Karen Pollock takes issue with the latest gutter press article about trans young people.
Imagine the scene, your child is behaving in a way that troubles you, and you do not understand. Perhaps you have noticed scars on their arm, or that they rarely eat the meals you prepare. You decide they need specialist help, and so make an appointment with a GP. The conversation goes something like this:
You: I am really concerned, my child has been doing X.
Child: This is how I feel
GP: I am not a specialist in X. Specialists in X exist, and they will be able to either diagnose your child, or refer to specialists in Y
You: Thank God, thank you doctor
Child: This is how I feel
GP: Oh you misunderstand, if I refer you to Specialist X your child might believe X is the problem, so I wont. In fact I will do nothing. I suggest you go home and pretend everything is fine.
Child: says nothing.
Sound ridiculous? Not it seems to the writers of the Daily Mail, a 2 bit pressure group called Transgender Trend and a self proclaimed expert called Bob Withers. This coven of anti trans sentiment met this weekend in the pages of the Mail and produced an article so inaccurate and hateful I will not link to it, (especially as they reproduced semi naked pictures of a young person without their permission)
There seems to be a deliberate move to present the clinical pathway as; child says they might not be their assigned gender – surgeons swoop in and peform surgery within minutes.
The evil NHS
There were a number of issues with the article. My introductory paragraph highlights just one of them. The NHS works by having generalist doctors – GPs who refer to experts in different areas. On any given day there are waiting list ‘scandals’ being reported by the media. Any parent who has had to struggle to get help from CAHMS, who has watched their child suffer as they sit on a waiting list for months, knows how much pain it can cause. The Mail presents being referred to the Tavistock, one of the worlds leading child and adolescent mental health units, as rubber stamping a diagnoses of gender dysphoria. There seems to be a deliberate move to present the clinical pathway as; child says they might not be their assigned gender – surgeons swoop in and peform surgery within minutes.
The reality is very different, although reality means little it seems in this ‘post truth’ world. Since all research shows that actually children who are supported when they express ideas about their gender, thrive and the NHS is supportive. After all changing clothes and a name is a lot easier than burying a dead child.
If that sounds brutal it is meant to be.
Pre-puberty in what is called ‘social transition’, you are literally changing a few external signifiers. Whilst this is happening a team including: clinical psychologists, doctors and nurses will make a space for the child to explore who they are. No production line, no revolving door, nothing, (if you are not hung up on your child being a possession), more dramatic than learning a new name and buying some new clothes.
If you think I am making light of social transition, let me be blunt, again, 2 in 5 trans young people attempt suicide. Which matters more, pronouns and clothes or a child’s life?
After all changing clothes and a name is a lot easier than burying a dead child.
If that sounds brutal it is meant to be.
Kids are people too.
Another strand of the article was the much repeated idea that parents, and especially mothers, are the only people who should have a voice when it comes to children. This is a long standing tennet of right wing ideology, which holds all women to the whore/madonna dichotomy. In this framing of the family the Madonna figure is all knowing, and children’s rights do not exist. Long before the Mail decided trans kids were its new hobby horse, they trumpted the parents who knew better than doctors, and refused to vaccinate their kids. Indeed if one was to dig up an MMR article from the 90’s you would find very little difference between then and now. The trope that mother knows best is popular because it allows expertise to be disdained, whilst of course only giving rights to certain “approved” mothers. Single mothers, queer mothers sex working mothers, black mothers, somehow, magically are never judged to know best.
Unfortunately there will always be some who for a variety of reasons bolster the trope. It would not be right, or ethical, to comment on the specific individuals the Mail quotes. However as both a therapist and a former teacher I know the parent who will not separate from their children, may cause harm. A parent should not, and indeed cannot, know their child best. Once a child moves out of toddlerhood, and their sense of self develops, they have their own space in tbe world. The core of all child abuse, of whatever severity, is refusing to respect that space. When a parent denies a child the right to selfhood, and separateness they are denying them the opportunity to know and be who they truly are. It is common for those parents who deny a child’s right to be separate, to blame social media. 200 years ago parents were blaming novels. Seeing the outside world as a dangerous place which the fortress walls must be built up against allows an insecure parent to cling to their child. One wonders who exactly is comforting whom?
Historically many parents have mistreated their children because they were gay or lesbian. The defence always was that the parents knew best. It is a defence which we must no longer allow in 2017.
It is the case that both psychiatry and psychotherapy have a sordid history when it comes to LGBTQ+ people. Conversion therapy, torture aimed at changing sexual orientation or gender identity is not a thing of the past. Across the world it is still offered, and it is still legal to offer it in the UK. The only protection LGBTQ + people have from conversion therapy is the sanctions which would result from not adhering to the Memorandum of Understanding 2 (MOU2). The memorandum has taken a long time to be born, with many painful labour pains. One of the things those writing it were determined to make explicit was that the ban on conversion therapy in no way prevented people exploring their gender or sexuality.
For the Mail to give column inches to a psychoanalyst to attack the MOU2 based on his own lack of competency shows just how much it is open season on trans people.
Those of us who specialise in Gender, Sexuality and Relationship diverse communities are well aware that life is not all unicorn kittens and rainbows. Working with a client who is conflicted, has internalised shame and stigma, who may, for example, hate being gay, is not easy. It may be that to be an ethical therapist one must undertake further training or refer on LGBTQ+ clients. There is no shame in this, it’s the generalist versus specialist discussion I opened with. What is not acceptable is to criticise one of the few protections LGBTQ+ people have because you cannot work within it competently.
For the Mail to give column inches to a psychoanalyst to attack the MOU2 based on his own lack of competency shows just how much it is open season on trans people. That the therapist the Mail quotes is unaware of how to work with a complex client group says nothing about the client group in question. I have no knowledge of, or training in, working with sex offenders. It does not mean I call into question those who are able to do so.
Just the facts.
Gender diverse children are not harmed by social transition.
Social media is no more creating trans people than over protective mothers turned boys gay.
The NHS needs specialists, and we all benefit from access to them.
Those therapists who cannot work within the MOU2 need not worry, they can simply refer clients to those of us competent to do so.
Follow Karen on twitter (@counsellingKaz)