered Minds, (UK, 2017)

Glosswitch, ‘Our culture dehumanises women by reducing them all to breeders and non-breeders‘, (New Statesman, 2014)

Claire Heuchan, “Sex, Gender and the New EssentialismSister Outrider, (7.2.2017).

Claire Heuchan, Lezbehonest about Queer Politics Erasing Lesbian WomenSister Outrider, (15.3.2017).

.Claire Heuchan, The Problem that has no name because women is too “essentialist”Sister Outrider, (22.2.2017).

bell hooks, Feminism is for Everybody, (UK, 2000)

Miranda Kiraly  & Meagan Tyler (eds.), Freedom Fallacy: The Limits of Liberal Feminism, (Australia, 2015)

Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy, (Oxford University Press, 1986)

Peggy Ornstein, Girls & Sex, (Great Britain, 2016), see pgs 160-165

PurpleSage, The Relentless Tide of Sex Stereotypes, (20.5.2016)

Dr. Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, “Gender is not a spectrum”Aeon, (28.6.2016)

Dr. Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, What I believe about Sex & GenderMore Radical with Age, (2015)

Denise Thompson, Radical Feminism Today, (London, 2001)

 

Le féminisme radical et l’accusation d’essentialisme.

My article Radical Feminism and the Accusation of Gender Essentialism has been translated into French. Thank you to TradFem for the translation.

(Première version d’un article qui a été publié dans la revue Feminist Times en avril 2014)

La critique la plus courante adressée à la théorie féministe radicale veut que nous soyons « essentialistes » parce que nous croyons que l’oppression des femmes, en tant que classe, se fonde sur les réalités biologiques de nos corps. L’hypothèse selon laquelle les féministes radicales seraient essentialistes est basée sur une incompréhension de la théorie féministe radicale, issue de la définition du mot « radicale » lui-même. Le terme « radicale » désigne la racine ou l’origine. Notre féminisme est radical dans la mesure où il situe la racine de l’oppression des femmes dans les réalités biologiques de nos corps (le sexe) et vise à libérer les femmes en éradiquant les structures sociales, les pratiques culturelles et les lois basées sur l’infériorité des femmes aux hommes. Le féminisme radical conteste toutes les relations de pouvoir qui existent dans le patriarcat, y compris le capitalisme, l’impérialisme, le racisme, l’oppression de classe, l’homophobie et même l’institution de la mode et de la beauté.

Les féministes radicales ne croient pas en l’existence de caractéristiques qui soient exclusivement masculines ou exclusivement féminines. Les femmes ne sont pas naturellement plus nourrissantes que les hommes, et eux ne sont pas meilleurs en mathématiques. Le genre n’est pas fonction de notre biologie. C’est une construction sociale créée pour maintenir des hiérarchies de pouvoir inégal. L’amalgame entre le sexe et le genre est un autre malentendu commun au sujet de la théorie féministe radicale. Le sexe est la réalité de votre corps sans qu’y soient liées des caractéristiques négatives ou positives. Le genre est une construction sociale qui privilégie les hommes/la masculinité en regard des femmes/de la féminité. Le féminisme radical est accusé d’essentialisme parce que nous reconnaissons ces hiérarchies de pouvoir et cherchons à les détruire. Nous ne croyons pas, comme on le suggère souvent, que ces hiérarchies sont naturelles. Il faut voir là une tactique de censure à notre égard. …

 

You can find the full text in French here. 

#womenwrites

“reflections on writing ‘self’…while free-falling through words and memories” by @MaraiLarasi

Dystopian dreams: how feminist science fiction predicted the future by Naomi Alderman

Thousands of domestic violence victims withdraw support for charges against abusers after Government cuts by Harriet Agerholm

No country for women, on death row for self-defence in the UAE via @WritersofColour

The Radical Feminist Aesthetic Of “The Handmaid’s Tale” via @annehelen

If ‘inclusivity’ is a priority, let men make their washrooms ‘gender-neutral’  via @FeministCurrent

Hysteria, Witches, and The Wandering Uterus: A Brief History via @lithub

What’s the point of a literature festival? | Bare Lit 2017  via @WritersofColour

The Thing about Toilets at Not the News in Brief

#womenwrites: on gender, identity politics and VAWG

All politics is “identity politics” by @MayaGoodfellow
via @WritersofColour

Charlotte Bronte did NOT repair her mourning shoes with her dead sister’s hair! by @KatharineEdgar

‘Impunity has consequences’: the women lost to Mexico’s drug war by Nina Lakhani in Jalapa

Princesses Are Terrifying. So Is Ivanka Trump via @ElleMagazine

Maybe We Do Need White History Month or Millennials Don’t Know Shit About Slavery or Picking Appropriate Essay Topics or Being a Black English Adjunct Sucks Sometimes– via @writermrsmith

I’m Tired by @RowenaMonde  via @RoomOfOurOwn

A brief history of ‘gender’  via @wordspinster

On Optimism and Despair by Zadie Smith

National Geographic’s ‘gender revolution’ cover fails women via @FeministCurrent

#womenwrites (September)

MPs call for end to abusive men using courts against families by Sandra Laville

Getting real about bad advice  by @wordspinster

A high school student accused a classmate of sexual assault. Her school suspended her by Nora Caplan-Bricker

Councils to be allowed to opt out of child protection laws  by Sara Ogilvie

Should feminists talk about “pregnant people”? 

Men are increasingly invading feminism – excluding them isn’t ‘man hating’
by @bindelj

Bad science misled millions with chronic fatigue syndrome. Here’s how we fought back by Julie Rehmeyer

The Science Museum and the Brain Sex game by Young Crone

Trust > on men in the feminist movement

“He had the house, the kids – I had nothing” by anonymous @thepooluk

How has rape become such a common trope of television drama? by Ellen Vanstone

Glasgow Women’s Library: a treasure trove that shows how far feminism has come by Libby Brooks

Domestic abuse: Coercive control in Scottish Law by Vicky Allan

The scale of historical sexual abuse in the UK is a catastrophe. We need catharsis | Beatrix Campbell

Angela Bassett, the genius that defies age by Rooney Elmi via @WritersofColour

Medieval Embroidery, ‘Proper Art,’ and the V&A’s ‘Opus Anglicanum’ exhibition  via @LucyAllenFWR

Calling selective schools ‘new grammars’ won’t eliminate the old problems by Iesha Small

Why we have to take white working class people’s fears seriously by Jacinta Nandi  via @WritersofColour

#WomenWrites – an archive for women’s writing (August/15)

https://storify.com/LeStewpot/womenwrites-august-16

#womenwrites – an archive of essential writing by women

https://storify.com/LeStewpot/womenwrites-essential-writing-by-women-572ef9b20951079662ba9404

Violence against women, domestic violence and the problem of gender identity

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Photograph: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images

Sisters Uncut are a great example of grassroots feminist activism. Their protest at the premier of the film Suffrage helped raise awareness of the consequences of the decimation of specialist support services for women. However, their campaign is specifically about the importance of specialist domestic violence services, which is why I was disappointed to read a piece in the Independent by a member which uses the term domestic violence and violence against women interchangeably.

* See Michael P Johnson’s Typology of Domestic Violence

** The report into this was recently released and I have not yet had a chance to read it.

Denise Thompson’s Radical Feminism Today

I loved this book. I was quite relieved though when I discovered that the title wasn’t the one Denise Thompson intended though. The book was based on Thompson’s PhD entitled: Against the Dismantling of Feminism: A Study in the Politics of Meaning which is a much better title considering the book is about defining feminism and not about the state of radical feminism today (or as it was in 2001). Why the publisher thought the title Radical Feminism Today was an appropriate title for a book on defining feminism is, frankly, boggling.

Thompson is a radical feminist and her definition of feminism is about male domination. In this she critiques a wide variety of feminist  and non-feminist writing which use terms like patriarchy, gender and sex without referencing biology or the reality of male domination and male supremacy. A feminism which does not recognise this reality is not, in fact, feminism.

Thompson deals with the issues of gender, race and class by insisting on the primacy of male domination and supremacy: women all suffer from the effects of the Patriarchy which is historically and culturally contextually whilst acknowledging the importance of multiple oppressions in how women experience Patriarchy. A major theme throughout the text is that we simply are not working with defined terms; instead we allow them meanings which do not have biological realities (gender). In order to do feminism, we must define what it is we mean by feminism and cannot simply be by women for women otherwise it is reduced to the idea that everything a woman does is feminist because a woman does it. Feminism has to recognise male supremacy and domination or it is simply irrelevant.

This is one of my favourite quotes:

The sense in which feminist theory is universal does not entail that feminism is as a matter of fact all-inclusive, either of women or the human race, but that it is open and non-exclusionary. Feminism has universal relevance because it addresses itself to the human condition.

Radical feminism, in theory, has always been all-inclusive. It has been the individual failings of women to understand the multiple oppressions of other women which have resulted in the continuing marginalisation of women of colour. It is not the theory which is problematic but how we use it.

There are parts where I disagree. I do think she is unnecessarily defensive of criticisms of white feminism, particularly in relation to Audre Lorde’s letter to Mary Daly. Both examples given by Thompson as a reason to object to Daly’s racism are incredibly important and I did not realise just how badly Daly had missed the issue of racism in her own writing. I find Daly’s text more problematic having read Thompson’s book, yet, I find Thompson’s criticisms of Lorde odd. Lorde published an open letter to Daly having waited 4 months for a response to private communication. It was also an open letter, not a peer-reviewed article with footnotes. Lorde didn’t give a detailed breakdown of the racist undertones of Daly’s work because she wasn’t writing a book review for a major academic journal. Criticising Lorde for not writing a peer reviewed article with footnotes seems a bit, well, petty.

It’s a great book on how feminism is undermined and erased through the use of sloppy language and ill-defined terms. I highly recommend it!

I’ve storified a selection of quotes from the text here which are definitely worth reading.