100 Professional Voices
Another post from a professional reflecting critically on how they see the issue of transitioning children and young people. We aim to publish voices of 100 Youth Trans Critical Professionals to begin to evidence our mutual concern.
I’m a peripatetic clinician who visits many schools on a regular basis. I’m having my eyes opened by encounters involving gender transitioning children and teenagers. I have realised there is no room for a liberal woolly professional default position of uncritical acceptance.
Here is a snap shot of things that have happened within the first 4 weeks of going into a number of schools in one borough that have led to awakening concern:
- A quiet cloak of silence amongst staff, uneasy about who thinks what about ‘Trans Assemblies’ being delivered one day to the school’s Primary Department, separately for the Secondary Dept and separately again for Staff. Over lunch, a teaching assistant who works in both departments says ‘Oh, I have been to two already, have I got to go to the third?’ There is no reaction or comment from other staff around the dinner table; no questions about what had been learned, opinions, value of the talks attended or why attending Trans Training for a third time seemed a bother. Eyes down and simply no discussion.
- At an enhanced provision meeting (for children whose needs cannot be met solely from within the school’s resources) I was with a parent, a teaching assistant and a 15 year old young person for whom social communication creates barriers;
Teaching Assistant: ‘He stayed in Assembly this morning. Isn’t that great?’
Mum: ‘I know. He was worried about it. He’s not very comfortable with that sort of thing even though we’ve always been very open with him’.
Young person: silent
I was unaware until later that the subject was a ‘Trans Assembly’ led by an MtoT individual.
- Conversation with ‘looked-after’ young person of 13 who tells me: ‘I have two brothers. Well one of my brothers is now a sister’. The teacher said nothing, neither did I. We accept this statement and don’t question what it is like for this young person who seems to have been expected to accept the matter too. Why not? We probably would have talked further with the child about almost any other disclosure.
- I watched MtoT individual accompanied by a teacher walking through the corridor of a Primary Resource Base supporting 4-11 year old children who have identified educational challenges. I hoped that opportunities to discuss young people’s identities in relation to a range of issues, not solely transgender, would be given equal weight. I wonder about the privilege afforded to an MtoT person in schools and about equality of representation.
Young people learn much from the adults around them about attitudes, both positive and negative. They need to bounce ideas and be free to hear wide ranging thoughts and opinions, experiences and values. Whilst teaching staff, parents, siblings and peers remain uncertain, with limited information and minimal critical questioning, a worrying veil of ignorance faces young people in their immediate world.
In more or less the same period, just going about my ordinary suburban life, I have heard:
- My friend’s 15 year old daughter who identified as a lesbian at 13 suddenly re-identifies as FtoT. This is out of the blue – following a period of immersion in Tumblr – social contagion comes worryingly to mind.
- Another friend’s 16 year old niece attends a single-sex sixth-form where a peer is currently transitioning FtoT. She says they had a day of ‘training’ from a Youth Project in advance of the day of transitioning commencing and were expressly told that to ask any questions would be indicative of transphobia.
- In the local supermarket a boy of about 7 years old reminds his younger brother … ‘you mustn’t say Uncle Andrew any more because he is a man-lady now’
- My sister who is a social worker tells me of concern for a young parent she supports who it is felt may be ‘nudging her 8 year old daughter towards trans’. There is concern that the child’s mother who has mental health issues may be seeking some kind of social-role valorisation for herself through encouraging her child to identify as transgender.
Some of my questions
Why are so many children and young people suddenly identifying or being identified as transgender?
Why are gender and sexuality being confused? Why are we not asking questions about including and valuing everyone in a gender neutral way? Why are many professionals – including myself – suppressing our own questions in public and professional forums?
When we talk about transgender – what do we think we are talking about?
How do we support people with indeterminate sex (different from indeterminate gender) to feel safe alongside every other individual?
How is medical intervention for children of indeterminate sex a different issue from medical intervening for children articulating gender confusion?
Can we clarify the terminology? ‘Male to Female’ and ‘Female to Male’ seems too binary and incomplete. The issue is ‘Male to Trans’ and ‘Female to Trans’ and using this terminology we begin to encompass a broader, more accurate, notion of the shared experiences and identities of men, women and Trans people.
How do the gender differences that sociolinguistics has identified for years in discourse, including power imbalances, play out with MtoT or FtoT interactions in mixed gender groups? Who gets/is given more air space in conversation at the subtle culturally learned level? What might this mean for collaborative, constructive sharing of views? How might this impact on the experience of transitioning children and young people? Of particular concern here, is an explanation for why MtoT voices seem to be dominating the campaign for transitioning children and young people. Why does this matter?
What questions do we need to be asking in pursuit of a sensitive divide between gender confusion and social and / or medical intervention?
How can adults and young people work together to understand the new possibilities that medical science offer which impact on social constructs and exist, for a time, in a grey soup of unfamiliarity, devoid of dialogue based on experience?