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.
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 Hierarchy, Sister 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)